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THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL.
Mr. Sheridan was now approaching the summit of his dramatic fame ;-he had already produced the best opera in the language, and there now remained for him the glory of writing also the best comedy. As this species of composition seems, more perhaps than any other, to require that knowledge of human nature and the world which experience alone can give, it seems not a little extraordinary that nearly all our first-rate comedies should have been the productions of very young men. Those of Congreve were all written before he was five-and-twenty. Farquhar produced the Constant Couple in his two-andtwentieth year, and died at thirty. Vanbrugh was a young ensign when he sketched out the Relapse and the Provoked Wife; and Sheridan crowned his reputation with the School for Scandal at six-and-twenty.
It is, perhaps, still more remarkable to find, as in the instance before us, that works which, at this period of life, we might suppose to have been the rapid offspring of a careless, but vigorous fancy,-anticipating the results of experience by a sort of second-sight inspiration,-should, on the contrary, have been the slow result of many and doubtful experiments, gradually unfolding beauties unforeseen even by him who produced them, and arriving at length, step by step, at perfection. That such was the tardy process by which the School for Scandal was produced, will appear from the first sketches of its plan and dialogue, which I am here enabled to lay before the reader, and which cannot fail to interest deeply all those who take delight in tracing the alchemy of genius, and in watching the first slow workings of the menstruum, out of which its finest transmutations arise.
Genius,” says Buffon, “is Patience ;" or (as another French writer has explained his thought) - La Patience cherche, et le Génie trouve;" and there is little doubt that to the co-operation of these two powers all the brightest inventions of this world are owing ;--that Patience must first explore the depths where the pearl lies hid, before Genius boldly dives and brings it up full into light. There are, it is true, some striking exceptions to this rule; and our own times have witnessed more than one extraordinary intellect, whose depth has not prevented their treasures from lying ever ready within reach. But the records of Immortality furnish few such instances; and all we know of the works that she has hitherto marked with her seal, sufficiently au
thorise the general position,-that nothing great and durable has ever been produced with ease, and that Labour is the parent of all the lasting wonders of this world, whether in verse or stone, whether poetry or pyramids.
The first Sketch of the School for Scandal that occurs was written, I am inclined to think, before the Rivals, or at least very soon after it;-and that it was his original intention to satirise some of the gossips of Bath appears from the title under which I find noted down, as follows, the very first hints, probably, that suggested themselves for the dialogue.
" THE SLANDERERS.
-A Pump-Room Scene.
Friendly caution to the newspapers. " It is whispered " She is a constant attendant at church, and
frequently takes Dr. M.Brawn home with her.
" Mr. Worthy is very good to the girl ;-for my part, I dare swear he has no ill intention.
“ What ! Major Wesley's Miss Montague ?
6. Lud, ma'am, the match is certainly broke~no creature knows the cause ;—some say a flaw in the lady's character, and others, in the gentleman's fortune.
To be sure they do say “ I hate to repeat what I hear.
“She was inclined to be a little too plump before she went.
“ The most intrepid blush ;--I've known her complexion stand fire for an hour together.
06. She had twins.'-How ill-natured! as I hope to be saved, ma'am she had but one; and that a little starved brat not worth mentioning."
The following is the opening scene of his first Sketch, from which it will be perceived that the original plot was wholly different from what it is at present,—Sir Peter and Lady Teazle being at that time not yet in existence.
66 LADY SNEERWELL and SPATTER."
Lady S. The paragraphs, you say, were all inserted.
Spat. They were, madam.
Lady S. Did you circulate the report of Lady Brittle's intrigue with Captain Boastall ? Spat. Madam, by this Lady Brittle is the talk of
and in a week will be treated as a demirep.
Lady S. What have you done as to the inuendo of Miss Niceley's fondness for her own footman?
Spat. 'Tis in a fair train, ma'am. I told it to my hair-dresser,—he courts a milliner's girl in Pall Mall, whose mistress has a first cousin who is waiting-woman to Lady Clackit. I think in about fourteen hours it must reach Lady Clackit, and then you know the business is done. Lady S. But is that sufficient, do
think? Spat. O Lud, ma'am, I'll undertake to ruin the character of the primmest prude in London with half as much. Ha ! ha! Did your ladyship never hear how poor Miss Shepherd lost her lover and her character last summer at Scarborough ? this was the whole of it. One evening at Lady-'s, the conversation happened to turn on
half the town;
the difficulty of breeding Nova Scotia sheep in England. “I have known instances,' says Miss --for last spring, a friend of mine, Miss Shepherd of Ramsgate, had a Nova Scotia sheep that produced her twins.'—What!' cries the old deaf dowager Lady Bowlwell, · has Miss Shepherd of Ramsgate been brought to bed of twins ?' This mistake, as you may suppose, set the company alaughing. However, the next day, Miss Verjuice Amarilla Lonely, who had been of the party, talking of Lady Bowlwell's deafness, began to tell what had happened ; but, unluckily, forgetting to say a word of the sheep, it was understood by the company, and, in every circle, many believed, that Miss Shepherd of Ramsgate had actually been brought to bed of a fine boy and a girl ; and, in less than a fortnight, there were people who could name the father, and the farm-house where the babies were put out to nurse.
“ Lady S. Ha ! ha! well, for a stroke of luck, it was a very good one. I suppose you find no difficulty in spreading the report on the censorious Miss- - ?
Spat. None in the world, -she has always been so prudent and reserved, that every body was sure there was some reason for it at bottom.
Lady S. Yes, a tale of scandal is as fatal to the credit of a prude as a fever to those of the strongest constitu
but there is a sort of sickly reputation that outlives hundreds of the robuster character of a prude.
Spat. True, ma'am, there are valetudinarians in reputation as in constitutions; and both are cautious from their appreciation and consciousness of their weak side, and avoid the least breath of air.*
* This is one of the many instances, where the improving effect of revision may be traced. The passage at present