Prologue To Abbey's Edition Of "She Stoops To Conquer."

A poem by Henry Austin Dobson

In the year Seventeen Hundred and Seventy and Three,
When the GEORGES were ruling o'er Britain the free,
There was played a new play, on a new-fashioned plan,
By the GOLDSMITH who brought out the Good-Natur'd Man.
New-fashioned, in truth--for this play, it appears,
Dealt largely in laughter, and nothing in tears,
While the type of those days, as the learnèd will tell ye,
Was the CUMBERLAND whine or the whimper of KELLY.
So the Critics pooh-poohed, and the Actresses pouted,
And the Public were cold, and the Manager doubted;
But the Author had friends, and they all went to see it.
Shall we join them in fancy? You answer, So be it!
Imagine yourself then, good Sir, in a wig,
Either grizzle or bob--never mind, you look big.
You've a sword at your side, in your shoes there are buckles,
And the folds of fine linen flap over your knuckles.
You have come with light heart, and with eyes that are brighter,
From a pint of red Port, and a steak at the Mitre;
You have strolled from the Bar and the purlieus of Fleet,
And you turn from the Strand into Catherine Street;
Thence climb to the law-loving summits of Bow,
Till you stand at the Portal all play-goers know.
See, here are the 'prentice lads laughing and pushing,
And here are the seamstresses shrinking and blushing,
And here are the urchins who, just as to-day, Sir,
Buzz at you like flies with their "Bill o' the Play, Sir?"
Yet you take one, no less, and you squeeze by the Chairs,
With their freights of fine ladies, and mount up the stairs;
So issue at last on the House in its pride,
And pack yourself snug in a box at the side.
Here awhile let us pause to take breath as we sit,
Surveying the humours and pranks of the Pit,--
With its Babel of chatterers buzzing and humming,
With its impudent orange-girls going and coming,
With its endless surprises of face and of feature,
All grinning as one in a gust of good-nature.
Then we turn to the Boxes where TRIP in his lace
Is aping his master, and keeping his place.
Do but note how the Puppy flings back with a yawn,
Like a Duke at the least, or a Bishop in lawn!
Then sniffs at his bouquet, whips round with a smirk,
And ogles the ladies at large--like a Turk.
But the music comes in, and the blanks are all filling,
And TRIP must trip up to the seats at a shilling;
And spite of the mourning that most of us wear
The House takes a gay and a holiday air;
For the fair sex are clever at turning the tables,
And seem to catch coquetry even in sables.
Moreover, your mourning has ribbons and stars,
And is sprinkled about with the red coats of Mars.

Look, look, there is WILKES! You may tell by the squint;
But he grows every day more and more like the print
(Ah! HOGARTH could draw!); and behind at the back
HUGH KELLY, who looks all the blacker in black.
That is CUMBERLAND next, and the prim-looking person
In the corner, I take it, is Ossian MACPHERSON.
And rolling and blinking, here, too, with the rest,
Comes sturdy old JOHNSON, dressed out in his best;
How he shakes his old noddle! I'll wager a crown,
Whatever the law is he's laying it down!
Beside him is REYNOLDS, who's deaf; and the hale
Fresh, farmer-like fellow, I fancy, is THRALE.
There is BURKE with GEORGE STEEVENS. And somewhere, no doubt,
Is the AUTHOR--too nervous just now to come out;
He's a queer little fellow, grave-featured, pock-pitten,
Tho' they say, in his cups, he's as gay as a kitten.

But where is our play-bill? Mistakes of a Night!
If the title's prophetic, I pity his plight!
She Stoops. Let us hope she won't fall at full length,
For the piece--so 'tis whispered--is wanting in strength.
And the humour is "low!"--you are doubtless aware
There's a character, even, that "dances a bear!"
Then the cast is so poor,--neither marrow nor pith!
Why can't they get WOODWARD or Gentleman SMITH!
"LEE LEWES!" Who's LEWES? The fellow has played
Nothing better, they tell me, than harlequinade!
"DUBELLAMY"--"QUICK,"--these are nobodies. Stay, I
Believe I saw QUICK once in Beau Mordecai.
Yes, QUICK is not bad. Mrs. GREEN, too, is funny;
But SHUTER, ah! SHUTER'S the man for my money!
He's the quaintest, the oddest of mortals, is SHUTER,
And he has but one fault--he's too fond of the pewter.
Then there's little BULKELY....

But here in the middle,
From the orchestra comes the first squeak of a fiddle.
Then the bass gives a growl, and the horn makes a dash,
And the music begins with a flourish and crash,
And away to the zenith goes swelling and swaying,
While we tap on the box to keep time to the playing.
And we hear the old tunes as they follow and mingle,
Till at last from the stage comes a ting-a-ting tingle;
And the fans cease to whirr, and the House for a minute
Grows still as if naught but wax figures were in it.
Then an actor steps out, and the eyes of all glisten.
Who is it? The Prologue. He's sobbing. Hush! listen.


[Thereupon enters Mr. Woodward in black, with a handkerchief to his eyes, to speak Garrick's Prologue, after which comes the play. In the volume for which the foregoing additional Prologue was written the following Envoi was added.]




L'ENVOI.


Good-bye to you, KELLY, your fetters are broken!
Good-bye to you, CUMBERLAND, GOLDSMITH has spoken!
Good-bye to sham Sentiment, moping and mumming,
For GOLDSMITH has spoken and SHERIDAN'S coming;
And the frank Muse of Comedy laughs in free air
As she laughed with the Great Ones, with SHAKESPEARE, MOLIÈRE!

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