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upon the force and efficacy which the writings of good poets have on the minds of their intelligent readers ; and recommended to me his sense of the matter, thrown together in the following manner, which he desired me to communicate to the youth of Great Britain in my Essays. I choose to do it in his own words :
“ I have always been of opinion,” says he, “ that virtue sinks deepest into the heart of man, when it comes recommended by the powerful charms of poetry. The most active principle in our mind is the imagination : to it a good poet makes his court perpetually, and by this faculty takes care to gain it first. Our passions and inclinations come over next; and our reason surrenders itself with pleasure in the end. Thus the whole soul is insensibly. betrayed into morality, by bribing the fancy with beautiful and agreeable images of those very things that in the books of the philosophers appear austere, and have at the best but a kind of forbidding aspect. In a word, the poets do, as it were, strew the rough paths of virtue so full of flowers, that we are not sensible of the uneasiness of them ; and imagine ourselves in the midst of pleasures, and the most bewitching allurements, at the time we are making progress in the severest duties of life.
“ All men agree, that licentious poems do, of all writings, soonest corrupt the heart.
And why should we not be as universally persuaded, that the grave and serious performances of such as write in the most engaging manner, by a kind of divine impulse, must be the most effectual persuasives to goodness ? If, therefore, I were blessed with a son, in order to the forming of his manners, which is making him truly my son, I should be continually putting into his hand some fine poet. The graceful sentences, and the manly sentiments, so frequently to be met with in every great and sublime writer, are, in my judgment, the most ornamental and valuable furniture that can be for a young gentleman's head ; methinks they show like so much rich embroidery upon the brain. Let me add to this, that humanity and tenderness, without which there can be no true greatness in the mind, are inspired by the Muses in such pathetical language, that all we find in
prose authors towards the raising and improving of these passions is, in comparison, but cold or lukewarm at the best. There is besides a certain elevation of soul, á sedate magnanimity, and a noble turn of virtue, that distinguishes the hero from the plain honest man, to which verse can only raise us. The bold metaphors, and sounding numbers, peculiar to the poets, rouse up all our sleeping faculties, and alarm the whole powers of the soul, much like that excellent trumpeter mentioned by Virgil :
-Quo non præstantior alter
VIRG. Æn. vi. 165.
“ I fell into this train of thinking this evening, upon reading a passage in a masque writ by Milton, where two brothers are introduced seeking their şister, whom they had lost in a dark night and thick wood. One of the brothers is apprehensive lest the wandering virgin should be overpowered with fears, through the darkness and loneliness of the time and place. This gives the other occasion to make the following reflections, which, as I read them, made me forget my age, and renewed in me the warm desires after virtue, so natural to uncorrupted youth:
“ I do not think my sister so to seek,
N° 99. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 1709.
-Spirat Tragicum satis et feliciter audet.
HOR. 2 Ep. i. 166.
Will's Coffee-house, November 25. I have been this evening recollecting what passages, since I could first think, have left the strongest impressions upon my mind; and, after strict inquiry, I am convinced that the impulses I
have received from theatrical representations have had a greater effect than otherwise would have been wrought in me by the little occurrences of my private life! My old friends, Hart and Mohun, the one by his natural and proper force, the other by his great skill and art, never failed to send me home full of such ideas as affected my behaviour, and made me insensibly more courteous and humane to my friends and acquaintances. It is not the business of a good play to make every man an hero; but it certainly gives him a livelier sense of virtue and merit, than he had when he entered the theatre.
This rational pleasure, as I always call it, has for many years been very little tasted; but I am glad to find that the true spirit of it is reviving again amongst us, by a due regard to what is presented, and by supporting only one playhouse. It has been within the observation of the youngest amongst us, that while there were two houses, they did not outvie each other by such representations as tended to the instruction and ornament of life, but by introducing mimical dances, and fulsome buffooneries. For when an excellent tragedy was to be acted in one house, the ladder-dancer carried the whole town to the other. Indeed such an evil as this must be the natural consequence of two theatres, as certainly as that there are more who can see than can think. Every one is sensible of the danger of the fellow on the ladder, and can see his activity in coming down safe ; but very few are judges of the distress of an hero in a play, or of his manner of behaviour in those circumstances. Thus, to please the people, two houses must entertain them with what they can understand, and not with things which are designed to improve their understanding: and the readiest way to gain good audiences must be, to offer such things as are most relished by the crowd ; that is to say, immodest action, empty show, or impertinent activity. In short, two houses cannot hope to subsist, but by means which are contradictory to the very institution of a theatre in a well-governed kingdom.
I have ever had this sense of the thing, and for that reason have rejoiced that my ancient coëval friend of Drury-lane, though he had sold off most of his moveables, still kept possession of his palace ; and trembled for him, when he had lately like to have been taken by a stratagem. There have, for many ages, been a certain learned sort of unlearned men in this nation called attorneys, who have taken upon them to solve all difficulties by increasing them, and are called upon to the assistance of all who are lazy, or weak of understanding. The insolence of a ruler of this palace made him resign the possession of it to the management of my abovementioned friend Divito *. Ďivito was too modest to know when to resign it, until he had the opinion and sentence of the law for his removal. Both these in length of time were obtained against him ; but as the great Archimedes defended Syracuse with so powerful engines, that if he threw a rope or piece of wood over the wall, the enemy fled; so Divito had wounded all adversaries with so much skill, that men feared even to be in the right against him. For this reason the lawful ruler sets up an attorney
* This and the following paragraph refer to a transaction between William Collier, Esq. and Christopher Rich, Esq. two lawyers, of which there is bere given a very ludicrous
Rich was the patentee of Drury-lane Theatre, when Collier, having first obtained a licence to head a company of players, procured next a lease of Drury-lane play-house, from the landlords of it, and under this authority, by the belp of a hired rabble, be forcibly expelled Rich and got possession.