The Blunderer is generally believed to have been first acted at Lyons in 1653, whilst Molière and his troupe were in the provinces. In the month of November 1658 it was played for the first time in Paris, where it obtained a great and well-deserved success. It is chiefly based on an Italian comedy, written by Nicolo Barbieri, known as Beltrame, and called L'Inavvertito, from which the character of Mascarille, the servant, is taken, but differs in the ending, which is superior in the Italian play. An imitation of the classical boasting soldier, Captain Bellorofonte, Martelione, and a great number of concetti, have also not been copied by Molière. The fourth scene of the fourth act of l'Ètourdi contains some passages taken from the Angelica, a comedy by Fabritio de Fornaris, a Neapolitan, who calls himself on the title-page of his play "il Capitano Coccodrillo, comico confidente." A few remarks are borrowed from la Emilia, a comedy by Luigi Grotto, whilst here and there we find a reminiscence from Plautus, and one scene, possibly suggested by the sixteenth of the Contes et Discours d'Eutrapel, written by Nöel du Fail, Lord of la Hérissaye. Some of the scenes remind us of passages in several Italian Commedia del' arte between Arlecchino and Pantaleone the personifications of impudence and ingenuity, as opposed to meekness and stupidity; they rouse the hilarity of the spectators, who laugh at the ready invention of the knave as well as at the gullibility of the old man, Before this comedy appeared the French stage was chiefly filled with plays full of intrigue, but with scarcely any attempt to delineate character or manners. In this piece the plot is carried on, partly in imitation of the Spanish taste, by a servant, Mascarille, who is the first original personage Molière has created; he is not a mere imitation of the valets of the Italian or classical comedy; he has not the coarseness and base feelings of the servants of his contemporaries, but he is a lineal descendant of Villon, a free and easy fellow, not over nice in the choice or execution of his plans, but inventing new ones after each failure, simply to keep in his hand; not too valiant, except perhaps when in his cups, rather jovial and chaffy, making fun of himself and everybody else besides, no respecter of persons or things, and doomed probably not to die in his bed. Molière must have encountered many such a man whilst the wars of the Fronde were raging, during his perigrinations in the provinces. Even at the present time, a Mascarille is no impossibility; for, "like master like man." There are also in The Blunderer too many incidents, which take place successively, without necessarily arising one from another. Some of the characters are not distinctly brought out, the style has often been found fault with, by Voltaire and other competent judges, [Footnote: Victor Hugo appears to be of another opinion. M. Paul Stapfer, in his les Artistes juges et parties (2º Causerie, the Grammarian of Hauteville House, p. 55), states:--"the opinion of Victor Hugo about Molière is very peculiar. According to him, the best written of all the plays of our great comic author is his first work, l'Ètourdi. It possesses a brilliancy and freshness of style which still shine in le Dépit amoureux, but which gradually fade, because Molière, yielding unfortunately to other inspirations than his own, enters more and more upon a new way."] but these defects are partly covered by a variety and vivacity which are only fully displayed when heard on the stage.
In the third volume of the "Select Comedies of M. de Molière, London, 1732." The Blunderer is dedicated to the Right Honorable Philip, Earl of Chesterfield, in the following words:--
"MY LORD,--The translation of L'Ètourdi, which, in company with the original, throws itself at your lordship's feet, is a part of a design form'd by some gentlemen, of exhibiting to the public a Select Collection of Molière's Plays, in French and English. This author, my lord, was truly a genius, caress'd by the greatest men of his own time, and honoured with the patronage of princes. When the translator, therefore, of this piece was to introduce him in an English dress in justice he owed him an English patron, and was readily determined to your lordship, whom all the world allows to be a genius of the first rank. But he is too sensible of the beauties of his author, and the refined taste your lordship is universally known to have in polite literature, to plead anything but your candour and goodness, for your acceptance of this performance. He persuades himself that your lordship, who best knows how difficult it is to speak like Molière, even when we have his sentiments to inspire us, will be readiest to forgive the imperfections of this attempt. He is the rather encouraged, my lord, to hope for a candid reception from your lordship, on account of the usefulness of this design, which he flatters himself will have your approbation. 'Tis to spirit greater numbers of our countrymen to read this author, who wou'd otherwise not have attempted it, or, being foil'd in their attempts, wou'd throw him by in despair. And however generally the French language may be read, or spoke in England, there will be still very great numbers, even of those who are said to understand French, who, to master this comic writer, will want the help of a translation; and glad wou'd the publishers of this work be to guide the feebler steps of some such persons, not only till they should want no translation, but till some of them should be able to make a much better than the present. The great advantage of understanding Molière your Lordship best knows. What is it, but almost to understand mankind? He has shown such a compass of knowledge in human nature, as scarce to leave it in the power of succeeding writers in comedy to be originals; whence it has, in fact, appear'd, that they who, since his time, have most excelled in the Comic way, have copied Molière, and therein were sure of copying nature. In this author, my lord, our youth will find the strongest sense, the purest moral, and the keenest satyr, accompany'd with the utmost politeness; so that our countrymen may take a French polish, without danger of commencing fops and apes, as they sometimes do by an affectation of the dress and manners of that people; for no man has better pourtray'd, or in a finer manner expos'd fopperies of all kinds, than this our author hath, in one or other of his pieces. And now,'tis not doubted, my lord, but your lordship is under some apprehensions, and the reader under some expectation, that the translator should attempt your character, in right of a dedicator, as a refin'd wit, and consummate statesman. But, my lord, speaking the truth to a person of your lordship's accomplishments, would have the appearance of flattery, especially to those who have not the honour of knowing you; and those who have, conceive greater ideas of you than the translator will pretend to express. Permit him, then, my lord, to crave your lordship's acceptance of this piece, which appears to you with a fair and correct copy of the original; but with a translation which can be of no manner of consequence to your lordship, only as it may be of consequence to those who would understand Molière if they could. Your lordship's countenance to recommend it to such will infinitely oblige, my lord, your lordship's most devoted, and most obedient, humble servant, THE TRANSLATOR."
To recommend to Lord Chesterfield an author on account of "the purest moral," or because "no man has ... in a finer manner exposed fopperies of all kinds," appears to us now a bitter piece of satire; it may however, be doubted if it seemed so to his contemporaries. [Footnote: Lord Chesterfield appeared not so black to those who lived in his own time as he does to us, for Bishop Warburton dedicated to him his Necessity and Equity of an Established Religion and a Test-Law Demonstrated, and says in his preface: "It is an uncommon happiness when an honest man can congratulate a patriot on his becoming minister," and expresses the hope, that "the temper of the times will suffer your Lordship to be instrumental in saving your country by a reformation of the general manners."]
Dryden has imitated The Blunderer in Sir Martin Mar-all; or the Feigned Innocence, first translated by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, and afterwards adapted for the stage by "glorious John." It must have been very successful, for it ran no less than thirty-three nights, and was four times acted at court. It was performed at Lincoln's Inn Fields by the Duke of York's servants, probably at the desire of the Duke of Newcastle, as Dryden was engaged to write for the King's Company. It seems to have been acted in 1667, and was published, without the author's name, in 1668. But it cannot be fairly called a translation, for Dryden has made several alterations, generally not for the better, and changed double entendres into single ones. The heroine in the English play, Mrs. Millisent, (Celia), marries the roguish servant, Warner (Mascarille), who takes all his master's blunders upon himself, is bribed by nearly everybody, pockets insults and money with the same equanimity, and when married, is at last proved a gentleman, by the disgusting Lord Dartmouth, who "cannot refuse to own him for my (his) kinsman." With a fine stroke of irony Millisent's father becomes reconciled to his daughter having married a serving-man as soon as he hears that the latter has an estate of eight hundred a year. Sir Martin Mar-all is far more conceited and foolish than Lelio; Trufaldin becomes Mr. Moody, a swashbuckler; a compound of Leander and Andrès, Sir John Swallow, a Kentish knight; whilst of the filthy characters of Lord Dartmouth, Lady Dupe, Mrs. Christian, and Mrs. Preparation, no counterparts are found in Molière's play. But the scene in which Warner plays the lute, whilst his master pretends to do so, and which is at last discovered by Sir Martin continuing to play after the servant has finished, is very clever. [Footnote: According to Geneste, Some Accounts of the English Stage, 10 vols., 1832, vol. i., p. 76, Bishop Warburton, in his Alliance of Church and State (the same work is mentioned in Note 2), and Porson in his Letters to Travis alludes to this scene.] Dryden is also said to have consulted l'Amant indiscret of Quinault, in order to furbish forth the Duke of Newcastle's labours. Sir Walter Scott states in his introduction: "in that part of the play, which occasions its second title of 'the feigned Innocence,' the reader will hardly find wit enough to counterbalance the want of delicacy." Murphy has borrowed from The Blunderer some incidents of the second act of his School for Guardians, played for the first time in 1767.
[Footnote: Molière, Racine, and Corneille always call the dramatis personae acteurs, and not personnages.]
LELIO, son to PANDOLPHUS.
LEANDER, a young gentleman of good birth.
ANSELMO, an old man.
PANDOLPHUS, an old man.
TRUFALDIN, an old man.
ANDRÈS, a supposed gipsy.
MASCARILLE, servant to Lelio.
[Footnote: Mascarille is a name invented by Molière, and a diminutive of the Spanish mascara, a mask. Some commentators of Molière think that the author, who acted this part, may sometimes have played it in a mask, but this is now generally contradicted. He seems, however, to have performed it habitually, for after his death there was taken an inventory of all his dresses, and amongst these, according to M. Eudore Soulié, Recherches sur Molière, 1863, p. 278, was: "a ... dress for 'Étourdi, consisting in doublet, knee-breeches, and cloak of satin." Before his time the usual name of the intriguing man-servant was Philipin.]
ERGASTE, a servant.
Two Troops of Masqueraders.
CELIA, slave to TRUFALDIN.
HIPPOLYTA, daughter to ANSELMO.