The Irish Mimic, Or Blunders At Brighton "Fat, Fair, And Forty"

"Fat, Fair, And Forty"

Context: Called in its time a "contrived piece," The Irish Mimic is a musical play put together for light entertainment by an Irish actor and playwright noted for dramatic works of many kinds. His most successful performance was probably Tony Lumpkin in Town, produced in 1777. Of his farces, Wild Oats had the greatest number of performances. However, it is for a song from his Merry Sherwood, "I am a Friar of Orders Gray," that O'Keeffe is chiefly remembered today. A line from his London Hermit also survives, though usually misquoted. It announces that general statements are not intended to apply to people hearing them, or as O'Keeffe phrased the assertion: "You should always except the present company." The Irish Mimic was intended only for amusement. Farces, unlike comedies, are not to be analyzed for plot or action. Here the audience is supposed to accept a situation in which the two Melcombe ladies, Julia and her Aunt Margaret, can move in society without the realization that there are two of them, and that Julia in regimentals and her aunt in a riding habit might be taken for two young gentlemen. In addition, the story told by Captain Clifford to Mr. Parrots, the Irish Mimic, must seem convincing. To persuade him to whip a rival, he tells of a gentleman who has been insulted by a friend but lacks the spirit to resent the insult himself, but who, dying, will put into his will a legacy of a hundred pounds to anyone who will cane the man "in the public Steine." Part of the complication comes because Clifford tries to spur Mr. Parrots into action by doubting the man's courage. Farces frequently insert characters purely for comic effect, as O'Keeffe did in this play, set at Brighton, England's popular beach resort. It was first performed at the Royal Theatre, Covent Garden, in 1795. Two such characters are Colin, servant to "that voine lady, Miss Melcombe," and his brother Harry, who does not know there are two of the ladies. The chief character is Mr. Parrots, a professional mimic who claims to be able to imitate anybody, and does so in the course of the play, especially in one humorous scene involving Margaret Melcombe and her elderly admirer, Cypress. Since young men admire women "fat, fair and forty," perhaps young women may fall for those men who are "shriveled, sallow, and sixty." In Act II, Parrots comes upon Miss Julia wearing regimentals and talking to Harry.


HARRY
Madam!–Well, ma'am, I've seen variety of lodgings.
JULIA
Hush! How indiscreet!
PARROTS
Madam! I'm sure he did say madam. Oh, oh, this must be the lady Cypress desired me to mimic. Such a beautiful creature, love him! May be so, as the F's, fat, fair, and forty, was all the toast of the young men.–Who knows but the S's, shriveled, sallow, and sixty, may become the rage of the young women. [Aside.]
JULIA
If Clifford quits Brighton, and carries my aunt off with him, I shall have no occasion to change. [Exit Harry. Music plays.]
PARROTS
This Irish music is very fine–Pray, sir, how do you like Planxty Connor?
JULIA
I don't know any such person!
PARROTS
Pardon–Why Sir, it's–'Pon my soul she is a pretty little fellow! Drest herself up for some frolic, I suppose.–When a lady is inclin'd for fun, the gentleman should take half the business on himself.