Collection No. 15: The Clandestine Marriage, by George Colman the Elder and David Garrick

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

Publication details

Author: Garrick, David; Colman, George (the Elder)
Author dates: 1717-1779; 1732-1794
Title: The Clandestine Marriage

First played: 1766
First published: 1766, for T. Becket and P.A. DeHondt. 90p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1766)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Popularity

Character types: Legal; French; Sophisticated; Servant

[Return to Top]


Sterling's visitors try to seduce his daughter Fanny, who is secretly married to the impoverished but kindly Lovewell.

Gains the audience’s favour; elevated by Shakespearean intertextuality.

Act I.
Betty rushes in to tell Fanny that her husband, Mr. Lovewell, has returned. Fanny begs Betty to keep her secret: no one knows that she is married to Lovewell. Betty jokes that if Lovewell doesn’t inform Fanny’s family, a ‘little tell-tale’ will appear soon enough. Betty leaves as Lovewell enters. Fanny urges Lovewell to disclose their marriage immediately; he says he will within a few days, but that he does not want to interrupt Fanny’s sister’s marriage to Sir John Melville. Fanny says that she has good reasons for wanting the marriage to be disclosed, but does not share these reasons with Lovewell. She reminds him of how much worse things would be if the marriage were to be revealed by a third party. Lovewell wishes to wait so that he can use Lord Ogleby, his rich uncle, to smooth the process over, as Fanny’s father objects to his poverty. As he exits, Sterling, Fanny’s father, enters, joking about Lovewell’s apparent flirtation with Fanny. Lovewell jestingly asks for Fanny’s hand, but Sterling laughs the proposal off, saying that “There's no Stuff in the case, no money, Lovewell!” More seriously, Sterling tries to make Lovewell promise not to marry Fanny without his consent; already married, Lovewell promises not to let the matter go any further. Letters arrive announcing the visit of Sir John and Lord Ogleby. Fanny’s older sister Miss Sterling shows off her trousseau, and contrasts Sir John's glamorous town life with what she perceives as Fanny’s inevitable marriage to her destitute lover. Their aunt Mrs. Heidelberg enters, and announces Ogleby and Sir John's arrival. She comments on Fanny’s pale and wan looks and her loose-waisted dress. Fanny leaves in tears. Miss Sterling comments that Sir John seems to be cold-hearted towards her, preferring Fanny. Canton, a Swiss valet, enters. Lord Sterling takes his guests on a night-time walk.

Act II.
Brush, Lord Ogleby’s valet, and a chambermaid drink hot chocolate together in a dressing-room. The chambermaid is terrified that they will be interrupted, but Brush assures her that the decrepit Lord Ogleby is safely put to sleep with a draught. Brush confides to the chambermaid that Miss Fanny is considered much more affable than her haughty elder sister. The chambermaid leaves quickly as Canton enters. Lord Ogleby returns in pain from his walk down to the canal with Lord Sterling. Canton urges Lord Ogleby to purchase cosmetics, to the latter’s disgust. He reflects on the family into which he is to marry, stating that they will never escape the taint of Blackfriars. The next morning, Ogleby feels revived because of the pretty girls in his midst. Sterling, Lovewell and Sir John enter; the old men banter. The young men quickly excuse themselves to speak privately in the garden. Sterling and Ogleby go to eat breakfast. Sir John tells Lovewell that he knows Lovewell was not in his room at five in the morning; which maid was he with? Sir John begins to confide something to Lovewell, but they are interrupted by Ogleby and Sterling’s party, which is discussing improvements to the manor house. Ogleby flirts nauseatingly with all the women. The young ladies give Ogleby nosegays. The party goes to look at the estate’s manufactured ruins. Sir John and Lovewell resume their conversation. Sir John confesses that he cannot marry Miss Sterling because he loves Fanny. Lovewell frantically tries to convince him that it is too late to rescind his proposal to the elder sister. Sir John has already confessed his love to Fanny, who blushed and cried (apparently a good sign). Sir John tries to give Lovewell a letter to give to Fanny. Fanny approaches and Sir John runs to her. The devastated Lovewell exits. Sir John entreats Fanny to accept his affection, but she refuses in horror. Miss Sterling enters to see Sir John prostrated at Fanny’s feet. He exits quickly, and Miss Sterling turns on Fanny, accusing her of hiding her deceitful nature beneath her soft exterior. Alone, Fanny laments about how her family will turn against her when they learn of her marriage to Lovewell.

Act III.
Serjeant Flower, a soldier, and Counsellors Traverse and Trueman, two lawyers, enter. The latter two discuss their many cases in legal language. Sterling alters his will to ensure that his property passes to Miss Sterling and her heirs. Sir John enters and confesses to Sterling that he will be unable to go through with marriage to Miss Sterling, and would prefer to court Fanny. To convince Sterling to accept this change of plan, Sir John reduces the dowry from 80,000l. to 50,000l. The miserly Sterling acquiesces, but Sir John must first consult Mrs. Heidelberg for permission. Miss Sterling and Mrs. Heidelberg have a tête-à-tête to discuss Fanny’s supposed treachery in seducing Miss Sterling's confirmed lover. Mrs. Heidelberg vows that Miss Sterling will be Lady Melville. Sir John entreats Mrs. Heidelberg to permit the marriage to Fanny, but she is insulted that he has not consulted her first, and is outraged that he would be so fickle. She leaves in a huff. Sterling tells Sir John that he is powerless to do anything because he expects to receive a great deal of money from Mrs. Heidelberg at her death. Sir John plans to entreat Lord Ogleby into pleading his cause.

Act IV.
Miss Sterling and Mrs. Heidelberg plan to send Fanny to town immediately. Lord Ogleby and Canton walk in the garden; if Fanny is to leave, Lord Ogleby intends to depart also: he had rather “the whole family be annihilated” than lose Fanny’s company. Lovewell convinces Fanny that she must reveal the marriage to Lord Ogleby, who will undoubtedly take her part.  Fanny tells Lord Ogleby that she has been distressed by Sir John’s proposal; the vain listener thinks she is in love with him. Canton interrupts, and Lord Ogleby is left believing that Fanny has confessed her love to him. Realizing there has been a mistake, she bursts into tears and departs. Miss Sterling enters to appeal to Lord Ogleby to let her marriage to Sir John take place.  Lord Ogleby tells Sterling that he plans to marry Fanny and that she has agreed; Sterling is pleased because of Lord Ogleby’s high rank. Lovewell enters to speak with Lord Ogleby; both men mistake one another, Lovewell believing that Ogleby will back his secret marriage, and Ogleby thinking that Lovewell is congratulating him on his choice. Lord Ogleby reveals that he plans to marry Fanny; Lovewell is upset, but conceals it as Sir John arrives to ask for Ogleby’s help in courting Fanny.

Act V.
Lovewell and Fanny meet in Fanny’s apartment. Betty waits outside the chamber door in case anyone approaches. Lovewell vows to remain with Fanny even if they are cast off by both families. Betty enters, thinking she has heard a noise, but no one is in sight. Lovewell departs. Miss Sterling has been listening at the door, and believes Sir John to be in the room with Fanny. She pretends to burst into tears as she tells this to Mrs. Heidelberg. They hide as Brush and the frightened chambermaid enter. When Brush jokingly suggests he will ravish Mrs. Heidelberg if the chambermaid does not acquiesce to his desires, the infuriated lady emerges from the shadows and berates him. Betty is caught by Mrs. Heidelberg and Miss Sterling, who demand an explanation for the evening’s events; she refuses to explain. Mrs. Heidelberg and Miss Sterling bring Betty to Sterling, who says he will make Sir John marry Fanny in the morning. The noise brings Lord Ogleby, the visiting lawyers, and Sir John into the room; everyone is amazed at the latter’s presence, as he is supposed to be in the chamber with Fanny. Fanny emerges and faints away in distress. Hearing the clamour outside, Lovewell rushes from the chamber and confesses his love, to everyone’s astonishment. After learning that they have been married for four months, Sterling casts them out, but the magnanimous Ogleby offers them a home with him. Faced with this act of generosity, Sterling and Mrs. Heidelberg are compelled to make amends, while Sir John denies any further affection for Fanny and apologizes for his involvement.

Epilogue: Short operatic piece with lady card-players.

[Return to Top]

Secondary commentary

A) Thomson, Peter. ‘Garrick, David (1717–1779)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 27 May 2008.

"His closest friend among them was George Colman, with whom he collaborated in The Clandestine Marriage (1766), one of the best eighteenth-century comedies, though the two were briefly estranged in 1767, when Colman bought into a share of the management of Covent Garden, the rival playhouse."

B) White, Douglas H. ‘David Garrick: February 19, 1717-January 20, 1779.’ Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. Literature Resource Center. 27 May 1008., accessed 27 May 2008

"The Clandestine Marriage is, in its primary direction, more akin to The Conscious Lovers than to The Way of the World. It is sentimental (perhaps only good natured) in the conception of its main characters. The danger the plot puts them in is not the result of any serious flaw or limitation in their psychological or moral makeup. It stems rather from the likelihood of misunderstanding and hostile reaction from the people surrounding them, who operate on a standard that is far less delicate and ethical than theirs. These characters tend to speak in sentiments (especially Lovewell), but the sentiments are not hypocritical and do represent both the standard by which they reason ethically and that by which they act."

C) 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.

"It seems ironic that Colman, whose earlier plays generally eschewed or openly mocked the literature and culture of sensibility, should be praised by his contemporaries for the sentimental content of The Clandestine Marriage , a full-length mainpiece co-written with Garrick and inspired by the first of six plates in William Hogarth's Marriage à la Mode, depicting a marriage brokerage between wealthy parties. Begun before Garrick's departure in 1763, the comedy could not be completed before his return to London, April 1765, and did not open until 20 February 1766. The self-serving lawyers introduced in act 3 (who serve to distance Colman further from his former vocation), the addition of Fanny's pregnancy ("a little tell-tale") to the title's secret union, and the comic range of the amorous though generous Lord Ogleby all contributed to the immediate popularity of the play-traditionally considered Colman's best--performed nineteen times that spring. Colman was forced to make another recuperative journey to Paris later that year, accompanied by Sarah and Harriet, while young George remained behind at North-umberland House, the playwright's new villa."

[Return to Top]

Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

A Swiss valet speaks Franglais and lawyers use legal jargon. Mrs Heidelberg’s non-standard pronunciation and grammar (monstrous wulgar!) undermines her social pretension; contrasts with the standard language of her “city” brother  Mr Sterling (whom Lord Ogle nevertheless regards as vulgar and permanently tainted by his birthplace of Blackfriars and connection with canals) and with the non-standard unpretentious language of the chambermaid.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Mrs Heidelberg (sister of city gentleman Mr Sterling)
a. Sample of dialect

Miss Sterl.  Oh, he is the very mirror of complaisance! full of formal bows and set speeches!---I declare, if there was any violent passion on my side, I should be quite jealous of him.

Mrs. Heidel. I say jealus indeed---Jealus of who, pray? [cf Miss Sterling’s spelling]

Miss Sterl. My sister Fanny. She seems a much greater favourite than I am, and he pays her infinitely more attention, I assure you.

Mrs. Heidel. Lord! d'ye think a man of fashion, as he is, can't distinguish between the genteel and the wulgar part of the famaly?---Between you and your sister, for instance---or me and my brother?---Be advised by me, child! It is all politeness and good-breeding. ---Nobody knows the qualaty better than I do.

Mrs. Heidel. Pray now, brother, mind how you behave. I am always in a fright about you with people of qualaty. Take care that you don't fall asleep directly after supper, as you commonly do. Take a good deal of snuff; and that will keep you awake.---And don't burst out with your horrible loud horse-laughs. It is monstrous wulgar.

b.1 Orthography: suggests non-standard pronunciation, esp wulgar
b.2 Grammar: monstrous wulgar
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English (was married to a German)
d. Character profile: supposedly educated and sophisticated widow
e. Consistency of representation: quite consistent

Variety: Chambermaid: non-standard w/o pretension (cf. Mrs Heidelberg)
 a. Sample of dialect
Ch. Maid. Miss Fanny's the most affablest and the most best nater'd creter!
Brush. And the eldest a little haughty or so---

Ch. Maid. More haughtier and prouder than Saturn himself---but this I say quite confidential to you, for one would not hurt a young lady's marriage, you know.

b.1 Orthography: creter ‘creature’
b.2 Grammar: most affablest, more haughtier, quite confidential(ly)
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: servant
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: lawyers – Latin words and phrases
a. Sample of dialect

Flower. Do you expect to have much to do on the Home circuit these assizes?

Traverse. Not much nisi prius business, but a good deal on the crown side, I believe.---The goals are brimfull---and some of the felons in good circumstances, and likely to be tolerable clients.---Let me see! I am engag'd for three highway robberies, two murders, one forgery, and half a dozen larcenies, at Kingston.

Flower. A pretty decent goal-delivery!---Do you expect to bring off Darkin, for the robbery on Putney-Common? [50]  Can you make out your alibi?

Traverse. Oh, no! the crown witnesses are sure to prove our identity. We shall certainly be hanged: but that don't signify.---But, Mr. Serjeant, have you much to do?---any remarkable cause on the Midland this circuit?

Flower. Nothing very remarkable,---except two rapes, and Rider and Western at Nottingham, for crim. con. ---but, on the whole, I believe a good deal of business.---Our associate tells me, there are above thirty venires for Warwick.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: two lawyers
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Canton’s Franglais
a. Sample of dialect
Canton. I kiss your hands, Matam!
Sterl. Well, Mounseer!---and what news of your good family!---when are we to see his Lordship and Sir John?
[Page 17 ]
Canton. Mons. Sterling! Milor Ogelby and Sir Jean Melvile will be here in one quarter-hour.


[page 20]
Depechez vous donc.
                                         [Exit Brush .

[puts on spectacles.]
I wish de Deviel had all dese papiers---I forget, as fast as I read---De Advertise put out of my head de Gazette, de Gazette de Chronique, and so dey all go l'un apres l'autre---I must get some nouvelle for my Lor, or he'll be enragée contre moi---Voyons!---
[reads in the papers.]
Here is noting but Anti-Sejanus & advertise---

b.1 Orthography: “Matam” (madam); “Deviel” (devil); “dese papiers” (these papers); “de” (the) repeated;
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: Franglais: “Mons[ieur]”; “Jean” (vs. “John”); “l’un après l’autre”; “nouvelle”
c. Nationality: Swiss
d. Character profile: valet (speaks Franglais)
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

[Return to Top]

Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


[Return to Top]

Other points of interest


[Return to Top]

©2009 Arden Hegele