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N° 11. THURSDAY, MAY 5, 1709.
Quicquid agunt homines
nostri est farrago libelli.
JUV. Sat. i. 85, 86.
BY ISAAC BICKERSTAFF, ESQUIRE.
Will's Coffee-house, May 3. A KINSMAN has sent me a letter, wherein he informis me, he had lately resolved. to write an heroic poem, but by business has been interrupted, and has only made one similitude, which he should be afflicted to have wholly lost; and begs of me to apply it to something, being very desirous to see it well placed in the world. I am so willing to help the distressed, that I have taken it in: but, though his greater genius might very well distinguish his verses from mine, I have marked where his begin. His lines are a description of the sun in eclipse, which I know nothing more like than a brave man in sorrow, who bears it as he should, without imploring the pity of his friends, or being dejected with the contempt of his enemies: as in the case of Cato.
When all the globe to Cæsav's fortune bow'd,
1 These verses are by Mr. Jabez Hughes.
" Thus when the ruler of the genial day
This is a very lively image; but I must take the liberty to say, my kinsman drives the sun a little like Phaëton ?: he has all the warmth of Phoebus, but will not stay for his direction of it. • Avail and toil,
defect' and 'tract,' will never do for rhymes. But, however, he has the true spirit in him: for which reason I was willing to entertain any thing he pleased to send me. The subject which he writes upon naturally raises great reflections in the soul, and puts us in mind of the mixed condition which we mortals are to support: which, as it varies to good or bad, adorns or defaces our actions to the beholders: all which glory and shame must end in, what we so much repine at, death. But doctrines on this occasion, any other than that of living well, are the most insignificant and most empty of all the labours of men. None but a tragedian can die by rule, and wait till he discovers a plot, or says a fine thing upon his exit. In real life, this is a chimæra; and by noble spirits it will be done
2 Ovid. Met. ii, 1.
decently, without the ostentation of it. We see men of all conditions and characters go through it with equal resolution: and if we consider the speeches of the mighty philosophers, heroes, lawgivers, and great captains, they can produce no more in a discerning spirit, than rules to make a man a fop on his deathbed. Commend me to that natural greatness of soul, expressed by an innocent, and consequently resolute country-fellow, who said in the pains of the colic,
If I once get this breath out of my body, you shall hang me before you put it in again. Honest Ned ! and so he died?..
But it is to be supposed, that from this place you may expect an account of such a thing as a new play is not to be omitted. That acted this night is the newest that eyer was writ. The author is my ingenious friend Mr. Thomas Durfey. This drama is called, The Modern Prophets, and is a most unanswerable satire against the late spirit of enthusiasm. The writer had by long experience observed, that in company very grave discourses had been followed by bawdry; and therefore has turned the humour that way with great success, and taken from his audience all manner of superstition, by the agitations of pretty Mrs. Bignell, whom he has, with great subtilty, made a lay-sister, as well as a prophetess; by which means she carries on the affairs of both worlds with great success. My friend designs to go on with another work against winter, which he intends to call The Modern Poets, a people no less mistaken in their opinions of being inspired, than the other. In order
2 Ned was a farmer of Anthony Henley, esq. See Swift's Works, vol. v. p. 460. 8vo, edit. 1801.
3 See Misc. Works of Lord Chesterfield, by Dr. Maty, 4to. vol. ii. p. 523 and 555.
to this, he has by him seven songs, besides many ambiguities, which cannot be mistaken for any thing but what he means them. Mr. Durfey generally writes state-plays, and is wonderfully useful to the world in such representations. This method is the same that was used by the old Athenians, to laugh out of countenance, or promote, opinions among the people. My friend has therefore, against this play is acted for his own benefit, made two dances, which may be also of an universal benefit. In the first, he has represented absolute power in the person of a tall man with a hat and feather, who gives his first minister, that stands just before him, an huge kick; the minister gives the kick to the next before; and so to the end of the stage. In this moral and practical jest, you are made to understand, that there is, in an absolute government, no gratification, but giving the kick you receive from one above you, to one below you. This is performed to a grave and melancholy air; but on a sudden the tune moves quicker, and the whole company fall into a circle, and take hands; and then, at a certain sharp note, they move round, and kick as kick can This latter perforniance he makes to be the representation of a free state; where, if you all mind your steps, you may go round and round very jollily, with a motion pleasant to yourselves and those you dance with: nay, if you put yourselves out, at the worst you only kick and are kicked, like friends and equals.
From my own Apartment, May 4. Of all the vanities under the sun, I confess that of being proud of one's birth is the greatest. At the same time, since in this unreasonable age, by the force of prevailing custom, things in which men have no band are imputed to them, and that I am used by some people, as if Isaac Bickerstaff, though I write myself esquire, was nobody: to set the world right in that particular, I shall give you my genealogy, as a kinsman of ours has sent it me from the herald's office. It is certain, and observed by the wisest writers, that there are women who are not nicely chaste, and men not severely honest, in all families; therefore let those who may be apt to raise aspersions upon ours, please to give us as impartial an account of their own, and we shall be satisfied. The business of heralds is a matter of so great nicety, that, to avoid mistakes, I shall give you my cousin's letter verbatim, without altering a syllable.
< 4 DEAR COUSIN, SINCE you have been pleased to make yourself so famous of late, by your ingenious writings, and some time ago by your learned predictions: since Partridge of immortal memory is dead and gone, who, poetical as he was, could not understand his own poetry; and philomatical as he was, could not read his own destiny: since the pope, the king of France, and great part of his court, are either literally or metaphorically defunct: since, I say, these things (not foretold by any one but yourself) have come to pass after so surprising a manner; it is with no small concern I see the original of the Staffian race so little known in the world as it is at this time; for which reason, as you have employed your studies in astronomy, and the
4 Mr. Twisden was the author of this letter, as we find from Steele's Preface to the fourth volume of the Tatler. See also the notice at the end of N° 14.