This play was written in 1843 at the request of Macready, and very rapidly, in four or five days. A misunderstanding with Macready, fully related in Mrs. Orr’s Life and Letters of Robert Browning, I. 168-184, and in Mr. Gosse’s Personalia, led to a breach between the two friends.
The play was received with great applause, but circumstances prevented it from being kept on the boards. It has, however, been reproduced both in England and in America, near the close of Browning’s life and after his death. Helen Faucit, afterward Lady Martin, took the part of Mildred. The play was printed shortly after it first appeared, as No. V. of Bells and Pomegranates.
Thorold, Earl Tresham.
Henry, Earl Mertoun.
Gerard, and other Retainers of Lord Tresham.
Time, 17 —
Scene I. The interior of a lodge in Lord Tresham’s park. Many Retainers crowded at the window, supposed to command a view of the entrance to his mansion. Gerard, the Warrener, his back to a table on which are flagons, etc.
1st Retainer. Ay, do! push, friends, and then you’ll push down me!
— What for? Does any hear a runner’s foot
Or a steed’s trample or a coach-wheel’s cry?
Is the Earl come or his least poursuivant?
But there’s no breeding in a man of you
Save Gerard yonder: here’s a half-place yet,
Gerard. Save your courtesies, my friend.
Here is my place.
2nd Ret. Now, Gerard, out with it!
What makes you sullen, this of all the days
I’ the year? To-day that young rich bountiful
Handsome Earl Mertoun, whom alone they match
With our Lord Tresham through the countryside,
Is coming here in utmost bravery
To ask our master’s sister’s hand?
Ger. What then?
2nd Ret. What then? Why, you, she speaks to, if she meets
Your worship, smiles on as you hold apart
The boughs to let her through her forest walks,
You, always favorite for your no-deserts,
You’ve heard, these three days, how Earl Mertoun sues
To lay his heart and house and broad lands too
At Lady Mildred’s feet: and while we squeeze
Ourselves into a mousehole lest we miss
One congee of the least page in his train,
You sit o’ one side — “there’s the Earl,” say I —
“What then?” say you!
3rd Ret. I’ll wager he has let
Both swans he tamed for Lady Mildred swim
Over the falls and gain the river!
Is not to-morrow my inspecting-day
For you and for your hawks?