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, 17881820
Mr. Cookes Propensity to Sarcasm
By William Dunlap (17661839)
[From The Life of George Fred. Cooke. 1812.]
HERE, as in every other city on the continent, the greatest admiration was shown of Mr. Cookes talents as an actor, and the strongest desire to pay him every respect as a gentleman. But the same obstacles arose to the fulfilment of this wish, as at every other place he had visited.
In one instance, when a gentleman happened to mention that his family were among the first settlers of Maryland, he asked him if he had carefully preserved the family jewels? And, on being questioned as to his meaning, replied, the chains and handcuffs.
The notoriety of his character preserved him from such returns as such language would have met if coming from other men; and this perhaps encouraged him to indulge what he called his propensity to sarcasm.
At a dinner-party given in honor of him by Mr. , he was led, still continuing his libations, to descant on Shakespeare, and the mode of representing his great characters, which he did eloquently, and to the delight of a large company. Suddenly, to the astonishment of them all, he jumped up and exclaimed,
Sir, I am accused of falsehood. I am accused of making false assertions. I have received an anonymous letter containing this line alone, Justify your words. Sir, my words are truth. What have I said that I cannot justify? I have perhaps been too keen upon the character of your country, but truth is the severest satire upon it. I am ready to justify what I have said!
Mr. seeing his company thrown into confusion, and all harmony broken up, arose and expostulated with his guest, and finally hinted that the anonymous letter was a creation of his heated imagination. Cooke then resumed his seat, and fixing his eye on his host for some time, exclaimed, I have marked you, Sir! I have had my eye upon you, and it is time that your impertinence should be curbed.
This excessive licentiousness of speech, with the peculiar manner of the speaker, appeared so ludicrous, that the company burst into loud laughter, and Cooke, changing his manner, joined heartily with them, and again resumed his glass.
If he does, Ill be damned if I play before him. What, I? I!George Frederick Cooke! who have acted before the Majesty of Britain, play before your Yankee President! No!Ill go forward to the audience and Ill say, Ladies and Gentlemen
Cooke, surveying him contemptuously, cried, Hold your tongue, you damned Methodist preacher, and then proceeded, Ladies and gentlemen. The king of the Yankee Doodles has come to see me act. Me; me, George, Frederick, Cooke! who have stood before my royal master George the Third, and received his Imperial approbation! And shall I exert myself to play before one of his rebellious subjects, who arrogates kingly state in defiance of his master? No, it is degradation enough to play before rebels, but Ill not go on for the amusement of a king of rebels, the contemptible King of the Yankee Doodles!
This effusion only excited laughter, and he went on to expatiate on his deeds of arms in the war against the rebels, and every place in the neighborhood where an action had been fought, was the scene of his military achievement.
With difficulty he was prevailed upon to get into a coach to return home to Baltimore. Still it was necessary that some one should attend him, and, late at night, his host performed that kindness. This offended Cooke, and he began to abuse him and everything belonging to the country. This gentleman, observing a stump of a tree near the wheel-track as they passed through a grove, cautioned the coachman. What Sir, do you pretend to direct my servant? cries Cooke.
Cooke was petrified, and sat like a statuebut soon began with, Has George Frederick Cooke come to this damned country to be treated thus? Shall it be told in EnglandWell, Sir, if you will not get out I will; and he opened the door. Mr. was obliged to stop the coach for fear of injury to Cooke, who tumbled himself out and surlily sat down under a tree. With great difficulty his opposition was overcome, and Mr. , near daylight, got rid of his troublesome and turbulent guest, by depositing him at his lodgings.