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MR. SPECTATOR, • Your kindness to Leonora, in one of your papers*, has given me encouragement to do myself the bonour of writing to you. The great regard you have so often expressed for the instruction and improvement of our sex, will, I hope, in your own opinion, sufficiently excuse me from making any apology for the impertinence of this letter. The great
désire I have to embellish my mind with some of those graces which you say are so becoming, and which you assert reading helps us to, has made me uneasy until I am put in a capacity of attaining them, This, Sir, I shall never think myself in, until you shall be pleased to recommend some author or authors to my perusal.
“I thought, indeed, when I first cast my eye on Leonora's letter, that I should have had no occasion for requesting it of you; but, to my very great concern, I found on the perusal of that Spectator, I was intirely disappointed, and am as much at a loss how to make use of my time for that end as ever. Pray, Sir, oblige me at least with one scene, as you were pleased to entertain Leonora with your prologue. I write to you not only my own sentiments, but also those of several others of my acquaintance, who are as little pleased with the ordinary manner of spending one's time as myself: and if a fervent desire after knowledge, and a great sense of our present ignorance, may be thought a good presage and earnest of improvement, you may look upon your time you shall bestow in answering this request not thrown away to no purpose.
And I cannot but add, that unless you have a particular and more than ordinary regard for Leonora, I have a better title to your
favour than she; since I do not content myself with tea-table reading of your papers, but it is my entertainment very often when along in my closet. To shew you l'am capable of improvement, and hate flattery, I acknowledge I do not like some
* See No 92.
but even there I am readier to call in question my own shallow understanding than Mr. Spectator's profound judgment. • I am sir, your already (and in hopes of being more your) obliged servant,
This last letter is written with so urgent and serious an air, that I cannot but think it incumbent upon me to comply with her commands, which I shall do very suddenlyt.
NO 141. SATURDAY, AUGUST 11, 1711.
Migravit ab uure voluptas
HOR. 1. Ep. ii. 187. Pleasure no more arises from the ear, In the present emptiness of the town, I have several applications from the lower part of the players, to admit suffering to pass for acting: They, in very obliging terms, desire me to let a fall on the ground, a stumble, or a good slap on the back, be reckoned a jest. These gambols I shall tolerate for a season, because I hope the evil cannot continue longer than till the people of condition and taste return to town. The method, some time ago, was to entertain that part of the audience, who have no faculty above eye-sight, with rope-dancers and tumblers; which was a way discreet enough, because it prevented confusion, and distinguished such as could shew all the postures which the body is capable of, from those who were to represent all the passions to which the mind is subject. But though this was prudently settled, corporeal and intellectual actors ought to be kept at a still wider distance than to appear on the same stage at all: for which reason I must propose some methods for the improvement of the bear-garden, by dismissing all bodily actors to that quarter.
* Miss Shepheard, a sister of Mrs. Perry. See N° 92, and 163.
+ This promise may, perhaps, be considered as having been fulfilled by Steele's publication, three years afterwards, of “ The Lady's Library."
In cases of greater moment, where men appear in public, the consequence and importance of the thing can bear them out. And though a pleader or preacher is hoarse or aukward, the weight of their matter commands respect and attention ; but in theatrical speaking, if the performer is not exactly proper and graceful, he is utterly ridiculous. In cases where there is little else expected, but the pleasure of the ears and eyes, the least diminution of that pleasure is the highest offence. In acting, barely to perform the part, is not commendable, but to be the least out is contemptible. To avoid these difficulties and delicacies, I am informed, that while I was out of town, the actors have flown in the air, and played such pranks, and run such hazards, that none but the servants of the fire-office, tilers, and masons, could have been able to perform the like*. The author of the following letter, it seems, has been of the audience at one of these entertainments, and has accordingly complained to me upon it; but I think he has been to the utmost degree severe against what is exceptionable in the play he mentions, without dwelling so much as he might have done on the author's most excellent talent of hu. mour. The pleasant pictures he has drawn of life, should have been more kindly mentioned, at the same time that be banishes his witches, who are too dull devils to be attacked with so much warmth.
* An allusion to Shadwell's comedy of “ The Lancashire W in which we find such stage directions as the following: “ one of the witches flies away with the candle and lanthorn; Mother Demdike sets Clod upon the top of a tree, and they all fly away laughing." “ Their brooms all march off and fetch bottles.”
MR. SPECTATOR, ( UPON a report
that Moll White had followed you to town, and was to act a part in the Lancashire Witches, I went last week to see that play. It was my fortune to sit next to a country justice of the peace, a neighbour (as he said) of Sir Roger's, who pretended to shew her to us in one of the dances. There was witchcraft enough in the entertainment almost to incline me to believe him; Ben Jonson* was almost lamed; young Bullock* narrowly saved his neck; the audience was astonished, and an old acquaintance of mine, a person of worth, whom I would have bowed to in the pit, at two yards distance did not know me.
* If you were what the country people reported you, a white witch, I could have wished you had been there to have exorcised that rabble of broomsticks, with which we were haunted for above three hours. I could have allowed them to set Clod in the tree, to have scared the Sportsmen, plagued the Justice, and employed honest Teague with his holy watert. This was the proper use of them in comedy, if the author stopped here; but I cannot conceive what relation the sacrifice of the black. lamb, and the ceremonies of their worship to the devilt, have to the business of mirth and humour.
• The gentleman who writ this play, and has drawn some characters in it very justly, appears to have been misled in his witchcraft by an unwary following the inimitable Shakspeare. The incantations in Macbeth have a solemnity admirably adapted to the occasion of that tragedy, and fill the mind with a suitable horror; besides, that the witches are a part of the story itself, as we find it very particularly related in Hector Boetius, from whom he seems to have taken it. This therefore is a proper machine where the business is dark, horrid, and bloody; but is extremely foreign from the affair of comedy. Subjects of this kind, which are in themselves dis
* Two comic actors of that tiine.
+ Incidents in the aforesaid play. VOL. II.
agreeable, can at no time become entertaining, but by passing through an imagination like Shakspeare's to form them; for which reason Mr. Dryden would not allow even Beaumont and Fletcher capable of imitating him.
But Shakspeare's magic cou'd not copied be:
+ I should not, however, have troubled you with - these remarks, if there were not something else in this comedy, which wants to be exorcised more than the witches: I mean the freedom of some passages, which I should have overlooked, if I had not ob. served that those jests can raise the loudest mirth, though they are painful to right sense, and an outrage upon modesty.
< We must attribute such liberties to the taste of that age: but indeed by such representations, a poet sacrifices the best part of his audience to the worst; and, as one would think, neglects the boxes, to write to the orange-wenches.
" I must not conclude till I have taken notice of the moral with which this comedy ends. The two young ladies having given a notable example of outwitting those who had a right in the disposal of them, and marrying without consent of parents, one of the injured parties, who is easily reconciled, winds up all with this remark,
-Design whate'er we will, There is a fate which over-rules us still.' "We are to suppose that the gallants are men of merit, but if they had been rakes the excuse might have served as well. Hans Carvel's wife
was of the same principle, but has expressed it with a delicacy which shews she is not serious in her excuse, but in a sort of humorous philosophy turns off the thought of her guilt, and says,
• That if weak women go astray,
* Prior's Poem.