Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1788–1820
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vol. IV: Literature of the Republic, Part I., Constitutional period, 1788–1820
 
The First American Comedy Regularly Produced
By Royall Tyler (1757–1826)
 
[Born in Boston, Mass., 1757. Died at Brattleboro’, Vt., 1826. The Contrast, a Comedy in Five Acts: written by a Citizen of the United States.—Performed in 1787, at the theatre in John street, New York.—1790.]

From The “Advertisement”

          In justice to the Author it may be proper to observe that this Comedy has many claims to the public indulgence, independent of its intrinsic merits: It is the first essay of American genius in a difficult species of composition; it was written by one who never critically studied the rules of the drama, and, indeed, had seen but few of the exhibitions of the stage; it was undertaken and finished in the course of three weeks; and the profits of one night’s performance were appropriated to the benefit of the sufferers by the fire at Boston.

Prologue, in Rebuke of the Prevailing Anglomania

EXULT each patriot heart!—this night is shown
A piece, which we may fairly call our own;
Where the proud titles of “My Lord! Your Grace!”
To humble “Mr.” and plain “Sir” give place.
Our author pictures not from foreign climes        5
The fashions, or the follies of the times;
But has confined the subject of his work
To the gay scenes—the circles of New York.
On native themes his Muse displays her powers;
If ours the faults, the virtues too are ours.        10
Why should our thoughts to distant countries roam,
When each refinement can be found at home?
Who travels now to ape the rich or great,
To deck an equipage and roll in state;
To court the graces, or to dance with ease,—        15
Or by hypocrisy to strive to please?
Our free-born ancestors such arts despised;
Genuine sincerity alone they prized;
Their minds with honest emulation fired,
To solid good—not ornament—aspired;        20
Or, if ambition roused a bolder flame,
Stern virtue throve, where indolence was shame.
  But modern youths, with imitative sense,
Deem taste in dress the proof of excellence;
And spurn the meanness of your homespun arts,        25
Since homespun habits would obscure their parts;
Whilst all, which aims at splendor and parade,
Must come from Europe, and be ready-made.
Strange we should thus our native worth disclaim,
And check the progress of our rising fame.        30
Yet one, whilst imitation bears the sway,
Aspires to nobler heights, and points the way.
Be roused, my friends! his bold example view;
Let your own bards be proud to copy you!
Should rigid critics reprobate our play,        35
At least the patriotic heart will say,
“Glorious our fall, since in a noble cause;
The bold attempt alone demands applause.”
Still may the wisdom of the Comic Muse
Exalt your merits, or your faults accuse.        40
But think not ’tis her aim to be severe;—
We all are mortals, and as mortals err.
If candor pleases, we are truly blest;
Vice trembles, when compelled to stand confessed.
Let not light censure on your faults offend,        45
Which aims not to expose them, but amend.
Thus does our author to your candor trust;
Conscious the free are generous, as just.
 
ACT. I. SC. 1.—CHIT-CHAT OF TWO MANHATTAN BELLES.

SCENE.—An Apartment at CHARLOTTE’S.
CHARLOTTE and LETITIA discovered.

LETITIA. And so, Charlotte, you really think the pocket-hoop unbecoming.
  CHARL.  No, I don’t say so. It may be very becoming to saunter round the house of a rainy day; to visit my grandmamma, or to go to Quakers’ meeting; but to swim in a minuet with the eyes of fifty well-dressed beaux upon me, to trip it in the Mall, or walk on the Battery, give me the luxurious, jaunty, flowing, bell-hoop. It would have delighted you to have seen me the last evening, my charming girl! I was dangling o’er the Battery with Billy Dimple; a knot of young fellows were upon the platform; as I passed them I faltered with one of the most bewitching false steps you ever saw, and then recovered myself with such a pretty confusion, flirting my hoop to discover a jet-black shoe and brilliant buckle. Gad! how my little heart thrilled to hear the confused raptures of—“Demme, Jack, what a delicate foot!” “Ha! General, what a well turned—”        50
  LET.  Fie! fie! Charlotte  [Stopping her mouth.]  I protest you are quite a libertine.
  CHARL.  Why, my dear little prude, are we not all such libertines? Do you think when I sat tortured two hours under the hands of my friseur, and an hour more at my toilet, that I had any thoughts of my aunt Susan, or my cousin Betsey? though they are both allowed to be critical judges of dress.
  LET.  Why, who should we dress to please, but those who are judges of its merit?
  CHARL.  Why a creature who does not know Buffon from Souflee—Man!—my Letitia—Man! for whom we dress, walk, dance, talk, lisp, languish, and smile. Does not the grave Spectator assure us, that even our much bepraised diffidence, modesty, and blushes, are all directed to make ourselves good wives and mothers as fast as we can. Why, I’ll undertake with one flirt of this hoop to bring more beaux to my feet in one week, than the grave Maria, and her sentimental circle, can do, by sighing sentiment till their hairs are gray.
  LET.  Well, I won’t argue with you; you always out-talk me; let us change the subject. I hear that Mr. Dimple and Maria are soon to be married.        55
  CHARL.  You hear true. I was consulted in the choice of the wedding clothes. She is to be married in a delicate white satin, and has a monstrous pretty brocaded lutestring for the second day. It would have done you good to have seen with what an affected indifference the dear sentimentalist turned over a thousand pretty things, just as if her heart did not palpitate with her approaching happiness, and at last made her choice, and arranged her dress with such apathy, as if she did not know that plain white satin, and a simple blond lace, would show her clear skin, and dark hair, to the greatest advantage.
  LET.  But they say her indifference to dress, and even to the gentleman himself, is not entirely affected.
  CHARL.  How?
  LET.  It is whispered that if Maria gives her hand to Mr. Dimple, it will be without her heart.
  CHARL.  Though the giving of the heart is one of the last of all laughable considerations in the marriage of a girl of spirit, yet I should like to hear what antiquated notions the dear little piece of old-fashioned prudery has got in her head.        60
  LET.  Why you know that old Mr. John-Richard-Robert-Jacob-Isaac-Abraham-Cornelius Van Dumpling, Billy Dimple’s father (for he has thought fit to soften his name as well as manners, during his English tour), was the most intimate friend of Maria’s father. The old folks, about a year before Mr. Van Dumpling’s death, proposed this match: the young folks were accordingly introduced, and told they must love one another. Billy was then a good-natured, decent, dressing young fellow, with a little dash of the coxcomb, such as our young fellows of fortune usually have. At this time, I really believe, she thought she loved him; and had they then been married, I doubt not, they might have jogged on, to the end of the chapter, a good kind of a sing-song lackadaisical life, as other honest married folks do.
  CHARL.  Why did they not then marry?
  LET.  Upon the death of his father, Billy went to England to see the world, and rub off a little of the patroon rust During his absence, Maria, like a good girl, to keep herself constant to her nown true-love, avoided company, and betook herself, for her amusement, to her books, and her dear Billy’s letters. But, alas! how many ways has the mischievous demon of inconstancy of stealing into a woman’s heart! Her love was destroyed by the very means she took to support it.
  CHARL.  How?—Oh! I have it—some likely young beau found the way to her study.
  LET.  Be patient, Charlotte, your head so runs upon beaux.—Why she read Sir Charles Grandison, Clarissa Harlow, Shenstone, and the Sentimental Journey; and between whiles, as I said, Billy’s letters. But as her taste improved, her love declined. The contrast was so striking betwixt the good-sense of her books, and the flimsiness of her love-letters, that she discovered she had unthinkingly engaged her hand without her heart; and then the whole transaction managed by the old folks now appeared so unsentimental, and looked so like bargaining for a bale of goods, that she found she ought to have rejected, according to every rule of romance, even the man of her choice, if imposed upon her in that manner—Clary Harlow would have scorned such a match.        65
  CHARL.  Well, how was it on Mr. Dimple’s return? Did he meet a more favorable reception than his letters?
  LET.  Much the same. She spoke of him with respect abroad, and with contempt in her closet. She watched his conduct and conversation, and found that he had by travelling acquired the wickedness of Lovelace without his wit, and the politeness of Sir Charles Grandison without his generosity. The ruddy youth who washed his face at the cistern every morning, and swore and looked eternal love and constancy, was now metamorphosed into a flippant, pallid, polite beau, who devotes the morning to his toilet, reads a few pages of Chesterfield’s letters, and then minces out, to put the infamous principles in practice upon every woman he meets.
  CHARL.  But if she is so apt at conjuring up these sentimental bugbears, why does she not discard him at once?
  LET.  Why, she thinks her word too sacred to be trifled with. Besides, her father, who has a great respect for the memory of his deceased friend, is ever telling her how he shall renew his years in their union, and repeating the dying injunctions of old Van Dumpling.
  CHARL.  A mighty pretty story! And so you would make me believe that the sensible Maria would give up Dumpling manor, and the all-accomplished Dimple as a husband, for the absurd, ridiculous reason, forsooth, because she despises and abhors him. Just as if a lady could not be privileged to spend a man’s fortune, ride in his carriage, be called after his name, and call him her nown dear-lovee when she wants money, without loving and respecting the great he-creature. Oh! my dear girl, you are a monstrous prude.        70
  LET.  I don’t say what I would do; I only intimate how I suppose she wishes to act.
  CHARL.  No, no, no! a fig for sentiment. If she breaks, or wishes to break, with Mr. Dimple, depend upon it, she has some other man in her eye. A woman rarely discards one lover until she is sure of another.—Letitia little thinks what a clew I have to Dimple’s conduct. The generous man submits to render himself disgusting to Maria, in order that she may leave him at liberty to address me. I must change the subject.        [Aside, and rings a bell.]
Enter SERVANT.
Frank, order the horses to.—Talking of marriage—did you hear that Sally Bloomsbury is going to be married next week to Mr. Indigo, the rich Carolinian.
  LET.  Sally Bloomsbury married!—Why she is not yet in her teens.
  CHARL.  I do not know how that is, but you may depend upon it, ’tis a done affair. I have it from the best authority. There is my aunt Wyerley’s Hannah (you know Hannah—though a black, she is a wench that was never caught in a lie in her life); now Hannah has a brother who courts Sarah, Mrs. Catgut the milliner’s girl, and she told Hannah’s brother, and Hannah, who, as I said before, is a girl of undoubted veracity, told it directly to me, that Mrs. Catgut was making a new cap for Miss Bloomsbury, which, as it was very dressy, it is very probable is designed for a wedding cap; now, as she is to be married, who can it be to, but to Mr. Indigo? Why, there is no other gentleman that visits at her papa’s.
  LET.  Say not a word more, Charlotte. Your intelligence is so direct and well grounded, it is almost a pity that it is not a piece of scandal.        75
  CHARL.  Oh! I am the pink of prudence. Though I cannot charge myself with ever having discredited a tea-party by my silence, yet I take care never to report anything of my acquaintance, especially if it is to their credit—discredit I mean—until I have searched to the bottom of it. It is true there is infinite pleasure in this charitable pursuit. Oh! how delicious to go and condole with the friends of some backsliding sister, or to retire with some old dowager or maiden aunt of the family, who love scandal so well, that they cannot forbear gratifying their appetite at the expense of the reputation of their nearest relations. And then to return full-fraught with a rich collection of circumstances, to retail to the next circle of our acquaintance under the strongest injunctions of secresy,—ha, ha, ha!—interlarding the melancholy tale with so many doleful shakes of the head, and more doleful “Ah! who would have thought it! so amiable, so prudent a young lady, as we all thought her, what a monstrous pity! well, I have nothing to charge myself with; I acted the part of a friend, I warned her of the principles of that rake, I told her what would be the consequence; I told her so, I told her so.”—Ha, ha, ha!
  LET.  Ha, ha, ha! Well, but Charlotte, you don’t tell me what you think of Miss Bloomsbury’s match.
  CHARL.  Think! why I think it is probable she cried for a plaything, and they have given her a husband. Well, well, well, the puling chit shall not be deprived of her plaything: ’tis only exchanging London dolls for American babies—apropos, of babies, have you heard what Mrs. Affable’s high-flying notions of delicacy have come to?
  LET.  Who, she that was Miss Lovely?
  CHARL.  The same; she married Bob Affable of Schenectady. Don’t you remember?        80
Enter SERVANT.
  SERV.  Madam, the carriage is ready.
  LET.  Shall we go to the stores first, or visiting?
  CHARL.  I should think it rather too early to visit; especially Mrs. Prim: you know she is so particular.
  LET.  But what of Mrs. Affable?
  CHARL.  Oh, I’ll tell you as we go; come, come, let us hasten. I hear Mrs. Catgut has some of the prettiest caps arrived, you ever saw. I shall die if I have not the first sight of them.        85
 
 
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