Collection No. 74: The Upholsterer, by Arthur Murphy

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

Publication details

Author: Murphy, Arthur
Author dates: 1727-1805
Title: The Upholsterer

First played: 1758
First published: 1758, Glasgow, 48 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1764)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy / Farce

Trend(s): Dialect; Contemporary Satire

Character types: Malaprop; Legal

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Quidnunc, the upholsterer, is so concerned with political developments that he neglects his own bankruptcy. His son Rovewell has just returned from Jamaica with a fortune, which he bestows on his father at the end of the play. Harriet Quidnunc agrees to marry Bellamour, Rovewell's friend.

Act I.
Bellmour beats Brisk for insulting Harriet, the woman with whom he has fallen in love. Rovewell enters, and Brisk explains that Bellmour loves the mistress of the servant girl whom Brisk loves. Rovewell asks about the girl’s fortune; she is poor but her uncle intends to settle his fortune on her, on the grounds of which she gives herself “innumerable airs.” Rovewell has just arrived from Jamaica, where his rich wife died. Bellmour recalls how he was taken by his father from the university against his will and sent to the West Indies. Rovewell says that he will tell him about his own history later. Bellmour fell in love with Harriet after having rescued her from a fire; her father refuses to acknowledge his suit as he wants her to marry a politician. Rovewell urges him to elope with her. Bellmour sends Brisk with a letter to Harriet. Harriet talks about her budding romance with her maid Termagant, who encourages her to accept Bellmour’s suit. Harriet is reluctant to do so as she is concerned that Bellmour is taking advantage of her father’s financial distresses. Harriet’s ailing uncle Feeble arrives with news of her father: he is comparing Charles of Lorraine’s path over the Rhine to Julius Caesar’s, entirely neglecting his financial responsibilities. Quidnunc, the upholsterer and Harriet’s father, calculates their expenses; Termagant interrupts him to tell him that Counsellor Codicil will arrive presently. His friend Razor, a barber, arrives, having just left a customer half shaven to discuss the fate of England with Quidnunc. Termagant tries to convince Quidnunc to accept Bellmour as Harriet’s suitor, but he will have none of it. Codicil arrives and tells Quidnunc that he is bankrupt; initially, Quidnunc is preoccupied with the state of war in Europe, but Codicil reassures him with legal information. The newspaper arrives; Termagant pays for it because Quidnunc is bankrupt, but refuses to give it to him until he pays her. He reads the paper eagerly.

Act II.
Mr. Pamphlet arrives to see his friend Quidnunc. He has just been at the Court of Requests. They discuss politics in Europe. Pamphlet tries to get Quidnunc to burn a note, but Quidnunc refuses. They disagree on a political problem, and Pamphlet accuses Quidnunc of conspiring to burn the note. They part bitterly. Termagant enters and encourages Quidnunc to go to bed; instead, he goes to see Mr. Feeble. Termagant reads the paper. Bellmour, Rovewell and Brisk drunkenly approach Quidnunc’s house. Quidnunc passes with a lantern on his way to Feeble’s. He speaks with a watchman, who refuses to discuss politics; Quidnunc decides that he is now in the government’s pay. He wakes Feeble to tell him the news, to the other man’s distress. Bellmour pays a call on Harriet, who locks herself in her room. Bellmour realizes that the illiterate Brisk has given him the love-letter from Termagant to himself, rather than the letter from Bellmour to Harriet. Having identified the right billet-doux, Bellmour reads it aloud. He proposes marriage to her. They are interrupted by Quidnunc, whom Bellmour distracts by reporting a false piece of news. The drunken Rovewell enters. He recognizes Quidnunc as his father and Harriet as his younger sister, whom he left as an infant. Rovewell’s fortune will save the family from bankruptcy. Quidnunc consents to Harriet and Bellmour’s marriage. Rovewell cautions the audience to refrain from becoming “volunteers in politics” for fear that they neglect their more important duties.

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Secondary commentary

A) Bode, Robert F. ‘Arthur Murphy: December 27, 1727-June 18, 1805.’ 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. 29 May 2008.

"His next play to the produced was another two-act farce in the manner of The Apprentice entitled The Upholsterer. The exceptionally fine cast that Garrick chose for the first performance at Drury Lane on 30 March 1758 is an indication that the often stormy relationship between himself and Murphy was in a period of calm. The play satirizes, primarily in Quidnunc the upholsterer and to a lesser extent in the barber Razor, newsmongers whose excessive interest in ill-founded political rumors and other similarly unreliable sources of information leads them to neglect their own true interests. The satire is set against the background of a love affair between Bellmour and Quidnunc's daughter Harriet and Quidnunc's discovery of his long-lost and now independent wealthy son Rovewell; the play concludes with the promise of the lovers' marriage and the rescue of Quidnunc from bankruptcy by his son. In addition to drawing much of the play from life, Murphy is indebted to many literary sources. The main idea for the satire on newsmongers, as Murphy acknowledges in his prologue, came from Joseph Addison and Richard Steele's Tatler; numerous other sources can be identified as well. However, his use of those sources here is characteristic of the pattern he followed in the majority of his subsequent plays: while individual elements can be traced to definite sources, Murphy has so metamorphosed them as he combined them into his own play that they might more legitimately be described as new with him. The character Termagant, Harriet's maid, is an example of the pattern: Murphy borrowed Termagant's misuse and mispronunciation of words from Slipslop's practice in Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews, although the two characters are not greatly similar in other ways, and Sheridan seems to have subsequently borrowed Termagant's speech pattern for his Mrs. Malaprop, who is also otherwise somewhat different from Murphy's character."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Termagant, Harriet’s servant, is a Mrs. Malaprop-like character whose wide vocabulary is consistently misapplied. Codicil, a lawyer, uses legal and Latinate terms.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Termagant
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 15]

Well , but ma'am, he has made love to you six weeks successfully ; he has been as constant in his 'Moors poor gentleman, as if you had the subversion of a 'State to settle upon him---and if he slips thro' your fingers, now ma'am, you have nobody to depute it to but yourself.

Lard Termagant , how you run on!---I tell you again and again my pride was touched, because he seem'd to presume on his opulence, and my father's distresses.

La, Miss Harriet , how can you be so paradropsical in your 'pinions ?

By my troth you're in the right on't;---there's ne'er a she in all old England , (as your father calls it) is mistress of such phisiolagy , as I am. Incertain I am, as how you does not know nobody that puts their words together with such a curacy as myself. I once lived with a Mistus , ma'am,--- Mistus ,---She was a lady---a

[page 16 ]

great brewer's wife!---and she wore as fine cloaths, as any person of quality, let her get up as early as she will ---and she used to call me--- Termagant , says she,--- What's the sigrification of such a word---and I always told her---I told her the importation of all my words, though I could not help laughing, Miss Harriet , to see so fine a lady such a downright ignoranimus .
b.1 Orthography: “’Moors” (amours); “’State” (estate); “’pinions” (opinions)
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: malapropisms: “successfully” (successively?), “subversion”, “depute” (dispute?),“paradropsical” (philosophical?), “phisiolagy” (vocabulary); “curacy” (accuracy); “Mistus”; “sigrification” (signification); “importation” (meaning); “ignoranimus” (ignoramus)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: a maidservant; this character is based on Fielding’s Mrs. Slipslop, and precedes Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Codicil (lawyer)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 23]

I am instructed, Sir, that you're a bankrupt--- Quasi bancus ruptus---banque route faire ---and my instructions say further, that you are summoned to appear before the commissioners to-morrow---

That may be, Sir, but I can't go to-morrow, and so I shall send 'em word---I am to be to-morrow at Scaughter 's coffee-house with a private committee about business of great consequence to the affairs of Europe ---

Then, Sir, if you don't go, I must instruct you, that you'll be guilty of a felony: it will be deem'd to be done malo animo ---it is held so in the books--- and what says the statute? By the 5th George 2d, Cap. 30. Not surrendering or imbezzling is felony without benefit of clergy.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: Foreign terms: “quasi bancus ruptus’ (Latin?); “banque route faire” (French) ; “malo animo” (Latin); Legal terms: “guilty of a felony”; “statue”; “5th George 2d. Cap. 30”; “imbezzling”; “without benefit of clergy” (?)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: a lawyer
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

Brisk is illiterate:
Upon my soul, Sir, I meant no harm---Sir,--- here it is, Sir,---take this Sir,---master,
(in a low voice)
you know I can't read?---Pray Sir, don't expose me.

And must I be made unhappy, rascal, because you can't read?---

Not able to read!---the fine Mr. Brisk not able to read---ha, ha, ha,---well, for my part, I despises a man that is not a schollard and illiterate .

Pox take it, it must come out---why, Sir, that's my misfortune---I cou'd not read, Sir, and I put one in this pocket, and one in this, and then, Sir, I did not know which was which---but you're very welcome, Sir, if you like that better---

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Other points of interest


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©2008 Arden Hegele