“Here Mrs. Oldfield got up, and turning me half round to come forward, said with her usual frankness, ’Pooh! you are all a parcel of fools, to make such a rout about nothing!’ Rightly judging that the person most out of humour would not be more displeased at her calling us all by the same name. As she knew, too, the best way of ending the debate would be to help the weak, she said, she hop’d Mr. Wilks would not so far mind what had past as to refuse his acting the part with her; for tho’ it might not be so good as he had been us’d to, yet she believed those who had bespoke the play would expect to have it done to the best advantage, and it would make but an odd story abroad if it were known there had been any difficulty in that point among ourselves. To conclude, Wilks had the part.”
Verily, Oldfield was a gentlewoman.
“GRIEF A LA MODE”
“UNDERTAKER [To his men]. Well, come you that are to be mourners in this house, put on your sad looks, and walk by me that I may sort you. Ha, you! a little more upon the dismal; [forming their countenances] this fellow has a good mortal look—place him near the corpse: that wainscot face must be o’ top of the stairs; that fellow’s almost in a fright (that looks as if he were full of some strange misery) at the entrance to the hall. So—but I’ll fix you all myself. Let’s have no laughing now on any provocation. [Makes faces.] Look yonder, that hale, well-looking puppy! You ungrateful scoundrel, did not I pity you, take you out of a great man’s service, and shew you the pleasure of receiving wages? Did not I give you ten, then fifteen, now twenty shillings a week, to be sorrowful? and the more I give you, I think, the gladder you are.
“Enter a BOY.
“BOY. Sir, the grave-digger of St. Timothy’s in the Fields would speak with you.
“UNDERTAKER. Let him come in.
“GRAVE-DIGGER. I carried home to your house the shroud the gentleman was buried in last night; I could not get his ring off very easilly, therefore I brought you the finger and all; and, sir, the sexton gives his service to you, and desires to know whether you’d have any bodies removed or not: if not, he’ll let them be in their graves a week longer.
“UNDERTAKER. Give him my service; I can’t tell readilly: but our friend, Dr. Passeport, with the powder, has promised me six or seven funerals this week.”
* * * * *
These extracts are not from the manuscript of a modern farce-comedy,[A] but belong to Steele’s play of “The Funeral, or Grief a la Mode.” If they have about them all the air of fin-de-siecle wit, so much the more eloquently do they testify to the freshness of Dick’s satire. Freshness, satire, and death! Surely the three ingredients seem unmixable; yet when poured into the crucible of Steele’s genius they resulted in a crystal that sparkled delightfully amid the lights of a theatre—a crystal which might still shed brilliancy if some enterprising manager would exhibit it to a jaded public.