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in the many smiling faces, that are lighted up CHAP. around wherever it appears, is a task of criticism that will hardly be thought necessary. With much less wit, it exhibits perhaps more humour than The School for Scandal, and the dialogue, though by no means so pointed or sparkling, is, in this respect, more natural, as coming nearer the current coin of ordinary conversation; whereas, the circulating medium of The School for Scandal is diamonds. The characters of The Rivals, on the contrary, are not such as occur very commonly in the world; and, instead of producing striking effects with natural and obvious materials, which is the great art and difficulty of a painter of human life, he has here overcharged most of his persons with whims and absurdities, for which the circumstances they are engaged in afford but a very disproportionate vent. Accordingly, for our insight into their characters, we are indebted rather to their confessions than their actions. Lydia Languish, in proclaiming the extravagance of her own romantic notions, prepares us for events much more ludicrous and eccentric, than those in which the plot allows her to be concerned; and the young lady herself is scarcely more disappointed than we are, at the tameness with which her amour concludes. Among the various ingredients supposed to be mixed up in the composition of Sir Lucius
CHAP. O'Trigger, his love of fighting is the only one whose flavour is very strongly brought out; and the wayward, captious jealousy of Falkland, though so highly coloured in his own representation of it, is productive of no incident answerable to such an announcement; - the imposture which he practises upon Julia being, perhaps, weakened in its effect, by our recollection of the same device in the Nut-brown Maid and Peregrine Pickle.
The character of Sir Anthony Absolute is, perhaps, the best sustained and most natural of any, and the scenes between him and Captain Absolute are richly, genuinely dramatic. His surprise at the apathy with which his son receives the glowing picture which he draws of the charms of his destined bride, and the effect of the question, "And which is to be mine, sir, the niece or the aunt?" are in the truest style of humour. Mrs. Malaprop's mistakes, in what she herself calls "orthodoxy," have been often objected to as improbable from a woman in her rank of life; but though some of them, it must be owned, are extravagant and farcical, they are almost all amusing, and the luckiness of her simile," as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile," will be acknowledged as long as there are writers to be run away with,
Of the faults of Sheridan both in his witty and serious styles — the occasional effort of the one, and the too frequent false finery of the other --some examples may be cited from the dialogue of this play. Among the former kind is the following elaborate conceit :
"Falk. Has Lydia changed her mind? I should have thought her duty and inclination would now have pointed to the same object.
"Abs. Ay, just as the eyes of a person who squints; when her love-eye was fixed on me, t'other- her eye of duty — was finely obliqued: but when duty bade her point that the same way, off turned t'other on a swivel, and secured its retreat with a frown."
This, though ingenious, is far too laboured; and of that false taste by which sometimes, in his graver style, he was seduced into the display of second-rate ornament, the following speeches of Julia afford specimens:
"Then on the bosom of your wedded Julia, you may your keen regret to slumbering; while virtuous love, with a cherub's hand, shall smooth the brow of upbraiding thought, and pluck the thorn from compunction." Again; "When hearts deserving happiness would unite their fortunes, virtue would crown them with an unfading garland of modest, hurtless flowers; but illjudging passion will force the gaudier rose into the
CHAP. wreath, whose thorn offends them when its leaves are dropt."
But, notwithstanding such blemishes, and it is easy for the microscopic eye of criticism to discover gaps and inequalities in the finest edge of genius, this play, from the liveliness of its plot, the variety and whimsicality of its characters, and the exquisite humour of its dialogue, is one of the most amusing in the whole range of the drama; and even without the aid of its more splendid successor, The School for Scandal, would have placed Sheridan in the first rank of comic writers.
A copy of The Rivals has fallen into my hands, which once belonged to Tickell, the friend and brother-in-law of Sheridan, and on the margin of which I find written by him in many places his opinion of particular parts of the dialogue. He has also prefixed to it, as coming from Sheridan, the following humorous dedication, which, I take for granted, has never
These opinions are generally expressed in two or three words, and are, for the most part, judicious. Upon Mrs. Malaprop's quotation from Shakspeare, "Hesperian curls," &c. he writes, "Overdone - fitter for farce than comedy." Acres's classification of oaths, "This we call the oath referential," &c. he pronounces to be "Very good, but above the speaker's capacity." Of Julia's speech, "Oh woman, how true should be your judgment, when your resolution is so weak!" he remarks, "On the contrary, it seems to be of little consequence whether any person's judgment be weak or not, who wants resolution to act according to it."
before met the light, and which the reader will CHAP. perceive by the allusions in it to the two Whig ministries, could not have been written before the year 1784:
"DEDICATION TO IDLENESS.
"MY DEAR FRIEND,
"If it were necessary to make any apology for this freedom, I know you would think it a sufficient one, that I shall find it easier to dedicate my play to you than to any other person. There is likewise a propriety in prefixing your name to a work begun entirely at your sugges tion, and finished under your auspices; and I should think myself wanting in gratitude to you, if I did not take an early opportunity of acknowledging the obligations which I owe you. There was a time-though it is so long ago that I now scarcely remember it, and cannot mention it without compunction but there was a time, when the importunity of parents, and the example of a few injudicious young men of my acquaintance, had almost prevailed on me to thwart my genius, and prostitute my abilities by an application to serious pursuits. And if you had not opened my eyes to the absurdity and profligacy of such a perversion of the best gifts of nature, I am by no means clear that I might not have been a wealthy merchant or an eminent