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Peg Woffington   By: (1814-1884)

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By Charles Reade

To T. Taylor, Esq., my friend, and coadjutor in the comedy of "Masks and Faces," to whom the reader owes much of the best matter in this tale: and to the memory of Margaret Woffington, falsely summed up until to day, this "Dramatic Story" is inscribed by CHARLES READE.

LONDON. Dec. 15, 1852.


ABOUT the middle of the last century, at eight o'clock in the evening, in a large but poor apartment, a man was slumbering on a rough couch. His rusty and worn suit of black was of a piece with his uncarpeted room, the deal table of home manufacture, and its slim unsnuffed candle.

The man was Triplet, scene painter, actor and writer of sanguinary plays, in which what ought to be, viz., truth, plot, situation and dialogue, were not; and what ought not to be, were scilicet, small talk, big talk, fops, ruffians, and ghosts.

His three mediocrities fell so short of one talent that he was sometimes impransus.

He slumbered, but uneasily; the dramatic author was uppermost, and his "Demon of the Hayloft" hung upon the thread of popular favor.

On his uneasy slumber entered from the theater Mrs. Triplet.

She was a lady who in one respect fell behind her husband; she lacked his variety in ill doing, but she recovered herself by doing her one thing a shade worse than he did any of his three. She was what is called in grim sport an actress; she had just cast her mite of discredit on royalty by playing the Queen, and had trundled home the moment the breath was out of her royal body. She came in rotatory with fatigue, and fell, gristle, into a chair; she wrenched from her brow a diadem and eyed it with contempt, took from her pocket a sausage, and contemplated it with respect and affection, placed it in a frying pan on the fire, and entered her bedroom, meaning to don a loose wrapper, and dethrone herself into comfort.

But the poor woman was shot walking by Morpheus, and subsided altogether; for dramatic performances, amusing and exciting to youth seated in the pit, convey a certain weariness to those bright beings who sparkle on the stage for bread and cheese.

Royalty, disposed of, still left its trail of events. The sausage began to "spit." The sound was hardly out of its body, when poor Triplet writhed like a worm on a hook. "Spitter, spittest," went the sausage. Triplet groaned, and at last his inarticulate murmurs became words: "That's right, pit now, that is so reasonable to condemn a poor fellow's play before you have heard it out." Then, with a change of tone, "Tom," muttered he, "they are losing their respect for specters; if they do, hunger will make a ghost of me." Next he fancied the clown or somebody had got into his ghost's costume.

"Dear," said the poor dreamer, "the clown makes a very pretty specter, with his ghastly white face, and his blood boltered cheeks and nose. I never saw the fun of a clown before, no! no! no! it is not the clown, it is worse, much worse; oh, dear, ugh!" and Triplet rolled off the couch like Richard the Third. He sat a moment on the floor, with a finger in each eye; and then, finding he was neither daubing, ranting, nor deluging earth with "acts," he accused himself of indolence, and sat down to write a small tale of blood and bombast; he took his seat at the deal table with some alacrity, for he had recently made a discovery.

How to write well, rien que cela.

"First, think in as homely a way as you can; next, shove your pen under the thought, and lift it by polysyllables to the true level of fiction," (when done, find a publisher if you can). "This," said Triplet, "insures common sense to your ideas, which does pretty well for a basis," said Triplet, apologetically, "and elegance to the dress they wear." Triplet, then casting his eyes round in search of such actual circumstances as could be incorporated on this plan with fiction, began to work thus:


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