The Heir-at-law "Tell 'em Queen Anne's Dead"

George Colman the Younger

"Tell 'em Queen Anne's Dead"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: A dramatist of the late 18th and early 19th century, George Colman the Younger succeeded his father as manager of the Haymarket Theatre in 1789. Of his numerous comedies, melodramas, and musical comedies, one of the most successful was The Heir-at-Law. In the opening scene of this play, Lord Duberly, the former "plain Daniel Dowlas of Gosport," has unexpectedly inherited the estate of the old Lord Duberly. His wife, acutely conscious of her nouveau riche status and determined that her husband shall now develop the proper habits of a gentleman, berates him for drinking his tea from a saucer, for employing the locutions of a commoner such as "hand over the milk" for "pass the milk" and "rot you" for "be damned to you." As she remarks, "Why, an oath, now and then, may slip in, to garnish genteel conversation: but, then, it should be done with an air to one's equals, and with a kind of careless condescension to menials." Above all, he must not speak further of his former days as a merchant or of his having obtained the inheritance as a result of his lawyer's having seen a newspaper advertisement. At Lady Duberly's incensed assertion that the servants might hear, he becomes exasperated:


LORD DUBERLY
Hear, and what will they hear but what they know? our story a secret!–Lord help you!–Tell 'em Queen Anne's dead, my lady.