Richard Harris Barham

(1788-1845 / England)

Some Account of a New Play


'The play's the thing!'-- Hamlet.

Tavistock Hotel, Nov. 1839.
Dear Charles,
-- In reply to your letter, and Fanny's,
Lord Brougham, it appears, isn't dead,-- though Queen Anne is;
'Twas a 'plot' and a 'farce'-- you hate farces, you say --
Take another 'plot,' then, viz. the plot of a Play.

The Countess of Arundel, high in degree,
As a lady possess'd of an earldom in fee,
Was imprudent enough at fifteen years of age,
A period of life when we're not over sage,
To form a liaison -- in fact, to engage
Her hand to a Hop-o'-my-thumb of a Page.
This put her Papa --
She had no Mamma --
As may well be supposed, in a deuce of a rage.

Mr. Benjamin Franklin was wont to repeat,
In his budget of proverbs, 'Stolen Kisses are sweet;'
But they have their alloy --
Fate assumed, to annoy
Miss Arundel's peace, and embitter her joy,
The equivocal shape of a fine little Boy.

When, through 'the young Stranger,' her secret took wind,
The Old Lord was neither 'to haud nor to bind.'
He bounced up and down,
And so fearful a frown
Contracted his brow, you'd have thought he'd been blind.
The young lady, they say,
Having fainted away,
Was confined to her room for the whole of that day;
While her beau -- no rare thing in the old feudal system --
Disappear'd the next morning, and nobody miss'd him.

The fact is, his Lordship, who hadn't, it seems,
Form'd the slightest idea, not ev'n in his dreams,
That the pair had been wedded according to law,
Conceived that his daughter had made a faux pas;
So he bribed at a high rate
A sort of a Pirate
To knock out the poor dear young Gentleman's brains,
And gave him a handsome douceur for his pains.
The Page thus disposed of, his Lordship now turns
His attention at once to the Lday's concerns;
And, alarm'd for the future,
Looks out for a suitor,
One not fond of raking, nor giv'n to 'the pewter,'
But adapted to act both the husband and tutor --
Finds a highly respectable, middle-aged, widower,
Marries her off, and thanks Heaven that he's rid o' her.

Relieved from his cares,
The old Peer now prepares
To arrange in good earnest his worldly affairs;
Has his will made new by a Special Attorney,
Sickens, takes to his bed, and sets out on his journey.
Which way he travell'd
Has not been unravell'd;
To speculate much on the point were too curious,
If the climate he reach'd were serene or sulphureous.
To be sure in his balance-sheet all must declare
One item -- The Page -- was an awkward affair;
But, per contra, he'd lately endow'd a new Chantry
For Priests, with ten marks and the run of the pantry.
Be that as it may,
It's sufficient to say
That his tomb in the chancel stands there to this day,
Built of Bethersden marble -- a dark bluish grey.
The figure, a fine one of pure alabaster,
A cleanly churchwarden has cover'd with plaster;
While some Vandal or Jew,
With a taste for virtu,
Has knock'd off his toes, to place, I suppose,
In some Pickwick Museum, with part of his nose;
From his belt and his sword
And his misericorde
The enamel's been chipp'd out, and never restored;
His ci-gît in old French is inscribed all around,
And his head's in his helm, and his heel's on his hound,
The palms of his hands, as if going to pray,
Are join'd and upraised o'er his bosom -- But stay!
I forgot that his tomb's not described in the Play!


Lady Arundel, now in her own right a Peeress,
Perplexes her noddle with no such nice queries,
But produces in time, to her husband's great joy,
Another remarkably 'fine little boy.'
As novel connections
Oft change the affections,
And turn all one's love into different directions,
Now to young 'Johnny Newcome' she seems to confine hers,
Neglecting the poor little dear out at dry-nurse;
Nay, far worse than that,
She considers 'the brat'
As a bore -- fears her husband may smell out a rat.
As her legal adviser
She takes an old Miser,
A sort of 'poor cousin.' She might have been wiser;
For this arrant deceiver,
By name Maurice Beevor,
A shocking old scamp, should her own issue fail,
By the law of the land stands the next in entail.
So, as soon as she ask'd him to hit on some plan
To provide for her eldest, away the rogue ran
To that self-same unprincipled sea-faring man;
In his ear whisper'd low ...--'Bully Gaussen' said 'done!--
I Burked the papa, now I'll Bishop the son!'
'Twas agreed; and, with speed
To accomplish the deed,
He adopted a scheme he was sure would succeed.
By long cock-and-bull stories
Of Candish and Noreys,
Of Drake and bold Raleigh, then fresh in his glories,
Acquired 'mongst the Indians and Rapparee Tories,
He so work'd on the lad,
That he left, which was bad,
The only true friend in the world that he had,
Father Onslow, a priest, though to quit him most loth,
Who in childhood had furnish'd his pap and his broth.
At no small risk of scandal, indeed, to his cloth.

The kidnapping crimp
Took the foolish young imp
On board of his cutter so trim and so jimp,
Then, seizing him just as you'd handle a shrimp,
Twirl'd him thrice in the air with a whirligig motion,
And soused him at once neck and heels in the ocean.
This was off Plymouth Sound,
And he must have been drown'd,
For 'twas nonsense to think he could swim to dry ground,
If 'A very great Warman,
Call'd Billy the Norman,'
Had not just at that moment sail'd by, outward bound.
A shark of great size,
With his great glassy eyes,
Sheer'd off as he came, and relinquish'd the prize;
So he pick'd up the lad, swabb'd, and dry-rubb'd, and mopp'd him,
And, having no children, resolved to adopt him.

Full many a year
Did he hand, reef, and steer,
And by no means consider'd himself as small beer,
When old Norman at length died and left him his frigate,
With lots of pistoles in his coffers to rig it.
A sailor ne'er moans;
So, consigning the bones
Of his friend to the locker of one Mr. Jones,
For England he steers.--
On the voyage it appears
That he rescued a maid from the Dey of Algiers;
And at length reached the Sussex coast, where in a bay,
Not a great way from Brighton, most cosey-ly lay
His vessel at anchor, the very same day
That the Poet begins,-- thus commencing his play.


ACT I.

Giles Gaussen accosts old Sir Maurice de Beevor,
And puts the poor Knight in a deuce of a fever,
By saying the boy, whom he took out to please him,
Is come back a Captain on purpose to tease him.--
Sir Maurice, who gladly would see Mr. Gaussen
Breaking stones on the highway, or sweeping a crossing,
Dissembles -- observes, It's of no use to fret,--
And hints he may find some more work for him yet;
Then calls at the castle, and tells Lady A.
That the boy they had ten years ago sent away
Is return'd a grown man, and, to come to the point,
Will put her son Percy's nose clean out of joint;
But adds, that herself she no longer need vex,
If she'll buy him (Sir Maurice) a farm near the Ex.
'Oh! take it,' she cries; 'but secure every document.'--
'A bargain,' says Maurice,--' including the stock you meant?'--
The Captain, meanwhile,
With a lover-like smile,
And a fine cambric handkerchief, wipes off the tears
From Miss Violet's eyelash, and hushes her fears.
(That's the Lady he saved from the Dey of Algiers.)
Now arises a delicate point, and this is it --
The young lady herself is but down on a visit.
She's perplex'd; and, in fact,
Does not know how to act.
It's her very first visit -- and then to begin
By asking a stranger -- a gentleman, in --
One with mustaches too -- and a tuft on his chin --
She 'really don't know --
He had much better go,'
Here the Countess steps in from behind, and says 'No!--
Fair sir, you are welcome. Do, pray, stop and dine --
You will take our pot-luck -- and we've decentish wine.'
He bows,-- looks at Violet,-- and does not decline.


ACT II.

After dinner the Captain recounts, with much glee,
All he's heard, seen and done, since he first went to sea,
All his perils, and scrapes,
And his hair-breadth escapes,
Talks of boa-constrictors, and lions, and apes,
And fierce 'Bengal Tigers,' like that which you know,
If you've ever seen any respectable 'Show,'
'Carried off the unfortunate Mr. Munro.'
Then, diverging a while, he adverts to the mystery
Which hangs, like a cloud, o'er his own private history --
How he ran off to sea -- how they set him afloat,
(Not a word, though, of barrel or bung hole -- See Note)
How he happen'd to meet
With the Algerine fleet,
And forced them by sheer dint of arms to retreat,
Thus saving his Violet -- (One of his feet
Here just touched her toe, and she moved on her seat,)--
How his vessel was batter'd --
In short, he so chatter'd,
Now lively, now serious, so ogled and flatter'd,
That the ladies much marvell'd a person should be able,
To 'make himself,' both said, 'so very agreeable.'

Captain Norman's adventures were scarcely half done,
When Percy Lord Ashdale, her ladyship's son,
In a terrible fume,
Bounces into the room,
And talks to his guest as you'd talk to a groom,
Claps his hand on his rapier, and swears he'll be through him --
The Captain does nothing at all but 'pooh! pooh!' him.--
Unable to smother
His hate of his brother,
He rails at his cousin, and blows up his mother.
'Fie! fie!' says the first.-- Says the latter, 'In sooth,
This is sharper by far than a keen serpent's tooth!'
(A remark, by the way, which King Lear had made years ago,
When he ask'd for his Knights, and his Daughter said 'Here's a go!')--
This made Ashdale ashamed;
But he must not be blamed
Too much for his warmth, for, like many young fellows, he
Was apt to lose temper when tortured by jealousy.
Still speaking quite gruff,
He goes off in a huff;
Lady A., who is now what some call 'up to snuff,'
Straight determines to patch
Up a clandestine match
Between the Sea-Captain she dreads like Old Scratch,
And Miss, whom she does not think any great catch
For Ashdale; besides, he won't kick up such shindies
Were she once fairly married and off to the Indies.


ACT III.

Miss Violet takes from the Countess her tone;
She agrees to meet Norman 'by moonlight alone,'
And slip off to his bark,
'The night being dark,'
Though 'the moon,' the Sea-Captain says, rises in Heaven
'One hour before midnight,'-- i.e. at eleven.
From which speech I infer,
-- Though perhaps I may err --
That, though weatherwise, doubtless, midst surges and surf, he
When 'capering on shore,' was by no means a Murphy.

He starts off, however, at sunset to reach
An old chapel in ruins, that stands on the beach,
Where the Priest is to bring, as he's promised by letter, a
Paper to prove his name, 'birthright,' et cetera.
Being rather too late,
Gaussen, lying in wait,
Has just given Father Onslow a knock on the pate,
But bolts, seeing Norman, before he has wrested
From the hand of the Priest, as Sir Maurice requested,
The marriage certificate duly attested.--
Norman kneels by the clergyman fainting and gory,
And begs he won't die till he's told him his story;
The Father complies,
Re-opens his eyes,
And tells him all how and about it -- and dies!


ACT IV.

Norman, now call'd Le Mesnil, instructed of all,
Goes back, though it's getting quite late for a call,
Hangs his hat and his cloak on a peg in the hall,
And tells the proud Countess it's useless to smother
The fact any longer -- he knows she's his mother!
His Pa's wedded Spouse,--
She questions his nous,
And threatens to have him turn'd out of the house.
He still perseveres,
Till, in spite of her fears,
She admits he's the son she had cast off for years,
And he gives her the papers 'all blister'd with tears,'
When Ashdale, who chances his nose in to poke,
Takes his hat and his cloak,
Just as if in a joke,
Determined to put in his wheel a new spoke,
And slips off thus disguised, when he sees by the dial it
's time for the rendezvous fix'd with Miss Violet.
-- Captain Norman, who, after all, feels rather sore
At his mother's reserve, vows to see her no more,
Rings the bell for the servant to open the door,
And leaves his Mamma in a fit on the floor.


ACT V.

Now comes the Catastrophe -- Ashdale, who's wrapt in
The cloak, with the hat and the plume of the Captain,
Leads Violet down through the grounds to the chapel,
Where Gaussen's concealed -- he springs forward to grapple
The man he's erroneously led to suppose
Captain Norman himself, by the cut of his clothes.
In the midst of their strife,
And just as the knife
Of the Pirate is raised to deprive him of life,
The Captain comes forward, drawn there by the squeals
Of the Lady, and, knocking Giles head over heels,
Fractures his 'nob,'
Saves the hangman a job,
And executes justice most strictly, the rather,
'Twas the spot where the rascal had murder'd his father
Then in comes the mother,
Who, finding one brother
Had the instant before saved the life of the other,
Explains the whole case.
Ashdale puts a good face
On the matter; and since he's obliged to give place,
Yields his coronet up with a pretty good grace;
Norman vows he won't have it -- the kinsmen embrace,--
And the Captain, the first in this generous race,
To remove every handle
For gossip and scandal,
Sets the whole of the papers alight with the candle;
An arrangement takes place -- on the very same night, all
Is settled and done, and the points the most vital
Are, N. takes the personals;-- A., in requital,
Keeps the whole real property, Mansion, and Title.--
V. falls to the share of the Captain, and tries a
Sea-voyage as a Bride in the 'Royal Eliza.'--
Both are pleased with the part they acquire as joint heirs,
And old Maurice Beevor is bundled down stairs!


MORAL.

The public, perhaps, with the drama might quarrel
If deprived of all epilogue, prologue, and moral,
This may serve for all three then:--

'Young Ladies of property,
Let Lady A.'s history serve as a stopper t' ye;
Don't wed with low people beneath your degree,
And if you've a baby, don't send it to sea!

'Young Noblemen! shun every thing like a brawl;
And be sure when you dine out, or go to ball,
Don't take the best hat that you find in the hall,
And leave one in its stead that's worth nothing at all!

'Old Knights, don't give bribes!-- above all, never urge a man
To steal people's things, or to stick an old Clergyman!

'And you, ye Sea-Captains! who've nothing to do
But to run round the world, fight, and drink till all's blue,
And tell us tough yarns, and then swear they are true,
Reflect, notwithstanding your sea-faring life,
That you can't get on well long, without you've a wife;
So get one at once, treat her kindly and gently,
Write a Nautical novel,-- and send it to Bentley!

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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