Page images
PDF
EPUB

rify one another. Were I a father, I should take a particular care to preserve my children from these little horrors and imaginations, which they are apt to contract when they are young, and are not able to shake off when they are in years. I have known a soldier that has entered a breach, affrighted at his own shadow, and look pale upon a little scratching at his door, who the day before bad marched up against a battery of cannon. There are instances of persons who have been terrified, even to distraction, at the figure of a tree, or the shaking of a bulrush. The truth of it is, I look upon a sound imagination as the greatest blessing of life, next to a clear judgment and a good conscience. In the meantime, since there are very few whose minds are not more or less subject to these dreadful thoughts and apprehensions, we ought to arm ourselves against them by the dictates of reason and religion,“ to pull the old woman out of our hearts” (as Persius expresses it in the motto of my paper), and extinguish those impertinent notions which we imbibed at a time that we were not able to judge of their absurdity. Or if we believe, as many wise and good men have done, thăt there are such phantoms and apparitions as those I have been speaking of, let us endeavour to establish to ourselves an interest in him who holds the reins of the whole creation in his hands, and moderates them after such a manner, that it is impossible for one being to break loose upon another, without his knowledge and permission.

For my own part, I am apt to join in opinion with those who believe that all the regions of nature swarm with spirits; and that we have multitudes of spectators on all our actions, when we think ourselves most alone; but instead of terrifying myself with such a notion, I am wonderfully pleased to think that I am always en. gaged with such an innumerable society, in searching out the wonders of the creation, and joining in the same consort of praise and adoration.

Milton * has finely described this mixed communion of men and spirits in paradise ; and had doubtless his eye upon a verse in old Hesiod, which is almost word for word the same with his third line in the following passage.

-Nor think, though men were none,
That heav'n would want spectators, God want praise ;
Millions of spiritual creatures walk on earth
Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep;
All these with ceaseless praise his works behold
Both day and night. How often from the steep
Of echoing hill or thicket have we heard

* In his Paradise Lost.

[blocks in formation]

Were you a lion, how would you behave? There is nothing that of late years has afforded matter of greater amusement to the town than Signior Nicolini's * combat with a lion in the Haymarket, which has been very often exhibited to the general satisfaction of most of the nobility and gentry in the kingdom of Great Britain. Upon the first rumour of this intended combat, it was confidently affirmed, and is still believed, by many in both galleries, that there would be a tame lion sent from the Tower every opera night, in order to be killed by Hydaspes; this report, though altogether groundless, so universally prevailed in the upper regions of the playhouse, that some of the most refined politicians in those parts of the audience, gave it out in whisper, that the lion was à cousin-german of the tiger who made his appearance in King William's days, and that the stage would be supplied with lions at the public expense, during the whole session. Many likewise were the conjectures of the treatment which this lion was to meet with from the hands of Signior Nicolini; some supposed that he was to subdue him in recitativo, as Orpheus used to serve the wild beasts in his time, and afterwards to knock him on the head; some fancied that the lion would not pretend to lay his paws upon the hero, by reason of the received opinion, that å lion will not hurt a virgin. Several, who pretended to have seen the opera in Italy, had informed their friends, that the lion was to act a part in High Dutch, and roar twice or thrice to a thorough bass, before he fell at the feet of Hydaspes. To clear up a matter that was so variously reported, I have made it my business to ex

• See No. 405; and Tat. No. 115.

amine whether this pretended lion is really the savage

he

appears to be, or only a counterfeit.

But before I communicate my discoveries, I must acquaint the reader, that upon my walking behind the scenes last winter, as I was thinking on something else, I accidentally justled against a monstrous animal that extremely startled me, and, upon my nearer survey of it, appeared to be a lion rampant. The lion seeing me very much surprised, told me in a gentle voice, that I might come by him if I pleased ; " for,” say he, “ I do not intend to hurt anybody." I thanked him very kindly, and passed by him; and in a little time after saw him leap upon the stage, and act his part with very great applause. It has been observed by several, that the lion has changed his manner of acting twice or thrice since his first appearance; which will not seem strange, when I acquaint my reader that the lion has been changed upon the audience three several times. The first lion was a candle snuffer, who being a fellow of a testy choleric temper, overdid his part, and would not suffer himself to be killed so easily as he ought to have done: besides, it was observed of him, that he grew more surly every time he came out of the lion; and having dropt some words in ordinary conversation, as if he had not fought his best, and that he suffered himself to be thrown upon his back in the scuffle, and that he would wrestle with Mr. Nicolini for what he pleased, out of his lion's skin, it was thought proper to discard him: and it is verily believed, to this day, that had he been brought upon the stage another time, he would certainly have done mischief. Besides, it was objected against the first lion, that he reared himself so high upon his hinder paws, and walked in so erect a posture, that he looked more like an old man than a lion.

The second lion was a tailor by trade, who belonged to the playhouse, and had the character of a mild and peaceable man in his profession. If the former was too furious, this was too sheepish for his part; insomuch that after a short modest walk upon the stage, he would fall at the first touch of Hydaspes, without grappling with him, and giving him an opportunity of shewing his variety of Italian trips. It is said, indeed, that he once gave him a rip in his flesh.colour doublet; but this was only to make work for himself, in his private character of a tailor. I must not omit that it was this second lion who treated me with so much humanity behind the scenes.

The acting lion at present is, as I am informed, a country gen. tleman, who does it for his diversion, but desires his name may be concealed. He says, very handsomely, in his own excuse, that he does not act for gain; that he indulges an innocent pleasure in it; and that it is better to pass away an evening in this manner, than

in gaming and drinking; but at the same time says, with a very agreeable raillery upon

himself, that if his name should be known, the ill-natured world might call him, “ the ass in the lion's skin." This gentleman's temper is made out of such a happy mixture of the mild and the choleric, that he outdoes both his predecessors, and has drawn together greater audiences than have been known in the memory of man.

I must not conclude my narrative, without taking notice of a groundless report that has been raised to a gentleman's disadvantage, of whom I must declare myself an admirer; namely, that Signior Nicolini and the lion have been sitting peaceably by one another

, and smoking a pipe together behind the scenes; by which their enemies would insinuate, it is but a sham combat which they represent upon the stage; but upon inquiry, I find, that if any such correspondence has passed between them, it was not till the combat was over, when the lion was to be looked upon as dead, according to the received rules of the drama. Besides, this is what is practised every day in Westminster Hall, where nothing is more usual than to see a couple of lawyers, who have been tearing each other to pieces in the court, embracing one another as soon as they are out of it.

I would not be thought, in any part of this relation, to reflect upon Signior Nicolini, who, in acting this part, only complies with the wretched taste of his audience; he knows very well, that the lion bas many more admirers than himself; as they say of the famous equestrian statue on the Pont-Neuf at Paris, that more people go to see the horse than the king who sits upon it. On the contrary, it gives me a just indignation to see a person whose action gives new majesty to kings, resolution to heroes, and softness to lovers, thus sinking from the greatness of his behaviour, and degraded into the character of a London ’Prentice. I have often wished that our tragedians would copy after this great master in action. Could they make the same use of their arms and legs, and inform their faces with as significant looks and passions, how glorious would an English tragedy appear with that action which is capable of giving dignity to the forced thoughts, cold conceits, and undatural expressions of an Italian opera! In the meantime, I have related this combat of the lion, to show what are at present the reigning entertainments of the politer part of Great Britain.

Audiences have often been reproached by writers for the coarse. ness of their taste; but our present grievance does not seem to be the want of a good taste, but of common sense. ADDISON.

C.

No. 14. FRIDAY, MARCH 16, 1710-11.

Teque his, infelıx, exue monstris.

OVID. MET. iv. 590, Wretch that thou art ! put off this monstrous shape. I was reflecting this morning upon the spirit and humour of the public diversions five and twenty years ago, and those of the present time; and lamented to myself, that though in those days they neglected their morality, they kept up their good sense; but that the beau monde, at present, is only grown more childish, not more innocent, than the former. While I was in this train of thought, an old fellow, whose face I have often seen at the playhouse, gave me the following letter with these words :“Sir, the Lion presents his humble service to you, and desired me to give this into your own hands."

From my den in the Haymarket, March 15. SIR, "I have read all your papers, and have stifled my resentment against your

reflections upon operas, until that of this day, wherein you plainly insinuate, that Signior Nicolini and myself have a correspondence more friendly than is consistent with the valour of his character, or the fierceness of mine. I desire you would, for your own sake, forbear such intimations for the future; and must say it is a great piece of ill nature in you, to show so great an esteem for a foreigner, and to discourage a Lion that is your own countryman.

“ I take notice of your fable of the lion and man,* hut am so equally concerned in that matter, that I shall not be offended to whichsoever of the animals the superiority is given. You have misrepresented me, in saying that I am a country gentleman, who act only for my diversion ; whereas, had I still the same woods to range in which I once had when I was a fox-hunter, I should not resign my manhood for a maintenance; and assure you, as low as my circumstances are at present, I am so much of a man of honour, that I would scorn to be any beast for bread, but a lion.

“ Yours," &c. I had no sooner ended this, than one of my landlady's children brought me in several others, with some of which I shall make up mp sresent paper, they all having a tendency to the same subject, viz., the elegance of our present diversions.

• See No. 11.

[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »