She Stoops to Conquer was first performed on this day at Covent Garden Theatre in 1773. Over two-and-a-half centuries, countless people have laughed at the antics of Tony Lumpkin as related by his stepfather, Hardcastle:
MRS. HARDCASTLE. Humour, my dear; nothing but humour. Come, Mr. Hardcastle, you must allow the boy [Lumpkin] a little humour.
HARDCASTLE. I’d sooner allow him a horse-pond. If burning the footmen’s shoes, frightening the maids, and worrying the kittens be humour, he has it. It was but yesterday he fastened my wig to the back of my chair, and when I went to make a bow, I popt my bald head in Mrs. Frizzle’s face.
This event was inspired by a prank played on the author, Oliver Goldsmith, by the young Mary Nugent, later the 1st Marchioness of Buckingham, mother of Richard Temple, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.
Oliver Goldsmith, studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds c. 1770
The story is told in the Memoir of Robert Nugent by Claude Nugent (1898):
Nugent’s daughter Mary was a great favourite of Goldsmith’s and an amusing story is told of how on one occasion, when he was asleep after dinner, she tied his wig on the back of a chair, so that on walking and rising to his feet, his wig was dragged from his head exposing his baldness. He treated it as a joke, however, with the utmost good-nature, and put the incident into his delightful comedy, She Stoops to Conquer.
So Richard’s mother was, in part at least, an inspiration for the antics of Tony Lumpkin!