Context: Mrs. Elizabeth Inchbald (1753–1821), whose maiden name was Sampson (or Simpson), turned from acting to publishing, not only her own plays and novels, but two valuable collections of plays, The British Theatre (1806–1809) and The Modern Theatre (1809–1812). She used the original stage promptbooks. It is in volume III of the latter that George Colman's five-act comedy appears, as performed at the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden. It was immensely popular, running for a long time at its initial appearance, and was later revised as Jonathan in England (1829) by the American actor James H. Hackett (1800–1871). A critic in 1839 declared "Colman's comedies satirize past ages whose gentry had more character than at present." Action begins at Heartly's house in Yorkshire, near the coast. The day is supposed to be an object lesson of the superiority of "thinking benevolence" over "haste in charity." The logic of the head is better at making decisions than the sentiment of the heart. The village has suffered a terrible fire that consumed two-thirds of the houses. John Torrent, who has just bought the manor house, has come to town. In the opening conversation, Heartly represents the people eager to help those in need but intending to do so judiciously. By contrast, miserly Hogmore will not take fuel needed for his fireside to warm others. And Torrent is typical of those who have money and are spendthrift in their use of it. Solomon Gundy whose every sentence is scarred by badly-pronounced French, has just appeared with a letter from the new landowner.
SOLOMONHis carriage broke into twenty morso's. He wanted to send you a billy–no messenger at hand–I've brought it. He gave me a guinea; I called him an angel; he bid me run like a devil; I told him I would; so I have, and there's the contention [Gives a letter.]HEARTLY [reading the letter.]"Dear Heartly, I have just tumbled into my estate. Let none of the villagers know who I am till I get to my house. I hate fuss–Don't say I am a rich man. Come to me in the alehouse. JOHN TORRENT."[Speaking.] He arrives just in time to assist his tenants in distress; but I dread his impetuosity, and carelessness of discrimination. Even in haste to make people happy, he defeats his own purpose. His heart runs away with his head, and he often produces most harm when he shows most benevolence. I'll wait on the gentleman, Solomon, directly.