Collection No. 6: Dr. Last in His Chariot, by Isaac Bickerstaff

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Bickerstaff, Isaac
Author dates: 1733-1808(?)
Title: Dr. Last in His Chariot

First played: 1769
First published: 1769
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1769)

Modern availability: Not available.

Genre: Comedy

Character Types: Medical; Italian

[Return to Top]


Nancy Ailwou'd marries her lover Hargrave, contrary to her father's desire to marry her to the quack Dr. Last.

Dedication to Samuel Foote.

Preface explains it is an adaptation of “Le malade imaginaire” by Moliere.

Prologue written by Garrick; explains that quacks are not only in medicine, but in the church (yet another stab at the “Methodist race”).

Act I.
Wag gives Prudence, a servant, a letter from his master for the young lady of her house. Mr. Ailwou’d is confined to his bed. Wag tries to kiss Prudence, but they are interrupted by a bell. Wag flees. Ailwou’d enters, calling for Prudence, who emerges and explains her delay by pretending to have bumped her head. Prudence asks Ailwou’d why he trusts quack doctors as well as legitimate ones. Ailwou’d threatens to break her head and asks for his daughter Nancy. Nancy is in love with Mr. Hargrave, who has rescued her; she reads his letter, which says that he will propose marriage to her and ask her father for her hand through a common friend. Ailwou’d enters and says that he has consented to the proposal of marriage. Unfortunately, the potential bridegroom is Dr. Last, the quack doctor who has provided Ailwou’d with his tonics, rather than Hargrave. Ailwou’d real reason for consenting is that his son-in-law will not charge him for his medical bills. Prudence forbids the match, to Ailwou’d’s fury. Ailwou’d summons Mrs. Ailwou’d, who humours him. Ailwou’d is resolved to make his will, leaving all his money to Mrs. Ailwou’d (his second wife) and disinheriting his two daughters. Prudence tells Ailwou’d that three doctors wait for him, and that Dr. Last has arrived to meet Nancy. Drs. Coffin, Skeleton and Bulruddery enter to discuss Ailwou’d’s symptoms; he has failed to successfully diagnose himself with a recognizable ailment and eats well. The doctors retire to discuss the origin of bowing after a sneeze and other ‘medical’ curiosities. Ailwou’d enters and asks for a diagnosis, which they have not produced. He introduces Dr. Last, who has identified his disease: jaundice. The doctors mock him; Ailwou’d’s skin is not yellow. Dr. Last refines his diagnosis to be the “grey janders”. Ailwou’d asks the other doctors to return their fees; they refuse and depart. Dr. Last will return this evening to meet Nancy; he issues a mild threat to Ailwoul’d urging him not to see any other physician.

Act II.
Hargrave has come to see Nancy. Prudence explains that Ailwou’d has betrothed Nancy to Dr. Last, but that the engagement can likely be broken if Ailwou’d is interested in a new cure and a different doctor.  Hargrave tells Ailwou’d he has been sent in place of Nancy’s Italian master, who is out of the country; Nancy enters and is shocked to see him. She tells the story of how he rescued her in the frame of a dream. Ailwou’d insists on remaining in the room to hear the lesson, which takes a sudden romantic turn. Prudence enters to report that Dr. Last has arrived. Ailwou’d tells Hargrave that neither the Italian master nor his substitute need return. Hargrave has a new plan by this time, however. Dr. Last enters, dressed in a suit of clothes taken from a dead patient. Nancy enters, but doesn’t want to speak to Dr. Last. The latter reveals that his three children by his first wife are dead; rather than worrying about the fate of the children Nancy is likely to have, Ailwou’d is miserable because he will soon join Dr. Last’s family in the graveyard. Ailwou’d tries to join their hands, but Nancy refuses until she gets to know Dr. Last better and their affection is mutual; Last assures her that his affection is indeed mutual. Mrs. Ailwou’d suggests that, like any dutiful daughter, Nancy has defied her father by fixing her attentions elsewhere. The two women argue. Ailwou’d says that if Nancy doesn’t marry Dr. Last within three days, he will turn her out into the street. Wag is shown in; he is dressed as Scower, a young physician, and has been recommended by Mr. Friendly, Ailwou’d’s brother. Wag takes Ailwou’d’s pulse by playing on his wrist as though it were a piano, then diagnoses him with dropsy, to Last’s indignation. Wag says that Ailwou’d will be dead in twenty-four hours unless he gives Wag permission to cure him (for a hundred guineas). Wag describes various cures he has tried with little success, including stomach-pumping and putting sponges down his patients’ throats on strings. Ailwou’d’s dropsy is to be cured with a special medicine (actually strong beer). Wag recommends cutting off Ailwou’d’s arm and gouging out an eye, as he says that the arm and eye are depriving the rest of Ailwou’d’s body of nourishment. This goes too far for Ailwou'd tastes; Wag runs off. Friendly arrives, and Ailwou’d berates him for recommending such a poor physician; Friendly denies anything to do with it. Friendly asks Ailwou’d to walk with him in the garden (a frightening prospect for the false invalid!) as he has a proposal of marriage with Nancy to convey.

Act III.
Mrs. Ailwou’d tells her husband that a young gentleman has been in Nancy’s room, and that his daughter Polly has seen them together. Ailwou’d summons the five-year-old Polly, who tells him that the Italian master kissed her sister many times. Friendly tells Ailwou’d that Dr. Last is the most disreputable quack in town, and that Ailwou’d’s good health is demonstrated by the fact that he hasn’t yet been poisoned by the various drugs he has taken. Dr. Last arrives: he urges Friendly to try various concoctions, which Friendly refuses. Dr. Last leaves angrily. Ailwou’d tells Prudence he intends to send Nancy to a convent in France if she doesn’t marry Dr. Last. Friendly tries to tell Ailwou’d about Hargrave, but Ailwou’d refuses to hear him out; further, Friendly criticizes Mrs. Ailwou’d and is disgusted by Ailwou’d’s subjugation to her. To test Mrs Ailwou’d’s love for her husband, Prudence recommends the latter pretend to be dead. Ailwou’d agrees to this test. Upon hearing that her husband is dead, Mrs. Ailwou’d is overjoyed and requests that Prudence not reveal that he is dead until she has sorted out his affairs so that she inherits all of his money. Ailwou’d rises from the dead and tells his wife that he never wishes to hear from her again; he also renounces medicine. Hargrave and Nancy enter, and Ailwou’d consents to their marriage provided that Hargrave study with an apothecary for a year or two. Hargrave refuses, but Friendly’s reminder that Ailwou’d has just renounced medicine convinces Ailwou’d to consent to the marriage anyway. Dr. Last arrives; Friendly tells him that the medicine he gave Ailwou’d has killed him. Last denies it, saying that the medicine was simply chalk and vinegar. Ailwou’d enters and tells Last to never return to his house. Polly comes in to report that Mrs. Ailwou’d has left the house. Ailwou’d rejoices in the changes that have taken place.

[Return to Top]

Secondary commentary

A) Rudolph, Valerie C.‘Isaac John Bickerstaff: September 26, 1733-1808’. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. LiteratureResourceCenter. 23 May 2008.
"The Haymarket was managed by Samuel Foote, whose comedy The Devil on Two Sticks (1768) had featured the character of Dr. Last. To supply Foote with a sequel, Bickerstaff once again adapted Molière, this time The Imaginary Invalid (1673). Dr. Last in His Chariot opened at the Haymarket on 21 June 1769. Garrick's prologue was spoken by Foote himself. The imaginary invalid is Mr. Ailwou'd; the chief quack is Dr. Last with his mysterious pills and potions; and the chief deceiver is Mrs. Ailwou'd, who pretends to love her husband but who really loves only his money. All are finally exposed and depart, except for Ailwou'd himself. Slightly chastened but not totally reformed, he consents to the marriage of his honest daughter Nancy to the equally honest Mr. Hargrave. The joke was on Bickerstaff, however, for even Foote's acting could not insure the success of Dr. Last in His Chariot. Despite the hijinks of such scenes as that of an entire roomful of quacks attempting to diagnose Ailwou'd's illness, the comedy had relatively few performances."

[Return to Top]

Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Ailwou’d’s daughter Nancy makes one grammar mistake; Dr. Last consistently speaks in non-StE, distinguishing him from the other characters.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Nancy (Ailwou’d’s daughter)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 7]
Nan. Every thing, dear Prue; every thing in the world that I cou’d wish or desire. He says he can’t live happy without me, and that he will, by means of a common friend, immediately make a formal proposal for me to my father.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “he can’t live happy”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: daughter of Ailwou’d (the hypochondriac)
e. Consistency of representation: only this instance

Variety: Dr. Last
a. Sample of dialect
[page 22]
D. Last. What do you grin at? – I says, he has the janders, and I’ll uphold it. – I’ll lay you fifty pound he has the janders, and the gentleman shall hold the stakes himself.


[page 23]
D. Last. Well, I says then; (To Ailwou’d, who turns about for something) I won’t talk without you minds; -- the yaller janders, I say, is—the yaller janders, as if to be –


[page 25]
D. Last. You must think they all hates me, because I out-does ’em in curing, and they are ostentatious in their own way, and won’t be larn’d.

[page 39]
D. Last. She has a purdigious deal of tongue for such a young crater.
b.1 Orthography: “janders”; “larn’d”
b.2 Grammar: “I says”; “I won’t talk without you minds”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: Last’s bad grammar reinforces his role as a quack doctor, and distinguishes him from the other well-spoken characters.
e. Consistency of representation: very consistent

[Return to Top]

Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

A 'Romance' language taken literally:

[page 31]
Hargrave. You know, ma’am, a great man formerly said, that if he spoke to the Gods, he wou’d speak Spanish; to men, French; but to women, Italian, as the properest language for love.
Ailwou’d. A strange round-a-bout way of beginning.
Har. If he was to speak to his horse, indeed, he said he would speak in High Dutch; as for example, Das dick der donder schalq.
Ail. So, you won’t have done fooling.
Har. Pray, Sir, give me leave; every master has his method—No doubt, madam, you have been informed that the adjective must agree with the substantive, as thus—Nanetta bella, beautiful Nancy, [softly to her] that is you, my charmer—Amante fidele, faithful lover [softly to her] That’s me, my charmer, who doat upon you more than life [Ailwou’d coming close to listen, Hargrave raises his voice.] Now these, madam, must agree in gender, number and case.

[page 32]

Ail. Ay, that’s right enough; I remember that when I was learning grammar myself.
Har. Here, madam, we’ll take a verb active, and begin, if you please, with Amo, to love—Have you any objection to that?
Nan. By no means, Sir.
Har. Then pray give me a little attention, and conjugate after me, that you may catch the accent—Io amo, I love.
Nan. Io amo, I love.
Har. O fy! That’s not a proper tone. –You’ll pardon me for reprimanding miss before you. – you must pronounce the words with more tenderness, ma’am, take notice of me: -- Io amo, I love.
Nan. [Very tenderly] Io amo, I love.
Ail. I won’t have her pronounce it any more; I don’t know what words you’ll have the impudence to teach her presently.

[Return to Top]

Other points of interest


[Return to Top]

©2008 Arden Hegele