British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan

By George Henry Nettleton; Arthur Eillicot Case | Go to book overview
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A PORTRAIT;
ADDRESSED TO MRS. CREWE, WITH THE COMEDY OF THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL1

BY R. B. SHERIDAN, ESQ.

Tell me, ye prim adepts in Scandal's school,
Who rail by precept, and detract by rule,
Lives there no character, so tried, so known,
So decked with grace, and so unlike your own,

That even you assist her fame to raise, 5
Approve by envy, and by silence praise! Attend! -- a model shall attract your view --
Daughters of calumny, I summon you!
You shall decide if this a portrait prove,
Or fond creation of the Muse and Love. 10
Attend, ye virgin critics, shrewd and sage, Ye matron censors of this childish age,
Whose peering eye and wrinkled front declare
A fixed antipathy to young and fair;
By cunning, cautious; or by nature, cold, 15
In maiden madness, virulently bold! Attend, ye skilled to coin the precious tale,
Creating proof, where innuendos fail!
Whose practised memories, cruelly exact,
Omit no circumstance, except the fact! -- 20
Attend, all ye who boast, -- or old or young, -- The living libel of a slanderous tongue!
So shall my theme as far contrasted be,
As saints by fiends or hymns by calumny.
Come, gentle Amoret (for 'neath that name225
In worthier verse is sung thy beauty's fame),
Come -- for but thee who seeks the Muse? and while
Celestial blushes check thy conscious smile,
With timid grace and hesitating eye,
The perfect model which I boast supply: -- 30
Vain Muse! couldst thou the humblest sketch create Of her, or slightest charm couldst imitate --
Could thy blest strain in kindred colors trace
The faintest wonder of her form and face --
Poets would study the immortal line, 35
And Reynolds3 own his art subdued by thine;
That art, which well might added lustre give
To nature's best and heaven's superlative:
On Granby's4 cheek might bid new glories rise,
Or point a purer beam from Devon's5 eyes! 40

____________________
1
Sheridan's dedicatory verses to Mrs. Crewe, according to his own subsequent account, 'were sent with a MS. copy of the play finely bound' [the Crewe MS. copy, with the author's handwritten corrections]. They early circulated in manuscript, as Horace Walpole attests in a letter of October 8, 1777, but his hope that 'they will not long retain their MS.-hood' proved idle. An undated letter of Sheridan, written late in life to his second wife, was prompted by their unauthorized appearance, 'incorrectly printed,' in a 'newspaper professing to publish for the first time some verses of mine to Mrs. (now Lady) Crewe.' After Sheridan's death, they were included in the Murray ( 1821) edition of Sheridan's Works ( 11, 3-7) in the form thereafter habitually accepted.
2
Fox had extolled Mrs. Crewe as Amoret in verses printed at Walpole's Strawberry Hill Press in 1775.
3
Sir Joshua Reynolds ( 1723-1792) had portrayed Mrs. Sheridan as St. Cecilia in 1775.
4
Mary Isabella, Marchioness of Granby, later Duchess of Rutland.
5
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

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