The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 18/Billet to a Company of Players


THE enclosed prologue is formed upon the story of the secretary's not suffering you to act, unless you would pay him 300l. per annum; upon which, you got a license from the lord mayor to act as strollers.

The prologue supposes, that, upon your being forbidden to act, a company of country strollers came and hired the playhouse, and your clothes, etc., to act in.


Our set of strollers, wandering up and down,
Hearing the house was empty, came to town;
And, with a license from our good lord mayor,
Went to one Griffith, formerly a player;
Him we persuaded, with a moderate bribe,
To speak to Elrington and all the tribe,
To let our company supply their places,
And hire us out their scenes, and clothes, and faces.
Is not the truth the truth? Look full on me;
I am not Elrington, nor Griffith he.
When we perform, look sharp among our crew,
There's not a creature here you ever knew.
The former folks were servants to the king;
We, humhle strollers, always on the wing.
Now, for my part, I think upon the whole,
Rather than starve, a better man would stroll.
Stay! let me see — Three hundred pounds a year,
For leave to act in town! — 'Tis plaguy dear.
Now, here's a warrant; gallants, please to mark,
For three thirteens and sixpence to the clerk.
Three hundred pounds! Were I the price to fix,
The publick should bestow the actors six,
A score of guineas, given underhand,
For a good word or so, we understand.
To help an honest lad, that's out of place,
May cost a crown or so; a common case:
And, in a crew, 'tis no injustice thought
To ship a rogue, and pay him not a groat.
But, in the chronicles of former ages,
Who ever heard of servants paying wages?
I pity Elrington with all my heart;
Would he were here this night, to act my part!
I told him what it was to be a stroller;
How free we acted, and had no comptroller:
In every town we wait on Mr. may'r.
First get a license, then produce our ware;
We sound a trumpet, or we beat a drum;
Huzza! (the schoolboys roar) the play'rs are come!
And then we cry, to spur the bumpkins on,
Gallants, by Tuesday next we must be gone.
I told him, in the smoothest way I could,
All this and more, yet it would do no good.
But Elrington, tears falling from his cheeks,
He that has shone with Betterton and Wilks,
To whom our country has been always dear,
Who chose to leave his dearest pledges here,
Owns all your favours, here intends to stay,
And, as a stroller, act in every play:
And the whole crew this resolution takes,
To live and die all strollers for your sakes;
Not frighted with an ignominious name,
For your displeasure is their only shame.
A pox on Elrington's majestick tone!
Now to a word of business in our own.
Gallants, next Thursday night will be our last;
Then without fail we pack up for Belfast.
Lose not your time, nor our diversions miss,
The next we act shall be as good as this.