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

Scene II

Act Second



Lady Sneer.Nay, positively, we will hear it.

Jos. Surf.Yes, yes, the epigram, by all means.

Sir Ben.O plague on’t, uncle! ’tis mere nonsense.

Crab.No, no; ’fore Gad, very clever for an extempore!

Sir Ben.But, ladies, you should be acquainted with the circumstance. You must know, that one day last week, as Lady Betty Curricle was taking the dust in Hyde Park, in a sort of duodecimo phaeton, she desired me to write some verses on her ponies; upon which, I took out my pocket-book, and in a moment produced the following:—

  • Sure never were seen two such beautiful ponies;
  • Other horses are clowns, but these macaronies:
  • To give them this title I’m sure can’t be wrong,
  • Their legs are so slim, and their tails are so long.
  • Crab.There, ladies, done in the smack of a whip, and on horseback too.

    Jos. Surf.A very Phœbus, mounted—indeed, Sir Benjamin!

    Sir Ben.Oh dear, sir! trifles—trifles.


    Mrs. Can.I must have a copy.

    Lady Sneer.Lady Teazle, I hope we shall see Sir Peter?

    Lady Teaz.I believe he’ll wait on your ladyship presently.

    Lady Sneer.Maria, my love, you look grave. Come, you shall sit down to piquet with Mr. Surface.

    Mar.I take very little pleasure in cards—however, I’ll do as your ladyship pleases.

    Lady Teaz.I am surprised Mr. Surface should sit down with her; I thought he would have embraced this opportunity of speaking to me before Sir Peter came.[Aside.

    Mrs. Can.Now, I’ll die, but you are so scandalous, I’ll forswear your society.

    Lady Teaz.What’s the matter, Mrs. Candour?

    Mrs. Can.They’ll not allow our friend Miss Vermilion to be handsome.

    Lady Sneer.Oh, surely she is a pretty woman.

    Crab.I am very glad you think so, ma’am.

    Mrs. Can.She has a charming fresh colour.

    Lady Teaz.Yes, when it is fresh put on.

    Mrs. Can.Oh, fie! I’ll swear her colour is natural: I have seen it come and go!

    Lady Teaz.I dare swear you have, ma’am: it goes off at night, and comes again in the morning.

    Sir Ben.True, ma’am, it not only comes and goes; but, what’s more, egad, her maid can fetch and carry it!

    Mrs. Can.Ha! ha! ha! how I hate to hear you talk so! But surely, now, her sister is, or was, very handsome.

    Crab.Who? Mrs. Evergreen? O Lord! she’s six-and-fifty if she’s an hour!

    Mrs. Can.Now positively you wrong her; fifty-two or fifty-three is the utmost—and I don’t think she looks more.

    Sir Ben.Ah! there’s no judging by her looks, unless one could see her face.

    Lady Sneer.Well, well, if Mrs. Evergreen does take some pains to repair the ravages of time, you must allow she effects it with great ingenuity; and surely that’s better than the careless manner in which the widow Ochre caulks her wrinkles.

    Sir Ben.Nay, now, Lady Sneerwell, you are severe upon the widow. Come, come, ’tis not that she paints so ill—but, when she has finished her face, she joins it on so badly to her neck, that she looks like a mended statute, in which the connoisseur may see at once that the head is modern, though the trunk’s antique.

    Crab.Ha! ha! ha! Well said, nephew!

    Mrs. Can.Ha! ha! ha! Well, you make me laugh; but I vow I hate you for it. What do you think of Miss Simper?

    Sir Ben.Why, she has very pretty teeth.

    Lady Teaz.Yes; and on that account, when she is neither speaking nor laughing (which very seldom happens), she never absolutely shuts her mouth, but leaves it always a-jar, as it were—thus.[Shows her teeth.

    Mrs. Can.How can you be so ill-natured?

    Lady Teaz.Nay, I allow even that’s better than the pains Mrs. Prim takes to conceal her losses in front. She draws her mouth till it positively resembles the aperture of a poor’s-box, and all her words appear to slide out edgewise, as it were—thus: How do you do, madam? Yes, madam.[Mimics.

    Lady Sneer.Very well, Lady Teazle; I see you can be a little severe.

    Lady Teaz.In defence of a friend it is but justice. But here comes Sir Peter to spoil our pleasantry.


    Sir Pet.Ladies, your most obedient.—[Aside.] Mercy on me, here is the whole set! a character dead at every word, I suppose.

    Mrs. Can.I am rejoiced you are come, Sir Peter. They have been so censorious—and Lady Teazle as bad as any one.

    Sir Pet.That must be very distressing to you, indeed, Mrs. Candour.

    Mrs. Can.Oh, they will allow good qualities to nobody; not even good nature to our friend Mrs. Pursy.

    Lady Teaz.What, the fat dowager who was at Mrs. Quadrille’s last night?

    Mrs. Can.Nay, her bulk is her misfortune; and when she takes so much pains to get rid of it, you ought not to reflect on her.

    Lady Sneer.That’s very true, indeed.

    Lady Teaz.Yes, I know she almost lives on acids and small whey; laces herself by pulleys; and often, in the hottest noon in summer, you may see her on a little squat pony, with her hair plaited up behind like a drummer’s and puffing round the Ring on a full trot.

    Mrs. Can.I thank you, Lady Teazle, for defending her.

    Sir Pet.Yes, a good defence, truly.

    Mrs. Can.Truly, Lady Teazle is as censorious as Miss Sallow.

    Crab.Yes, and she is a curious being to pretend to be censorious—an awkward gawky, without any one good point under heaven.

    Mrs. Can.Positively you shall not be so very severe. Miss Sallow is a near relation of mine by marriage, and, as for her person, great allowance is to be made; for, let me tell you, a woman labours under many disadvantages who tries to pass for a girl of six-and-thirty.

    Lady Sneer.Though, surely, she is handsome still—and for the weakness in her eyes, considering how much she reads by candlelight, it is not to be wondered at.

    Mrs. Can.True, and then as to her manner; upon my word I think it is particularly graceful, considering she never had the least education: for you know her mother was a Welsh milliner, and her father a sugar-baker at Bristol.

    Sir Ben.Ah! you are both of you too good-natured!

    Sir Pet.Yes, damned good-natured! This their own relation! mercy on me![Aside.

    Mrs. Can.For my part, I own I cannot bear to hear a friend ill spoken of.

    Sir Pet.No, to be sure!

    Sir Ben.Oh! you are of a moral turn. Mrs. Candour and I can sit for an hour and hear Lady Stucco talk sentiment.

    Lady Teaz.Nay, I vow Lady Stucco is very well with the dessert after dinner; for she’s just like the French fruit one cracks for mottoes—made up of paint and proverb.

    Mrs. Can.Well, I will never join in ridiculing a friend; and so I constantly tell my cousin Ogle, and you all know what pretensions she has to be critical on beauty.

    Crab.Oh, to be sure! she has herself the oddest countenance that ever was seen; ’tis a collection of features from all the different countries of the globe.

    Sir Ben.So she has, indeed—an Irish front—

    Crab.Caledonian locks—

    Sir Ben.Dutch nose—

    Crab.Austrian lips—

    Sir Ben.Complexion of a Spaniard—

    Crab.And teeth à la Chinoise—

    Sir Ben.In short, her face resembles a table d’hôte at Spa—where no two guests are of a nation—

    Crab.Or a congress at the close of a general war—wherein all the members, even to her eyes, appear to have a different interest, and her nose and chin are the only parties likely to join issue.

    Mrs. Can.Ha! ha! ha!

    Sir Pet.Mercy on my life!—a person they dine with twice a week.[Aside.

    Mrs. Can.Nay, but I vow you shall not carry the laugh off so—forgive me leave to say, that Mrs. Ogle—

    Sir Pet.Madam, madam, I beg your pardon—there’s no stopping these good gentlemen’s tongues. But when I tell you, Mrs. Candour, that the lady they are abusing is a particular friend of mine, I hope you’ll not take her part.

    Lady Sneer.Ha! ha! ha! well said, Sir Peter! but you are a cruel creature—too phlegmatic yourself for a jest, and too peevish to allow wit in others.

    Sir Pet.Ah, madam, true wit is more nearly allied to good nature than your ladyship is aware of.

    Lady Teaz.True, Sir Peter: I believe they are so near akin that they can never be united.

    Sir Ben.Or rather, suppose them man and wife, because one seldom sees them together.

    Lady Teaz.But Sir Peter is such an enemy to scandal, I believe he would have it put down by parliament.

    Sir Pet.’Fore heaven, madam, if they were to consider the sporting with reputation of as much importance as poaching on manors, and pass an act for the preservation of fame, as well as game, I believe many would thank them for the bill.

    Lady Sneer.O Lud! Sir Peter; would you deprive us of our privileges?

    Sir Pet.Ay, madam; and then no person should be permitted to kill characters and run down reputations, but qualified old maids and disappointed widows.

    Lady Sneer.Go, you monster!

    Mrs. Can.But surely, you would not be quite so severe on those who only report what they hear?

    Sir Pet.Yes, madam, I would have law merchant for them too; and in all cases of slander currency, whenever the drawer of the lie was not to be found, the injured parties should have a right to come on any of the indorsers.

    Crab.Well, for my part, I believe there never was a scandalous tale without some foundation.

    Lady Sneer.Come, ladies, shall we sit down to cards in the next room?

    Enter SERVANT, who whispers SIR PETER

    Sir Pet.I’ll be with them directly.—[Exit SERVANT.] I’ll get away unperceived.[Aside.

    Lady Sneer.Sir Peter, you are not going to leave us?

    Sir Pet.Your ladyship must excuse me; I’m called away by particular business. But I leave my character behind me.[Exit.

    Sir Ben.Well—certainly, Lady Teazle, that lord of yours is a strange being: I could tell you some stories of him would make you laugh heartily if he were not your husband.

    Lady Teaz.Oh, pray don’t mind that; come, do let’s hear them.[Exeunt all but JOSEPH SURFACE and MARIA.

    Jos. Surf.Maria, I see you have no satisfaction in this society.

    Mar.How is it possible I should? If to raise malicious smiles at the infirmities or misfortunes of those who have never injured us be the province of wit or humour, Heaven grant me a double portion of dulness!

    Jos. Surf.Yet they appear more ill-natured than they are; they have no malice at heart.

    Mar.Then is their conduct still more contemptible; for, in my opinion, nothing could excuse the intemperance of their tongues but a natural and uncontrollable bitterness of mind.

    Jos. Surf.Undoubtedly, madam; and it has always been a sentiment of mine, that to propagate a malicious truth wantonly is more despicable than to falsify from revenge. But can you, Maria, feel thus for others, and be unkind to me alone? Is hope to be denied the tenderest passion?

    Mar.Why will you distress me by renewing this subject?

    Jos. Surf.Ah, Maria! you would not treat me thus, and oppose your guardian, Sir Peter’s will, but that I see that profligate Charles is still a favoured rival.

    Mar.Ungenerously urged! But, whatever my sentiments are for that unfortunate young man, be assured I shall not feel more bound to give him up, because his distresses have lost him the regard even of a brother.

    Jos. Surf.Nay, but, Maria, do not leave me with a frown: by all that is honest, I swear—[Kneels.

    Re-enter LADY TEAZLE behind

    [Aside.] Gad’s life, here’s Lady Teazle.—[Aloud to MARIA.] You must not—no, you shall not—for, though I have the greatest regard for Lady Teazle—

    Mar.Lady Teazle!

    Jos. Surf.Yet were Sir Peter to suspect—

    Lady Teaz.[Coming forward.] What is this, pray? Does he take her for me?—Child, you are wanted in the next room.—[Exit MARIA.] What is all this, pray?

    Jos. Surf.Oh, the most unlucky circumstance in nature! Maria has somehow suspected the tender concern I have for your happiness, and threatened to acquaint Sir Peter with her suspicions, and I was just endeavouring to reason with her when you came in.

    Lady Teaz.Indeed! but you seemed to adopt a very tender mode of reasoning—do you usually argue on your knees?

    Jos. Surf.Oh, she’s a child, and I thought a little bombast—But, Lady Teazle, when are you to give me your judgment on my library, as you promised?

    Lady Teaz.No, no; I begin to think it would be imprudent, and you know I admit you as a lover no farther than fashion requires.

    Jos. Surf.True—a mere Platonic cicisbeo, what every wife is entitled to.

    Lady Teaz.Certainly, one must not be out of the fashion. However, I have so many of my country prejudices left, that, though Sir Peter’s ill humour may vex me ever so, it never shall provoke me to—

    Jos. Surf.The only revenge in your power. Well, I applaud your moderation.

    Lady Teaz.Go—you are an insinuating wretch! But we shall be missed— let us join the company.

    Jos. Surf.But we had best not return together.

    Lady Teaz.Well, don’t stay; for Maria sha’n’t come to hear any more of your reasoning, I promise you.[Exit.

    Jos. Surf.A curious dilemma, truly, my politics have run me into! I wanted, at first, only to ingratiate myself with Lady Teazle, that she might not be my enemy with Maria; and I have, I don’t know how, become her serious lover. Sincerely I begin to wish I had never made such a point of gaining so very good a character, for it has led me into so many cursed rogueries that I doubt I shall be exposed at last.[Exit.