Collection No. 12: Polly Honeycombe, by George Colman the Elder

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

Publication details

Author: Colman, George (the Elder)
Author dates: 1732-1794
Title: Polly Honeycombe

First played: 1760
First published: 1760, for T. Becket ... and T. Davies [etc.] 44 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1761)

Available in Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library: B-10 09965
In The Dramatick Works of George Colman.

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy / Farce

Trend(s): Contemporary Satire; Gender; Popularity

Character types: Educated Female; Business / Trades; Legal; Servant

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Polly applies the romances of novel-reading to her betrothel to Ledger, a boring businessman; instead, she attempts to elope with Scribble, a lawyer's clerk.

Polly is reading a romance novel; she marvels at how her father fails to appreciate its literary quality. She asks her nurse whether she has heard from Polly’s lover Mr. Scribble. She has indeed: enchanted by Polly’s love letter, Mr. Scribble will send her a response later today. The nurse reminds Polly that her parents want her to marry the sober Mr. Ledger. Polly tells her that she intends to elope – the strategy has worked for all the romantic heroines about whom she has read! The Nurse is skeptical about this. Scribble’s letter arrives in a hat-box; Polly devours it eagerly. The Honeycombes flirt (as Polly has foreshadowed by mimicking them), and discuss their daughter’s imminent marriage. Ledger interrupts their displays of affection. He meets with Polly; she decides to flirt with him then reject him, a strategy she has gleaned from a novel. Ledger discusses his business profits then says that the only way to reconcile the figurative debt between Polly and him is to be married.  He presents this as a business proposition, but does not omit the fact that he loves her. Polly says that she reciprocates the enormity of his emotions, but says that these feelings are loathing and abhorrence, to his outrage. Honeycombe enters and furiously banishes Polly to her room. She remains undaunted, having expected this treatment from her novel-reading. Scribble arrives to elope with Polly, but sees her chased to her room by her father. He only just has enough time to hide in a closet. Polly begins to write to Scribble, asking him to deliver her. He says he will, surprising her and making her scream. She urges him to hide under the table. Her father comes in and seizes her letter, telling her with satisfaction to make love to the table. Scribble explains his plan to steal her away, but the plan is impossible to execute because Polly is locked up. The Nurse, who is aware of the proceedings, comes into the room, and agrees to escort the lovers out. Mrs. Honeycombe, who has been drugged by the Nurse, has woken up, and the Nurse cannot get the key to Polly’s chamber. A furious Honeycombe rushes in to say that Ledger and others are chasing after Polly and Scribble, who have made their escape. Ledger catches them and they all return to the Honeycombes’. Ledger recognizes Scribble as the Nurse’s nephew, a clerk to an attorney (and certainly not good enough for Polly). However, Polly is unshaken by this revelation, for he may turn out to be like Tom Jones! Scribble departs threatening Honeycombe with legal proceedings for any detainment. Ledger refuses to marry Polly, who would “make a terrible wife for a sober citizen.” He departs. Mrs. Honeycombe leaves to put things to rights. Honeycombe, left alone, laments at the results of exposing one’s daughter to the perils of a circulating library.

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Secondary commentary

A) Baldwin, Olive, and Thelma Wilson. ‘Colman, George, the elder (bap. 1732, d. 1794)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 May 2008.

"The piece, which makes fun of sentimental novels and their female readers, had a shaky first night but recovered to achieve fifteen performances during the season and frequent later revivals. It appeared anonymously and was generally attributed to Garrick himself until on 12 December, at a performance specially requested by the king, the actor–manager added lines to the prologue declaring it was by ‘a young Beginner’ not ‘a batter'd sinner’ (Danchin, 771)."

B) Sondergard, Sid. ‘George Colman, the Elder: April 15, 1732-August 14, 1794’. 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. 26 May 2008.

"[His] "Dramatick Novel in One Act," Polly Honeycombe, became the most popular afterpiece of the decade, playing regularly for the next six years and receiving sporadic revivals throughout the three decades following its Drury Lane opening, 5 December 1760. Polly, craving the excitement that is routinely experienced by the heroines of popular romance novels, rejects Ledger, the dull broker selected by her parents as a suitable husband. Her choice is the self-proclaimed writer Scribble, who satisfies her desire for intrigue by sending secret messages: "Will he squeeze it, as he did the last, into the chicken-house in the garden? Or will he write it in lemon-juice, and send it in a book, like blank paper? Or will he throw it into the house, inclosed in an orange?" The allusions to popular characters, novels, and novel devices are numerous, and topically merges with absurd excess to yield a typically implausible romance resolution: Scribble, revealed as a kinsman of the Honeycombe family's nurse, and not a gentleman, retains Polly's love since "Who knows but he may be a Foundling, and a gentleman's son, as well as Tom Jones?" He wins his beloved by default when Ledger decides "She'd make a terrible wife for a sober citizen," and Mr. Honeycombe rants, "a man might as well turn his Daughter loose in Covent-Garden, as trust the cultivation of her mind to A CIRCULATING LIBRARY." The afterpiece was presented anonymously--primarily in deference to Pulteney--until 12 December, when Garrick then inserted an entreaty into the Prologue for the audience to "Exert your favour to a young Beginner, / Nor use the Stripling like a Batter'd Sinner!""

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

The Honeycombe parents speak in baby talk to one another. Ledger and Scribble use words associated with their professions (business and law). The Nurse uses simple language.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: The Honeycombes’ love-talk
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 10]
Do you love your own dear wife?


Dearly.---She knows I do.---Don't you, my Beauty?

Ah, you're a dear, dear man!
[rising and kissing him.]
He does love her---and he's her own husband ---and she loves him most dearly and tenderly--- that she does.

[kissing him.]

My Beauty! I have a piece of news for you.

[Page 11 ]

What is it: my Sweeting!

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: Use of the third person pronoun for both first and second person (baby talk)
b.3 Vocabulary: “My Beauty!”; “my Sweeting!”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: middle-class, middle-aged couple
e. Consistency of representation: consistent for Mrs. Honeycombe; Honeycombe swears (“Zouns!”) and says “Hark ye” menacingly to every character as things fall apart

Variety: Ledger’s business jargon
a. Sample of dialect:
Ay, a dozen clerks. Business must be done, Miss!---We have large returns, and the ballance must be kept on the right side, you know.---In regard to last year now---Our returns from the first of January to the last of December, fifty-nine, were to the amount of sixty thousand pounds, sterling. We clear upon an average, at the rate of [325]  twelve per cent . Cast up the twelves in sixty thousand, and you may make a pretty good guess at our net profits.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “returns”, “balance”, “the right side” (showing a profit); “sixty thousand pounds, sterling”; “average” “twelve per cent”; “net profits”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: boring businessman
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: The Nurse
a. Sample of dialect:
Ah, Chicken, I've taken care of your Mama--- But I must not stay long---Mr. Honeycombe brought her the key in a parlous fury, with orders to let nobody go near you, except himself.--- But I---I can't chuse but laugh---I prevailed on Madam to take a glass extraordinary of her Cordial, and have left her fast asleep in her own chamber.

b.1 Orthography: “parlous” (perilous)
b.2 Grammar: “I can’t chuse but laugh”
b.3 Vocabulary: “Chicken” (appellation for Polly used consistently) “a glass extraordinary” (?)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: simple, uneducated (Polly mocks her expressions)
e. Consistency of representation: very consistent

Variety: Law jargon
a. Sample of dialect
[page 42]
Yes, sir, and I know that I've done nothing contrary to the twenty-sixth of the King---Above a month ago, sir, I took lodgings in Miss Polly's name and mine, in the parish of St. George's in the Fields---The bans have been asked three times, and I could have married Miss. Polly today ---So much for! that.---And so, sir, your servant.---If you offer to detain me, I shall bring my action on the case for false imprisonment, sue out a bill of Middlesex, and upon a Non est inventus , if you abscond, a Latitat , then an Alias , a Pluries, a Non omittas , and so on---Or perhaps I may indict

[page 43 ]

you at the sessions, bring the affair by Certiorari into Bancum Regis, et cætera, et cætera, et cætera ---And now---Stop me at your peril.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: Latin terms: “Non est inventus”; “Latitat”; “Alias”; “Pluries”; “Non omittas”; “Certiorari”; “Bancum Regis”; “et caetera”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: Scribble has just been revealed to be a law clerk; like his boring alter ego Ledger, he infuses his speech with his professional language
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent (only after his real identity has been revealed)

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest

The practical uses of women’s education (reminiscent of Frances Sheridan’s father):

Lord, Nursee, if it was not for Novels and Love-letters, a girl would have no use for her writing and reading.---But what's here?
Poetry!--- "Well may I cry out with Alonzo in the Revenge---
"--- Where didst thou steal those eyes? From heaven?
" Thou didst, and 'tis religion to adore them !" Excellent! oh! he's a dear man!

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©2008 Arden Hegele