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time, to find out a more agreeable entertainment for the winter-season, the opera of RINALDO is filled with thunder and lightning, illuminations and fire-works; which the audience may look upon without catching cold, and indeed without much danger of being burnt; for there are several engines filled with water, and ready to play at a minute's warning, in case any such accident should happen. However, as I have a very great friendship for the owner of this theatre, I hope that he has been wise enough to insure his house before he would let this opera be acted in it.
It is no wonder that those scenes should be very surprising which were contrived by two poets of different nations, and raised by two magicians of different sexes. ARMIDA, as we are told in the argument, was an Amazonian enchantress, and poor Signior CASSANI, as we learn from the persons represented, a Christian conjurer (Mago-Christiano). I must confess I am very much puzzled to find how an Amazon should be versed in the black art, or how a good Christian, for such is the part of the magician, should deal with the devil.
To consider the poet after the conjurers, I shall give you a taste of the Italian from the first lines of his preface. Eccoti, benigno lettore, un parto di poche sere, che se ben nato di notte, non è però aborto di tenebre, mà si farà conoscere figlio d' APOLLO con qualche raggio di Parnasso. "Behold, gentle reader, the birth of a few evenings, which, though it be the offspring of the night, is not the abortive of darkness, but will make itself known to be the son of APOLLO, with a certain ray of Parnassus." He afterwards proceeds to call Mynheer HANDEL the ORPHEUS of our age, and to aquaint us, in the same sublimity of style, that he composed this opera in a fort night. Such are the wits to whose tastes we so ambitiously conform ourselves. The truth of it is, the finest wri ters among the modern Italians express themselves in such a florid form of words, and such tedious circumlocutions, as are used by none but pedants in our own country: and at the same time fill their writings with such poor imaginations and conceits, as our youths are ashamed of before they have been two years at the university. Some may be apt to think that it is the difference of genius
which produces this difference in the works of the two. nations; but, to shew there is nothing in this, if we look into the writings of the old ld Italians, such as CICERO and VIRGIL, we shall find that the English writers, in their way of thinking and expressing themselves, resemble those authors much more than the modern Italians pretend to do. And as for the poet himself, from whom the dreams of this opera are taken, I must entirely agree with Monsieur BOILEAU, that one verse in VIRGIL is worth all the clincant or tinsel of Tasso.
But to return to the sparrows; there have been so many flights of them let loose in this opera, that it is feared the house will never get rid of them; and that in other plays they may make their entrance in very wrong and improper scenes, so as to be seen flying in a lady's bed-chamber, or perching upon a king's throne; besides the inconveniences which the heads of the audience may sometimes suffer from them. I am credibly informed, that there was once a design of casting into an opera the story WHITTINGTON and his Cat, and that in order to it, there had been got together a great quantity of mice: but Mr RICH, the proprietor of the playhouse, very prudently considered that it would be impossible for the Cat to kill them all, and that consequently the princes of his stage might be as much infested with mice as the prince of the island was before the Cat's arrival upon it; for which reason he would not permit it to be acted in his house. And, indeed, I cannot blame him; for, as he said very well upon that occasion, I do not hear that any of the performers in our opera pretend to equal the famous Pied piper, who made all the mice of a great town in Germany follow his music, and by that means cleared the place of those little noxious animals.
Before I dismiss this paper, I must inform my reader, that I hear there is a treaty on foot with LONDON and WISE (b) (who will be appointed gardeners for the playhouse), to furnish the opera of RINALDO and ARMIDA with an orange-grove; and that the next time it is act. ed, the singing-birds will be personated by tom-tits: the undertakers being resolved to spare neither pains nor money for the gratification of the audience.
NO. 6. WEDNESDAY, MARCH, 7. 1710-11.
Credebant hoc grande nefas, et morte piandum,
JUV. SAT. xiii. 54.
'Twas impious then (so much was age rever'd)
For youth to keep their seats when an old man appear'd
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KNOWLEDGE AND PRACTICE OF DUTY,
I KNOW no evil under the sun so great as the abuse of the understanding, and yet there is no one vice more common. It has diffused itself through both sexes, and all qualities of mankind; and there is hardly that person to be found, who is not more concerned for the reputation of wit and sense, than of honesty and virtue. this unhappy affectation of being wise rather than honest, witty than good-natured, is the source of most of the ill habits of life. Such false impressions are owing to the abandoned writings of men of wit, and the aukward imitations of the rest of mankind.
For this reason Sir ROGER was saying last night, that he was of opinion none but men of fine parts deserve to he hanged. The reflections of such men are so delicate upon all occurences which they are concerned in, that they should be exposed to more than ordinary infamy and punishment, for offending against such quick admonítions as their own souls give them, and blunting the fine edge of their minds in such a manner, that they are nʊ more shocked at vice and folly than men of slower capacities. There is no greater monster in being than a very ill man of great parts: he lives like a man in a palsy, with one side of him dead. While, perhaps, he enjoys the satisfaction of luxury, of wealth, of ambition, he has lost the taste of good-will, of friendship, of innocence. SCARECROW, the beggar in Lincoln's Inn-fields, who disabled himself in his right leg, and asks alms all day, to get himself a warm supper and a trull at night, is not
half so despicable a wretch as such a man of sense. The beggar has no relish above sensations; he finds rest more agreeable than motion: and while he has a warm fire and his doxy, never reflects that he deserves to be whipped. Every man who terminates his satisfactions and enjoyments within the supply of his own necessities and passions, is, says Sir ROGER, in my eye as poor a rogue as SCARECROW. But, continued he, for the loss of public and private virtue we are beholden to your men of parts forsooth; it is with them no matter what is done, so it be done with an air. But to me, who am so whimsical in a corrupt age, as to act according to nature and reason, a selfish man, in the most shining circumstance and equipage, appears in the same condition with the fellow above-mentioned, but more contemptible, in proportion to what more he robs the public of, and enjoys above him. I lay it down therefore for a rule, that the whole man is to move together; that every action of any importance is to have a prospect of public good; and that the general tendency of our indifferent actions ought to be agreeable to the dictates of reason, of religion, of good-breeding: without this, a man, as I before have hinted, is hopping instead of walking; he is not in his entire and proper motion.
While the honest knight was thus bewildering himself in good starts, I looked attentively upon him, which made him, I thought, collect his mind a little. What I aim at, says he, is to represent, that I am of opinion, to polish our understandings and neglect our manners, is of all things the most inexcusable. Reason should govern passion; but, instead of that, you see it is often subservient to it; and as unaccountable as one would think it, a wise man is not always a good man. This degeneracy is not only the guilt of particular persons, but also at some times of a whole people; and perhaps it may ap pear upon examination, that the most polite ages are the least virtuous. This may be attributed to the folly of admitting wit and learning as merit in themselves, without considering the application of thein. By this means it becomes a rule, not so much to regard what we do, as how we do it. But this false beauty will not pass upon men of honest minds and true taste. Sir RICHARD
BLACKMORE says, with as much good sense as virtue, It is a mighty dishonour and shame to employ excellent faculties and abundance of wit, to humour and please men in their vices and follies. The great enemy of mankind, notwithstanding his wit and angelic faculties, is the most odious being in the whole creation.' He goes on soon after to say very generously, that he undertook the writing of his poem to rescue the muses out of the hands of ravishers, to restore them to their sweet and chaste mansions, and to engage them in an employment suitable to their dignity.' This certainly ought to be the purpose of every man who appears in public; and whoever does not proceed upon, that foundation, injures his country as fast as he succeeds in his studies. When modesty ceases to be the chief ornament of one sex and integrity of the other, society is upon a wrong basis, and we shall be ever after without rules to guide our judgment in what is really becoming and ornamental. Nature and reason direct one thing, passion and humour another: to follow the dictates of the two latter, is going into a road that is both endless and intricate; when we pursue the other, our passage is delightful, and what we aim at easily attainable.
I do not doubt but England is at present as polite a nation as any in the world; but any one who thinks, can easily see that the affectation of being gay and in fashion, has very near eaten up our good sense and our religion. Is there any thing so just, as that mode and gallantry should be built upon exerting ourselves in what is proper and agreeable to the institutions of justice and piety among us? And yet is there any thing more common than that we run in perfect contradiction to them? All which is supported by no other pretension than that it is done with what we call a good grace.
Nothing ought to be held laudable or becoming but what nature itself should prompt us to think so. Respect to all kinds of superiors is founded, methinks, upon instinct; and yet what is so ridiculous as age? I make this abrupt transition to the mention of this vice more than other, in order to introduce a little story, which I think a pretty instance that the most polite age is in danger of being the most vicious.