The English Theophrastus
Of the AGE.
_Authors, Wits, Poets, Criticks,_ Will's _Coffee-House, Play-House,_ &c.
"Eubulus fancying himself Inspir'd, stands up for the Honour of Poetry, and is mightily provok'd to hear the Sacred Name of _Poet_, turn'd into Scandal and Ridicule; He tells you what a profound Veneration the _Athenians_ had for their Dramatick Writers; how greatly _Terence_ and _Virgil_ were Honour'd in _Rome_; the first, by _Scipio_ and _Lælius_, the other by _Augustus_ and _Mecænas_; how much _Francis_ the First, and Cardinal _Richelieu_, encourag'd the Wits of _France_; and drawing his Argument more home, he relates to you, how in this Island the _Buckinghams_, the _Orrerys_, the _Roscommons_, the _Normanbys_, the _Dorsets_, the _Hallifaxs_, and several other Illustrious Persons have not only encouraged Poetry, but ennobled the Art itself by their Performances.
"True _Eubulus_; we allow Poetry to be a Divine Art, and the name of _Poet_ to be _Sacred_ and Honourable, when a _Sophocles_, a _Terence_, a _Virgil_, a _Corneille_, a _Boileau_, a _Shakespear_, a _Waller_, a _Dryden_, a _Wycherly_, a _Congreve_, or a _Garth_ bears it: But then we intend it as a Scandal, when we give it to _Mævius, Chapelain, Ogilby_, W---- D----, D----, S----, and _your self_.
"I question whether some Poets allow any other Poets to have Perform'd better, than themselves, in that kind of Poetry which they profess. Sir _R---- B----_, I suppose, tho' he has declaim'd against Wit, yet is not so conceited, as to Vie with _Horace_ and _Juvenal_ for _Satyr_; but as to _Heroick Poetry_, methinks he Reasons thus with himself; _Homer_ has writ the _Ilias_ and the _Odysseis_, and _Virgil_ only the _Æneid_; I have writ _Prince Arthur_, and _King Arthur_; am I not then equal to _Homer_, and Superior to _Virgil_? No, _B----re_, we judge of _Poetry_ as we do of _Metals_, nor by the _Lump_, but the intrinsick Value. New cast your Poems; purge 'em of their Dross; reduce 'em to the Bulk of the _Dispensary_, and if then they weigh in the Balance with _that_, we will allow you a Place among the First-Rate _Heroick Poets_.
"The _Wits_ of mean Descent and scanty Fortune, are generally apt to reflect on Persons of Quality and Estates, whom they rashly tax with Dullness and Ignorance, a _Normanby_, a _Dorset_, a _Spencer_, a _Hallifax_, a _Boyle_, a _Stanhope_, and a _Codrington_, (to pass over abundance more) are sufficient to convince the World, that either an Ilustrious Birth, or vast Riches, are not incompatible with _deep Learning_, and _Sterling-Wit_.
"_Rapin_, St. _Evremont_, and some other _French_ Criticks, do the _English_ wrong, in the Judgments they pass upon their Plays: The _English_ Criticks are even with them, for generally they judge as _ill_ of _French_ Poetry.
"There is a great reach of Discernment, a deep Knowledge, and abundance of Candor requir'd to qualifie a Man for an _equal Judge_ of the Poetry and ingenious Compositions of two Nations, whose _Tempers,_ _Humours_, _Manners_, _Customs_, and _Tastes_, are so vastly different as the _French_ are from the _English_: _Rapin_, St. _Evremont_, and _Rymer_, are _candid_, _judicious_, and _learned_ Criticks, I own it; but yet neither the two first are sufficiently acquainted with _England_, nor the latter with _France_, to enter equally into the Genius of both Nations; and consequently they cannot pass a just Sentence upon the Performances of their respective Writers.
"Tis a great piece of Injustice in us, to charge the _French_ with Fickleness; for, to give them their due, They are ten times more constant in their Judgments, than we; Their _Cid_ and _Iphigenia_ in _Aulis_, are Acted at this very day, with as much Applause as they were thirty Years ago: All _London_ has admir'd the _Mourning Bride_ one Winter, and endeavoured to find fault with it the next.
"_Philo_ comes _piping hot_ out of the College, and having his Head full of Poetical Gingles, writes an _Elegy_, a _Panegyrick_ or a _Satyr_ upon the least frivolous Occasion: This brings him acquainted with all the _Second-Rate Wits_; One of these introduces him at _Will's_, and having a Play upon the Stocks, and ready to be Launch'd, he prevails with _Philo_ to write him a _Song_, a _Dialogue_, a _Prologue_ and _Epilogue_, in short, the Trimming of his Comedy. By this time, _Philo_ begins to think himself a great Man, and nothing less than the writing of a Play, can satisfie his towring Ambition; well, the Play is writ, the Players, upon the Recommendation of those that lick'd it over, like their Parts to a Fondness, and the _Comedy_, or _Tragedy_, being supported partly by its real Merit, but most powerfully by a _Toasting_, or _Kit-cat-Club_, comes off with universal Applause. How _slippery_ is _Greatness_! _Philo_ puff'd up with his Success, writes a second Play, scorns to improve it by the Corrections of better Wits, brings it upon the Stage, without securing a Party to protect it, and has the Mortification to hear it _Hist_ to death. Pray how many _Philos_ do we reckon in Town since the Revolution?
"The reason we have had so many _ill Plays_ of late, is this; The extraordinary _Success_ of the worst Performances encourages every Pretender to Poetry to Write; Whereas the indifferent Reception some excellent Pieces have met with, discourages our best Poets from Writing.
"After all, one of the boldest Attempts of Human Wit, is to write a taking _Comedy_: For, how many different sorts of People, how many various Palates must a Poet please, to gain a general Applause? He must have a _Plot_ and _Design_, _Coherence_ and _Unity_ of _Action_, _Time_ and _Place_, for the Criticks, _Polite Language_ for the Boxes, _Repartee_, _Humor_, and _Double Entendres_ for the Pit; and to the shame of our Theatres, a mixture of Farce for the Galleries, What Man of Sense now will venture his Reputation upon these hard Terms.
"The Poet often arrogates to himself the Applause, which we only give to Mrs. _Barry_ or _Bracegirdle_'s inimitable Performances: But then he must take as often upon his Account the Hisses, which are only intended for _Cæsonia_, and _Corinna's abominable Acting_. One makes amends for 'tother.
"Many a pert Coxcomb might have past for a _Wit_, if his Vanity had not brought him to _Will_'s.
"The same thing that makes a Man appear with Assurance at _Court_; qualifies him also to appear unconcern'd among Men of Sense at _Will_'s: I mean _Impertinence_.
"As some People _Write_, so others _talk themselves_ out of their _Reputation_."
- The name of a _Wit_ is little better than a Slander, since it is
generally given by those that have _none_, to those that have _little_.
"How strangely some words lose their Primitive Sense! By a _Critick_, was originally understood a _good Judge_; with us now-a-days, it signifies no more than a _Fault-finder_."
- A _Critick_ in the Modern Acceptation, seldom rises, either in
_Merit_, or _Reputation_; for it argues a mean grov'ling Genius, to be always finding Fault; whereas, a candid Judge of Things, not only improves his Parts, but gains every Body's Esteem.
- None keep generally worse Company than your Establish'd _Wits_, for
there are a sort of Coxcombs, that stick continually to them like Burrs, to make the Town think from their Company, that they are Men of Parts.
- _Criticks_ are useful, that's most certain, so are Executioners and
Informers: But what Man did ever envy the condition of _Jack Ketch_, or _Jack P----r_.
- How can we love the Man, whose Office is to torture and execute other
- After all, a _Critick_ is the last Refuge of a pretender to _Wit_.
"Tis a great piece of Assurance in a profest _Critick_ to write _Plays_, for if he does, he must expect to have the whole Club of _Wits_, scanning his Performances with utmost Severity, and magnifying his _Slips_ into _prodigious Faults_."
- I don't wonder Men of Quality and Estate resort to _Will_'s, for
really they make the best Figure there; an indifferent thing from 'em, passes for a Witty Jest, and sets presently the whole Company a Laughing. Thus we admire the pert Talk of Children, because we expected nothing from 'em.
"There are many unpertinent _Witlings_ at _Will_'s, that's certain; but then your Retailers of _Politicks_, or of second-hand Wit at _Tom_'s, are ten times more intolerable."
- _Wits_ are generally the most dangerous Company a Woman can keep, for
their Vanity makes 'em brag of more Favours than they obtain.
"Some Women care not what becomes of their Honour, so they may secure the _Reputation_ of their _Wit_.
"Those People generally talk _most_, who have the least to say; go to _Will_'s, and you'll hardly hear the Great _Wycherley_ speak two Sentences in a quarter of an Hour, whilst _Blatero_, _Hamilus_, _Turpinus_; and twenty more egregious Coxcombs, deafen the Company with their Political _Nonsense_.
"There are at _Will_'s some _Wit-carriers_, whose business is, to export the fine Things they hear, from one Room to another, next to a Reciting-Poet; these Fellows are the most exquisite Plague to a Man of Sense.
"In spight of the intrinsick Merit of _Wit_, we find it seldom brings a Man into the _Favour_, or even _Company_ of the _Great_, and the _Fair_, unless it be for a Laugh and away; never thought on, but when present; nor then neither, for the sake of the Man of _Wit_, but their own Diversion. The infallible way to ingratiate ones self with Quality, is that dull and empty Entertainment, called _Gaming_, for _Picket_, _Ombre_, and _Basset_, keep always Places even for a _quondam Foot-man,_ or a _Drawer_ at the _Assemblies_, _Apartments_, and _Visiting-days_. If you lose, you oblige with your Money; if you Win, you command with your Fortune; the _Lord_ is your _Bubble_, and the Lady what you please to make her."
- _Flattery_ of our _Wit_, has the same Power over Us, which _Flattery_
of _Beauty_ has over a Woman; it keeps up that good Opinion of our selves which is necessary to beget _Assurance_; and _Assurance_ produces success both in _Fortune_ and _Love_.
- Some Men take as much Pains to persuade the World that they have
_Wit_, as _Bullies_ do that they have _Courage_, and generally with the same Success, for they seldom deceive any one but themselves.
- Some _pert Coxcombs_, so violently affect the Reputation of _Wits_,
that not a _French Journal_, _Mercury_, _Farce_, or _Opera_, can escape their Pillaging: yet the utmost they arrive at, is but a sort of _Jack-a-lanthorn Wit_, that like the Sun-shine which wanton Boys with fragments of Looking-glass reflect in Men's Eyes, dazles the Weak-sighted, and troubles the strong. These are the Muses _Black-Guard_, that like those of our Camp, tho' they have no share in the Danger or Honour, yet have the greatest in the Plunder; that indifferently strip all that lie before 'em, dead or alive, Friends or Enemies: Whatever they light on, is _Terra incognita_, and they claim the right of Discoverers, that is, of giving their Names to it.
- I think the _Learned_, and _Unlearned Blockhead_ pretty Equal: For
'tis all one to me, whether a Man talk _Nonsense_, or _Unintelligible Sense_.
- There is nothing of which we assent to speak with more Humility and
Indifference than our own _Sense_, yet nothing of which we think with more Partiality and Presumption. There have been some so bold, as to assume the Title of the _Oracles_ of Reason to themselves, and their own Writings; and we meet with others daily, that think themselves _Oracles of Wit_. These are the most vexatious Animals in the World, that think they have a privileee to torment and plague every Body; but those most who have the best Reputation for their Wit and Judgment.
- There's somewhat that borders upon _Madness_ in every exalted _Wit_.
- One of the most remarkable Fools that resort to _Will_'s, is the
_Fop-Poet_, who is one that has always more Wit in his Pockets than any where else, yet seldom or never any of his own there. _Æsop_'s Daw was a Type of him, for he makes himself fine with the Plunder of all Parties; He is a smuggler of Wit, and steals _French_ Fancies, without paying the customary Duties; Verse is his _Manufacture_; for it is more the Labour of his _Fingers_, than his _Brain_: He spends much time in _writing_, but ten times more in _reading_ what he has written: He asks your Opinion, yet for fear you should not jump with him, tells you his own first: He desires no Favour, yet is disappointed if he is not Flatter'd, and is always offended at the Truth. He is a _Poetical Haberdasher of small Wares_, and deals very much in _Novels_, _Madrigals_, _Funeral_ and _Love Odes_, _Panegyricks_, _Elegies_, and other Toys of _Parnassus_, which he has a Shop so well furnish'd with, that he can fit you with all sorts in the twinkling of an Eye. He talks much of _Wycherley_, _Garth_, and _Congreve_, and protests, he can't help having some Respect for them, because they have so much for him and his Writings, otherwise he could make it appear that they understand little of Poetry in comparison of himself, but he forbears 'em meerly out of Gratitude and Compassion. He is the _Oracle_ of those that want _Wit_, and the _Plague_ of those that have it; for he haunts their Lodgings, and is more terrible to them than their Duns.
- _Brutus_ for want of _Wit_, sets up for _Criticism_; yet has so much
ambition to be thought a _Wit_, that he lets his Spleen prevail against Nature, and turns Poet. In this Capacity he is as just to the World as in the other injurious. For, as the _Critick_ wrong'd every Body in his Censure, and snarl'd and grin'd at their Writings, the _Poet_ gives 'em opportunity to do themselves Justice, to return the Compliment, and laugh at, or despise his. He takes his _Malice_ for a _Muse_, and thinks himself _Inspir'd_, when he is only _Possess'd_, and blown up with a Flatus of _Envy_ and _Vanity_. His Works are _Libels_ upon others, but _Satyrs_ upon himself; and while they bark at Men of _Sense_, call him Fool that writ 'em. He has a very great Antipathy to his own Species, and hates to see a Fool any where but in his Glass; for, as he says, _they provoke him, and offend his Eyes_. His Fund of Criticism, is a set of Terms of Art, pick'd out of the _French Criticks_, or their Translators; and his _Poetical Stock_, is a common Place of certain _Forms_ and manners of Expression. He writes better in _Verse_ than _Prose_; for in that there is _Rhime_, in this, neither _Rhime_ nor _Reason_. He rails both at the _French_ Writers, "whom he does not understand, and at those _English_ Authors, whose Excellencies he cannot reach; with him _Voiture_ is flat and dull, _Corneille_ a stranger to the Passions, _Racine_, Starch'd and Affected, _Moliere_, Jejune, _la Fontaine_ a poor Teller of Tales; and even the Divine _Boileau_, little better than a Plagiary. As for the _English_ Poets, he treats almost with the same Freedom; _Shakespear_ with him has neither Language nor Manners; _Ben. Johnson_ is a Pedant; _Dryden_ little more than a tolerable Versifier; _Congreve_ a laborious Writer; _Garth_, an indifferent imitator of _Boileau_. He traduces _Oldham_, for want of Breeding and good Manners, without a grain of either, and steals his own Wit to bespatter him with; but like an ill Chymist, he lets the _Spirit_ fly off in the drawing over and retains only the _Phlegm_. He Censures _Cowley_ for too much Wit, and corrects him with none. He is a great Admirer of the incomparable _Milton_, but while he fondly endeavours to imitate his _Sublime_, he is blown up with _Bombast_ and _puffy Expressions_. He is a great stickler for _Euripides_, _Sophocles_, _Horace_, _Virgil_, _Ovid_, and the rest of the Ancients; but his ill and lame Translations of 'em, ridicule those he would commend. He ventures to write for the Play-Houses, but having his stol'n, ill-patch'd fustian Plays Damn'd upon the Stage, he ransacks _Bossu_, _Rapin_, and _Dacier_, to arraign the ill-taste of the Town. To compleat himself in the Formalities of _Parnassus_, he falls in Love, and tells his Mistress in a very pathetick Letter, he is oblig'd to her bright _Beauty_ for his Poetry; but if this Damsel prove no more indulgent than his Muse, his Amour is like to conclude but unluckily."
_Demetrius_ before the Curse of Poetry had seiz'd him, was in a pretty way of _Thriving Business_, but having lately sold his Chambers in one of the Inns of Court, and taken a Lodging near the Play-house, is now in a fair way of _Starving_. This Gentleman is frequently possest with Poetick Raptures; and all the Family complains, that he disturbs 'em at Midnight, by reciting some incomparable sublime Fustian of his own Composing. When he is in Bed, one wou'd imagine he might be quiet for that Night, but 'tis quite otherwise with him; for when a new Thought, as he calls it, comes into his Head, up he gets, sets it down in Writing, and so gradually encreases the detested Bulk of his Poetick Fooleries, which, Heaven avert it! he threatens to Print. _Demetrius_ having had the misfortune of miscarrying upon the Stage, endeavours to preserve his unlawful Title to Wit, by bringing all the Dramatick Poets down to his own Level. And wanting Spirit to set up for a Critick, turns _Spy_ and _Informer_ of _Parnassus_. He frequents _Apollo_'s Court at _Will_'s, and picks up the freshest Intelligence, what Plays are upon the Stocks, what ready to be Launch'd; and if he can be inform'd, from the _Establish'd Wits_, of any remarkable Fault in the new Play upon the Bills, he is indefatigably industrious in whispering it about, to bespeak its Damnation before its Representation.
- _Curculio_ is a Semi-Wit, that has a great _Veneration_ for the
_Moderns_, and no less a _Contempt_ for the _Ancients_: But his own ill Composures destroy the force of his Arguments, and do the Ancients full Justice. This Gentleman having had the good Fortune to write a very taking, _undigested medly of Comedy_ and _Farce_, is so puff'd up with his Success, that nothing will serve him, but he must bring this new _fantastick way of writing_, into Esteem. To compass this Noble Design, he tells you what a Coxcomb _Aristotle_ was with his Rules of the _three Unities_; and what a Company of Senseless Pedants the _Scaligers_, _Rapins_, _Bossu's_, and _Daciers_ are. He proves that _Aristotle_ and _Horace_, knew nothing of _Poetry_; that Common Sense and Nature were not the same in _Athens_, and _Rome_, as they are in _London_; that _Incoherence_, _Irregularity_ and _Nonsense_ are the Chief Perfections of the _Drama_, and, by a necessary Consequence that the _Silent woman_, is below his own Performance.
"_No new Doctrine_ in _Religion_, ever got any considerable Footing except it was grounded on _Miracles_; Nor any new _Hypothesis_ was ever established in natural Philolqphy, unless it was confirm'd by _Experience_. The same Rule holds, in some measure, in all Arts and Sciences, particularly in Dramatick Poetry. It will be a hard matter for any Man to trump up any new set of Precepts, in opposition to those of _Aristotle_ and _Horace_, except by following them, he writes several approved Plays. The great success of the _first Part_ of the _T---p_ was sufficient I must confess, to justifie the Authors _Conceit_; But then the _Explosion_ of the _Second_ ought to have cur'd him of it.
"_Writers_ like _Women_ seldom give one another a good Word; that's most certain. Now if the _Poets_ and _Criticks_ of all Ages have allowed _Sophocles_, _Euripides_, and _Terence_ to have been good _Dramatick Writers_, and _Aristotle_ and _Horace_ to have been _judicious Criticks_, ought not their _Censure_ to weigh more with Men of Sense, than the Fancies, of a Modern Pretender. To be plain, whoever Disputes _Aristotle_ and _Horace_, Rules does as good as call the _Scaligers_, _Vossii_, _Rapins_, _Bossu's_, _Daciers_, _Corneilles_, _Roscommons_, _Normanby's_ and _Rymers_, _Blockheads_: A man must have a great deal of Assurance, to be so free with such illustrious Judges.
"Of all the modern Dramatick Poets the Author of _the Trip to the Jubilee_ has the least Reason to turn into Ridicule _Aristotle_ and _Horace_, since 'tis to their _Rules_ which he has, in some measure followed, that he owed the great success of that Play. Those _Rules_ are no thing but a strict imitation of Nature, which is still the same in all Ages and Nations: And because the Characters of _Wildair_, _Angelica_, _Standard_ and _Smuggler_ are _natural_, and well pursued, They have justly met _with Applause_; but then the Characters of _Lurewell_ and _Clincher_ Sen. being _out_ of _Nature_ they have as justly been condemned by all the Good Judges."
- Some _Scholars_, tho' by their constant Conversation with Antiquity,
they may know perfectly the sense of the Learned dead, and be perfect masters of the Wisdom, be throughly informed of the State, and nicely skill'd in the Policies of Ages long since past, yet by their retired and unactive Life, and their neglect of Business, they are such strangers to the Domestick Affairs and manners of their own Country and Times, that they appear like the Ghosts of old _Romans_ rais'd by Magick. Talk to them of the _Assyrian_ or _Persian_ Monarchies of the _Grecian_ or _Roman_ Commonwealths, they answer like Oracles; They are such finished States-men that we should scarce take 'em to have been less than Privy-Councellors to _Semiramis_, Tutors to _Cyrus_ the Great, and old Cronies of _Solon_, _Licurgus_, and _Numa Pompilius_. But ingage them in a discourse that concerns the present Times, and their Native Country, and they hardly speak the language of it; Ask them how many Kings there have been in _England_ since the Conquest, or in what Reign the _Reformation_ happened, and they'll be puzzled with the Question; They know all the minutest Circumstances of _Catiline's_ Conspiracy, but are hardly acquainted with the late Plot. They'll tell you the Names of such _Romans_ as were called to an Account by the Senate for their _Briberies_, _Extortions_ and _Depredations_, but know nothing of the four impeached Lords; They talk of the ancient way of Fighting, and warlike Engines, as if they had been Lieutenant Generals under _Alexander_, _Scipio_, _Annibal_ or _Julius Cæsar_; but are perfectly ignorant of the modern military Discipline, Fortification and Artillery; and of the very names of _Nassau_, _Condé_, _Turenne_, _Luxembourg_, _Eugene_, _Villeroy_ and _Catinat_. They are excellent Guides, and can direct you to every Alley, and Turning in old _Rome_ yet lose their way home in their own Parish. They are mighty Admirers of the Wit and Eloquence of the Ancients; Yet had they lived in the Time of _Demosthenes_, and _Cicero_, would have treated them with as much supercilious Pride, and disrespect as they do now the Moderns. They are great Hunters of Ancient Manuscripts, and have in great Veneration any thing that has escaped the Teeth of Time; and if Age has obliterated the Characters, 'tis the more valuable for not being legible. These Superstitious bigotted idolaters of time past, are children in their Understanding all their lives, for they hang so incessantly upon the leading-strings of Authority, that their Judgments like the Limbs of some _Indian_ Penitents, become altogether crampt and motionless for want of use. In fine, they think it a disparagement of their Learning to talk what other Men understand, and will scarce believe that two and two make four, under a Demonstration from _Euclid_, or a _Quotation from Aristotle_.
The World shall allow a Man to be a wise Man, a good Naturalist, a good Mathematician, Politician or Poet, but not a _Scholar_, or Learned Man, unless he be a Philologer and understands Greek and Latin. But for my part I take these Gentlemen have just inverted the life of the Term, and given that to the Knowledge of Words, which belongs more properly to Things. I take Nature to be the Book of Universal Learning, which he that reads best in all or any of its Parts, is the greatest Scholar, the most Learned Man; and 'tis as ridiculous for a Man to count himself more learned than another, if he have no greater Extent of Knowledge of things, because he is more vers'd in Languages, as it would be for an old fellow to tell a young One, his own Eyes were better than the other's because he reads with spectacles, the other without.
- _Impertinence_ is a Failing that has its Root in Nature, but is not
worth laughing at, till it has received the finishing strokes of _Art_. A man thro' natural Defects may do abundance of incoherent foolish Actions, yet deserves compassion and Advice rather than derision. But to see Men spending their Fortunes, as well as lives, in a Course of regular Folly, and with an industrious as well as expensive idleness running thro' tedious systems of impertinence, would have split the sides of _Heraclitus_, had it been his Fortune to have been a Spectator. It's very easie to decide which of these impertinents is the most signal: the Virtuoso is manifestly without a Competitor. For our follies are not to be measured by the Degree of Ignorance that appears in 'em, but by the study, labour and expence they cost us to finish and compleat 'em.
So that the more Regularity and Artifice there appears in any of our Extravagancies, the greater is the Folly of 'em. Upon this score it is that the last mentioned deservedly claim the Preference to all others. They have improved so well their Amusements into an Art, that the credulous and ignorant are induced to believe there is some secret Vertue, some hidden Mystery in those darling Toys of theirs: when all their Bustling amounts to no more than a learned impertinence and all they teach men is but a specious method of throwing away both Time and Money.
"The _Illusions_ of _Poetry_ are fatal to none but the _Poets_ themselves: _Sidonius_ having lately miscarried upon the Stage, gathers fresh Courage and is now big with the Hopes of a Play, writ by an ancient celebrated Author, new-vampt and furbisht up after the laudable Custom of our modern Witlings. He reckons how much he shall get by his third day, nay, by his sixth; how much by the Printing, how much by the Dedication, and by a modest Computation concludes the whole sum, will amount to two hundred Pounds, which are to be distributed among his trusty Duns. But mark the fallacy of _Vanity_ and _Self-conceit_: The Play is acted, and casts the Audience into such a Lethargy, that They are fain to damn it with _Yawning_, being in a manner deprived of the Use of their _hissing_ Faculty. Well says, _Sidonius_, (after having recover'd from a profound Consternation) _Now must the important Person stand upon his own Leggs_. Right, _Sidonius_, but when do you come on again, that _Covent-Garden_ Doctors may prescribe your Play instead of Opium?
"The Town is not one jot more diverted by the Division of the Play-houses: the _Players_ perform better 'tis true? but then the _Poets_ write worse; Will the uniting of _Drury-Lane_ and _Lincoln's-Inn-Fields_ mend Matters? No,--for then What the Town should get in writing, they would lose it in Acting."
- A _Dramatick Poet_ has as hard a Task on't to manage, as a _passive
obedience Divine_ that preaches before the Commons on the 30th. of _January_.
To please the _Pit_ and _Galleries_ he must take care to lard the Dialogue with store of luscious stuff, which the righteous call Baudy; to please the new Reformers he must have none, otherwise gruff _Jeremy_ will Lash him in a third _View_.
- I very much Question, after all, whether _Collier_ would have been at
the Pains to lash the immoralities of the stage, if the Dramatick Poets had not been guilty of the _abominable Sin_ of making familiar now and then with the Backslidings of the Cassock.
- _The Griping Usurer_, whose daily labour and nightly Care and Study
is to oppress the Poor, or over-reach his Neighbour, to betray the Trusts his Hypocrisy procured; in short to break all the Positive Laws of Morality, crys out, Oh! Diabolical, at a poor harmless _Double Entendre_ in a Play.
"'Tis preposterous to pretend to reform the _Stage_ before the Nation, and particularly the Town, is _reform'd_. The Business of a Dramatick Poet is to _copy Nature_, and represent things as they are; Let our Peers give over _whoring_ and _drinking_; the Citizens, _Cheating_; the Clergy, their _Quarrels, Covetousness and Ambition_; the Lawyers, their _ambi-dextrous dealings_; and the Women _intriguing_, and the stage will reform of Course.
"Formerly _Poets_ made _Players_, but now adays 'tis generally the _Player_ that makes the _Poet_. How many Plays would have expired the very first Night of their appearing upon the Stage, but for _Betterton_, _Barry_, _Bracegirdle_, or _Wilks_'s inimitable Performance.
"Who ever goes about to expose the Follies of others upon the Stage, runs great hazard of exposing himself first; and of being made Ridiculous to those very People he endeavours to make so.
"I doubt whether a Man of Sense would ever give himself the trouble of writing for the Stage, if he had before his Eyes the fatigue of Rehearsals, the Pangs and Agonies of the first day his Play is Acted, the Disappointments of the third, and the Scandal of a Damn'd Poet.
"The reason why in _Shakespear_ and _Ben. Johnson_'s Time Plays had so good Success, and that we see now so many of 'em miscarry, is because then the Poets _wrote better_ than the Audience _Judg'd_; whereas now-a-days the _Audience_ judge _better than the Poets write_."
- He that pretends to confine a Damsel of the Theatre to his own Use,
who by her Character is a Person of an extended Qualification, acts as unrighteous, at least as unnatural, a Part, as he that would Debauch a Nun. But after all, such a Spark rather consults his _Vanity_, than his _Love_, and would be thought to ingross what all the young Coxcombs of the Town admire and covet.
"Is it not a kind of Prodigy, that in this wicked and censorious Age, the shining _Daphne_ should preserve her Reputation in a Play-House?"
The Character of a Player was Infamous amongst the _Romans_, but with the _Greeks_ Honourable: What is our Opinion? We think of them like the _Romans_, and live with them like the _Greeks_.
"Nothing so powerfully excites Love in us Men, as the view of those Limbs of Women's Bodies, which the Establish'd Rules of Modesty bid 'em keep from our Sight. No wonder then if _Aglaura_, _Cæsonia_, _Floria_, and in general all the Women on our Stages, are so fond of acting in Men's Cloaths.
"_Cæsonia_ is Young, I own it: But then _Cæsonia_ has an _African_ Nose, hollow Eyes, and a _French_ Complexion; so that all the time she acted in her Sex's Habit, her Conquests never extended further than one of her Fellow-Players, or a Cast-Poet. Mark the Miracles of Fancy: _Cæsonia_ acts a _Boy_'s Part, and _Tallus_, one of the first _Patricians_, falls desperately in Love with her, and presents her with two Hundred great _Sesterces_ (a Gentlewoman's Portion) for a Night's Lodging.
"One would imagine our Matrons should be mighty Jealous of their Husbands Intriguing with Players: But no, they bear it with a Christian Patience. How is that possible? Why, they Intrigue themselves, either with _Roscius_ the Tragedian, _Flagillus_, the Comedian, or _Bathillus_, the Dancer."
Nothing Surprizes me more, than to see Men Laugh so freely at a Comedy, and yet account it a silly weakness to Weep at a Tragedy. For is it less natural for a Man's Heart to relent upon a Scene of Pity, than to be transported with Joy upon one of Mirth and Humour? Or is it only the alteration of the Features of one's Face that makes us forbear Crying? But this alteration is undoubtedly as great in an immoderate Laughter, as in a most desperate Grief; and good Breeding teaches us to avoid the one as well as the other, before those for whom we have a Respect. Or is it painful to us to appear tender-hearted and express grief upon a Fiction? But without quoting great Wits who account it an equal Weakness, either to weep or laugh out of Measure, can we expect to be tickled by a Tragical Adventure? And besides, is not Truth as naturally represented in that as in a Comical one? Therefore as we do not think it ridiculous to see a whole Audience laugh at a merry jest or humour acted to the life, but on the contrary we commend the skill both of the Poet and the Actor; so the great Violence we use upon our selves to contain our tears, together with the forc'd a-wry smiles with which we strive to conceal our Concern, do forcibly evince that the natural effect of a good _Tragedy_ is to make us all weep by consent, without any more ado than to pull out our Handkerchiefs to wipe off our Tears. And if it were once agreed amongst us not to resist those tender impressions of _Pity_, I dare engage that we would soon be convinc'd that by frequenting the Play-house we run less danger of being put to the expence of Tears, than of being almost frozen to death by many a cold, dull insipid jest.
We must make it our main Business and Study to _think_ and _write well_, and not labour to submit other People's Palates and Opinions to our own; which is the greater difficulty of the two.
One should serve his time to learn how to make a _Book_, just as some men do to learn how to make a watch, for there goes something more than either Wit or Learning to the setting up for an _Author_. A _Lawyer_ of this Town was an able, subtle and experienc'd Man in the way of his Business, and might for ought I know, have come to be _Lord Chief Justice_, but he has lately miscarried in the Good Opinion of the World, only by Printing some Essays which are a Master-piece--in _Nonsense_.
It is a more difficult matter to get a Name by a _Perfect Composure_, than to make an _indifferent_ one valued by that Reputation a Man has already got in the World.
There are some things which admit of no _mediocrity_; such as _Poetry_, _Painting_, _Musick and Oratory_--What Torture can be greater than to hear Doctor F---- declaim a flat Oration with formality and Pomp, or D---- read his Pyndaricks with all the Emphasis of a _Dull Poet_.
We have not as yet seen any excellent Piece, but what is owing to the Labour of one single Man: _Homer_, for the purpose, has writ the _Iliad_; _Virgil_, the _Æneid_; _Livy_ his _Decads_; and the _Roman_ Orator his Orations; but our _modern several Hands_ present us often with nothing but a _Variety of Errors_.
There is in the Arts and Sciences such a _Point of Perfection_, as there is one of _Goodness_ or _maturity_ in Fruits; and he that can find and relish it must be allowed to have a _True Tast_; but on the contrary, he that neither perceives it, nor likes any thing on this side, or beyond it, has but a defective Palate. Hence I conclude that there is a bad _Taste_ and a _good_ one, and that the disputing about _Tastes_ is not altogether unreasonable.
The Lives of _Heroes_ have enricht _History_ and History in requital has embellished and heightened the Lives of _Heroes_, so that it is no easie matter to determine which of the two is more beholden to the other: either _Historians_, to those who have furnished them with so great and noble a matter to work upon; or those great Men, to those Writers that have convey'd their names and Atchievements down to the _Admiration of after-Ages._
There are many of our _Wits_ that feed for a while upon the _Ancients_, and the best of our Modern Authors: and when they have _squeez'd_ out and _extracted_ matter enough to appear in Print and set up for themselves, most ungratefully abuse them, like children grown strong and lusty by the good milk they have sucked, who generally beat their Nurses.
A _Modern_ Author proves both by Reasons and Examples that the _Ancients_ are inferior to us; and fetches his Arguments from his own particular Tast, and his Examples from his own _Writings_. He owns, That the _Ancients_ tho' generally uneven and uncorrect, have yet here and there some fine Touches, and indeed these are so fine, that the quoting of them is the only thing that makes his _Criticisms_ worth a Mans reading 'em.
Some great Men pronounce for the _Ancients_ against the _Moderns_: But their own Composures are so agreeable to the Taste of Antiquity, and bear so great a resemblance with the Patterns they have left us, that they seem to be judges in their own Case and being suspected of Partiality, are therefore _ceptionable_.
It is the Character of a _Pedant_ to be unwilling either to ask a Friend's advice about his Work or to alter what he has been made sensible to be a fault.
We ought to read our Writings to those only, who have Judgment enough to correct what is amiss, and esteem what deserves to be commended.
An _Author_, ought to receive with an equal Modesty both the Praise and Censure of other People upon his own Works.
A great facility in submitting to other People's Censure is sometimes as faulty as a great roughness in rejecting it: for there is no Composure so every way accomplisht, but what would be pared and clipped to nothing if a man would follow the advice of every finical scrupulous Critick, who often would have the best Things left out because forsooth, they are not agreeable to his dull Palate.
The great Pleasure some People take in _criticizing_ upon the _small Faults_ of a Book so vitiates their Taste, that it renders them unfit to be _affected_ with it's _Beauties_.
The same Niceness of Judgment which makes some Men write sence, makes them very often shy and unwilling to appear in Print.
Among the several _Expressions_ We may use for the same Thought, there is but an individual one which is good and proper; any other but that is flat and imperfect, and cannot please an ingenious Man that has a mind to explain what he thinks: And it is no small wonder to me to consider, what Pains, even the best of Writers are sometimes at, to seek out that Expression, which being the most simple and natural, ought consequently to have presented it self without Study.
'Tis to no great purpose that a Man seeks to make himself admir'd by his Composures: Blockheads, indeed, may oftentimes admire him but then they are but Blockheads; and as for _Wits_ they have in themselves the seeds or hints of all the good and fine things that can possibly be thought of or said; and therefore they seldom admire any thing, but only approve of what hits their Palate.
The being a _Critick_ is not so much a Science as a sort of laborious, and painful Employment, which requires more strength of Body, than delicacy of Wit, and more assiduity than natural Parts.
As some merit Praise for writing well, so do others for not writing at all.
That _Author_ who chiefly endeavours to please the Taste of the Age he lives in, rather consults his private interest, than that of his _Writings_. We ought always to have perfection in Prospect as the chief thing we aim at, and that Point once gain'd, we may rest assured that unbyassed _Posterity_ will do us Justice, which is often deny'd us by our _Contemporaries_.
'Tis matter of discretion in an Author to be extreamly reserv'd and modest when he speaks of the Work he is upon, for fear he should raise the World's Expectation too high: For it is most certain, that our Opinion of an extraordinary Promise, goes always further than the Performance, and a Man's Reputation cannot but be much lessen'd by such a Disparity.
The Name of the _Author_ ought to be the last thing we inquire into, when we Judge of the merit of an ingenious Composure, but contrary to this maxim we generally judge of the _Book_ by the _Author_, instead of judging of the _Author_ by the _Book_.
As we see Women that without the knowledge of Men do sometimes bring forth inanimate and formless lumps of Flesh, but to cause a natural and perfect Generation, they are to be husbanded by another kind of seed, even so it is with Wit which if not applied to some certain study that may fix and restrain it, runs into a thousand Extravagancies, and is eternally roving here and there in the inextricable labyrinth of restless Imagination.
If every one who hears or reads a good Sentence or maxim, would immediately consider how it does any way touch his own private concern, he would soon find, that it was not so much a good saying, as a severe lash to the ordinary Bestiality of his judgment: but Men receive the Precepts and admonitions of Truth as generally directed to the common sort and never particularly to themselves, and instead of applying them to their own manners, do only very ignorantly and unprofitably commit them to Memory, without suffering themselves to be at all instructed, or converted by them.
We say of some compositions that they stink of Oil and smell of the Lamp, by reason of a certain rough harshness that the laborious handling imprints upon those, where great force has been employed: but besides this, the solicitude of doing well, and a certain striving and contending of a mind too far strain'd, and over-bent upon its undertaking, breaks and hinders it self, like Water that by force of its own pressing Violence and Abundance cannot find a ready issue through the neck of a Bottle, or a narrow sluice.
Humour, Temper, Education and a thousand other Circumstances create so great a difference betwixt the several Palates of Men, and their Judgments upon ingenious Composures, that nothing can be more chimerical and foolish in an Author than the Ambition of a general Reputation.
As Plants are suffocated and drown'd with too much nourishment, and Lamps with too much Oyl, so is the active part of the understanding with too much study and matter, which being embarass'd and confounded with the Diversity of things is deprived of the force and power to disingage it self; and by the Pressure of this weight, it is bow'd, subjected and rendred of no use.
- Studious and inquisitive Men commonly at forty or fifty at the most,
have fixed and settled their judgments in most Points, and as it were made their last understanding, supposing they have thought, or read, or heard what can be said on all sides of things, and after that they grow positive and impatient of Contradiction, thinking it a disparagement to them to alter their Judgment.
All Skillful Masters ought to have a care not to let their Works be seen in _Embryo_, for all beginnings are defective, and the imagination is always prejudiced. The remembring to have seen a thing imperfect takes from one the Liberty of thinking it pretty when it is finished.
Many fetch a tedious Compass of Words, without ever coming to the Knot of the business: they make a thousand turnings and windings, that tire themselves and others, without ever arriving at the Point of importance. That proceeds from the Confusion of their Understanding, which cannot clear it self. They lose Time and Patience in what ought to be let alone, and then they have no more to bestow upon what they have omitted.
It is the Knack of Men of Wit to find out Evasions; With a touch of Gallantry they extricate themselves out of the greatest Labyrinth. A graceful smile will make them avoid the most dangerous Quarrel.
_Mind, Understanding, Wit, Memory, Heart._
The Strength and Weakness of a Man's Mind, are improper Terms, since they are really nothing else but the _Organs_ of our _Bodies_, being well or ill dispos'd.
'Tis a great Errour, the making a difference between the _Wit_ and the _Judgment_: For, in truth, the _Judgment_ is nothing else but the _Brightness of Wit_, which penetrates into the very bottom of Things, observes all that ought to be observ'd there, and descries what seem'd to be imperceptible. From whence we must conclude, That 'tis the _Extention_ and _Energy_ of this _Light_ of _Wit_, that produces all those Effects, usually ascrib'd to _Judgment_.
All Men may be allowed to give a good Character of their _Hearts_ (or _Inclinations_) but no body dares to speak well of his own _Wit_.
_Polite Wit_ consists in nice, curious, and honest _Thoughts_.
The _Gallantry_ of _Wit_ consists in _Flattery_ well couch'd.
It often happens, that some things offer themselves to our _Wit_, which are naturally finer and better, than is possible for a Man to make them by the Additions of _Art_ and _Study_.
_Wit_ is always made a _Cully_ to the _Heart_.
Many People are acquainted with their own _Wit_, that are not acquainted with their own _Heart_.
It is not in the power of _Wit_, to act a long while the _Part_ of the _Heart_.
A Man of _Wit_ would be sometimes miserably at a loss, but for the Company of _Fools_.
A Man of _Wit_ may sometimes be a _Coxcomb_; but a Man of _Judgment_ never can.
The different Ways or Methods for compassing a Design, come not so much from the Quickness and Fertility of an industrious _Wit_, as a dim-sighted _Understanding_, which makes us pitch upon every fresh Matter that presents itself to our groping _Fancy_, and does not furnish us with Judgment sufficient to discern at first sight, which or them is best for our Purpose.
The _Twang_ of a Man's _Native Country_, sticks by him as much in his _Mind_ and _Disposition_, as it does in his _Tone_ of _Speaking_.
_Wit_ serves sometimes to make us play the _Fool_ with greater Confidence.
Shallow _Wits_ are apt to censure everything above their own _Capacity_.
'Tis past the Power of _Imagination_ it self, to invent so many distant _Contrarieties_, as there are naturally in the _Heart_ of every Man.
No body is so well acquainted with himself, as to know his own _Mind_ at all times.
Every body complains of his _Memory_, but no body of his _Judgment_.
There is a kind of general _Revolution_, not more visible in the turn it gives to the Fortunes of the _World_, than it is in the Change of Men's _Understandings_, and the different Relish or _Wit_.
Men often think to conduct and govern themselves, when all the while they are led and manag'd; and while their _Understanding_ aims at one thing, their _Heart_ insensibly draws them into another.
Great _Souls_ are not distinguish'd by having less _Passion_, and more _Virtue_; but by having nobler and greater Designs than the _Vulgar_.
We allow few Men to be either _Witty_ or Reasonable, besides those who are of our own Opinion.
We are as much pleas'd to discover another Man's _Mind_, as we are discontented to have our own found out.
A straight and well-contriv'd _Mind_, finds it easier to yield to a perverse one, than to direct and manage it.
_Coxcombs_ are never so troublesome, as when they pretend to _Wit_.
A little _Wit_ with _Discretion_, tires less at long-run, than much _Wit_ without _Judgment_.
Nothing comes amiss to a great _Soul_; and there is as much _Wisdom_ in bearing other People's _Defects_, as in relishing their good _Qualities_.
It argues a great heighth of _Judgment_ in a Man, to discover what is in another's Breast, and to conceal what is in his own.
If Poverty be the Mother of Wickedness, want of _Wit_ must be the Father.
- A _Mind_ that has no Ballance in it self, turns insolent, or abject,
out of measure, with the various Change of Fortune.
- Our _Memories_ are frail and treacherous; and we think many excellent
things, which for want of making a deep impression, we can never recover afterwards. In vain we hunt for the stragling _Idea_, and rummage all the Solitudes and Retirements of our Soul, for a lost Thought, which has left no Track or Foot-steps behind it: The swift Off-spring of the Mind is gone; 'tis dead as soon as born; nay, often proves abortive in the moment it was conceiv'd: The only way therefore to retain our Thoughts, is to fasten them in Words, and chain them in Writing.
- A Man is never so great a _Dunce_ by _Nature_, but _Love_, _Malice_,
or _Necessity_, will supply him with some _Wit_.
- There is a _Defect_ which is almost unavoidable in great _Inventors_;
it is the Custom of such earnest and powerful Minds, to do wonderful Things in the beginning; but shortly after, to be over-born by the Multitude and Weight of their own Thoughts; then to yield and cool by little and little, and at last grow weary, and even to loath that, upon which they were at first the most eager. This is the wonted Constitution of _great Wits_; such tender things are those exalted Actions of the Mind; and so hard it is for those Imaginations, that can run swift and mighty Races, to be able to travel a long and constant Journey. The Effects of this Infirmity have been so remarkable, that we have certianly lost very many Inventions, after they have been in part fashion'd, by the meer _Languishing_ and _Negligence_ of their _Authors_.