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have some friend to stand by him, and keep him in countenance for talking common sense. To-day I saw a short interlude at White's of this nature, which I took notes of, and put together as well as I could in a public place. The persons of the drama are Pip, the last gentleman that has been made so at cards; Trimmer, a person half undone at them, and who is now between a cheat and a gentleman; Acorn, an honest Englishman of good plain sense and meaning; and Mr. Friendly, a reasonable man of the town.
White's Chocolate-house, May 5.
Enter PIP, TRIMMER, and ACORN.
Ac. What is the matter, gentlemen? what! take no notice of an old friend?
Pip. Pox on it! do not talk to me, I am voweled by the count, and cursedly out of humour.
Ac. Voweled! pr'ythee, Trimmer, what does he mean by that?
Trim. Have a care, Harry, speak softly; do not show your ignorance:-if you do, they will BITE you wherever they meet you, they are such cursed curs-the present wits.
Ac. Bite me! what do you mean?
Pip. Why do not you know what biting is? nay, you are in the right on it. However, one would learn it only to defend one's self against men of wit, as one would know the tricks of play, to be secure against the cheats. But do not you hear, Acorn, that report, that some potentates of the alliance have taken care of themselves exclusively of us?
Ac. How! Heaven forbid! after all our glorious victories; all the expence of blood and treasure! Pip. BITE!
Ac. Bite! how?
Trim. Nay, he has bit you fairly enough; that is certain.
Ac. Pox! I do not feel it- -How? where? [Exeunt Pip and Trimmer laughing.
Ac. Ho! Mr. Friendly, your most humble servant; you heard what passed between those fine gentlemen and me. Pip complained to me, that he had been VOWELED; and they tell me I am BIT.
Friend You are to understand, Sir, that simplicity of behaviour, which is the perfection of good breeding and good sense, is utterly lost in the world; and in the room of it there are started a thousand little inventions, which men, barren of better things, take up in the place of it. Thus for every character in conversation that used to please, there is an impostor put upon you. Him whom we allowed, formerly, for a certain pleasant subtilty, and natural way of giving you an unexpected hit, called a Droll, is now mimicked by a Biter, who is a dull fellow, that tells you a lie with a grave face, and laughs at you for knowing him no better than to believe him, Instead of that sort of companion who could rally you, and keep his countenance, until he made you fall into some little inconsistency of behaviour, at which you yourself could laugh with him, you have the sneerer, who will keep you company from morning to night, to gather your follies of the day (which perhaps you commit out of confidence in him) and expose you in the evening to all the scorners in town. For your man of sense and free spirit, whose set of thoughts were built upon learning, reason, and experience, you have now an impudent creature made up of vice only, who supports his ignorance by his courage, and want of learning by contempt of it.
Ac. Dear Sir, hold: what you have told me already of this change in conversation is too miserable to be heard with any delight; but methinks, as these new creatures appear in the world, it might give an excellent field to writers for the stage, to divert us with the representation of them there.
Friend. No, no; as you say, there might be some hopes of redress of these grievances, if there were proper care taken of the theatre; but the history of that is yet more lamentable, than that of the decay of conversation I gave you.
Ac. Pray, Sir, a little. I have not been in town these six years, until within this fortnight.
Friend. It is now some time since several revolutions in the gay world had made the empire of the stage subject to very fatal convulsions, which were too dangerous to be cured by the skill of little King Oberon *, who then sat in the throne of it. The laziness of this Prince threw him upon the choice of a person who was fit to spend his life in contentions, an able and profound attorney, to whom he mortgaged his whole empire. This Divito † is the most skilful of all politicians; he has a perfect art in being unintelligible in discourse, and uncomeatable in business: but he, having no understanding in this polite way, brought in upon us, to get in his money, ladder-dancers, rope-dancers, jugglers, and mountebanks, to strut in the place of Shakspeare's heroes, and Jonson's humourists. When the seat of wit was thus mortgaged without equity of redemption, an architect arose, who has built the Muse a new palace, but secured her no retinue; so that, instead of action there, we have been put off by song and
* Mr. Owen, or Mac Owen Swiney.
dance. This latter help of sound has also begun to fail for want of voices; therefore the palace has since been put into the hands of a surgeon, who cuts any foreign fellow into an eunuch *, and passes him upon us for a singer of Italy.
Ac. I will go out of town to-morrow.
Friend. Things are come to this pass; and yet the world will not understand, that the theatre has much the same effect on the manners of the age, as the Bank on the credit of the nation. Wit and spirit, humour and good sense, can never be revived but under the government of those who are judges of such talents; who know, that whatever is put up in their stead, is but a short and trifling expedient, to support the appearance of them for a season. It is possible, a peace will give leisure to put these matters under new regulations; but, at present, all the assistance we can see towards our recovery is as far from giving us help, as a poultice is from performing what can be done only by the grand elixir.
Will's Coffee-house, May 6.
According to our late design in the applauded verses on the morning †, which you lately had from hence, we proceed to improve that just intention, and present you with other labours, made proper to the place in which they were written. The following poem comes from Copenhagen, and is as fine a winter-piece as we have ever had from any of the schools of the most learned painters. Such images
John-James Heydegger, Esq. styled here a surgeon, in allusion to the employment assigned to him: he had at that time the direction of the operas, as he had afterwards of the masquerades.
+ By Swift.
as these give us a new pleasure in our sight, and fix upon our minds traces of reflection, which accompany us whenever the like objects occur. In short, excellent poetry and description dwell upon us so agreeably, that all the readers of them are made to think, if not write, like men of wit. But it would be injury to detain you longer from this excellent performance, which is addressed to the Earl of Dorset by Mr. Philips, the author of several choice poems in Mr. Tonson's new Miscellany.
Copenhagen, March 9, 1709.
From frozen climes, and endless tracts of snow,
No gentle breathing breeze prepares the spring,
And yet but lately have I seen, ev'n here,