Imatges de pÓgina

pliments of Monsieur Le Blanc, for a pleasant voyage down the Rhone- -when I was stopped at the gate

[ocr errors]

"Twas by a poor ass, who had just turned in with a couple of large panniers upon his back, to collect eleemosinary turnip-tops, and cabbage leaves, and stood dubious with his two fore-feet on the inside of the threshold, and with his two hinder feet towards the street, as not knowing very well whether he was to go in or no.

Now, 'tis an animal (be in what hurry I may,) I cannot bear to strike-there is a patient endurance of sufferings, wrote so unaffectedly in his looks and carriage, which pleads so mightily for him, that it always disarms me; and to that degree, that I do not like to speak unkindly to him; on the contrary, meet him where I will-whether in town or country-in cart or under panniers-whether in liberty or bondage I have ever something civil to say to him on my part; and as one word begets another (if he has as little to do as I)-I generally fall into conversation with him; and surely never is my imagination so busy as in framing his responses from the etchings of his countenance and where those carry me not deep enough-in flying from my own heart into his, and seeking what is natural for an ass to think—as well as a man, upon the occasion. In truth, it is the only creature of all the classes of beings below me, with whom I can do this: for parrots, jackdaws, &c. -I never exchange a word with them. nor with the apes, &c. for pretty near the same reason; they act by rote, as the others speak by it, and equally make me silent: nay, my dog and my cat, though I value them both- -(and for my dog, he would speak if he could)-yet, somehow or other, they neither of them possess the talents for conversation-I can make nothing of a discourse with them, beyond the preposition, the reply, and rejoinder which terminated my father's and mother's conversation, in his beds of justice and those uttered-there's an end of the dialogue

-But with an ass, I can commune for ever.

Come, Honesty! said I-seeing it was impracticable to pass betwixt him and the gate-art thou for coming in or going


The ass twisted his head round to look up the street

Well-replied I-we'll wait a minute for thy driver.

He turned his head thoughtful about, and looked wistfully the opposite way

Í understand thee perfectly, answered I-if thou takest a wrong step in this affair, he will cudgel thee to death- --Well! a minute is but a minute, and if it saves a fellow-creature a drubbing, it shall not be set down as ill spent.

He was eating the stem of an artichoke as this discourse went on, and in the little peevish contentions of nature betwixt hunger and unsavouriness had dropt it out of his mouth half a dozen times, and pick'd it up again-God help thee. Jack! said I, thou hast a bitter breakfast on't—and many a bitter day's labour-and many a bitter blow, I fear, for it's wages-'tis all bitterness to thee, whatever life is to others.And now thy mouth, if one knew the truth of it, is as bitter, I dare say, as soot-(for he had cast aside the stem) and thou hast not a friend perhaps in all this world, that will give thee

a macaroon.

In saying this, I pulled

out a paper of them, which I had just purchased, and gave him one-and at this moment that I am telling it, my heart smites me, that there was more of pleasantry in the conceit, of seeing how an ass would eat a macaroon- -than of benevolence in giving him one, which presided in the act.

When the ass had eaten his macaroon, I press'd him to come in-the poor beast was heavy loaded-his legs seemed to tremble under him-he hung rather backwards, and, as I pulled at his halter, it broke short in my hand-he look'd up pensive in my face-" Don't thrash me with it—but if you will, you may.”If I do, said I, I'll be d-d.

The word was but one half of it pronounced, like the abbess of Andouillet's-(so there was no sin in it)-when a person coming in, let fall a thundering bastinado upon the poor devil's crupper, which put an end to the ceremony.

Out it! upon cried Ibut the interjection was equivocal-and, I think, wrong placed too

for the end of an osier, which had started out from the contexture of the ass's pannier, had caught hold of my breeches pocket as he rushed by me, and rent it in the most disastrous direction you can

imagine-so that the Out upon it! in my and repartees in a grin: in short, he pracopinion, should have come in here.


$63. Players in a country town described.

The players, you must know, finding this a good town, had taken a lease the last summer of an old synagogue deserted by the Jews; but the mayor, being a presbyterian, refused to licence their exhibitions: however, when they were in the utmost despair, the ladies of the place joined in a petition to Mrs. Mayoress, who prevailed on her husband to wink at their performances. The company immediately opened their Synagogue theatre with the Merchant of Venice; and finding a quack doctor's zany, a droll fellow, they decoyed him into their service; and he has since performed the part of the Mock Doctor, with universal applause. Upon his revolt, the doctor himself found it absolutely necessary to enter of the company; and, having a talent for tragedy, has performed with great success the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet.

The performers at our rustic theatre are far beyond those paltry strollers, who run about the country, and exhibit in a barn or a cow-house: for (as their bills declare) they are a company of Comedians from the Theatre Royal; and I assure you they are as much applauded by our country critics, as any of your capital actors. The shops of our tradesmen have been almost deserted, and a crowd of weavers and hardwaremen have elbowed each other two hours before the opening of the doors, when the bills have informed us, in enormous red letters, that the part of George Barnwell was to be performed by Mr. at the particular desire of several ladies of distinction. 'Tis true, indeed, that our principal actors have most of them had their education at Covent-garden or Drury-lane; but they have been employed in the business of the drama in a degree but just above a sceneshifter. An heroine, to whom your managers in town (in envy to her rising merit) scarce allotted the humble part of a confidante, now blubbers out Andromache or Belvidera; the attendants on a monarch strut monarchs themselves, mutes find their voices, and messagebearers rise into heroes. The humour of our best comedian consists in shrugs and grimaces; he jokes in a wry mouth,

tises on Congreve and Vanbrugh all those distortions which gained him so much applause from the galleries, in the drubs which he was obliged to undergo in pantomimes. I was vastly diverted at seeing a fellow in the character of Sir Harry Wildair, whose chief action was a continual pressing together of the thumb and fore-finger, which had he lifted them to his nose, I should have thought he designed as an imitation of taking snuff: but I could easily account for the cause of this single gesture, when I discovered that Sir Harry was no less a person than the dexterous Mr. Clippit, the candlesnuffer.

You will laugh to see how strangely the parts of a play are cast. They played Cato; and their Marcia was such an old woman, that when Juba came on with his" Hail! charming maid!". the fellow could not help laughing. Another night I was surprised to hear an eager lover talk of rushing into his mistress's arms, rioting on the nectar of her lips, and desiring (in the tragedy rapture) to "hug her thus, and thus, for ever;" though he always took care to stand at a most ceremonious distance. But I was afterwards very much diverted at the cause of this extraordinary respect, when I was told that the lady laboured under the misfortune of an ulcer in her leg, which occasioned such a disagreeable stench, that the performers were obliged to keep her at arm's length. The entertainment was Lethe; and the part of the Frenchman was performed by a South Briton; who, as he could not pronounce a word of the French language, supplied its place by gabbling in his native Welsh.

The decorations, or (in the theatrical dialect) the properties of our company, are as extraordinary as the performers. Othello raves about in a checked handkerchief; the ghost in Hamlet stalks in a postilion's leathern jacket for a coat of mail; and Cupid enters with a fiddlecase slung over his shoulders for a quiver. The apothecary of the town is free of the house, for lending them a pestle and mortar, to serve as the bell in Venice Preserv'd: and a barber-surgeon has the same privilege, for furnishing them with basons of blood to besmear the daggers in Macbeth. Macbeth himself carries a rolling-pin in his hand for a truncheon;

and, as the breaking of glasses would be very expensive, he dashes down a pewter pint-pot at the sight of Banquo's ghost. A fray happened here the other night, which was no small diversion to the audience. It seems there had been a great contest between two of those mimic heroes, which was the fittest to play Richard the Third. One of them was reckoned to have the better person, as he was very round-shouldered, and one of his legs was shorter than the other; but his antago nist carried the part, because he started best in the tent scene. However when the curtain drew up, they both rushed in upon the stage at once; and bawling out together, "Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths," they both went through the whole speech without stop ping.


[blocks in formation]

The French have distinguished the artifices made use of on the stage to deceive the audience, by the expression of Jeu de Theatre, which we may translate," the juggle of the theatre." When these little arts are exercised merely to assist nature and set her off to the best advantage, none can be so critically nice as to object to them; but when tragedy by these means is lifted into rant, and comedy distorted into buffoonery; though the deceit may succeed with the multitude, men of sense will always be offended at it. This conduct, whether of the poet or the player, resembles in some sort the poor contrivance of the ancients, who mounted their heroes upon stilts, and expressed the manners of their characters by the grotesque figures of their masks.


§ 65. True Pleasure defined. We are affected with delightful sensations, when we see the inanimate parts of the creation, the meadows, flowers, and trees, in a flourishing state. There must be some rooted melancholy at the heart, when all nature appears smiling about us, to hinder us from corresponding with the rest of the creation, and joining in the universal chorus of joy. But if meadows and trees in their cheerful verdure, if flowers in their bloom, and all the vegetable parts of the creation in their most advantageous dress, can inspire gladness into the heart, and drive away all sadness but despair; to see the rational creation

happy and flourishing, ought to give us a pleasure as much superior, as the latter is to the former in the scale of beings. But the pleasure is still heightened, if we ourselves have been instrumental in contributing to the happiness of our fellow-creatures, if we have helped to raise a heart drooping beneath the weight of grief, and revived that barren and dry land, where no water was, with refreshing showers of love and kindness. Seed's Sermons. § 66. How Politeness is manifested.

To correct such gross vices as lead us to commit a real injury to others, is the part of morals, and the object of the most ordinary education. Where that is not attend. ed to, in some degree, no human society can subsist. But in order to render conversation and the intercourse of minds more easy and agreeable, good-manners have been invented, and have carried the matter

somewhat farther. Wherever nature has given the mind a propensity to any vice, or to any passion disagreeable to others, refined breeding has taught men to throw the bias on the opposite side, and to preserve, in all their behaviour, the appearance of sentiments contrary to those which they naturally incline to. Thus, as we are na turally proud and selfish, and apt to assume the preference above others, a polite man is taught to behave with deference towards those with whom he converses, and to yield up the superiority to them in all the common incidents of society. In like manner, wherever a person's situation may naturally beget any disagreeable suspicion in him, 'tis the part of good manners to prevent it by a studied display of sentiments directly contrary to those of which he is apt to be jealous. Thus old men know their infir mities, and naturally dread contempt from youth: hence well-educated youth redouble their instances of respect and deference to their elders. Strangers and foreigners are without protection, hence, in all polite countries, they receive the highest civilities, and are entitled to the first place in every company. A man is lord in his own family, and his guests are, in a manner, subject to his authority, hence he is always the lowest person in the company; attentive to the wants of every one; and giving himself all the trouble, in order to please, which may not betray too visible an affectation, or impose too much constraint on his guests. Gallantry is nothing but an instance of the same generous


refined attention. As nature has given man the superiority above woman, by endowing him with greater strength both of mind and body, 'tis his part to alleviate that superiority, as much as possible, by the generosity of his behaviour, and by a studied deference and complaisance for all her inclinations and opinions. Barbarous nations display this superiority, by reducing their females to the most abject slavery; by confining them, by beating them, by selling them, by killing them. But the male sex, among a polite people, discover their authority in a more generous, though not a lest evident manner; by civility, by respect, by complaisance, and in a word, by gallantry. In good company, you need not ask, who is master of the feast? The man who sits in the lowest place, and who is always industrious in helping every one, is most certainly the person. We must either condemn all such instances of generosity, as foppish and affected, or admit of gallantry among the rest. The ancient Muscovites wedded their wives with a whip instead of a wedded ring. The same people in their own houses, took always the precedency above foreigners, even foreign ambassadors. These two instances of their generosity and politeness are much of a-piece.

Hume's Essays.

[blocks in formation]

"Wherever I went, I found that poetry was considered as the highest learning, and regarded with a veneration somewhat approaching to that which man would pay to the angelic nature. And it yet fills me with wonder, that, in almost all countries, the most ancient poets are considered as the best: whether it be that every other kind of knowledge is an acquisition, gradually attained, and poetry is a gift conferred at once; or that the first poetry of every nation surprised them as a novelty, and retained the credit by consent, which it received by accident at first or whether, as the province of poetry is to describe nature and passion, which are always the same, the first writers took possession of the most striking objects for description, and the most probable occurrences for fiction, and left nothing to those that followed them, but transcriptions of the same events and new combinations of the same images. What ever be the reason, it is commonly ob

served, that the early writers are in possession of nature, and their followers of art: that the first excel in strength and invention, and the latter in elegance and refinement.

"I was desirous to add my name to this illustrious fraternity. I read all the poets of Persia and Arabia, and was able to repeat by memory the volumes that are suspended in the mosque of Mecca. But I soon found that no man was ever great by imitation. My desire of excellence impelled me to transfer my attention to nature and to life. Nature was to be my subject, and men to be my auditors: Ï could never describe what I had not seen: I could not hope to move those with delight or terror, whose interests and opinions I did not understand.

"Being now resolved to be a poet, I saw every thing with a new purpose; my sphere of attention was suddenly magnified; no kind of knowledge was to be overlooked. I ranged mountains and deserts for images and resemblances, and pictured upon my mind every tree of the forest and flower of the valley. I observed with equal care the crags of the rock, and the pinnacles of the palace. Sometimes I wandered along the mazes of the rivulet, and sometimes watched the changes of the summer clouds. To a is beautiful, and whatever is dreadful, poet nothing can be useless. Whatever must be familiar to his imagination: he must be conversant with all that is awfully vast, or elegantly little. The plants of the garden, the animals of the wood, the minerals of the earth, and meteors of the sky, must all concur to store his mind with inexhaustible variety: for every idea is useful for the enforcement or decoration of moral or religious truth: and he who knows most will have most power of diversifying his scenes, and of gratifying his reader with remote allusions and unexpected instruction.

"All the appearances of nature I was therefore careful to study, and every country which I have surveyed has contributed something to my poetical powers."

"In so wide a survey," said the prince, "you must surely have left much unobserved. I have lived, till now, within the circuit of these mountains, and yet cannot walk abroad without the sight of something which I never beheld before, or never heeded."

"The business of a poet," said Imlac,

"is to examine not the individual, but the species, to remark general properties and large appearances; he does not number the streaks of the tulip, or describe the different shades in the verdure of the forest. He is to exhibit in his portraits of nature such prominent and striking features as recal the original to every mind; and must neglect the minuter discriminations, which one may have remarked, and another have neglected, for those characteristics which are alike obvious to vigilance and carelessness.

"But the knowledge of nature is only half the task of a poet: he must be acquainted likewise with all the modes of life. His character requires that he estimate the happiness and misery of every condition, observe the power of all the passions in all their combinations, and trace the changes of the human mind as they are modified by various institutions, and accidental influences of climate or custom, from the sprightliness of infancy to the despondence of decrepitude. He must divest himself of the prejudices of his age or country; he must consider right and wrong in their abstract and invariable state; he must disregard present laws and opinions, and rise to general and transcendental truths, which will always be the same: he must therefore content himself with the slow progress of his name; contemn the applause of his own time, and commit his claims to the justice of posterity. He must write as the interpreter of nature, and the legislator of mankind, and consider himself as presiding over the thoughts and manners of future generations, as a being superior to time and place. "His labour is not yet at an end: he must know many languages and many sciences; and, that his style may be worthy of his thoughts, must by incessant practice, familiarize to himself delicacy of speech and grace of harmony."


Johnson's Rasselas.

§ 68. Remarks on some of the best Poets,

both ancient and modern.

"Tis manifest, that some particular ages have been more happy than others in the production of great men, and all sorts of arts and sciences; as that of Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and the rest, for stage poetry, among the Greeks; that of Augustus for heroic, lyric, dramatic, elegiac, and indeed all sorts of poetry, in the persons of Virgil, Horace, Varius, Ovid, and many others;

especially if we take into that century the latter end of the commonwealth, wherein we find Varro, Lucretius and Catullus: and at the same time lived Cicero, Sallust, and Cæsar. A famous age in modern times, for learning in every kind, was that of Lorenzo de Medici, and his son Leo X. wherein painting was revived, poetry flourished, and the Greek language was restored.

Examples in all this are obvious: but what I would infer is this, that in such an age, 'tis possible some great genius may arise to equal any of the ancients, abating only for the language; for great contemporaries whet and cultivate each other; and mutual borrowing and commerce makes the common riches of learn

ing, as it does of civil government.

But suppose that Homer and Virgil were the only poets of their species, and that nature was so much worn out in producing them, that she is never able to bear the like again; yet the example only holds in heroic poetry. In tragedy and satire, Foffer myself to maintain, against some of our modern critics, that this age and the last, particularly in England, have excelled the ancients in both these kinds.

Thus I might safely confine myself to my native country; but if I would only cross the seas, I might find in France a living Horace and a Juvenal, in the person of the admirable Boileau, whose numbers are excellent, whose expressions are noble, whose thoughts are just, whose language is pure, whose satire is pointed, and whose sense is close. What he borrows from the ancients, he repays with usury of his own, in coin as good, and almost as universally valuable; for, setting prejudice and partiality apart, though he is our enemy, the stamp of a Louis, the patron of arts, is not much inferior to the medal of an Augustus Cæsar. Let this be said without entering into the interests of factions and parties, and relating only the bounty of that king to men of learning and merit; a praise so just, that even we, who are his enemies, cannot refuse it to him.

Now, if it may be permitted me to go back again to the consideration of epic poetry, I have confessed that no man hitherto has reached, or so much as approached to the excellencies of Homer or Virgil; I must farther add, that Statius, the best versificator next Virgil, knew not how to design after him, though he had

« AnteriorContinua »