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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Hannah Cowley (1743–1809)

Miss Letitia Plays the Hoyden

From “The Belle’s Stratagem”


Mrs. R.Come, prepare, prepare—your lover is coming!

Let.My lover! Confess, now, that my absence at dinner was a severe mortification to him.

Mrs. R.I can’t absolutely swear it spoiled his appetite; he ate as if he was hungry, and drank his wine as though he liked it.

Let.What was the apology?

Mrs. R.That you were ill; but I gave him a hint that your extreme bashfulness could not support his eye.

Let.If I comprehend him, awkwardness and bashfulness are the last faults he can pardon in a woman; so expect to see me transformed into the veriest maukin.

Mrs. R.You persevere, then?

Let.Certainly. I know the design is a rash one, and the event important; it either makes Doricourt mine by all the tenderest ties of passion, or deprives me of him forever; and never to be his wife will afflict me less than to be his wife and not be beloved.

Mrs. R.So you won’t trust to the good old maxim, “Marry first, and love will follow”?

Let.As readily as I would venture my last guinea that good fortune might follow. The woman that has not touched the heart of a man before he leads her to the altar, has scarcely a chance to charm it when possession and security turn their powerful arms against her.

Doric.(without).Up-stairs, hey?

Let.But here he comes! I’ll disappear for a moment. Don’t spare me.(Exit.)

Enter DORICOURT, not seeing MRS. RACKETT.

Doric.So!(Looking at a picture.) This is my mistress, I presume. Ma foi! the painter has hit her off. The downcast eye—the blushing cheek—timid—apprehensive—bashful. A tear and a prayer-book would have made her La Belle Magdalena.
  • “Give me a woman in whose touching mien
  • A mind, a soul, a polished art is seen;
  • Whose motion speaks, whose poignant air can move;
  • Such are the darts to wound with endless love.”
  • Mrs. R.Is that an impromptu?(Touching him on the shoulder with her fan.)

    Doric.(starting).Madam!(Aside.)Finely caught! Not absolutely. It struck me, during the dessert, as a motto for your picture.

    Mrs. R.Gallantly turned! I perceive, however, Miss Hardy’s charms have made no violent impression on you. And who can wonder? The poor girl’s defects are so obvious.


    Mrs. R.Merely those of education. Her father’s indulgence ruined her. Mauvaise honte, conceit and ignorance all unite in the lady you are to marry.

    Doric.Marry! I marry such a woman! Your picture, I hope, is overcharged. I marry mauvaise honte, pertness and ignorance!

    Mrs. R.Thank your stars that ugliness and ill-temper are not added to the list. You must think her handsome.

    Doric.Half her personal beauty would content me; but could the Medicean Venus be animated for me, and endowed with a vulgar soul, I should become the statue, and my heart transformed to marble.

    Mrs. R.Bless us! We are in a hopeful way, then!

    Doric.(aside).There must be some envy in this. I see she is a coquette. Ha-ha-ha! And you imagine I am persuaded of the truth of your character! Ha-ha-ha! Miss Hardy, I have been assured, madam, is elegant and accomplished—but one must allow for a lady’s painting.(Bows.)

    Mrs. R.(aside).I’ll be even with him for that. Ha-ha-ha! And so you have found me out? Well, I protest I meant no harm; ’twas only to increase the éclat of her appearance that I threw a veil over her charms. Here comes the lady; her elegance and accomplishments will announce themselves.

    Enter LETITIA, running.

    Let.La, cousin, do you know that our John— Oh, dear heart! I didn’t see you, sir.(Hanging down her head, and dropping behind MRS. RACKETT.)

    Mrs. R.Fie, Letitia, Mr. Doricourt thinks you a woman of elegant manners. Stand forward and confirm his opinion.

    Let.No, no; keep before me. He’s my sweetheart, and ’tis impudent to look one’s sweetheart in the face, you know.

    Mrs. R.You’ll allow in future for a lady’s painting, sir. Ha-ha-ha!

    Doric.I am astonished.

    Let.Well, hang it, I’ll take heart. Why, he is but a man, you know, cousin—and I’ll let him see I wasn’t born in a wood to be scared by an owl.(Half apart; advances, and looks at him through her fingers.)He-he-he!(Crosses, and makes a very stiff, formal courtesy. He bows.)You have been a great traveller, sir, I hear. I wish you’d tell us about the fine sights you saw when you went over sea. I have read in a book that there are some other countries, where the men and women are all horses. Did you see any of them?

    Mrs. R.Mr. Doricourt is not prepared, my dear, for these inquiries. He is reflecting on the importance of the question, and will answer you—when he can.

    Let.When he can! Why, he’s as slow in speech as Aunt Margery when she’s reading “Thomas Aquinas,” and stands gaping like mumchance.

    Mrs. R.Have a little discretion.

    Let.Hold your tongue! Sure I may say what I please before I am married, if I can’t afterward. D’ye think a body does not know how to talk to a sweetheart? He is not the first I have had.


    Let.O lud, he speaks! Why, if you must know, there was the curate at home. When papa was a-hunting, he used to come a-suitoring, and make speeches to me out of books. Nobody knows what a mort of fine things he used to say to me, and call me Venis, and Jubah, and Dinah.

    Doric.And pray, fair lady, how did you answer him?

    Let.Why, I used to say, “Look you, Mr. Curate, don’t think to come over me with your flimflams, for a better man than ever trod in your shoes is coming over sea to marry me.” But ‘ifags, I begin to think I was out. Parson Dobbins was the sprightfuler man of the two.

    Doric.Surely this cannot be Miss Hardy?

    Let.Laws, why, don’t you know me? You saw me to-day, but I was daunted before my father, and the lawyer, and all them, and did not care to speak out; so maybe you thought I couldn’t. But I can talk as fast as anybody when I knows folks a little.(Introduces song.)And now I have shown my parts, I hope you’ll like me better.

    Enter HARDY.

    Har.I foresee this won’t do. Mr. Doricourt, maybe you take my daughter for a fool, but you are mistaken; she’s as sensible a girl as any in England.

    Doric.I am convinced she has a very uncommon understanding, sir.(Aside.)I did not think he had been such an ass!

    Let.(aside).My father will undo the whole. Laws, papa, how can you think he can take me for a fool, when everybody knows I beat the ’pothecary at conundrums last Christmastime? And didn’t I make a string of names, all in riddles, for the Lady’s Diary? There was a little river and a great house: that was Newcastle. There was what a lamb says, and three letters: that was ba, and k-e-r, ker, baker. There was——

    Har.Don’t stand ba-a-ing there. You’ll make me mad in a moment. I tell you, sir, that for all that, she’s devilish sensible.

    Doric.Sir, I give all possible credit to your assertions.

    Let.Laws, papa, do come along!(Crosses to HARDY.)If you stand watching, how can my sweetheart break his mind, and tell me how he admires me?

    Doric.That would be difficult indeed, madam.

    Har.I tell you, Letty, I’ll have no more of this. I see well enough——

    Let.Laws, don’t snub me before my husband—that is to be. You’ll teach him to snub me, too, and I believe, by his looks, he’d like to begin now. So let us go.(HARDY pulls her.)Cousin, you may tell the gentleman what a genus I have(HARDY pulls her again)—how I can cut watch-papers, and work catgut(pulls her again)—make quadrille baskets with pins, and take profiles in shade(pushes HARDY off; he returns, and urges her to go)—aye, as well as the lady at No. 62 South Moulton Street, Grosvenor Square.(Exeunt HARDY and LETITIA.)

    Mrs. R.What think you of my painting now?

    Doric.Oh, mere water-colours, madam. The lady has caricatured your picture.

    Mrs. R.And how does she strike you, on the whole?

    Doric.Like a good design spoiled by the incapacity of the artist. Her faults are evidently the result of her father’s weak indulgence. I observed an expression in her eye that seemed to satirise the folly of her lips.

    Mrs. R.But at her age, when education is fixed, and manner becomes nature, hopes of improvement——

    Doric.Would be absurd. Besides, I can’t turn schoolmaster. Doricourt’s wife must be incapable of improvement; but it must be because she’s got beyond it.

    Mrs. R.I am pleased your misfortune sits no heavier.

    Doric.Your pardon, madam. So mercurial was the hour in which I was born, that misfortunes always go plump to the bottom of my heart, like a pebble in water, and leave the surface unruffled. I shall certainly set off for Bath, or the other world, to-night. But whether I shall use a chaise with four swift coursers, or go off in a tangent, from the aperture of a pistol, deserves consideration. So I make my adieus.