"Life Is Too Short For Chess"

Context: Byron, an enormously prolific writer for the British theater, turned out innumerable comedies, farces, and burlesques. One chronological list of his works includes 136 titles. Probably the most popular was the three-act comedy, Our Boys, that opened in London on January 16th, 1875, and had an unequaled continuous run, according to the first printed edition, of 1,500 nights. With other works by Byron, it was reprinted among the 165 volumes of Lacy's Acting Editions of Plays, Dramas, Extravaganzas, etc. as No. 116 (1880), and by Samuel French in England and the United States. For Baker, in 1915, Frank E. Fowle edited "An Acting Copy, containing all the Gags and Stage Business employed by Professional Actors." Surprisingly, the comedy has few sympathetic characters. Sir Geoffrey Champney is father of washed-out Talbot with yellowish-red hair, for whom he dreams of a career in Parliament. Uncouth Perkyn Middlewick, a retired "butter man," with ridiculous language and a belief that money not only makes the mare go, but activates a whole stable, has a handsomer son, Charley. The two young men are bracketed by Sir Geoffrey as "Our Boys," As the comedy opens, the two fathers are awaiting the return of their sons from a European trip in which only Charley profited. There he meets the heiress Violet Melrose to whom he identifies himself as Mr. Morton. Her penniless cousin, Mary, traveling with her, is attracted by the unattractiveness of Talbot Champney. Sir Geoffrey can scarcely conceal his disapproval of the coarse Middlewick. His sister, Aunt Clarissa, has a kinder attitude, but she is thinking chiefly of the break in the monotony of the manor offered by Talbot's homecoming. Events disappoint her. Complaining that his father would not let him have his fling abroad, like Charley, he scorns an evening of backgammon or chess at home with his aunt. After his taste of life in Paris, he looks forward to the delights of London. Violet and her cousin appear. Violet is angry that Charles lied about his name, and is further disillusioned by a look at her possible father-in-law. To Sir Geoffrey's delight, Mr. Middlewick is no less scornful of "that rich stuck up gal," for Sir Geoffrey anticipates Violet's marriage to Talbot to provide funds for the young man's political career. The second act contains the scene where Sir Geoffrey invites Mr. Middlewick to a game of billiards. He trounces the inexperienced country merchant, whose skill runs to bowling. Middlewick threatens: "He's up to these grand games, but one of these days I'll loore him on to skittles and astonish him." In the final act, "Our Boys" have left their parents to live in poverty in the big city, but the plotting of Aunt Clarissa and the change of heart of the fathers achieve a happy ending for the young people. Part of the homecoming in Act I includes a scene between Clarissa and Talbot.


AUNT CLARISSA
Talbot, it is so delightful to have you back again. I shall now have such charming evenings with you at chess.
TALBOT
At what?
AUNT CLARISSA
Chess–the king of games.
TALBOT
Do you call that a game? Ha! ha! No, thanks; life's too short for chess.
AUNT CLARISSA
Well, well, we'll say backgammon.
TALBOT
I don't mind saying backgammon, but you don't catch me playing backgammon.
AUNT CLARISSA
Well, then, we must even continue our usual cosy evenings. I do my wool work whilst your father reads us the debates. That's our regular evening's program.
TALBOT (aside)
They must have had a rollicking time of it. The debates! a dozen columns of dullness filtered through father. Not for Talbot!