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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Pleasures of Friendly Criticism
By Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816)
 
From ‘The Critic’

Scene: The lodgings of Mr. and Mrs. Dangle.  Enter Servant.

SERVANT—Sir Fretful Plagiary, sir.  1
  Dangle—Beg him to walk up.  [Exit Servant.]  Now, Mrs. Dangle, Sir Fretful Plagiary is an author to your own taste.  2
  Mrs. Dangle—I confess he is a favorite of mine, because everybody else abuses him.  3
  Sneer—Very much to the credit of your charity, madam, if not of your judgment.  4
  Dangle—But, egad, he allows no merit to any author but himself; that’s the truth on’t—though he’s my friend.  5
  Sneer—Never! He is as envious as an old maid verging on the desperation of six-and-thirty.  6
  Dangle—Very true, egad—though he’s my friend.  7
  Sneer—Then his affected contempt of all newspaper strictures; though at the same time he is the sorest man alive, and shrinks like scorched parchment from the fiery ordeal of true criticism.  8
  Dangle—There’s no denying it—though he is my friend.  9
  Sneer—You have read the tragedy he has just finished, haven’t you?  10
  Dangle—Oh yes: he sent it to me yesterday.  11
  Sneer—Well, and you think it execrable, don’t you?  12
  Dangle—Why, between ourselves, egad, I must own—though he’s my friend—that it is one of the most—  [Aside.]  He’s here.  [Aloud]—finished and most admirable perform—  13
  Sir Fretful  [without]—Mr. Sneer with him, did you say?  14
Enter Sir Fretful
  Dangle—Ah, my dear friend! Egad, we were just speaking of your tragedy. Admirable, Sir Fretful, admirable!
  15
  Sneer—You never did anything beyond it, Sir Fretful,—never in your life.  16
  Sir Fretful—You make me extremely happy; for without a compliment, my dear Sneer, there isn’t a man in the world whose judgment I value as I do yours—and Mr. Dangle’s.  17
  Mrs. Dangle—They are only laughing at you, Sir Fretful; for it was but just now that—  18
  Dangle—Mrs. Dangle! Ah, Sir Fretful, you know Mrs. Dangle. My friend Sneer was rallying just now—he knows how she admires you, and—  19
  Sir Fretful—O Lord, I am sure Mr. Sneer has more taste and sincerity than to—  [Aside.]  A damned double-faced fellow!  20
  Dangle—Yes, yes, Sneer will jest—but a better-humored—  21
  Sir Fretful—Oh, I know—  22
  Dangle—He has a ready turn for ridicule; his wit costs him nothing.  23
  Sir Fretful  [aside]—No, egad—or I should wonder how he came by it.  24
  Dangle—But, Sir Fretful, have you sent your play to the managers yet? or can I be of any service to you?  25
  Sir Fretful—No, no, I thank you: I sent it to the manager of Covent Garden Theatre this morning.  26
  Sneer—I should have thought, now, that it might have been cast (as the actors call it) better at Drury Lane.  27
  Sir Fretful—O Lud! no—never send a play there while I live— Hark’ee!  [Whispers to Sneer.]  28
  Sneer—“Writes himself!” I know he does.  29
  Sir Fretful—I say nothing—I take away from no man’s merit—am hurt at no man’s good fortune; I say nothing. But this I will say,—Through all my knowledge of life, I have observed that there is not a passion so strongly rooted in the human heart as envy!  30
  Sneer—I believe you have reason for what you say, indeed.  31
  Sir Fretful—Besides, I can tell you it is not always so safe to leave a play in the hands of those who write themselves.  32
  Sneer—What! they may steal from them, hey, my dear Plagiary?  33
  Sir Fretful—Steal! To be sure they may; and egad, serve your best thoughts as gipsies do stolen children,—disfigure them to make ’em pass for their own.  34
  Sneer—But your present work is a sacrifice to Melpomene; and he, you know, never—  35
  Sir Fretful—That’s no security. A dexterous plagiarist may do anything. Why, sir, for aught I know, he might take out some of the best things in my tragedy, and put them into his own comedy.  36
  Sneer—That might be done, I dare be sworn.  37
  Sir Fretful—And then, if such a person gives you the least hint or assistance, he is devilish apt to take the merit of the whole—  38
  Dangle—If it succeeds.  39
  Sir Fretful—Ay—but with regard to this piece, I think I can hit that gentleman, for I can safely swear he never read it.  40
  Sneer—I’ll tell you how you may hurt him more.  41
  Sir Fretful—How?  42
  Sneer—Swear he wrote it.  43
  Sir Fretful—Plague on’t now, Sneer, I shall take it ill. I believe you want to take away my character as an author!  44
  Sneer—Then I am sure you ought to be very much obliged to me.  45
  Sir Fretful—Hey! Sir!  46
  Dangle—Oh, you know he never means what he says.  47
  Sir Fretful—Sincerely, then,—you do like the piece?  48
  Sneer—Wonderfully!  49
  Sir Fretful—But come now, there must be something that you think might be mended, hey?—Mr. Dangle, has nothing struck you?  50
  Dangle—Why, faith, it is but an ungracious thing, for the most part, to—  51
  Sir Fretful—With most authors it is just so, indeed: they are in general strangely tenacious! But for my part, I am never so well pleased as when a judicious critic points out any defect to me; for what is the purpose of showing a work to a friend, if you don’t mean to profit by his opinion?  52
  Sneer—Very true. Why then, though I seriously admire the piece upon the whole, yet there is one small objection; which, if you’ll give me leave, I’ll mention.  53
  Sir Fretful—Sir, you can’t oblige me more.  54
  Sneer—I think it wants incident.  55
  Sir Fretful—Good God!—you surprise me!—wants incident!  56
  Sneer—Yes: I own I think the incidents are too few.  57
  Sir Fretful—Good God!—Believe me, Mr. Sneer, there is no person for whose judgment I have a more implicit deference. But I protest to you, Mr. Sneer, I am only apprehensive that the incidents are too crowded. My dear Dangle, how does it strike you?  58
  Dangle—Really, I can’t agree with my friend Sneer. I think the plot quite sufficient; and the four first acts by many degrees the best I ever read or saw in my life. If I might venture to suggest anything, it is that the interest rather falls off in the fifth.  59
  Sir Fretful—Rises, I believe you mean, sir.  60
  Dangle—No, I don’t, upon my word.  61
  Sir Fretful—Yes, yes, you do, upon my soul: it certainly don’t fall off, I assure you. No, no, it don’t fall off.  62
  Dangle—Now, Mrs. Dangle, didn’t you say it struck you in the same light?  63
  Mrs. Dangle—No, indeed I did not. I did not see a fault in any part of the play from the beginning to the end.  64
  Sir Fretful  [crossing to Mrs. Dangle]—Upon my soul, the women are the best judges after all!  65
  Mrs. Dangle—Or if I made any objection, I am sure it was to nothing in the piece! but that I was afraid it was, on the whole, a little too long.  66
  Sir Fretful—Pray, madam, do you speak as to duration of time; or do you mean that the story is tediously spun out?  67
  Mrs. Dangle—O Lud! no. I speak only with reference to the usual length of acting plays.  68
  Sir Fretful—Then I am very happy—very happy indeed; because the play is a short play—a remarkably short play. I should not venture to differ with a lady on a point of taste; but on these occasions, the watch, you know, is the critic.  69
  Mrs. Dangle—Then I suppose it must have been Mr. Dangle’s drawling manner of reading it to me.  70
  Sir Fretful—Oh, if Mr. Dangle read it, that’s quite another affair! But I assure you, Mrs. Dangle, the first evening you can spare me three hours and a half, I’ll undertake to read you the whole from beginning to end, with the Prologue and Epilogue, and allow time for the music between the acts.  71
  Mrs. Dangle—I hope to see it on the stage next.  [Exit.]  72
  Dangle—Well, Sir Fretful, I wish you may be able to get rid as easily of the newspaper criticisms as you do of ours.  73
  Sir Fretful—The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villainous—licentious—abominable—infernal— Not that I ever read them! no! I make it a rule never to look into a newspaper.  74
  Dangle—You are quite right; for it certainly must hurt an author of delicate feelings to see the liberties they take.  75
  Sir Fretful—No! quite the contrary: their abuse is in fact the best panegyric. I like it of all things. An author’s reputation is only in danger from their support.  76
  Sneer—Why, that’s true; and that attack now on you the other day—  77
  Sir Fretful—What? where?  78
  Dangle—Ay, you mean in a paper of Thursday: it was completely ill-natured, to be sure.  79
  Sir Fretful—Oh, so much the better. Ha! ha! ha! I wouldn’t have it otherwise.  80
  Dangle—Certainly, it is only to be laughed at; for—  81
  Sir Fretful—You don’t happen to recollect what the fellow said, do you?  82
  Sneer—Pray, Dangle—Sir Fretful seems a little anxious—  83
  Sir Fretful—O Lud, no!—anxious?—not I—not the least. I— But one may as well hear, you know.  84
  Dangle—Sneer, do you recollect?  [Aside.]  Make out something.  85
  Sneer  [aside, to Dangle]—I will.  [Aloud.]  Yes, yes, I remember perfectly.  86
  Sir Fretful—Well, and pray now—not that it signifies—what might the gentleman say?  87
  Sneer—Why, he roundly asserts that you have not the slightest invention or original genius whatever; though you are the greatest traducer of all other authors living.  88
  Sir Fretful—Ha! ha! ha! Very good!  89
  Sneer—That as to comedy, you have not one idea of your own, he believes, even in your commonplace book; where stray jokes and pilfered witticisms are kept with as much method as the ledger of the Lost and Stolen Office.  90
  Sir Fretful—Ha! ha! ha! Very pleasant!  91
  Sneer—Nay, that you are so unlucky as not to have the skill even to steal with taste: but that you glean from the refuse of obscure volumes, where more judicious plagiarists have been before you; so that the body of your work is a composition of dregs and sediments, like a bad tavern’s worst wine.  92
  Sir Fretful—Ha! ha!  93
  Sneer—In your most serious efforts, he says, your bombast would be less intolerable, if the thoughts were ever suited to the expression; but the homeliness of the sentiment stares through the fantastic incumbrance of its fine language, like a clown in one of the new uniforms!  94
  Sir Fretful—Ha! ha!  95
  Sneer—That your occasional tropes and flowers suit the general coarseness of your style as tambour sprigs would a ground of linsey-woolsey; while your imitations of Shakespeare resemble the mimicry of Falstaff’s page, and are about as near the standard of the original.  96
  Sir Fretful—Ha!  97
  Sneer—In short, that even the finest passages you steal are of no service to you, for the poverty of your own language prevents their assimilating; so that they lie on the surface like lumps of marl on a barren moor, incumbering what it is not in their power to fertilize!  98
  Sir Fretful  [after great agitation]—Now, another person would be vexed at this.  99
  Sneer—Oh! but I wouldn’t have told you, only to divert you.  100
  Sir Fretful—I know it—I am diverted. Ha! ha! ha!—not the least invention! Ha! ha! ha! Very good! very good!  101
  Sneer—Yes—no genius! Ha! ha! ha!  102
  Dangle—A severe rogue! Ha! ha! But you are quite right, Sir Fretful, never to read such nonsense.  103
  Sir Fretful—To be sure,—for if there is anything to one’s praise, it is a foolish vanity to be gratified at it; and if it is abuse—why, one is always sure to hear of it from one damned good-natured friend or another!  104
 
 
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