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Life compared to a Play.
If I was not quite sick of the number of stupid dreams which have been written in imitation of those excellent ones published in the Spectators, Tatlers, and some later periodical papers, I should be cxceedingly tempted to fall into some allegorical slumbers. After this declaration, I know not why I may not actually do it; since I see people, in a hundred other instances, seem to imagine that censuring any thing violently, is amply sufficient to excuse their being guilty of it.
Suppose me then composed in my easy chair, after having long meditated on that old and thread bare comparison of human life to a play. To this, my imagination furnishes abundance of scenery: and the train of my thoughts go on just as well, after my eyes are closed, as it did before.
As I have yet but a very inconsiderable part in the performance, I have leisure enough to stand between the scenes, and to amuse myself with various speculations. Fortunately for me, I am placed near a person, who can give me sufficient information of the whole matter; since indeed this venerable person is no other than the originally intended directress of the theatre, Wisdom by name: but being of a temper above entering into all the little disputes of the actors, she has suffered her place to be usurped by a multitude of pretenders, who mix the vilest of farces, and the absurdest of tragedies, with the noblest drama in the world.
These destructive interlopers were busily instructing all the actors, as they appeared upon the stage, and indeed one might easily see the effects of their teaching. Scarce one in fifty repeated a single line with a natural and uvaffected air : every feature was distorted by grimace, many a good sentiment outrée, by the emphasis with which it was pronounced.
“Would it not put one quite out of patience,” said my neighbour,“ to see that fellow there, so entirely spoil one of the finest passages in the play, by turning it into a mere rant? Is there any bearing that inan, who, pretending to act the lover, puts on all the airs of a madman ? Why, sir, do you think that graceful figure, that sense, and all those ad. vantages you were dressed with, in order to de honour to my company, were given you, only that you might walk about the stage, sighing and exclaiming ? Pray let me cast an eye upon your part. -Look ye, are here any of those soliloquies that you are every moment putting in ?-Why, here is not a single word of misery, death, torment.” The lover, awaking out of his reverie, pointed to a prompter that stood at a little distance, when Wisdom perceived it to be Busy Imagination. She only, with an air of compassion, drew the poor youth to her side of the stage, and begged he would keep out of the hearing of so bad a director.
The next we happened to attend to, was a young woman, of a most amiable figure, who stood pretty near us; but the good-nature in her countepance was inixed with a kind of haughty disdain, whenever she turned towards Imagination, that did not absolutely please me. I remarked upon it to my friend, and we jointly observed her stealing leisure from her part to look over the whole scheme of the drama. “ That actress,” says she, “ has a most charming genius, but she too has a travers in it.” Because she has seen some love scenes in the play ridiculously acted, and heard them censured by those whose judgment she respects, and especially, because she is very justly displeased with all the bombast stuff Imagination puts into them-—she will, against her senses, believe there is scarce a single line about it in the whole drama : and there you may see her striking out for spurious, passages that have warmed the noblest hearts with generous sentiments, and gained a just applause from Socrates and Plato theinselves, two of the finest actors I ever had. This is, however, an error on the right side. Happy for you, young actress, if you never fall into a worse! She may indeed miss saying an agreeable thing, but she never will say an absurd one.
.“ Look yonder, and you will see more dangerous and more ridiculous mistakes. That group of young actors, just entering on the stage, who cannot possibly have beheld more than half a scene, pretend already, in a decisive way, to give their judgment of the whole; they do not so much as wait for their cue, (which years and discretion ought to give them) but thrust forward into the very middle of the action. Some of them, displeased with the decorations of their part of the theatre, are busied in hurrying the tinsel ornaments from the other corners of it, where they were much more becomingly placed. That man yonder, who ought to be acting the part of a hero, is so taken up with adjusting his dress, and that of his companions, that he never once seems to think of the green-room, where all these robes must soon be laid aside.
“Look yonder, look yonder! This is a pitiable sight indeed. Behold that woman, exquisitely handsome still, though much past the bloom of youth, and formed to shine in any part; but so unhappily attached to that she has just left, that her head is absolutely turned behind her ; so unwilling is she to lose sight of her beloved gaieties.