Act IV.

A library at Lady Smatter’s.
Lady Smatter, Mrs. Sapient, Dabler and Codger, seated at a round table covered with books.
Lady Smatter. Now before we begin our literary subjects, allow me to remind you of the rule established at our last meeting, that every one is to speak his real sentiments, & no flattery is to taint our discussions.
All. Agreed.
Lady Smatter. This is the smallest assembly we have had yet; some or other of our members fail us every time.
Dabler. But where such luminaries are seen as Lady Smatter & Mrs. Sapient, all other could only appear to be eclipsed.
Lady Smatter. What have you brought to regale us with tonight, Mr. Dabler?
Dabler. Me? Dear ma’am, nothing!
Lady Smatter. Oh barbarous!
Mrs. Sapient. Surely you cannot have been so cruel? For, in my opinion, to give pain causelessly is rather disobliging.
Dabler. Dear ladies, you know you may command me; but, I protest, I don’t think I have any thing worth your hearing.
Lady Smatter. Let us judge for ourselves. Bless me, Mr. Codger, how insensible you are! Why do you not join in our entreaties?
Codger. For what, madam?
Lady Smatter. For a poem, to be sure.
Codger. Madam, I understood Mr. Dabler he had nothing worth your hearing.
Lady Smatter. But surely you did not believe him?
Codger. I knew no reason, madam, to doubt him.
Lady Smatter. O you Goth! Come, dear Mr. Dabler, produce something at once, if only to shame him.
Dabler. Your Ladyship has but to speak. [Takes a paper from his pocket book, & reads.]
On a Certain Party of Beaux Esprits.

Learning, here, doth pitch her tent,
   Science, here, her seeds doth scatter;
Learning, in form of Sapient,
   Science, in guise of heav’nly Smatter.
Lady Smatter. O charming! Beautiful lines indeed.
Mrs. Sapient. Elegant & poignant to a degree!
Lady Smatter. What do you think, Mr. Codger, of this poem? [Whispering him.] To be sure, the compliment to Mrs. Sapient is preposterously overstrained, but, otherwise, nothing can be more perfect.
Mrs. Sapient. Mr. Dabler has, indeed, the happiest turn in the world at easy elegance. Why, Mr. Codger, you don’t speak a word? [Whispering him.] Pray, between friends, what say you to the notion of making Lady Smatter represent Science? Don’t you think he has been rather unskillful in his choice?
Codger. Why, madam, you give me no time to think at all.
Lady Smatter. Well, now to other matters. I have a little observation to offer upon a line of Pope; he says,
Most Women have no character at all;
Now I should be glad to know, if this was true in the time of Pope, why people should complain so much of the depravity of the present age?
Dabler. Your Ladyship has asked a question that might perplex a Solomon.
Mrs. Sapient. It is, indeed, surprisingly ingenious.
Dabler. Yes, & it reminds me of a little foolish thing which I composed some time ago.
Lady Smatter. O pray let us hear it.
Dabler. Your Ladyship’s commands
The lovely Iris, young & fair,
Possess’d each charm of Face & air
That with the Cyprian might compare;

So sweet her Face, so soft her mind,
So mild she speaks,— she looks so kind,—
To hear might melt!— to see,— might blind!
Lady Smatter & Mrs. Sapient. [Together.]
O elegant! Enchanting! Delicious!
O delightful! Pathetic! Delicate!
Lady Smatter. Why Mr. Codger, have you no soul? Is it possible you can be unmoved by such poetry as this?
Codger. I was considering, madam, what might be the allusion to which Mr. Dabler referred, when he said he was reminded of this little foolish thing, as he was pleased to call it himself.
Dabler. [Aside.] I should like to toss that old fellow in a blanket!
Codger. Now, sir, be so good as to gratify me by relating what may be the connection between your song, & the fore-going conversation?
Dabler. [Pettishly.] Sir, I only meant to read it to the ladies.
Lady Smatter. I’m sure you did us great honour. Mrs. Sapient, the next proposition is yours.
Mrs. Sapient. Pray, did your Ladyship ever read Dryden?
Lady Smatter. Dryden? O yes!— but I don’t just now recollect him;— let’s see, what has he writ?
Dabler. Cymon & Iphigenia.
Lady Smatter. O ay, so he did; & really for the time of day I think it’s mighty pretty.
Dabler. Why yes, it’s well enough; but it would not do now.
Mrs. Sapient. Pray what does your Ladyship think of the Spectator?
Lady Smatter. O, I like it vastly. I’ve just read it.
Codger. [To Lady Smatter.] In regard, madam, to those verses of Mr. Dabler, the chief fault I have to find with them, is
Dabler. Why, sir, we are upon another subject now! [Aside.] What an old curmudgeon! He has been pondering all this time only to find fault!
Mrs. Sapient. For my part, I have always thought that the best papers in the Spectator are those of Addison.
Lady Smatter. Very justly observed!
Dabler. Charmingly said! Exactly my own opinion.
Mrs. Sapient. Nay, I may be mistaken; I only offer it as my private sentiment.
Dabler. I can but wish, madam, that poor Addison had lived to hear such praise.
Lady Smatter. Next to Mr. Dabler, my favourite poets are Pope & Swift.
Mrs. Sapient. Well, after all, I must confess I think there are as many pretty things in old Shakespeare as in anybody.
Lady Smatter. Yes, but he is too common; everybody can speak well of Shakespeare!
Dabler. I vow I am quite sick of his name.
Codger. Madam, to the best of my apprehension, I conceive your Ladyship hath totally mistaken that line of Pope which says
Most women have no character at all.
Lady Smatter. Mistaken? How so, sir? This is curious enough! [Aside to Dabler.] I begin to think the poor creature is superannuated.
Dabler. So do I, ma’am; I have observed it for some time.
Codger. By no character, madam, he only means
Lady Smatter. A bad character, to be sure!
Codger. There, madam, lieth your Ladyship’s mistake; he means, I say
Lady Smatter. O dear sir, don’t trouble yourself to tell me his meaning;— I dare say I shall be able to make it out.
Mrs. Sapient. [Aside to Dabler.] How irritable is her temper!
Dabler. O, intolerably!
Codger. Your Ladyship, madam, will not hear me. I was going
Lady Smatter. If you please, sir, we’ll drop the subject, for I rather fancy you will give me no very new information concerning it,— do you think he will, Mr. Dabler?
Codger. Mr. Dabler, Madam, is not a competent judge of the case, as
Dabler. [Rising.] Not a judge, sir? Not a judge of poetry?
Codger. Not in the present circumstance, sir, because, as I was going to say
Dabler. Nay then, sir, I’m sure I’m a judge of nothing!
Codger. That may be, sir, but is not to the present purpose; I was going
Dabler. Suppose, sir, we refer to the ladies? Pray, now, ladies, which do you think the most adequate judge of poetry, Mr. Codger, or your humble servant? Speak sincerely, for I hate flattery.
Mrs. Sapient. I would by no means be so ill bred as to determine for Mr. Dabler in the presence of Mr. Codger, because I have always thought that a preference of one person implies less approbation of another; yet
Codger. Pray, madam, let me speak; the reason, I say
Mrs. Sapient. Yet the well-known skill of Mr. Dabler in this delightful art
Codger. Madam, this interruption is somewhat injudicious, since it prevents my explaining
Mrs. Sapient. [Rising.] Injudicious, sir? I am sorry, indeed, if I have merited such an accusation: there is nothing I have more scrupulously endeavoured to avoid, for, in my opinion, to be injudicious is no mark of an extraordinary understanding.
Lady Smatter. [Aside to Dabler.] How soon she’s hurt!
Dabler. O most unreasonably!
Codger. Madam, you will never hear me out; you prevent my explaining the reason, I say, why Mr. Dabler cannot decide upon Lady Smatter’s error in judgement
Lady Smatter. [Rising.] Error in judgement? Really this is very diverting!
Codger. I say, madam
Lady Smatter. Nay, sir, ’tis no great matter; & yet, I must confess, it’s rather a hard case that, after so many years of intense study, & most laborious reading, I am not allowed to criticize a silly line of Pope.
Dabler. And if I, who, from infancy have devoted all my time to the practice of poetry, am now thought to know nothing of the matter,— I should be glad to be informed who has a better title?
Mrs. Sapient. And if I, who, during my whole life, have made propriety my peculiar study, am now found to be deficient in it,— I must really take the liberty to observe that I must have thrown away a great deal of time to very little purpose.
Lady Smatter. And as to this line of Pope
Enter a Servant.
Servant. Mr. Censor, my lady, begs to speak to your Ladyship for only two minutes upon business of consequence.
Dabler. Censor? Suppose we admit him?— [Aside.] ’Twill be an admirable opportunity to show him my epigram.
Lady Smatter. Admit him? What, to ask his opinion of Mr. Codger’s critical annotations?
Codger. My doubt, madam, is, if you will give him time to speak it.
Lady Smatter. Well, is it agreeable to ye all that Mr. Censor should have admittance? I know it is contrary to rule, yet, as he is one of the wits, & therefore ought to be among us, suppose we indulge him?
Codger. Madam, I vote against it.
Dabler. [Aside to Lady Smatter.] I see he’s afraid of him,— let’s have him by all means.
Lady Smatter. Without doubt. Pray, Mr. Codger, why are you against it?
Codger. Because, madam, there are already so many talkers that I cannot be heard myself.
Dabler. [Aside to Lady Smatter.] You see how it is?
Lady Smatter. Yes, & enjoy it of all things. Desire Mr. Censor to walk up stairs. [Exit Servant.] To be sure this is rather a deviation from the maxims of the society, but great minds, as a favourite author of mine observes, are above being governed by common prejudices.
Codger. I am thinking, madam,—
Enter Censor.
Lady Smatter. Mr. Censor, your entrance is most critically fortunate; give me leave to present you to our society.
Censor. I expected to have seen your Ladyship alone.
Lady Smatter. Yes, but I have obtained a dispensation for your admittance to our Esprit Party. But let us not waste our time in common conversation. You must know we are at present discussing a very knotty point, & I should be glad of your opinion upon the merits of the cause.
Dabler. Yes; & as soon as that is decided, I have a little choice piece of literature to communicate to you which I think you will allow to be tolerable.
Mrs. Sapient. And I, too, sir, must take the liberty to appeal to your judgement concerning
Censor. Ay, ay, speak all at a time, & then one hearing may do.
Lady Smatter. Mr. Censor, when a point of the last importance is in agitation, such levity as this
Censor. Why, madam, the business which brings me hither
Dabler. Business? O name not the word in this region of fancy & felicity.
Mrs. Sapient. That’s finely said, Mr. Dabler, & corroborates with an opinion of mine which I have long formed,— that business & fancy should be regarded as two things.
Censor. Ay, madam, & with one of mine which I hold to be equally singular.
Mrs. Sapient. What is it, sir?
Censor. That London & Paris should be regarded as two places.
Mrs. Sapient. Pshaw!
Codger. [To Lady Smatter.] I say, madam, I am thinking
Censor. Then, sir, you are most worthily employed; & this good company desire nothing less than to impede the progress of your thoughts, by troubling you to relate them.
Dabler. Very true; suppose, therefore, we change the subject. O, apropos, have you seen the new verses that run about?
Censor. No. [Turning to Lady Smatter.] Give me leave, madam, to acquaint you with the motive of my present visit.—
Lady Smatter. You would not be such a Goth as to interrupt our literary discussions?— besides, I must positively have your sentiments upon an argument I have just had with Mr. Codger upon this line of Pope:
Most women
Censor. Hold, madam; I am no Quixote, & therefore encounter not danger where there is no prospect of reward; nor shall I, till I emulate the fate of Orpheus, ever argue about women in their presence.
Dabler. Ha, Ha! Mighty well said. But I was going to tell you, Mr. Censor, that if you have any desire to look at those verses I was speaking of, I believe I have a copy of them in my pocket. Let’s see,— yes, here they are; how lucky that I should happen to have them about me! [Gives them to Censor.] [Aside.] I think they will surprise him.
Censor. [Reading.]
  That passion which we strongest feel
We all agree to disapprove;
  Yet feebly, feebly we conceal
Dabler. [Pettishly.] Sir, you read without any spirit,—
Yet feebly,— feebly we conceal
You should drop your voice at the second feebly, or you lose all the effect. [Aside.] It puts me in a fever to hear such fine lines murdered.
Censor. [Reading.] We all are bound slaves to self love.
Dabler. [Snatching the paper.] Why, you give it neither emphasis nor expression! You read as if you were asleep. [Reading.]
That passion which
Censor. O no more, no more of it. Pray, who is the author?
Dabler. Why, really I I don’t absolutely know,— but, by what I have heard, I should take it to be somebody very very clever.
Censor. You should?
Dabler. Yes: &, indeed, to own the truth, I have heard it whispered that it is a posthumous work of of O, of Gay,— ay, of Gay.
Censor. Of Gay?
Dabler. Yes; found in a little corner of his private bureau.
Censor. And pray who has the impudence to make such an assertion?
Dabler. Who?— o, as to that, really I don’t know who in particular,— but I assure you not me,— though, by the way, do you really think it very bad?
Censor. Despicable beyond abuse. Are you not of the same opinion?
Dabler. Me?— why, really, as to that I I can’t exactly say,— that is, I have hardly read it.— [Aside.] What a crabbed fellow! There is not an ounce of taste in his whole composition. Curse me, if I was Nature, if I should not blush to have made him. Hold, my tablets! A good thought that! I’ll turn it into a lampoon, & drop it at Stapletons’.
[Walks aside & writes in his tablets.
Censor. [To Lady Smatter.] I have seen Miss Stanley, madam, &—
Lady Smatter. Did you find her at Mrs. Voluble’s?
Censor. Yes. [They whisper.]
Mrs. Sapient. [Listening. Aside.] So, so, she’s at Mrs. Voluble’s!— there must certainly be some design upon Dabler.
Censor. But hear me, madam. I have something to communicate to you which
Lady Smatter. Not now, I can attend to nothing now. These evenings, sir, which I devote to the fine arts, must not be contaminated with common affairs.
Mrs. Sapient. [Aside.] I shan’t rest till I have dived into this matter. [To Lady Smatter.] I am much chagrined, madam, at the disagreeable necessity I am under of breaking abruptly from this learned & ingenious assembly, but I am called hence by an appointment which I cannot give up without extreme rudeness; & I must confess I should be rather sorry to be guilty of that, as I have long been of opinion that a breach of good manners is no great sign of politeness.
Lady Smatter. I am quite sorry to lose you so soon.
[Exit Mrs. Sapient.
What a tiresome creature! How glad I am she’s gone!
Codger. Notwithstanding the rebuff I have just met with, madam, I must say I cannot help thinking that
Censor. Do you mean, sir, to satirize the whole company, that you thus repeatedly profess thinking among those who have no other aim than talking?
Codger. Sir, when a man has been pondering upon a subject for a considerable time, & assorting his ideas in order to explain himself, it is an exceedingly uncivil thing to interrupt him.
Lady Smatter. Mr. Dabler, what are you writing?
Dabler. Only a little memorandum, ma’am, about business; nothing more.
Codger. [Aside.] I find I can never get in two words at a time.
Enter Jack.
Jack. Ma’am, your Ladyship’s most obedient.
Lady Smatter. Why did not you come sooner, Jack?— we are just broke up.
Jack. I could not help it, upon my word. I came away now just as my tea was poured out at the coffee house, because I would not stay to drink it.
Codger. [Aside.] I’m glad Jack’s come; I think, at least, I shall make him listen to me.
Jack. I have been in such a hurry the whole day, that I have never known what I have been about. I believe I have been to sixteen places since dinner. You good folks who sit here talking by the hour together, must lead strange dull lives; I wonder you don’t lose the use of your limbs.
Codger. Son Jack, when you have finished your speech, please to hear one of mine.
Jack. I hope it won’t be a long one, sir.
Codger. Why do you hope that, son, before you know how well it may entertain you?
Jack. Lord, sir, I never think of being entertained with speeches.
Codger. What, Jack, not with your own father’s?
Jack. Lord no, sir.
Codger. No, sir? And pray, sir, why?
Jack. Because I’m always tired before they’re half done.
Codger. Son Jack, ’tis these loose companions that you keep that teach you all this profligacy. Tired of hearing me speak! One would think the poor lad was an idiot.
Jack. So this is your Club Room, where you all meet to talk?
Censor. Yes; & the principal maxim of the learned members is that no one shall listen to what is said by his neighbour.
Lady Smatter. Fie, Mr. Censor, I’m sure we’re all attention
Censor. Yes, to seize the next opportunity of speaking.
Lady Swatter. Never mind what Mr Censor says, Jack, for you know he is a professed Stoic.
Censor. Stoic? Pray, what does your Ladyship mean?
Lady Smatter. Well, well, Cynic, then, if you like it better.
Censor. You hold, then, that their signification is the same?
Lady Smatter. Mercy, Mr. Censor, do you expect me to define the exact meaning of every word I make use of?
Censor. No, madam, not unless I could limit your Ladyship’s language to the contents of a primer.
Lady Smatter. O horrid! Did you ever hear any thing so splenetic? Mr. Dabler, what are you writing? Suppose, in compliment to our new member, you were to indulge us with a few lines?
Dabler. Does your Ladyship mean an extempore?
Lady Smatter. The thing in the world I should like best.
Dabler. Really, ma’am, I wish for nothing upon earth so much as the honour of your Ladyship’s commands,— but as to an extempore the amazing difficulty,— the genius requisite,— the masterly freedom,— the the the things of that sort it requires make me half afraid of so bold an undertaking.
Censor. Sir, your exordium is of sufficient length.
Dabler. I shall but collect my thoughts, & be ready in a moment. In the mean time, I beg I may not interrupt the conversation; it will be no manner of disturbance to me to hear you all talking; we poets, ma’am, can easily detach ourselves from the company.
[Walks apart.
Censor. I should be glad if your Ladyship would inform me what time, according to the established regulations of your society, you allow for the study of extemporary verses?
Lady Smatter. I think we have no fixed rule; some are quick, & some are slow,—’tis just as it happens.
Censor. [Aside.] What unconscious absurdity!
While they are speaking, Dabler privately looks at a paper, which he accidentally drops instead of putting in his pocket.
Dabler. [Advancing.] I hope I have not detained you long?
Lady Smatter. Is it possible you can be ready so soon?
Dabler. O dear yes, ma’am; these little things are done in a moment; they cost us nothing.
  In one sole point agree we all,
Both rich & poor, & saint & sinner,
  Proud or humble, short or tall,—
And that’s a taste for a good dinner.
Lady Smatter. O charming! I never heard any thing so satirical in my life.
Censor. And so, sir, you composed these lines just now?
Dabler. This very moment.
Censor. It seems, then, you can favour your friends whenever they call upon you?
Dabler. O yes, sir, with the utmost pleasure.
Censor. I should be obliged to you, then, sir, for something more.
Dabler. Sir, you do me honour. I will but take an instant for consideration, & endeavour to obey you. [Aside.] So, so!— I thought I should bring him round at last!
[Walking away.
Censor. Stay, sir. As you make these verses with so much facility, you can have no objection, I presume, to my choosing you a subject?
Dabler. Sir!
Censor. And then with firmer courage your friends may counter-act the skepticism of the envious, & boldly affirm that they are your own, & unstudied.
Dabler. Really, sir, as to that, I can’t say I very much mind what those sort of people say; we authors, sir, are so much inured to illiberal attacks, that we regard them as nothing,— mere marks, sir, of celebrity, & hear them without the least emotion.
Censor. You are averse, then, to my proposal?
Dabler. O dear no, sir!— not at all,— not in the least, I assure you, sir! [Aside.] I wish he was in the deserts of Libya with all my Heart!
Censor. The readiness of your compliance, sir, proves the promptness of your wit. I shall name a subject which, I believe, you will find no difficulty to dilate upon,— self-sufficiency.
Dabler. Sir?
Censor. Self-sufficiency,— don’t you understand me?
Dabler. Really, sir, in regard to that, I don’t exactly know whether I do or not, but I assure you if you imagine that I am self-sufficient, you are most prodigiously mistaken; I defy any body to charge me with that, for though I have written so many things that have pleased every body else, I have always made it a rule to keep my own opinion to myself. Even Mr. Codger must, in this point, do me justice. Will you not, sir?
Codger. Sir, I shall say nothing. [Folds his arms, and leans upon the table.]
Censor. Well, sir, I will give you another subject, then, for of this, I must own, you might long since have been weary. I will not affront you by naming so hackneyed a theme as Love, but give us, if you please, a spirited couplet upon War.
Dabler. Upon War?— hum let’s see,— upon War,— ay,— but hold! Don’t you think, sir, that War is rather a disagreeable subject where there are ladies? For myself I can certainly have no objection, but, I must confess, I am rather in doubt whether it will be quite polite to Lady Smatter.
Jack. Why Lord, Mr. Dabler, a man might ride ten times round Hyde Park before you are ready to begin.
Dabler. Sir, you don’t know what you talk of; things of this importance are not to be settled rashly.
Censor. Mr. Dabler, I will give you an opportunity of taking your revenge; let your verses be upon the use & abuse of time, & address them, if you please, to that gentleman.
Jack. Ay, with all my heart. He may address what he will to me, so as he will not keep me long to hear him.
Dabler. Time, did you say?— the use & the abuse of time?— ay, very good, a very good subject,— Time?— yes, a very good idea, indeed!— the use & the abuse of time,— [Pauses.] But pray, sir, pray, Mr. Censor, let me speak a word to you; are you not of opinion now don’t imagine this is any objection of mine, no, I like the subject of all things,— it is just what I wished,— but don’t you think that poor Mr. Codger, here, may think it is meant as a sneer at him?
Censor. How so, sir?
Dabler. Why, sir, on account of his being so slow. And really, notwithstanding his old fashioned ways, one would not wish to affront him, poor man, for he means no harm. Besides, sir, his age!— consider that; we ought all to make allowances for the infirmities of age. I’m sure I do,— poor old soul!
Censor. Well, sir, I shall name but one subject more, & to that if you object, you must give me leave to draw my own inference from your backwardness, & to report it accordingly.
Dabler. Sir, I shall be very I shall be extremely that is, sir, I shall be quite at your service. [Aside.] What a malignant fellow!
Censor. What say you, sir, to an epigram on slander?
Dabler. On slander?
Censor. Yes, sir; what objection can you devise to that?
Dabler. An illiberal subject, sir! A most illiberal subject,— I will have nothing to do with it.
Censor. The best way to manifest your contempt will be to satirize it.
Dabler. Why, as you say,— there’s something in that;— satirize it?— ay, satirize slander,— ha! Ha! A good hit enough!
Censor. Then, sir, you will favour us without further delay.
Dabler. Sir, I should be extremely happy to obey you,— nothing could give me greater pleasure, only that just now I am so particularly pressed for time, that I am obliged to run away. Lady Smatter, I have the honour to wish your Ladyship good night.
Jack. [Stopping him.] Fair play, fair play! You shan’t go till you have made the verses; or, if you do, I swear I’ll run after you.
Dabler. Upon my word, sir
Censor. Prithee, Jack, don’t detain him. [Affecting to whisper.] This anecdote, you know, will tell as well without the verses as with them.
Dabler. [Aside.] That fellow is a mere compound of spite & envy.
Lady Smatter. Come, Mr. Dabler, I see you relent.
Dabler. Why,— hem!— if if your Ladyship insists pray, Mr. Censor, what is this same subject you have been talking of?
Censor. O, sir, ’tis no matter; if you are so much hurried, why should you stay? We are all pretty well convinced of the alacrity of your wit already.
Dabler. Slander, I think it was?— but suppose, sir, for slander we substitute fashion?— I have a notion I could do something upon fashion.
Censor. Probably, sir, you have done something upon fashion; entertain us, therefore, upon the given subject, or else be a better nomenclator to your verses than to call them extemporary.
Dabler. Well, sir, well!— [Aside & walking away.] A surly fellow!
Jack. Pray has your Ladyship heard the queer story about the Miss Sippets?
Lady Smatter. No; what is it?
Jack. Why, I heard it just now at Mrs. Gabble’s. Sir Harry Frisk, you know, last winter paid his addresses to the eldest sister, but this winter, to make what variety he could without quitting the family, he deserted to the youngest; & this morning they were to have been married.
Lady Smatter. Well, & were they not?
Jack. Upon my word I don’t know.
Lady Smatter. Don’t know? What do you mean?
Jack. Why I had not time to enquire.
Lady Smatter. Pho, prithee, Jack, don’t be so ridiculous.
Dabler. [Holding his hand before his eyes, & walking about.] Not one thought,— not one thought to save me from ruin!
Censor. Why, Mr. Codger, what are you about? Is it not rather melancholy to sit by yourself at the table, & not join at all in the conversation?
Codger. [Raising his head.] Perhaps, sir, I may conceive myself to be somewhat slighted.
Lady Smatter. Nay, nay, prithee, my good friend, don’t be so captious.
Codger. Madam I presume, at least, I have as good a right to be affronted as another man; for which reason
Dabler. [Pettishly.] Upon my word, if you all keep talking so incessantly, it is not possible for a man to know what he is about.
Codger. I have not spoken before for this half hour, & yet I am as good as bid to hold my tongue!
[Leans again on the table.
Jack. O but, ma’am, I forgot to tell your Ladyship the very best part of the story; the poor eldest sister was quite driven to despair, so last night, to avoid, at least, dancing bare-foot at her sister’s wedding, she made an appointment with a young haberdasher in the neighbourhood to set off for Scotland.
Lady Smatter. Well?
Jack. Well, & when she got into the post chaise, instead of her new lover, the young haberdasher, who do you think was waiting to receive her?
Lady Smatter. Nay, nay, tell me at once.
Jack. But who do you guess?
Lady Smatter. Pho, pho, don’t be so tiresome. Who was it?
Jack. Why, that I am not certain myself.
Lady Smatter. Not certain yourself?
Jack. No, for I had not time to stay till Mrs. Gabble came to the name.
Lady Smatter. How absurd!
Codger. [Again raising his head.] Madam, if I might be allowed,— or, rather, to speak more properly, if I could get time to give my opinion of this matter, I should say
Lady Smatter. My good friend, we should all be extremely happy to hear you, if you were not so long in coming to the point;— that’s all the fault we find with you; is it not, Jack?
Jack. To be sure, ma’am. Why sometimes, do you know, I have made a journey to Bath & back again, while he has been considering whether his next wig should be a bob, or a full-bottom.
Codger. Son Jack, this is very unseemly discourse, & I desire
Lady Smatter. Nay, pray don’t scold him. Jack, when shall you hear any more of Miss Sippet’s adventure?
Jack. Why, ma’am, either to-morrow or Friday, I don’t know which.
Codger. [Aside, & reclining as before.] I verily believe they’d rather hear Jack than me!
Jack. Why Lord, Mr. Dabler, I believe you are dreaming. Will you never be ready?
Dabler. Sir, this is really unconscionable! I was just upon the point of finishing,—& now you have put it all out of my head!
Censor. Well, Mr. Dabler, we release you, now, from all further trouble, since you have sufficiently satisfied us that your extemporary verses are upon a new construction.
Dabler. O, sir, as to that, making verses is no sort of trouble to me, I assure you,— however, if you don’t choose to hear these which I have been composing
Lady Smatter. O but I do, so pray
Jack. Pho, pho, he has not got them ready.
Dabler. You are mistaken, sir, these are quite ready,— entirely finished,—& lodged here; [Pointing to his head.] but as Mr Censor
Censor. Nay, if they are ready, you may as well repeat them.
Dabler. No, sir, no, since you declined hearing them at first, I am above compelling you to hear them at all. Lady Smatter, the next time I have the honour of seeing your Ladyship, I shall be proud to have your opinion of them.
[Exit hastily.
Censor. Poor wretch! “Glad of a quarrel strait he shuts the door,”— what’s this? [Picks up the paper dropt by Dabler.] So! So! So!—
Enter Beaufort.
Beaufort. [To Lady Smatter.] Pardon me, madam, if I interrupt you, I am come but for a moment. [Apart to Censor.] Censor, have you no heart? Are you totally divested of humanity?
Censor. Why, what’s the matter?
Beaufort. The matter? You have kept me on the rack,— you have wantonly tortured me with the most intolerable suspense that the mind of man is capable of enduring. Where is Cecilia?— have you given her my message?— have you brought me any answer?— why am I kept in ignorance of every thing I wish or desire to know?
Censor. Is your harangue finished?
Beaufort. No, sir, it is hardly begun! This unfeeling propensity to raillery upon occasions of serious distress, is cruel, is unjustifiable, is insupportable. No man could practice it, whose heart was not hardened against pity, friendship, sorrow,—& every kind, every endearing tie by which the bonds of society are united.
Censor. At least, my good friend, object not to raillery in me, till you learn to check railing in yourself. I would fain know by what law or what title you gentlemen of the sighing tribe assume the exclusive privilege of appropriating all severities of speech to yourselves.
Lady Smatter. Beaufort, your behaviour involves me in the utmost confusion. After an education such as I have bestowed upon you, this weak anxiety about mere private affairs is unpardonable;— especially in the presence of people of learning.
Beaufort. I waited, madam, till Mrs. Sapient and Mr. Dabler were gone,— had I waited longer, patience must have degenerated into insensibility. From your Ladyship & from Mr. Codger, my anxiety has some claim to indulgence, since its cause is but too well known to you both.
Jack. [Aside.] Not a word of me! I’ll e’en sneak away before he finds me out.
Codger. Son Jack, please to stop.
Jack. Sir, I can’t; my time’s expired.
Codger. Son, if I conceive aright, your time, properly speaking, ought to be mine.
Jack. Lord, sir, only look at my watch; it’s just 8 o’clock, & I promised Billy Skip to call on him before seven to go to the play.
Codger. Son Jack, it is by no means a dutiful principle you are proceeding upon, to be fonder of the company of Billy Skip than of your own father.
Beaufort. For mercy’s sake, sir, debate this point some other time. Censor, why will you thus deny me all information?
Codger. So it is continually! Whenever I speak you are all sure to be in a hurry! Jack, come hither & sit by me; you may hear me, I think, if nobody else will. Sit down, I say.
Jack. Lord, sir
Codger. Sit down when I bid you, & listen to what I am going to tell you.
[Makes Jack seat himself at the table, & talks to him.
Lady Smatter. Beaufort, let me speak to Mr. Censor. What have you done, sir, about this poor girl? Did you give her my message?
Censor. She had too much sense, too much spirit, too much dignity to hear it.
Lady Smatter. Indeed?
Censor. Yes; & therefore I should propose
Lady Smatter. Sir, I must beg you not to interfere in this transaction; it is not that I mean to doubt either your knowledge or your learning, far from it,— but nevertheless I must presume that I am myself as competent a judge of the matter as you can be, since I have reason to believe you’ll excuse me, sir,— that I have read as many books as you have.
Beaufort. O those eternal books! What, madam, in the name of reason, & of common sense, can books have to do in such an affair as this?
Lady Smatter. How? Do you mean to depreciate books? To doubt their general utility, & universal influence? Beaufort, I shall blush to own you for my pupil! Blush to recollect the fruitless efforts with which I have laboured, as Shakespeare finely says,
To teach the young idea how to shoot.—
Censor. Shakespeare?— then what a thief was Thompson!
Lady Smatter. Thompson? O, ay, true, now I recollect, so it was.
Censor. Nay, madam, it little matters which, since both, you know, were authors.
Beaufort. Unfeeling Censor! Is this a time to divert yourself with satirical dryness? Defer, I conjure you, these useless, idle, ludicrous disquisitions, &, for a few moments, suffer affairs of real interest & importance to be heard & understood.
Lady Smarter. Beaufort, you expose yourself more & more every word you utter; disquisitions which relate to books & authors ought never to be deferred. Authors, sir, are the noblest of human beings, & books
Beaufort. Would to heaven there were not one in the world!
Lady Smatter. O monstrous!
Beaufort. Once again, madam, I entreat, I conjure
Lady Smatter. I will not hear a word more. Wish there was not a book in the world? Monstrous, shocking, & horrible! Beaufort, you are a lost wretch! I tremble for your intellects; & if you do not speedily conquer this degenerate passion, I shall abandon you without remorse to that ignorance & depravity to which I see you are plunging.
Beaufort. Hard-hearted, vain, ostentatious woman! Go, then, & leave me to that independence which not all your smiles could make me cease to regret! Censor, I am weary of this contention; what is life, if the present must continually be sacrificed to the future? I will fly to Cecilia, & I will tear myself from her no more. If, without her, I can receive no happiness, why, with her, should I be apprehensive of misery?
Censor. Know you not, Beaufort, that if you sap the foundation of a structure, ’tis madness to expect the sides & the top will stand self-supported? Is not security from want the basis of all happiness? & if you undermine that, do you not lose all possibility of enjoyment? Will the presence of Cecilia soften the hardships of penury? Will her smiles teach you to forget the pangs of famine? Will her society make you insensible to the severities of an houseless winter?
Beaufort. Well, well, tell me where I can find her, & she shall direct my future conduct herself.
Censor. I have a scheme upon Lady Smatter to communicate to you, which, I think, has some chance of succeeding.
Beaufort. Till I have seen Cecilia, I can attend to nothing; once more, tell me where she is.
Censor. Where-ever she is, she has more wisdom than her lover, for she charged me to command your absence.
Beaufort. My absence?
Censor. Nay, nay, I mean not seriously to suppose the girl is wise enough to wish it; however, if she pretends to desire it, you have a sufficient excuse for non-attendance.
Beaufort. I don’t understand you.— Is Cecilia offended?
Censor. Yes, & most marvelously, for neither herself nor her neighbours know why.
Beaufort. I will not stay another minute!— I will find other methods to discover her abode.
Censor. Prithee, Beaufort, be less absurd. My scheme upon Lady Smatter
Beaufort. I will not hear it! I disdain Lady Smatter, & her future smiles or displeasure shall be equally indifferent to me. Too long, already, have I been governed by motives & views which level me with her narrow-minded self; it is time to shake off the yoke,— assert the freedom to which I was born,—& dare to be poor, that I may learn to be happy!
Censor. Shall this noble fellow be suffered to ruin himself? No! The world has too few like him. Jack, a word with you,— Jack, I say!— are you asleep, man?
Codger. Asleep? Surely not.
Censor. If you’re awake, answer!
Jack. [Yawning.] Why, what’s the matter?
Censor. Wake, man, wake & I’ll tell you.
Codger. How, asleep? Pray, Son Jack, what’s the reason of your going to sleep when I’m talking to you?
Jack. Why, sir, I have so little time for sleep, that I thought I might as well take the opportunity.
Codger. Son Jack, son Jack, you are verily an ignoramus!
Censor. Come hither, Jack. I have something to propose to you
Codger. Sir, I have not yet done with him myself. Whereabouts was I, son, when you fell asleep?
Jack. Why there, sir, where you are now.
Codger. Son, you are always answering like a blockhead; I mean whereabouts was I in my story?
Jack. What story, sir?
Codger. How? Did not you hear my story about your aunt Deborah’s poultry?
Jack. Lord, no, sir!
Codger. Not hear it? Why what were you thinking of?
Jack. Me, sir? Why how many places I’ve got to go to to-night.
Codger. This is the most indecorous behaviour I ever saw. You don’t deserve ever to hear me tell a story again. Pray, Mr. Censor, did you hear it?
Censor. No.
Codger. Well, then, as it’s a very good story, I think I’ll e’en take the trouble to tell it once more. You must know, then, my sister Deborah, this silly lad’s aunt
Censor. Mr. Codger, I am too much engaged to hear you now,— I have business that calls me away.
Codger. This is always the case! I don’t think I ever spoke to three persons in my life that did not make some pretence for leaving me before I had done!
Censor. Jack, are you willing to serve your brother?
Jack. That I am! I would ride to York to see what’s o’clock for him.
Censor. I will put you in a way to assist him with less trouble, though upon a matter of at least equal importance. You, too, Mr. Codger, have, I believe, a good regard for him?
Codger. Sir, I shall beg leave to decline making any answer.
Censor. Why so, sir?
Codger. Because, sir, I never intend to utter a word more in this room; but, on the contrary, it is my intention to abandon the Club from this time forward.
Censor. But is that any reason why you should not answer me?
Codger. Sir, I shall quit the place directly; for I think it an extremely hard thing to be made speak when one has nothing to say, & hold one’s tongue when one has got a speech ready.
Jack. Is he gone? Huzzah! I was never so tired in my life.
Censor. Hold! I have something to say to you.
Jack. Can’t possibly stay to hear you.
Censor. Prithee, Jack, how many duels do you fight in a year?
Jack. Me? Lord, not one.
Censor. How many times, then, do you beg pardon to escape a caning?
Jack. A caning?
Censor. Yes; or do you imagine the very wildness & inattention by which you offend, are competent to make your apology?
Jack. Lord, Mr. Censor, you are never easy but when you are asking some queer question! But I don’t much mind you. You odd sort of people, who do nothing all day but muz yourselves with thinking, are always coming out with these sort of trimmers; however, I know you so well, that they make no impression on me.
Censor. Through what a multiplicity of channels does folly glide! Its streams, alternately turgid, calm, rapid & lazy, take their several directions from the peculiarities of the minds whence they spring,— frequently varying in their courses,— but ever similar in their shallowness!
End of Act the Fourth.