« PreviousContinue »
*** Mr. Cave Underhill, the famous comedian in the reigns of king Charles II. king James II. king William and queen Mary, and her present majesty queen Anne; but now not able to perform so often as heretofore in the playhouse, and having had losses to the value of near 25001. is to have the tragedy of Hamlet acted for his benefit, on Fri. day the 3d of June next, at the Theatre-royal in Drurylane, in which he is to perform his original part, the Grave. digger".
ADDISON AND STEELE.
N° 21. SATURDAY, MAY 28, 1709.
Quicquid agunt homines
nostri est farrago libelli.
JUV, Sat. i. 85, 86.
White's Chocolate-house, May 26. A GENTLEMAN has writ to me out of the country a very civil letter, and said things which I suppress with great violence to my vanity. There are many terms in my narratives which he complains want explaining ; and has therefore desired that, for the benefit of my country readers, I would let him know what I mean by 'a gentleman, a pretty fellow, a toast, a coquet, a critic, a wit,' and all other appellations of those now in the gayer world, who are in possession of these several characters; together with an account
12 Steele befriended this player in a manner that did honour to his heart.
of those who unfortunately pretend to them. I shall begin with him we usually call a gentleman, or man of conversation.
It is generally thought, that warmth of imagination, quick relish of pleasure, and a manner of becoming it, are the most essential qualities for forming this sort of man. But any one that is much in company will observe, that the height of good breeding is shewn rather in never giving offence, than in doing obliging things. Thus he that never shocks you, though he is seldom entertaining, is more likely to keep your favour, than he who often entertains, and sometimes displeases you. The most necessary talent therefore in a man of conversation, which is what we ordinarily intend by a fine gentleman, is a good judgment. He that has this in perfection, is master of his companion, without letting him see it; and has the same advantage over men of any other qualifications whatsoever, as one that can see would have over a blind man of ten times his strength..
This is what makes Sophronius the darling of all who converse with him, and the most powerful with his acquaintance of any man in town. By the light of this faculty he acts with great ease and freedom among the men of pleasure, and acquits himself with skill and dispatch among the inen of business. All which he performs with such success, that, with as much discretion in life as any man ever had, he neither is, nor appears, cunning. But as he does a good office, if ever he does it, with readiness and alacrity; so he denies what he does not care to engage in, in a manner that convinces you that you ought not to have asked it. His judgment is so good and unerring, and accompanied with so cheerful a spirit, that his conversation is a continual feast, at which he helps some, and is helped by others, in such a manner, that the equality of society is perfectly kept up, and every man obliges as much as he is obliged: for it is the greatest and justest skill in a man of superior understanding, to know how to be on a level with his companions. This sweet disposition runs through all the actions of Sophronius, and makes his company desired by women, without being envied by men. Sophronius would be as just as he is, if there were no law; and would be as discreet as he is, if there were no such thing as calumny'.
In imitation of this agreeable being, is made that animal we call a pretty fellow; who, being just able to find out, that what makes Sophronius acceptable is a natural behaviour, in order to the same reputation, makes his own an artificial one. Jack Dimple is his perfect mimic, whereby he is, of course, the most unlike him of all men living. Sophronius just now passed into the inner room directly forward : Jack comes as fast after as he can for the right and left looking-glass, in which he had but just approved himself by a nod at each, and marched on. He will me ditate within for half an hour until he thinks he is not careless enough in his air, and come back to the mirror to recollect his forgetfulness.
Will's Coffee-house, May 27. This night was acted the comedy called The Fox"; but I wonder the modern writers do not use their interest in the house to suppress such representations.
· This character of Sophronius is actually a picture of Steele's own mind and manners.
* By Ben Jonson. It was first acted in 1605, and printed in 4to. the same year,
A man that has been at this, will hardly like any other play during the season: therefore I humbly move, that the writings, as well as dresses, of the last age should give way to the present fashion. We are come into a good method enough (if we were not interrupted in our mirth by such an apparition as a play of Jonson's) to be entertained at more ease, both to the spectator and the writer, than in the days of old. It is no difficulty to get hats and swords, and wigs and shoes, and every thing else, from the shops in town; and make a man shew himself by his habit, without more ado, to be a counsellor, a fop, a courtier, or a citizen, and not be obliged to make those characters talk in different dialects to be distinguished from each other. This is certainly the surest and best way of writing: but such a play as this makes a man for a month after over-run with criticism, and inquire, what every man on the stage said? what had such a one to do to meddle with such a thing? how came the other, who was bred after this or that manner, to speak so like a man conversant among a different people? These questions rob us of all our pleasure; for, at this rate, no sentence in a play should be spoken by any one character which could possibly enter into the head of any other man represented in it; but every sentiment should be peculiar to him only who utters it. Laborious Ben's works will bear this sort of inquisition; but if the present writers were thus examined, and the offences against this rule cut out, few plays would be long enough for the whole evening's entertainment.
But I do not know how they did in those old times: this sanie Ben Jonson has made every one's passion in this play be towards money; and yet not one of thein expresses that desire, or endeavours to
obtain it, any way but what is peculiar to him only: one sacrifices his wife, another his profession, another his posterity, from the same motive : but their characters are kept so skilfully apart, that it seems prodigious their discourses should rise from the invention of the same author.
But the poets are a nest of hornets, and I will drive these thoughts no farther; but must mention some hard treatment I am like to meet with from my brother-writers. I am credibly informed, that the author of a play, called Love in a Hollow Tree 3, has made some remarks upon my late discourse on The Naked Truth. I cannot blame a gentleman for writing against any error; it is for the good of the learned world. But I would have the thing fairly left between us two, and not under the protection of patrons. But my intelligence is, that he hath dedicated his treatise to the honourable Mr. Ed- d H- d4.
From my own Apartment, May 27.
TO ISAAC BICKERSTAFF, ESQUIRE. sir,
York, May, 16, 1709. • BEING convinced, as the whole world is, how infallible your predictions are, and having the honour
3 This comedy, called The Lawyer's Fortune, or, Love in a Hollow Tree, was published by William lord viscount Grimston, when he was only thirteen years of age. See an anecdote respecting it, Biographia Dramatica, vol. ii. p. 185. edit. 1782.
4 Hon. Edward Howard, author of seven plays, and of an epic poem, called The British Princes; neither of which did much credit to his genius or judgment. ..