February 9

"The Rivals" & its author Richard Brinsley Sheridan

This day in 1777 Samuel Johnson nominated for membership in the exclusive Literary Club of London, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, whose play, The Rivals, had so captivated audiences two years previously. Perhaps Dr. Johnson was attempting to placate the playwright’s father, with whom he was constantly embroiled, but he did enjoy the comedy and may indeed have found uproarious the satire on popular literature in this scene:

Lucy. Indeed, ma’am, I traversed half the town in search of it. I don’t believe there’s a circulating library in Bath I ha’n’t been at.

Lydia Languish. And could not you get The Reward of Constancy?

Lucy. No, indeed, ma’am.

Lydia. Nor The Fatal Connexion?

Lucy. No, indeed, ma’am.

Lydia. Nor The Mistakes of the Heart?

Lucy. Ma’am, as ill luck would have it, Mr. Bull said Miss Sukey Saunter had just fetched it away.

Lydia. Heigh-ho!—Did you inquire for The Delicate Distress?

Lucy.—Or, The Memoirs of Lady Woodford? Yes, indeed, ma’am. I asked everywhere for it; and I might have brought it from Mr. Frederick’s, but Lady Slattern Lounger, who had just sent it home, had so soiled and dog-eared it, it wasn’t fit for a Christian to read.

Lydia. Heigh-ho!—Yes, I always know when Lady Slattern has been before me. She has a most observing thumb; and I believe cherishes her nails for the convenience of making marginal notes.

. . . Lud! ma’am, they are both coming upstairs. . . .

Lydia. Here, my dear Lucy, hide these books. Quick, quick. Fling Peregrine 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 hairdresser has torn away as far as Proper Pride.

Lydia. Never mind—open at Sobriety. Fling me Lord Chesterfield’s Letters.—Now for ’em.

(Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Anthony Absolute enter after Lydia has been ordered to her room—)

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

Sir Anthony. 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. Malaprop. Nay, Sir Anthony, you are an absolute misanthropy.

Sir Anthony. 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—they were half-bound volumes, with marble covers! From that moment I guessed how full of duty I should see her mistress!

Mrs. Malaprop. Those are vile places, indeed!

Sir Anthony. 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.

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