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have long had the general applause of a nation; but I shall always make reason, truth, and nature, the measures of praise and dispraise: if those are for me, the generality of opinion is of no consequence against me; if they are against me, the general opinion cannot long support
Without further preface, I am going to look into some of our most applauded plays, and see whether they deserve the figure they at present bear in the imaginations of men, or not.
In reflecting upon these works, I shall chiefly dwell upon that for which each respective play is most celebrated. The present paper shall be employed upon Sir Fopling Flutter. The received character of this play is, that it is the patern of genteel comedy. DORIMANT and HARRIOT are the characters of greatest consequence; and if these are low and mean, the reputation of the play is very unjust.
I will take for granted, that a fine gentleman should be honest in his actions, and refined in his language. Instead of this, our hero in this piece is a direct knave in his designs, and a clown in his language. BELLAIR is his admirer and friend; in-return for which, because he is forsooth a greater wit than his said friend, he thinks it reasonable to persuade him to marry a young lady, whose virtue, he thinks, will last no longer than till she is a wife, and then she cannot but fall to his share, as he is an irresistible fine gentleman. The falsehood to Mrs LOVEIT, and the barbarity of triumphing over her anguish for losing him, is another instance of his honesty, as well as his good nature. As to his fine language, he calls the orange woman, who, it seems, is inclined to grow fat, "an overgrown jade, with a flasket of guts before her;" and salutes her with a pretty phrase of, "How now, double tripe?" Upon the mention of a country gentlewoman, whom he knows nothing of (no one can imagine why), he will lay his life she is some aukward ill-fashion'd country toad, who, not having above four dozen of hairs on her head, has adorned hier baldness with a large white fruz, that she may look sparkishly in the fore-front of the king's box at an old play.". tural mixture of senseless common place!
As to the generosity of his temper, he tells his footman, "If he did not wait better- " he would turn him away, in the insolent phrase of, "I'll uncase you.'
Now for Mrs HARRIOT: She laughs at obedience to an absent mother, whose tenderness Busy describes to be very exquisite; for "that she is so pleased with finding HARRIOT again, that she cannot chide her for being out of the way." This witty daughter, and fine lady, has so little respect for this good woman, that she ridicules her air in taking leave, and cries, "In what struggle is my poor mother yonder? See, see, her head tottering, her eyes staring, and her under-lip trembling." But all this is atoned for, because "she has more wit than is usual in her sex, and as much malice, though she is as wild as you would wish her, and has a demureness in her looks that makes it so surprising !" Then to recommend her as a fit spouse for his hero, the poet makes her speak her sense of marriage very ingenuously; "I think, saya she, I may be brought to endure him, and that is all a reasonable woman should expect in an husband." It is, methinks, unuatural that we are not made to understand how she that was bred under a silly pious old mother, that would never trust her out of her sight, came to be so polite.
It cannot be denied, but that the negligence of every thing which engages the attention of the sober and valu able part of mankind, appears very well drawn in this piece but it is denied, that it is necessary to the cha racter of a fine gentleman, that he should in that manner trample upon all order and decency. As for the charac ter of DORIMANT, it is more of a coxcomb than that of FOPLING. He says of one of his companions, that a good correspondence between them is their mutual interest. Speaking of that friend, he declares, their being much together "makes the women think the better of his understanding, and judge more favourably of my reputation. It makes him pass upon some for a man of very good sense, and me upon others for a very civil person."
This whole celebrated piece is a perfect contradiction to good manners, good sense, and common honesty; and as there is nothing in it but what is built upon the ruin of
virtue and innocence, according to the notion of merit in this comedy, I take the shoemaker to be, in reality, the fine gentleman of the play: for it seems he is an Atheist, if we may depend upon his character as given by the orange woman, who is herself far from being the lowest in the play. She says of a fine man, who is Do RIMANT's companion, there is not such another hea then in the town, except the shoemaker." His pretension to be the hero of the drama appears still more in his own description of his way of living with his lady. "There is (says he) never a man in town lives more like a gentleman with his wife than I do; I never mind her motions; she never inquires înto mine. We speak to one another civilly, hate one another heartily; and because it is vulgar to lie and soak together, we have each of us our several settle-bed." That of soaking together is as good as if DORIMANT had spoken it himself; and, I think, since he puts human nature in aś ugly a form as the circumstance will bear, and is a staunch unbeliever, he is very much wronged in having no part of the good fortune bestowed in the last act.
To speak plainly of this whole work, I think nothing but being lost to a sense of innocence and virtue can make any one see this comedy, without observing more frequent occasion to move sorrow and indignation, than mirth and laughter. At the same time I allow it to be nature; but it is nature in its utmost corruption and degeneracy *.
*The author of this play was Sir GEORGE ETHEREGE, and the character of DORIMANT was intended for WILMOT Earl of Ro
CHESTER, All the plays of the same period, with few exceptions, were adapted to the licentiousness of the court.
NO. 66. WEDNESDAY, MAY 16. 1711.
Motus doceri gaudet Ionicos
Behold a ripe and melting maid
Bound 'prentice to the wanton trade:
Instruct her in the mysteries of vice,
HOR. 3. OD. vi. 21.
What nets to spread, where subtle baits to lay;
And with an early hand they form'd the temper'd clay.
THE two following letters are upon a subject of very great importance, though expressed without any air of gravity.
"I take the freedom of asking your advice in behalf of a young country kinswoman of mine who is lately come to town, and under my care for her education. She is very pretty, but you cannot imagine how unform. ed a creature it is. She comes to my hands just as Nature left her, half finished, and without any acquired improvements. When I look on her, I often think of the Bell Sauvage mentioned in one of your papers (No. 28.) Dear Mr SPECTATOR, help me to make her comprehend the visible graces of speech, and the dumb eloquence of motion; for she is at present a perfect stranger to both. She knows no way to express herself but by her tongue, and that always to signify her meaning. Her eyes serve her yet only to see with, and she is utterly a foreigner to the language of looks and glances. In this I fancy you could help her better than any body. I have be
stowed two months in teaching her to sigh when she is not concerned, and to smile when she is not pleased; and am ashamed to own she makes little or no improvement. Then she is no more able now to walk, than she was to go at a year old. By walking, you will easily know I mean that regular but easy motion, which gives our persons so irresistible a grace as if we moved to music, and is a kind of disengaged figure, or, if I may so speak, recitative dancing. But the want of this I cannot blame in her: for I find she has no ear, and means nothing by walking but to change her place. I could pardon too her blushing, if she knew how to carry herself in it, and if it did not manifestly injure her complexion.
"They tell me you are a person who have seen the world, and are a judge of fine breeding; which makes me ambitious of some instructions from you for her improvement; which when you have favoured me with, I shall further advise with you about the disposal of this fair forester in marriage; for I will make it no secret to you, that her person and education are to be her fortune.
I am Sir,
"Being employed by CELIMENE to make up and send to you her letter, I make bold to recommend the case therein mentioned to your consideration, because she and I happen to differ a little in our notions. I, who am a rough man, am afraid the young girl is in a fair way to be spoiled: therefore pray, Mr SPECTATOR, let us have your opinion of this fine thing called fine breeding; for I am afraid it differs too much from that plain thing called good breeding.
Your most humble servant.'
The general mistake among us in the educating our children, is, that in our daughters we take care of their persons and neglect their minds; in our sons, we are so