Scene from The Battle of Life, at the Lyceum Theatre: Clemency (Mrs. Keeley); Britain (Mr. Keeley). The Illustrated London News. Saturday, 26 December 1846, p. 413. Albert Smith's adaptation of Dickens's The Battle of Life: A Love Story for the Lyceum Theatre, London. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Act Two, Scene Two, in Dr. Jeddler's Parlour, after "The News of the Homecoming"

In the printed versions of Albert's Smith's stage adaptation, Dr. Jeddler and his daughters exit, rather than remaining behind to give their servants permission to remain "above stairs," in the parlour. Since in the novella Clemency "descended to the kitchen" ("Part the Second," 84) to tell Britain about the news of Alfred's homecoming, Smith had to invent a speech for Dr. Jeddler in order to avoid a scene change. Smith then gives Clemency a soliloquy in which she prepares the audience for her marriage proposal to the phlegmatic Benjamin Britain, which in turn sets up the plot of their leaving service and becoming the publicans at The Nutmeg Grater Inn nearby.

Clem. Lor: how I should like to be a missus. Perhaps I shall be some day.

Brit (looking around) Who rung?

Clem. Me, Benjamin. Doctor Jeddler says we may finish the supper her, and let the kitchen fire out.

Brit. Oh very good (looks at the cover). It don't improve a man, not having his portrait taken in this style in which capacity I was employed to carry about deceptions in oil-skin baskets: nothing but deceptions: which soured my spirits and disturbed my confidence in human nature. Then I heard a world of discussions in this house which soured my spirits fresh: and my opinion, after ll, is that as a safe and comfortable sweetner of the same, and as a pleasant guide through life, there's nothing like a nutmeg grater.

Clem. That's just what —

Brit. Com—bined with a thimble.

Do as you wold, you know, and cetrer, eh? Such a short cut, ain't it? (Patting her elbows. [LC 544 12 — 547 — 15]

The connection between sewing and philosophy may be an oblique allusion to Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (1833). Since Carlyle was a leading member of Dickens's circle, this in-joke from the novel might not have appealed to the relatively unsophisticated audience at The Lyceum. However, the tagline about the nutmeg grater and thimble was so well received by the audience that Smith inserted it again as the curtain-line of the play. He had already used it again when Britain determines to have the name of the public house, The Nutmeg-grater and Thimble, "painted up in the parlour, instead of my Wife's portrait" (LC 585 19).

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. The image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you link to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one.


Dickens, Charles. The Battle of Life: A Love Story. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. Engraved by J. Thompson, Dalziel, T. Williams, and Green. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1846.

"Scene from The Battle of Life, at the Lyceum Theatre: Clemency (Mrs. Keeley); Britain (Mr. Keeley)." The Illustrated London News. Saturday, 26 December 1846, p. 413.

Smith, Albert. The Battle of Life. A drama, in three acts. [adaptation novella by Charles Dickens]. London: John Dicks, No. 1,001; Duncombe, December, 1846. W. S. Johnson. Royal Lyceum Theatre, London: 21 December 1846. The Lord Chamberlain's Collection, MS. 42998 ff. 512-587. Licensed 16/12/1846.

Created December 6, 2002

Last modified 2 June 2024