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No. 270. WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 9.
Discit enim citiùs, meminitque libentiùs illud,
I do not know that I have been in greater delight for these many years, than in beholding the boxes at the play the last time the Scornful Lady was acted. So great an assembly of ladies, placed in gradual rows, in all the ornaments of jewels, silks and colours, gave so lively and gay an impression to the heart, that methought the season of the year was vanished; and I did not think it an ill expression of a young fellow who stood near me, that called the boxes those beds of tulips. It was a pretty variation of the prospect, when any one of those fine ladies rose up and did honour to herself and friend at a distance by curtseying; and gave opportunity to that friend to show her charms to the same advantage in returning the salutation. Here that action is as proper and graceful as it is at church unbecoming and impertinent. By the way, I must take the liberty to observe, that I did not see any one who is usually so full of civilities at church, offer at any such indecorum during any part of the action of the play.-Such beautiful prospects gladden our minds, and, when considered in general, give innocent and pleasing ideas. He that dwells upon any one object of beauty may fix his imagination to his disquiet; but the contemplation of a whole assembly together is a defence against the encroachment of desire, at least to me, who have taken pains to look at beauty abstracted from the consideration of its being the object of desire; at power, only as it sits upon another without any hopes of partaking any share of it; at wisdom and capacity, without any pretensions to rival or envy its acquisitions; I say, to me, who am really free from forming any hopes of beholding the persons of beautiful women, or warming myself into ambition from the successes of other men, this world is not only a mere scene, but a very pleasant one. Did mankind but know the freedom which there is in keeping thus aloof from the world, I should have more imitators than the powerfullest man in the nation has followers? To be no man's rival in love or competitor in business, is a character which, if it does not recommend you as it ought to benevolence among those whom you live with, yet has it certainly this effect, that you do not stand so much in need of their approbation as you would if you aimed at more, in setting your heart on the same things which the generality doat on. By this means, and with this easy philosophy, I am never less at a play than when I am at the theatre; but indeed I am seldom so well pleased with action as in that place, for most men follow nature no longer than while they are in their night-gowns, and all the busy part of the day are in characters which they neither become, nor act in with pleasure to themselves, or their beholders. But to return to my ladies: I was very well pleased to see so great a crowd of them assembled at a play, wherein the heroine, as the phrase is, is so just a picture of the vanity of the sex, in tormenting their admirers. The lady who pines for the man whom she treats with so much impertinence and inconstancy, is drawn with much art and humour. Her resolutions to be extremely civil, but her vanity arising just at the instant that she resolved to express herself kindly, are described as by one who had studied the sex. But when my ad miration is fixed upon this excellent character, and two or three others in the play, I must confess I was moved with the utmost indignation at the trivial, senseless, and unnatural representation of the chaplain. It is possible there may be a pedant in holy orders, and we have seen one or two of them in the world; but such a driveller as Sir Roger, so bereft of all manner of pride, which is the characteristic of a pedant, is what one would not believe could come into the head of the same man who drew the rest of the play. The meeting between Welford and him shows a wretch without any notion of the dignity of his function; and it is out of all common sense that he should give an account of himself as one sent four or five miles in the morning on foot for eggs. It is not to be denied, but this part, and that of the maid, whom he makes love to, are excellently well performed; but a thing which is blameable in itself, grows still more so by the success in the execution of it. It is so mean a thing to gratify a loose age with a scandalous representation of what is reputable among men, not to say what is sacred, that no beauty, no excellence in an author ought to atone for it; nay, such excellence is an aggravation of his guilt, and an argument that he errs against the conviction of his own understanding and conscience. Wit should be tried by this rule; and an audience should rise against such a'scene as throws down the reputation of any thing which the consideration of religion or decency should preserve from contempt. But all this evil arises from this one corruption of mind, that makes men resent offences against their virtue less than those against their understanding. An author shall write as if he thought there was not one man of honour or woman of chastity in the house, and come off with applause; for an insult upon all the ten commandments, with the little critics, is not so bad as the breach of an unity of time and place. Half wits do not apprehend the miseries that must necessarily flow from a degeneracy of manners; nor do they know that order is the support of society. Sir Roger and his mistress are monsters of the poet's own forming; the sentiments in both of them are such as do not arise in fools of their ed'ication. We all know that a silly scholar, instead of being below every one he meets with, is apt to be exalted above the rank of such as are really his superiors; his arrogance is always founded upon particular notions of distinction in his own head, accompanied with a pedantic scorn of all fortune and pre-eminence when compared with his knowledge and learning. This very one character of Sir Roger, as silly as it really is, has done more towards the disparagement of holy orders, and consequently of virtue itself, than all the wit of that author or any other could make up for in the conduct of the longest life after it. I'do not pretend, in saying this, to give myself airs of more virtue than my neighbours, but assert it from the principles by which mankind must always be governed. Sallies of imagination are to be overlooked, when they are committed out of warmth in the recommendation of what is praiseworthy; but a deliberate advancing of vice, with all the wit in the world, is as ill an action as any that comes before the magistrate, and ought to be received as such by the people.
Drawing a thousand colours from the light. DRIDER. I RECEIVE a double advantage from the letters of my correspondents: first, as they show me which of my papers are most acceptable to them; and in the next place, as they furnish me with materials for new speculations. Sometimes indeed I do not make use of the letter itself, but form the hints of it into plans of my own invention; sometimes I take the liberty to change the language or thought into my own way of speaking and thinking, and always, if it can be done without prejudice to the sense, omit the many compliments and applauses which are usually bestowed upon me.
Besides the two advantages above-mentioned, which I receive from the letters that are sent me, they give me an opportunity of lengthening out my paper by the skilful management of the subscribing part at the end of them, which, perhaps,