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

Scene I

Act Fifth

The Library in JOSEPH SURFACE’S House


Jos. Surf.Mr. Stanley! and why should you think I would see him? you must know he comes to ask something.

Ser.Sir, I should not have let him in, but that Mr. Rowley came to the door with him.

Jos. Surf.Psha! blockhead! to suppose that I should now be in a temper to receive visits from poor relations!—Well, why don’t you show the fellow up?

Ser.I will, sir.—Why, sir, it was not my fault that Sir Peter discovered my lady—

Jos. Surf.Go, fool!—[Exit SERVANT.] Sure Fortune never played a man of my policy such a trick before! My character with Sir Peter, my hopes with Maria, destroyed in a moment! I’m in a rare humour to listen to other people’s distresses! I sha’n’t be able to bestow even a benevolent sentiment on Stanley.—So! here he comes, and Rowley with him. I must try to recover myself, and put a little charity into my face, however.[Exit.


Sir Oliv.What! does he avoid us? That was he, was it not?

Row.It was, sir. But I doubt you are come a little too abruptly. His nerves are so weak, that the sight of a poor relation may be too much for him. I should have gone first to break it to him.

Sir Oliv.Oh, plague of his nerves! Yet this is he whom Sir Peter extols as a man of the most benevolent way of thinking!

Row.As to his way of thinking, I cannot pretend to decide; for, to do him justice, he appears to have as much speculative benevolence as any private gentleman in the kingdom, though he is seldom so sensual as to indulge himself in the exercise of it.

Sir Oliv.Yet he has a string of charitable sentiments at his fingers’ ends.

Row.Or, rather, at his tongue’s end, Sir Oliver; for I believe there is no sentiment he has such faith in as that Charity begins at home.

Sir Oliv.And his, I presume, is of that domestic sort which never stirs abroad at all.

Row.I doubt you’ll find it so; but he’s coming. I mustn’t seem to interrupt you; and you know, immediately as you leave him, I come in to announce your arrival in your real character.

Sir Oliv.True; and afterwards you’ll meet me at Sir Peter’s.

Row.Without losing a moment.[Exit.

Sir Oliv.I don’t like the complaisance of his features.


Jos. Surf.Sir, I beg you ten thousand pardons for keeping you a moment waiting.—Mr. Stanley, I presume.

Sir Oliv.At your service.

Jos. Surf.Sir, I beg you will do me the honour to sit down—I entreat you, sir.

Sir Oliv.Dear sir—there’s no occasion.—[Aside.] Too civil by half!

Jos. Surf.I have not the pleasure of knowing you, Mr. Stanley; but I am extremely happy to see you look so well. You were nearly related to my mother, I think, Mr. Stanley?

Sir Oliv.I was, sir; so nearly that my present poverty, I fear, may do discredit to her wealthy children, else I should not have presumed to trouble you.

Jos. Surf.Dear sir, there needs no apology;—he that is in distress, though a stranger, has a right to claim kindred with the wealthy. I am sure I wish I was one of that class, and had it in my power to offer you even a small relief.

Sir Oliv.If your uncle, Sir Oliver, were here, I should have a friend.

Jos. Surf.I wish he was, sir, with all my heart; you should not want an advocate with him, believe me, sir.

Sir Oliv.I should not need one—my distresses would recommend me. But I imagined his bounty would enable you to become the agent of his charity.

Jos. Surf.My dear sir, you were strangely misinformed. Sir Oliver is a worthy man, a very worthy man; but avarice, Mr. Stanley, is the vice of age. I will tell you, my good sir, in confidence, what he has done for me has been a mere nothing; though people, I know, have thought otherwise, and for my part, I never chose to contradict the report.

Sir Oliv.What! has he never transmitted you bullion—rupees—pagodas?

Jos. Surf.Oh, dear sir, nothing of the kind! No, no; a few presents now and then—china, shawls, congou tea, avadavats and Indian crackers—little more, believe me.

Sir Oliv.Here’s gratitude for twelve thousand pounds!—Avadavats and Indian crackers![Aside.

Jos. Surf.Then, my dear sir, you have heard, I doubt not, of the extravagance of my brother: there are very few would credit what I have done for that unfortunate young man.

Sir Oliv.Not I, for one![Aside.

Jos. Surf.The sums I have lent him! Indeed I have been exceedingly to blame; it was an amiable weakness; however, I don’t pretend to defend it—and now I feel it doubly culpable, since it has deprived me of the pleasure of serving you, Mr. Stanley, as my heart dictates.

Sir Oliv.[Aside.] Dissembler!—[Aloud.] Then, sir, you can’t assist me?

Jos. Surf.At present, it grieves me to say, I cannot; but, whenever I have the ability, you may depend upon hearing from me.

Sir Oliv.I am extremely sorry—

Jos. Surf.Not more than I, believe me; to pity, without the power to relieve, is still more painful than to ask and be denied.

Sir Oliv.Kind sir, your most obedient humble servant.

Jos. Surf.You leave me deeply affected, Mr. Stanley.—William, be ready to open the door.[Calls to SERVANT.

Sir Oliv.Oh, dear sir, no ceremony.

Jos. Surf.Your very obedient.

Sir Oliv.Your most obsequious.

Jos. Surf.You may depend upon hearing from me, whenever I can be of service.

Sir Oliv.Sweet sir, you are too good!

Jos. Surf.In the meantime I wish you health and spirits.

Sir Oliv.Your ever grateful and perpetual humble servant.

Jos. Surf.Sir, yours as sincerely.

Sir Oliv.[Aside.] Now I am satisfied.[Exit.

Jos. Surf.This is one bad effect of a good character; it invites application from the unfortunate, and there needs no small degree of address to gain the reputation of benevolence without incurring the expense. The silver ore of pure charity is an expensive article in the catalogue of a man’s good qualities; whereas the sentimental French plate I use instead of it makes just as good a show, and pays no tax.

Re-enter ROWLEY

Row.Mr. Surface, your servant: I was apprehensive of interrupting you, though my business demands immediate attention, as this note will inform you.

Jos. Surf.Always happy to see Mr. Rowley,—a rascal.—[Aside. Reads the letter.] Sir Oliver Surface!—My uncle arrived!

Row.He is, indeed: we have just parted—quite well, after a speedy voyage, and impatient to embrace his worthy nephew.

Jos. Surf.I am astonished!—William! stop Mr. Stanley, if he’s not gone.[Calls to SERVANT.

Row.Oh! he’s out of reach, I believe.

Jos. Surf.Why did you not let me know this when you came in together?

Row.I thought you had particular business. But I must be gone to inform your brother, and appoint him here to meet your uncle. He will be with you in a quarter of an hour.

Jos. Surf.So he says. Well, I am strangely overjoyed at his coming.—[Aside.] Never, to be sure, was anything so damned unlucky!

Row.You will be delighted to see how well he looks.

Jos. Surf.Oh! I’m overjoyed to hear it.—[Aside.] Just at this time!

Row.I’ll tell him how impatiently you expect him.

Jos. Surf.Do, do; pray give my best duty and affection. Indeed, I cannot express the sensations I feel at the thought of seeing him.—[Exit ROWLEY.] Certainly his coming just at this time is the cruellest piece of ill fortune.[Exit.