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them by their wise posterity. We seem to imagine that they were written as patterns for imitation, not as objects of ridicule.
This humour runs so far, that most of our late comedies owe their success to it. The audience listens after nothing else. I have seen little Dicky place himself, with great approbation, at the head of the tories, for five acts together, and Pinky espouse the interest of the whigs with no less success. I do not find that either party has yet thrown themselves under the patronage of Scaramouch, or that Harlequin has violated that neutrality, which, upon his late arrival in Great Britain, he professed to both parties, and which it is thought he will punctually observe, being allowed on all sides to be a man of honour. It is true, that upon his first appearance, a violent whig tradesman, in the pit, begun to compliment him with a clap, as overjoyed to see him mount a ladder, and fancying him to be dressed in a highland plaid.
I question not but my readers will be surprised to find me animadverting on a practice that has been always favourable to the cause which now prevails. The British theatre was whig even in the worst of times; and in the last reign did not scruple to testify its zeal for the good of our country, by many magnanimous claps in its lower regions, answered with loud huzzas from the upper gallery. This good disposition is so much heightened of late, that the whole neighbourhood of the Drury-lane theatre very often shakes with the loyalty of the audience. It is said that a young author, who very much relies on this prevailing humour, is now writing a farce to be called A Match out of Newgate, in allusion to the title of a comedy called A Match in Newgate : and that his chief person is a round-shouldered man, with a pretty large nose, and a wide mouth, making his addresses to a lovely black woman, that passes for a peeress of Great Britain. In short, the whole play is built upon the late escape of General Forster, who is supposed, upon the road, to fall in love with my Lord Nithisdale, whom the ingenious author ima. gines to be still in his riding-hood.
But notwithstanding the good principles of a British audience in this one particular, it were to be wished that every thing should be banished the stage which has a tendency to exasperate men's minds, and inflame that party rage which makes us such a miserable and divided people. And that, in the first place, because such a proceeding as this disappoints the very design of all public diversions and entertainments. The institution of sports and shews was intended, by all governments, to turn off the thoughts of the people from busying themselves in matters of state, which did not belong to them ; to reconcile them to one another by the common participations of mirth and pleasure; and to wear out of their minds that rancour which they might have contracted by the interfering views of interest and ambition. It would therefore be for the benefit of every society, that is disturbed by contending factions, to encourage such innocent amusements as may thus disembitter the minds of men, and make them mutually rejoice in the same agreeable satisfactions. When people are accustomed to sit together with pleasure, it is a step towards reconciliation; but, as we manage matters, our politest assemblies are like boisterous clubs, that meet over a glass of wine, and, before they have done, throw bottles at one another's heads. Instead of multiplying those desirable opportunities, where we may agree in points that are indifferent, we let the spirit of contention into those very methods that are not only foreign to it, but should in their nature dispose us to be friends. This our anger in our mirth is like poison in a perfume, which taints the spirits instead of chearing and refreshing them.
Another manifest inconvenience which arises from this abuse of public entertainments is, that it naturally destroys the taste
of an audience. I do not deny, but that several performances have been justly applauded for their wit, which have been written with an eye to this predominant humour of the town; but it is visible even in these, that it is not the excellence, but the application of the sentiment, that has raised applause. An author is very much disappointed to find the best parts of his productions received with indifference, and to see the audience discovering beauties which he never intended. The actors, in the midst of an innocent old play, are often startled with unexpected claps or hisses; and do not know whether they have been talking like good subjects, or have spoken treason. In short, we seem to have such a relish for faction, as to have lost that of wit; and are so used to the bitterness of party rage, that we cannot be gratified with the highest entertainment that has not this kind of seasoning in it.
But as no work must expect to live long which draws all its beauty from the colour of the times; so neither can that pleasure be of greater continuance, which arises from the prejudice or malice of its hearers.
To conclude; since the present hatred and violence of parties is so unspeakably pernicious to the community, and none can do a better service to their country than those who use their utmost endeavours to extinguish it, we may reasonably hope, that the more elegant part of the nation will give a good example to the rest; and put an end to so absurd and foolish a practice, which makes our most refined diversions detrimental to the public, and, in a particular manner, destructive of all politeness.
No. 35. FRIDAY, APRIL 20.
Atheniensiun res gestre, sicut ego existumo, satis ampla magnificaque fuere, verum aliquanto minores tamen quam fama feruntur: sod, quia provenere ibi magna scriptoranı ingenia, per terrarum orbem Atheniensium facta pro maxumis celebrantur. Ita eorum, qui es focere, virtus tanta habetur, quantum verbis ea potoere extollere præclara ingenia.
Gratian, among his maxims for raising a man to the most consummate character of greatness, advises, first, to perform extraordinary actions; and, in the next place, to secure a good historian. Without the last, he considers the first as thrown away; as, indeed, they are, in a great measure, by such illustrious persons, as make fame and reputation the end of their undertakings. The most shining merit goes down to posterity with disadvantage, when it is not placed by writers in its proper light.
The misfortune is, that there are more instances of men who deserve this kind of immortality, than of authors who are able to bestow it. Our country, which has produced writers of the first figure in every other kind of work, has been very barren in good historians. We have had several who have been able to compile matters of fact, but very few who have been able to digest them with that purity and elegance of style, that nicety and strength of reflection, that subtilty, and discernment in the unravelling of a character, and that choice of circumstances for enlivening the whole narration, which we so justly admire in the ancient historians of Greece and Rome, and in some authors of our neighbouring nations.
Those who have succeeded best in works of this kind, are such, who, besides their natural good sense and learning, have themselves been versed in public business, and thereby acquired a thorough knowledge of men and things. It was the alvice of the great Duke of Schomberg, to an eminent historian of his acquaintance, who was an ecclesiastic, that he should avoid being
too particular in the drawing up of an army, and other circumstances of the day of battle ; for that he had always observed most notorious blunders and absurdities committed on that occasion, by such writers as were not conversant in the art of war. We may reasonably expect the like mistakes in every other kind of public matters, recorded by those who have only a distant theory of such affairs. Besides, it is not very probable that men, who have passed all their time in a low and vulgar life, should have a suitable idea of the several beauties and blemishes in the actions or characters of great men. For this reason I find an old law, quoted by the famous Monsieur Bayle, that no person below the dignity of a Roman knight should presume to write an history.
In England there is scarce any one, who has had a tincture of reading or study, that is not apt to fancy himself equal to so great a task; though it is plain, that many of our countrymen, who have tampered in history, frequently show, that they do not understand the very nature of those transactions which they recount. Nay, nothing is more usual than to see every man, who is versed in any particular way of business, finding fault with several of these authors, so far as they treat of matters within his sphere.
There is a race of men lately sprung up among this sort of writers, whom one cannot reflect upon without indignation as well as contempt. These are Grub-street biographers, who watch for the death of a great man, like so many undertakers, on purpose to make a penny of him. He is no sooner laid in his grave, but he falls into the hands of an historian; who, to swell a volume, ascribes to him works which he never wrote, and actions which he never performed; celebrates virtues which he was never famous for, and excuses faults which he was never guilty of. They fetch their only authentic records out of Doctors Commons; and