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I have been long debating in my own heart, whether I should throw up my pen, as an author that is cashiered by the act of parliament, which is to operate within these four and twenty hours, or whether 1 should still persill in laying my speculations, from day to day, before the public. The argument which prevails with me most on the sirst side of the question is, that I am insormed by my bookseller he must raise the price of every single paper to two-pence, or that he shall not be able to pay the duty of it. Now as I am very desirous my readers should have their learning as cheap as possible, it is with great difficulty that I comply with him in this particular.
However, upon laying my reasons together in the balance, I find that those who plead for the continuance of this work, have much the greater weight. For, in the sirst place, in recompence for the expence to which this will put my readers, it is to be hoped they may receive from every paper so much instruction as will be a very good equivalent. And in order to this, I would not advise any one to take it in, who after the perusal of it, does not sind himself two-pence the wiser or the better man for it; or who, upon examination, does not believe that he has had two-pennyworth of mirth or instruction for his money.
But I must consess there is another motive which prevails with me more than the former. I consider that the tax on paper was given for the support of the government; and as 1 have enemies, who are apt to pervert every thing I do or fay, 1 fear they would ascribe the laying down my paper, on such an occasion, to a spirit of malecontentedness, which I amf resolved none shall ever justly upbraid me with. No, I shall glory in contributing my utmost to the weal public; and if my country receives sive or six pounds a day by my labours, I shall be very well pleased to sind myself so useful a member. It is a received maxim, that no honest man should enrich himself by methods that are prejudicial to the community in which he lives; and by the fame rule 1 think we may pronounce the person to deserve very well of his countrymen, whose labours
bring more into the public coffers, than into his own pocket
Since I have mentioned the word enemies, I must explain myself so far as to acquaint my reader, that I mean -only the insignisicant party zealots on both sides : Men of such poor narrow souls, that they are hot capable of thinking on any thing but with an eye to Whig or Tory. During the course of this paper, 1 have been accused by these despicable wretches of trimming, time serving, personal reflexion, secret satire, and the like. Now rho' in these my compositions, it is visible to any reader of common fense, that I consider nothing but my subject, which is always of an indisferent nature ; how is it possible for me to write so clear of party, as not to lie open to the censures of those who will be applying every sentence, and sinding out persons and things in it, which it has no regard to?
Several paultry scribblers and declaimers have done me the honour to be dull upon me in reflexions of this nature ; but notwithstanding my name has been some imes traduced by this contemptible tribe of men, I have hitherto avoided all animadversions upon them. The truth of it is, I am afraid of making them appear considerable by taking notice of them, for they are like those imperceptible iniects which are discovered by the microscope, and cannot re made the subject of observation without being magnisied.
Having mentioned those sew who have shewn themselves the enemies of this paper, I should beveiy ungrateful to the public, did I not at the same time testify my gratitude to those who are its friends in which number I may reckon many of the most distinguished persons of all conditions, parties and professions in the isle of Great Britain. J am not so vain as to think this approprobation is so much due to the performance as to the design. There is, and ever will be, justice enough in the world, to asford patronage and protection for those who endeavour to advance truth and virtue, without regard to the passions and prejudices of any particular cause or faction. If I have any other merit in me, it is that I have new pointed all the batteries of ridicule. They have been generally planted against persons who have
appeared appeared serious rather than absurd; or at best, have aimed rather at what is unsashionable than what is vicious. For my own part, I have endeavoured to make nothing ridiculous that is not in some measure criminal. I have set up the immoral man as the object of derision: In ihort, if 1 have not formed a new weapon against vice and iireligion, 1 have at least shewn how that weapon may be put to a right use which has lo often fought the battles of impiety and piofaneness. C
N° 446 Friday, August 1.
£htid decent, quid non; quo virtus, quo forat error.
Hor. Ars Poet. v. 308.
Whatsit, whatnot; what excellent, or ill.
SINCE two or three writers of comedy who are now living have taliL-n their farewell of the stage, those who succeed them sinding themselves incapable of rising up to their wit, humour and good sense, have only imitated them in seme of those loose unguarded strokes, in which they complied with the corrupt taste of the more vicious part of their audience. When persons of a low genius attempt this kind of writing, they know no difference between being merry and being lewd. It' is with an eye to some of these degenerate compositions that I have written the following discourse,
Were our EngUjh stage but half so virtuous as that of the Greeks ox Romans, we should quickly see the influence of it in the behaviour of all the politer part of mankind. It would not be fashionable to ridicule religion, or its professors; the man of pleasure would not be the complete gentleman; vanity would be out of countenance, and every quality which is ornamental to human nature, would meet with that esteem which is due to it.
If the English stage were under the same regulations the Athenian was formerly, it would have the fame effect that had, in recommending the religion, the government, and public worship of its country. Were our plays subject to proper inspections and limitations, we might not only pass away several of our vacant hours in the highest entertainment; but should always rife from them wiser and better than we sat down to them.
It is one of the most unaccountable things in our age, that the lewdness of our theatre should be ib much complained of, so well exposed, and so little redressed. It is . to be hoped, that some time or other we may beat leisure to restrain the licentiousness of the theatre, and make it contribute its assistance to,the advancement of morality, and to the reformation of the age. As matters iland at present, multitudes are (hut out from this noble diversion, by reason of those abuses and corruptions that accompany it. A father is often afraid that his daughter should be ruined by those entertainments, which were invented for the accomplishment and resining of human nature. The Athenian and Roman plays were written with such a regard to morajity, that Sccratcs used to frequent the one, and Cicero the other.
It happened once indeed, that Cato dropped into the Roman theatre, when the Floralia were to be represented; and as in that performance, which was a kind of religious ceremonv, there were several indecent parts to be acted, the people refused to see them whilst Caio was present. Martial on this hint made the so,lowing epigram, which we must suppose was applied to some grave friend of his, that had been accidentally present at some such entertainment,
NSJses jocose Juki cum sacrum Floræ,
Epig. I. 1. i.
Why dost thou ccme, great censor of the age,
To see the loose diversions of the stage!
Vol. VI.. I With
With awful countenance and brow severe,
An accident of this nature might happen once in an age among the Greeks and Romans; but they were too wife and good to let the constant nightly entertainment be of such a nature, that people of the most sense and virtue could not be at it. Whatever vices are represented upon the stage, they ought to be so marked and branded by the poet> as not to appear either laudable or amiable in the person who is tainted with them. But if we look into the EngUjh comedies above-mentioned, we would think they were formed upon a quite contrary maxim, and that this rule, tho' it held good upon the heathen stage, was not to be regarded in christian theatres. There is another rule likewise, which was observed by authors of antiquity, and which these modern geniuses have no regard to, and that was never to choole an improper subject for ridicule. Now a subject is improper for ridicule, if it is apt to stir up horror and commiseration rather than laughter. For this reason, we do not sind any comedy, in i'o polite an author as Terence, raised upon the violations of the marriage bed. The falshood of the wife or husband has given occasion to noble tragedies, but a Scipio and Lelius would have looked upon incest or murder to have been as proper subjects for comedy. On the contrary, cuckoldom is the basis of most of our modern plays. If an alderman appears upon the stage, you may be sure it is in order to be cuckolded. An husband that is a little grave or elderly, generally meets with the fame fate. Knights and baronets, country squires, and justices of the quorum, come up to town for no other purpose. I have seen poor Dogget cuckolded in all these capacities. In short, our EngUjh writers are as frequently severe upon this innocent unhappy creature, commonly known by the name of a cuckold as the ancient comic writers were upon an eating parasite, or a vain-glorious soldier.