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

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816)

Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Anthony Absolute Settle Lydia’s Future

From “The Rivals”


Lucy.Oh, ma’am, here is Sir Anthony Absolute just come home with your aunt.

Lyd.They’ll not come here. Lucy, do you watch.(Exit LUCY.)

Jul.Yet I must go. Sir Anthony does not know I am here, and if we meet, he’ll detain me, to show me the town. I’ll take another opportunity of paying my respects to Mrs. Malaprop, when she shall treat me, as long as she chooses, with her select words so ingeniously misapplied, without being mispronounced.

Re-enter LUCY.

Lucy.O Lud! ma’am, they are both coming up-stairs.

Lyd.Well, I’ll not detain you, coz. Adieu, my dear Julia, I’m sure you are in haste to send to Faulkland. There, through my room you’ll find another staircase.


Lyd.Here, my dear Lucy, hide these books. Quick, quick! Fling “Peregine Pickle” under the toilet; throw “Roderick Random” into the closet; put “The Innocent Adultery” into “The Whole Duty of Man”; thrust “Lord Aimworth” under the sofa; cram “Ovid” behind the bolster. There—put “The Man of Feeling” into your pocket. So, so—now lay “Mrs. Chapone” in sight, and leave “Fordyce’s Sermons” open on the table.

Lucy.Oh, burn it, ma’am! The hair-dresser has torn away as far as “Proper Pride.”

Lyd.Never mind—open at “Sobriety.” Fling me “Lord Chesterfield’s Letters.” Now for ’em.(Exit LUCY.)


Mrs. Mal.There, Sir Anthony, there sits the deliberate simpleton who wants to disgrace her family, and lavish herself on a fellow not worth a shilling.

Lyd.Madam, I thought you once——

Mrs. Mal.You thought, miss! I don’t know any business you have to think at all. Thought does not become a young woman. But the point we would request of you is, that you will promise to forget this fellow—to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.

Lyd.Ah, madam! our memories are independent of our wills. It is not so easy to forget.

Mrs. Mal.But I say it is, miss. There is nothing on earth so easy as to forget, if a person chooses to set about it. I’m sure I have as much forgot your poor dear uncle as if he had never existed—and I thought it my duty so to do; and let me tell you, Lydia, these violent memories don’t become a young woman.

Sir Anth.Why, sure, she won’t pretend to remember what she’s ordered not! Aye, this comes of her reading.

Lyd.What crime, madam, have I committed to be treated thus?

Mrs. Mal.Now, don’t attempt to extirpate yourself from the matter; you know I have proof controvertible of it. But tell me, will you promise to do as you’re bid? Will you take a husband of your friends’ choosing?

Lyd.Madam, I must tell you plainly, that had I no preference for any one else, the choice you have made would be my aversion.

Mrs. Mal.What business have you, miss, with preference and aversion? They don’t become a young woman; and you ought to know, that as both always wear off, ’tis safest in matrimony to begin with a little aversion. I am sure I hated your poor dear uncle before marriage as if he’d been a blackamoor. And yet, miss, you are sensible what a wife I made! And when it pleased Heaven to release me from him, ’tis unknown what tears I shed! But suppose we were going to give you another choice, will you promise us to give up this Beverley?

Lyd.Could I belie my thoughts so far as to give that promise, my actions would certainly as far belie my words.

Mrs. Mal.Take yourself to your room. You are fit company for nothing but your own ill-humours.

Lyd.Willingly, ma’am. I cannot change for the worse.(Exit.)

Mrs. Mal.There’s a little intricate hussy for you!

Sir Anth.It is not to be wondered at, ma’am; all this is the natural consequence of teaching girls to read. Had I a thousand daughters, by Heaven! I’d as soon have them taught the black art as their alphabet.

Mrs. Mal.Nay, nay, Sir Anthony, you are an absolute misanthropy.

Sir Anth.In my way hither, Mrs. Malaprop, I observed your niece’s maid coming forth from a circulating library! She had a book in each hand. From that moment I guessed how full of duty I should see her mistress!

Mrs. Mal.Those are vile places, indeed!

Sir Anth.Madam, a circulating library in a town is as an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge! It blossoms through the year! And depend on it, Mrs. Malaprop, that they who are so fond of handling the leaves, will long for the fruit at last.

Mrs. Mal.Fy, fy, Sir Anthony! you surely speak laconically.

Sir Anth.Why, Mrs. Malaprop, in moderation, now, what would you have a woman know?

Mrs. Mal.Observe me, Sir Anthony. I would by no means wish a daughter of mine to be a progeny of learning. I don’t think so much learning becomes a young woman. For instance, I would never let her meddle with Greek, or Hebrew, or algebra, or simony, or fluxions, or paradoxes, or such inflammatory branches of learning; neither would it be necessary for her to handle any of your mathematical, astronomical, diabolical instruments. But, Sir Anthony, I would send her, at nine years old, to a boarding-school, in order to learn a little ingenuity and artifice. Then, sir, she should have a supercilious knowledge in accounts; and as she grew up, I would have her instructed in geometry, that she might know something of the contagious countries. But above all, Sir Anthony, she should be mistress of orthodoxy, that she might not misspell and mispronounce words so shamefully as girls usually do; and likewise that she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying. This, Sir Anthony, is what I would have a woman know; and I don’t think there is a superstitious article in it.

Sir Anth.Well, well, Mrs. Malaprop, I will dispute the point no further with you; though I must confess, that you are a truly moderate and polite arguer, for almost every third word you say is on my side of the question. But, Mrs. Malaprop, to the more important point in debate. You say you have no objection to my proposal?

Mrs. Mal.None, I assure you. I am under no positive engagement with Mr. Acres, and as Lydia is so obstinate against him, perhaps your son may have better success.

Sir Anth.Well, madam, I will write for the boy directly. He knows not a syllable of this yet, though I have for some time had the proposal in my head. He is at present with his regiment.

Mrs. Mal.We have never seen your son, Sir Anthony; but I hope no objection on his side.

Sir Anth.Objection! Let him object, if he dare! No, no, Mrs. Malaprop, Jack knows that the least demur puts me in a frenzy directly. My process was always very simple. In their younger days, ’twas “Jack, do this.” If he demurred, I knocked him down; and if he grumbled at that, I always sent him out of the room.

Mrs. Mal.Aye, and the properest way, o’ my conscience! Nothing is so conciliating to young people as severity. Well, Sir Anthony, I shall give Mr. Acres his discharge, and prepare Lydia to receive your son’s invocations; and I hope you will represent her to the captain as an object not altogether illegible.

Sir Anth.Madam, I will handle the subject prudently. Well, I must leave you; and let me beg you, Mrs. Malaprop, to enforce this matter roundly to the girl. Take my advice: keep a tight hand. If she rejects this proposal, clap her under lock and key; and if you were just to let the servants forget to bring her dinner for three or four days, you can’t conceive how she’d come about.