[Footnote A: Speaking of the beau’s outfit in the reign of Queen Anne, Ashton says: “His snuff-box, too, was an object of his solicitude, though, as the habit of taking snuff had but just come into vogue, there were no collections of them, and no beau had ever dreamed of criticizing a box, as did Lord Petersham, as, ‘a nice Summer box.’ ... Those of the middle classes were chiefly of silver, or tortoise-shell, or mother-of-pearl; sometimes of ‘aggat’ or with a ‘Moco Stone’ in the lid. A beau would sometimes either have a looking-glass, or the portrait of a lady inside the lid.”]
And who was the gratified Centlivre? A masculine looking female with a talent for play-writing, a tendency to appear in men’s parts, and last, but far from least, a nice little wen adorning her left eyelid. She possessed other characteristics too, but those herein mentioned are the only ones which stand out clearly after the lapse of nearly two centuries. This doughty woman had been married twice before she went to Windsor, where she once more entered into the matrimonial noose, or rather, again inveigled an unfortunate into that treacherous device. The visit to the seat of Royalty was signalised by her acting of Alexander the Great, but from the atmosphere of Kings and Queens she passed without a murmur to the humbler air of a kitchen. In other words, she married a Mr. Centlivre, chief cook to her well-fed Majesty Queen Anne; and the mean-livered Pope would refer to her, later on, as “the cook’s wife in Buckingham Court.” She might, indeed, be a cook’s wife, but she knew how to write with vivacity, and produced many an entertaining play. Among them were “A Bold Stroke for a Wife” and “The Wonder,” that comedy which Garrick would so relish in after years.
The nature of the aforesaid “Wonder” was explained in the satirical reflection of the secondary title, “A Woman Keeps a Secret!” And Mrs. Centlivre had this to say in her epilogue, upon the mooted question of feminine loquacity:
“Keep a secret, says a beau,
And sneers at some ill-natured wit below;
But faith, if we should tell but half we know,
There’s many a spruce young fellow in this place,
Wou’d never presume to show his face;
Women are not so weak, what e’er men prate;
How many tip-top beaux have had the fate,
T’enjoy from mama’s secrets their estate!
Who, if her early folly had made known,
Had rid behind the coach that’s now their own.”
Mrs. Oldfield received fresh cause for nervousness, had she been of a timid temperament, when, some years later, during the season of 1717-18, Cibber’s political play of “The Non-Juror” was brought out. The comedy was a blow aimed at the Jacobites and the Pretender, who had met with such disastrous treatment in the rebellion of 1715, and was a skilfully-wrought laudation of the Hanoverian dynasty.[A]