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writing is only to admonish the world, that they shall not find me an idle, but a busy SPECTATOR.
No.ð. TUESDAY, MARCH 6, 1710-11.
Spectatum admissi risum teneatis ?
HOR. ARS. POET. VER. 5. Admitted to the sight, would you not laugh? An opera may be allowed to be extravagantly lavish in its decorations, as its only design is to gratify the senses, and keep up an indolent attention in the audience. Common sense, however, requires that there should be nothing in the scenes and machines which may appear childish and absurd. How would the wits of King Charles's time have laughed to see Nicolini exposed to a tempest in robes of ermine, and sailing in an open boat upon a sea of pasteboard? What a field of raillery would they have been led into, had they been entertained with painted dragons spitting wild-fire, enchanted chariots drawn by Flanders mares, and real cascades in artificial landscapes? A little skill in criticism would inform us, that shadows and realities ought not to be mixed together in the same piece; and that the scenes which are designed as the representations of nature should be filled with resemblances, and not with the things themselves. If one would represent a wide champaign country filled with herds and flocks, it would be ridiculous to draw the country only upon the scenes, and to crowd several parts of the stage with sheep and oxen. This is joining together inconsistencies, and making the decoration partly real, and partly imaginary. I would recommend what I have here said to the directors, as well as the admirers, of our modern opera.
As I was walking in the streets about a fortnight ago, I saw an ordinary fellow carrying a cage full of little birds upon his shoulder; and as I was wondering with myself what use he would put them to, he was met very luckily by an acquaintance, who had the same curiosity. Upon his asking him what he had upon bis shoulder, he told him that he had been buying sparrows for the opera. Sparrows for the opera, says his friend, licking his lips, what! are they to be roasted ? No, no, says the other, they are to enter towards the end of the first act, and to fly about the stage.
This strange dialogue awakened my curiousity so far, that I im.
mediately bought the opera, by which means I perceived the sparnows were to act the part of singing-birds in a delightful grove; though, upon a nearer inquiry, I found the sparrows put the same trick upon the audience, that Sir Martin Mar-all * practised upon his mistress; for though they flew in sight, the music proceeded from a concert of Aageolets and bird-calls, which were planted hehind the scenes. At the same time I made this discovery, I found, by the discourse of the actors, that there were great designs on foot for the improvement of the opera ; that it had been proposed to break down a part of the wall, and to surprise the audience with a party of an hundred horse, and that there was actually a project of bringing the New River into the house, to be employed in jetteaus and water-works. This project, as I have since heard, is postponed till the summer season; when it is thought that the coolness which proceeds from fountains and cascades will be more acceptable and refreshing to people of quality. In the meantime, to find out a more agreeable entertainment for the winter season, the opera of Rinaldo is filled with thunder and lightning, illuminations and fireworks; wbich the audience may look upon without catching cold, and indeed without much danger of being burnt; for there are several engines filled with water, and ready to play at a minute's warning, in case any such accident should happen.f However, as I have a very great friendship for the owner of this theatre, I hope that he has been wise enough to insure his house before he would let this opera be acted in it.
It is no wonder that those scenes should be very surprising, which were contrived by two poets of different nations, and raised by two magicians of different sexes. Armida (as we are told in the argument), was an Amazonian enchantress, and poor Signior Cassani (as we learn from the persons represented), a Christian conjuror (Mago Christiano). I must confess I am very much puz. zled to find how an Amazon should be versed in the black art, or how a good Christian, for such is the part of the magician, should deal with the devil.
To consider the poet after the conjurors, I shall give you a taste of the Italian from the first lines of his preface; " Eccoti, benigno lettore, un parto di poche sere, che se ben; nato di notte, non è però aborto di tenebre, mà si fara conoscere figlio d' Apollo con qualche raggio di Parnasso.” “Behold, gentle reader, the birth of a few
In Dryden's comedy of that name. † An alarm of fire having occasioned great confusion in the playhouse, a manager came forward, and begged the audience to be composed, for he had the pleasure to assure them that there was water enough a-top to drown them all.
evenings, which, though it be the offspring of the night, is not the abortive of darkness, but will make itself known to be the son of Apollo, with a certain ray of Parnassus.” He afterwards proceeds to call Mynheer Handel the Orpheus of our age, and to acquaint us, in the same sublimity of style, that he composed this opera in a fortnight. Such are the wits to whose tastes we so ambitiously conform ourselves. The truth of it is, the finest writers among the modern Italians express themselves in such a florid form of words, and such tedious circumlocutions, as are used by none but pedants in our own country; and, at the same time, fill their writings with such poor imaginations and conceits, as our youths are ashamed of, before they have been two years at the university. Some may be apt to think that it is the difference of genius which produces this difference in the works of the two nations; but to show that there is nothing in this, if we look into the writings of the old Italians, such as Cicero and Virgil, we shall find that the English writers, in their way of thinking and expressing themselves, resemble those authors much more than the modern Italians pretend to do. And as for the poet himself from whom the dreams of this opera* are taken, I must entirely agree with Monsieur Boileau, that one verse in Virgil is worth all the clinquant or tinsel of Tasso.
But to return to the sparrows: there have been so many flights of them let loose in this opera, that it is feared the house will never get rid of them; and that in other plays they may make their en. trance in very wrong and improper scenes, so as to be seen flying in a lady's bed-chamber, or perching upon a king's throne; besides the inconveniences which the heads of the audience may some times suffer from them. I am credibly informed, that there was once a design of casting into an opera the story of Whittington and his Cat,f and that in order to it, there had been got together a great quantity of mice; but Mr. Rich, the proprietor of the playhouse, very prudently considered that it would be impossible for the cat to kill them all, and that consequently the princes of the stage might be as much infested with mice, as the prince of the island was before the cat's arrival upon it; for which reason he would not permit it to be acted in his house. And indeed I cannot blame him; for, as he said very well upon that occasion, I do not bear that any of the performers in our opera pretend to equal the famous pied piper, who made all the mice of a great town in Ger
* Rinaldo, an opera, by Aaron Hill. + See No. 14; and Tat. No. 78.
I The records of Hamelen, an ancient city on the banks of the Weser, give an account of a strange accident which befel them, on the 26th of June, 1284:
"Being at that time much pestered with rats, which they could by no
many follow his music, and by that means cleared the place of those little noxious animals.
Before I dismiss this paper, I must inform my reader, that I hear there is a treaty on foot between London and Wise,* (who will be appointed gardeners of the playhouse) to furnish the opera of Rinaldo and Armida with an orange-grove; and that the next time it is acted, the singing birds will be personated by tom-tits: the undertakers being resolved to spare neither pains nor money for the gratification of the audience. ADDISON.
No. 6. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 1710-11.
Credebant hoc grande nefas, et morte piandum,
JUV. SAT. xiii. 54.
For youth to keep their seats when an old man appear'd. I KNOW no evil under the sun so great as the abuse of the understanding, and yet there is no one vice more common. It has diffased itself through both sexes, and all qualities of mankind; and there is hardly that person to be found, who is not more concerned for the reputation of wit and sense, than of honesty and virtue. But this unbappy affectation of being wise rather than honest, witty than good natured, is the source of most of the ill habits of life. Such false impressions are owing to the abandoned writings means destroy, a stranger at last undertook it, on the promise of reward; and immediately taking a tabret and pipe, the rats followed his music to the river, where they were all drowned; but being denied his reward, he left the town in a rage, and threatened revenge ; accordingly, he returned next year, and by the same music enticed most of the children of the town after him to the mouth of a great cave on the top of a neighbouring hill called Koppelberg, where he and they entered, but were never more heard of. In remembrance of this sad accident, the citizens, for many years after, dated all their public writings from the day they lost their children, as appears by many old deeds and records. They still call the street through which the children passed, Tabret Street and at the mouth of the cave there is a monument of stone, with an inscription in barbarous Latin verse, giving an account of this tragical story, by which the citizens lost 130 boys. The queen's gardeners.
of men of wit, and the awkward imitation of the rest of mankind.
For this reason, Sir ROGER was saying last night, that he was of opinion none but inen of fine parts deserve to be hanged. The reflections of such men are so delicate upon all occurrences which they are concerned in, that they should be exposed to more than ordinary infamy and punishment, for offending against such quick admonitions as their own souls give them, and blunting the fine edge of their minds in, such a manner, that they are no more sbocked at vice and folly than men of slower capacities. There is no greater monster in being, than a very ill man of great parts. He lives like a man in a palsy, with one side of him dead. While perhaps he enjoys the satisfaction of luxury, of wealth, of ambition, he has lost the taste of good will, of friendship, of innocence. Scarecrow, the beggar in Linooln's Inn Fields, who disabled himself in his right leg, and asks alms all day to get himself a warm supper and a trull at night, is not half so despicable a wretch as such a man of sense. The beggar has no relish above sensations; he finds rest more agreeable than motion; and while he has a warm fire and his doxy, never reflects that he deserves to be whipped. Every man who terminates his satisfactions and enjoyments within the supply of his own necessities and passions, is, says Sir Roger, in my eye, as poor a rogue as Scarecrow. “But," continued he,“ for the loss of public and private virtue we are beholden to your men of fine parts forsooth: it is with them no matter what is done, so it be done with an air. But to me, who am so whimsical in a corrupt age as to act according to nature and reason, a selfish man, in the most shining circumstance and equipage, appears in the same condition with the fellow abovementioned, but more contemptible in proportion to what more he robs the public of, and enjoys above him. " I lay it down therefore for a rule, that the whole man is to move together; that every action of any importance is to have a prospect of public good; and that the general tendency of our indifferent actions ought to be agreeable to the dictates of reason, of religion, of good breeding; without this, a man, as I have before hinted, is hopping instead of walking, he is not in his entire and proper motion.
While the honest knight was thus bewildering bimself in good starts, I looked attentively upon him, which made him, I thought, collect his mind a little. What I am at,” says he, “ is to represent, that I am of opinion, to polish our understandings, and neglect our manners, is of all things the most inexcusable. Reason should govern passion, but instead that, you see,
it is often subservient to it; and, as unaccountable as one would think it, a wise man is not always a good man." This degeneracy is not only