Collection No. 8: The Spoil'd Child, by Isaac Bickerstaff

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

Publication details

Author: Bickerstaff, Isaac
Author dates: 1732-1808(?)
Title: The Spoil’d Child

First played: 1787
First published: 1792, for the Booksellers. 36p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1792)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comedy / Farce

Trend(s): Class

Character Types: Nautical; Professional Female; Servant

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Little Pickle is secure in his father's love, despite the latter's efforts at punishment for his son's naughtiness.

Act I.
Pickle and his sister Miss Pickle discuss Pickle’s son’s bad behaviour; Miss Pickle worries that he will only get worse as he ages, while Pickle forgives him for each nasty prank. Pickle teases Miss Pickle about her poetical ambitions, but is cut short when a table is pulled out from underneath him. Dinner arrives, and Pickle is pleased that the dish is the first pheasant of the season. Susan, a servant, runs in to say that Miss Pickle’s parrot is missing. Little Pickle has trussed and dressed the parrot and put it in place of the pheasant, and Susan has only just discovered the original bird.  John enters to say that Pickle’s favourite mare Daisey will be crippled forever: Little Pickle was out riding the mare, fell over a pile of stones, and whipped John across the legs and face.  Little Pickle enters; his father upbraids him, but Little Pickle turns the story of the mare on its head so that John is at fault. Little Pickle then tells his aunt that only ladies who are too old to keep lovers have parrots and lap-dogs; he cooked the parrot only to save her reputation. Miss Pickle asks why Little Pickle spread a rumour about her being in her closet with Mr. Tagg, her favourite poet; his unsatisfactory response prompts her to threaten to withdraw the clause in her will that leaves her fortune to their family. Miss Pickle tells Pickle that he must comply with her plan in order to receive the fortune: Little Pickle must be switched with a beggar’s child so that he learns good behaviour and the value of his rank. Miss Pickle tells Little Pickle that Margaret switched her baby for Pickle’s at birth, and that he now belongs with his true family. Little Pickle protests and sings about his despair when Miss Pickle and Pickle do not change their minds.

Act II.
Margery tells her son Tom, recently returned from a sea-voyage, that he is really the Pickles’ son, while Little Pickle cries with shock upon discovering that he is the son of a servant. Pickle enters; he has just literally run into Tom. Margery asks to see her son in his fine clothes. The Pickles consent; Little Pickle enters in a sailor suit and with red hair: he sings about a sailor’s life. He insults Miss Pickle by suggesting that she is Pickle’s mother rather than his sister. Little Pickle meets his sister Maria, who recognizes him; they plan to pretend to elope as revenge for the Pickles’ treatment of their son. Pickle enters to see them embracing; he thinks he has lost his son and his daughter. He hastily tries to reach his son, but Little Pickle (still in the character of Tom) tells him that he has been sent to Botany Bay forever. Miss Pickle’s poet lover Tagg arrives; while he quotes verses of poetry to her, Little Pickle sews their clothes together. They plan to run away together (although Tagg’s asides make it clear that he only wants her money), but Little Pickle interrupts to say that his father is coming. Miss Pickle and Tagg hastily embrace, but realize they are attached; Miss Pickle rips Tagg’s coat. Pickle receives word that his son is not yet on his way to Botany Bay. He sees Miss Pickle hauling a casket across the garden in preparation for her elopement. Little Pickle emerges as Tagg in a long cloak. Pickle catches them as they try to escape, and calls for servants. Still dressed as a sailor beneath the cloak, Little Pickle reveals himself, to his father’s delight. The fortune still belongs to the family, and Pickle forgives his son for all of his pranks.

Epilogue. The playwright concludes by saying that he will attempt to "transgress" again if the audience has been amused by his "tricks".

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Secondary commentary

A) Gänzl, Kurt. ‘Bickerstaff, Isaac John (b. 1733, d. after 1808)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biograhpy. 23 May 2008.

"[On the London Stage appeared] a little comedy with songs called The Spoil'd Child, rumoured to have been ‘sent to Mrs Jordan from Bickerstaff in Italy’. Whether it was or not, it was a piece that gave good opportunities to its leading actress, and it won ready performances around the world."

B)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 Spoil'd Child, which opened at the Ulverstone Theatre on 16 October 1787, was attributed to Bickerstaff, though the author is not really known. The work is memorable chiefly for the role of the title character, Little Pickle, who exasperates every other character, even going so far as to bake his aunt's favorite parrot and serve it to her for dinner. Little Pickle is the kind of child W. C. Fields loved to hate. Actresses, however, loved Little Pickle, and the role was much sought after throughout the nineteenth century."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

The upper-class Pickle family speaks with some language variation (particularly grammatical). Miss Pickle’s errors undercut her profession as a poetess. Tagg, a poet, speaks with elevated tone. The servants and Little Pickle (as a sailor) speak with non-standard grammar.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Pickle
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 4]
Nay, as to that, he hasn't spar'd even his father, is there a day passes I do not break my shins over stumbling-blocks he lays in my [25]  way?---why there isn't a door in the house but is arm'd with a bason of water on top, and left just a jarr---so that I can't walk over my own house without running the hazard of a shower bath, or being wet through.

[page 19]
Pick. Indeed?---your husband must be very much oblige to you, and so am I---

b.1 Orthography: “bason”, “a jarr” (ajar); “is there a day passes I do not break my shins”
b.2 Grammar: “oblige” (vs. ‘obliged’); “there isn’t a door…but is arm’d”;
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: upper-class gentleman
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety:  Miss Pickle
a. Sample of dialect
Miss P.
O my sweet, my beautiful young bird, I had but just learn'd it to talk too.

[Page 7 ]

You taught it to talk---it taught you to talk you mean---I'm sure 'twas old enough ---why 'twas hatched in the hard frost.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “I had but just lear’d it to talk” (vs. “taught it”). Pickle corrects her.
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality
d. Character profile: Miss Pickle believes herself to be a gifted poetess; her speech errors undercut her self-perception.
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Little Pickle
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 10]

Little P.
Well, so far all goes on rarely--- [175]  dinner must be near ready---Old Poll will taste well I dare say---Parrot and bread sauce, ha, ha, ha! they suppose they're going to have a nice young pheasant, an old parrot is a greater rarity I'm sure, I can't help thinking how devilish tough the drumsticks will be--- a fine piece of work aunt will make when 'tis found out, ecod for ought I know, that may be better fun than t'other---no doubt Sukey will tell and John too about the mare, a parcel of sneaking fellows, always, tell, tell, tell, I only wish I cou'd catch 'em at school once--- that's all---I'd pay 'em well for't I'd be bound ---O here they are, and as I live my father and aunt---to be sure I'm not got into a pretty scrape now---I almost wish I was safe back at school again.
(puts down the kite, they come forward.)
O Sir, how d'ye do? I was just coming to---

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “I’m not got into a pretty scrape now”; “dinner must be near ready”; “Old Poll will taste well” (the parrot isn’t doing the tasting!)
b.3 Vocabulary: “ecod” (interjection)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: a vulgar, upper-class boy
e. Consistency of representation: Little Pickle’s internal musings are consistent, but are at odds with the dialect with which he pleads to his father and aunt.

Variety: Servants
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 10]
John. Yes, Sir, but 'twas no love and regard for I made him beat me so.


[page 18]
Margery. And so as I was telling your ladyship, poor little master does so take it to heart---and so weep and wail, it almost makes me cry to hear him.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “no love and regard for I” (vs. ‘me’); “and so weep and wail” (vs. ‘so weeps and wails that it almost makes me cry’)
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: servants
e. Consistency of representation: their grammar is consistently poor

Variety: Little Pickle as Tom (a sailor)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 20]

Little P. Be you the old fellow that's just come to be my father?

Pick. (aside.) Old fellow?---he's devilish dash'd to be sure---yes I am the old fellow as you call it---will you be a good child?

Little P. Aye, but what will you gi' me? ---must I be good for nothing?

Pick. O nothing at all, my dear, she's the best humour'd person in the world---go, throw yourself at her feet and ask her blessing ---perhaps she may "gi' ye something.” (mimics.)

b.1 Orthography: “what will you gi’ me” (sailor’s dialect)
b.2 Grammar: “be you”
b.3 Vocabulary: “old fellow” (disrespectful), “Aye” (sailor’s dialect?);
c. Nationality
d. Character profile: in the character of Tom, a sailor just returned from a voyage around the world, Little Pickle is disrespectful and speaks so poorly that his father mimics him
e. Consistency of representation: consistent for Little Pickle’s persona as Tom

Variety: Tagg’s poetical language
a. Sample of dialect
[page 31]

Tagg. O he's a Goth, a meer Vandyke, my love!---"but fear makes the danger seem [325]  double---say Hymen what mischief and trouble, say what men will, wedlock's a Pill ---bitter to swallow and hard of digestion"--- I've contrived the plot and every scene of the elopement---here in this shady blest retreat will I unfold it all---
(reaches chairs)
lets sit down like Jessica and the fair Lorenzo here---

                                         (they sit.)

"Wou'd you taste the moon tied hair ,
To yon flagrant bower repair,
Where mixing with the poplar bough,
The bantling fine shall shelter you.
Since music is the food of love
We'll to the nightingale's complacent notes
Tune our distresses and record our Woes."

b.1 Orthography: “meer”
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: elevated/poetic language (intertextuality?)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: “a fellow that strolls about the country spouting and acting in every barn he comes to” (page 5) according to Pickle, Tagg is Miss Pickle’s favourite poet.
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest

On women’s writing and education:

[page 4]
Miss P.
Now wou'd you rail at me for the disposition I was born with? can I help it if the Gods have made me poetical as the divine bard says.

Made you Poetical indeed, 'Sblood if you had been born in a street near a college, or even next door to a day school, I shou'dn't have been surprised; but damn it madam, what had you to do with poetry and stuff.

Miss P.
Provoking ignorance!

Hav'n't you rendered yourself the sneer of all your acquaintance by your refin'd and poetical intercourse with Mr Tagg the

[page 5 ]

author, a fellow that strolls about the country spouting and acting in every barn he comes to---and wasn't he found concealed in your closet to the utter scandal of my house and the ruin of your reputation?

Miss P.
If you had the smallest spark of taste you wou'd admire the effusions of Mr Tagg's pen, and be enchanted with his admirable acting as much as I am---but as to this story it may serve as another sample of my nephew's sweet disposition, to coin base falsehoods against his aunt's character.

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©2008 Arden Hegele