The Contrast "Given Us The Bag To Hold"

Maria Edgeworth

"Given Us The Bag To Hold"

Context: The Contrast, the second play written by an American to be produced in America and staged by a professional company, is a comedy with the central theme based on the contrast between native worth and the affectation of foreign manners. Dimple has returned from the Continent with a good supply of debts, affectations, and scorn for all things American. Taking Lord Chesterfield's maxims as his guide, he plans to break off his contracted match with Maria, marry the rich Letitia, and take Charlotte as his mistress. His plans are foiled, largely by the prowess of the superlatively noble Colonel Manly, Charlotte's brother and a soldier under Washington. Manly and Maria receive the blessing of Maria's father, Van Rough, and all ends happily. In Act II, Jessamy, the affected "waiter" of Dimple, converses with Jonathan, Manly's servant who, as Professor A. H. Quinn comments, is the first example of the "shrewd, yet uncultivated type of New England farmer which has since become known as the 'Stage Yankee.'" To Jessamy's assertion that he hopes Jonathan has not taken part in Shays's Rebellion (1786), in which General Shays led an uprising of Massachusetts farmers against the foreclosures of mortgages on their property, the Yankee servant replies, using a colloquial phrase. In popular usage the expression often appears as holding the bag, as in "He went off and left me holding the bag."

Why, since General Shays has sneaked off, and given us the bag to hold, I don't care to give my opinion; but you'll promise not to tell–put your ear this way–you won't tell?–I vow, I don't think the sturgeons [insurgents] were right.