Collection No. 42: False Impressions, by Richard Cumberland

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

Publication details

Author: Cumberland, Richard
Author dates: 1732-1811
Title: False Impressions

First played: 1797
First published: 1797, for C. Dilly [etc.] 74 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1797)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy

Character types: Medical; Legal; Servant; Country

[Return to Top]


Lady Cypress has rejected her nephew Algernon, who proves his merit over the course of the play with the help of many lower-class characters. After Emily's proposed fiancé Lionel Montrath is identified as having attempted to assault her, Algernon succeeds in winning her hand. Lady Cypress endows them with her fortune after she renounces her advisor Lawyer Earling, who is responsible for having defamed Algernon's character.

Act I.
Scud, an apothecary, asks his servant Jack if his wife Jenny had any visitors that evening; Jack reveals that Squire Algernon called, to Scud’s dismay. Peter, his apprentice, asks if there is to be any change to Lady Cypress’ medicines. Scud tells him to make no change; even though rosewater will never cure asthma, it will not do it any harm. Jenny enters; Squire Algernon wants a share in the profits of his aunt (Lady Cypress). He has also bought the Scuds half a buck. Scud refuses the venison. Lawyer Earling has arranged for Scud to repay Algernon for saving his life, but Scud wants nothing further to do with Algernon. This gentleman arrives and asks Scud to arrange for him to meet Emily Fitzallen, Lady Cypress’ ward, who never emerges from the castle.  Simon Single arrives; Jenny thinks she can persuade him to give her a key to the castle. Simon tells them that Emily is supposed to marry Montrath, who is to arrive soon with his uncle Sir Oliver. Because the castle is in a bustle in preparation for their arrival, Lady Cypress is in need of new servants. After Simon leaves, Jenny tells Algernon that Emily is to have Lady Cypress’ whole fortune. Jenny instructs Algernon to be hired as a valet for the house; initially he thinks he will be unable to do it, but she persuades him that it can be managed. Algernon fears Earling, who has defamed him. Lady Cypress and Lawyer Earling confer; Lady Cypress has bequeathed Earling a large sum.  Lady Cypress warns Lawyer Earling that she will persecute him if she discovers that he has wrongfully defamed her nephew. Emily enters and completely ignores Earling, who exits quickly. Lady Cypress tells Emily that she has left her entire fortune to her. Emily warns her guardian that Algernon may not really be the reprobate he is rumoured to be. Emily tells a story: she was once assaulted and Algernon saved her; she does not know who the assailant was.

Act II.
Simon does not give a job to Isaac Gawdry, a country bumpkin. Scud brings Algernon (dressed as a Henry Scudamore, a servant) to be employed by Simon. Simon is impressed by his manner and hires him. Dorothy Buckram, the mistress of the lower house, also takes to Henry. Lady Cypress has told Emily’s story to Earling, who says that it was a setup and that the supposed assailant was likely in Algernon’s pay. Earling recommends that Emily be denied the fortune, as she is too vulnerable, and hints at marriage with the widowed Lady Cypress. Lady Cypress interviews Henry Scudamore, and is impressed by him. He confesses that he is a gentleman; Lady Cypress says that he must not wait upon her, but that he should relate his troubles to Lawyer Earling and Sir Oliver Montrath. Henry is permitted to stay the night in the castle. Emily tells her servant Rachel not to address her so formally. They discuss Algernon: Emily is in love with him and is furious at Lawyer Earling for defaming his character so that he can have more control on the doings of the castle. Algernon comes in (as Henry) and tells Emily that he will serve her. She vows to try to help him.

Act III.
Sir Oliver Montrath arrives; his nephew Lionel is indisposed. Sir Oliver is anxious to see Emily, as he knew her now-deceased parents. Emily calls herself his daughter after hearing that he was with her father at his death in battle. Sir Oliver reveals that Algernon wounded Lionel in a duel. Algernon (as Henry) enters and asks to speak to Sir Oliver alone; the latter grants him permission to do so later. Lawyer Earling meets Algernon, who calls him a knave. Scud enters, and Lawyer Earling is angry at him for introducing Algernon (Henry) into the household. Scud is devastated, as he thinks he has lost his customer. Scud and Dorothy say that Earling’s treatment of Algernon is indicative of what the lawyer can do to a character. Emily, Earling, Sir Oliver and Lady Cypress confer; Earling tries to force Emily to speak against Algernon, but she does not do so. Emily angrily tells him to put the questions to Algernon himself. Algernon offers to procure the full story of the duel for Sir Oliver.

Act IV.
Lady Cypress tells Emily that she intends to leave her fortune to Lionel Montrath if he recovers from his wound; if Emily does not consent to marry him, she will cast her off entirely. When Emily continues to defend Algernon, Lady Cypress disowns her. Algernon consoles her and says that she can remain with him. Emily urges him to defend his own character against the charges of conspiring with the assailant and attempting to assassinate Montrath. A drunken Scud comes in and tells Algernon that he is jealous of him. Algernon reassures him that his wife does indeed love him. Rachel tells Lady Cypress that she refuses to work for any woman but Emily; Lady Cypress tells her to leave. Mrs. Buckram enters and asks to be discharged. Earling enters and tells Lady Cypress that the fault lies with Henry Scudamore; Lady Cypress orders him to dismiss Scudamore. Still drunk, Scud visits Lady Cypress to tell her that he defamed Algernon’s character without any truth behind the slander. Simon Single tells Lady Cypress that Lawyer Earling is acting against her interests. Lady Cypress summons Scudamore. Earling asks Frank, a servant, to turn Scudamore out, but Frank refuses to do so. Algernon (as Scudamore) enters; Earling tells him to wait on Lady Cypress, but Algernon refuses to heed him until a proper messenger is sent. Simon enters and insults Earling. Sir Oliver arrives and tells Earling that his profession should make him above being piqued by such commentary. Sir Oliver asks Scudamore about the fight with Algernon; Algernon reveals himself and produces an account signed by Lionel.

Act V.
The Scuds regret their lost patient (Lady Cypress) but are cheered by the knowledge that the townspeople are behind them because they support Algernon. Scudamore (Algernon) enters and tells the Scuds, Single and Mrs. Buckram that he intends to plead Algernon’s case. Emily enters; Algernon tells her that he must reveal himself for his confrontation with Lady Cypress. They pledge their love to one another. Algernon refuses to relate the story of his fight with Montrath. A saddened Sir Oliver enters; he tells Emily that she should marry Algernon. Earling goes on his knees to Lady Cypress and pledges his “unbounded love”. They are interrupted by servants. Lady Cypress encourages Earling to go on. Simon insults him; Lady Cypress orders him to apologize, but Simon refuses to do so. Sir Oliver and Emily announce Algernon. Lady Cypress does not recognize him. Algernon explains that his character has been defamed. Sir Oliver admits that Lionel Montrath tried to assault Emily. Earling leaves, his misconduct exposed. Lady Cypress atones for her disbelief by adopting them both and permitting them to be married. Sir Oliver gives Emily pearls. Lady Cypress tells Scud he can be the apothecary for the entire castle.

[Return to Top]

Secondary commentary

A) Keenan, Joseph J.,Jr., ‘Richard Cumberland: February 19, 1732-May 7, 1811’. 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.
"More successful was False Impressions (1797), wherein Cumberland attempted his sometimes successful blending of the melodramatic and the comic. Beginning the play with the very comic Scud, an apothecary more interested in the shilling than the curing of patients. Cumberland established a lighthearted tone that counterbalanced the melodramatic villainy of Lawyer Early, who seeks to have or ruin the beautiful Emily Fitzallen, even to the point of attempting rape. The two plots do not fit well together, but their juxtaposing shows Cumberland's desire to find a formula to win back the audience."

[Return to Top]

Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Scud, an apothecary, speaks in sentence fragments; his servant Jack uses only duo-syllabic responses (e.g. “Don’t know”, “Can’t tell”). Algernon makes one grammatical error. Simon, a servant, addresses country folk as “thee” and varies his syntactical constructions. Isaac and his father Gawdry, country folk, speak in a rustic dialect. Lawyer Earling uses one Latin term.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Jack (servant)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 1]
Jack. Don't know.

Scud. How does she do?

Jack. Can't tell.

Scud. Is she at home?

Jack. An't sure.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “An’t sure”
b.3 Vocabulary: duo-syllabic responses
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: servant to Scud (apothecary)
e. Consistency of representation: consistent for the scene

Variety: Scud (apothecary)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 3]
Scud. None at all, none; draughts sicut ante .

Peter. They do no good.

Scud. They do no harm.

Peter. They are a mere chip in porridge---Conserve of roses will never cure an asthma.

Scud. I know it; what then? A patient cur'd is a customer lost. In one word therefore, repetatur haustus .

[page 3]
Miserable man that I am; my Jenny tête-a-tête with Harry Algernon!---a rake, a rogue, a rantipole. Hah! here she comes---
Enter Mrs. Scud .

Light of my eyes, joy of my heart, fair as a lily, come to my arms! Out all night---sigh'd for my darling---counted the minutes---terrible long absence ---how did you bear it?---Doubt you've been lonesome---

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: sentence fragments: “Out all night…counted the minutes – terrible long absence” etc.
b.3 Vocabulary: Latin terms: “sicut ante”; “repetatur haustus”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: a greedy but good-hearted apothecary
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Squire Algernon
a. Sample of dialect
[page 5]
Therefore it is I want to go into it.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “Therefore it is I want to go into it” (?)
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: defamed nephew of Lady Cypress
e. Consistency of representation: this is his only deviation from StE

Variety: Lawyer Earling
a. Sample of dialect
[page 12]
O jus et æquum! as if he had not faults enough of his own to warrant your exclusion of him.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: Latin: “jus et aequum”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: an evil lawyer
e. Consistency of representation: only one Latin term

Variety: Simon Single
a. Sample of dialect
[page 16]
Master Gawdry, Master Gawdry, have I not said the word, and will not the word that I have said serve and suffice to put thee out of doubt, that Isaac thy son, thy son Isaac, will not do?

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “thee” ; “Isaac thy son, thy son Isaac”; “have I not said the word…the word that I have said”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: servant at the castle
e. Consistency of representation: this instance only (uses StE when talking to upper-class characters)

Variety: Isaac and Gawdry
a. Sample of dialect
[page 16]
A'looks so grave, a'daunts me.

What shou'd daunt thee, boy? Don't hang thy head, but up, and tell him boldly what can'st do.

[page 17 ]

I wull, father, I wull.---I can sing psalms, shoot flying, worm the puppies, cut capons, climb the rookeries, and make gins for polecats.

b.1 Orthography: “A’looks”; “a’daunts” (he looks, he daunts); “wull” (will)
b.2 Grammar: “thee”; “can’st” (you can); “shoot flying” (?)
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English (country)
d. Character profiles: country bumpkins
e. Consistency of representation: consistent (this scene only)

[Return to Top]

Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

Language use in a master / servant relationship:


Madam! what are your commands?

Don't answer me in that stile. I have so long been a dependant, and liv'd in such familiarity with you, my good Rachel, in particular, that, tho' you are my servant, I don't wish you to use a language to me so submissive.

Whatever language you wou'd have me use, so it will but convey the same respect, I will endeavour to conform to it.

[Return to Top]

Other points of interest


[Return to Top]

©2008 Arden Hegele