The Comedy Of A Madman by Isaac Disraeli

Story type: Essay

Desmarets, the friend of Richelieu, was a very extraordinary character, and produced many effusions of genius in early life, till he became a mystical fanatic. It was said of him that “he was the greatest madman among poets, and the best poet among madmen.” His comedy of “The Visionaries” is one of the most extraordinary dramatic projects, and, in respect to its genius and its lunacy, may be considered as a literary curiosity.

In this singular comedy all Bedlam seems to be let loose on the stage, and every character has a high claim to an apartment in it. It is indeed suspected that the cardinal had a hand in this anomalous drama, and in spite of its extravagance it was favourably received by the public, who certainly had never seen anything like it.

Every character in this piece acts under some hallucination of the mind, or a fit of madness. Artabaze is a cowardly hero, who believes he has conquered the world. Amidor is a wild poet, who imagines he ranks above Homer. Filidan is a lover, who becomes inflammable as gunpowder for every mistress he reads of in romances. Phalante is a beggarly bankrupt, who thinks himself as rich as Croesus. Melisse, in reading the “History of Alexander,” has become madly in love with this hero, and will have no other husband than “him of Macedon.” Hesperie imagines her fatal charms occasion a hundred disappointments in the world, but prides herself on her perfect insensibility. Sestiane, who knows no other happiness than comedies, and whatever she sees or hears, immediately plans a scene for dramatic effect, renounces any other occupation; and finally, Alcidon, the father of these three mad girls, as imbecile as his daughters are wild. So much for the amiable characters!

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The plot is in perfect harmony with the genius of the author, and the characters he has invented–perfectly unconnected, and fancifully wild. Alcidon resolves to marry his three daughters, who, however, have no such project of their own. He offers them to the first who comes. He accepts for his son-in-law the first who offers, and is clearly convinced that he is within a very short period of accomplishing his wishes. As the four ridiculous personages whom we have noticed frequently haunt his house, he becomes embarrassed in finding one lover too many, having only three daughters.

The catastrophe relieves the old gentleman from his embarrassments. Melisse, faithful to her Macedonian hero, declares her resolution of dying before she marries any meaner personage. Hesperie refuses to marry, out of pity for mankind; for to make one man happy she thinks she must plunge a hundred into despair. Sestiane, only passionate for comedy, cannot consent to any marriage, and tells her father, in very lively verses,

Je ne veux point, mon pere, espouser un censeur;
Puisque vous me souffrez recevoir la douceur
Des plaisirs innocens que le theatre apporte,
Prendrais-je le hasard de vivre d’autre sorte?
Puis on a des enfans, qui vous sont sur les bras,
Les mener an theatre, O Dieux! quel embarras!
Tantot couche ou grossesse, on quelque maladie;
Pour jamais vous font dire, adieu la comedie!


No, no, my father, I will have no critic,
(Miscalled a husband) since you still permit
The innocent sweet pleasures of the stage;
And shall I venture to exchange my lot?
Then we have children folded in our arms
To bring them to the play-house; heavens! what troubles!
Then we lie in, are big, or sick, or vexed:
These make us bid farewell to comedy!

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At length these imagined sons-in-law appear; Filidan declares that in these three girls he cannot find the mistress he adores. Amidor confesses he only asked for one of his daughters out of pure gallantry, and that he is only a lover–in verse! When Phalante is questioned after the great fortunes he hinted at, the father discovers that he has not a stiver, and out of credit to borrow: while Artabaze declares that he only allowed Alcidon, out of mere benevolence, to flatter himself for a moment with the hope of an honour that even Jupiter would not dare to pretend to. The four lovers disperse and leave the old gentleman more embarrassed than ever, and his daughters perfectly enchanted to enjoy their whimsical reveries, and die old maids–all alike “Visionaries!”

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