« The Marriage of the Arts | Original Articles | The Comedy of a Madman! »

A Contrivance in Dramatic Dialogue

CROWN, in his “City Politiques,” 1688, a comedy written to satirise the Whigs of those days, was accused of having copied his character too closely after life, and his enemies turned his comedy into a libel. He has defended himself in his preface from this imputation. It was particularly laid to his charge that in the characters of Bartoline, an old corrupt lawyer, and his wife, Lucinda, a wanton country girl, he intended to ridicule a certain serjeant M——— and his young wife. It was even said that the comedian mimicked the odd speech of the aforesaid serjeant, who, having lost all his teeth, uttered his words in a very peculiar manner. On this, Crown tells us, in his defence, that the comedian must not be blamed for this peculiarity, as it was an invention of the author himself, who had taught it to the player. He seems to have considered it as no ordinary invention, and was so pleased with it, that he has most painfully printed the speeches of the lawyer in this singular gibberish; and his reasons, as well as his discovery, appear very remarkable.

He says, that “Not any one old man more than another is mimiqued, by Mr. Lee’s way of speaking, which all comedians can witness was my own invention, and Mr. Lee was taught it by me. To prove this farther, I have printed Bartoline’s part in that manner of spelling, by which I taught it Mr. Lee. They who have no teeth cannot pronounce many letters plain, but perpetually lisp, and break their words; and some words they cannot bring out at all. As for instance, th is pronounced by thrusting the tongue hard to the teeth, therefore that sound they cannot make, but something like it. For that reason you will often find in Bartoline’s part, instead of th, a y, as yat, for that; yish, for this; yosh, for those; sometimes a t is left out, as housand, for thousand; hirty, for thirty. S they pronounce like sh, as sher, for sir; musht, for must; t they speak like ch; therefore you will find chrue, for true; chreason, for treason; cho, for to; choo, for two; chen, for ten; chake, for take. And this ch is not to be pronounced like k, as ’tis in Christian, but as in child, church, chest. I desire the reader to observe these things, because otherwise he will hardly understand much of the lawyer’s part, which in the opinion of all is the most divertising in the comedy; but when this ridiculous way of speaking is familiar with him, it will render the part more pleasant.”

One hardly expects so curious a piece of orthoepy in the preface to a comedy. It may have required great observation and ingenuity to have discovered the cause of old toothless men mumbling their words. But as a piece of comic humour, on which the author appears to have prided himself, the effect is far from fortunate; humour, arising from a personal defect, is but a miserable substitute for that of a more genuine kind. I shall give a specimen of this strange gibberish as it is so laboriously printed. It may amuse the reader to see his mother’s language transformed into so odd a shape that it is with difficulty he can recognise it.

Old Bartoline thus speaks:—“I wrong’d my shelf, cho entcher incho bondsh of marriage and could not perform covenantsh I might well hinke you would chake the forfeiture of the bond; and I never found equichy in a bedg in my life; but I’ll trounce you boh; I have paved jaylsh wi’ the bonesh of honester people yen you are, yat never did me nor any man any wrong, but had law o’yeir shydsh and right o’yeir shydsh, but because yey had not me o’yeir shydsh, I ha’ ’hrown ’em in jaylish, and got yeir eshchatsh for my clyentsh, yat had no more chytle to ’em yen dogsh.”