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force of expression, both which the best of our his friends, which always happens when a man succeeding dramatic poets thought proper to take distinguishes himself in party; but there is in it nofor their models. Rowe, in particular, seems to thing extraordinary. Even the speech which he have caught that manner, though in all other re-made for himself at the bar of the House of Lords, spects inferior. The other poets of that reign con- before he was sent into exile, is void of eloquence, tributed but little towards improving the English though it has been cried up by his friends to such tongue, and it is not certain whether they did not a degree that his enemies have suffered it to pass injure rather than improve it. Immorality has its uncensured.
cant as well as party, and many shocking expres- The philosophical manner of Lord Shaftesbury's sions now crept into the language, and became the writing is nearer to that of Cicero than any Engtransient fashion of the day. The upper galleries, lish author has yet arrived at; but perhaps had by the prevalence of party-spirit, were courted with Cicero written in English, his composition would great assiduity, and a horse-laugh following ribaldry have greatly exceeded that of our countryman. was the highest instance of applause, the chastity The diction of the latter is beautiful, but such as.well as energy of diction being overlooked or neglected.
beauty as, upon nearer inspection, carries with it evident symptoms of affectation. This has been attended with very disagreeable consequences. Nothing is so easy to copy as affectation, and his lordship's rank and fame have procured him more imitators in Britain than any other writer I know; all faithfully preserving his blemishes, but unhappily not one of his beauties.
Virtuous sentiment was recovered, but energy of style never was. This, though disregarded in plays and party writings, still prevailed amongst men of character and business. The dispatches of Sir Richard Fanshaw, Sir William Godolphin, Lord Arlington, and many other ministers of state, are all of them, with respect to diction, manly, bold, Mr. Trenchard and Mr. Davenant were politiand nervous. Sir William Temple, though a man cal writers of great abilities in diction, and their of no learning, had great knowledge and experience. pamphlets are now standards in that way of writing. He wrote always like a man of sense and a gentle. They were followed by Dean Swift, who, though man; and his style is the model by which the best in other respects far their superior, never could rise prose writers in the reign of Queen Anne formed to that manliness and clearness of diction in polititheirs. The beauties of Mr. Locke's style, though cal writing for which they were so justly famous. not so much celebrated, are as striking as that of his understanding. He never says more nor less than he ought, and never makes use of a word that he could have changed for a better. The same observation holds good of Dr. Samuel Clarke.
They were all of them exceeded by the late Lord Bolingbroke, whose strength lay in that province; for as a philosopher and a critic he was ill qualified, being destitute of virtue for the one, and of learning for the other. His writings against Sir Robert Walpole are incomparably the best part of his works. The personal and perpetual antipathy he had for that family, to whose places he thought his own abilities had a right, gave a glow to his style, and an edge to his manner, that never yet have been equalled in political writing. His misfortunes and disappointments gave his mind a turn which his friends mistook for philosophy, and at one time of There is nothing peculiar to the language of his life he had the art to impose the same belief upArchbishop Tillotson, but his manner of writing on some of his enemies. His idea of a Patriot is inimitable; for one who reads him, wonders why King, which I reckon (as indeed it was) amongst he himself did not think and speak in that very his writings against Sir Robert Walpole, is a manner. The turn of his periods is agreeable, masterpiece of diction. Even in his other works though artless, and every thing he says seems to his style is excellent; but where a man either does flow spontaneously from inward conviction. Bar- not, or will not understand the subject he writes row, though greatly his superior in learning, falls on, there must always be a deficiency. In politics short of him in other respects. he was generally master of what he undertook, in morals never.
Mr. Locke was a philosopher; his antagonist, Stillingfleet, bishop of Worcester, was a man of learning; and therefore the contest between them was unequal. The clearness of Mr. Locke's head renders his language, perspicuous, the learning of Stillingfleet's clouds his. This is an instance of the superiority of good sense over learning towards the improvement of every language.
The time seems to be at hand when justice will be done to Mr. Cowley's prose, as well as poetical, Mr. Addison, for a happy and natural style, writings; and though his friend Dr. Sprat, bishop will be always an honour to British literature. His of Rochester, in his diction falls far short of the diction indeed wants strength, but it is equal to all abilities for which he has been celebrated, yet there the subjects he undertakes to handle, as he never is sometimes a happy flow in his periods, something (at least in his finished works) attempts any thing that looks like eloquence. The style of his suc- either in the argumentative or demonstrative way. cessor, Atterbury, has been much commended by
Though Sir Richard Steele's reputation as a
public writer was owing to his connexions with herst, were possessed of great abilities, yet they Mr. Addison, yet after their intimacy was formed, were suffered to feel all the miseries that usually Steele sunk in his merit as an author. This was attend the ingenious and the imprudent, that atnot owing so much to the evident superiority on tend men of strong passions, and no phlegmatic rethe part of Addison, as to the unnatural efforts serve in their command. which Steele made to equal or eclipse him. This At present, were a man to attempt to improve emulation destroyed that genuine flow of diction his fortune, or increase his friendship, by poetry, which is discoverable in all his former composi- he would soon feel the anxiety of disappointment. tions. The press lies open, and is a benefactor to every sort of literature but that alone.
Whilst their writings engaged attention and the favour of the public, reiterated but unsuccessful en- I am at a loss whether to ascribe this falling off deavours were made towards forming a grammar of the public to a vicious taste in the poet, or in of the English language. The authors of those them. Perhaps both are to be reprehended. The efforts went upon wrong principles. Instead of poet, either drily didactive, gives us rules which endeavouring to retrench the absurdities of our lan- might appear abstruse even in a system of ethics, guage, and bringing it to a certain criterion, their or triflingly volatile, writes upon the most unworthy grammars were no other than a collection of rules subjects; content, if he can give music instead of attempting to naturalize those absurdities, and sense; content, if he can paint to the imagination bring them under a regular system. without any desires or endeavours to affect: the Somewhat effectual, however, might have been public, therefore, with justice, discard such empty done towards fixing the standard of the English sound, which has nothing but a jingle, or, what is language, had it not been for the spirit of party. worse, the unmusical flow of blank verse to recomFor both whigs and tories being ambitious to stand mend it. The late method, also, into which our at the head of so great a design, the Queen's death newspapers have fallen, of giving an epitome of happened before any plan of an academy could be every new publication, must greatly damp the resolved on. writer's genius. He finds himself, in this case, at Meanwhile the necessity of such an institution the mercy of men who have neither abilities nor became every day more apparent. The periodical learning to distinguish his merit. He finds his and political writers, who then swarmed, adopted own composition mixed with the sordid trash of the very worst manner of L'Estrange, till not only every daily scribbler. There is a sufficient speciall decency, but all propriety of language, was lost men given of his work to abate curiosity, and yet in the nation. Leslie, a pert writer, with some wit so mutilated as to render him contemptible. His and learning, insulted the government every week first, and perhaps his second work, by these means with the grossest abuse. His style and manner, sink, among the crudities of the age, into oblivion. both of which were illiberal, were imitated by Rid- Fame he finds begins to turn her back: he therepath, De Foe, Dunton, and others of the opposite fore flies to profit which invites him, and he enparty, and Toland pleaded the cause of atheism rols himself in the lists of dulness and of avarice and immorality in much the same strain; his sub-for life. ject seemed to debase his diction, and he ever failed most in one when he grew most licentious in the other.
Yet there are still among us men of the greatest abilities, and who in some parts of learning have surpassed their predecessors: justice and friendship Towards the end of Queen Anne's reign, some might here impel me to speak of names which will of the greatest men in England devoted their time shine out to all posterity, but prudence restrains to party, and then a much better manner obtained me from what I should otherwise eagerly embrace. in political writing. Mr. Walpole, Mr. Addison, Envy might rise against every honoured name I Mr. Mainwaring, Mr. Steele, and many members should mention, since scarcely one of them has not of both houses of parliament, drew their pens for those who are his enemies, or those who despise the whigs; but they seem to have been overmatch- him, etc. ed, though not in argument yet in writing, by Bolingbroke, Prior, Swift, Arbuthnot, and the other friends of the opposite party. They who oppose a ministry have always a better field for ridicule and reproof than they who defend it.
OF THE OPERA IN ENGLAND.
THE rise and fall of our amusements pretty Since that period, our writers have either been much resemble that of empire. They this day encouraged above their merits or below them. flourish without any visible cause for such vigour; Some who were possessed of the meanest abilities the next, they decay without any reason that can acquired the highest preferments, while others who be assigned for their downfal. Some years ago the seemed born to reflect a lustre upon the age, perish- Italian opera was the only fashionable amusement ed by want and neglect. More, Savage, and Am- among our nobility. The managers of the play
houses dreaded it as a mortal enemy, and our very |ther Corelli nor Pergolesi ever permitted them, and poets listed themselves in the opposition: at present they even begin to be discontinued in Italy, where the house seems deserted, the castrati sing to empty they first had their rise. benches, even Prince Vologese himself, a youth of great expectations, sings himself out of breath, and rattles his chain to no purpose.
And now I am upon the subject: our composers also should affect greater simplicity; let their bass cliff have all the variety they can give it; let the To say the truth, the opera as it is conducted body of the music (if I may so express it) be as vaamong us, is but a very humdrum amusement: in rious as they please; but let them avoid ornamentother countries, the decorations are entirely magnifi- ing a barren ground-work; let them not attempt cent, the singers all excellent, and the burlettas or by flourishing to cheat us of solid harmony. interludes quite entertaining; the best poets comThe works of Mr. Rameau are never heard pose the words, and the best masters the music, but without a surprising effect. I can attribute it only with us it is otherwise; the decorations are but tri-to the simplicity he every where observes, insomuch fling and cheap; the singers, Matei only excepted, that some of his finest harmonies are only octave but indifferent. Instead of interlude, we have those and unison. This simple manner has greater sorts of skipping dances, which are calculated for powers than is generally imagined; and were not the galleries of the theatre. Every performer sings such a demonstration misplaced, I think, from the his favourite song, and the music is only a medley of principles of music it might be proved to be most old Italian airs, or some meagre modern Capriccio. agreeable. When such is the case, it is not much to be But to leave general reflection. With the present wondered if the opera is pretty much neglected; set of performers, the operas, if the conductor thinks the lower orders of people have neither taste nor proper, may be carried on with some success, since fortune to relish such an entertainment; they they have all some merit, if not as actors, at least as would find more satisfaction in the Roast Beef singers. Signora Matei is at once both a perfect of Old England than in the finest closes of a eu- actress and a very fine singer. She is possessed nuch; they sleep amidst all the agony of recita- of a fine sensibility in her manner, and seldom intive; on the other hand, people of fortune or taste can hardly be pleased, where there is a visible poverty in the decorations, and an entire want of taste in the composition.
dulges those extravagant and unmusical flights of voice complained of before. Cornacini, on the other hand, is a very indifferent actor, has a most unmeaning face, seems not to feel his part, is infected Would it not surprise one, that when Metasta- with a passion of showing his compass; but to resio is so well known in England, and so universal- compense all these defects, his voice is melodious, ly admired, the manager or the composer should he has vast compass and great volubility, his swell have recourse to any other operas than those written by him? I might venture to say, that written by Metastasio, put up in the bills of the day, would alone be sufficient to fill a house, since thus the admirers of sense as well as sound might find entertainment.
The performers also should be entreated to sing only their parts without clapping in any of their own favourite airs. I must own, that such songs are generally to me the most disagreeable in the world. Every singer generally chooses a favourite air, not from the excellency of the music, but from difficulty; such songs are generally chosen as surprise rather than please, where the performer may show his compass, his breath, and his volubility.
and shake are perfectly fine, unless that he continues the latter too long. In short, whatever the defects of his action may be, they are amply recompensed by his excellency as a singer; nor can I avoid fancying that he might make a much greater figure in an oratorio than upon the stage.
However, upon the whole, I know not whether ever operas can be kept up in England; they seem to be entirely exotic, and require the nicest management and care. Instead of this, the care of them is assigned to men unacquainted with the genius and disposition of the people they would amuse, and whose only motives are immediate gain. Whether a discontinuance of such entertainments would be more to the loss or advantage of the nation, I will Hence proceed those unnatural startings, those not take upon me to determine, since it is as much unmusical closings, and shakes lengthened out to our interest to induce foreigners of taste among us a painful continuance; such indeed may show a on the one hand, as it is to discourage those trifling voice, but it must give a truly delicate ear the ut-members of society who generally compose the most uneasiness, Such tricks are not music; nei- operatical dramatis persone on the other.
[ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 1765.]
have been objected to the following Essays, and it must be owned in some measure that the charge is true. However, I could have made them more metaphysical had I thought fit; but I would ask, whether, in a short Essay, it is not necessary to be superficial? Before we have prepared to enter into the depths of a subject in the usual forms, we have arrived at the bottom of our scanty page, and thus lose the honours of a victory by too tedious a
THE following Essays have already appeared at different times, and in different publications. The pamphlets in which they were inserted being generally unsuccessful, these shared the common fate, without assisting the bookseller's aims, or extending the writer's reputation. The public were too strenuously employed with their own follies to be assiduous in estimating mine; so that many of my preparation for the combat. best attempts in this way have fallen victims to the transient topic of the times-the Ghost in Cock-fles, which, I fear, will not be so easily pardoned. lane, or the siege of Ticonderoga.
There is another fault in this collection of tri
It will be alleged, that the humour of them (if any But though they have passed pretty silently in- be found) is stale and hackneyed. This may be to the world, I can by no means complain of their true enough, as matters now stand; but I may circulation. The magazines and papers of the with great truth assert, that the humour was new day have indeed been liberal enough in this re- when I wrote it. Since that time, indeed, many spect. Most of these essays have been regularly of the topics, which were first stated here, have reprinted twice or thrice a year, and conveyed to been hunted down, and many of the thoughts the public through the kennel of some engaging blown upon. In fact, these Essays were considercompilation. If there be a pride in multiplied edi-ed as quietly laid in the grave of oblivion; and our tions, I have seen some of my labours sixteen modern compilers, like sextons and executioners, times reprinted, and claimed by different parents think it their undoubted right to pillage the dead. as their own. I have seen them flourished at the However, whatever right I have to complain of beginning with praise, and signed at the end with the names of Philautos, Philalethis, Phileleutheros, and Philanthropos. These gentlemen have kindly stood sponsors to my productions, and, to flatter me more, have always passed them as their own. It is time, however, at last to vindicate my claims; and as these entertainers of the public, as they call themselves, have partly lived upon me for some years, let me now try if I can not live a little upon myself. I would desire, in this case, to imitate that fat man whom I have somewhere heard of in a shipwreck, who, when the sailors, pressed by famine, were taking slices from his posteriors to satisfy their hunger, insisted, with great justice, on having the first cut for himself.
Yet, after all, I can not be angry with any who have taken it into their heads, to think that whatever I write is worth reprinting, particularly when I consider how great a majority will think it scarcely worth reading. Trifling and superficial are terms of reproach that are easily objected, and that carry an air of penetration in the observer. These faults
the public, they can, as yet, have no just reason to
SIR, Nine hundred and ninety-nine years after sight hereof, pay the bearer, or order, a thousand pounds worth of praise, free from all deductions whatsoever, it being a commodity that will then be very serviceable to him, and place it to the account of, etc.
something touched off to a nicety, for Mr. Sprig. gins was going to give us Mad Tom in all its glo ry. Mr. Spriggins endeavoured to excuse himself;
I REMEMBER to have read in some philosopher for as he was to act a madman and a king, it was (I believe in Tom Brown's works), that, let a impossible to go through the part properly without man's character, sentiments, or complexion be a crown and chains. His excuses were overruled what they will, he can find company in London to by a great majority, and with much vociferation. match them. If he be splenetic, he may every The president ordered up the jack-chain, and inday meet companions on the seats in St. James's stead of a crown, our performer covered his brows Park, with whose groans he may mix his own, with an inverted jorden. After he had rattled his and pathetically talk of the weather. If he be pas-chain, and shook his head, to the great delight of sionate, he may vent his rage among the old ora- the whole company, he began his song. As l tors at Slaughter's Coffee-house, and damn the have heard few young fellows offer to sing in comnation because it keeps him from starving. If he pany, that did not expose themselves, it was no be phlegmatic, he may sit in silence at the hum- great disappointment to me to find Mr. Spriggins drum club in Ivy-lane; and, if actually mad, he among the number; however, not to seem an odd may find very good company in Moorfields, either fish, I rose from my seat in rapture, cried out, at Bedlam or the Foundry, ready to cultivate a bravo! encore! and slapped the table as loud as nearer acquaintance. any of the rest.
But, although such as have a knowledge of the The gentleman who sat next me seemed highly town may easily class themselves with tempers pleased with my taste and the ardour of my apcongenial to their own, a countryman, who comes probation; and whispering told me that I had sufto live in London, finds nothing more difficult. fered an immense loss, for had I come a few miWith regard to myself, none ever tried with more nutes sooner, I might have heard Gee ho Dobbin assiduity, or came off with such indifferent suc- sung in a tip-top manner by the pimple-nosed spicess. I spent a whole season in the search, dur- rit at the president's right elbow; but he was evaping which time my name has been enrolled in so-orated before I came.
The first club I entered upon coming to town was that of the Choice Spirits. The name was entirely suited to my taste; I was a lover of mirth, good-humour, and even sometimes of fun, from my childhood.
cieties, lodges, convocations, and meetings, with- As I was expressing my uneasiness at this disout number. To some I was introduced by a appointment, I found the attention of the compafriend, to others invited by an advertisement; to ny employed upon a fat figure, who, with a voice these I introduced myself, and to those I changed more rough than the Staffordshire giant's, was my name to gain admittance. In short, no co-giving us the Softly Sweet in Lydian Measure of quette was ever more solicitous to match her ri- Alexander's Feast. After a short pause of adbands to her complexion, than I to suit my club to miration, to this succeeded a Welsh dialogue, my temper; for I was too obstinate to bring my with the humours of Teague and Taffy: after that temper to conform to it. came on Old Jackson, with a story between every stanza; next was sung the Dustcart, and then Solomon's Song. The glass began now to circulate pretty freely: those who were silent when sober would now be heard in their turn; every man had his song, and he saw no reason why he should As no other passport was requisite but the pay- not be heard as well as any of the rest; one begged to ment of two shillings at the door, I introduced my- be heard while he gave Death and the Lady in high self without further ceremony to the members, who taste; another sung to a plate which he kept were already assembled, and had for some time trundling on the edges; nothing was now heard begun upon business. The Grand, with a mallet but singing; voice rose above voice; and the whole in his hand, presided at the head of the table. I became one universal shout, when the landlord could not avoid, upon my entrance, making use of came to acquaint the company that the reckoning all my skill in physiognomy, in order to discover was drank out. Rabelais calls the moment in that superiority of genius in men, who had taken which a reckoning is mentioned the most melana title so superior to the rest of mankind. I ex- choly of our lives; never was so much noise so pected to see the lines of every face marked with quickly quelled as by this short but pathetic orastrong thinking; but though I had some skill in tion of our landlord: drank out! was echoed in a this science, I could for my life discover nothing tone of discontent round the table: drank out albut a pert simper, fat or profound stupidity.
ready! that was very odd! that so much punch My speculations were soon interrupted by the could be drank already-impossible! The landGrand, who had knocked down Mr. Spriggins for lord, however, seeming resolved not to retreat from a song. I was upon this whispered by one of the his first assurances, the company was dissolved, company who sat next me, that I should now see and a president chosen for the night ensuing.