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we think that even virtue itself should submit to such a mortification, as by its visibility and example will render it more useful to the world. But, however, the readers of these papers need not be in pain of being overcharged with so dull and ungrateful a subject. And yet who knows, but such an occasion may be offered to us once in a year or two, after we have settled a correspondence round the kingdom.
But, after all our boast of materials sent us by our several emissaries, we may probably soon fall short, if the town will not be pleased to lend us farther assistance toward entertaining itself. The world best knows its own faults and virtues, and whatever is sent shall be faithfully returned back, only a little embellished according to the custom of authors. We do therefore demand and expect continual advertisements in great numbers to be sent to the printer of this paper, who has employed a judicious secretary to collect such as may be most useful for the public.
And although we do not intend to expose our own persons by mentioning names, yet we are so far from requiring the same caution in our correspondents, that, on the contrary, we expressly charge and command them, in all the facts they send us, to set down the names, titles, and places of abode, at length; together with a very particular description of the persons, dresses, dispositions, of the several lords, ladies, 'squires, madams, lawyers, gamesters, toupees, sots, wits, rakes, and informers, whom they shall have occasion to mention ; otherwise it will not be possible for us to adjust our style to the different qualities and capacities of the persons concerned, and treat them with the respect or familiarity that may be due to their stations and characters, which we are deter
mined to observe with the utmost strictness, that none may have cause to complain.
THE INTELLIGENCER, No. III.
-Ipse per omnes
The players having now almost done with the comedy called the Beggars' Opera for the season; it may be no unpleasant speculation, to reflect a little upon this dramatic piece, so singular in the subject and manner, so much an original, and which has frequently given so very agreeable an entertainment.
Although an evil taste be very apt to prevail, both here and in London ; yet there is a point, which whoever can rightly touch, will never fail of pleasing a very great majority; so great, that the dislikers out of dulness or affectation will be silent, and forced to fall in with the herd: the point I mean is, what we call humour; which, in its perfection, is allowed to be much preferable to wit; if it be not rather the most useful and agreeable species of it. I
agree with Sir William Temple, that the word is peculiar to our English tongue; but I differ from him in the opinion, that the thing itself is peculiar to the English nation, because the contrary may be found in many Spanish, Italian, and French productions; and particularly, whoever has a taste for true humour, will find a hundred instances of it in those volumes printed in France under the name of Le Theatre Italien ; to say nothing of Rabelais, Cervantes, and many others.
Now I take the comedy, or farce, (or whatever name the critics will allow it,) called the Beggars' Opera, to excel in this article of humour; and upon that merit to have met with such prodigious success, both here and in England.
As to poetry, eloquence, and music, which are said to have most power over the minds of men ; it is certain that very few have a taste or judgment of the excellencies of the two former ; and if a man succeed in either, it is upon the authority of those few judges, that lend their taste to the bulk of readers, who have none of their own. I am told there are as few good judges in music; and that among those who crowd the operas, nine in ten go thither merely out of curiosity, fashion, or affectation.
But a taste for humour is in some manner fixed to the very nature of man, and generally obvious to the vulgar; except upon subjects too refined, and superior to their understanding.
And, as this taste of humour is purely natural, so is humour itself; neither is it a talent confined to men of wit or learning; for we observe it sometimes among common servants, and the meanest of the people, while the very owners are often ignorant of the gift they pos
I know very well, that this happy talent is contemptibly treated by critics, under the name of low humour, or low comedy ; but I know likewise that the Spaniards and Italians, who are allowed to have the most wit of any nations in Europe, do most excel in it, and do most esteem it.
By what disposition of the mind, what influence of the stars, or what situation of the climate, this endowment is bestowed upon mankind, may be a question fit for philosophers to discuss. It is certainly the best ingredient toward that kind of satire which is most useful, and gives the least offence; which, instead of lashing, laughs men out of their follies and vices; and is the character that gives Horace the preference to Juvenal.
And, although some things are too serious, solemn, or sacred, to be turned into ridicule, yet the abuses of them are certainly not ; since it is allowed that corruptions in religion, politics, and law, may be proper topics for this kind of satire.
There are two ends that men propose in writing satire; one of them less noble than the other, as regarding nothing farther than the private satisfaction and pleasure of the writer ; but without any view toward personal malice : the other is a public spirit, prompting men of genius and virtue to mend the world as far as they are able. And as both these ends are innocent, so the latter is highly commendable. With regard to the former, I demand, whether I have not as good a title to laugh, as men have to be ridiculous ; and to expose vice, as another has to be vicious. If I ridicule the follies and corruptions of a court, a ministry, or a senate, are they not amply paid by pensions, titles, and power, while I expect and desire no other reward, than that of laughing with a few friends in a corner ? yet, if those who take offence think me in the wrong, I am ready to change the scene with them whenever they please.
But, if my design be to make mankind better, then I think it is my duty; at least, I am sure it is the interest of those very courts and ministers, whose follies or vices I ridicule, to reward me for my good intention ; for if it be reckoned a high point of wisdom to get the laughers on our side, it is much more easy, as well as wise, to get those on our side who can make millions laugh when they please.
My reason for mentioning courts and ministers, (whom I never think on but with the most profound veneration,) is, because an opinion obtains, that in the Beggars' Opera there appears to be some reflection upon courtiers and statesmen, whereof I am by no means a judge.*
It is true, indeed, that Mr Gay, the author of this piece, has been somewhat singular in the course of his fortunes; for it has happened, that after fourteen years attending the court, with a large stock of real merit, a modest and agreeable conversation, a hundred promises, and five hundred friends, he has failed of preferment; and upon a very weighty reason. He lay under the suspicion of having written a libel, or lampoon, against a great minister.f It is true, that great minister was demonstratively convinced, and publicly owned his conviction, that Mr Gay was not the author; but having lain under the suspicion, it seemed very just that he should
* Besides the general reflections on courts and courtiers, it is well known that the quarrelling scene between Peachum and Lockit was written in express ridicule of certain disputes among the ministers of the day, and accordingly excited the most ungovernable mirth among the audience.
+ Sir Robert Walpole.