|Richard Brinsley Sheridan|
Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816). The School for Scandal.
Vol. 18, pp. 164-176 of The Harvard Classics
Lady Teazle hides in haste when her husband is unexpectedly announced. Situations which set many tongues wagging and fed the fire of gossip in Scandal-land, startle the reader.
("School for Scandal" produced at Drury Lane, May 8, 1777.)
A Library in JOSEPH SURFACE’S House
Enter JOSEPH SURFACE and SERVANT
Jos. Surf. No letter from Lady Teazle?
Ser. No, sir.
Jos. Surf. [Aside.] I am surprised she has not sent, if she is prevented from coming. Sir Peter certainly does not suspect me. Yet I wish I may not lose the heiress, through the scrape I have drawn myself into with the wife; however, Charles’ imprudence and bad character are great points in my favour. [Knocking without.
Ser. Sir, I believe that must be Lady Teazle.
Jos. Surf. Hold! See whether it is or not, before you go to the door: I have a particular message for you if it should be my brother.
Ser. ’Tis her ladyship, sir; she always leaves her chair at the milliner’s in the next street.
Jos. Surf. Stay, stay; draw that screen before the window—that will do;—my opposite neighbour is a maiden lady of so curious a temper—[SERVANT draws the screen, and exit.] I have a difficult hand to play in this affair. Lady Teazle has lately suspected my views on Maria; but she must by no means be let into that secret,—at least, till I have her more in my power.
Enter LADY TEAZLE
Lady Teaz. What, sentiment in soliloquy now? Have you been very impatient? O Lud! don’t pretend to look grave. I vow I couldn’t come before.
Jos. Surf. O madam, punctuality is a species of constancy very unfashionable in a lady of quality. [Places chairs, and sits after LADY TEAZLE is seated.
Lady Teaz. Upon my word, you ought to pity me. Do you know Sir Peter is grown so ill-natured to me of late, and so jealous of Charles too—that’s the best of the story, isn’t it?
Jos. Surf. I am glad my scandalous friends keep that up. [Aside.
Lady Teaz. I am sure I wish he would let Maria marry him, and then perhaps he would be convinced; don’t you, Mr. Surface?
Jos. Surf. [Aside.] Indeed I do not.—[Aloud.] Oh, certainly I do! for then my dear Lady Teazle would also be convinced how wrong her suspicions were of my having any design on the silly girl.
Lady Teaz. Well, well, I’m inclined to believe you. But isn’t it provoking, to have the most ill-natured things said of one? And there’s my friend Lady Sneerwell has circulated I don’t know how many scandalous tales of me, and all without any foundation too; that’s what vexes me.
Jos. Surf. Ay, madam, to be sure, that is the provoking circumstance—without foundation; yes, yes, there’s the mortification, indeed; for when a scandalous story is believed against one, there certainly is no comfort like the consciousness of having deserved it.
Lady Teaz. No, to be sure, then I’d forgive their malice; but to attack me, who am really so innocent, and who never say an ill-natured thing of any body—that is, of any friend; and then Sir Peter, too, to have him so peevish, and so suspicious, when I know the integrity of my own heart—indeed ’tis monstrous!
Jos. Surf. But, my dear Lady Teazle, ’tis your own fault if you suffer it. When a husband entertains a groundless suspicion of his wife, and withdraws his confidence from her, the original compact is broken, and she owes it to the honour of her sex to endeavour to outwit him.
Lady Teaz. Indeed! So that, if he suspects me without cause, it follows, that the best way of curing his jealousy is to give him reason for’t?
Jos. Surf. Undoubtedly—for your husband should never be deceived in you: and in that case it becomes you to be frail in compliment to his discernment.
Lady Teaz. To be sure, what you say is very reasonable, and when the consciousness of my innocence—
Jos. Surf. Ah, my dear madam, there is the great mistake! ’tis this very conscious innocence that is of the greatest prejudice to you. What is it makes you negligent of forms, and careless of the world’s opinion? why, the consciousness of your own innocence. What makes you thoughtless in your conduct, and apt to run into a thousand little imprudences? why, the consciousness of your own innocence. What makes you impatient of Sir Peter’s temper, and outrageous at his suspicions? why, the consciousness of your innocence.
Lady Teaz. ’Tis very true!
Jos. Surf. Now, my dear Lady Teazle, if you would but once make a trifling faux pas,you can’t conceive how cautious you would grow, and how ready to humour and agree with your husband.
Lady Teaz. Do you think so?
Jos. Surf. Oh, I am sure on’t; and then you would find all scandal would cease at once, for—in short, your character at present is like a person in a plethora, absolutely dying from too much health.
Lady Teaz. So, so; then I perceive your prescription is, that I must sin in my own defence, and part with my virtue to preserve my reputation?
Jos. Surf. Exactly so, upon my credit, ma’am.
Lady Teaz. Well, certainly this is the oddest doctrine, and the newest receipt for avoiding calumny!
Jos. Surf. An infallible one, believe me. Prudence, like experience, must be paid for
Lady Teaz. Why, if my understanding were once convinced—
Jos. Surf. Oh, certainly, madam, your understanding should be convinced. Yes, yes—Heaven forbid I should persuade you to do any thing you thought wrong. No, no, I have too much honour to desire it.
Lady Teaz. Don’t you think we may as well leave honour out of the argument? [Rises.
Jos. Surf. Ah, the ill effects of your country education, I see, still remain with you.
Lady Teaz. I doubt they do indeed; and I will fairly own to you, that if I could be persuaded to do wrong, it would be by Sir Peter’s ill usage sooner than your honourable logic, after all.
Jos. Surf. Then, by this hand, which he is unworthy of— [Taking her hand.
’Sdeath, you blockhead—what do you want?
Ser. I beg your pardon, sir, but I thought you would not choose Sir Peter to come up without announcing him.
Jos. Surf. Sir Peter!—Oons—the devil!
Lady Teaz. Sir Peter! O Lud! I’m ruined! I’m ruined!
Ser. Sir, ’twasn’t I let him in.
Lady Teaz. Oh! I’m quite undone! What will become of me? Now, Mr. Logic—Oh! mercy, sir, he’s on the stairs—I’ll get behind here—and if ever I’m so imprudent again— [Goes behind the screen.
Jos. Surf. Give me that book. [Sits down. SERVANT pretends to adjust his chair.
Enter SIR PETER TEAZLE
Sir Pet. Ay, ever improving himself—Mr. Surface, Mr. Surface— [Pats JOSEPH on the shoulder.
Jos. Surf. Oh, my dear Sir Peter, I beg your pardon.—[Gaping, throws away the book.] I have been dozing over a stupid book. Well, I am much obliged to you for this call. You haven’t been here, I believe, since I fitted up this room. Books, you know, are the only things I am a coxcomb in.
Sir Pet. “Tis very neat indeed. Well, well, that’s proper; and you can make even your screen a source of knowledge—hung, I perceive, with maps.
Jos. Surf. Oh, yes, I find great use in that screen.
Sir Pet. I dare say you must, certainly, when you want to find any thing in a hurry.
Jos. Surf. Ay, or to hide any thing in a hurry either. [Aside.
Sir Pet. Well, I have a little private business—
Jos. Surf. You need not stay. [To SERVANT.
Ser. No, sir. [Exit.
Jos. Surf. Here’s a chair, Sir Peter—I beg—
Sir Pet. Well, now we are alone, there is a subject, my dear friend, on which I wish to unburden my mind to you—a point of the greatest moment to my peace; in short, my good friend, Lady Teazle’s conduct of late has made me very unhappy.
Jos. Surf. Indeed! I am very sorry to hear it.
Sir Pet. ’Tis but too plain she has not the least regard for me; but, what’s worse, I have pretty good authority to suppose she has formed an attachment to another.
Jos. Surf. Indeed! you astonish me!
Sir Pet. Yes! and, between ourselves, I think I’ve discovered the person.
Jos. Surf. How! you alarm me exceedingly.
Sir Pet. Ay, my dear friend, I knew you would sympathise with me!
Jos. Surf. Yes, believe me, Sir Peter, such a discovery would hurt me just as much as it would you.
Sir Pet. I am convinced of it. Ah! it is a happiness to have a friend whom we can trust even with one’s family secrets. But have you no guess who I mean?
Jos. Surf. I haven’t the most distant idea. It can’t be Sir Benjamin Backbite!
Sir Pet. Oh no! What say you to Charles?
Jos. Surf. My brother! impossible!
Sir Pet. Oh, my dear friend, the goodness of your own heart misleads you. You judge of others by yourself.
Jos. Surf. Certainly, Sir Peter, the heart that is conscious of its own integrity is ever slow to credit another’s treachery.
Sir Pet. True; but your brother has no sentiment—you never hear him talk so.
Jos. Surf. Yet I can’t but think Lady Teazle herself has too much principle.
Sir Pet. Ay; but what is principle against the flattery of a handsome, lively young fellow?
Jos. Surf. That’s very true.
Sir Pet. And then, you know, the difference of our ages makes it very improbable that she should have any great affection for me; and if she were to be frail, and I were to make it public, why the town would only laugh at me, the foolish old bachelor, who had married a girl.
Jos. Surf. That’s true, to be sure—they would laugh.
Sir Pet. Laugh! ay, and make ballads, and paragraphs, and the devil knows what of me.
Jos. Surf. No, you must never make it public.
Sir Pet. But then again—that the nephew of my old friend, Sir Oliver, should be the person to attempt such a wrong, hurts me more nearly.
Jos. Surf. Ay, there’s the point. When ingratitude barbs the dart of injury, the wound has double danger in it.
Sir Pet. Ay—I, that was, in a manner, left his guardian; in whose house he had been so often entertained; who never in my life denied him—my advice!
Jos. Surf. Oh, ’tis not to be credited! There may be a man capable of such baseness, to be sure; but, for my part, till you can give me positive proofs, I cannot but doubt it. However, if it should be proved on him, he is no longer a brother of mine—I disclaim kindred with him: for the man who can break the laws of hospitality, and tempt the wife of his friend, deserves to be branded as the pest of society.
Sir Pet. What a difference there is between you! What noble sentiments!
Jos. Surf. Yet I cannot suspect Lady Teazle’s honour.
Sir Pet. I am sure I wish to think well of her, and to remove all ground of quarrel between us. She has lately reproached me more than once with having made no settlement on her; and, in our last quarrel, she almost hinted that she should not break her heart if I was dead. Now, as we seem to differ in our ideas of expense, I have resolved she shall have her own way, and be her own mistress in that respect for the future; and, if I were to die, she will find I have not been inattentive to her interest while living. Here, my friend, are the drafts of two deeds, which I wish to have your opinion on. By one, she will enjoy eight hundred a year independent while I live; and, by the other, the bulk of my fortune at my death.
Jos. Surf. This conduct, Sir Peter, is indeed truly generous.—[Aside.] I wish it may not corrupt my pupil.
Sir Pet. Yes, I am determined she shall have no cause to complain, though I would have not have her acquainted with the latter instance of my affection yet awhile.
Jos. Surf. Nor I, if I could help it. [Aside.
Sir Pet. And now, my dear friend, if you please, we will talk over the situation of your hopes with Maria.
Jos. Surf. [Softly.] Oh, no, Sir Peter; another time, if you please.
Sir Pet. I am sensibly chagrined at the little progress you seem to make in her affections.
Jos. Surf. [Softly.] I beg you will not mention it. What are my disappointments when your happiness is in debate!—[Aside.] ’Sdeath, I shall be ruined every way!
Sir Pet. And though you are averse to my acquainting Lady Teazle with your passion, I’m sure she’s not your enemy in the affair.
Jos. Surf. Pray, Sir Peter, now oblige me. I am really too much affected by the subject we have been speaking of to bestow a thought on my own concerns. The man who is entrusted with his friend’s distresses can never—
Ser. Your brother, sir, is speaking to a gentleman in the street, and says he knows you are within.
Jos. Surf. ’Sdeath, blockhead, I’m not within—I’m out for the day.
Sir Pet. Stay—hold—a thought has struck me:—you shall be at home.
Jos. Surf. Well, well, let him come up.—[Exit SERVANT.] He’ll interrupt Sir Peter, however. [Aside.
Sir Pet. Now, my good friend, oblige me, I entreat you. Before Charles comes, let me conceal myself somewhere, then do you tax him on the point we have been talking, and his answer may satisfy me at once.
Jos. Surf. Oh, fie, Sir Peter! would you have me join in so mean a trick?—to trepan my brother too?
Sir Pet. Nay, you tell me you are sure he is innocent; if so you do him the greatest service by giving him an opportunity to clear himself, and you will set my heart at rest. Come, you shall not refuse me: [Going up.] here, behind the screen will be—Hey! what the devil! there seems to be one listener here already—I’ll swear I saw a petticoat!
Jos. Surf. Ha! ha! ha! Well, this is ridiculous enough. I’ll tell you, Sir Peter, though I hold a man of intrigue to be a most despicable character, yet, you know, it does not follow that one is to be an absolute Joseph either! Hark’ee, ’tis a little French milliner, a silly rogue that plagues me; and having some character to lose, on your coming, sir, she ran behind the screen.
Sir Pet. Ah, Joseph! Joseph! Did I ever think that you—But, egad, she has overheard all I have been saying of my wife.
Jos. Surf. Oh, ’twill never go any farther, you may depend upon it!
Sir Pet. No! then, faith, let her hear it out.—Here’s a closet will do as well.
Jos. Surf. Well, go in there.
Sir Pet. Sly rogue! sly rogue! [Goes into the closet.
Jos. Surf. A narrow escape, indeed! and a curious situation I’m in, to part man and wife in this manner.
Lady Teaz. [Peeping.] Couldn’t I steal off?
Jos. Surf. Keep close, my angel!
Sir Pet. [Peeping.] Joseph, tax him home.
Jos. Surf. Back, my dear friend!
Lady Teaz. [Peeping.] Couldn’t you lock Sir Peter in?
Jos. Surf. Be still, my life!
Sir Pet. [Peeping.] You’re sure the little milliner won’t blab?
Jos. Surf. In, in, my dear Sir Peter!—’Fore Gad, I wish I had a key to the door.
Enter CHARLES SURFACE
Chas. Surf. Holla! brother, what has been the matter? Your fellow would not let me up at first. What! have you had a Jew or a wench with you?
Jos. Surf. Neither, brother, I assure you.
Chas. Surf. But what has made Sir Peter steal off? I thought he had been with you.
Jos. Surf. He was, brother; but, hearing you were coming, he did not choose to stay.
Chas. Surf. What! was the old gentleman afraid I wanted to borrow money of him?
Jos. Surf. No, sir; but I am sorry to find, Charles, you have lately given that worthy man grounds for great uneasiness.
Chas. Surf. Yes, they tell me I do that to a great many worthy men. But how so, pray?
Jos. Surf. To be plain with you, brother, he thinks you are endeavouring to gain Lady Teazle’s affections from him.
Chas. Surf. Who, I? O Lud! not I, upon my word—Ha! ha! ha! so the old fellow has found out that he has got a young wife, has he?—or, what is worse, Lady Teazle has found out she has an old husband?
Jos. Surf. This is no subject to jest on, brother. He who can laugh—
Chas. Surf. True, true, as you were going to say—then, seriously, I never had the least idea of what you charge me with, upon my honour.
Jos. Surf. Well, it will give Sir Peter great satisfaction to hear this. [Raising his voice.
Chas. Surf. To be sure, I once thought the lady seemed to have taken a fancy to me; but, upon my soul, I never gave her the least encouragement. Besides, you know my attachment to Maria.
Jos. Surf. But sure, brother, even if Lady Teazle had betrayed the fondest partiality for you—
Chas. Surf. Why, look’ee Joseph, I hope I shall never deliberately do a dishonourable action, but if a pretty woman was purposely to throw herself in my way—and that pretty woman married to a man old enough to be her father—
Jos. Surf. Well!
Chas. Surf. Why, I believe I should be obliged to—
Jos. Surf. What?
Chas. Surf. To borrow a little of your morality, that’s all. But, brother, do you know now that you surprise me exceedingly, by naming me with Lady Teazle; for i’ faith, I always understood you were her favourite.
Jos. Surf. Oh, for shame, Charles! This retort is foolish.
Chas. Surf. Nay, I swear I have seen you exchange such significant glances—
Jos. Surf. Nay, nay, sir, this is no jest.
Chas. Surf. Egad, I’m serious! Don’t you remember one day, when I called here—
Jos. Surf. Nay, pr’ythee, Charles—
Chas. Surf. And found you together—
Jos. Surf. Zounds, sir, I insist—
Chas. Surf. And another time when your servant—
Jos. Surf. Brother, brother, a word with you!—[Aside.] Gad, I must stop him.
Chas. Surf. Informed, I say, that—
Jos. Surf. Hush! I beg your pardon, but Sir Peter has overheard all we have been saying. I knew you would clear yourself, or I should not have consented.
Chas. Surf. How, Sir Peter! Where is he?
Jos. Surf. Softly, there! [Points to the closet.
Chas. Surf. Oh, ’fore Heaven, I’ll have him out. Sir Peter, come forth!
Jos. Surf. No, no—
Chas. Surf. I say, Sir Peter, come into court.—[Pulls in SIR PETER.] What my old guardian!—What! turn inquisitor, and take evidence incog? Oh, fie! Oh, fie!
Sir Pet. Give me your hand, Charles—I believe I have suspected; you wrongfully; but you mustn’t be angry with Joseph—’twas my plan!
Chas. Surf. Indeed!
Sir Pet. But I acquit you. I promise you I don’t think near so ill of you as I did: what I have heard has given me great satisfaction.
Chas. Surf. Egad, then, ’twas lucky you didn’t hear any more. Wasn’t it, Joseph?
Sir Pet. Ah! you would have retorted on him.
Chas. Surf. Ah, ay, that was a joke.
Sir Pet. Yes, yes, I know his honour too well.
Chas. Surf. But you might as well have suspected him as me in this matter, for all that. Mightn’t he, Joseph?
Sir Pet. Well, well, I believe you.
Jos. Surf. Would they were both out of the room. [Aside.
Sir Pet. And in future, perhaps, we may not be such strangers.
Re-enter SERVANT, and whispers JOSEPH SURFACE
Ser. Lady Sneerwell is below, and says she will come up.
Jos. Surf. Lady Sneerwell! Gad’s life! she must not come here. [Exit SERVANT.] Gentlemen, I beg pardon—I must wait on you down stairs: here is a person come on particular business.
Chas. Surf. Well, you can see him in another room. Sir Peter and I have not met a long time, and I have something to say to him.
Jos. Surf. [Aside.] They must not be left together.—[Aloud.] I’ll send Lady Sneerwell away, and return directly.—[Aside to SIR PETER.] Sir Peter, not a word of the French milliner.
Sir Pet. [Aside to JOSEPH SURFACE.] I! not for the world!—[Exit JOSEPH SURFACE.] Ah, Charles, if you associated more with your brother, one might indeed hope for your reformation. He is a man of sentiment. Well, there is nothing in the world so noble as a man of sentiment.
Chas. Surf. Psha! he is too moral by half; and so apprehensive of his good name, as he calls it, that I suppose he would as soon let a priest into his house as a wench.
Sir Pet. No, no,—come, come—you wrong him. No, no! Joseph is no rake, but he is no such saint either, in that respect.—[Aside.] I have a great mind to tell him—we should have such a laugh at Joseph.
Chas. Surf. Oh, hang him! he’s a very anchorite, a young hermit!
Sir Pet. Hark’ee—you must not abuse him: he may chance to hear of it again, I promise you.
Chas. Surf. Why, you won’t tell him?
Sir Pet. No—but—this way. [Aside.] Egad, I’ll tell him—[Aloud.] Hark’ee—have you mind to have a good laugh at Joseph?
Chas. Surf. I should like it of all things.
Sir Pet. Then, i’ faith, we will! I’ll be quit with him for discovering me. He had a girl with him when I called. [Whispers.
Chas. Surf. What! Joseph? you jest.
Sir Pet. Hush!—a little French milliner—and the best of the jest is—she’s in the room now.
Chas. Surf. The devil she is!
Sir Pet. Hush! I tell you. [Points to the screen.
Chas. Surf. Behind the screen! ’Slife, let’s unveil her!
Sir Pet. No, no, he’s coming:—you sha’n’t, indeed!
Chas. Surf. Oh, egad, we’ll have a peep at the little milliner!
Sir Pet. Not for the world!—Joseph will never forgive me.
Chas. Surf. I’ll stand by you—
Sir Pet. Odds, here he is! [CHARLES SURFACE throws down the screen.
Re-enter JOSEPH SURFACE
Chas. Surf. Lady Teazle, by all that’s wonderful.
Sir Pet. Lady Teazle, by all that’s damnable!
Chas. Surf. Sir Peter, this is one of the smartest French milliners I ever saw. Egad, you seem all to have been diverting yourselves here at hide and seek, and I don’t see who is out of the secret. Shall I beg your ladyship to inform me? Not a word!—Brother, will you be pleased to explain this matter? What! is Morality dumb too?—Sir Peter, though I found you in the dark, perhaps you are not so now! All mute!—Well—though I can make nothing of the affair, I suppose you perfectly understand one another; so I’ll leave you to yourselves.—[Going.] Brother, I’m sorry to find you have given that worthy man grounds for so much uneasiness.—Sir Peter! there’s nothing in the world so noble as a man of sentiment! [Exit.
Jos. Surf. Sir Peter—notwithstanding—I confess—that appearances are against me—if you will afford me your patience—I make no doubt—but I shall explain every thing to your satisfaction.
Sir Pet. If you please, sir.
Jos. Surf. The fact is, sir, that Lady Teazle, knowing my pretensions to your ward Maria—I say, sir, Lady Teazle, being apprehensive of the jealousy of your temper—and knowing my friendship to the family—she, sir, I say—called here—in order that—I might explain these pretensions—but on your coming—being apprehensive—as I said—of your jealousy—she withdrew—and this, you may depend on it, is the whole truth of the matter.
Sir Pet. A very clear account, upon my word; and I dare swear the lady will vouch for every article of it.
Lady Teaz. For not one word of it, Sir Peter!
Sir Pet. How! don’t you think it worth while to agree in the lie?
Lady Teaz. There is not one syllable of truth in what that gentleman has told you.
Sir Pet. I believe you, upon my soul, ma’am!
Jos. Surf. [Aside to LADY TEAZLE.] ’Sdeath, madam, will you betray me?
Lady Teaz. Good Mr. Hypocrite, by your leave, I’ll speak for myself.
Sir Pet. Ay, let her alone, sir; you’ll find she’ll make out a better story than you, without prompting.
Lady Teaz. Hear me, Sir Peter!—I came here on no matter relating to your ward, and even ignorant of this gentleman’s pretensions to her. But I came, seduced by his insidious arguments, at least to listen to his pretended passion, if not to sacrifice your honour to his baseness.
Sir Pet. Now, I believe thee truth is coming, indeed!
Jos. Surf. The woman’s mad!
Lady Teaz. No, sir; she has recovered her senses and your own arts have furnished her with the means.—Sir Peter, I do not expect you to credit me—but the tenderness you expressed for me, when I am sure you could not think I was a witness to it, has so penetrated to my heart, that had I left the place without the shame of this discovery, my future life should have spoken the sincerity of my gratitude. As for that smooth-tongued hypocrite, who would have seduced the wife of his too credulous friend, while he affected honourable addresses to his war—I behold him now in a light so truly despicable, that I shall never again respect myself for having listened to him. [Exit.
Jos. Surf. Notwithstanding all this, Sir Peter, Heaven knows—
Sir Pet. That you are a villain! and so I leave you to your conscience.
Jos. Surf. You are too rash, Sir Peter; you shall hear me. The man who shuts out conviction by refusing to—
Sir Pet. Oh, damn your sentiments! [Exeunt Sir Peter and Joseph Surface, talking.