header by Emerson Taymor, 2005
1. The Colonial Era: 1607-1763
2. The Revolutionary Era:
3. The Early National Period:
4. Jacksonian America: 1824-1848
5. Antebellum America: 1848-1860
6. The Civil War Era: 1861-1877
7. The Gilded Age: 1877-1901
8. Progressivism: 1901-1920
9. The Twenties
10. Depression and New Deal: 1929-1939
11. World War II: 1939-1945
12. Early Cold War: 1945-1963
13. Social Ferment: 1945-1960
14. The Sixties
15. The Seventies and After
Tyler, The Contrast, excerpts
The Contrast was the first American play ever performed
in public by a company of professional actors. It was first
performed at the John
Street Theater, New-York City, on the 16th of April,
1787, and undoubtedly met with the approval of the public, as it was
repeated on the 18th of April, the 2d and 12th of May the same season,
and was reproduced with success later at Philadelphia, Baltimore,
and Boston. Royall Tyler, the author of the 'Contrast,' was
born at Boston, Mass., July 18, 1758, and belonged to one of the wealthiest
and most influential families of New England. He received his early education
at the Latin School, in his native city, graduated at
Harvard, and during the Revolutionary War, and
afterward in Shays' Rebellion, acted as aide-de-camp
with the rank of Major on the staff of General Benjamin Lincoln. It was
owing to the latter event that he came to New-York, being sent here
by Governor Bowdoin on a diplomatic mission with reference to the capture
of Shays, who had crossed the border line from
Massachusetts into this State. This was the first time that Tyler
had left his native New England, and the first time he could have seen
the inside of a regular theater, thus confirming the statements made
in the preface of the play as to the author's inexperience in the
rules of the drama, and as to the short time within which it was written,
as his arrival in New-York was within but a few weeks of its first performance.
Col. Manly, a heroic American
Dimple, a sleazy piece of Eurotrash
a Dutch businessman, father of Maria
Maria, van Rough's daughter, a woman of New York society
Letitia, a particularly rich woman of New York society
a comic Yankee servant
Charlotte, Manly's sister
WRITTEN BY A YOUNG GENTLEMAN OF NEW-YORK,
AND SPOKEN BY MR. WIGNELL
EXULT, each patriot heart!--this night is shewn
A piece, which we may fairly call our own;
Where the proud titles of "My Lord! Your Grace!"
To humble Mr. and plain Sir give place.
Our Author pictures not from foreign climes
The fashions or the follies of the times;
But has confin'd the subject of his work
To the gay scenes--the circles of New-York.
On native themes his Muse displays her pow'rs;
If ours the faults, the virtues too are ours.
Why should our thoughts to distant countries roam,
When each refinement may be found at home?
Who travels now to ape the rich or great,
To deck an equipage and roll in state;
To court the graces, or to dance with ease,
Or by hypocrisy to strive to please?
Our free-born ancestors such arts despis'd;
Genuine sincerity alone they pris'd;
Their minds, with honest emulation fir'd;
To solid good--not ornament--aspir'd;
Or, if ambition rous'd a bolder flame,
Stern virtue throve, where indolence was shame.
But modern youths, with imitative sense,
Deem taste in dress the proof of excellence;
And spurn the meanness of your homespun arts,
Since homespun habits would obscure their parts;
Whilst all, which aims at splendour and parade,
Must come from Europe, and be ready made.
Strange! We should thus our native worth disclaim,
And check the progress of our rising fame.
Yet one, whilst imitation bears the sway,
Aspires to nobler heights, and points the way.
Be rous'd, my friends! his bold example view;
Let your own Bards be proud to copy you!
Should rigid critics reprobate our play,
At least the patriotic heart will say,
Glorious our fall, since in a noble cause.
The bold attempt alone demands applause."
Still may the wisdom of the Comic Muse
Exalt your merits, or your faults accuse.
But think not, tis her aim to be severe;--
We all are mortals, and as mortals err.
If candour pleases, we are truly blest;
Vice trembles, when compell'd to stand confess'd.
Let not light Censure on your faults offend,
Which aims not to expose them, but amend.
Thus does our Author to your candour trust;
Conscious, the free are generous, as just.
WHAT, no one at home? How unfortunate to meet
the only lady my heart was ever moved by, to find
her engaged to another, and confessing her partiality
for me! Yet engaged to a man who, by her inti-
mation, and his libertine conversation with me, I fear,
does not merit her. Aye! there's the sting; for, were
I assured that Maria was happy, my heart is not so
selfish but that it would dilate in knowing it, even
though it were with another. But to know she is
unhappy!--I must drive these thoughts from me.
Charlotte has some books; and this is what I believe
she calls her little library. [Enters a closet.
Enter DIMPLE leading LETITIA.
And will you pretend to say now, Mr. Dimple, that
you propose to break with Maria? Are not the banns
published? Are not the clothes purchased? Are not
the friends invited? In short, is it not a done affair?
Believe me, my dear Letitia, I would not marry her.
Why have you not broke with her before this, as
you all along deluded me by saying you would?
Because I was in hopes she would, ere this, have
broke with me.
You could not expect it.
Nay, but be calm a moment; 'twas from my regard
to you that I did not discard her.
Regard to me!
Yes; I have done everything in my power to break
with her, but the foolish girl is so fond of me that
nothing can accomplish it. Besides, how can I offer
her my hand when my heart is indissolubly engaged
There may be reason in this; but why so attentive
to Miss Manly?
Attentive to Miss Manly! For heaven's sake, if you
have no better opinion of my constancy, pay not so ill
a compliment to my taste.
Did I not see you whisper her to-day?
Possibly I might--but something of so very trifling
a nature that I have already forgot what it was.
I believe she has not forgot it.
My dear creature, how can you for a moment sup-
pose I should have any serious thoughts of that trifling,
gay, flighty coquette, that disagreeable--
My dear Miss Manly, I rejoice to see you; there is
a charm in your conversation that always marks your
entrance into company as fortunate.
Where have you been, my dear?
Why, I have been about to twenty shops, turning
over pretty things, and so have left twenty visits unpaid.
I wish you would step into the carriage and whisk
round, make my apology, and leave my cards where
our friends are not at home; that, you know, will
serve as a visit. Come, do go.
So anxious to get me out! but I'll watch you.
[Aside.] Oh! yes, I'll go; I want a little exercise.
Positively [Dimple offering to accompany her], Mr.
Dimple, you shall not go; why, half my visits are cake
and caudle visits; it won't do, you know, for you to
go. [Exit, but returns to the door in the back scene and
This attachment of your brother to Maria is fortunate.
How did you come to the knowledge of it?
I read it in their eyes.
And I had it from her mouth. It would have
amused you to have seen her! She, that thought it so
great an impropriety to praise a gentleman that she
could not bring out one word in your favour, found a
redundancy to praise him.
I have done everything in my power to assist his
passion there: your delicacy, my dearest girl, would
be shocked at half the instances of neglect and mis-
I don't know how I should bear neglect; but Mr.
Dimple must misbehave himself indeed, to forfeit my
Your good opinion, my angel, is the pride and pleas-
ure of my heart; and if the most respectful tenderness
for you, and an utter indifference for all your sex
besides, can make me worthy of your esteem, I shall
richly merit it.
All my sex besides, Mr. Dimple!--you forgot your
tete-a-tete with Letitia.
How can you, my lovely angel, cast a thought on
that insipid, wry-mouthed, ugly creature!
But her fortune may have charms?
Not to a heart like mine. The man, who has been
blessed with the good opinion of my Charlotte, must
despise the allurements of fortune.
I am satisfied.
Let us think no more on the odious subject, but
devote the present hour to happiness.
Can I be happy when I see the man I prefer going
to be married to another?
Have I not already satisfied my charming angel,
that I can never think of marrying the puling Maria?
But, even if it were so, could that be any bar to our
happiness? for, as the poet sings,
"Love, free as air, at sight of human ties,
Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies."
Come, then, my charming angel! why delay our bliss?
The present moment is ours; the next is in the hand
of fate. [Kissing her.]
Begone, Sir! By your delusions you had almost
lulled my honour asleep.
Let me lull the demon to sleep again with kisses.
[He struggles with her; she screams.]
Turn, villain! and defend yourself.--[Draws.]
[VAN ROUGH enters and beats down their swords.]
Is the devil in you? are you going to murder one
another? [Holding Dimple.]
Hold him, hold him,--I can command my passion.
What the rattle ails you? Is the old one in you?
Let the colonel alone, can't you? I feel chock-full
of fight,--do you want to kill the colonel?--
Be still, Jonathan; the gentleman does not want to
Gor! I--I wish he did; I'd shew him Yankee
boys play, pretty quick.--Don't you see you have
frightened the young woman into the hystrikes?
Pray, some of you explain this; what has been the
occasion of all this racket?
That gentleman can explain it to you; it will be a
very diverting story for an intended father-in-law to
How was this matter, Mr. Van Dumpling?
Sir,--upon my honour,--all I know is, that I was
talking to this young lady, and this gentleman broke
in on us in a very extraordinary manner.
Why, all this is nothing to the purpose; can you
explain it, Miss? [To Charlotte.]
Enter LETITIA through the back scene.
I can explain it to that gentleman's confusion.
Though long betrothed to your daughter [to Van
Rough], yet, allured by my fortune, it seems (with
shame do I speak it) he has privately paid his ad-
dresses to me. I was drawn in to listen to him by his
assuring me that the match was made by his father
without his consent, and that he proposed to break
with Maria, whether he married me or not. But, what-
ever were his intentions respecting your daughter, Sir,
even to me he was false; for he has repeated the same
story, with some cruel reflections upon my person, to
What a tarnal curse!
Nor is this all, Miss Manly. When he was with
me this very morning, he made the same ungenerous
reflections upon the weakness of your mind as he has
so recently done upon the defects of my person.
What a tarnal curse and damn, too!
Ha! since I have lost Letitia, I believe I had as
good make it up with Maria. Mr. Van Rough, at
present I cannot enter into particulars; but, I believe,
I can explain everything to your satisfaction in private.
There is another matter, Mr. Van Dumpling, which
I would have you explain. Pray, Sir, have Messrs.
Van Cash & Co. presented you those bills for accept-
The deuce! Has he heard of those bills! Nay,
then, all's up with Maria, too; but an affair of this
sort can never prejudice me among the ladies; they
will rather long to know what the dear creature pos-
sesses to make him so agreeable. [Aside.] Sir, you'll
hear from me. [To Manly.]
And you from me, Sir--
Sir, you wear a sword--
Yes, Sir. This sword was presented to me by that
brave Gallic hero, the Marquis De la Fayette. I have
drawn it in the service of my country, and in private
life, on the only occasion where a man is justified in
drawing his sword, in defence of a lady's honour. I
have fought too many battles in the service of my
country to dread the imputation of cowardice. Death
from a man of honour would be a glory you do not
merit; you shall live to bear the insult of man and the
contempt of that sex whose general smiles afforded you
all your happiness.
You won't meet me, Sir? Then I'll post you for a
I'll venture that, Sir. The reputation of my life
does not depend upon the breath of a Mr. Dimple. I
would have you to know, however, Sir, that I have a
cane to chastise the insolence of a scoundrel, and a
sword and the good laws of my country to protect me
from the attempts of an assassin--
Mighty well! Very fine, indeed! Ladies and gen-
tlemen, I take my leave; and you will please to observe
in the case of my deportment the contrast between a
gentleman who has read Chesterfield and received
the polish of Europe and an unpolished, untravelled
Is he indeed gone?--
I hope, never to return.
I am glad I heard of those bills; though it's plaguy
unlucky; I hoped to see Mary married before I died.
Will you permit a gentleman, Sir, to offer himself as
a suitor to your daughter? Though a stranger to you,
he is not altogether so to her, or unknown in this city.
You may find a son-in-law of more fortune, but you
can never meet with one who is richer in love for her,
or respect for you.
Why, Mary, you have not let this gentleman make
love to you without my leave?
I did not say, Sir--
Say, Sir!--I--the gentleman, to be sure, met
Ha, ha, ha! Mark me, Mary; young folks think
old folks to be fools; but old folks know young folks
to be fools. Why, I knew all about this affair. This
was only a cunning way I had to bring it about.
Hark ye! I was in the closet when you and he were
at our hours. [Turns to the company.] I heard that
little baggage say she loved her old father, and would
die to make him happy! Oh! how I loved the little
baggage! And you talked very prudently, young man.
I have inquired into your character, and find you to
be a man of punctuality and mind the main chance.
And so, as you love Mary and Mary loves you, you
shall have my consent immediately to be married.
I'll settle my fortune on you, and go and live with
you the remainder of my life.
Sir, I hope--
Come, come, no fine speeches; mind the main
chance, young man, and you and I shall always agree.
I sincerely wish you joy [advancing to Maria]; and
hope your pardon for my conduct.
I thank you for your congratulations, and hope we
shall at once forget the wretch who has given us so
much disquiet, and the trouble that he has occasioned.
And I, my dear Maria,--how shall I look up to
you for forgiveness? I, who, in the practice of the
meanest arts, have violated the most sacred rights of
friendship? I can never forgive myself, or hope
charity from the world; but, I confess, I have much
to hope from such a brother; and I am happy that I
may soon say, such a sister.
My dear, you distress me; you have all my love.
If repentance can entitle me to forgiveness, I have
already much merit; for I despise the littleness of my
past conduct. I now find that the heart of any wor-
thy man cannot be gained by invidious attacks upon
the rights and characters of others;--by countenan-
cing the addresses of a thousand;--or that the finest
assemblage of features, the greatest taste in dress, the
genteelest address, or the most brilliant wit, cannot
eventually secure a coquette from contempt and
And I have learned that probity, virtue, honour,
though they should not have received the polish of
Europe, will secure to an honest American the good
graces of his fair countrywomen, and, I hope, the
applause of THE PUBLIC.