"She Stoops to Conquer"


"SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER"

By Alfred Henry Lewis


IT is weather raw and grim in Leicester Square this March afternoon in 1773. Occasional winds come bustling and force the two figures that face them to draw their cloaks the closer as they push along. Could one pry beneath that of the shorter of the two one would discover the awkward, muscular person of Doctor Oliver Goldsmith, celebrated as the author of "The Traveler" and "The Deserted Village," and, as this sketch opens, on the brink of that most sweetly famous of all comedies, "She Stoops to Conquer." Goldsmith is clad in what was described on the books of Foley, his tailor, as a "bloom-colored suit, with a pair of ruffles," for which he owes that craftsman hard by nine pounds; and his face, because of his successful poems, his debts, and his comedy to be played the next evening at Covent Garden Theatre, shows a composite of pompousness, anxiety and hope, but over all that kindly, generous benevolence that is the key to his character.

Goldsmith and his comrade, Major Mills, who, with the great Johnson to give the signals, will be the leader of the claquers on the morrow, are bent for the dinner table of Joshua Reynolds. The painter's house is at hand. The dining-room windows are mellow with bright lights, and a confused roar as of voices at high pitch reaches Goldsmith and Mills where they toil in the street.

"It sounds like a game of kick-ball on a college green rather than a dinner," observes Mills, glancing up at the brilliant windows.

"That's because Reynolds is deaf," responds Goldsmith, "and one must shout to make him hear. And, major, while you've met Reynolds at the Turk's Head, you tell me you've never been to his dinners?"

"I'm not even invited to-day," says Major Mills, "save by yourself."

"Base no alarms on that," answers Goldsmith. "Reynolds's dinners are peculiar. All his friends are welcome, come as many as may. He asks five and dines fifteen; that is the usual course. He waits for no one, and begins at five o'clock. Once seated you must look out for yourself. Order what you will, the servants who wait on you, as it were vi et armis, will fetch it, or, if there be none, then something in its place. Eminently, as Beauclerk observed, 'Reynolds's dinner table is conducted on the argument of every man for himself, as the elephant said when he danced with the sparrows.'"

The Reynolds dining-room, lofty and oaken, is lighted by a whole army corps of wax candles, some in ranks of iron, some in brass and some in silver. They burn aloft or smoke or gutter or wink with small, dim flame as pleases themselves, unheeded and unsnuffed, the servants, shiftless and undrilled, being too busy to trim them.

"And it was only last week we decided on the name," shouts the great Samuel Johnson from his seat on the right of Miss Reynolds. "Reynolds wanted to call it 'The Belle's Stratagem;' I was for naming it 'The Old House, a New Inn;'but Goldy turned suggestion aside, and finally settled on 'She Stoops to Conquer.' It is a poor name, madam, but what then? Surely a man should be unfettered in naming his own comedies and his own children."

Reynolds, silent, and indomitably regaling himself at the table's head, waves pleasant greeting with his ear-trump to Goldsmith and Major Mills as they draw up to the board. Major Mills, with a prudence essentially military, reconnoitres the guests. Aside from Miss Reynolds and the painter host, his eye takes in the rough, congested features of Dr. Johnson; the round cheeks, full brow and decidedly Irish face of Edmund Burke; the high aristocratic countenance of Horace Walpole, with its superior sneer and intolerant eyes; Bennet Langton, tall, slim, mild; Northcote, a young pupil of Reynolds, full of promise; and three or four others, not forgetting the quick, handsome David Garrick.

Those who know Reynolds only by his pictures, and have tasted his genius for color, touch and shadow with their eyes, would never guess at the mighty artist's dining-room. This last is a scene of profusion without elegance, and a coarse lack of order and fineness that would daunt any save the experienced guest. But once one knows the Reynolds way, all is ease and pleasure. One is to call for whatever one chooses; only one is to understand that one may order without getting, and get without ordering—certainty being, and not at all a disagreeable one, that one will receive a great deal.

"How of the comedy, Goldy?" asks Johnson, pausing with full mouth and working jaws, and knife and fork in air; "and how went to-day's rehearsal?"

"I will never write another play," observes Goldsmith, wearily, as he pours a glass of wine. "Sir, you know my troubles. Colman damns the thing in advance. He would not have put it on save for you."

"Aye, I know!" retorts Johnson; "I grew weary with Colman, so I saw him last January. Colman was prevailed on by a sort of force," and the elephantine doctor grins.

"Every day has borne its litter of care and trouble," says Goldsmith; "old scenery, old costumes, the niggard everywhere; with Woodward, Gentleman Smith and Miss Abington refusing their parts, and little Catley quarreling with Miss Bulkley over the epilogue. But it will be over with another day, so let's say no more of it."

Johnson again squares his elbows and bends unctuously above the trencher, feeding audibly, while the veins of his forehead swell and his face is beaded with perspiration.

"Our philosopher seems to relish his food," whispers Walpole across table to Burke.

"There is something swinish about Johnson's dining," retorts Garrick, taking the words from Burke; "yet I would not tell him so to save Drury Lane."

"He is a foul feeder, is Johnson," observes Burke, "and it is the more strange in one of such refined excellence of mind. Mrs. Thrale tells me that he puts melted butter in his chocolate, loves lobster sauce with plum pudding, and that he once edified her guests at Streatham by eating, with the aid of his fingers alone, a whole dish of stewed carp. Ask him, Davy, what he regards as the greatest dainty."

"Dr. Johnson, I have here a Lucullus by my side," says Garrick, with much show of deference; "will you tell us what you esteem as prime dainties of the table?"

"What can be better or more luscious," responds Johnson, as one who tastes a pleasure in talking of such matters, "what is more luscious than a leg of pork boiled till the flesh drops from the bone? Or, if your palate be particular, say a veal pie with plums and sugar; or the outside cut of a salt buttock of beef?"

"But do you drink nothing?" asks Walpole, elevating his brows.

"Sir, I have not tasted wine or worse for years," answers the philosopher. "Once my word was, 'claret for boys, port for men, brandy for heroes;' but I was not man enough for port nor hero enough for brandy; and as I did not care to be a boy with claret, I gave all up."

"Beauclerk should be here," suddenly observes Reynolds, as if to change a subject calculated to betray Johnson into vulgarities before the superfine Walpole of Strawberry Hill; "he and the Lady Di, his wife, promised to drop in. They live in the Adelphi, you know."

"We shall be glad to see Beau," responds Johnson. "Sir, Beau is a good youth, and excellently he loves letters; almost as well and with as much point as Lanky, there;" and Johnson points to Bennet Langton.

"Beauclerk loves folly better, "comments Goldsmith.

"Beauclerk, sir," says Johnson, smartly—"Beauclerk, to speak with Pope, has a love of folly, but a scorn of fools; what he does shows the one; what he says, the other. He is like his great-grandfather, the second Charles. The King, however, explained the charge away when Rochester made his epigram:

 

'Here lies our sovereign lord, the King,
Whose word no man relies on;
Who never said a foolish thing
And never did a wise one—'

 

by saying that the commentary was plausible only because his deeds were those of his ministry, while his words were his own."

Thus the talk runs on; Walpole satirical, Langton thoughtful, Johnson in spirits, Garrick cautious yet slily acrimonious, Burke amused, Mills silent, Reynolds deaf, Goldsmith gloomy and without appetite as he considers the morrow.

"Did you never think of entering politics, Doctor Johnson?" asks Walpole.

"He went far enough as a Jacobite to get a smothering pension from the Tories," whispers Garrick to Northcote, but Johnson does not hear him.

"Sir, if my life were to do over again," retorts Johnson, "if I were as young as Lanky, I might."

"When I see some drunken gamester," says Bennet Langton, with a flush, "drawing five thousand annual pounds as a state secretary, and remember that Goldsmith got only twenty guineas for 'The Traveler,' I own that politics and parties disgust me. I want none of either."

"I confess with Langton," says Goldsmith, "that a condition of perfect political unconsciousness strikes me as a particularly happy one. I would be like that honest squire who, knowing nothing of King or Parliament, is out with his pack of hounds, between the armies, on the very morning of Edgehill. I hold him more wisely and much better employed that day than either Charles or the Earl of Essex."

"For myself," remarks Edmund Burke, "I would not live out of Parliament."

"And on my part," says Walpole, warmly, "I wouldn't live in it. I gave up my seat some years ago, and each day I rejoice. On the night of the last election I sat with my wine and my books at Strawberry Hill, and reflected on what would have been happening at that very hour had I sought my old seat. I should have been suffering the ordeal of being chaired about the streets of Lynn, upborne by an ill-ordered multitude, like a pope at a bonfire. Suppose I were to return to the House, would I hear eloquence greater than Lord Chatham's? would George Grenville cease to be the greatest bore alive?"

"No, to both questions," laughs Burke.

Walpole waves his hand delicately and with the air ineffable, as one who would say, "You agree with me, you see!" With his dark, rich dress and splendid lace, his lack of gaud or bauble, and his high, clear, wellbred face, Walpole looks the finished scholar and man of gentle taste. But his aristocracy, like all true aristocracies, sharpens into cynicism.

"What of this boy, Charlie Fox?" asks Johnson; "what, sir, of this young meteor, Lord Holland's younger son?"

"Why, sir, his friends now go so far," says Burke, "that they compare him with Julius Cæsar."

"And indeed," interjects Walpole, "he is so much like Cæsar that he owes one hundred thousand pounds. He will ruin not alone Lord Holland but all his friends with his borrowings. Carlisle already pays fifteen hundred pounds in interest for him, and Crewe twelve hundred. Charlie Fox, fop, gamester, wit, orator, statesman, with a seat in the Treasury at twenty-four, and forty personal followers in the House, the terror of North, his chief, and the pet horror of the King whom he supports, can be compared to none save Cæsar, who, proscribed at eighteen, celebrated for eloquence and as an orator at twenty-two, a captain of fops and fashion as soon as he dons the toga, owed more than Crassus ever had or was squandered by Apicius."

"You give the lad a character, sir!" responds Johnson. "And is he, then, such a gamester?"

"The worst in England, sir," says Burke. "He has lost eighteen thousand pounds at Almack's in an evening. His brother Stephen, as fat and unwieldy as he is unlucky, lost thirteen thousand pounds at the same time."

"Fox is most unfortunate in his gaming," adds Walpole. "I once said that the five things most worth finding were the longitude, the philosopher's stone, the certificate of the Duchess of Kingston's first marriage, the missing books of Livy and all that Charlie Fox has lost."

"When Beauclerk comes," observes Goldsmith, "he, Langton, Major Mills and I are to go to Almack's to seek this same Charles Fox. Aside from some friendship for myself, the nephew of Lady Sarah Lennox is on the Stuart side a dim cousin of Beauclerk; and Beau declares that we'll have his aid to-morrow night to help crown my poor comedy with victory."

"And apropos of Beauclerk," observes Reynolds to Goldsmith, laying down the ear-trump into which one of his servants has roared the information, "he sends his man to say that he will not be here to-night because of the indisposition of Lady Beauclerk, but that he'll meet you with Langton and Major Mills at Almack's at seven."

"Some more of Lady Di's temper, I fear," whispers Langton to Walpole. "The lady lives no better with Beauclerk than she did with 'Bully' Bollingbroke. I fear Beau stole a bad bargain."

"He who covets his neighbor's wife should never make a good one," is the whispered response of Walpole. Then aloud to Goldsmith: "Doctor, if you will permit my company, I will walk with you and your friends as far as Almack's."

"Reynolds," shouts Johnson as the guests get up from the table, "Davy must go to his theatre and Burke has engagements. You and I will go larking to the Pantheon, or, if you will, the masquerade at Ranelagh. Sir, it will give you a study in color; that is just what painters require. For myself, I go to give these places my countenance. Sir, I'm a great friend of public amusements; they keep folk from vice. And remember, all of us dine at the Shakespeare Tavern to-morrow at three o'clock. Covent Garden's curtain goes up at five. After dinner we will descend on Colman in a body and uphold Goldy's play. Sir," turning on poor Goldsmith, whose face is wrung with his apprehensions, "why so craven? Your comedy will succeed. Or, if you fear the defection of Woodward and the Abington, why not, even at this last hour, postpone it until next season? The rebels will learn reason by then."

"No, it shall be played to-morrow," declares Goldsmith, firmly. "Sir, I would sooner see my play damned by bad players than saved by good acting."

 

There is much, albeit no more than a usual activity at Almack's when Goldsmith, Langton and Major Mills arrive. Walpole is still of their company. The four find Beauclerk at a corner table in one of the ante-rooms, with George Selwyn, Lord Carlisle and the Earl of March. About them is a fringe of dandies, heeding with all ears their utterances, for aside from the four being each of strongest fashion, March and Selwyn are peculiarly the highest quotable authority on the art of horse-racing.

Walpole, Goldsmith, Langton and Major Mills are warmly greeted. They have chairs also, and their various wants of wine or other drink are ministered to.

"Charlie Fox has not come as yet," says Beauclerk; "his brother Stephen is inside at hazard, and loser, as usual."

"There go the King's two brothers," remarks Langton, as a group of extravagantly dressed exquisites, with nod and flourish of hand to our group at the table, pass through, the two dukes being the laughing vanguard.

Walpole's eye fills with disfavor, though one of them is wedded to his niece. He shakes a dubious head.

"Everywhere 'tis like one of Shakespeare's plays," he mutters. "Flourish! Enter the Dukes of York, Gloucester, and attendants. As Lady Townsend said: 'This is the cheapest family to see and the dearest to support that ever was.'"

"How much did Colonel O'Kelly pay for Eclipse, March?" lisps one of the macaronis who surround our group; "I've ten guineas on it with Dickey here."

"One thousand guineas," says March. "A good thing for O'Kelly, too. In his last season Eclipse won twenty-five thousand pounds, and O'Kelly now has the horse at the age of nine in the stud, where he's worth a fortune."

"I know little of horses," says Langton, "yet I had the impression that Eclipse was not good blood."

"Best in the world!" declares Selwyn. "Comes straight as an arrow from Godolphin Arabian! Eclipse was never beaten; there has never been and may never be a horse to match him. For speed or distance there has been nothing his equal."

"George," laughs March, "after all, you know more of executions than horse-races, more of Tyburn than Newmarket. At your particular and special sport of hanging malefactors, there is none whose word should have half the weight; but on horses, I fear I'm your master. Now, as to distance and endurance, Eclipse's superiority would be by no means assured. It's hardly twenty years since Dan Corker matched his brown mare—an inch under fourteen hands she was—to go to saddle three hundred miles in seventy-two successive hours. The mare won, with seven hours and forty-two minutes to spare."

"Where was this?" asks Beauclerk.

"On Newmarket Heath," replies March. "Corker's boy Jack, who weighed one pound over four stone, rode the mare, and it was no small feat of endurance for the boy; especially as only six of the three hundred miles were done at a gallop, the other two hundred and ninety-four being a hard trot. The run was from Six Mile House to the ending post on the Beacon course. I doubt if Eclipse would do the feat."

"Speaking of endurance," observes Walpole, whose sporting lore is as vast as his literary attainments, "a Miss Pond at Newmarket for one thousand guineas rode one thousand miles in one thousand successive hours on the one horse."

"And for that matter," interposes Selwyn, "while, as March says, I've studied halters rather than horses, I recall how Jenison Shafto rode fifty miles to saddle in a shadow less than one hour and fifty minutes. Also, how John Woodcock, on a bet of two thousand guineas by Shafto with Meynell, rode one hundred miles a day for twenty-nine successive days, and used but fourteen horses. The course was from Hare Park to the Ditch and round the flat on the Newmarket side."

"Recurring to Eclipse," says Beauclerk, "this Captain O'Kelly became his owner blindfold. He did not know what he was getting. The luck of such {{blacklegs is monstrous."

"Blackleg you may well call him!" pipes one of the hovering dandies. "The cross he paid the champion Bill Darts to fight with Peter Corcoran of St. Giles at Epsom may well prove as much. When Darts lay down to Corcoran, he carried with him one thousand pounds of mine. I shall not soon forget Captain O'Kelly, I warrant. He pocketed over four thousand pounds by that robbery."

"Ah, here comes Fox at last!" observes Beauclerk.

Charles Fox is appareled in extremest vogue. His laces alone make one marvel. His cloak aside, he discovers himself in a peach-color suit whereat the waiting ring of dandies rave in whispers. His air is earnest, easy, and his smile is like a charm, as he receives and extends the occasion's courtesies. Walpole tenders a dainty snuff-mull with his left hand and wins the tacit encomiums of the dandies by correctly opening the same with his left forefinger. In Fox's bright eye and olive skin there glows an impalpable something to remind one of Beauclerk. It is the stamp of the kingly blood of the Stuarts, which is common to both.

"I have just left a reception in my Jerusalem chamber," laughs Fox. "My hook-nosed capitalists of St. Mary Axe have received a blow. They have loaned me I don't know how much, on the belief that the mortal life of my rotund brother Stephen would not be long. They have watched poor Ste toil pantingly up the steps of St. James from Pall Mall to Piccadilly, and their hopes were bright. I verily know I have borrowed so much as two thousand pounds for every half inch of Ste's girdle. And to-day they hear that the stork is hovering above my brother's house. The news has struck terror to the very heart of usury. Should the babe be a boy, he will come as a second Messiah, meant for the destruction of the Jews."

"But what is this rumor, Charlie," asks Selwyn, "that you are to wed an heiress and agree to lose no more than one hundred guineas at any single sitting?"

"Like Lord Holland, my father," rattles Fox, "I sincerely trust it be true; though my good parent gave as his sour reason for exultation that it would at least compel me to give up my gaming for a few days. Very ill-natured that, don't you think?" and Fox laughs merrily.

"Come hither, Charlie," interposes Beauclerk. "I would a privy word with thee."

As Beauclerk draws Fox aside, Selwyn says to Bennet Langton, "Does he not merit the poet's compliments? where he pens:

 
{{block center|{{fine block|

"Soft words to mollify the miser's breast,
And lull relenting Usury to rest;
Bright beams of wit to still the raging Jew,
Teach him to dun no more and lend anew."

 

Goldsmith sits somewhat apart and alone. He says nothing; his play is on his heart and leaves him no ears or eyes or words. On their side of the table March and Walpole converse in low tones.

"Does not our friend Goldsmith propose a play to-morrow?" asks March.

"It will fail," returns Walpole, subduing his voice. "I have seen a rehearsal. The plot is vulgar and the humor low. It will be hissed from the stage."

"Not if Selwyn and I can help it," retorts March. "We both like Goldsmith, and have backed his comedy to win. Sir, we shall both be there to shout encouragement all round the course."

"The play will be damned, I tell you," declares Walpole, with much heat. "I would wager my books on it; aye, and my seat at Strawberry Hill."

"Horry, if I liked a life in the country," cays March, smiling, "I might book your bet. No, my friend, you dislike Goldsmith because he persists in crediting the authenticity of those Rowley verses as told by that poet boy suicide, Chatterton. You should reflect that you yourself would be doing the same were it not for the wise and reverend Gray."

"By the way, Horry," interrupts Selwyn, over the table, "Chesterfield is dying. I got a letter from Dayrolles this evening. He cannot last the week."

"Chesterfield should be well prepared," responds Walpole. "You recall how he said some time ago, 'Tyrawley and I are both dead, sir, only we do not choose to have it known.'"

"My dear Goldsmith," says Fox, returning to the poet, with the kindly Beauclerk at his elbow, "I shall do you all the good I can. I have a double pleasure in telling you that, even before Beau mentioned the subject, I had taken twenty places for tomorrow night. They shall be filled, sir. I shall bring with me nineteen of the most lordly and finished bucks of the town. And you may rely on their fervor. I have taken the precaution to wager ten guineas with each that your comedy will fail. I expect the most vociferously favorable results from it. Not one of the beggars is above winning from me, and rest secure they will all behave most stoutly for your side."

"Admirable!" observes Langton, while the pleased Goldsmith stammers his gratitude.

"Or we might bring with us a few bruisers," urges March, with a sly glance at Walpole, "to throw out all who hiss; eh, Horry?"

"It would not put my seat in peril should you do so," retorts the suave and courtly Walpole.

"And now, gentlemen," says Fox, "I will to the hazard tables. I won sixteen thousand pounds against the favorite at Newmarket, and I've had ten thousand guineas of it made into rouleaux, which I mean to double or lose this very evening."

One of the servants appears at this juncture with a great coat of rough Irish cloth that reaches from chin to heel. With it come long leathern cuffs, such as porters wear when they clean knives or varnish shoes, and a white, high-crowned hat, with a wide brim to protect the wearer's eyes from the candles, this last an extravagant jumble of ribbons and flowers.

"You see, Sir Oliver," remarks Fox, as he dons this costume over his silks and ruffles, and at the same time notes Goldsmith staring, a bit bewildered, "you see, sir, this, as Foote says in his play, is 'my gaming dress.' We bloods of purest strain cannot afford to soil our fine feathers, even if we may our fine morals, with the sordid vices of Almack's."

 

It is the next afternoon—the day fateful to Goldsmith—and a goodly and obstreperous company is gathered over a three-o'clock dinner at the Shakespeare Tavern. Johnson, Reynolds, Burke, Beauclerk, Langton, Goldsmith, Garrick, Major Mills, Cumberland, Whitefoord, Fitzherbert and the portly Adam Drummond—famed for his laughter, infectious and far-resounding—are about the board. Johnson is all vivacity, poor Goldsmith all gloom and unable to eat a morsel.

"Courage, mannie!" exhorts Johnson. "Sir, this is not only cowardice but scarce manners. Whatever may chance to-night at Covent Garden, it is still worth while writing a comedy to be in such brave company as this."

"In a day before I wrote either poems or comedies," remarks Goldsmith, shaking his head, "I had more ease among the beggars of Axe Lane."

"Where," says Burke, lowering his tones and addressing Beauclerk, "where is this Boswell who, I understand, so follows Johnson about?"

"I believe the little animal to be in Scotland," replies Beauclerk. "Johnson gave him an oral jacketing just before he left, as I learn from Thrale, and it drove him away for a time. It was at Streatham and before a roomful. Boswell was impertinently curious. 'Sir,' shouts the Great Cham Johnson, 'I will not thus be put to the question! "What did you do, sir?" "What did you say, sir?" "What is this?" "What is that?" Do you not consider, sir, that these are not the manners of a gentleman? I am sick of "What?" and "Why?" "Why is a cow's tail long?" "Why is a fox's tail bushy?"'

"'Why, sir,' says the piteous Boswell, 'you are so good I venture to trouble you.'

"'Because I am so good, sir,' roars Johnson, 'is no reason why you should be so ill. Sir, you have but two topics, yourself and me, and I am sick of both.'

"Egad!" concludes Beauclerb, "poor Bozzy all but expired with this tirade from his Jove. He was not the same Bozzy for days."

"I've never been honored with the sight of this Boswell," says Burke.

"Then you are like to be soon repaired of that injury," observes Bennet Langton, who sits with Burke and Beaticlerk, "as Boswell is to return in a few weeks, when Johnson will ask us to stifle prejudice and make him a member of our Literary Club. I have ventured to ask Johnson what Boswell has to recommend him. He only coins a word and replies, 'Bozzy is clubable.'"

Meanwhile Johnson is holding loudly forth at his end of the table.

"Foote's puppets at the Haymarket," he declares, "playing his 'Piety in Pattens,' in his ridicule of sentimental comedy, has opened the way for Goldy's play with the town. Goidy's play is a better, worthier blow aimed at that same fustian sentimental comedy. This last has held the stage too long. Steele set it going a half-century ago, and in his day that sort of play matched with the popular taste. But, sir, the time is ripe for change; Foote's 'Piety in Pattens' shows it, and 'She Stoops to Conquer' will bring conviction. And speaking of Foote, Davy," observes Johnson, with a quizzical glance at Garrick, "that modern Aristophanes struck you smartly the other day. 'Sir,' says my lady to Foote, 'are your puppets life-size?' 'No, madam,' says Foote, 'about the size of Garrick.'" At this the burly Doctor rolls in his seat with laughter, while Garrick colors.

"Foote was not so amusing," says Garrick at last, and with an intonation something tart, "when he proposed to give an imitation of you and Goldsmith in his 'Orators.'"

"Sir, I should have cudgeled his bones," retorts Johnson, with cloudy earnestness, and his laughter dies away. "'What,' I asked of Tom Davies, 'is the price of an oak stick?' 'Sixpence,' said Tom. 'Give me leave,' I responded, 'to send your servant for a shilling one. I will have a double portion. I understand that Foote means to take me off, and I'm resolved the fellow shall not do it with impunity.' Sir, at that Foote was afraid, and I suffered none of his attacks."

"How many nights will Colman give to your comedy?" asks Reynolds of Goldsmith.

"It can only have twelve, even if successful," shouts Goldsmith into the well-known ear-trumpet. "That will close the season."

"Sir, it must succeed!" roars Johnson, bringing his hand crashing on the table. Johnson loves Goldsmith, and would give him heart. "Your play must succeed! Take my word for it. King George himself shall come to see it within ten days."

"You think well of the King, sir," observes Burke to Johnson, "since he visited you in the library at the Queen's House."

"There is no finer gentleman in England," retorts Johnson, stoutly. "No man could have made a better appearance. 'What are you writing?' asked the King. 'Sir,' I replied, 'I think I have written enough.' 'So should I think,'replied the King, 'if you had not written so well.' Could anyone frame a handsomer compliment? It was worthy of a king; it was decisive." And Johnson beams with the memory.

"What are you doing?" asks Langton of Garrick, as he observes the latter jot something in a note-book.

"Say nothing," cautions Garrick; and then, ironically: "I was merely recording that this is the four hundred and tenth time I've heard the great Doctor Johnson tell that story." This is in the nature of an aside.

"You hold with Pope," observes Beauclerk banteringly, to Johnson, "that 'every poet is the monarch's friend.'"

"The little man of Twickenham," responds Johnson, "wrote better than that, and aimed a shrewd blow at caitiff Whigs besides, when he said:

 

'For colleges on bounteous kings depend,
And never rebel was to arts a friend.

 

"Is it not time we were at Covent Garden?" asks Reynolds, who has a genius to be prompt.

"I will not go with you to the theatre," says Goldsmith desperately, springing to his feet; "the strain would break me. I'll wander and walk in St. James's Park."

"Sir, cool yourself with a stroll in Pall Mall," says Johnson to Goldsmith. "Leave it to us to lift up your standards in Covent Garden. Lanky, come to the box with Burke and me; Reynolds will go to his own box. Major Mills, you will lead our forces in the pit. Beau, join yourself to your friends, the dandies, and see that they know when to applaud. You will find those birds of paradise in fullest force and feather. Garrick, there will be a place for you with Lanky, Burke and me, when you can leave Drury Lane. And last, yet not least, Cumberland, you will go with our friend Adam Drummond to an upper box, and guide his mirth aright. Foster him. He has a most valuable laugh, has Adam, like the neigh of a horse; but he knows no more than a horse when and where to bestow it."

{[dhr]} Covent Garden is thronged; its history holds nothing like it. The poet's friends are there: Johnson, Burke and Langton; the Thrales and Baretti, Reynolds, the Bunburys and fair Mary Horneck, the Jessamy Bride; Garrick and March and Beauclerk and Selwyn, and Charles Fox, with his dandies; Cumberland, with the useful Adam Drummond; Northcote, Nugent and Major Mills, with Fitzherbert, Whitefoord and the phalanx of the claque. If one is to exclude George Colman, the manager, who has pledged his reputation that the play will fail, there are but three who do not wish success to Goldsmith—Walpole, the cynic; the viper, Kenrick; and the sordid Ralph Griffiths, who comes to hiss the genius of his whilom literary drudge.

It is six o'clock. The curtain goes up, and Woodward—who consents to speak the prologue, since Garrick consents to write it—clad in black mourning weeds, with handkerchief to stem the tide of tears, appears and tells of the illness of "Miss Comedy," and how she is now to be treated by a Dr. Goldsmith, and that the success of that night's efforts will decide whether the new Galen is a quack or a regular practitioner. Then begins the play.

At first the audience sits observant. As the humor of the situations and the wit of the dialogue lay siege to their fancy, folk in pit, box and gallery warm into mirth. At one of Tony Lumpkin's antics the great Johnson laughs. This justifies the plaudits of the pit, while Adam Drummond, from on high, with Cumberland, fairly shakes the house with roars of glee. The actors gain confidence; they do better and better, while the audience follows them with round on round of applause. So it goes. At the close of the second act victory is certain, and "She Stoops to Conquer" is already a registered success.

"That is enough, Lanky," observes Johnson. "Run to St. James's Park and bring Goldy."

Langton finds the suspense-eaten poet tossing about the Mall like a soul in torment. Langton tells of triumph, and Goldsmith all but weeps on his neck.

They return. The third act is in progress. Goldsmith goes behind the scenes and finds George Colman, whose judgment is defeated with the play's endorsement by the multitude. Colman wears a frown. As Goldsmith, all agitation, approaches, the air is split by a sharp hiss from the pit. It falls across the overwrought poet like the lash of a coach-whip.

"What's that?" he cries.

"Heavens, doctor!" says Colman, testily, "don't start at a squib, when we've been sitting for two hours on a barrel of gunpowder."

There is a storm of approbation that beats down the solitary hiss and silences it. The poet glows; the joy of genius recompensed begins to well in his heart.

Goldsmith leaves the resentful Colman and visits the box of Reynolds. The beautiful Jessamy Bride presses his hand, and his eyes fill.

If only folk might look ahead as folk look back! What would these two see—Goldsmith and his Jessamy Bride, his one and only love? The year is to hardly end when death will have him; and to him the hiss of Kenrick, the friendship of Johnson, even the love of the Jessamy Bride, will be no more. The Jessamy Bride is to live on and on; sixty-seven years are yet to come and go for her after this night's Covent Garden curtain falls on her lover's triumph. Hazlett will meet her, still beautiful in her old age, and write:

In her the Graces have triumphed over Time; she is of the Ninon de l'Enclos people—of the last of the immortals. I could fancy the shade of Goldsmith in the room.

The last curtain is down and the house stands roaring its approval. Walpole looks about with a critical, superior brow. "I wonder at the preference of the town," he says to Beauclerk, who has joined him. "And I do not wonder at my preference for solitude and Strawberry Hill."

"It was Ned Shuter's playing that saved it," says Goldsmith, as he meets Johnson at the door.

"Sir, your play was saved by your genius, and by that alone," retorts Johnson, with oracular severity. "For myself, I know of no other comedy for many years that has so much exhilarated an audience, that has answered so much the great end of comedy—making an audience merry—as Doctor Goldsmith's 'She Stoops to Conquer.'"

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.