Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Mr. Cooke’s Propensity to Sarcasm

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Mr. Cooke’s Propensity to Sarcasm

By William Dunlap (1766–1839)

[From The Life of George Fred. Cooke. 1812.]

HERE, as in every other city on the continent, the greatest admiration was shown of Mr. Cooke’s talents as an actor, and the strongest desire to pay him every respect as a gentleman. But the same obstacles arose to the fulfilment of this wish, as at every other place he had visited.

In one instance, when a gentleman happened to mention that his family were among the first settlers of Maryland, he asked him if he had carefully preserved the family jewels? And, on being questioned as to his meaning, replied, “the chains and handcuffs.”

The notoriety of his character preserved him from such returns as such language would have met if coming from other men; and this perhaps encouraged him to indulge what he called his propensity to sarcasm.

At a dinner-party given in honor of him by Mr. ——, he was led, still continuing his libations, to descant on Shakespeare, and the mode of representing his great characters, which he did eloquently, and to the delight of a large company. Suddenly, to the astonishment of them all, he jumped up and exclaimed,

“Who among ye sent me that damned anonymous letter?”

“What do you mean, Mr. Cooke?”

“You know what I mean. What have I done to offend you? Have I not treated ye all with more respect than ye deserved? And now to have a charge of so base a nature made against me.”

“What do you complain of, Mr. Cooke?”

“Sir, I am accused of falsehood. I am accused of making false assertions. I have received an anonymous letter containing this line alone, ‘Justify your words.’ Sir, my words are truth. What have I said that I cannot justify? I have perhaps been too keen upon the character of your country, but truth is the severest satire upon it. I am ready to justify what I have said!”

Mr. —— seeing his company thrown into confusion, and all harmony broken up, arose and expostulated with his guest, and finally hinted that the anonymous letter was a creation of his heated imagination. Cooke then resumed his seat, and fixing his eye on his host for some time, exclaimed, “I have marked you, Sir! I have had my eye upon you, and it is time that your impertinence should be curbed.”

This excessive licentiousness of speech, with the peculiar manner of the speaker, appeared so ludicrous, that the company burst into loud laughter, and Cooke, changing his manner, joined heartily with them, and again resumed his glass.

Some time after, a gentleman told him that it was reported that Mr. Madison, the President of the United States, purposed to come from Washington to Baltimore to see him act.

“If he does, I’ll be damned if I play before him. What, I? I!—George Frederick Cooke! who have acted before the Majesty of Britain, play before your Yankee President! No!—I’ll go forward to the audience and I’ll say, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen—’”

Here he was interrupted playfully by Mr. W., who happened to be dressed in black:

“Oh no, Mr. Cooke, that would not be right in this country; you should say, ‘friends and fellow-citizens.’”

Cooke, surveying him contemptuously, cried, “Hold your tongue, you damned Methodist preacher,” and then proceeded, “Ladies and gentlemen. The king of the Yankee Doodles has come to see me act. Me; me, George, Frederick, Cooke! who have stood before my royal master George the Third, and received his Imperial approbation! And shall I exert myself to play before one of his rebellious subjects, who arrogates kingly state in defiance of his master? No, it is degradation enough to play before rebels, but I’ll not go on for the amusement of a king of rebels, the contemptible King of the Yankee Doodles!”

This effusion only excited laughter, and he went on to expatiate on his deeds of arms in the war against the rebels, and every place in the neighborhood where an action had been fought, was the scene of his military achievement.

His garrulity led him to talk of his domestic affairs, and to lament that he had no children; but shortly after, filling a bumper, he proposed the health of his eldest son, a Captain in the Fifth.

“What is his name, Mr. Cooke?”

“What is my name, Sir?—George Frederick Cooke.”

A short time after, his second son was proposed with a bumper.

“What is his name, Mr. Cooke?”

“What should it be, Sir, but George Frederick Cooke!”

With difficulty he was prevailed upon to get into a coach to return home to Baltimore. Still it was necessary that some one should attend him, and, late at night, his host performed that kindness. This offended Cooke, and he began to abuse him and everything belonging to the country. This gentleman, observing a stump of a tree near the wheel-track as they passed through a grove, cautioned the coachman. “What Sir, do you pretend to direct my servant?” cries Cooke.

His companion humored him by apologizing, but seeing the coachman driving too near the edge of a bridge, he again spoke to him—

“This is too much,” cries Cooke—“Get out of my coach, Sir!—Out!—Stop, coachman!”

“Drive on!”

“Get out! Do you order my coachman? Get out, or this fist shall—”

Mr. —— who had been told Cooke’s character, interrupted him by exclaiming—

“Sit still, Sir, or I blow your brains out this instant.”

Cooke was petrified, and sat like a statue—but soon began with, “Has George Frederick Cooke come to this damned country to be treated thus? Shall it be told in England—Well, Sir, if you will not get out I will;” and he opened the door. Mr. —— was obliged to stop the coach for fear of injury to Cooke, who tumbled himself out and surlily sat down under a tree. With great difficulty his opposition was overcome, and Mr. ——, near daylight, got rid of his troublesome and turbulent guest, by depositing him at his lodgings.