Item of the Day: Congreve’s Way of the World (1761)

Full Title: The Works of Mr. William Congreve. Volume the Second. Containing Love for Love, a Comedy. The Way of the World, a Comedy. Birmingham, Printed by John Baskerville; for J. and R. Tonson, in the Strand, London. MDCCLXI. [First performed in 1700 Lincoln’s-Inns-Fields, London.]

The Way of the World. Act I. Scene I.

A Chocolate-House. Mirabell and Fainall, rising from Cards. Betty waiting.

MIRABELL. You are a fortunate Man, Mr. Fainall.

FAINALL. Have we done?

MIRABELL. What you please. I’ll play on to entertain you.

FAINALL. No, I’ll give you your Revenge another Time, when you are not so indifferent; you are thinking of Something else now, and play too negligently; the Coldness of a losing Gamester lessens the Pleasure of a Winner. I’d no play with a Man that slighted his ill Fortune, than I’d make Love to a Woman who undervalued the Loss of her Reputation.

MIRABELL. You have a Taste extremely delicate, and are for refining your Pleasures.

FAINALL. Prithee, why so reserv’d? Something has put you out of Humor.

MIRABELL. Not at all: I happen to be grave to Day; and you are gay; that’s all.

FAINALL. Confess, Millamant and you quarrell’d last Night, after I left you; my fair Cousin has some Humors that wou’d tempt the Patience of a Stoic. What, some Coxcomb came in, and was well receiv’d by her, while you were by?

MIRABELL. Witwoud and Petulant; and, what was worse, her Aunt, your Wife’s Mother, my evil Genius; or to sum up all in her own Name, my old Lady Wishfort came in.– 

FAINALL. O there it is then–She has a lasting Passion for you, and with Reason.–What, then my Wife was there?

MIRABELL. Yes, and Mrs. Marwood, and there or four more, whom I never saw before; seeing me, they all put on their grave Faces, whisper’d one another; then complain’d aloud of the Vapors, and after fell into a profound Silence.

FAINALL. They had a mind to be rid of you.

MIRABELL. For which Reason I resolv’d not to stir. At last the good old Lady broke thro’ her painful Taciturnity, with an Invective against long Visits. I would not have understood her, but Milamant joining in the Argument, I rose, and with a constrain’d Smile told her, I thought Nothing was so easy as to know when a Visit began to be troublesome; she redden’d, and I withdrew, without expecting her reply.

FAINALL. You were to blame to resent what she spoke only in Compliance with her Aunt.

MIRABELL. She is more Mistress of herself, than to be under the Necessity of such a Resignation.

FAINALL. What, tho’ half her Fortune depends upon her marrying with my Lady’s Approbation?

MIRABELL. I was then in such a Humor, that I shou’d have been better pleas’f if she had been less discreet.

FAINALL. Now I remember, I wonder not they were weary of you; last Night was one of their Cabal-Nights; they have ’em three Times a Week, and meet by Turns, at one another’s Apartments, where they come together like the Coroner’s Inquest, to sit upon the murder’d Reputations of the Week. You and I are excluded; and it was propos’d that all the Male Sex should be excepted; but some Body mov’d, that to avoid Scandal there might be one Man of the Community; upon which Motion Witwoud and Petulant were enroll’d Members.

MIRABELL. And who may have been the Foundress of this Sect? My Lady Wishfort, I warrant, who publishes her Detestation of Mankind; and full of the Vigor of Fifty five, declares for a Friend and Ratafia; and let Posterity shift for itself, she’ll breed no more.

FAINALL. The Discovery of your sham Addresses to her, to conceal your Love to her Niece, has provok’d this Separation: Had you dissembled better, Things might have continu’d in the State of Nature.

MIRABELL. I did as much as Man cou’d with any reasonable Conscience; I proceeded to the very last Act of Flattery with her, and was guilty of a Song in her Commendation. Nay, I got a Friend to put her in to a Lampoon, and compliment her with the Imputation of an Affair with a young Fellow, which I carry’d so far, that I told her the malicious Town took Notice that she was grown fat of a sudden; and when she lay in of a Dropsy, persuaded her she was reported to be in Labor. The Devil’s in’t, if an old Woman is to be flatter’d further, unless a Man shou’d endeavour downright personally to Debauch her; and that my Virtue forbad me. But for the Discovery of this Armour, I am indebted to your Friend, or your Wife’s Friend, Mrs. Marwood.

FAINALL.  What shou’d provoke her to be your Enemy, unless she has made you Advances, which you have slighted? Women do not easily forgive Omissions of that Nature.

MIRABELL. She was always civil to me, ’till of late: I confess I am not one of those Coxcombs who are apt to interpret a Woman’s good Manners to her Prejudice; and think that she who does not refuse ’em every Thing, can refuse ’em Nothing.

FAINALL. You are a gallant Man, Mirabell; and tho’ you may have Cruelty enough, not to satisfy a Lady’s Longing; you have too much Generosity, not to be tender of her Honor. Yet you speak with an Indifference which seems to be affected; and confesses you are conscious of a Negligence.

MIRABELL. You pursue the argument with a Distrust that seems to be unaffected, and confesses that you are conscious of a Concern, for which the Lady is more indebted to you, than is your Wife. 

FAINALL. Fy, fy, Friend, if you grow censorious I must leave you;–I’ll look upon the Gamesters in the next Room.

MIRABELL. Who are they?

FAINALL. Petulant and Witwoud–Bring me some Chocolate.

MIRABELL. Betty, what says your Clock?

BETTY. Turn’d of the last Canonical Hour, Sir.

MIRABELL. How pertinently the Jade answers me! Ha! almost one o’Clock! [Looking on his Watch.] O, y’are come.–

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Filed under 1700's, 1760's, Drama, Literature, Posted by Matthew Williams

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