Home  »  The School for Scandal  »  A Portrait

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816). The School for Scandal.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Addressed to Mrs. Crewe, with the Comedy of the School for Scandal, By R. B. Sheridan, Esq.

A Portrait

TELL me, ye prim adepts in Scandal’s school,

Who rail by precept, and detract by rule,

Lives there no character, so tried, so known,

So decked with grace, and so unlike your own,

That even you assist her fame to raise,

Approve by envy, and by silence praise!

Attend!—a model shall attract your view—

Daughters of calumny, I summon you!

You shall decide if this a portrait prove,

Or fond creation of the Muse and Love.

Attend, ye virgin critics, shrewd and sage,

Ye matron censors of this childish age,

Whose peering eye and wrinkled front declare

A fixed antipathy to young and fair;

By cunning, cautious; or by nature, cold,

In maiden madness, virulently bold!—

Attend, ye skilled to coin the precious tale,

Creating proof, where innuendos fail!

Whose practised memories, cruelly exact,

Omit no circumstance, except the fact!—

Attend, all ye who boast,—or old or young,—

The living libel of a slanderous tongue!

So shall my theme as far contrasted be,

As saints by fiends, or hymns by calumny.

Come, gentle Amoret (for ’neath that name

In worthier verse is sung thy beauty’s fame);

Come—for but thee who seeks the Muse? and while

Celestial blushes check thy conscious smile,

With timid grace, and hesitating eye,

The perfect model, which I boast, supply:—

Vain Muse! couldst thou the humblest sketch create

Of her, or slightest charm couldst imitate—

Could thy blest strain in kindred colours trace

The faintest wonder of her form and face—

Poets would study the immortal line,

And Reynolds own his art subdued by thine;

That art, which well might added lustre give

To Nature’s best, and Heaven’s superlative:

On Granby’s cheek might bid new glories rise,

Or point a purer beam from Devon’s eyes!

Hard is the task to shape that beauty’s praise,

Whose judgment scorns the homage flattery pays!

But praising Amoret we cannot err,

No tongue o’ervalues Heaven, or flatters her!

Yet she by Fate’s perverseness—she alone

Would doubt our truth, nor deem such praise her own.

Adorning fashion, unadorned by dress,

Simple from taste, and not from carelessness;

Discreet in gesture, in deportment mild,

Not stiff with prudence, nor uncouthly wild:

No state has Amoret; no studied mien;

She frowns no goddess, and she moves no queen.

The softer charm that in her manner lies

Is framed to captivate, yet not surprise;

It justly suits the expression of her face,—

’Tis less than dignity, and more than grace!

On her pure cheek the native hue is such,

That, formed by Heaven to be admired so much,

The hand divine, with a less partial care,

Might well have fixed a fainter crimson there,

And bade the gentle inmate of her breast—

Inshrinèd Modesty—supply the rest.

But who the peril of her lips shall paint?

Strip them of smiles—still, still all words are faint.

But moving Love himself appears to teach

Their action, though denied to rule her speech;

And thou who seest her speak, and dost not hear,

Mourn not her distant accents ’scape thine ear;

Viewing those lips, thou still may’st make pretence

To judge of what she says, and swear ’tis sense:

Clothed with such grace, with such expression fraught,

They move in meaning, and they pause in thought!

But dost thou farther watch, with charmed surprise,

The mild irresolution of her eyes,

Curious to mark how frequent they repose,

In brief eclipse and momentary close—

Ah! seest thou not an ambushed Cupid there,

Too timorous of his charge, with jealous care

Veils and unveils those beams of heavenly light,

Too full, too fatal else, for mortal sight?

Nor yet, such pleasing vengeance fond to meet,

In pardoning dimples hope a safe retreat.

What though her peaceful breast should ne’er allow

Subduing frowns to arm her altered brow,

By Love, I swear, and by his gentle wiles,

More fatal still the mercy of her smiles!

Thus lovely, thus adorned, possessing all

Of bright or fair that can to woman fall,

The height of vanity might well be thought

Prerogative in her, and Nature’s fault.

Yet gentle Amoret, in mind supreme

As well as charms, rejects the vainer theme;

And, half mistrustful of her beauty’s store,

She barbs with wit those darts too keen before:—

Read in all knowledge that her sex should reach,

Though, Greville, or the Muse, should deign to teach,

Fond to improve, nor timorous to discern

How far it is a woman’s grace to learn;

In Millar’s dialect she would not prove

Apollo’s priestess, but Apollo’s love,

Graced by those signs which truth delights to own,

The timid blush, and mild submitted tone:

Whate’er she says, though sense appear throughout,

Displays the tender hue of female doubt;

Decked with that charm, how lovely wit appears,

How graceful science, when that robe she wears!

Such too her talents, and her bent of mind,

As speak a sprightly heart by thought refined:

A taste for mirth, by contemplation schooled,

A turn for ridicule, by candour ruled,

A scorn of folly, which she tries to hide;

An awe of talent, which she owns with pride!

Peace, idle Muse! no more thy strain prolong,

But yield a theme, thy warmest praises wrong;

Just to her merit, though thou canst not raise

Thy feeble verse, behold th’ acknowledged praise

Has spread conviction through the envious train,

And cast a fatal gloom o’er Scandal’s reign!

And lo! each pallid hag, with blistered tongue,

Mutters assent to all thy zeal has sung—

Owns all the colours just—the outline true;

Thee my inspirer, and my model—CREWE!