This is a scene from the famous play, "The School for Scandal", in which Sheridan strikes at the sort of people who have no good to say about anyone. Their conversation explains itself.Pages: <1>
A Room in Lady Sneer-well's House,
Lady Sneerwell, Mrs. Candour, Crabtree, Sir Nenjamin Nackbite, and Joseph Surface, discovered.
Lady Sneer. Nay, positively, we will hear it.
Jos. Surf. Yes, yes, the epigram, by all means.
Sir Ben. O plague on't, uncle! 'tis mere nonsense.
Crab. No, no; 'fore Gad, very clever for an extempore!
Sir Ben. But, ladies, you should be acquainted with the circumstance. You must know, that one day last week, as Lady Betty Curricle was taking the dust in Hyde Park, in a sort of duodecimo phaeton, she desired me to write some verses on her ponies; upon which I took out my pocket-book, and in one moment produced the following: -
Sure never were seen two such beautiful ponies;
Crab. There, ladies, done in the smack of a whip, and on horseback too.
Jos. Surf. A very Phoebus, mounted - indeed, Sir Benjamin!
Sir Ben. Oh dear, sir! - trifles - trifles.
[Enter Lady Teazle and Maria.]
Mrs. Can. I must have a copy.
Lady Sneer. Lady Teazle, I hope we shall see Sir Peter?
Lady Teaz. I believe he'll wait on your ladyship presently.
Lady Sneer. Maria, my love, you look grave. Come, you shall sit down to piquet with Mr. Surface.
Mar. I take very little pleasure in cards - however, I'll do as your ladyship pleases.
Lady Teaz. I am surprised Mr. Surface should sit down with her; I thought he would have embraced this opportunity of speaking to me before Sir Peter came.[Aside.]
Mrs. Can. Now, I'll die; but you are so scandalous, I'll forswear your society.
Lady Teaz. What's the matter, Mrs. Candour?
Mrs. Can. They'll not allow our friend Miss Vermilion to be handsome.
Lady Sneer. Oh, surely she is a pretty woman.
Crab. I am very glad you think so, ma'am.
Mrs. Can. She has a charming fresh colour.
Lady Teaz. Yes, when it is fresh put on.
Mrs. Can. Oh, fie! I'll swear her colour is natural: I have seen it come and go!
Lady Teaz. I dare swear you have, ma'am: it goes off at night, and comes again in the morning.
Sir Ben. True, ma'am, it not only comes and goes; but, what's more, egad, her maid can fetch and carry it!
Mrs. Can. Ha! ha! ha! how I hate to hear you talk so! But surely, now, her sister is, or was, very handsome.
Crab. Who? Mrs. Evergreen? O Lud! she's six-and-fifty if she's an hour!
Mrs. Can. Now positively you wrong her; fifty-two or fifty-three is the utmost - and I don't think she looks more.
Sir Ben. Ah! there's no judging by her looks, unless one could see her face.
Lady Sneer. Well, well, if Mrs. Evergreen does take some pains to repair the ravages of time, you must allow she effects it with great ingenuity; and surely that's better than the careless manner in which the widow Ochre caulks her wrinkles.
Sir Ben. Nay, now, Lady Sneerwell, you are severe upon the widow. Come, come, 'tis not that she paints so ill - but, when she has finished her face, she joins it on so badly to her neck, that she looks like a mended statue, in which the connoisseur may see at once that the head is modern, though the trunk's antique!
Crab. Ha! ha! ha! Well said, nephew!
Mrs. Can. Ha! ha! ha! Well, you make me laugh; but I vow I hate you for it. What do you think of Miss Simper?
Sir Ben. Why, she has very pretty teeth.
Lady Teaz. Yes; and on that account, when she is neither speaking nor laughing (which very seldom happens), she never absolutely shuts her mouth, but leaves it always on ajar, as it were - thus.
[Shows her teeth]
Mrs. Can. How can you be so ill-natured?
Lady Teaz. Nay, I allow even that's better than the pains Mrs. Prim takes to conceal her losses in front. She draws her mouth till it positively resembles the aperture of a poor's-box, and all her words appear to slide out edgewise, as it were - thus: How do you do, madam? Yes, madam.
Lady Sneer. Very well, Lady Teazle; I see you can be a little severe.
Lady Teaz. In defence of a friend it is but justice. But here comes Sir Peter to spoil our pleasantry. Enter Sir Peter Teazle.
Sir Pet. Ladies, your most obedient – [Aside.] Mercy on me, here is the whole set! a character dead at every word, I suppose.
Mrs. Can. I am rejoiced you are come, Sir Peter. They have been so censorious - and Lady Teazle as bad as any one.
Sir Pet. That must be very distressing to you, indeed, Mrs. Candour.
Mrs. Can. Oh, they will allow good qualities to nobody; not even good nature to our friend Mrs. Pursy.
Lady Teaz. What, the fat dowager who was at Mrs. Quadrille's last night?
Mrs. Can. Nay, her bulk is her misfortune; and when she takes so much pains to get rid of it, you, ought not to reflect on her.
Lady Sneer. That's very true, indeed.
Lady Teaz. Yes, I know she almost lives on acids and small whey; laces herself by pulleys; and often, in the hottest noon in summer, you may see her on a little squat pony, with her hair plaited up behind like a drummer's and puffing round the Ring on a full trot.
Mrs. Can. I thank you, Lady Teazle, for defending her,
Sir Pet. Yes, a good defence, truly.
Mrs. Can. Truly, Lady Teazle is as censorious as Miss Sallow.
Crab. Yes, and she is a curious being to pretend to be censorious - an awkward gawky, without any one good point under heaven.
Mrs. Can. Positively you shall not be so very severe. Miss Sallow is a near relation of mine by marriage, and, as for her person, great allowance is to be made; for, let me tell you, a woman labours under many disadvantages who tries to pass for a girl of six-and-thirty.
Lady Sneer. Though, surely, she is handsome still - and for the weakness in her eyes, considering how much she reads by candle-light, it is not to be wondered at.
Mrs. Can. True; and then as to her manner, upon my word I think it is particularly graceful, considering she never had the least education; for you know her mother was a Welsh milliner, and her father a sugar-baker at Bristol.
Sir. Ben. Ah! you are both of you too good-natured!
Sir Pet. Yes, mighty good-natured! This their own relation! mercy on me! [Aside.]
Mrs. Can. For my part, I own I cannot bear to hear a friend ill-spoken of.
Sir Pet. No, to be sure!
Sir Ben. Oh! you are of a moral turn. Mrs. Candour and I can sit for an hour and hear Lady Stucco talk sentiment.
Lady Teaz. Nay, I vow Lady Stucco is very well with the dessert after dinner; for she's just like the French fruit one cracks for mottoes - made up of paint and proverb.
Mrs. Can. Well, I will never join in ridiculing a friend; and so I constantly tell my cousin Ogle, and you all know what pretensions she has to be critical on beauty.
Crab. Oh, to be sure! she has herself the oddest countenance that ever was seen; 'tis a collection of features from all the different countries of the globe.
Sir Ben. So she has, indeed - an Irish front -
Crab. Caledonian locks -
Sir Ben. Dutch nose
Crab. Austrian lips -
Sir Ben. Complexion of a Spaniard -
Crab. And teeth a la Chinoise -
Sir Ben. In short, her face resembles a table d'hote at Spa - where no two guests are of a nation -
Crab. Or a congress at the close of a general war - wherein all the members, even to her eyes, appear to have a different interest, and her nose and chin are the only parties likely to join issue.
Mrs. Can. Ha! ha! ha!
Sir Pet. Mercy on my life! - a person they dine with twice a week! [Aside.]
Mrs. Can. Nay, but I vow you shall not carry the laugh off so - for give me leave to say, that Mrs. Ogle -
Sir Pet. Madam, I beg your pardon - there's no stopping these good gentlemen's tongues. But when I tell you, Mrs. Candour, that the lady they are abusing is a particular friend of mine, I hope you'll not take her part.
Lady Sneer. Ha! ha! ha! well said, Sir Peter! but you are a cruel creature - too phlegmatic yourself for a jest, and too peevish to allow wit in others.
Sir Pet. Ah, madam, true wit is more nearly allied to good-nature than your ladyship is aware of.
Lady Teaz. True, Sir Peter: I believe they are so near akin that they can never be united.
Sir Ben. Or rather, suppose them man and wife, because one seldom sees them together.
Lady Teaz. But Sir Peter is such an enemy to scandal, I believe he would have it put down by parliament.
Sir Pet. Tore heaven, madam, if they were to consider the sporting with reputation of as much importance as poaching on manors, and pass an act for the preservation of fame, as well as game, I believe many would thank them for the bill.
Lady Sneer. O Lud! Sir Peter; would you deprive us of our privileges?
Sir Pet. Ay, madam; and then no person should be permitted to kill characters and run down reputations, but qualified old maids and disappointed widows.
Lady Sneer. Go, you monster!
Mrs. Can. But, surely, you would not be quite so severe on those who only report what they hear?
Sir Pet. Yes, madam, I would have law merchant for them too; and in all cases of slander currency, whenever the drawer of the lie was not to be found, the injured parties should have a right to come on any of the endorsers.
Crab. Well, for my part, I believe there never was a scandalous tale without some foundation.
Lady Sneer. Come, ladies, shall we sit down to cards in the next room?