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

William Wycherley (1640–1716)

The Duplicate Letter

From “The Plain Dealer”


Plaus.Little gentleman, your most obedient, faithful, humble servant. Where, I beseech you, is that divine person, your noble lady?

Boy.Gone out, my lord; but commanded me to give you this letter.(Gives him a letter.)

Enter NOVEL.

Plaus.Which he must not observe.(Aside. Puts it up.)

Nov.Hey, boy, where is thy lady?

Boy.Gone out, sir; but I must beg a word with you.(Gives him a letter, and exit.)

Nov.For me? So.(Puts up the letter.)Servant, servant, my lord; you see the lady knew of your coming, for she is gone out.

Plaus.Sir, I humbly beseech you not to censure the lady’s good breeding; she has reason to use more liberty with me than with any other man.

Nov.How, viscount, how?

Plaus.Nay, I humbly beseech you, be not in choler; where there is most love, there may be most freedom.

Nov.Nay, then ’tis time to come to an éclaircissement with you, and to tell you, you must think no more of this lady’s love.

Plaus.Why, under correction, dear sir?

Nov.There are reasons—reasons, viscount.

Plaus.What, I beseech you, noble sir?

Nov.Prithee, prithee, be not impertinent, my lord; some of you lords are such conceited, well-assured, impertinent rogues.

Plaus.And your noble wits are so full of shamming and drolling, one knows not where to have you seriously.

Nov.Well, you shall find me wedded with this lady one of these days.

Plaus.Nay, I beseech you, spare the lady’s honour; for hers and mine will be all one shortly.

Nov.Prithee, my lord, be not an ass. Dost thou think to get her from me? I have had such encouragements——

Plaus.I have not been thought unworthy of ’em.

Nov.What, not like mine! Come to an éclaircissement, as I said.

Plaus.Why, seriously, then, she has told me viscountess sounded prettily.

Nov.And me that Novel was a name she would sooner change hers for than any title in England.

Plaus.She has commended the softness and respectfulness of my behaviour.

Nov.She has praised the briskness of my raillery, of all things, man.

Plaus.The sleepiness of my eyes she liked.

Nov.Sleepiness? Dulness, dulness! But the fierceness of mine she adored.

Plaus.The brightness of my hair she liked.

Nov.The brightness? No, the greasiness, I warrant. But the blackness and lustre of mine she admires.

Plaus.The gentleness of my smile.

Nov.The subtilty of my leer.

Plaus.The clearness of my complexion.

Nov.The redness of my lips.

Plaus.The whiteness of my teeth.

Nov.My jaunty way of picking them.

Plaus.The sweetness of my breath.

Nov.Ha! ha! Nay, then she abused you, ’tis plain; for you know what Manly said: the sweetness of your pulvillio she might mean; but for your breath! Ha! ha! ha I Your breath is such, man, that nothing but tobacco can perfume; and your complexion nothing could mend but the small-pox.

Plaus.Well, sir, you may please to be merry; but, to put you out of all doubt, sir, she has received some jewels from me of value.

Nov.And presents from me; besides what I presented her jauntily, by way of ombre, of three or four hundred pounds’ value, which I’m sure are the earnest-pence for our love-bargain.

Plaus.Nay, then, sir, with your favour, and to make an end of all your hopes, look you there, sir, she has writ to me——

Nov.How! how! Well, well, and so she has to me; look you there——(Deliver to each other their letters.)

Plaus.What’s here?

Nov.How’s this?

(Reads out.)My dear Lord: You’ll excuse me for breaking my word with you, since ’twas to oblige, not offend you; for I am only gone abroad but to disappoint Novel, and meet you in the drawing-room; where I expect you with as much impatience as when I used to suffer Novel’s visits—the most impertinent fop that ever affected the name of a wit, therefore not capable, I hope, to give you jealousy; for, for your sake alone, you saw I renounced an old lover, and will do all the world. Burn the letter, but lay up the kindness of it in your heart, with your—OLIVIA.

Very fine! but pray let’s see mine.

Plaus.I understand it not; but sure she cannot think so of me.

Nov.(reads the other letter).Hum! ha!—meet—for your sake—hum—quitted an old lover—world—burn—in your heart—with your—OLIVIA.< Just the same, the names only altered.

Plaus.Surely there must be some mistake, or somebody has abused her and us.

Nov.Yes, you are abused, no doubt on’t, my lord; but I’ll to Whitehall, and see.

Plaus.And I, where I shall find you are abused.

Nov.Where, if it be so, for our comfort, we cannot fail of meeting with fellow-sufferers enough. For, as Freeman said of another, she stands in the drawing-room, like the glass, ready for all comers, to set their gallantry by her; and, like the glass, too, lets no man go from her unsatisfied with himself.