Item of the Day: A Bold Stroke for a Wife (1776)

Full Title: A Bold Stroke for a Wife. A Comedy, as written by Mrs. Centlivre. Distinguishing also the Variations of the Theatre, as performed at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane. Regulated from the Prompt-Book, by Permission of the Managers, by Mr. Hopkins, Prompter. Bell’s Edition. London: Printed for John Bell, near Exeter-Exchange, in the Strand, and C. Etherington, at York, MDCCLXXVI [1776].

In: Bell’s British Theatre, consisting of the most esteemed English Plays. Volume the Sixth. Being the Third Volume of Comedies. Containing –A Bold Stroke for a Wife, by Mrs. Centlivre. –The Miser, by Henry Fielding, Esq. –The Provok’d Husband, by Sir John Vanburgh, and Colley Cibber, Esq. –Love Makes a Man, by C. Cibber, Esq. –She Wou’d, and She Wou’d Not, by Colley Cibber, Esq. London: Printed for John Bell, near Exeter Exchange, in the Strand, and C. Etherington, at York, MDCCLXXVI [1776].

To his Grace PHILIP, Duke and Marquis of Wharton, &c.

My Lord,

It has ever been the custom of poets, to shelter productions of this nature under the patronage of the brightest men of their time; and ’tis observed, that the uses always met the kindest reception from persons of the greatest merit. The world will do me justice as to the choice of my patron; but will, I fear, blame my rash attempt, in daring to address your grace, and offer at a work too difficult for our ablest pens, viz. an encomium on your grace. I have no plea against such reflections, but the disadvantage of education, and the privilege of my sex.

If your grace discovers a genius so surprising in this dawn of life, what must your riper years produce! Your grace has already been distinguished in a most peculiar manner, being the first young nobleman that ever admitted into a house of peers before he reached the age of one and twenty: but your grace’s judgment and eloquence soon convinced that august assembly, that the excellent gifts of nature ought not to be confined to time. We hope the example that Ireland has set, will shortly be followed by an English house of lords, and your grace made a member of that body, to which you will be so conspicuous an ornament.

Your good sense, and real love to your country, taught your grace to persevere in the principles of your glorious ancestors, by adhering to the defender our our religion and laws; and the penetrating wisdom of your royal master saw you merited your honours e’re he conferred them. It is one of the greatest glories of a monarch to distinguish where to bestow his favours; and the world must do ours justice, by owning your grace’s titles most deservedly worn.

It is with the greatest pleasure imaginable, the friends of liberty see you pursuing the steps of your noble father: your courteous affable temper, free from pride and ostentation, makes your name adored in the country, and enables your grace to carry what point you please. The late lord Wharton will be still remembered by every lover of his country, which never felt a greater shock than what his death occasioned: their grief had been inconsolable, if heaven, out of its wonted beneficence to this favourite isle, had not transmitted all his shining qualities to you, and phoenix-like, raised up one patriot out of the ashes of another.

That your grace has a high esteem for learning, particularly appears by the large progress you made therein: and your love for the muses shews a sweetness of temper, and generous humanity, peculiar to the greatness of your soul; for such virtues reign not in the breast of every man of quality.

Defer no longer then, my lord, to charm the world with beauty of your numbers, and shew the poet, as you have done the orator; convince our unthinking Britons, by what vile arts France lost her liberty: and teach them to avoid their own misfortunes, as well as to weep over Henry IV. who (if it were possible for him to know) would forgive the bold assassin’s hand, for the honour of having his fall celebrated by your grace’s pen.

To be distinguished by persons of your grace’s character, is not only the highest ambition, but the greatest reputation to an author; and it is not the least of my vanities, to have it known to the public, I had your grace’s leave to prefix your name to this comedy.

I wish I were capable to cloathe the following scenes in such a dress as might be worthy to appear before your grace, and draw your attention as much as your grace’s admirable qualifications do that of all mankind; but the muses, like most females, are least liberal to their own sex.

All I dare say in favour of this piece, is, that the plot is entirely new, and the incidents wholly owing to my oven invention; not borrowed from our own, or translated from the works of any foreign poet; so that they have a t least the charm of novelty to recommend them. If they are so lucky, in some leisure hour, to give your grace the least diversion, they will answer the utmost ambition of,

My Lord,

Your Grace’s most obedient, most devoted,

And most humble Servant, Susannah Centlivre.





To-night we come upon a bold design,

To try to please without one borrow’d line;

Our plot is new and regularly clear,

And not one single tittle from Moliere.

O’er bury’d poets we with caution tread,

And parish sextons leave to rob the dead.

For you, bright British fair, in hopes to charm ye,

We bring to-night a lover from the army;

You know the soldiers have the strangest arts,

Such a proportion of prevailing parts,

You’d think that they rid post to women’s hearts.

I wonder whence they draw their bold pretence;

We do not chuse them sure for our defence:

That plea is both impolitic and wrong,

And only suits such dames as want a tongue.

Is it their eloquence and fine address?

The softness of their language? –Nothing less.

Is it their courage, that they bravely dare

To storm the sex at once? Egad! ‘tis there,

They act by us as in the rough campaign,

Unmindful of repulses, charge again:

They mine and countermine, resolv’d to win,

And, if a breach is made, –they will come in.

You’ll think by what we have of soldiers said,

Our female wit was in the service bred:

But she is to the hardy toil a stranger,

She loves the cloth indeed, but hates the danger:

Yet to this circle of the brave and gay,

She bid one, for her good intentions say,

She hopes you’ll not reduce her to half-pay.

As for our play, ‘tis English humour all:

Then will you let our manufacture fall?

Would you the honour of our nations raise,

Keep English credit up, and English plays.




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Filed under 1770's, Great Britain, London, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Theater

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