Mr Nightingale’s Diary – 1851/1877 – A Drama
This was first performed at Devonshire House, London in 1851. Charles Dickens played Mr Gabblewig, Wilkie Collins played Lithers, the landord of the Water-Lily.
The play opens in the Common Room of the Water-Lily at Malvern. The landlord, Mr Lithers, is summoned by Tip and says ‘Here you are my boy.’
Tip objects to being called a boy, and says the worm will turn if it’s trod upon. Lithers says ‘I never trod upon you.’
Gabblewig says if anyone has seen the puppy of his, answers to the name of Tip? He sees him and asks where he has been.
Lithers says, ‘Good gracious me! Why if it ain’t Mr Gabblewig, Junior!’
Gagglebig is surprised to see Lithers in Malvern Wells. Lithers explains he has been landlord of the place for two years, and thanks him for the great kindness he had done him. He asks after his health.
As Tip is asked to take his boots to the kitchen, and his baggage to his room. Lithers is surprised to see him uncommonly down. Gabblewig explains that he was to marry, but the young lady’s uncle refused his consent. Lithers consoles him by suggesting there are other women, then asks couldn’t anything be done to get over the difficulty?’
Gabblewick explains the uncle’s objection is that he speaks too fast and is slow in terms of purpose. He was a ‘crushed flower’ and came to Malvern to see if its waters would have an effect 0n his broken heart.
He mentions Miss Rosina Nightingale is in the Crescent in Bath. Lithers takes a letter from his pocket and passes it to Gebblewig. He sees it is from Mr Christopher Nightingale, requesting a room from Tuesday, that afternoon! And two rooms for Miss Rosina Nightingale and her maid. He and Rosina plan to take the cold-water cure.
Lithers asked what he plans to do, he assures he will help him in any manner, For example a ladder from the builders, so he can run away with the young lady, or a key to the street door, But Gabblewig says there is nothing that can be done.
Slap arrives enquiring if Mr Formiville’s luggage has arrived. Lithers confirms that it has. Slap is posing as Formiville and says his father’s name was Slap..
Gabblewig sees this, and believes that Slap had been established in the begging-letter business, He says he might take the law into his own hands and eject Slap from the window, with a twenty-five foot drop.
Slap angrily suggests that he has been defamed by Nightingale, and Gabblewig concludes that is what has brought him here. He allows Slap to stay, but warns him to respect the ownership of the cutlery.
Slap says aside ‘Nightingale shall suffer doubly. Nightingale found me out. When a man finds me out in imposing on him, I never forgive him, and when he don’t find me out, I never leave off imposing on him. Those are my principles.’
Later, Lithers greets Mr Nightingale saying he has received his note. Slap looks on. Nightingale arrives with Rosina and Susan. They are squabbling, he asks Rosina to consult his diary to see that he is always ill. He asks her to read the entry for last Tuesday afternnon. It says ‘New symptom. Crick in back. Sensation as if Self a stiff bootjack suddenly tried to be doubled up by strong person’.
Nightingale tells Lithers that he is ‘a nervous man, and requires peace’, and asks for sherry at lunch, port at dinner and water at night. Rosina tells him something has touched her heart and she almost fainted. Nightingale asks if Susan has any ailment and she says she does not.
Nightingale sees a man enjoying his dinner and bemoans the fact that he cannot, ‘I have tried hot water, and hot mud, and hot vapour, and have imbibed all sorts of springs from zero to boiling, and have gone through the pharmacopoeia, yet I don’t find myself a bit better.’
He says his only comfort is his diary wehere he notes his symptoms and begins to gain some understanding of his illness. Slap approaches the diary and considers, ‘Hum! shall I bleed him? Metaphorically bleed him. Why not?’
Gabblewig posing as Boots, meets with Slap and reveals that they had once acted together, he praises Slap’s acting ability. He reminds him of leaving Taunton without paying a washerwoman, Slap concedes that he really does know him.
Slap is pleased he doesn’t know he was dismissed from the company in disgrace, and asks if he is the waiter. He doesn’t really answer, Slap decides to pump him for information. He asks his name and Gabblewick says Charley Bit. He asks whether the old gentleman (Nightingale) had been their long. He replies just come, and says he is supposed to be a bachelor but has a wife. He then admits that she is in fact dead.
Gabblewig later meets up with Susan, who is surprised he is in the guise of Boots. He tells her that Mr Nightinglale had been married. She admits that she had glanced at his diary and seen something about a wife. That he had married young and she had become the plague of his life.
Gabblewig establishes that Susan was from Malvern and asks if she ever knew of a Mrs Nightingale in the town. She said she did, but surely she could not have been his wife. He suspects she was, and she had died and been buried at Pershore Churchyard, his uncle was the sexton there.
He asks her to get him a death certificate because he suspects the old lady walks and he intends to lay her ghost to rest.
Susan leaves and Nightingale arrives with Rosina. He is still talking of his illnesses over the last twenty years. Gabblewig spills some water on him and then Nightingale while drinking spills more water.
Slap arrives. dressed as a medic, and says that Nightingale should not drink that water. Nightingale protests it is only water and he is a pump patient. Slap says persevere and he would drown within a week.
Slap says, ‘A most debilitated pulse, great want of coagulum, lymphitic to an alarming degree. Stamina weak, decidedly weak.’ Nightingale confirms this and talks of a previous diagnosis, told him to try chalk and pea-flour. ‘And you grew worse!’
Nightingale says, ‘Astonishing! I did – yes. Fever. Sir, you read me like a book, So I tried a wet cure.’ Slap said, ‘Water, unless in combination with alcohol, is poison to you. You want blood. In man there are two kinds of blood. One in a vessel called a vein, hence venous blood. The other in the vessel called artery, hence arterial blood; the one dark, the other bright. We must thicken it, mustard and milk!’
Gabblewig seeks to dismiss Slap’s recommendations. Nightingale says. ‘You must know I’m an invalid. Come down here to try the cold-water cure. This gentleman tells me to take mustard and milk’. Slap adds, ‘In combination with a rare balsam known only to myself. One guinea a bottle. Case of twelve, ten pounds.’
Slip dismisses them as a humbug and humbugess. He says, ‘They are sent about as cheerful examples of the effects of cold water. Regularly paid, sir, to waylay new-comers’.
Nightingale thanks him, ‘My dear doctor , you are a doctor?’
Slap replies ‘DD and MD and correspondmg member of the Mendicity Society.’ ‘Mendicity?’ Slap corrects himself, ‘Medical’. He talks him into buying a case of the balsam.’
Nightingale samples it, ‘It’s not very agreeable. I think I’ll make a note in my diary of my first sensa-tions.’
Gabblewig returns as a great invalid and Rosina as his nurse. He feigns tiredness and asks Nightingale what he should do. Rosina says, ‘Sir, pray don’t die here, try and get home and go out comfortably’. Gabblewig says, ‘This woman has lived on board wages at my expense for thirty years!’
Nightingale suggests that Gabblewig should follow Slap’s cure, Gabblewig says. ‘Are you too a victim? Have you swallowed any of that man-slaughtering compound?’ Nightingale insisted, ‘Only a little.’ ‘How do you feel? Dimness of sight, feebleness of limbs?’ ‘Not at present’.
Nightingale hears Gabblewick’s tales and turns on Slap, ‘You scoundrel! and to this state you would have reduced me’. He asks the name of his preserver, that I may enter it in his diary’. ‘Captain Blower RN’ says Gabbelewig.
Nightingale declares, ‘Really, this will be the most eventful day in my diary except one, that day which consigned me to Mrs. Nightingale and twenty years of misery. I haven”t seen her for nineteen, though I have periodical reminders that she is still in the land of the living, in the shape of quarterly payments of £25, clear of income tax’. He leaves.
Susan enters and declares, ‘What a wicked world this is, to be sure! Everybody seems to be trying to do the best they can for themselves, and, what makes it worse, the complaint seems to be catching’.
She confesses to Gabblewig that she did not obtain the certificate, but that the her uncle has a copy, She also relieves Gabblewig of a sovereign to reveal Tip is a conspirator. He asks her to get more evidence.
Slap enters diguised as a woman and asks Lithers to bring Mr Nightingale to ‘her’. He then says, aside, that Mrs Nightingale, Maria, has been dead for twelve years. Nightingale has paid her allowance with commendable regularity to him, her only surviving brother.
Slap still posing as a woman meets with Nightingale and says Maria has got worse, its not gin now, but brandy. ‘You know she’d a brother, an excellent young man, who went to America ten years ago.’
Nightingale agreed, ‘I know,’ he reads from his diary. ’16th May, 1841, sent £ 50 to Mrs N’s vagabond brother going to America.’
Slap continues, ‘He’s written to Ma’ria, to say that if you’ll give her £200, and she could come out, he’d take care of her forever’. ‘Done. It’s a bargain’. ‘And, her son for £100 more’. ‘Son?’ ‘Shortly after you and Maria separated a son was born. But Maria to revenge herself sent him to the workhouse as a foundling she had received in a basket.’
Nightingale says he doesn’t believe it. So Slap calls for Christopher (actually Tip disguised). Nightingale will have nothing to do with him, and agrees to pay the money if they will all disappear.
Gabblewig has seen what was happening so he and Susan enter and he claims to be the father of Christopher. Gabblewig whispers to him ‘If you don’t say we are your parents, I’ll break every bone in your body’. Slap protests that ‘she’ had brought him up.
Slap and Gabblewig argue. Gabblewig reveals that Maria had died ten years and more ago, and ‘dead she is as the hosts of the Egyptian Fairies’.
Nightingale says he will give him £50 if he can prove it. ‘Prove it! which I can and will directly, by my brother the sexton. As I will produce in the twinkling of a star or eye.’ Gabblewig leaves.
Slap tries to leave, but Nightingale seizes ‘her’. Gabblewig enters disguised as the sexton brother, who proves to be very deaf.
Nightingale asks if he ever buried a Nightingale. He says no only Christians. Asked if he buried a Mrs Nightingale, he confirms it and pulls out a ceritificate. Nightingale gives him a guinea.
Nightingale says if he were not a woman he would duck Slap in the horsepond. Tip reveals he is a man, who deluded him with a glass of rum and water, and the promise of £5.
Slap says ‘Napoleon had his Waterloo, Slap has his Malvern.’
Gabblewig reenters as himself, ‘Be content with plain Slap, discard counterfeit Formiville, and we’ll do something for you.’ Slap says ‘Gabblewig!’ He responds, ‘Charley Bit, Mr Poulter, Captain Blower, respectable female, and deaf sexton all equally at anybody’s service.
Rosina admit. ‘Dear uncle, you would have been imposed upon, and plundered, and made even worse than you ever made yourself’. Gabblewig grabs Rosina and embraces her,
Nightingale starts to consult his diary and Gabblewick suggest he burn it,
Slap says. ‘I say, sir, try me, and when you find me not worth a trial, don’t try me any more. As to that gentleman’s destroying his diary, sir, my opinion is that he might perhaps refer to it once again’.
Gabblewig says to the audience. ‘Shall he refer to it once more?’ Then to Nightingale, ‘Well, I think you may’.
Nightingale, Mr Christopher