Collection No. 21: The Spleen, 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 Spleen

First played: 1776
First published: 1776, for T. Becket [etc.] 46 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1776)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comedy / Farce

Character types: Educated Male; Scottish; Medical

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Laetitia dresses up as a doctor to cure D'Oyley, a hypochondriac; she marries Aspin, while Merton marries Eliza Rubrick.

Dedication to Dr. Schomberg.
Act I.
Merton waits outside St. Paul’s for Eliza. A servant enters to tell him that Merton’s cousin Laetitia has told him that Eliza is in town; her father has gone to Islington spa. Merton, a soldier, meets his old school-friend Jack Rubrick, who is studying mathematics at Cambridge.  Jack describes a horse-race using mathematical terms, and tells Merton that he is in town to celebrate his sister Eliza’s marriage to D’Oyley, an elderly draper. Merton protests that Eliza will never marry D’Oyley; although Jack concedes that there is no attraction for her in the match, he maintains that the marriage will take place within ten days nonetheless. Merton discloses that he and Eliza are already married. Jack is thrilled and vows to help Merton. Mrs. Rubrick and her sister Tabitha prepare bundles of food to take on holiday; they discuss the merits and failings of spas. A clerk brings in a bill for Mr. Rubrick, who cannot pay it because he is at Islington. Rubrick enters unexpectedly and orders his friend Aspin to pay the bill. MacHoof, a farrier, comes in to speak with Rubrick about a quack medicine that he has invented. Rubrick agrees to fund its production.

Act II.
Merton, Eliza and Jack meet. Merton’s cousin Laetitia will talk to Aspin. D’Oyley, a hypochondriac, examines his eyes and tongue, diagnosing himself with jaundice. Aspin enters and mocks him, saying that his ‘disease’ is a passing fancy and criticizing him for wanting to marry a twenty-year-old to nurse him. A servant announces Dr. Anodyne, and Aspin leaves. D’Oyley reads a medical book and tries to identify symptoms of various diseases. Rubrick enters and they try to arrange a date for Eliza’s wedding; Rubrick puts it off due to various appointments. Laetitia enters dressed as Dr. Anodyne; D’Oyley marvels at ‘his’ fancy clothes. She diagnoses D’Oyley as “hypochondriacal”. Laetitia recommends D’Oyley alter his diet to drink a lot of wine, eat raw meat, and avoid bread and milk. Aspin and the Rubricks enter: a rumour has gone round that this young doctor has slept the whole night in Eliza’s room more than once! Eliza, Merton and Jack arrive, and deny that Eliza has had any relations with the young doctor. The doctor refuses to marry Eliza for “reasons best known to [himself] and the young lady”.  Merton says that he will marry Eliza to save her reputation. Relieved, D’Oyley and Aspin will settle money on the young couple. Merton says that they have been married for three weeks already. Aspin reveals Laetitia’s true identity, and says that they arranged this meeting so that D’Oyley would be cured of his “spleen” (hypochondria) and of his matrimonial inclinations, and that the Rubricks would be satisfied with their son-in-law. D’Oyley says that the story should be turned into a farce called “A Cure for the Spleen”.

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Secondary commentary

A) 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.

"The Spleen; or, Islington Spa played only seven times, largely because of its late entry in the season. Its delightful dramatics personae--featuring a hypochondriac (D'Oyley), quack apothecaries (Rubrick and MacHoof), and a phony doctor (Laetitia, disguised as Dr. Anodyne, who tells the querulous D'Oyley he need not avoid the juices of red meats" "Without them, Sir, instead of beef or mutton, you might as well as eat mahogany")--combine with more media criticism (in the shape of a redundant journal called the Noon-Post,which "is the only time of day, you know, left open for an additional news-paper") and a feasible love plot to produce a very compact, full comic entertainment that seems mysteriously to have failed--not unlike some of the "spas" it satirizes."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Many medical terms are used, particularly by D’Oyley and Laetitia (dressed as Dr. Anodyne). Jack Rubrick, a mathematics student at Oxford, uses math and physics terms to describe everything, including a horse-race and his gambling debts (causing his friend Tom Merton to comment on his use of mathematical language).

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Jack Rubrick (mathematician)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 4]

JACK RUBRICK. So you have been studying the Tacticks at the Hercules Pillars, while I have been cudgelling the Mathematicks at Cambridge. How we diverge, like rays, from the same centre! We walk through life together indeed, but seem hitherto, like parallel lines, destined never to meet. But I am heartily glad of this encounter.

[page 5 ]

MERTON. And I as heartily.---But by your boots and your language, Jack, I should imagine you to be [75]  just fresh from the University.

JACK RUBRICK. You have hit it. I am so.---Not immediately though---for I flew off in a tangent the beginning of last week to Newmarket. It was the second Spring meeting; and I chose to take the Sun's altitude on the course every day, make a few observations (during the heats) upon matter and motion, with as many calculations, as a Lottery-Office-keeper, on the Doctrine of Chances.

[page 6: description of a horse-race]
I'll tell you then---It was a four-mile heat on the long course---a match between Pantheon, Jubilee, Duenna, and Gabrielli!---At first going off they kept pretty even together; Jubilee and Duenna, Pantheon and Gabrielli, cheek by jowl, and formed a kind of Parallelogram.---When they came to describe a circle on the Round Course, you might almost as soon have squared the circle, as have told which would be the winner. Then away they went, whip and spur, through the Devil's ditch, like the Devil himself!---Coming up Choakjade, Pantheon lagged behind. Gabrielli, though some thought her touched in the wind, got a-head of the other two; and she before, with Jubilee and Duenna abreast of each other, formed an equilateral triangle---A thousand pound to a china orange on Gabrielli! when all of a sudden, with a damned excentrick motion, she made an acute angle on the wrong side of the post---Jubilee started and stumbled--- [125]  but by the bye, I believe his rider played booty--- Duenna won the stakes, and the knowing ones were all taken in.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: math and physics: “diverge like rays from the same centre”; “parallel lines, destined never to meet”; “flew off in a tangent”; “Sun’s altitude”; “Parallelogram”;  “squared the circle”; “formed an equilateral triangle”; “made an acute angle”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: Cambridge math and physics student
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Mrs. Rubrick and her sister Tabitha
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 11]

Mrs. RUBRICK. It's impossible to keep in town all the summer, let the proverb go as it will, sister Tabby!---To be cooped up in the Row , amidst the smell of the printing-house, and Dolly's beef stakes, all the dog days!---No, give me fresh air, and Islington! ---All the world shut up their houses in London at this time of the year, and resort to the watering places.

Mrs. TABITHA. So much the worse, sister Rubrick! I have never resorted out of the sound of Bow bell these fifty years---nor ever desired it---winter or summer, all's one to Tabitha!---And as to the watering places, I'm told nobody goes there, that's fit to go any where else.---Cripples, and sharpers! phtisicky old gentlewomen, and frolicksome young ones! Married ladies that want children, unmarried ladies that want sweethearts, and gentlemen that want money! Newgate out of town, the London Hospital in the country, sister!

Mrs. RUBRICK. Never more mistaken in your life, sister Tabby! There may be a little scandal indeed; but

[page 12 ]

where there are agreeable men, and handsome women, that's always the case, you know.

Ay, ay, handsome is as handsome does, as the old proverb goes.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: proverbs “It’s impossible to keep in town all the summer, let the proverb go as it will!” and “handsome is as handsome does”; “phtisicky” (?)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profiles: spa-going middle-class Englishwomen
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: MacHoof (fake apothecary)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 18]

Gin I ken reet, you're Maister Rubrick, Sir!

I am, Sir.

[page 19 ]

May I crave the favour of a word wi' you?


[page 22]
Yas, we mun invastigate its axcellent faculties ---it may be caw'd the Univarsal Ramedy, the Grand Specefick, the Panacæa!---and you may add a sma nota bene , that it's an infallible cure for Corns.

b.1 Orthography: “Maister”; “wi’”; “mun”; “investigate”; “axcellent”; “caw’d”; “Univarsal”; “Ramedy”; “Specefick”; “sma” (small)
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “Gin I ken reet” (If I can read / If I know right?): “Panacaea” and “nota bene” (Latin)
c. Dialect area represented: Scotland
d. Character profile: a Scottish 'apothecary' (really a horse-physician at best)
e. Consistency of representation: very consistent

Variety: Medical terminology
a. Sample of dialect
D'OYLEY alone.

What coarse, boisterous spirits! Health is a fine thing, a very fine thing; but a man, who has never known what it is to be ill, commonly seems to have neither nerves nor affections. I long to see the Doctor---Let me sit and compose myself---What's here?
(opening a book)
"Advice to the People in general with regard to their health!" Ay, I'll read a little---This book always gives me some useful information---"Of consumptions."
"This disease generally begins with a dry cough, which often continues for some months." Hack, hack!
(half coughing)
Yes, I have a dry cough, and have had for some months.---"If a disposition
to sickness after eating be excited by it, there is still greater reason to fear an approaching consumption."---I was sick as a dog immediately after dinner yesterday--- "The patient is
apt to be sad."---Nobody

[page 31 ]

ever so apt to be sad, without any reason on [200]  earth, as I am.---"There is generally
a quick, soft, small pulse." Tick, tick, tick!
(feeling his pulse)
quick as lightning, very soft and small too! "though sometimes
the pulse is pretty full, and rather hard."---Tack, tack, tack!
(feeling again)
Full! it beats like a drum, ready to burst thro' my veins.---"These are
the common symptoms of a beginning consumption."---All which symptoms I feel.---Nothing but a proper regimen can keep me out of a consumption.---Let me see!
(turning over the leaves)
"Symptoms of a Dropsy ."
"The Anasarca generally begins with a swelling of the feet and ancles towards night, which, for some time, disappears in the morning." Ah!
(looking at his feet and legs)
I have not the least appearance of swelling this morning ---That may be a very dropsical symptom. "In the evening
the parts, if prest with the finger, will pit." I'll try that this evening. ---"The swelling
gradually ascends---

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: terminology from a medical book: consumption, dry cough, dropsy, anasarca, swelling, etc.
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: D’Oyley, a hypochondriac, is reading from a medical book
e. Consistency of representation: terminology consistent with his character

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest


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©2008 Arden Hegele