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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Auctioning Off One’s Relatives
By Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816)
 
        
From the ‘School for Scandal
  
  [Charles Surface, an amiable but dissipated young man of fashion, has decided to raise money for his pastimes by selling to a supposed “broker” his last salable property, the family portraits. The purchaser of them, under the name of “Mr. Premium,” is Charles’s uncle, Sir Oliver Surface; who in disguise, desires to study his graceless nephew’s character and extravagances.
  The scene is the disfurnished mansion of Charles in London; and he is at table with several friends when the feigned Mr. Premium is presented.]

CHARLES SURFACE  [to Sir Oliver]—Mr. Premium, my friend Moses is a very honest fellow, but a little slow at expression: he’ll be an hour giving us our titles. Mr. Premium, the plain state of the matter is this: I am an extravagant young fellow who wants to borrow money; you I take to be a prudent old fellow who have got money to lend. I am blockhead enough to give fifty per cent. sooner than not have it; and you, I presume, are rogue enough to take a hundred if you can get it. Now, sir, you see we are acquainted at once, and may proceed to business without further ceremony.  1
  Sir Oliver—Exceeding frank, upon my word. I see, sir, you are not a man of many compliments.  2
  Charles—Oh no, sir! plain dealing in business I always think best.  3
  Sir Oliver—Sir, I like you the better for it. However, you are mistaken in one thing: I have no money to lend, but I believe I could procure some of a friend; but then he’s an unconscionable dog. Isn’t he, Moses? And must sell stock to accommodate you. Mustn’t he, Moses?  4
  Moses—Yes, indeed! You know I always speak the truth, and scorn to tell a lie!  5
  Charles—Right. People that speak truth generally do. But these are trifles, Mr. Premium. What! I know money isn’t to be bought without paying for’t!  6
  Sir Oliver—Well, but what security could you give? You have no land, I suppose?  7
  Charles—Not a mole-hill, nor a twig, but what’s in the bough-pots out of the window!  8
  Sir Oliver—Nor any stock, I presume?  9
  Charles—Nothing but live-stock—and that only a few pointers and ponies. But pray, Mr. Premium, are you acquainted at all with any of my connections?  10
  Sir Oliver—Why, to say truth, I am.  11
  Charles—Then you must know that I have a devilish rich uncle in the East Indies—Sir Oliver Surface—from whom I have the greatest expectations?  12
  Sir Oliver—That you have a wealthy uncle, I have heard; but how your expectations will turn out is more, I believe, than you can tell.  13
  Charles—Oh, no! there can be no doubt. They tell me I’m a prodigious favorite, and that he talks of leaving me everything.  14
  Sir Oliver—Indeed! This is the first I’ve heard of it.  15
  Charles—Yes, yes, ’tis just so. Moses knows ’tis true; don’t you, Moses?  16
  Moses—Oh, yes! I’ll swear to’t.  17
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—Egad, they’ll persuade me presently I’m at Bengal.  18
  Charles—Now I propose, Mr. Premium, if it’s agreeable to you, a post-obit on Sir Oliver’s life; though at the same time the old fellow has been so liberal to me, that I give you my word I should be very sorry to hear that anything had happened to him.  19
  Sir Oliver—Not more than I should, I assure you. But the bond you mention happens to be just the worst security you could offer me—for I might live to a hundred and never see the principal.  20
  Charles—Oh yes, you would! The moment Sir Oliver dies, you know, you would come on me for the money.  21
  Sir Oliver—Then I believe I should be the most unwelcome dun you ever had in your life.  22
  Charles—What! I suppose you’re afraid that Sir Oliver is too good a life?  23
  Sir Oliver—No, indeed I am not; though I have heard he is as hale and healthy as any man of his years in Christendom.  24
  Charles—There again, now, you are misinformed. No, no: the climate has hurt him considerably—poor Uncle Oliver. Yes, yes, he breaks apace, I’m told—and is so much altered lately that his nearest relations would not know him.  25
  Sir Oliver—No! Ha! ha! ha! so much altered lately that his nearest relations would not know him! Ha! ha! ha! egad—ha! ha! ha!  26
  Charles—Ha! ha! ha!—you’re glad to hear that, little Premium?  27
  Sir Oliver—No, no, I’m not.  28
  Charles—Yes, yes, you are—ha! ha! ha!—you know that mends your chance.  29
  Sir Oliver—But I’m told Sir Oliver is coming over; nay, some say he is actually arrived.  30
  Charles—Psha! sure I must know better than you whether he’s come or not. No, no: rely on’t he’s at this moment at Calcutta. Isn’t he, Moses?  31
  Moses—Oh, yes, certainly.  32
  Sir Oliver—Very true, as you say, you must know better than I; though I have it from pretty good authority. Haven’t I, Moses?  33
  Moses—Yes, most undoubted!  34
  Sir Oliver—But, sir, as I understand you want a few hundreds immediately, is there nothing you could dispose of?  35
  Charles—How do you mean?  36
  Sir Oliver—For instance, now, I have heard that your father left behind him a great quantity of massy old plate.  37
  Charles—O Lud! that’s gone long ago. Moses can tell you how better than I can.  38
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—Good lack! all the family race cups and corporation bowls!  [Aloud.]  Then it was also supposed that his library was one of the most valuable and compact.  39
  Charles—Yes, yes, so it was,—vastly too much so for a private gentleman. For my part, I was always of a communicative disposition, so I thought it a shame to keep so much knowledge to myself.  40
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—Mercy upon me! learning that had run in the family like an heirloom!  [Aloud.]  Pray, what are become of the books?  41
  Charles—You must inquire of the auctioneer, Master Premium; for I don’t believe even Moses can direct you.  42
  Moses—I know nothing of books.  43
  Sir Oliver—So, so: nothing of the family property left, I suppose?  44
  Charles—Not much, indeed; unless you have a mind to the family pictures. I have got a room full of ancestors above; and if you have a taste for old paintings, egad, you shall have ’em a bargain!  45
  Sir Oliver—Hey! what the devil! sure, you wouldn’t sell your forefathers, would you?  46
  Charles—Every man of them, to the best bidder.  47
  Sir Oliver—What! your great-uncles and aunts?  48
  Charles—Ay; and my great-grandfathers and grandmothers too.  49
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—Now I give him up!  [Aloud.]  What the plague, have you no bowels for your own kindred? Odds life! do you take me for Shylock in the play, that you would raise money of me on your own flesh and blood?  50
  Charles—Nay, my little broker, don’t be angry: what need you care, if you have your money’s worth?  51
  Sir Oliver—Well, I’ll be the purchaser: I think I can dispose of the family canvas.  [Aside.]  Oh, I’ll never forgive him this! never!  52
Enter Careless
  Careless—Come, Charles, what keeps you?
  53
  Charles—I can’t come yet. I’ faith, we are going to have a sale above-stairs; here’s little Premium will buy all my ancestors!  54
  Careless—Oh, burn your ancestors!  55
  Charles—No, he may do that afterwards if he pleases. Stay, Careless, we want you: egad, you shall be auctioneer; so come along with us.  56
  Careless—Oh, have with you, if that’s the case. I can handle a hammer as well as a dice-box! Going! going!  57
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—Oh, the profligates!  58
  Charles—Come, Moses, you shall be appraiser, if we want one. Gad’s life, little Premium, you don’t seem to like the business?  59
  Sir Oliver—Oh, yes, I do, vastly! Ha! ha! ha! yes, yes, I think it a rare joke to sell one’s family by auction—ha! ha!  [Aside.]  Oh, the prodigal!  60
  Charles—To be sure! when a man wants money, where the plague should he get assistance if he can’t make free with his own relations?  [Exeunt.]  61
  Sir Oliver  [aside, as they go out]—I’ll never forgive him; never! never!  62
 
Scene: A picture room in Charles Surface’s house.  Enter Charles Surface, Sir Oliver Surface, Moses, and Careless.
  Charles—Walk in, gentlemen, pray walk in—here they are: the family of the Surfaces, up to the Conquest.
  63
  Sir Oliver—And in my opinion, a goodly collection.  64
  Charles—Ay, ay, these are done in the true spirit of portrait-painting; no volontière grace or expression. Not like the works of your modern Raphaels, who give you the strongest resemblance, yet contrive to make your portrait independent of you; so that you may sink the original and not hurt the picture. No, no: the merit of these is the inveterate likeness—all stiff and awkward as the originals, and like nothing in human nature besides.  65
  Sir Oliver—Ah! we shall never see such figures of men again.  66
  Charles—I hope not. Well, you see, Master Premium, what a domestic character I am; here I sit of an evening surrounded by my family. But come, get to your pulpit, Mr. Auctioneer; here’s an old gouty chair of my grandfather’s will answer the purpose.  67
  Careless—Ay, ay, this will do. But, Charles, I haven’t a hammer; and what’s an auctioneer without his hammer?  68
  Charles—Egad, that’s true. What parchment have we here? Oh, our genealogy in full.  [Taking the pedigree down.]  Here, Careless, you shall have no common bit of mahogany: here’s the family tree for you, you rogue! This shall be your hammer, and now you may knock down my ancestors with their own pedigree.  69
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—What an unnatural rogue!—an ex post facto parricide!  70
  Careless—Yes, yes, here’s a list of your generation indeed. ’Faith, Charles, this is the most convenient thing you could have found for the business, for ’twill not only serve as a hammer, but a catalogue into the bargain. Come, begin— A-going, a-going, a-going!  71
  Charles—Bravo, Careless! Well, here’s my great-uncle, Sir Richard Raveline: a marvelous good general in his day, I assure you. He served in all the Duke of Marlborough’s wars, and got that cut over his eye at the battle of Malplaquet. What say you, Mr. Premium? Look at him—there’s a hero! not cut out of his feathers, as your modern clipped captains are, but enveloped in wig and regimentals, as a general should be. What do you bid?  72
  Sir Oliver  [aside to Moses]—Bid him speak.  73
  Moses—Mr. Premium would have you speak.  74
  Charles—Why, then, he shall have him for ten pounds; and I’m sure that’s not dear for a staff-officer.  75
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—Heaven deliver me! his famous uncle Richard for ten pounds!  [Aloud.]  Very well, sir, I take him at that.  76
  Charles—Careless, knock down my uncle Richard.—Here now is a maiden sister of his, my great-aunt Deborah; done by Kneller in his best manner, and esteemed a very formidable likeness. There she is, you see: a shepherdess feeding her flock. You shall have her for five pounds ten,—the sheep are worth the money.  77
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—Ah! poor Deborah! a woman who set such a value on herself!  [Aloud.]  Five pounds ten—she’s mine.  78
  Charles—Knock down my aunt Deborah! Here now are two that were a sort of cousins of theirs. You see, Moses, these pictures were done some time ago, when beaux wore wigs, and the ladies their own hair.  79
  Sir Oliver—Yes, truly, head-dresses appear to have been a little lower in those days.  80
  Charles—Well, take that couple for the same.  81
  Moses—’Tis a good bargain.  82
  Charles—Careless!—This now is a grandfather of my mother’s; a learned judge, well known on the western circuit. What do you rate him at, Moses?  83
  Moses—Four guineas.  84
  Charles—Four guineas! Gad’s life, you don’t bid me the price of his wig. Mr. Premium, you have more respect for the woolsack: do let us knock his Lordship down at fifteen.  85
  Sir Oliver—By all means.  86
  Careless—Gone!  87
  Charles—And there are two brothers of his, William and Walter Blunt, Esquires, both members of Parliament, and noted speakers; and what’s very extraordinary, I believe this is the first time they were ever bought or sold.  88
  Sir Oliver—That is very extraordinary, indeed! I’ll take them at your own price, for the honor of Parliament.  89
  Careless—Well said, little Premium! I’ll knock them down at forty.  90
  Charles—Here’s a jolly fellow—I don’t know what relation, but he was mayor of Norwich: take him at eight pounds.  91
  Sir Oliver—No, no: six will do for the mayor.  92
  Charles—Come, make it guineas, and I’ll throw you the two aldermen there into the bargain.  93
  Sir Oliver—They’re mine.  94
  Charles—Careless, knock down the mayor and aldermen. But plague on’t! we shall be all day retailing in this manner: do let us deal wholesale; what say you, little Premium? Give me three hundred pounds for the rest of the family in the lump.  95
  Careless—Ay, ay: that will be the best way.  96
  Sir Oliver—Well, well,—anything to accommodate you: they are mine. But there is one portrait which you have always passed over.  97
  Careless—What, that ill-looking little fellow over the settee?  98
  Sir Oliver—Yes, sir, I mean that; though I don’t think him so ill-looking a little fellow, by any means.  99
  Charles—What, that? Oh, that’s my Uncle Oliver! ’Twas done before he went to India.  100
  Careless—Your Uncle Oliver! Gad, then you’ll never be friends, Charles. That now, to me, is as stern a looking rogue as ever I saw; an unforgiving eye, and a damned disinheriting countenance! an inveterate knave, depend on’t. Don’t you think so, little Premium?  101
  Sir Oliver—Upon my soul, sir, I do not: I think it is as honest a looking face as any in the room, dead or alive. But I suppose Uncle Oliver goes with the rest of the lumber?  102
  Charles—No, hang it! I’ll not part with poor Noll. The old fellow has been very good to me, and egad, I’ll keep his picture while I’ve a room to put it in.  103
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—The rogue’s my nephew after all!—[Aloud.]  But, sir, I have somehow taken a fancy to that picture.  104
  Charles—I’m sorry for’t, for you certainly will not have it. Oons! haven’t you got enough of them?  105
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—I forgive him everything!  [Aloud.]  But, sir, when I take a whim in my head, I don’t value money. I’ll give you as much for that as for all the rest.  106
  Charles—Don’t tease me, master broker: I tell you I’ll not part with it, and there’s an end of it.  107
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—How like his father the dog is!  [Aloud.]  Well, well, I have done.  [Aside.]  I did not perceive it before, but I think I never saw such a striking resemblance.  [Aloud.]  Here is a draught for your sum.  108
  Charles—Why, ’tis for eight hundred pounds!  109
  Sir Oliver—You will not let Sir Oliver go?  110
  Charles—Zounds! no, I tell you, once more.  111
  Sir Oliver—Then never mind the difference: we’ll balance that another time. But give me your hand on the bargain; you are an honest fellow, Charles—I beg pardon, sir, for being so free. Come, Moses.  112
  Charles—Egad, this is a whimsical old fellow!—But hark’ee, Premium, you’ll prepare lodgings for these gentlemen.  113
  Sir Oliver—Yes, yes; I’ll send for them in a day or two.  114
  Charles—But hold,—do now send a genteel conveyance for them; for I assure you they were most of them used to ride in their own carriages.  115
  Sir Oliver—I will, I will—for all but Oliver.  116
  Charles—Ay, all but the little nabob.  117
  Sir Oliver—You’re fixed on that?  118
  Charles—Peremptorily.  119
  Sir Oliver  [aside]—A dear extravagant rogue!  [Aloud.]  Good-day!—Come, Moses.  [Aside.]  Let me hear now who dares call him a profligate!  [Exit with Moses.]  120
  Careless—Why, this is the oddest genius of the sort I ever met with.  121
  Charles—Egad, he’s the prince of brokers, I think. I wonder how the devil Moses got acquainted with so honest a fellow.—Ha! here’s Rowley.—Do, Careless, say I’ll join the company in a few moments.  122
  Careless—I will—but don’t let that old blockhead persuade you to squander any of that money on old musty debts, or any such nonsense; for tradesmen, Charles, are the most exorbitant fellows.  123
  Charles—Very true; and paying them is only encouraging them.  124
  Careless—Nothing else.  125
  Charles—Ay, ay, never fear.  [Exit Careless.]  So! this was an odd old fellow, indeed. Let me see: two-thirds of these five hundred and thirty odd pounds are mine by right. ’Fore heaven! I find one’s ancestors are more valuable relations than I took them for!—Ladies and gentlemen, your most obedient and very grateful servant.  [Bows ceremoniously to the pictures.]  126
 
 
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