Collection No. 16: The English Merchant, 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: The English Merchant

First played: 1767
First published: 1767, for T. Becket and P. A. De Hondt ... and R. Baldwin [etc.] 69 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1767)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Nationality

Character types: Professional Female; French; Scottish

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Amelia finds her long-lost father, Sir William Douglas, despite the efforts of Lady Alton and Spatter to taint her reputation. Lord Falbridge manages to win Amelia's hand with the help of Freeport, the English Merchant.

Dedication to Voltaire.

Act I.
Spatter pressures Molly, a chambermaid, to give him an audience with Amelia, her mistress. Molly refuses to let him see her. Spatter says that he knows that they are destitute, and that their secret will be revealed within a fortnight unless Amelia is taken under Lord Falbridge’s protection. Mrs. Goodman, their landlady, enters; Spatter asks her for permission to visit Amelia, which she denies him, saying that he lives disreputably by scandal-mongering and that Amelia is virtuous and thinks ill of no one. Sir William Douglas arrives to take a room at Mrs. Goodman’s. Spatter tries to schmooze with him, but Sir William will have none of it. Spatter reveals that his job is to write phony newspaper articles. Sir William thrusts him out of the room when his friend Owen arrives. Owen announces that Lord Brumpton is dead, and that he has not heard anything of Sir William’s daughter Amelia. Owen reminds Sir William to introduce himself as Ford when in London. Sir William has not seen Amelia since her infancy twenty years ago; her guardian Mr. Andrews died a month ago, and she has not been heard from since. Sir William intends to protect her from age-appropriate dangers to her person. Amelia and Molly are impoverished; they intend to sell embroidery as a means of subsistence. Mrs. Goodman enters to entreat Amelia to come to dinner and meet the new gentleman. Amelia refuses, saying she is indisposed (really she cannot afford to eat). Mrs. Goodman says that Lady Alton, who is annoyed with Amelia for robbing her of Lord Falbridge’s affections, is coming to dinner. After Mrs. Goodman leaves, Amelia begs Molly to refrain from mentioning Lord Falbridge again; he had the audacity to make her a “dishonourable proposal” and she wishes to teach him to respect her distress.

Act II.
Lady Alton and Spatter converse. Spatter is indebted to Lady Alton for having found him employment with the newspaper; in return, he is obliged to spy on Amelia. However, Amelia is so closemouthed that Spatter has only managed to discover that she is Scottish and that her surname of Walton is probably assumed. Spatter suggests that she has been sent from Scotland by her father to take part in a treasonous plot. Pleased by this idea, Lady Alton sends Spatter out. Amelia enters, and Lady Alton tells her to stop diverting Lord Falbridge’s attentions from herself; on this condition, Lady Alton will provide her with a home in the country. Amelia refuses, saying that she will remain in London and preserve her virtue, and that she is not interested in accepting favours from one who considers her a rival. Lady Alton is insulted and leaves. Freeport, Mrs. Goodman’s friend, is newly arrived in London from Lisbon. He insists on meeting Amelia, contrary to Mrs. Goodman and Amelia’s wishes. Aware of Amelia’s poverty, Freeport gives her £200, ten per cent of his latest profits. Amelia refuses the note, to Freeport’s surprise; he gives it to Mrs. Goodman without Amelia’s knowledge so that she can supply Amelia’s wants.

Act III.
Sir William has heard of Amelia’s presence in the house, and wonders if she is his daughter. He finds Molly, mistaking her for Amelia, and asks her who her parents were. Molly corrects his error and conducts him to Amelia. The eavesdropping Spatter is intrigued by their conversation. Lord Falbridge’s valet de chamber, La France, brings a message for Amelia. Spatter gives La France five guineas to take the letter to Lady Alton instead of to Amelia. The letter contains Falbridge’s discovery that Amelia is the daughter of Sir William Douglas. Amelia and Sir William discover one another’s identities and are reconciled. Amelia urges her father to flee; he is a wanted man in England. Owen enters hastily to inform them that soldiers surround the house. The two men say that they will fight to the death. Molly comes in and says that the soldiers want to apprehend only Amelia. The officer enters to say that Amelia is under arrest for treason, but refuses to give any more details of her crime. Freeport says he will bail her out regardless of the sum involved, to everyone’s surprise. The officer leaves. Freeport has recognized Sir William, and urges him to fly; he and Mrs. Goodman will ensure that Amelia is safely out of prison. Sir William and Amelia praise Freeport’s generosity; he refuses all their compliments.

Act IV.
Spatter reports to Lady Alton, who is thrilled to receive the incriminating letter identifying Amelia as Sir William Douglas’ daughter. Freeport wonders if he is falling in love with Amelia. Owen enters to tell Freeport that Sir William could have been cleared of his charges were it not for Lord Brumpton’s untimely death. Freeport realizes he is a friend of the new Lord Brumpton, and will entreat him to plead on Sir William’s behalf at the House of Lords. Freeport and Mrs. Goodman evict Spatter. Falbridge arrives to find out Amelia’s whereabouts; he gives Spatter money for the unintentional good he has done (allowing Falbridge to show his true feelings for Amelia by delivering her from the unpleasant situation) and tells him that he never wishes to see him again. Molly is dubious about their meeting, as Amelia continues to be affronted by Falbridge’s past behaviour. However, Amelia agrees to meet with Falbridge. He apologizes for his dishonourable suggestion, but Amelia refuses to consent to marriage with him because he did not respect her virtue when he thought she was low-born, and because her father’s flight prevents the match. Lady Alton arrives and meets with Falbridge; she vows revenge for his abandonment. Falbridge realizes that she has the letter and goes to prevent Lady Alton from exposing Sir William Douglas and Amelia.

Act V.
Falbridge returns, having been unable to contact any person of influence who might have been able to help them. He urges Amelia and her father to leave in his carriage. Falbridge sees La France, and learns that he gave the letter to Spatter instead of to Amelia herself. When Spatter cannot produce the letter, Falbridge threatens to kill him. Spatter confesses his part in giving the letter to Lady Alton, who enters to say that Amelia and her father have been apprehended. Falbridge tells them not to despair, for he has been working to obtain a pardon on their behalves. Freeport enters and offers to bail them out again, but the officers reject his offer. Freeport produces a document signed by the new Lord Brumpton; Sir William has been fully pardoned. Lady Alton, Spatter and the officers leave. Although he has taken a liking to Amelia, Freeport renounces any romantic feelings upon hearing that Lord Falbridge is in love with her; the only act of thanks he will accept for his help and generosity is Amelia and Falbridge’s union. Amelia pardons Falbridge for his past conduct, as he has redeemed himself by his recent actions. The lovers are united, Sir William is freed, and Freeport wishes them joy.

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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 English Merchant, a five-act comedy based on Voltaire's L'Écossaise, was produced at Drury Lane in February 1767. More sentimental and moral than Colman's earlier plays, it enjoyed some success, largely because of the character of the plain-spoken, benevolent English merchant, Freeport, created by Richard Yates."

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.

"Lady Alton takes Spatter of The English Merchant (1767) to task for alleged ingratitude: "Did not I draw you out of the garret, where you daily spun out your flimsy brain to catch the town flies in your cobweb dissertations? Did not I introduce you to Lord Dapperwit, the Apollo of the age?" Virtually prophesying sentiments Garrick would express to its author later that year, this passage is suggestive of factors contributing to the decision that Colman's unambiguously sentimental (and consequently popular) mainpiece would be his last new play at Drury Lane for nine years."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Most characters speak Standard English; surprisingly, the Scottish characters (Sir William, Amelia and Molly) are not distinguished by an accent. One character is French (La France, Lord Falbridge’s valet). Lady Alton, who has ghostwritten Spatter’s play, uses many classical allusions.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Lady Alton
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 16]
L. Alt.
Words, words, Mr. Spatter! You have been witness of Lord Falbridge's inconstancy. A perfidious man! False as Phaon to Sappho, or Jason to Medea! You have seen him desert me for a wretched vagabond; you have seen me abandoned like Calypso, without making a single effort to recall my faithless Ulysses from the Siren that has lired him from me.

b.1 Orthography: “lired” (lured)
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: classical allusions (“Phaon to Sappho”; “Jason to Medea”; “Calypso”; “Ulysses”)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: secretly a playwright
g. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: La France (French valet)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 33]

La Fr.
Oh, que oui ! but dis be for de young laty dat lif here; for Mademoiselle: mi Lor lov her! ma foi ; he lov her à la folie .

And he loved Lady Alton à la folie , did not he?

La Fr.
Oh, que non ! he lov her so gentely ! si tranquilement ; ma foi , he lov her à la Françoise .--- But now he lov Mademoiselle; he no eat, no sleep, no speak, but Mademoiselle; no tink but of Mademoiselle; quite an oder ting, Monsieur Spatter, quite an oder ting!

b.1 Orthography: “dis” and “dat”; “laty”; “lif”; “lov”; “gentely”;
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: Franglais: “que oui!” ; “a la folie” ; “que non ! ” ;  “si tranquilement” etc.
c. Nationality: French
d. Character profile: valet
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest

Spatter, a journalist who does not know Latin, provokes this comment:

(Lady Alton) The writings of authors are publick advertisements of their qualifications; and when they profess to live upon scandal, it is as much as to say; that they are ready for every other dirty work, in which we chuse to employ them.

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©2008 Arden Hegele