The Heir-at-law "Praise The Bridge That Carried You Over"

George Colman the Younger

"Praise The Bridge That Carried You Over"

Context: An actress, Elizabeth Inchbald (1753–1821), was responsible for the preservation of fifty eighteenth and nineteenth century English dramas, by retiring from the stage to compile two series of plays, using the original prompt copies, and preceding each play by a brief critical comment. One of the popular playwrights was George Colman (or Coleman), Junior, son of a dramatist who directed the famous Haymarket Theatre of London. The son took over his father's duties in 1789 when the older Colman became insane. He also wrote slapstick comedies and a few serious plays such as Inkle and Yarico and Surrender at Calais, whose original thought, elevated sentiments, and natural action were highly commended by his contemporaries. However, the farcical humor of the comedies that acted well and had funny lines and situations, was also well received. One such was Heir-at-Law. At the opening of the comedy, the former "plain Daniel Dowlas of Gosport," who a week previously had inherited the title of old Baron Duberly, is having breakfast with his wife, the new "Lady Duberly." She is trying to teach him manners befitting his new position. He wants her to remember that he was a respectable merchant before he became a baron. She agrees that he has no cause to disparage what brought him to his present position as a peer of the realm, but now all this should be forgotten. They discuss the strange circumstances that achieved his elevation: the nearest heir, Henry Morland's being lost at sea, and the lawyer's advertising for any heir-at-law of the late Baron Duberly. One other character in the comedy is Dr. Pangloss, reminiscent of the Professor of Abstract Nonsense of the same name who sought to bring culture to Voltaire's Candide (1759). He comes to try to improve the English of the new lord and his son, Dick Dowlas, and by his caricature satirizes pedantry. (Mrs. Inchbald declared that the comedy contains so much dialect that any literary pleasure or entertainment is impossible.) As could be guessed, eventually the lost heir turns up, and Daniel Dowlas and Deborah his wife are happy to return to their more fitting life in Gosport. Here is part of the breakfast conversation in Act I:


LORD DUBERLY
. . . You hold a merchant as cheap as if he trotted about with all his property in a pack, like a pedlar.
LADY DUBERLY
A merchant, indeed! Curious merchandise you dealt in, truly!
LORD DUBERLY
A large assortment of articles:–coals, cloth, herrings, linen, candles, eggs, sugar, treacle, tea, bacon, and brick-dust;–with many more, too tedious to mention, in this here advertisement.
LADY DUBERLY
Well, praise the bridge that carried you over; but you must now drop the tradesman, and learn life. Consider, that by the strangest accident you have been raised to neither more nor less than a peer of the realm.