Collection No.4: Love in the City, by Isaac Bickerstaff

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

Publication details

Author: Bickerstaff, Isaac
Author dates: 1733-1808(?)
Title: Love in the City

First played: 1767
First published: 1767, for W. Griffin. 69p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1767)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comic Opera

Trend(s): Contemporary Satire; Dialect; Gender; Popularity

Character Types: Educated Female; Business/Trades; West Indian; Nautical; Cockney

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Priscilla, a West Indian heiress, marries a captain, while her cousin Penelope marries a mercer; the marriages can only take place because the suitors disguise themselves as men of different ranks.

Dedication to the Duchess of Northumberland.
Preface concludes with: “If any one should be maliciously inclined to apply the hackney'd quotation of the Mountain's in labour, and brings forth a Mouse; let it be remembered, that I do not want to pass my Mouse for a Lion; I give it for what it is, a little squeaking thing, that has been produced with greater pains than it seems to require; certainly with more than it deserves.”

Act I.
Young Cockney asks his sister Penny and her friend Priscilla Tomboy, whose guardian is the Cockneys’ Uncle Barnacle, to wind their skeins of wool outside of his shop to make room for the customers. Young Cockney teases Priscilla, recently arrived from abroad, about going to boarding school. Priscilla and Penny talk about love: Uncle Barnacle wants to marry Priscilla to Young Cockney, but Priscilla has set her sights on a gentleman rather than on a tradesman. She has secretly become engaged to a young captain whom she saw in a milliner’s shop, who is coming to ask for her hand today. Priscilla is further disinterested in Young Cockney because of his love for Miss La Blond, the milliner. Penelope meets with Spruce, her lover; he is a young mercer who has just been set up in business. They would like to marry, but Penelope’s parents would like her to marry a lord. Spruce has visited Penelope’s cousin Molly disguised as a viscount. Wagg, a go-between, is arranging his lord’s marriage to Penelope with Old Cockney: the lord is so short on cash that he is willing to marry beneath himself. Miss Molly Cockney arrives in a sedan chair: she has married well and has £6000. The lord is to arrive this evening to visit with Penelope.  Old Uncle Barnacle arrives, and criticizes Young Cockney for his foppish dress and hairstyle. Penelope meets Miss La Blond, who has been ignored by her suitor Young Cockney for the last six weeks because of the distraction of Priscilla’s West Indian fortune. Slightly, the gentleman captain who is Priscilla’s secret fiancé, asks for her hand from Barnacle, who refuses him. Barnacle locks Priscilla up, and says he will take a wife.

Act II.
Priscilla is to be sent back to the West Indies immediately; Barnacle has gone to look for the captain of a ship. Priscilla has persuaded Young Cockney that her relationship with the Captain was all a sham. Young Cockney agrees to elope with her to Scotland that night; Captain Slightly will intercept the carriage and take her by force. Miss La Blond agrees to take the message to the Captain. Miss Molly and Young Cockney meet Miss La Blond, and criticize her for pursuing Young Cockney, whose promise to marry her is revoked because he swore to marry her over a Lady’s Home Journal instead of the Bible. Young Cockney expresses doubts in Priscilla’s intentions, but is nonetheless resolved to marry her. Spruce (disguised as a lord) and Penelope flirt. Miss Molly enters with Wagg and Old Cockney, who try to impress the supposed lord. Wagg is asked to sing by the company, which he eventually obliges despite protests of having a cold. Barnacle enters and insults the lord; Spruce leaves, and Miss Molly is shocked at her kinsman’s behaviour. Captain Slightly and Wagg, disguised as a sailor and an officer, plan to rescue Priscilla. Miss La Blond meets Slightly and tells him that Priscilla will forego her fortune if she marries without Barnacle’s consent; however, she has a plan in which they can dupe Barnacle and obtain his consent. Young Cockney and Priscilla leave to elope, when they are interrupted by Slightly and Watt, both disguised, who say that Priscilla is in fact Slightly’s wife Judy. Priscilla chooses to go with them; Young Cockney realizes that this is a plot.

Act III.
Barnacle, Old Cockney, Young Cockney and Penelope meet the next morning. Priscilla is to apologize for what she has done. She comes downstairs and explains what has passed: for all intents and purposes, her virtue is ruined. Penelope confides that her lover is a mercer, not a lord, to Barnacle, who approves the match and instructs her to be frugal. Wagg proposes to Miss Molly, who seems to accept. She gives him a pinch of snuff, and he sneezes loudly. Miss La Blond enters: she has gone mad with love, and the doctors say that Young Cockney must marry her to save her. Spruce (still a lord in front of Old Cockney) prepares to marry Penelope, which he does offstage. Priscilla and Young Cockney mock one another; the latter refuses to marry Miss La Blond. In a final conference, Barnacle disinherits Priscilla and gives Slightly the money, allowing the two to marry; he reveals that Spruce is a mercer, not a lord. Miss La Blond has not truly gone mad, but has pretended to in a desperate move to entice Young Cockney. Barnacle offers to marry her, and she accepts him. They conclude by singing together about how their true stations in life have been revealed.

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Secondary commentary

A) Gänzl, Kurt. ‘Bickerstaff, Isaac John (b. 1733, d. after 1808)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biograhpy. 23 May 2008.

"Love in the City (1767), was a more ambitious work. This time he traded the simple maid, the honest tar, the grasping squire, the lordly gent, and their like for a set of much spikier and more individual characters in a lively tale which was illustrated with thirty-two musical numbers. The Covent Garden audiences, however, preferred the simplicities of his earlier pieces, and Love in the City was a failure. It did not, however, go under completely, for several years later Bickerstaff revised and shortened it, centring the rewrite on the show's most popular personality, the West Indian Priscilla Tomboy, who became the title-character of the musical play now called The Romp. In its new, star-vehicle form—played most notably by Mrs Jordan—the piece ultimately became as big an international success as its fellows."

B) Rudolph, Valerie C.‘Isaac John Bickerstaff: September 26, 1733-1808’. 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. 23 May 2008.

"[In] his next comic opera, Love in the City, (21 February 1767), he badly misjudged the sentiments of one important segment of his audience--the middle-class merchants. They did not appreciate Bickerstaff's satire, and the piece failed despite a lively plot and charming music.
Priscilla Tomboy is the opera's most memorable character. She is very much her own woman, speaks her own mind, and chooses her own marriage partner, Captain Sightly. However, there is a major negative aspect to her character. Priscilla, raised in Jamaica, comes to London with her black woman slave, Quashaba, whom she treats abominably. She talks of flaying Quashaba, observing that she would probably not feel it because she is subhuman. (Bickerstaff comments more sympathetically on the plight of blacks in The Padlock.)
The family of the Cockneys, who are grocers, are satirized for their upstart ambitions. Their desire to marry Penelope, the daughter, to a lord allows Penelope to present her lover, a young mercer, in that guise and secure the marriage. Even Penelope's uncle, the wealthy merchant Barnacle, marries Miss La Blond, the hatter jilted by the social-climbing Young Cockney, in order to keep the Cockneys from inheriting his money. Thus, as in most of Bickerstaff's previous works, love triumphs, but not without trickery.
In his preface Bickerstaff acknowledges the "absurdity" of "Musical Drama," but he also asserts that the mind easily "accommodate[s]" itself to the necessities of theatrical illusion with pleasurable results. Although the audience may have accommodated itself to the illusion, it did not accommodate itself to the underlying reality it depicted, and the only way this opera could keep the stage was in a shortened form as The Romp (1774)."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Priscilla Tomboy, the West Indian heiress, has a few instances of non-StE (e.g. a false comparative: "more friendlier"). Old Cockney, a tradesman who is attempting to cross classes, makes mistakes with his literary references (“Virgil’s Ovid”) and with his grammar ("the coal business, from whom"). Captain Slightly and Wagg adopt a dialect as part of their disguise.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Priscilla Tomboy (West Indian)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 6]

Why then I will run away with him---I don't think, if he was to stand with his arms open to receive me, but what I could leap out of the two pair of stairs window, without being hurt the least bit--- Besides---I would not marry your brother on another account---There is poor Miss La Blond, the Milliner over the way; he has been courting her a matter of a twelve month, and, tho' she's come of French distraction, there is not a more friendlier girl this day in all England.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “not a more friendlier girl”
b.3 Vocabulary: “the French distraction” (extraction)
c. Nationality: West Indian
d. Character profile: West Indian heiress newly arrived in London
e. Consistency of representation: only a few discrepancies from StE

Variety: Old Cockney (tradesman on the rise)
a. Sample of dialect:
O Cock.
You are pleased to say so, Sir---Go, child, go in to your business---That is one of the most supprizingest lads, Colonel, you was ever acquainted with---   He has a Genus for every thing---I sent him to St. Paul's---School, where he read Virgil's Ovid, Propria Quæ Maribus---Syntax, and all the grand authors--- but I was obliged to take him from his learning on account of an uncle---an odd man---a brother of my late wife's---He formerly kept this shop, but is now gone into the coal business, from whom there are considerable expectations---Not that I want, for I have enough and enough---but the boy's interest---

b.1 Orthography: “Genus” (genius)
b.2 Grammar: “you was”; “the coal business, from whom” (vs. “from which”)
b.3 Vocabulary: “supprizingest”; “all the grand authors”; “Virgil’s Ovid”
c. Nationality: English (Cockney)
d. Character profile: tradesman attempting to become gentility
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Captain Slightly and Wagg, disguised as a sailor and an officer
a. Sample of dialect
Arrah, hip, Jack---Tunderanowns, why don't you come here?---Is not that your Judy tripping along with yonder lathy shank in the big coat?

Judy! Judy!

Musha Juda, my sowl is it you?

Y. Cock.
What do you mean fellow?

Arrah what does yourself mean, you tief of the world? If its women you must have, will nothing be after serving you but other men's wives? Have you no bowels for the peace of a gentleman's mind, and the honour of his family?

b.1 Orthography: “tief”
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “Arrah, hip”; “Tunderanowns”, “lathy shank”; “Musha”;
c. Nationality: British
d. Character profiles: disguised as a sailor (Slightly) and an officer (Wagg)
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent (they are in disguise)

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest

Priscilla’s experience in boarding school:
Y. Cock.
Look now, did you ever see any thing so unmannerly? Miss Prissy, I wonder you are not ashamed of yourself; but this is the breeding you got in the plantations---You know you was turned out of Hackney boarding-school for beating the governess ---I believe you think you have got among your blackamoors---But you are not got among your blackamoors now Miss.

The Cockney childrens’ education as a means of social mobility:
O. Cock.
Ah! Colonel, you are a comical man--- Richard, is my daughter at home?---My daughter, colonel, is as smart a girl as ever you laid your eyes upon---I have given her the best of educations---French, music---Mr. Thrum, our organist, says, upon the spinet he never saw her fellow---And she has had a dancing-master, as I may say, ever since she was the height of a sugar-loaf.

O Cock.
You are pleased to say so, Sir---Go, child, go in to your business---That is one of the most supprizingest lads, Colonel, you was ever acquainted with--- [50]  He has a Genus for every thing---I sent him to St. Paul's---School, where he read Virgil's Ovid, Propria Quæ Maribus---Syntax, and all the grand authors--- but I was obliged to take him from his learning on account of an uncle---an odd man---a brother of my late wife's---He formerly kept this shop, but is now gone into the coal business, from whom there are considerable expectations---Not that I want, for I have enough and enough---but the boy's interest---

Priscilla Tomboy’s attitudes to slaves:

Lord you are mighty precize---Quasheba, get out, I want to talk with Miss Penny alone---or stay, come back, I will speak before her---But if ever I hear, hussy, that you mention a word of what I am going to say to any one else in the house, I will have you horse-whipp'd till there is not a bit of flesh left on your bones.

Oh, poor creature!

Psha,---what is she but a Neger? If she was at home at our plantations, she would find the difference; we make no account of them there at all: if I had a fancy for one of their skins I should not think much of taking it.

I suppose then you imagine they have no feeling?

Oh! we never consider that there---But I say, Miss Penny, I have a secret to tell you---I hate your brother worse than poison; I know your uncle Barnacle has a mind to marry me to him; but if my father left him my guardian, and I am sent to England for my education, I don't see any right he has to chuse me a husband.

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©2009 Arden Hegele