A New Comic Opera or Melo-drame
(The reader must observe my strict adherence to the manners and events of the year 1641, and to the unities of time and place. Even this act comprises the six requisites of a modern comedy: a sentimental heiress, a pert dowager, and a Bond Street fop; a grand spectacle, a chorus of banditti, and a hint at murder. — Martinus Scriblerus, Junior. March 19)
Scene, a saloon in St James’s Square
Enter Miss Rokeby and Lady Bab. Mortham 1
Lady B: At home, my dearest Matilda, and alone! I expected to have found you giving life and fashion to a crowd.
Miss R: Heavens! Lady Mortham, can you speak of a crowd when you know the inexpressible delicacy of my nerves, and the dangerous state of my family! But where is Sir Philip? My guardian will expect to see him when he finds you here.
Lady B: The very reason he is not here! It would be as reasonable child, to expect night and day at the same time — I never bring my grievances with me into company. But pray, who was in that fashionable great-coat which I met gliding down the backstairs?
Matilda: Only, only my foster-brother — I mean my Uncle’s protegée young Redmond, you know the interesting obscurity of his birth and the mysterious elegance of his character.
Lady Bab: Charming, my love, for the first chapter of a romance, and what delightful perplexities are his visits here designed to occasion? But postpone these unfashionable blushes — I see a more interesting visitor.
Matilda: My cousin Wilfrid! Ah, Lady Mortham! commiserate my sensibility and take the weight of his visit on yourself.
Lady Bab: How long has he escaped from the museum of non-descripts? Let him enter, I beseech you! Nothing is more exquisitely diverting than a fool — that was my reason for marrying Sir Philip.
Willfort: Ladies, you have condescended to illuminate the town in a very drear season! I should not have wasted my morning among Christie’s antiques, if I had guess’d the arrival of such exquisite moderns.
Lady Bab: Admirably confess’d, sir! Instead of regulating my private theatre according to your promise, you have been lounging among statues.
Captain Willfort: Have mercy on your vassals, Lady Bab! A man who lives in the beaumonde must lounge a great deal among statues. I have been traversing the town in search of a French teacher for Lady Simpermode’s macau, and some genuine attar of roses for Lord Dape’s mustachios, till I am absolutely annihilated.
Lady Bab: Very characteristic commissions! And how do you contrive to employ yourself when you have not these little friendly duties?
Willfort: Faith, I hardly recollect. I suck my oxygen air after breakfast at 4 o’clock — spar a few rounds at Humphries’ or Molyneaux’ — eat pineapple ice in Bond Street — leave my barouche at the door of the Literary Institution, dine time enough to see the last dance at the opera — and return at daybreak to dream of your ladyship’s bon-mots. (bowing)
Lady B: Dost presume to fix yourself in that indolent attitude? I have employment for you. But pray, you agreeable pest! why were you not at Lady Crotchet’s concert last night?
Willfort: May I be black-balled, mia bella, if it is not death to a man’s reputation to be seen in her rooms! Not the least pressure or symptom of suffocation! And her hall is empty as an ex-Minister’s!
Lady B: All Lady Salamander’s malicious report because the rooms were 10 degrees hotter than hers by the thermometer! Stay, recreant! Have you rehearsed your part in my new theatre?
Willfort: Spare me, dear Lady Bab! I am engaged this morning to teach Lady Seraphina Bettall the true Thracian flourish of the tambourine.
Lady B: Cielo! it has been exploded an age! I intend to bring in the banjo or Chinese gong this season.
Matilda: You petrify me, Lady Mortham! Is it possible that you are the manager of a private theatre?
Lady B: Does not everybody manage a little theatre? Where is the crime of acting at home as well as abroad? Fashion preserve me! Must wives be fixed to their places like stair-carpets, only to be trampled upon?
Matilda: But what part will Sir Philip act in your comedy? Can you propose such revels in his absence?
Lady B: Must we always appear together like Una and her mule in Angelica’s picture? But to own the truth, my husband acts Sampson Wrong-head; with rather more carelessness and spirit. You will make an admirable Lady Townly.
Willfort: My cousin Matilda is Lady Grace herself. But, Lady Bab, I must hazard a hint that your theatre is deficient in some essentials. You have no trap-door for your ghost — nothing for the audience to laugh at between the acts.
Lady B: Do you see nothing of that kind here? In return for your hint, you must know I intend to introduce a new after-piece tonight.
Willfort: A Persian Tale, perhaps? Well, with a procession of knights-templar, an Irish buffoon, a view of Brighton and a sea-fight on a few tons of water, it may do.
Lady B: Oh no! I propose something more appropriate to the whim of the moment — some pointed allusion to passing events — a view of Barnard Castle, or Marston Moor, with a group of cavaliers or round-heads.
Willfort: Very true, Lady Bab, and as last night’s courier brought news of an affair which covered us with glory, you may introduce a grand national chorus, which I have kept prepared.
Lady B: Heavens! why did not the careless wretch mention this before? My husband may be killed and I have neither bugles nor crape!
Matilda: An affair — a battle! Sir, if your feelings had been human, you would have spared my feminine sensibility the pang of asking questions.
Willfort: Certainly, my incomparable Matilda! I’m all nerve myself, tremblingly alive, I protest! The very sound of a battle ten leagues off makes me tremulous. And to spare the anguish of questions, I beg leave to add that your Uncle was killed at Marston Moor, and as the Morning Post says, will be incalculably ever-to-be-lamented.
Lady B: Lord, my poor Sir Philip! Take care, I am going to swoon.
Matilda: But Redmond, sir! Redmond O’Neale! I feel such exquisite and nameless forebodings! Only tell me his fate — I cannot endure to hear your answer! (Exit fainting)
Lady B: Really, that was a very theatrical start and a good shriek! The girl would be tolerable if she could forget her fine nerves.
Willfort: As your Ladyship decrees — She would be an exquisite statue of modesty.
Lady B: Tolerably well said. She is a very pretty old-fashioned thing. Pray, what is that odd story of Redmond O’Neale? As I am her particular friend, I have a right to know it first, that I may circulate it properly.
Willfort: Exquisitely kind, I vow! But positively there are cirumstances so strange — so outré — so romantic, that if duels had not been vulgar and Matilda the heiress of Rokeby, I should have challenged Redmond and dropped Matilda.
Lady B: Pish! Duels and sentimental courtship have been left to the Minerva Press this year. Leave your Matilda to my management. Allons! I want a chaperon to my opera-box (Exeunt)
Scene changes to Rokeby Park
A burning mansion seen at a distance and a group of Spaniards and English cavaliers discovered
Song and Chorus; Air “Ye Gentlemen of England”
Wake, genius of immortal Spain!
Your ancient glory calls;
Oppression ends her iron reign
The giant-demon falls!
Behold, brave Wellington before,
Our freeborn bands advance:
Now they pour on our shore
Dismay and death to France!
Chorus: While the stormy winds do blow, etc.
These rever’d tow’rs, this golden plain
Shall famish’d Roundheads sway?
Shall they who spurn’d a Caesar’s chain
A Cromwell’s nod obey?
What griefs a Patriot’s bosom swell,
What valour points his sword,
Let Rokeby’s empty cellars tell —
Let Greta Bridge record!
Chorus: While the stormy winds do blow, etc.
(Exeunt Guerillas and Cavaliers singing.)
Enter Willfort looking thro’ his eye-glass and Redmond O’Neale running out of breath.
Redmond: Friends! Soldiers! rescue the Knight of Rokeby! Willport, let us save Matilda — those flames are devouring her father’s mansion!
Willfort: Vastly sorry to hear it, but I had always a nervous antipathy to charcoal. Such great fires are best in perspective.
Redmond: Have you a soul? Can you stand gazing while Matilda is in danger?
Willport: Really, Mr Ensign O’Neale, these adventures may be very pleasant for you who have nothing to lose, but I am Sir Oswald Wycliffe’s heir. Writing a sonnet for a lady or handing her to her carriage is amusing enough — but on this occasion, you had better look for a fire-engine.
Redmond: Cold-blooded, heartless trifler! But the son of a murderer’s accomplice ought to be a coward!
Willfort: A murderer’s accomplice! Sir, this is very whimsical familiarity. If you were not so much hurried and I so particularly engaged, I — I — would ask you to favor me with your meaning.
Redmond: Can I speak plainer? Sir Philip Mortham was murdered yesterday at Marston Moor by your father’s ruffian, Bertram. But he is in this wood and shall not escape with life!
Willfort: A murderer in this wood! I’m prodigiously thankful, sir, for your explanation, and now I recollect a little engagement elsewhere — Ensign Redmond, your most obedient — pray, don’t take the trouble of following me — (As he runs out, he meets Matilda Rokeby running in)
Matilda: Stand out of the way, Willfort Wycliffe! — Redmond! Redmond! Oh!!!
Redmond: Matilda, Oh!!!
Willfort: Faith, a pretty subject for a canzonet! I have one in my pocket about a cypress wreath. Let us all sit down and sing it.
(While they are singing a glee for 3 voices, Bertram enters behind the bushes and sings this song, lest the audience should not see him.)
With gun, horse and hound
I search the woods round,
And hunt over valley and hill then;
Crows, pheasants and hares
I start from their lairs,
But when I’ve no business —
I kill men!
(Bertram levels his carbine at Redmond as he sits between Matilda and Willfort and THE CURTAIN DROPS!!)
The first Act of a new Tragedy and Comedy, respectfully offered to the Editor and Editress of the Attic Chest by their friend and correspondent
Martinus Scriblerus, Junior
March 19th, 1813
Glee for 3 voices
Lady! Chuse no cane for me
Or chuse it from the willow-tree
Too briskly shakes the aspen light,
The varnish’d elm is all too bright,
The stiff bamboo, the knotted pine
May suit a hand less soft than mine;
Then Lady! chuse no cane for me,
Or chuse it from the willow-tree!
Let merry England proudly rear
Her oaken saplings, sold so dear;
Let Scotia bend her besom blue
Of heath and brambles dipp’d in dew,
On favor’d Erin’s hand be seen
The twig she loves, Shillelah green,
But if I chuse a switch for thee
I’ll chuse it from the birchen tree.
Yes! twine for him the birchen bough
But O my Redmond! ’twere not now!
Wait till a few short months are past
And I have look’d and laugh’d my last!
Then while my household cares I rue
And slowly sweep, or sadly sew,
Then, Redmond, bend a broom for me
And bind it from the Birchen tree!
Sir Philip Mortham’s suspected wife. ↩