A contemporary version of one of the best-loved Restoration comedies.
About the Author
English dramatist William Wycherley (c.1640–1716) is best known for his plays The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer. His Restoration-era comedies are notable for their keen satires of manners and society, and the playwright was a favorite among the wits in the court of Charles II.
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Enter HORNER, and QUACK following him at a distance
HORN, [aside] A quack is as fit for a pimp as a midwife for a bawd; they are still but in their way, both helpers of nature. — — [aloud]. Well, my dear Doctor, hast thou done what I desired?
QUACK. I have undone you for ever with the women, and reported you throughout the whole town as bad as an eunuch, with as much trouble as if I had made you one in earnest.
HORN. But have you told all the midwives you know, the orange wenches at the playhouses, the city husbands, and old fumbling keepers of this end of the town, for they'll be the readiest to report it?
QUACK. I have told all the chambermaids, waiting-women, tirewomen, and old women of my acquaintance; nay, and whispered it as a secret to 'em, and to the whisperers of Whitehall; so that you need not doubt 'twill spread, and you will be as odious to the handsome young women as —
HORN. As the small-pox. Well —
QUACK. And to the married women of this end of the town, as —
HORN. As the great ones; nay, as their own husbands.
QUACK. And to the city dames, as aniseed Robin, of filthy and contemptible memory; and they will frighten their children with your name, especially their females.
HORN. And cry, Horner's coming to carry you away. I am only afraid 'twill not be believed. You told 'em 'twas by an English-French disaster, and an English-French chirurgeon, who has given me at once not only a cure, but an antidote for the future against that damned malady, and that worse distemper, love, and all other women's evils?
QUACK. Your late journey into France has made it the more credible, and your being here a fortnight before you appeared in public looks as if you apprehended the shame, which I wonder you do not. Well, I have been hired by young gallants to belie 'em t'other way, but you are the first would be thought a man unfit for women.
HORN. Dear Mr. Doctor, let vain rogues be contented only to be thought abler men than they are; generally 'tis all the pleasure they have, but mine lies another way.
QUACK. You take, methinks, a very preposterous way to it, and as ridiculous as if we operators in physic should put forth bills to disparage our medicaments, with hopes to gain customers.
HORN. Doctor, there are quacks in love as well as physic, who get but the fewer and worse patients for their boasting; a good name is seldom got by giving it one's self; and women no more than honour are compassed by bragging. Come, come, Doctor, the wisest lawyer never discovers the merits of his cause till the trial; the wealthiest man conceals his riches, and the cunning gamester his play. Shy husbands and keepers, like old rooks, are not to be cheated but by a new unpractised trick: false friendship will pass now no more than false dice upon 'em; no, not in the city.
BOY. There are two ladies and a gentleman coming up. [exit]
HORN. A pox! some unbelieving sisters of my former acquaintance, who, I am afraid, expect their sense should be satisfied of the falsity of the report. No — this formal fool and women!
Enter SIR JASPER FIDGET, LADY FIDGET, and MRS. DAINTY FIDGET
QUACK. His wife and sister.
SIR JASP. My coach breaking just now before your door, Sir, I look upon as an occasional reprimand to me, Sir, for not kissing your hands, Sir, since your coming out of France, Sir; and so my disaster, Sir, has been my good fortune, Sir; and this is my wife and sister, Sir.
HORN. What then, Sir?
SIR JASP. My lady, and sister, Sir. — Wife, this is Master Horner.
LADY FID. Master Horner, husband!
SIR JASP. My lady, my Lady Fidget, Sir.
HORN. So, Sir.
SIR JASP. Won't you be acquainted with her, Sir? — [aside] So, the report is true, 1 find, by his coldness or aversion to the sex; but I'll play the wag with him. — Pray salute my wife, my lady, Sir.
HORN. I will kiss no man's wife, Sir, for him, Sir; I have taken my eternal leave, Sir, of the sex already, Sir.
SIR JASP. [aside] Ha! ha! ha! I'll plague him yet. Not know my wife, Sir?
HORN. I do not know your wife, Sir; she's a woman, Sir, and consequently a monster, Sir, a greater monster than a husband, Sir.
Sir JASP. A husband! how, Sir?
HORN. So, Sir; but I make no more cuckolds, Sir. [makes horns]
SIR JASP. Ha! ha! ha! Mercury! Mercury!
LADY FID Pray, Sir Jasper, let us be gone from this rude fellow.
MRS. DAIN. Who, by his breeding, would think he had ever been in France?
LADY FID. Foh! he's but too much a French fellow, such as hate women of quality and virtue for their love to their husbands, Sir Jasper; a woman is hated by 'em as much for loving her husband as for loving their money. But pray, let's be gone.
HORN. You do well, Madam, for I have nothing that you came for: I have brought over not so much as a bawdy picture, no new postures, nor the second part of the Escole des Filles; nor —
QUACK, [apart to HORNER] Hold, for shame, Sir! what d'ye mean?
You will ruin yourself for ever with the sex —
SIR JASP. Ha! ha! ha! he hates women perfectly, I find.
MRS. DAIN. What pity 'tis he should!
LADY FID. Ay, he's a base fellow for't. But affectation makes not a woman more odious to them than virtue.
HORN. Because your virtue is your greatest affectation, Madam.
LADY FID. How, you saucy fellow! would you wrong my honour?
HORN. If I could.
LADY FID. How d'ye mean, Sir?
SIR JASP. Ha! ha! ha! no, he can't wrong your Ladyship's honour, upon my honour; he, poor man — hark you in your ear — a mere eunuch.
LADY FID. O filthy French beast! foh! foh! why do we stay? let's be gone: I can't endure the sight of him.
SIR JASP. Stay but till the chairs come; they'll be here presently.
LADY FID. No, no.
SIR JASP. Nor can I stay longer. "Tis — let me see, a quarter and a half quarter of a minute past eleven. The council will be sat; I must away. Business must be preferred always before love and ceremony with the wise, Mr. Horner.
HORN. And the impotent, Sir Jasper.
SIR JASP. Ay, ay, the impotent, Master Horner; ha! ha! ha!
LADY FID. What, leave us with a filthy man alone in his lodgings?
SIR JASP. He's an innocent man now, you know. Pray stay, I'll hasten the chairs to you. — Mr. Horner, your servant; I should be glad to see you at my house. Pray come and dine with me, and play at cards with my wife after dinner; you are fit for women at that game yet, ha! ha! — [aside] 'tis as much a husband's prudence to provide innocent diversion for a wife as to hinder her unlawful pleasures; and he had better employ her than let her employ herself — Farewell.
HORN. Your servant, Sir Jasper. [exit SIR JASPER]
LADY FID. I will not stay with him, foh! —
HORN. Nay Madam, I beseech you stay, if it be but to see I can be as civil to ladies yet as they would desire.
LADY FID. No, no, foh! you cannot be civil to ladies.
MRS. DAIN. You as civil as ladies would desire?
LADY FID. No, no, no, foh! foh! foh!
[exeunt LADY FIDGET and MRS. DAINTY FIDGET]
QUACK. Now, I think, I, or you yourself, rather, have done your business with the women.
HORN. Thou art an ass. Don't you see already, upon the report and my carriage, this grave man of business leaves his wife in my lodgings, invites me to his house and wife, who before would not be acquainted with me out of jealousy?
QUACK. Nay, by this means you may be the more acquainted with the husbands, but the less with the wives.
HORN. Let me alone; if I can but abuse the husbands, I'll soon disabuse the wives. Stay — I'll reckon you up the advantages I am like to have by my stratagem. First, I shall be rid of all my old acquaintances, the most insatiable sorts of duns, that invade our lodgings in a morning; and next to the pleasure of making a new mistress is that of being rid of an old one, and of all old debts. Love, when it comes to be so, is paid the most unwillingly.
QUACK. Well, you may be so rid of your old acquaintances; but how will you get any new ones?
HORN. Doctor, thou wilt never make a good chemist, thou art so incredulous and impatient. Ask but all the young fellows of the town if they do not lose more time, like huntsmen, in starting the game, than in running it down. One knows not where to find 'em, who will or will not. Women of quality are so civil you can hardly distinguish love from good breeding, and a man is often mistaken: but now I can be sure she that shows an aversion to me loves the sport, as those women that are gone, whom I warrant to be right. And then the next thing is, your women of honour, as you call 'em, are only chary of their reputations, not their persons; and 'tis scandal they would avoid, not men. Now may I have, by the reputation of an eunuch, the privileges of one, and be seen in a lady's chamber in a morning as early as her husband; kiss virgins before their parents or lovers; and maybe, in short, the passe-partout of the town. Now, Doctor.
QUACK, Nay now you shall be the doctor, and your process is so new that we do not know but it may succeed.
HORN. Not so new neither; probatum est, Doctor.
QUACK. Well, I wish you luck, and many patients, whilst I go to mine. [exit]
Enter HARCOURT and DORILANT to HORNER
HAR. Come, your appearance at the play yesterday has, I hope, hardened you for the future against the women's contempt and the men's raillery; and now you'll abroad as you were wont.
HORN. Did I not bear it bravely?
DOR. With a most theatrical impudence, nay, more than the orange-wenches show there, or a drunken vizard-mask, or a great-bellied actress; nay, or the most impudent of creatures, an ill poet; or what is yet more impudent, a second-hand critic.
HORN. But what say the ladies? have they no pity?
HAR. What ladies? The vizard-masks, you know, never pity a man when all's gone, though in their service.
DOR. And for the women in the boxes, you'd never pity them when 'twas in your power.
HAR. They say 'tis pity but all that deal with common women should be served so.
DOR. Nay, I dare swear they won't admit you to play at cards with them, go to plays with 'em, or do the little duties which other shadows of men are wont to do for 'em.
HORN. What do you call shadows of men?
HORN. What, boys?
DOR. Ay, your old boys, old beaux garcons, who, like superannuated stallions, are suffered to run, feed, and whinny with the mares as long as they live, though they can do nothing else.
HORN. Well, a pox on love and wenching! Women serve but to keep a man from better company. Though I can't enjoy them, I shall you the more. Good fellowship and friendship are lasting, rational, and manly pleasures.
HAR. For all that, give me some of those pleasures you call effeminate too; they help to relish one another.
HORN. They disturb one another.
HAR. No, mistresses are like books. If you pore upon them too much, they doze you, and make you unfit for company; but if used discreetly, you are the fitter for conversation by 'em.
DOR. A mistress should be like a little country retreat near the town; not to dwell in constantly, but only for a night and away, to taste the town the better when a man returns.
HORN. I tell you, 'tis as hard to be a good fellow, a good friend, and a lover of women, as 'tis to be a good fellow, a good friend, and a lover of money. You cannot follow both, then choose your side. Wine gives you liberty, loves takes it away.
DOR. Gad, he's in the right on't.
HORN. Wine gives you joy; love, grief and tortures, besides the chirurgeon's. Wine makes us witty; love, only sots. Wine makes us sleep; love breaks it.
DOR. By the world, he has reason, Harcourt.
HORN. Wine makes —
DOR. Ay, wine makes us — makes us princes; love makes us beggars, poor rogues, egad— and wine —
HORN. So, there's one converted. — No, no, love and wine, oil and vinegar.
HAR. I grant it; love will still be uppermost.
HORN. Come, for my part, I will have only those glorious manly pleasures of being very drunk and very slovenly.
BOY. Mr. Sparkish is below, Sir. [exit]
HAR. What, my dear friend! a rogue that is found of me, only I think, for abusing him.
DOR. No, he can no more think the men laugh at him than that women jilt him, his opinion of himself is so good.
HORN. Well, there's another pleasure by drinking I thought not of — I shall lose his acquaintance, because he cannot drink: and you know 'tis a very hard thing to be rid of him; for he's one of those nauseous offerers at wit, who, like the worst fiddlers, run themselves into all companies.
HAR. One that, by being in the company of men of sense, would pass for one.
HORN. And may so to the short-sighted world, as a false jewel amongst true ones is not discerned at a distance. His company is as troublesome to us as a cuckold's when you have a mind to his wife's.
HAR. No, the rogue will not let us enjoy one another, but ravishes our conversation, though he signifies no more to't than Sir Martin Mar-all's gaping, and awkward thrumming upon the lute, does to his man's voice, and music.
DOR. And to pass for a wit in town shows himself a fool every night to us, that are guilty of the plot.
HORN. Such wits as he are, to a company of reasonable men, like rooks to the gamesters, who only fill a room at the table, but are so far from contributing to the play, that they only serve to spoil the fancy of those that do.
DOR. Nay, they are used like rooks too, snubbed, checked, and abused; yet the rogues will hang on.
HORN. A pox on 'em, and all that force nature, and would be still what she forbids 'em! Affectation is her greatest monster.
HAR. Most men are the contraries to that they would seem. Your bully, you see, is a coward with a long sword; the little humbly fawning physician, with his ebony cane, is he that destroys men.
DOR. The usurer, a poor rogue, possessed of mouldy bonds and mortgages; and we they call spendthrifts are only wealthy who lay out his money upon daily new purchases of pleasure.
HORN. Ay, your arrantest cheat is your trustee or executor, your jealous man, the greatest cuckold, your churchman the greatest atheist, and your noisy pert rogue of a wit, the greatest fop, dullest ass, and worst company, as you shall see; for here he comes.
SPARK. How is't, sparks? how is't? Well, faith, Harry, I must rally thee a little, ha! ha! ha! upon the report in town of thee, ha! ha! ha! I can't hold i'faith; shall I speak?
HORN. Yes; but you'll be so bitter then.
SPARK. Honest Dick and Frank here shall answer for me, I will not be extreme bitter, by the universe.
HAR. We will be bound in a ten-thousand-pound bond, he shall not be bitter at all.
DOR. Nor sharp, nor sweet.
HORN. What, not downright insipid?
SPARK. Nay then, since you are so brisk, and provoke me, take what follows. You must know, I was discoursing and rallying with some ladies yesterday, and they happened to talk of the fine new signs in town.
HORN. Very fine ladies, I believe.
SPARK. Said I, I know where the best new sign is. — Where? says one of the ladies. — In Covent Garden, I replied. — Said another, In what street? — In Russel Street, answered I. — Lord, says another, I'm sure there was ne'er a fine new sign there yesterday. — Yes, but there was, said I again, and it came out of France, and has been there a fortnight.
DOR. A pox! I can hear no more, prithee.
HORN. No, hear him out; let him tune his crowd a while.
HAR. The worst music, the greatest preparation.
SPARK. Nay, faith, I'll make you laugh. — It cannot be, says a third lady. — Yes, yes, quoth I again. — Says a fourth lady —
HORN. Look to't, we'll have no more ladies.
SPARK. No — then mark, mark, now. Said I to the fourth, Did you never see Mr. Horner? he lodges in Russel Street, and he's a sign of a man, you know, since he came out of France; ha! ha! ha!
HORN. But the devil take me if thine be the sign of a jest.
SPARK. With that they all fell a-laughing, till they bepissed themselves. What, but it does not move you, methinks? Well, I see one had as good go to law without a witness, as break a jest without a laugher on one's side. — Come, come, sparks, but where do we dine? I have left at
Whitehall an earl to dine with you.
DOR. Why, I thought thou hadst loved a man with a title better than a suit with a French trimming to't.
HAR. Go to him again.
SPARK. No, Sir, a wit to me is the greatest title in the world.
HORN. But go dine with your earl, Sir; he may be exceptious. We are your friends, and will not take it ill to be left, I do assure you.
Excerpted from "The Country Wife"
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