The Lamplighter – by Charles Dickens (1838)
The story of how The Lamplighter came to be, begins with William Charles Macready, actor and theatre manager, and one of the great dramatic figures of Dickens’s time. Macready was ranked among the finest of Shakespearean actors, second only to Kean, and Dickens idolized the great performer for much of his young life. He wrote Macready: “I think I have told you sometimes, my much-loved friend, how, when I was a mere boy, I was one of your faithful and devoted adherents in the Pit—I believe as true a member of that true host of followers as it has ever boasted. As I improved myself and was improved by favoring circumstances in mind and fortune, I only became the more earnest (if it were possible) in my study of you” (Pilgrim 6:301).
Dickens and Macready had finally met, while Dickens was still writing the monthly Pickwick Papers. After a rehearsal of Macready in Othello, theatre critic Forster had taken his friend Dickens backstage, and introduced him to his boyhood idol (16 Jun 1837). The two men became among the closest of friends. Both were to stand godfather to a child of the other, and during the Dickenses’ first trip to America, it was to be the Macreadys who cared for their children (1842). Naturally enough, Dickens wanted to support Macready’s work as a theatre manager, and he soon conceived the idea of writing a comedy for the manager of Covent Garden Theatre.
But could he really write something good enough? He had his doubts. Dickens wrote to his friend Forster (3 Nov 1837): “Talking of Comedies, I still see ‘No Thoroughfare’ staring me in the face, every time I look down that road” (Pilgrim 1:328). “No Thoroughfare” here means a dead-end road; Dickens felt that any attempt he made to write a comedy for Macready, might end up a dead-end. But he wanted to try. Forster wrote, in his biography of Dickens: “The allusion to the comedy expresses a fancy he at this time had of being able to contribute some such achievement in aid of Macready’s gallant efforts at Covent-garden to bring back to the stage its higher associations of good literature and intellectual enjoyment” (96–97).
Just over a year later, Dickens finally began to write a comedy for Macready—The Lamplighter (probably begun 28 Nov 1838). The lead role of Tom Grig was written for J.P. Harley, the popular comic actor who had had the best roles in Dickens’s first three plays. (At the St. James Theatre, Harley had played the Strange Gentleman, Martin Stokes, and Felix Tapkins.) It was Harley, a friend, like Macready, who suggested to Dickens a joke about Tom Grig’s uncle, an old oil lamplighter, who had extinguished himself after gas lighting was installed (Pilgrim 7:794–5). Preoccupied with Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens spent as little as one week writing Lamplighter, or even less. The day before Dickens was to present the play, he was still scrambling to finish it (Pilgrim 1:465). The comedy was given two trial readings before Macready, who recorded in his diary his notes:
December 5th.—Dickens brought me his farce, which he read to me. The dialogue is very good, full of point, but I am not sure about the meagreness of the plot. He reads as well as an experienced actor would—he is a surprising man.
December 11th.—Dickens came with Forster and read his farce. There was manifest disappointment; it went flatly, a few ready laughs, but generally an even smile, broken in upon by the horse-laugh of Forster, the most indiscreet friend that ever allied himself to any person. He has goaded Dickens to write this farce, and now (without testing its chances of success) would drive it upon the stage. Defend me from my friends! It was agreed that it should be put into rehearsal, and, when nearly ready, should be seen and judged of by Dickens! I cannot sufficiently condemn the officious folly of this marplot, Forster, who embroils his friends in difficulties and distress in this most determined manner. It is quite too bad.
December 12th.—A long discussion on Dickens’s farce; called in for their opinion Messrs. Bartley and Harley. The result was that Forster decided on withdrawing the farce.
December 13th.—Wrote to Bulwer, and to Dickens, about his farce, explaining to him my motives for wishing to withdraw it, and my great obligation to him. He returned to me an answer which is an honour to him. How truly delightful it is to meet with high-minded and warm-hearted men. Dickens and Bulwer have been certainly to me noble specimens of human nature… (1:480–82).
In Dickens’s answer to Macready, he had written (13 Dec 1838): “I can have but one opinion on the subject—withdraw the farce at once, by all means. | I perfectly concur in all you say, and thank you most heartily and cordially for your kind and manly conduct which is only what I should have expected from you, though under such circumstances I sincerely believe there are few but you—if any—who would have adopted it. | Believe me that I have no other feeling of disappointment connected with this matter, but that arising from the not having been able to be of some use to you. And trust me that if the opportunity should ever arise, my ardour will only be increased—not damped—by the result of this experiment” (Pilgrim 1:468). Dickens wrote a similar letter to his actor friend J.P. Harley, assuring him that he felt no resentment about the rejection (Pilgrim 1:480–481)
In later years, Dickens well remembered these two trial readings of The Lamplighter, and remembered also the reactions of the managers Macready and Bartley. Macready, as seen from his diary, was impressed, at least by Dickens’s skill as an actor, if not as a playwright. Dickens had claimed to know his part by heart—Macready tested him on this, and was surprised to find it true. Bartley was also watching, and for Dickens, this had a special meaning. When Dickens was much younger, before he had had any success as a writer, it was Bartley who had actually agreed to audition him as an actor—but Dickens caught a terribly bad cold, and missed the audition. Dickens suspected his entire life might have been different, if he only he had made that audition (Pilgrim 4:244–45). And now, here he was, reading before Bartley at last. Dickens wrote: “I had an odd fancy, when I was reading the unfortunate little farce at Covent-garden, that Bartley looked as if some struggling recollection and connection were stirring up within him—but it may only have been his doubts of that humorous composition” (Pilgrim 4:322). Working with Bartley apparently was not meant to be, and, as noted, the play was withdrawn.
So The Lamplighter, as a play, turned out to be a bit of a dead-end after all. Fortunately, Dickens was, ultimately, able to do a bit to promote Macready’s theatre efforts—though not as a playwright. As a speaker, Dickens chaired the dinner given to Macready at the Shakespeare Club (30 Mar 1839). Macready described his speech thus: “It took a review of my enterprise at Covent Garden, and summed up with an eulogy on myself that quite overpowered me” (Macready, 1:505). Dickens was also a steward and speaker at the banquet to honour Macready at the end of his tenure of Covent Garden (20 Jul 1839). Macready went on to manage Drury Lane. As a theatre reviewer, Dickens wrote a few good notices for Macready in the Examiner, and as a journalist, he gave Macready (by then retired) two good mentions, in his Household Words, and in All the Year Round. The two men remained warm friends for life.
It would take a lot of hubris for Forster or Dickens to claim that The Lamplighter provides “good literature and intellectual enjoyment”, and it would take a brazen face for anyone to read it before Macready, who was presenting Othello and Macbeth on the stage. The little play The Lamplighter may not be worthy of Shakespeare, nor of Dickens, but it is worthy of your time to read it. Like most of Dickens’s plays, it is weak in many parts, but contains enough good matter to justify study with perseverance.
The initial hurdle for the reader to clear is the opening scene. It is dense with topical references, but with a bit of explanation they will be gotten over. So: 1) A grig is a cricket, and the Lamplighter, Tom Grig, is supposed to be as merry as a cricket. 2) Merry Tom Grig opens the play with his own cockneyfied version of a sentimental ballad from Charles XII, a historical drama by J.R. Planché. (Dickens’s amateur actors later staged the play.) 3) Tom fails to find a rhyme for “kivver” (i.e. cover)—to understand the joke, note that: “Once upon a time it was considered the height of indelicacy and low breeding to mention the ‘liver’ or any portion of one’s internal machinery” (Corelli, chap. 5). 4) Alderman Robert Waithman had recently died (6 Feb 1833), and had a obelisk erected “by his friends and fellow citizens” the same year, near the corner of Fleet Street and New Bridge Street, where he had kept his linendraper shop. Grig calls the monument an “obstacle”, just as Dickens was to later call Temple Bar a “leaden-headed old obstruction” to Fleet Street traffic (in the opening of Bleak House). 5) Halley’s Comet had recently passed the Earth (most visibly in Sep-Oct 1835), and, as ever, was much noted, as an event and an omen, in the newspapers and almanacs. 6) From Tom’s ladder-top in the first scene, he can see a coach yard, where coaches come and go, drawn by four horses. Coaches were privately owned, and had—not numbers—but colourful names; Tom Grig mentions two such names.
Leap the fence of the first scene, and rest will be an easy canter. Watch particularly for the section when it begins to rain; this is Dickens at his finest. Take notice, too, of Betsy Martin; she is the waiting-maid of the house (though Dickens forgets to mention this). Betsy’s a common Dickens “type”; knowing, sharp-tongued, clever, working-class; but Betsy is a woman, and it’s not common to have a complicated and effective woman in Dickens. There’s also much humour toward the end of the play, in the astrologer’s laboratory; this will remind some readers of Our Mutual Friend, and Mr. Venus’s disturbing shop of natural curiosities. Those are just some points a reader might bear in mind, while the play unfolds. Some may trot through The Lamplighter with an even smile, but many, like Forster (and, I must confess, myself), will gallop through with horse-laughs, however indiscrete. So now, lights down, curtain up.
IN ONE ACT
[by Charles Dickens – 1838]
MASTER GALILEO ISAAC NEWTON FLAMSTEAD STARGAZER (his son).
TOM GRIG (the Lamplighter).
MR. MOONEY (an Astrologer).
SCENE I.—The Street, outside of MR. STARGAZER’S house.
Two street Lamp-posts in front.
TOM GRIG (with ladder and lantern, singing as he enters).
Day has gone down o’er the Baltic’s proud bil-ler;
Evening has sigh’d, alas! to the lone wil-ler;
Night hurries on, night hurries on, earth and ocean to kiv-ver;
Rise, gentle moon, rise, gentle moon, and guide me to my—
That ain’t a rhyme, that ain’t—kiv-ver and lover! I ain’t much of a poet; but if I couldn’t make better verse than that, I’d undertake to be set fire to, and put up, instead of the lamp, before Alderman Waithman’s obstacle in Fleet-street. Bil-ler, wil-ler, kiv-ver—shiver, obviously. That’s what I call poetry. (Sings.)
Day has gone down o’er the Baltic’s proud bil-ler—
(During the previous speech he has been occupied in lighting one of the lamps. As he is about to light the other, MR. STARGAZER appears at window, with a telescope.)
MR. STARGAZER (after spying most intently at the clouds). Holloa!
TOM (on ladder). Sir, to you! And holloa again, if you come to that.
MR. STARGAZER. Have you seen the comet?
TOM. What Comet—The Exeter Comet?
MR. STARGAZER. What comet? The comet—Halley’s comet!
TOM. Nelson’s, you mean. I saw it coming out of the yard, not five minutes ago.
MR. STARGAZER. Could you distinguish anything of a tail?
TOM. Distinguish a tail? I believe you—four tails!
MR. STARGAZER. A comet with four tails; and all visible to the naked eye! Nonsense, it couldn’t be.
TOM. You wouldn’t say that again if you was down here, old Bantam. (Clock strikes five.) You’ll tell me next, I suppose, that that isn’t five o’clock striking, eh?
MR. STARGAZER. Five o’clock—five o’clock! Five o’clock P.M. on the thirtieth day of November, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight! Stop till I come down—stop! Don’t go away on any account—not a foot, not a step. (Closes window.)
TOM (descending, and shouldering his ladder). Stop! stop, to a lamplighter, with three hundred and seventy shops and a hundred and twenty private houses waiting to be set a light to! Stop, to a lamplighter!
As he is running off, enter MR. STARGAZER from his
MR. STARGAZER (detaining him). Not for your life!—not for your life! The thirtieth day of November, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight! Miraculous circumstance! extraordinary fulfilment of a prediction of the planets!
TOM. What are you talking about?
MR. STARGAZER (looking about). Is there nobody else in sight, up the street or down? No, not a soul! This, then, is the man whose coming was revealed to me by the stars, six months ago!
TOM. What do you mean?
MR. STARGAZER. Young man, that I have consulted the Book of Fate with rare and wonderful success,—that coming events have cast their shadows before.
TOM. Don’t talk nonsense to me,—I ain’t an event; I’m a lamplighter!
MR. STARGAZER. (aside). True!—Strange destiny that one, announced by the planets as of noble birth, should be devoted to so humble an occupation. (Aloud.) But you were not always a lamplighter?
TOM. Why, no. I wasn’t born with a ladder on my left shoulder, and a light in my other hand. But I took to it very early, though,—I had it from my uncle.
MR. STARGAZER (aside). He had it from his uncle! How plain, and yet how forcible, is his language! He speaks of lamplighting, as though it were the whooping-cough or measles! (To him.) Ay!
TOM. Yes, he was the original. You should have known him!—’cod! he was a genius, if ever there was one. Gas was the death of him! When gas lamps was first talked of, my uncle draws himself up, and says, ‘I’ll not believe it, there’s no sich a thing,’ he says. ‘You might as well talk of laying on an everlasting succession of glow-worms!’ But when they made the experiment of lighting a piece of Pall Mall—
MR. STARGAZER. That was when it first came up?
TOM. No, no, that was when it was first laid down. Don’t mind me; I can’t help a joke, now and then. My uncle was sometimes took that way. When the experiment was made of lighting a piece of Pall Mall, and he had actually witnessed it, with his own eyes, you should have seen my uncle then!
MR. STARGAZER. So much overcome?
TOM. Overcome, sir! He fell off his ladder, from weakness, fourteen times that very night; and his last fall was into a wheelbarrow that was going his way, and humanely took him home. ‘I foresee in this,’ he says, ‘the breaking up of our profession; no more polishing of the tin reflectors,’ he says; ‘no more fancy-work, in the way of clipping the cottons at two o’clock in the morning; no more going the rounds to trim by daylight, and dribbling down of the ile on the hats and bonnets of the ladies and gentlemen, when one feels in good spirits. Any low fellow can light a gas-lamp, and it’s all up!’ So he petitioned the government for—what do you call that that they give to people when it’s found out that they’ve never been of any use, and have been paid too much for doing nothin?
MR. STARGAZER. Compensation?
TOM. Yes, that’s the thing,—compensation. They didn’t give him any, though! And then he got very fond of his country all at once, and went about, saying how that the bringing in of gas was a death-blow to his native land, and how that its ile and cotton trade was gone for ever, and the whales would go and kill themselves, privately, in spite and vexation at not being caught! After this, he was right-down cracked, and called his ’bacco pipe a gas pipe, and thought his tears was lamp ile, and all manner of nonsense. At last, he went and hung himself on a lamp iron, in St. Martin’s Lane, that he’d always been very fond of; and as he was a remarkably good husband, and had never had any secrets from his wife, he put a note in the twopenny post, as he went along, to tell the widder where the body was.
MR. STARGAZER (laying his hand upon his arm, and speaking mysteriously). Do you remember your parents?
TOM. My mother I do, very well!
MR. STARGAZER. Was she of noble birth?
TOM. Pretty well. She was in the mangling line. Her mother came of a highly respectable family,—such a business, in the sweetstuff and hardbake way!
MR. STARGAZER. Perhaps your father was—
TOM. Why, I hardly know about him. The fact is, there was some little doubt, at the time, who was my father. Two or three young gentlemen were paid the pleasing compliment; but their incomes being limited, they were compelled delicately to decline it.
MR. STARGAZER. Then the prediction is not fulfilled merely in part, but entirely and completely. Listen, young man,—I am acquainted with all the celestial bodies—
TOM. Are you, though?—I hope they are quite well,—every body.
MR. STARGAZER. Don’t interrupt me. I am versed in the great sciences of astronomy and astrology; in my house there I have every description of apparatus for observing the course and motion of the planets. I’m writing a work about them, which will consist of eighty-four volumes, imperial quarto; and an appendix, nearly twice as long. I read what’s going to happen in the stars.
TOM. Read what’s going to happen in the stars! Will anything particular happen in the stars in the course of next week, now?
MR. STARGAZER. You don’t understand me. I read in the stars what’s going to happen here. Six months ago I derived from this source the knowledge that, precisely as the clock struck five, on the afternoon of this very day, a stranger would present himself before my enraptured sight,—that stranger would be a man of illustrious and high descent,—that stranger would be the destined husband of my young and lovely niece, who is now beneath that roof (points to his house);—that stranger is yourself: I receive you with open arms!
TOM. Me! I, the man of illustrious and high—I, the husband of a young and lovely—Oh! it can’t be, you know! the stars have made a mistake—the comet has put ’em out!
MR. STARGAZER. Impossible! The characters were as plain as pike-staves. The clock struck five; you were here; there was not a soul in sight; a mystery envelopes your birth; you are a man of noble aspect. Does not everything combine to prove the accuracy of my observations?
TOM. Upon my word, it looks like it! And now I come to think of it, I have very often felt as if I wasn’t the small beer I was taken for. And yet I don’t know,—you’re quite sure about the noble aspect?
MR. STARGAZER. Positively certain.
TOM. Give me your hand.
MR. STARGAZER. And my heart, too! (They shake hands heartily.)
TOM. The young lady is tolerably good-looking, is she?
MR. STARGAZER. Beautiful! A graceful carriage, an exquisite shape, a sweet voice; a countenance beaming with animation and expression; the eye of a startled fawn.
TOM. I see; a sort of game eye. Does she happen to have any of the—this is quite between you and me, you know,—and I only ask from curiosity,—not because I care about it,—any of the ready?
MR. STARGAZER. Five thousand pounds! But what of that? what of that? A word in your ear. I’m in search of the philosopher’s stone! I have very nearly found it—not quite. It turns everything to gold; that’s its property.
TOM. What a lot of property it must have!
MR. STARGAZER. When I get it, we’ll keep it in the family. Not a word to any one! What will money be to us? We shall never be able to spend it fast enough.
TOM. Well, you know, we can but try,—I’ll do my best endeavours.
MR. STARGAZER. Thank you,—thank you! But I’ll introduce you to your future bride at once:—this way, this way!
TOM. What, without going my rounds first?
MR. STARGAZER. Certainly. A man in whom the planets take especial interest, and who is about to have a share in the philosopher’s stone, descend to lamplighting!
TOM. Perish the base idea! not by no means! I’ll take in my tools, though, to prevent any kind inquiries after me, at your door. (As he shoulders the ladder the sound of violent rain is heard.) Holloa.
MR. STARGAZER (putting his hand on his head in amazement). What’s that?
TOM. It’s coming down, rather.
MR. STARGAZER. Rain!
TOM. Ah! and a soaker, too!
MR. STARGAZER. It can’t be!—it’s impossible!—(Taking a book from his pocket, and turning over the pages hurriedly.) Look here,—here it is,—here’s the weather almanack,—‘Set fair,’—I knew it couldn’t be! (with great triumph).
TOM (turning up his collar as the rain increases). Don’t you think there’s a dampness in the atmosphere?
MR. STARGAZER (looking up). It’s singular,—it’s like rain!
TOM. Uncommonly like.
MR. STARGAZER. It’s a mistake in the elements, somehow. Here it is, ‘set fair,’—and set fair it ought to be. ‘Light clouds floating about.’ Ah! you see, there are no light clouds;—the weather’s all wrong.
TOM. Don’t you think we had better get under cover?
MR. STARGAZER (slowly retreating towards the house). I don’t acknowledge that it has any right to rain, mind! I protest against this. If Nature goes on in this way, I shall lose all respect for her,—it won’t do, you know; it ought to have been two degrees colder, yesterday; and instead of that, it was warmer. This is not the way to treat scientific men. I protest against it!
[Exeunt into house, both talking, TOM pushing
STARGAZER on, and the latter continually
turning back, to declaim against the weather.
SCENE II.—A room in STARGAZER’S house. BETSY MARTIN, EMMA STARGAZER, FANNY BROWN, and GALILEO, all murmuring together as they enter.
BETSY. I say, again, young ladies, that it’s shameful! unbearable!
ALL. Oh! shameful! shameful!
BETSY. Marry Miss Emma to a great, old, ugly, doting, dreaming As-tron-o-Magician, like Mr. Mooney, who’s always winking and blinking through telescopes and that, and can’t see a pretty face when it’s under his very nose!
GALILEO (with a melancholy air). There never was a pretty face under his nose, Betsy, leastways, since I’ve known him. He’s very plain.
BETSY. Ah! there’s poor young master, too; he hasn’t even spirits enough to laugh at his own jokes. I’m sure I pity him, from the very bottom of my heart.
FANNY and EMMA. Poor fellow!
GALILEO. Ain’t I a legitimate subject for pity? Ain’t it a dreadful thing that I, that am twenty-one come next Lady-day, should be treated like a little boy?—and all because my father is so busy with the moon’s age that he don’t care about mine; and so much occupied in making observations on the sun round which the earth revolves, that he takes no notice of the son that revolves round him! I wasn’t taken out of nankeen frocks and trousers till I became quite unpleasant in ’em.
ALL. What a shame!
GALILEO. I wasn’t, indeed. And look at me now! Here’s a state of things. Is this a suit of clothes for a major,—at least, for a gentleman who is a minor now, but will be a major on the very next Lady-day that comes? Is this a fit—
ALL (interrupting him). Certainly not!
GALILEO (vehemently). I won’t stand it—I won’t submit to it any longer. I will be married.
ALL. No, no, no! don’t be rash.
GALILEO. I will, I tell you. I’ll marry my cousin Fanny. Give me a kiss, Fanny; and Emma and Betsy will look the other way the while. (Kisses her.) There!
BETSY. Sir—sir! here’s your father coming!
GALILEO. Well, then, I’ll have another, as an antidote to my father. One more, Fanny. (Kisses her.)
MR. STARGAZER (without). This way! this way! You shall behold her immediately.
Enter MR. STARGAZER, TOM following bashfully.
MR. STARGAZER. Where is my—? Oh, here she is! Fanny, my dear, come here. Do you see that gentleman? (Aside.)
FANNY. What gentleman, uncle? Do you mean that elastic person yonder who is bowing with so much perseverance?
MR. STARGAZER. Hush! Yes; that’s the interesting stranger.
FANNY. Why, he is kissing his hand, uncle. What does the creature mean?
MR. STARGAZER. Ah, the rogue! Just like me, before I married your poor aunt,—all fire and impatience. He means love, my darling, love. I’ve such a delightful surprise for you. I didn’t tell you before, for fear there should be any mistake; but it’s all right, it’s all right. The stars have settled it all among ’em. He’s to be your husband!
FANNY. My husband, uncle? Goodness gracious, Emma! (Converses apart with her.)
MR. STARGAZER (aside). He has made a sensation already. His noble aspect and distinguished air have produced an instantaneous impression. Mr. Grig, will you permit me? (TOM advances awkwardly.)—This is my niece, Mr. Grig,—my niece, Miss Fanny Brown; my daughter, Emma,—Mr. Thomas Grig, the favourite of the planets.
TOM. I hope I see Miss Hemmer in a conwivial state. (Aside to MR. STARGAZER.) I say, I don’t know which is which.
MR. STARGAZER (aside). The young lady nearest here is your affianced bride. Say something appropriate.
TOM. Certainly; yes, of course. Let me see. Miss (crosses to her)—I—thank ’ee! (Kisses her, behind his hat. She screams.)
GALILEO (bursting from BETSY, who has been retaining him). Outrageous insolence! (Betsy runs off.)
MR. STARGAZER. Halloa, sir, halloa!
TOM. Who is this juvenile salamander, sir?
MR. STARGAZER. My little boy,—only my little boy, don’t mind him. Shake hands with the gentleman, sir, instantly (to GALILEO).
TOM. A very fine boy, indeed! and he does you great credit, sir. How d’ ye do, my little man? (They shake hands, GALILEO looking very wrathful, as TOM pats him on the head.) There, that’s very right and proper. ‘’Tis dogs delight to bark and bite’; not young gentlemen, you know. There, there!
MR. STARGAZER. Now let me introduce you to that sanctum sanctorum,—that hallowed ground,—that philosophical retreat—where I, the genius loci,—
MR. STARGAZER. The genius loci—
TOM (aside). Something to drink, perhaps. Oh, ah! yes, yes!
MR. STARGAZER. Have made all my greatest and most profound discoveries! where the telescope has almost grown to my eye with constant application; and the glass retort has been shivered to pieces from the ardour with which my experiments have been pursued. There the illustrious Mooney is, even now, pursuing those researches which will enrich us with precious metal, and make us masters of the world. Come, Mr. Grig.
TOM. By all means, sir; and luck to the illustrious Mooney, say I,—not so much on Mooney’s account as for our noble selves.
MR. STARGAZER. Emma!
EMMA. Yes, papa.
MR. STARGAZER. The same day that makes your cousin Mrs. Grig, will make you and that immortal man, of whom we have just now spoken, one.
EMMA. Oh! consider, dear papa,—
MR. STARGAZER. You are unworthy of him, I know; but he,—kind, generous creature,—consents to overlook your defects, and to take you, for my sake,—devoted man!—Come, Mr. Grig!—Galileo Isaac Newton Flamstead!
GALILEO. Well? (Advancing sulkily.)
MR. STARGAZER. In name, alas! but not in nature; knowing, even by sight, no other planets than the sun and moon,—here is your weekly pocket-money,—sixpence! Take it all!
TOM. And don’t spend it all at once, my man! Now, sir!
MR. STARGAZER. Now, Mr. Grig,—go first, sir, I beg!
[Exeunt TOM and MR. STARGAZER.
GALILEO. ‘Come, Mr. Grig!’—‘Go first, Mr. Grig!’—‘Day that makes your cousin Mrs. Grig!’—I’ll secretly stick a penknife into Mr. Grig, if I live to be three hours older!
FANNY (on one side of him). Oh! don’t talk in that desperate way,—there’s a dear, dear creature!
EMMA (on the other side). No! pray do not;—it makes my blood run cold to hear you.
GALILEO. Oh! if I was of age!—if I was only of age!—or we could go to Gretna Green, at threepence a head, including refreshments and all incidental expenses. But that could never be! Oh! if I was only of age!
FANNY. But what if you were? What could you do, then?
GALILEO. Marry you, cousin Fanny; I could marry you then lawfully, and without anybody’s consent.
FANNY. You forget that, situated as we are, we could not be married, even if you were one-and-twenty;—we have no money!
EMMA. Not even enough for the fees!
GALILEO. Oh! I am sure every Christian clergyman, under such afflicting circumstances, would marry us on credit. The wedding-fees might stand over till the first christening, and then we could settle the little bill altogether. Oh! why ain’t I of age!—why ain’t I of age?
Enter BETSY, in haste.
BETSY. Well! I never could have believed it! There, Miss! I wouldn’t have believed it, if I had dreamt it, even with a bit of bride-cake under my pillow! To dare to go and think of marrying a young lady, with five thousand pounds, to a common lamplighter!
ALL. A lamplighter?
BETSY. Yes, he’s Tom Grig the lamplighter, and nothing more nor less, and old Mr. Stargazer goes and picks him out of the open street, and brings him in for Miss Fanny’s husband, because he pretends to have read something about it in the stars. Stuff and nonsense! I don’t believe he knows his letters in the stars, and that’s the truth; or if he’s got as far as words in one syllable, it’s quite as much as he has.
FANNY. Was such an atrocity ever heard of? I, left with no power to marry without his consent, and he almost possessing the power to force my inclinations.
EMMA. It’s actually worse than my being sacrificed to that odious and detestable Mr. Mooney.
BETSY. Come, Miss, it’s not quite so bad as that neither; for Thomas Grig is a young man, and a proper young man enough too, but as to Mr. Mooney,—oh, dear! no husband is bad enough in my opinion, Miss; but he is worse than nothing,—a great deal worse.
FANNY. You seem to speak feelingly about this same Mr. Grig.
BETSY. Oh, dear no, Miss, not I. I don’t mean to say but what Mr. Grig may be very well in his way, Miss; but Mr. Grig and I have never held any communication together, not even so much as how-d’ ye-do. Oh, no indeed, I have been very careful, Miss, as I always am with strangers. I was acquainted with the last lamplighter, Miss, but he’s going to be married, and has given up the calling, for the young woman’s parents being very respectable, wished her to marry a literary man, and so he has set up as a bill-sticker. Mr. Grig only came upon this beat at five to-night, Miss.
FANNY. Which is a very sufficient reason why you don’t know more of him.
BETSY. Well, Miss, perhaps it is; and I hope there’s no crime in making friends in this world, if we can, Miss.
FANNY. Certainly not. So far from it, that I most heartily wish you could make something more than a friend of this Mr. Grig, and so lead him to falsify this prediction.
GALILEO. Oh! don’t you think you could, Betsy?
EMMA. You could not manage at the same time to get any young friend of yours to make something more than a friend of Mr. Mooney, could you, Betsy?
GALILEO. But, seriously, don’t you think you could manage to give us all a helping hand together, in some way, eh, Betsy?
FANNY. Yes, yes, that would be so delightful. I should be grateful to her for ever. Shouldn’t you?
EMMA. Oh, to the very end of my life!
GALILEO. And so should I, you know, and lor’! we should make her so rich, when—when we got rich ourselves,—shouldn’t we?
BOTH. Oh, that we should, of course.
BETSY. Let me see. I don’t wish to have Mr. Grig to myself, you know. I don’t want to be married.
ALL. No! no! no! Of course she don’t.
BETSY. I haven’t the least idea to put Mr. Grig off this match, you know, for anybody’s sake, but you young people’s. I am going quite contrairy to my own feelings, you know.
ALL. Oh, yes, yes! How kind she is!
BETSY. Well, I’ll go over the matter with the young ladies in Miss Emma’s room, and if we can think of anything that seems likely to help us, so much the better; and if we can’t, we’re none the worst. But Master Galileo mustn’t come, for he is so horrid jealous of Miss Fanny that I dursn’t hardly say anything before him. Why, I declare (looking off), there is my gentleman looking about him as if he had lost Mr. Stargazer, and now he turns this way. There—get out of sight. Make haste!
GALILEO. I may see ’em as far as the bottom stair, mayn’t I, Betsy?
BETSY. Yes, but not a step farther on any consideration. There, get away softly, so that if he passes here, he may find me alone. (They creep gently out, GALILEO returns and peeps in.)
GALILEO. Hist, Betsy!
BETSY. Go away, sir. What have you come back for?
GALILEO (holding out a large pin). I wish you’d take an opportunity of sticking this a little way into him for patting me on the head just now.
BETSY. Nonsense, you can’t afford to indulge in such expensive amusements as retaliation yet awhile. You must wait till you come into your property, sir. There.—Get you gone!
Enter TOM GRIG.
TOM (aside). I never saw such a scientific file in my days. The enterprising gentleman that drowned himself to see how it felt, is nothing to him. There he is, just gone down to the bottom of a dry well in an uncommonly small bucket, to take an extra squint at the stars, they being seen best, I suppose, through the medium of a cold in the head. Halloa! Here is a young female of attractive proportions. I wonder now whether a man of noble aspect would be justified in tickling her. (He advances stealthily and tickles her under the arm.)
BETSY (startling). Eh! what! Lor’, sir!
TOM. Don’t be alarmed. My intentions are strictly honourable. In other words, I have no intentions whatever.
BETSY. Then you ought to be more careful, Mr. Grig. That was a liberty, sir.
TOM. I know it was. The cause of liberty, all over the world,—that’s my sentiment! What is your name?
BETSY (curtseying). Betsy Martin, sir.
TOM. A name famous both in song and story. Would you have the goodness, Miss Martin, to direct me to that particular apartment wherein the illustrious Mooney is now pursuing his researches?
BETSY (aside). A little wholesome fear may not be amiss. (To him, in assumed agitation.) You are not going into that room, Mr. Grig?
TOM. Indeed, I am, and I ought to be there now, having promised to join that light of science, your master (a short six, by the bye!), outside the door.
BETSY. That dreadful and mysterious chamber! Another victim!
TOM. Victim, Miss Martin!
BETSY. Oh! the awful oath of secrecy which binds me not to disclose the perils of that gloomy, hideous room.
TOM (astonished). Miss Martin!
BETSY. Such a fine young man,—so rosy and fresh-coloured, that he should fall into the clutches of that cruel and insatiable monster! I cannot continue to witness such frightful scenes; I must give warning.
TOM. If you have anything to unfold, young woman, have the goodness to give me warning at once.
BETSY (affecting to recover herself). No, no, Mr. Grig, it’s nothing,—it’s ha! ha! ha!—don’t mind me, don’t mind me, but it certainly is very shocking;—no,—no,—I don’t mean that. I mean funny,—yes. Ha! ha! ha!
TOM (aside, regarding her attentively). I suspect a trick here,—some other lover in the case who wants to come over the stars;—but it won’t do. I’ll tell you what, young woman (to her), if this is a cloak, you had better try it on elsewhere;—in plain English, if you have any object to gain and think to gain it by frightening me, it’s all my eye and, and—yourself, Miss Martin.
BETSY. Well, then, if you will rush upon your fate,—there (pointing off)—that’s the door at the end of that long passage and across the gravelled yard. The room is built away from the house on purpose.
TOM. I’ll make for it at once, and the first object I inspect through that same telescope, which now and then grows to your master’s eye, shall be the moon—the moon, which is the emblem of your inconstant and deceitful sex, Miss Martin.
AIR—‘The Young May-moon.’
TOM. There comes a new moon twelve times a year.
BETSY. And when there is none, all is dark and drear.
TOM. In which I espy—
BETSY. And so, too, do I—
BOTH. A resemblance to womankind very clear.
BOTH. There comes a new moon twelve times in a year;
And when there is none, all is dark and drear.
TOM. In which I espy—
BETSY. And so do I—
BOTH. A resemblance to womankind very clear.
TOM. She changes, she’s fickle, she drives men mad.
BETSY. She comes to bring light, and leaves them sad.
TOM. So restless wild—
BETSY. But so sweetly wild—
BOTH. That no better companion could be had.
BOTH. There comes a new moon twelve times a year;
And when there is none, all is dark and drear.
TOM. In which I espy—
BETSY. And so do I—
BOTH. A resemblance to womankind very clear.
SCENE III.—A large gloomy room; a window with a telescope directed towards the sky without, a table covered with books, instruments and apparatus, which are also scattered about in other parts of the chamber, a dim lamp, a pair of globes, etc., a skeleton in a case, and various uncouth objects displayed against the walls. Two doors in flat. MR. MOONEY discovered, with a very dirty face, busily engaged in blowing a fire, upon which is a crucible.
Enter MR. STARGAZER, with a lamp, beckoning to TOM GRIG, who enters with some unwillingness.
MR. STARGAZER. This, Mr. Grig, is the sanctum sanctorum of which I have already spoken; this is at once the laboratory and observatory.
TOM. It’s not an over-lively place, is it?
MR. STARGAZER. It has an air of solemnity which well accords with the great and mysterious pursuits that are here in constant prosecution, Mr. Grig.
TOM. Ah! I should think it would suit an undertaker to the life; or perhaps I should rather say to the death. What may that cheerful object be now? (Pointing to a large phial.)
MR. STARGAZER. That contains a male infant with three heads,—we use it in astrology;—it is supposed to be a charm.
TOM. I shouldn’t have supposed it myself, from his appearance. The young gentleman isn’t alive, is he?
MR. STARGAZER. No, he is preserved in spirits. (MR. MOONEY sneezes.)
TOM (retreating into a corner). Halloa! What the—(MR. MOONEY looks vacantly round.) That gentleman, I suppose, is out of spirits?
MR. STARGAZER (laying his hand upon TOM’S arm and looking toward the philosopher). Hush! that is the gifted Mooney. Mark well his noble countenance,—intense thought beams from every lineament. That is the great astrologer.
TOM. He looks as if he had been having a touch at the black art. I say, why don’t he say something?
MR. STARGAZER. He is in a state of abstraction; see he directs his bellows this way, and blows upon the empty air.
TOM. Perhaps he sees a strange spark in this direction and wonders how he came here. I wish he’d blow me out. (Aside.) I don’t half like this.
MR. STARGAZER. You shall see me rouse him.
TOM. Don’t put yourself out of the way on my account; I can make his acquaintance at any other time.
MR. STARGAZER. No time like the time present. Nothing awakens him from these fits of meditation but an electric shock. We always have a strongly charged battery on purpose. I’ll give him a shock directly. (MR. STARGAZER goes up and cautiously places the end of a wire in MR. MOONEY’S hand. He then stoops down beside the table as though bringing it in contact with the battery. MR. MOONEY immediately jumps up with a loud cry and throws away the bellows.)
TOM (squaring at the philosopher). It wasn’t me, you know, none of your nonsense.
MR. STARGAZER (comes hastily forward). Mr. Grig,—Mr. Grig,—not that disrespectful attitude to one of the greatest men that ever lived. This, my dear friend (to MOONEY),—is the noble stranger.
MR. MOONEY. A ha!
MR. STARGAZER. Who arrived, punctual to his time, this afternoon.
MR. MOONEY. O ho!
MR. STARGAZER. Welcome him, my friend,—give him your hand. (MR. MOONEY appears confused and raises his leg.) No—no, that’s your foot. So absent, Mr. Grig, in his gigantic meditations that very often he doesn’t know one from the other. Yes, that’s your hand, very good, my dear friend, very good (pats MOONEY on the back as he and Tom shake hands, the latter at arm’s length).
MR. STARGAZER. Have you made any more discoveries during my absence?
MR. MOONEY. Nothing particular.
MR. STARGAZER. Do you think—do you think, my dear friend, that we shall arrive at any great stage in our labours, anything at all approaching to their final consummation in the course of the night?
MR. MOONEY. I cannot take upon myself to say.
MR. STARGAZER. What are your opinions upon the subject?
MR. MOONEY. I haven’t any opinions upon any subject whatsoever.
MR. STARGAZER. Wonderful man! Here’s a mind, Mr. Grig.
TOM. Yes, his conversation’s very improving indeed. But what’s he staring so hard at me for?
MR. STARGAZER. Something occurs to him. Don’t speak,—don’t disturb the current of his reflections upon any account. (MR. MOONEY walks solemnly up to TOM, who retreats before him; taking off his hat turns it over and over with a thoughtful countenance and finally puts it upon his own head.)
MR. STARGAZER. Eccentric man!
TOM. I say, I hope he don’t mean to keep that, because if he does, his eccentricity is unpleasant. Give him another shock and knock it off, will you?
MR. STARGAZER. Hush! hush! not a word. (MR. MOONEY, keeping his eyes fixed on TOM, slowly returns to MR. STARGAZER and whispers in his ear.)
MR. STARGAZER. Surely; by all means. I took the date of his birth, and all other information necessary for the purpose just now. (To TOM.) Mr. Mooney suggests that we should cast your nativity without delay, in order that we may communicate to you your future destiny.
MR. MOONEY. Let us retire for that purpose.
MR. STARGAZER. Certainly, wait here for a few moments, Mr. Grig: we are only going into the little laboratory and will return immediately. Now, my illustrious friend. (He takes up a lamp and leads the way to one of the doors. As MR. MOONEY follows, TOM steals behind him and regains his hat. MR. MOONEY turns round, stares, and exit through door.)
TOM. Well, that’s the queerest genius I ever came across,—rather a singular person for a little smoking party. (Looks into the crucible.) This is the saucepan, I suppose, where they’re boiling the philosopher’s stone down to the proper consistency. I hope it’s nearly done; when it’s quite ready, I’ll send out for sixpenn’orth of sprats, and turn ’em into gold fish for a first experiment. ’Cod! it’ll be a comfortable thing though to have no end to one’s riches. I’ll have a country house and a park, and I’ll plant a bit of it with a double row of gas-lamps a mile long, and go out with a French polished mahogany ladder, and two servants in livery behind me, to light ’em with my own hands every night. What’s to be seen here? (Looks through telescope.) Nothing particular, the stopper being on at the other end. The little boy with three heads (looking towards the case). What a comfort he must have been to his parents!—Halloa! (taking up a large knife) this is a disagreeable-looking instrument,—something too large for bread and cheese, or oysters, and not of a bad shape for sticking live persons in the ribs. A very dismal place this,—I wish they’d come back. Ah!—(coming upon the skeleton) here’s a ghastly object,—what does the writing say?—(reads a label upon the case) ‘Skeleton of a gentleman prepared by Mr. Mooney.’ I hope Mr. Mooney may not be in the habit of inviting gentlemen here, and making ’em into such preparations without their own consent. Here’s a book, now. What’s all this about, I wonder? The letters look as if a steam-engine had printed ’em by accident. (Turns over the leaves, spelling to himself.)
GALILEO enters softly unseen by TOM, who has his back towards him.
GALILEO (aside). Oh, you’re there, are you? If I could but suffocate him, not for life, but only till I am one-and-twenty, and then revive him, what a comfort and convenience it would be! I overheard my cousin Fanny talking to Betsy about coming here. What can she want here? If she can be false,—false to me;—it seems impossible, but if she is?—well, well, we shall see. If I can reach that lumber-room unseen, Fanny Brown,—beware. (He steals toward the door on the L.—opens it, and exit cautiously into the room. As he does so, TOM turns the other way.)
TOM (closing the book). It’s very pretty Greek, I think. What a time they are!
MR. STARGAZER and MOONEY enter from room.
MOONEY. Tell the noble gentleman of his irrecoverable destiny.
MR. STARGAZER (with emotion). No,—no, prepare him first.
TOM (aside). Prepare him! ‘prepared by Mr. Mooney.’—This is a case of kidnapping and slaughter. (To them.) Let him attempt to prepare me at his peril!
MR. STARGAZER. Mr. Grig, why this demonstration?
TOM. Oh, don’t talk to me of demonstrations;—you ain’t going to demonstrate me, and so I tell you.
MR. STARGAZER. Alas! (Crossing to him.) The truth we have to communicate requires but little demonstration from our feeble lips. We have calculated upon your nativity.
MOONEY. Yes, we have, we have.
MR. STARGAZER. Tender-hearted man! (MOONEY weeps). See there, Mr. Grig, isn’t that affecting?
TOM. What is he piping his boiled gooseberry eye for, sir? How should I know whether it’s affecting or not?
MR. STARGAZER. For you, for you. We find that you will expire to-morrow two months, at thirty minutes—wasn’t it thirty minutes, my friend?
MOONEY. Thirty-five minutes, twenty-seven seconds and five-sixths of a second. Oh! (Groans.)
MR. STARGAZER. Thirty-five minutes, twenty-seven seconds, and five-sixths of a second past nine o’clock.
MOONEY. A.M. (They both wipe their eyes.)
TOM (alarmed). Don’t tell me, you’ve made a mistake somewhere;—I won’t believe it.
MOONEY. No, it is all correct, we worked it all in the most satisfactory manner.—Oh! (Groans again.)
TOM. Satisfactory, sir! Your notions of the satisfactory are of an extraordinary nature.
MR. STARGAZER (producing a pamphlet). It is confirmed by the prophetic almanack. Here is the prediction for to-morrow two months,—‘The decease of a great person may be looked for about this time.’
TOM (dropping into his chair). That’s me! It’s all up! inter me decently, my friends.
MR. STARGAZER (shaking his hand). Your wishes shall be attended to. We must have the marriage with my niece at once, in order that your distinguished race may be transmitted to posterity. Condole with him, my Mooney, while I compose my feelings, and settle the preliminaries of the marriage in solitude.
(Takes up lamp and exit into room R. MOONEY draws up a chair in a line with TOM, a long way off. They both sigh heavily. GALILEO opens the lumber-room door. As he does so the room door opens and BETSY steals softly in, beckoning to EMMA and FANNY who follow. He retires again abruptly.)
BETSY (aside). Now, young ladies, if you take heart only for one minute you may frighten Mr. Mooney out of being married at once.
EMMA. But if he has serious thoughts?
BETSY. Nonsense miss, he hasn’t any thoughts. Your papa says to him, ‘Will you marry my daughter?’ and he says, ‘Yes, I will’; and he would and will if you ain’t bold, but bless you, he never turned it over in his mind for a minute. If you, Miss (to EMMA), pretend to hate him and love a rival, and you, Miss (to FANNY), to love him to distraction, you’ll frighten him so betwixt you that he’ll declare off directly, I warrant. The love will frighten him quite as much as the hate. He never saw a woman in a passion, and as to one in love, I don’t believe that anybody but his mother ever kissed that grumpy old face of his in all his born days. Now, do try him, ladies. Come, we’re losing time.
(She conceals herself behind the skeleton case. EMMA rushes up to TOM GRIG and embraces him, while FANNY clasps MOONEY round the neck. GALILEO appears at his door in an attitude of amazement, and MR. STARGAZER at his, after running in again with the lamp, which before he sees what is going forward he had in his hand. TOM and MOONEY in great astonishment.)
FANNY (to MOONEY).
EMMA (to GRIG).
(TOM GRIG and MOONEY get their heads sufficiently out of
embrace to exchange a look of wonder.)
EMMA. Dear Mr. Grig, I know you must consider this strange, extraordinary, unaccountable conduct.
TOM. Why, ma’am, without explanation, it does appear singular.
EMMA. Yes, yes, I know it does, I know it will, but the urgency of the case must plead my excuse. Too fascinating Mr. Grig, I have seen you once and only once, but the impression of that maddening interview can never be effaced. I love you to distraction. (Falls upon his shoulder.)
TOM. You’re extremely obliging, ma’am, it’s a flattering sort of thing,—or it would be (aside) if I was going to live a little longer,—but you’re not the one, ma’am;—it’s the other lady that the stars have—
FANNY (to MOONEY). Nay, wonderful being, hear me—this is not a time for false conventional delicacy. Wrapt in your sublime visions, you have not [perceived] the silent tokens of a woman’s first and all-absorbing attachment, which have been, I fear, but too perceptible in the eyes of others; but now I must speak out. I hate this odious man. You are my first and only love. Oh! speak to me.
MOONEY. I haven’t anything appropriate to say, young woman. I think I had better go. (Attempting to get away.)
FANNY. Oh! no, no, no (detaining him). Give me some encouragement. Not one kind word? not one look of love?
MOONEY. I don’t know how to look a look of love.—I’m, I’m frightened.
TOM. So am I! I don’t understand this. I tell you, Miss, that the other lady is my destined wife. Upon my word you mustn’t hug me, you’ll make her jealous.
FANNY. Jealous! of you! Hear me (to MOONEY). I renounce all claim or title to the hand of that or any other man and vow to be eternally and wholly yours.
MOONEY. No, don’t, you can’t be mine,—nobody can be mine.—I don’t want anybody—I—I—
EMMA. If you will not hear her—hear me, detested monster.—Hear me declare that sooner than be your bride, with this deep passion for another rooted in my heart,—I—
MOONEY. You need not make any declaration on the subject, young woman.
MR. STARGAZER (coming forward). She shan’t,—she shan’t. That’s right, don’t hear her. She shall marry you whether she likes it or not,—she shall marry you to-morrow morning,—and you, Miss (to FANNY), shall marry Mr. Grig if I trundle you to church in a wheelbarrow.
GALILEO (coming forward). So she shall! so she may! Let her! let her! I give her leave.
MR. STARGAZER. You give her leave, you young dog! Who the devil cares whether you give her leave or not? and what are you spinning about in that way for?
GALILEO. I’m fierce, I’m furious,—don’t talk to me,—I shall do somebody a mischief;—I’ll never marry anybody after this, never, never, it isn’t safe. I’ll live and die a bachelor!—there—a bachelor! a bachelor! (He goes up and encounters BETSY. She talks to him apart, and his wrath seems gradually to subside.)
MOONEY. The little boy, albeit of tender years, has spoken wisdom. I have been led to the contemplation of womankind. I find their love is too violent for my staid habits. I would rather not venture upon the troubled waters of matrimony.
MR. STARGAZER. You don’t mean to marry my daughter? Not if I say she shall have you? (MOONEY shakes his head solemnly.) Mr. Grig, you have not changed your mind because of a little girlish folly?
TOM. To-morrow two months! I may as well get through as much gold as I can in the meantime. Why, sir, if the pot nearly boils (pointing to the crucible),—if you’re pretty near the philosopher’s stone,—
MR. STARGAZER. Pretty near! We’re sure of it—certain; it’s as good as money in the Bank. (GALILEO and BETSY, who have been listening attentively, bustle about, fanning the fire, and throwing in sundry powders from the bottles on the table, then cautiously retire to a distance.)
TOM. If that’s the case, sir, I am ready to keep faith with the planets. I’ll take her, sir, I’ll take her.
MR. STARGAZER. Then here’s her hand, Mr. Grig,—no resistance, Miss (drawing FANNY forward). It’s of no use, so you may as well do it with a good grace. Take her hand, Mr. Grig. (The crucible blows up with a loud crash; they all start.)
MR. STARGAZER. What!—the labour of fifteen years destroyed in an instant!
MOONEY (stooping over the fragments). That’s the only disappointment I have experienced in this process since I was first engaged in it when I was a boy. It always blows up when it’s on the point of succeeding.
TOM. Is the philosopher’s stone gone?
TOM. Not gone, sir?
MOONEY. No—it never came!
MR. STARGAZER. But we’ll get it, Mr. Grig. Don’t be cast down, we shall discover it in less than fifteen years this time, I dare say.
TOM (relinquishing FANNY’S hand). Ah! Were the stars very positive about this union?
MR. STARGAZER. They had not a doubt about it. They said it was to be, and it must be. They were peremptory.
TOM. I am sorry for that, because they have been very civil to me in the way of showing a light now and then, and I really regret disappointing ’em. But under the peculiar circumstances of the case, it can’t be.
MR. STARGAZER. Can’t be, Mr. Grig! What can’t be?
TOM. The marriage, sir. I forbid the banns. (Retires and sits down.)
MR. STARGAZER. Impossible! such a prediction unfulfilled! Why, the consequences would be as fatal as those of a concussion between the comet and this globe. Can’t be! it must be, shall be.
BETSY (coming forward, followed by GALILEO). If you please, sir, may I say a word?
MR. STARGAZER. What have you got to say?—speak, woman!
BETSY. Why, sir, I don’t think Mr. Grig is the right man.
MR. STARGAZER. What!
BETSY. Don’t you recollect, sir, that just as the house-clock struck the first stroke of five, you gave Mr. Galileo a thump on the head with the butt end of your telescope, and told him to get out of the way?
MR. STARGAZER. Well, if I did, what of that?
BETSY. Why, then, sir, I say, and I would say it if I was to be killed for it, that he’s the young gentleman that ought to marry Miss Fanny, and that the stars never meant anything else.
MR. STARGAZER. He! Why, he’s a little boy.
GALILEO. I ain’t. I’m one-and-twenty next Lady-day.
MR. STARGAZER. Eh! Eighteen hundred and—why, so he is, I declare. He’s quite a stranger to me, certainly. I never thought about his age since he was fourteen, and I remember that birthday, because he’d a new suit of clothes then. But the noble family—
BETSY. Lor’, sir! ain’t it being of noble family to be the son of such a clever man as you?
MR. STARGAZER. That’s true. And my mother’s father would have been Lord Mayor, only he died of turtle the year before.
BETSY. Oh, it’s quite clear.
MR. STARGAZER. The only question is about the time, because the church struck afterwards. But I should think the stars, taking so much interest in my house, would most likely go by the house-clock,—eh! Mooney?
MR. STARGAZER. Then you may have her, my son. Her father was a great astronomer; so I hope that, though you are a blockhead, your children may be scientific. There! (Joins their hands.)
EMMA. Am I free to marry who I like, papa?
MR. STARGAZER. Won’t you, Mooney? Won’t you?
MOONEY. If anybody asks me to again I’ll run away, and never come back any more.
MR. STARGAZER. Then we must drop the subject. Yes, your choice is now unfettered.
EMMA. Thank you, dear papa. Then I’ll look about for somebody who will suit me without the delay of an instant longer than is absolutely necessary.
MR. STARGAZER. How very dutiful!
FANNY. And, as my being here just now with Emma was a little trick of Betsy’s, I hope you’ll forgive her, uncle.
Oh, yes, do.
FANNY. And even reward her, uncle, for being instrumental in fulfilling the prediction.
Oh, yes; do reward her—do.
FANNY. Perhaps you could find a husband for her, uncle, you know. Don’t you understand?
BETSY. Pray don’t mention it, Miss. I told you at first, Miss, that I had not the least wish or inclination to have Mr. Grig to myself. I couldn’t abear that Mr. Grig should think I wanted him to marry me; oh no, Miss, not on any account.
MR. STARGAZER. Oh, that’s pretty intelligible. Here, Mr. Grig. (They fall back from his chair.) Have you any objection to take this young woman for better, for worse?
BETSY. Lor’, sir! how ondelicate!
MR. STARGAZER. I’ll add a portion of ten pounds for your loss of time here to-night. What do you say, Mr. Grig?
TOM. It don’t much matter. I ain’t long for this world. Eight weeks of marriage might reconcile me to my fate. I should go off, I think, more resigned and peaceful. Yes, I’ll take her, as a reparation. Come to my arms! (He embraces her with a dismal face.)
MR. STARGAZER (taking a paper from his pocket). Egad! that reminds me of what I came back to say, which all this bustle drove out of my head. There’s a figure wrong in the nativity (handing the paper to MOONEY). He’ll live to a green old age.
TOM (looking up). Eh! What?
MOONEY. So he will. Eighty-two years and twelve days will be the lowest.
TOM (disengaging himself). Eh! here! (calling off). Hallo, you, sir! bring in that ladder and lantern.
A SERVANT enters in great haste, and hands them to TOM.
SERVANT. There’s such a row in the street,—none of the gas-lamps lit, and all the people calling for the lamplighter. Such a row!
TOM (rubbing his hands with great glee). Is there, my fine fellow? Then I’ll go and light ’em. And as, under existing circumstances, and with the prospect of a green old age before me, I’d rather not be married, Miss Martin, I beg to assure the ratepayers present that in future I shall pay the strictest attention to my professional duties, and do my best for the contractor; and that I shall be found upon my beat as long as they condescend to patronize the Lamplighter. (Runs off. MISS MARTIN faints in the arms of MOONEY.)
Did you notice the anachronism in the story? The action of The Lamplighter must take place after Waithman’s monument was erected (1833), and appears to happen just as Halley’s Comet was approaching Earth (Sep 1835). There are several references to the comet, and in fact the central story point—the omen which signifies Tom Grig’s destiny—appears to be connected to the comet’s appearance, though this is not specifically mentioned. However, the date of the action is given explicitly, and it’s much later—November 30th, 1838. By that time, Halley’s Comet was three years gone, streaking away from the Sun, towards the orbit of Pluto. Then why does the story turn on the comet? Perhaps—just as with Is That His Wife—Dickens exhumed an old unsold play, from the days before his success, and tried to revise it, in the hopes of making it usable. It would help to explain the awkwardness of some of the writing.
Regardless of when he first attempted the story, Dickens did indeed finally revise The Lamplighter, and gained some use out of the material. When Dickens’s first publisher Macrone died suddenly (1837), Dickens assembled The Pic Nic Papers, an anthology for the benefit of Macrone’s widow and children. Dickens reworked the play into prose form as “The Lamplighter’s Story”, and it was included as the lead story in the anthology (1841). The short story is widely available, and is not included here. It’s an absorbing exercise to compare the two versions, and note the stage devices used in the first version, as compared to the narrative devices used in the second. (See Brattin, noted below.)
The Lamplighter, in its original form as a true play, remained unpublished and unperformed during Dickens’s lifetime. Richard Herne Shepherd, a pioneer Dickens scholar, discovered the manuscript, in a copyist’s handwriting, in the Forster collection at the South Kensington Museum. Shepherd published the piece first as a pamphlet (1879), and then in his Plays and Poems of Dickens, the first such anthology (1885). In his introduction, he complains quite a bit about the Museum’s reading room and staff. We are glad he made the effort.
The Lamplighter was finally brought to the stage and performed, although we cannot be positive when it first happened. The Toronto branch of the Dickens Fellowship produced an early version (about 1930; Dickensian 29.172). The London branch mounted a show (1934), which was called “effective”, but “Whether this service enhances the reputation of the great novelist is another matter” (Cross, 214). The amateur Tavistock Repertory Company staged it as a curtain-raiser at the Tower Theatre in Islington, London (1970); one reviewer said: “the basic joke, about a besotted astrologer, is tedious indeed and was only made at all tolerable in this production by John Pettengell’s superbly comic performance as Mooney, Mr Stargazer’s excessively absent-minded coadjutor” (Slater, 97). It was again produced by the Players of Occidental College, Los Angeles (1974). The play’s director reported: “The Lamplighter ran for two performances, both with packed houses. The audience’s reactions showed that the power of Dickens’s comedy has not diminished over the years; howls of laughter greeted John Hays’s portrayal of the guttural vacant Mooney…and Tom Shelton’s whining, helpless Galileo Isaac Newton Stargazer” (“Los Angeles”, 112). A second Toronto production was staged at Trinity College, at the University of Toronto (1984).
Dickens could do so many things, with such excellence, it is surprising to find an area in which he was no more than acceptable; and he had so much success as a writer, it is surprising to find that even Dickens could have a piece rejected, and rejected by one of his closest and dearest friends. But Dickens, as a dramatist, was merely adequate. The Lamplighter was the last play which Dickens undertook to write alone. He never again would write a stage drama, except in collaboration with his colleagues, primarily adding prefaces and revisions to their work. The story of the first of these, Mr. Nightingale’s Diary, will be found with the text of that play.
Brattin, Joel J. “From Drama Into Fiction: The Lamplighter and ‘The Lamplighter’s Story’”. Dickensian 85 (1989): 131–39.
Corelli, Marie. Sorrows of Satan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
C[ross], A. E. B[rookes]. “Lamplighter in London”. Dickensian 30 (1934): 214.
D[exter], W[alter]. “A Stage Aside: Dickens’s Early Dramatic Productions: IV. The Lamplighter”. Dickensian 34 (1938): 36.
Dickens, Charles. Letters of Charles Dickens (the Pilgrim Edition). General eds. Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Tillotson. 12 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965–2002.
———. “The Lamplighter”. Uncommercial Traveller and Reprinted Pieces etc. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. [The short story originally called “The Lamplighter’s Story”.]
———. Miscellaneous Papers: From ‘The Examiner,’ ‘Household Words,’ and ‘All the Year Round’: Plays and Poems. 2 vols. Ed. B[ertram] W[aldrom] Matz. The Works of Charles Dickens: New National Edition, vols. 35, 36. New York: Hearst’s International Library Co., n.d. .
———. The Plays and Poems of Charles Dickens, With a Few Miscellanies in Prose. Ed. Richard Herne Shepherd. 2 vols. London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1885.
Eckel, John C. First Editions of the Writings of Charles Dickens: Their Points and Values. New York: Maurice Inman, Inc., 1932.
Forster, John. Life of Charles Dickens. Ed. J[ames] W[illiam] T[homas] Ley. London: Cecil Palmer, 1928.
“Lamplighter in Los Angeles”. Dickensian 70 (1974): 112.
Ley, J[ames] W[illiam] T[homas]. Dickens Circle. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1919.
Macready, William Charles. Diaries of William Charles Macready: 1833–1851. 2 vols. Ed. William Toynbee. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912.
Newlin, George, comp. and ed. Everyone in Dickens. 3 vols. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1995.
S[later], M[ichael]. “Dickens Plays Revived”. Dickensian 67 (1971): 97–8.
“Strange Gentleman”, Dickensian 29 (1933): 172.
Text is from Matz. Matz worked from the original manuscript in the Forster collection at the South Kensington Museum (I have not examined it). Where the text reads “you have not [perceived] the silent tokens of a woman’s first and all-absorbing attachment” Matz has conjecturally supplied a word missing from the manuscript. Matz and Shepherd both give the next-to-last stage direction to the Servant: “rubbing his hands with great glee”; I have given it to Tom Grig (above). For the HTML version of this work, one change in formatting has been made. The right-justified stage directions to “exit” or “exeunt” are without exception placed on a separate line, and are never flush with the preceding speech (as is occasionally done in Matz). This may impact lineation at some time in the future. A few obvious typesetting mistakes have been silently corrected. Other than this, the text appears exactly as in Matz, preserving all its typographical quirks, many of them originating in the 1908 edition.
- Beppe Sabatini, Editor