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To women of this worldly turn, as I apprehend Cleora to be, we must reckon backward in our computation of merit; and when a fair lady thinks only of making her spouse a convenient domestic, the notion of worth and value is altered, and the lover is the more acceptable, the less he is considerable. The two I shall throw into the way of Cleora are Orson Thicket and Mr. Walter Wisdom. Orson is a huntsman, whose father's death, and some difficulties about legacies, brought out of the woods to town last November. He was at that time one of those country savages, who despise the softness they meet in town and court; and professedly show their strength and roughness in every motion and gesture, in scorn of our bowing and cringing. He was, at his first appearance, very remarkable for that piece of good breeding peculiar to natural Britons, to wit, defiance; and showed every one he met he was as good a man as he. But, in the midst of all this fierceness, he would sometimes attend the discourse of a man of sense, and look at the charms of a beauty, with his eyes and mouth open. He was in this posture, when, in the beginning of last December, he was shot by Cleora from a side-box. From that moment he softened into humanity, forgot his dogs and horses, and now moves and speaks with civility and address.
Wat Wisdom, by the death of an elder brother, came to a great estate, when he had proceeded just far enough in his studies to be very impertinent, and at the years when the law gives him possession of his fortune, and his own constitution is too warm for the management of it. Orson is learning to fence and dance, to please and fight for his mistress ; and Walter preparing fine horses, and a jingling chariot to enchant her. All persons concerned will appear at the next opera, where will begin the wild-goose chase; and I doubt Fabio will see himself so overlooked for Orson or Walter, as to turn his eyes on the modest passion and becoming languor in the countenance of Diana; it being my design to supply with the art of love, all those who preserve the sincere passion of it.
WILL'S COFFEE-HOUSE, NOVEMBER 23. An ingenious and worthy gentleman, my ancient friend, fell into discourse with me this evening upon the force and efficacy which the writings of good poets have on the minds of their intelligent readers ; and recommended to me his sense of the matter, thrown together in the following manner, which he desired me to communicate to the youth of Great Britain in my Essays; which I choose to do in his own words.
'I have always been of opinion,' says he, 'that virtue sinks deepest into the heart of man, when it comes recommended by the powerful charms of poetry. The most active principle in our mind is the imagination: to it a good poet makes his court perpetually, and by this faculty takes care to gain it first. Our passions and inclinations come over next; and our reason surrenders itself with pleasure in the end. Thus the whole soul is insensibly betrayed into morality, by bribing the fancy with beautiful and agreeable images of those very things that in the books of the philosophers appear austere, and have at the best but a kind of forbidding aspect. In a word, the poets do, as it were, strew the rough paths of virtue so full of flowers, that we are not sensible of the uneasiness of them; and imagine ourselves in the midst of pleasures, and the most bewitching allurements, at the time we are making progress in the severest duties of life.
• All men agree, that licentious poems do, of all writings, soonest corrupt the heart. And why should we not be as universally persuaded, that the grave and serious performances of such as write in the most engaging manner, by a kind of divine impulse, must be the most effectual persuasives to goodness? If, therefore, I were blessed with a son, in order to the forming of his manners, which is making him truly my son, I should be continually putting into his hand some fine poet. The graceful sentences, and the manly sentiments, so frequently to be met with in every great and sublime writer, are, in my judgment, the most ornamental and valuable furniture that can be for a young gentleman’s head ; methinks they show like so much rich embroidery upon the brain. Let me add to this, that humanity and tenderness, without which there can be no true greatness in the mind, are inspired by the Muses in such pathetical language, that all we find in prose authors towards the raising and improving of these passions is, in comparison, but cold or lukewarm at the best. There is besides a certain elevation of soul, a sedate magnanimity, and a noble turn of virtue, that distinguishes the hero from the plain honest man, to which verse can only raise us. The bold metaphors, and sounding numbers, peculiar to the poets, rouse up all our sleeping faculties, and alarm the whole powers of the soul, much like that excellent trumpeter mentioned by Virgil :
- Quo non præstantior alter
VIRG. ÆN. vi. 164.
"I fell into this train of thinking this evening, upon reading a passage in a masque writ by Milton, where two brothers are introduced seeking after their sister, whom they had lost in a dark night and thick wood. One of the brothers is apprehensive lest the wandering virgin should be overpowered with fears, through the darkness and loneliness of the time and place. This gives the other occasion to make the following reflections, which, as I read them, made me forget my age, and renewed in me the warm desires after virtue, so natural to uncorrupted youth.
“I do not think my sister so to seek,
Or so unprincipled in virtue's book,
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 1709.
- Spirat tragicum satis, et feliciter audet.
HOR. EPIST. ii. 1, 166.
He, fortunately bold, breathes true sublime.
WILL'S COFFEE-HOUSE, NOVEMBER 25. I HAVE been this evening recollecting what passages, since I could first think, have left the strongest impressions upon my mind; and, after strict inquiry, I am convinced that the impulses I have received from theatrical representations have had a greater effect than otherwise would have been wrought in me by the little occurrences of my private life! My old friends, Hart and Mohun, the one by his natural and proper force, the other by his great skill and art, never failed to send me home full of such ideas as affected my behaviour, and made me insensibly more courteous and humane to my friends and acquaintances. It is not the business of a good play to make every man a hero; but it certainly gives him a livelier sense of virtue and merit, than he had when he entered the theatre.
This rational pleasure, as I always call it, has for many years been very little tasted: but I am glad to find that the true spirit of it is reviving again amongst us, by a due regard to what is presented, and by supporting only one play-house. It has been within the observation of the youngest amongst us, that while there were two houses, they did not out