The Mistakes of a Night

April 04, 2020

Oliver Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith (1730?–1774). She Stoops to Conquer.
Vol. 18, pp. 205-215 of The Harvard Classics

Genial and rollicking fun are provided in this highly entertaining story of a man who mistakes a private house for an inn, and who treats his host's daughter like a serving maid.
(Oliver Goldsmith born April 4, 1774.)

Act the First

SCENEA Chamber in an old-fashioned House

Mrs. Hardcastle
VOW, Mr. Hardcastle, you’re very particular. Is there a creature in the whole country but ourselves, that does not take a trip to town now and then, to rub off the rust a little? There’s the two Miss Hoggs, and our neighbour Mrs. Grigsby, go to take a month’s polishing every winter.
  Hard.  Ay, and bring back vanity and affection to last them the whole year. I wonder why London cannot keep its own fools at home! In my time, the follies of the town crept slowly among us, but now they travel faster than a stage-coach. Its fopperies come down not only as inside passengers, but in the very basket.

  Mrs. Hard.  Ay, your times were fine times indeed; you have been telling us of them for many a long year. Here we live in an old rumbling mansion, that looks for all the world like an inn, but that we never see company. Our best visitors are old Mrs. Oddfish, the curate’s wife, and little Cripplegate, the lame dancing-master; and all our entertainment your old stories of Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough. I hate such old-fashioned trumpery.
  Hard.  And I love it. I love everything that’s old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine; and I believe, Dorothy (taking her hand), you’ll own I have been pretty fond of an old wife.
  Mrs. Hard.  Lord, Mr. Hardcastle, you’re for ever at your Dorothys and your old wives. You may be a Darby, but I’ll be no Joan, I promise you. I’m not so old as you’d make me, by more than one good year. Add twenty to twenty, and make money of that.
  Hard.  Let me see; twenty added to twenty makes just fifty and seven.
  Mrs. Hard.  It’s false, Mr. Hardcastle; I was but twenty when I was brought to bed of Tony, that I had by Mr. Lumpkin, my first husband; and he’s not come to years of discretion yet.
  Hard.  Nor ever will, I dare answer for him. Ay, you have taught him finely.
  Mrs. Hard.  No matter. Tony Lumpkin has a good fortune. My son is not to live by his learning. I don’t think a boy wants much learning to spend fifteen hundred a year.
  Hard.  Learning, quotha! a mere composition of tricks and mischief.
  Mrs. Hard.  Humour, my dear; nothing but humour. Come, Mr. Hardcastle, you must allow the boy a little humour.
  Hard.  I’d sooner allow him a horse-pond. If burning the footmen’s shoes, frightening the maids, and worrying the kittens be humour, he has it. It was but yesterday he fastened my wig to the back of my chair, and when I went to make a bow, I popt my bald head in Mrs. Frizzle’s face.
  Mrs. Hard.  And am I to blame? The poor boy was always too sickly to do any good. A school would be his death. When he comes to be a little stronger, who knows what a year or two’s Latin may do for him?
  Hard.  Latin for him! A cat and fiddle. No, no; the alehouse and the stable are the only schools he’ll ever go to.
  Mrs. Hard.  Well, we must not snub the poor boy now, for I believe we sha’n’t have him long among us. Anybody that looks in his face may see he’s consumptive.
  Hard.  Ay, if growing too fat be one of the symptoms.
  Mrs. Hard.  He coughs sometimes.
  Hard.  Yes, when his liquor goes the wrong way.
  Mrs. Hard.  I’m actually afraid of his lungs.
  Hard.  And truly so am I; for he sometimes whoops like a speaking trumpet—(TONYhallooing behind the scenes)—O, there he goes—a very consumptive figure, truly.

Enter TONY, crossing the stage
  Mrs. Hard.  Tony, where are you going, my charmer? Won’t you give papa and I a little of your company, love?
  Tony.  I’m in haste, mother; I cannot stay.
  Mrs. Hard.  You sha’n’t venture out this raw evening, my dear; you look most shockingly.
  Tony.  I can’t stay, I tell you. The Three Pigeons expects me down every moment. There’s some fun going forward.
  Hard.  Ay; the alehouse, the old place; I thought so.
  Mrs. Hard.  A low, paltry set of fellows.
  Tony.  Not so low, neither. There’s Dick Muggins the exciseman, Jack Slang the horse doctor, little Aminadab that grinds the music box, and Tom Twist that spins the pewter platter.
  Mrs. Hard.  Pray, my dear, disappoint them for one night at least.
  Tony.  As for disappointing them, I should not so much mind; but I can’t abide to disappoint myself.
  Mrs. Hard.  (Detaining him.) You sha’n’t go.
  Tony.  I will, I tell you.
  Mrs. Hard.  I say you sha’n’t.
  Tony.  We’ll see which is strongest, you or I.  [Exit, hauling her out.
  Hard.  (Solus.) Ay, there goes a pair that only spoil each other. But is not the whole age in a combination to drive sense and discretion out of doors? There’s my pretty darling Kate! the fashions of the times have almost infected her too. By living a year or two in town, she is as fond of gauze and French frippery as the best of them.

  Hard.  Blessings on my pretty innocence! drest out as usual, my Kate. Goodness! What a quantity of superfluous silk hast thou got about thee, girl! I could never teach the fools of this age, that the indigent world could be clothed out of the trimmings of the vain.
  Miss Hard.  You know our agreement, sir. You allow me the morning to receive and pay visits, and to dress in my own manner; and in the evening I put on my housewife’s dress to please you.
  Hard.  Well, remember, I insist on the terms of our agreement; and, by the by, I believe I shall have occasion to try your obedience this very evening.
  Miss Hard.  I protest, sir, I don’t comprehend your meaning.
  Hard.  Then to be plain with you, Kate, I expect the young gentleman I have chosen to be your husband from town this very day. I have his father’s letter, in which he informs me his son is set out, and that he intends to follow himself shortly after.
  Miss Hard.  Indeed! I wish I had known something of this before. Bless me, how shall I behave? It’s a thousand to one I sha’n’t like him; our meeting will be so formal, and so like a thing of business, that I shall find no room for friendship or esteem.
  Hard.  Depend upon it, child, I’ll never control your choice; but Mr. Marlow whom I have pitched upon, is the son of my old friend, Sir Charles Marlow, of whom you have heard me talk so often. The young gentleman has been bred a scholar, and is designed for an employment in the service of his country. I am told he’s a man of an excellent understanding.
  Miss Hard.  Is he?
  Hard.  Very generous.
  Miss Hard.  I believe I shall like him.
  Hard.  Young and brave.
  Miss Hard.  I’m sure I shall like him.
  Hard.  And very handsome.
  Miss Hard.  My dear papa, say no more (kissing his hand), he’s mine; I’ll have him.
  Hard.  And, to crown all, Kate, he’s one of the most bashful and reserved young fellows in all the world.
  Miss Hard.  Eh! you have frozen me to death again. That word reserved has undone all the rest of his accomplishments. A reserved lover, it is said, always makes a suspicious husband.
  Hard.  On the contrary, modesty seldom resides in a breast that is not enriched with nobler virtues. It was the very feature in his character that first struck me.
  Miss Hard.  He must have more striking features to catch me, I promise you. However, if he be so young, so handsome, and so everything as you mention, I believe he’ll do still. I think I’ll have him.
  Hard.  Ay, Kate, but there is still an obstacle. It’s more than an even wager he may not have you.
  Miss Hard.  My dear papa, why will you mortify one so? Well, if he refuses, instead of breaking my heart at his indifference, I’ll only break my glass for its flattery, set my cap to some newer fashion, and look out for some less difficult admirer.
  Hard.  Bravely resolved! In the meantime I’ll go prepare the servants for his reception: as we seldom see company, they want as much training as a company of recruits the first day’s muster.  [Exit.
  Miss Hard.  (Sola.) Lud, this news of papa’s puts me all in a flutter. Young, handsome: these he put last; but I put them foremost. Sensible, good-natured; I like all that. But then reserved and sheepish; that’s much against him. Yet can’t he be cured of his timidity, by being taught to be proud of his wife? Yes, and can’t I—But I vow I’m disposing of the husband before I have secured the lover.

  Miss Hard.  I’m glad you’re come, Neville, my dear. Tell me, Constance, how do I look this evening? Is there anything whimsical about me? Is it one of my well-looking days, child? Am I in face to-day?
  Miss Nev.  Perfectly, my dear. Yet now I look again—bless me!—sure no accident has happened among the canary birds or the gold fishes. Has your brother or the cat been meddling? or has the last novel been too moving?  Miss Hard.  No; nothing of all this. I have been threatened-I can scarce get it out—I have been threatened with a lover.
  Miss Nev.  And his name—
  Miss Hard.  Is Marlow.
  Miss Nev.  Indeed!
  Miss Hard.  The son of Sir Charles Marlow.
  Miss Nev.  As I live, the most intimate friend of Mr. Hastings, my admirer. They are never asunder. I believe you must have seen him when we lived in town.
  Miss Hard.  Never.
  Miss Nev.  He’s a very singular character, I assure you. Among women of reputation and virtue he is the modestest man alive; but his acquaintance give him a very different character among creatures of another stamp: you understand me.
  Miss Hard.  An odd character indeed. I shall never be able to manage him. What shall I do? Pshaw, think no more of him, but trust to occurrences for success. But how goes on your own affair, my dear? has my mother been courting you for my brother Tony as usual?
  Miss Nev.  I have just come from one of our agreeable tête-à-têtes. She has been saying a hundred tender things, and setting off her pretty monster as the very pink of perfection.
  Miss Hard.  And her partiality is such, that she actually thinks him so. A fortune like yours is no small temptation. Besides, as she has the sole management of it, I’m not surprised to see her unwilling to let it go out of the family.
  Miss Nev.  A fortune like mine, which chiefly consists in jewels, is no such mighty temptation. But at any rate, if my dear Hastings be but constant, I make no doubt to be too hard for her at last. However, I let her suppose that I am in love with her son; and she never once dreams that my affections are fixed upon another.
  Miss Hard.  My good brother holds out stoutly. I could almost love him for hating you so.
  Miss Nev.  It is a good-natured creature at bottom, and I’m sure would wish to see me married to anybody but himself. But my aunt’s bell rings for our afternoon’s walk round the improvements. Allons! Courage is necessary, as our affairs are critical.
  Miss Hard.  “Would it were bed-time, and all were well.”  [Exeunt.

SCENEAn Alehouse Room. Several shabby Fellows with punch and tobacco. TONY at the head of the table, a little higher than the rest, a mallet in his hand

  Omnes.  Hurrea! hurrea! hurrea! bravo!
  First Fel.  Now, gentlemen, silence for a song. The ’squire is going to knock himself down for a song.
  Omnes.  Ay, a song, a song!
  Tony.  Then I’ll sing you, gentlemen, a song I made upon this alehouse, the Three Pigeons.
  When methodist preachers come down,   Then come, put the jorum about,

Let schoolmasters puzzle their brain
  With grammar, and nonsense, and learning,
Good liquor, I stoutly maintain,
  Gives genus a better discerning.
Let them brag of their heathenish gods,
  Their Lethes, their Styxes, and Stygians,
Their Quis, and their Quæs, and their Quods,
  They’re all but a parcel of Pigeons.
                      Toroddle, toroddle, toroll.
  A-preaching that drinking is sinful,
I’ll wager the rascals a crown,
  They always preach best with a skinful.
But when you come down with your pence,
  For a slice of their scurvy religion,
I’ll leave it to all men of sense,
  But you, my good friend, are the Pigeon.
                      Toroddle, toroddle, toroll.
  And let us be merry and clever,
Our hearts and our liquors are stout,
  Here’s the Three Jolly Pigeons for ever.
Let some cry up woodcock or hare,
  Your bustards, your ducks, and your widgeons;
But of all the gay birds in the air,
  Here’s a health to the Three Jolly Pigeons.
                      Toroddle, toroddle, toroll.

  Omnes.  Bravo, bravo!
  First Fel.  The ’squire has got spunk in him.
  Second Fel.  I loves to hear him sing, bekeays he never gives us nothing that’s low.
  Third Fel.  O damn anything that’s low, I cannot bear it.
  Fourth Fel.  The genteel thing is the genteel thing any time: if so be that a gentleman bees in a concatenation accordingly.
  Third Fel.  I likes the maxum of it, Master Muggins. What, though I am obligated to dance a bear, a man may be a gentleman for all that. May this be my poison, if my bear ever dances but to the very genteelest of tunes; “Water Parted,” or “The Minuet in Ariadne.”
  Second Fel.  What a pity it is the ’squire is not come to his own. It would be well for all the publicans within ten miles round of him.
  Tony.  Ecod, and so it would, Master Slang. I’d then show what it was to keep choice of company.
  Second Fel.  O he takes after his own father for that. To be sure old ’Squire Lumpkin was the finest gentleman I ever set my eyes on. For winding the straight horn, or beating a thicket for a hare, or a wench, he never had his fellow. It was a saying in the place, that he kept the best horses, dogs, and girls, in the whole county.
  Tony.  Ecod, and when I’m of age, I’ll be no bastard, I promise you. I have been thinking of Bet Bouncer and the miller’s grey mare to begin with. But come, my boys, drink about and be merry, for you pay no reckoning. Well Stingo, what’s the matter?

  Land.  There be two gentlemen in a post-chaise at the door. They have lost their way upo’ the forest; and they are talking something about Mr. Hardcastle.
  Tony.  As sure as can be, one of them must be the gentleman that’s coming down to court my sister. Do they seem to be Londoners?
  Land.  I believe they may. They look woundily like Frenchmen.
  Tony.  Then desire them to step this way, and I’ll set them right in a twinkling. (ExitLandlord.) Gentlemen, as they mayn’t be good enough company for you, step down for a moment, and I’ll be with you in the squeezing of a lemon.  [Exeunt mob.
  Tony.  (Solus.) Father-in-law has been calling me whelp and hound this half year. Now, if I pleased, I could be so revenged upon the old grumbletonian. But then I’m afraid—afraid of what? I shall soon be worth fifteen hundred a year, and let him frighten me out ofthat if he can.

Enter Landlord, conducting MARLOW and HASTINGS
  Mar.  What a tedious uncomfortable day have we had of it! We were told it was but forty miles across the country, and we have come above threescore.
  Hast.  And all, Marlow, from that unaccountable reserve of yours, that would not let us inquire more frequently on the way.
  Mar.  I own, Hastings, I am unwilling to lay myself under an obligation to every one I meet, and often stand the chance of an unmannerly answer.
  Hast.  At present, however, we are not likely to receive any answer.
  Tony.  No offence, gentlemen. But I’m told you have been inquiring for one Mr. Hardcastle in these parts. Do you know what part of the country you are in?
  Hast.  Not in the least, sir, but should thank you for information.
  Tony.  Nor the way you came?
  Hast.  No, sir; but if you can inform us—
  Tony.  Why, gentlemen, if you know neither the road you are going, nor where you are, nor the road you came, the first thing I have to inform you is, that—you have lost your way.
  Mar.  We wanted no ghost to tell us that.
  Tony.  Pray, gentlemen, may I be so bold so as to ask the place from whence you came?
  Mar.  That’s not necessary towards directing us where we are to go.
  Tony.  No offence; but question for question is all fair, you know. Pray, gentlemen, is not this same Hardcastle a cross-grained, oldfashioned, whimsical fellow, with an ugly face, a daughter, and a pretty son?
  Hast.  We have not seen the gentleman; but he has the family you mention.
  Tony.  The daughter, a tall, trapesing, trolloping, talkative maypole; the son, a pretty, well-bred, agreeable youth, that everybody is fond of.
  Mar.  Our information differs in this. The daughter is said to be well-bred and beautiful; the son an awkward booby, reared up and spoiled at his mother’s apron-string.
  Tony.  He-he-hem!—Then, gentlemen, all I have to tell you is, that you won’t reach Mr. Hardcastle’s house this night, I believe.
  Hast.  Unfortunate!
  Tony.  It’s a damn’d long, dark, boggy, dirty, dangerous way. Stingo, tell the gentlemen the way to Mr. Hardcastle’s! (Winking upon the Landlord.) Mr. Hardcastle’s, of Quagmire Marsh, you understand me.
  Land.  Master Hardcastle’s! Lack-a-daisy, my masters, you’re come a deadly deal wrong! When you came to the bottom of the hill, you should have crossed down Squash Lane.
  Mar.  Cross down Squash Lane!
  Land.  Then you were to keep straight forward, till you came to four roads.
  Mar.  Come to where four roads meet?
  Tony.  Ay; but you must be sure to take only one of them.
  Mar.  O, sir, you’re facetious.
  Tony.  Then keeping to the right, you are to go sideways till you come upon Crackskull Common: there you must look sharp for the track of the wheel, and go forward till you come to farmer Murrain’s barn. Coming to the farmer’s barn, you are to turn to the right, and then to the left, and then to the right about again, till you find out the old mill—
  Mar.  Zounds, man! we could as soon find out the longitude!
  Hast.  What’s to be done, Marlow?
  Mar.  This house promises but a poor reception; though perhaps the landlord can accommodate us.
  Land.  Alack, master, we have but one spare bed in the whole house.
  Tony.  And to my knowledge, that’s taken up by three lodgers already. (After a pause, in which the rest seem disconcerted.) I have hit it. Don’t you think, Stingo, our landlady could accommodate the gentlemen by the fire-side, with—three chairs and a bolster?
  Hast.  I hate sleeping by the fire-side.
  Mar.  And I detest your three chairs and a bolster.
  Tony.  You do, do you? then, let me see—what if you go on a mile further, to the Buck’s Head; the old Buck’s Head on the hill, one of the best inns in the whole county?
  Hast.  O ho! so we have escaped an adventure for this night, however.
  Land.  (Apart to TONY.) Sure, you ben’t sending them to your father’s as an inn, be you?
  Tony.  Mum, you fool you. Let them find that out. (To them.) You have only to keep on straight forward, till you come to a large old house by the road side. You’ll see a pair of large horns over the door. That’s the sign. Drive up the yard, and call stoutly about you.
  Hast.  Sir, we are obliged to you. The servants can’t miss the way?
  Tony.  No, no: but I tell you, though, the landlord is rich, and going to leave off business; so he wants to be thought a gentleman, saving your presence, he! he! he! He’ll be for giving you his company; and, ecod, if you mind him, he’ll persuade you that his mother was an alderman, and his aunt a justice of peace.
  Land.  A troublesome old blade, to be sure; but a keeps as good wines and beds as any in the whole country.
  Mar.  Well, if he supplies us with these, we shall want no farther connection. We are to turn to the right, did you say?
  Tony.  No, no; straight forward. I’ll just step myself, and show you a piece of the way. (To the Landlord.) Mum!
  Land.  Ah, bless your heart, for a sweet, pleasant—damn’d mischievous son of a whore.  [Exeunt.

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