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progress which it has made upon the English stage: for there is no question but our great-grandchildren will be very curious to know the reason why their fore-fathers used to sit together like an audience of foreigners in their own country, and to hear whole plays acted before them in a tongue which they did not understand.
Arsinoe was the first opera that gave us a taste of Italian music. The great success this opera met with, produced some attempts of forming pieces upon Italian plans, which should give a more natural and reasonable entertainment than what can be met with in the elaborate trifles of that nation. This alarmed the poetasters and fiddlers of the town, who were used to deal in a more ordinary kind of ware; and therefore laid down an established rule, which is received as such to, this day, "That nothing is capable of being well set to music, that is not nonsense."
This maxim was no sooner received, but we immediately fell to translating the Italian operas; and as there was no danger of hurting the sense of those extraordinary pieces, our authors would often make words of their own, which were entirely foreign to the meaning of the passages they pretended to translate; their chief care being to make the numbers of the English verse answer to those of the Italian, that both of them might go to the same tune. Thus the famous song in Camilla,
Barbara si t'intendo,
"Barbarous woman, yes, I know your meaning."
which expresses the resentments of an angry lover, was translated into that English lamentation,
"Frail are a lover's hopes," &c.
And it was pleasant enough to see the most refined persons of the British nation dying away and languishing to notes that were filled with a spirit of rage and indignation. It happened also very frequently, where the sense was rightly translated, the necessary transposition of words which were drawn out of the phrase of one tongue into that of another, made the music appear very absurd in one tongue that was natural in the other. I remember an Italian verse that very ran thus, word for word,
"And turned my rage into pity;"
which the English for rhyme' sake translated,
"And into pity turned my rage."
By this means the soft notes that were adapted to pity in the Italian, fell upon the word rage in the English; and the angry sounds that were tuned to rage in the original, were made to express pity in the translation. It oftentimes happened likewise, that the finest notes in the air fell upon the most insignificant words in the sentence. I have known the word and pursued through the whole gamut, have been entertained with many a melodious the, and have heard the most beautiful graces, quavers, and divisions bestowed upon then, for, and from; to the eternal honour of our English particles.
The next step to our refinement, was the introducing of Italian actors into our opera; who sung their parts in their own language, at the same time that our countrymen performed theirs in our native tongue. The king or hero of the play generally spoke in Italian, and his slaves answered him in English: the lover frequently made his court, and gained the heart of his princess, in a language which she did not understand. One would have thought it very difficult to have carried on dialogues after this manner, without an interpreter between the persons that conversed together: but this was the state of the English stage for about three years.
At length the audience grew tired of understanding half the opera; and therefore to ease themselves entirely of the fatigue of thinking, have so ordered it at present, that the whole opera is performed in an unknown tongue. We no longer understand the language of our own stage; insomuch, that I have often been afraid, when I have seen our Italian performers chattering in the vehemence of action, that they have been calling us names, and abusing us among themselves; but I hope, since we put such an entire confidence in them, they will not talk against us before our faces, though they may do it with the same safety as if it were behind our backs. In the mean time, I cannot forbear thinking how naturally an historian who writes two or three hundred years hence, and does not know the taste of his wise forefathers, will make the following reflection, "In the beginning of the eighteenth century the Italian tongue was so well understood in England, that operas were acted on the public stage in that language."
One scarce knows how to be serious in the confutation of an absurdity that shows itself at the first sight. It does not want any great measure of sense to see the ridicule of this monstrous practice; but what makes it the more astonishing, it is not the taste of the rabble, but of persons of the greatest politeness, which has established it.
If the Italians have a genius for music above the English, the English have a genius for other performances of a much higher nature, and capable of giving the mind a much nobler entertainment. Would one think it was possible (at a time when an author lived that was able to write the Phædra and Hippolitus) for a people to be so stupidly fond of the Italian opera, as scarce to give a third day's hearing to that admirable tragedy? Music is certainly a very agreeable entertainment, but if it would take the entire possession of our ears, if it would make us incapable of hearing sense, if it would exclude arts that have a much greater tendency to the refinement of human nature, I must confess I would allow it no better quarter than Plato has done, who banishes it out of his commonwealth.
At present, our notions of music are so very uncertain, that we do not know what it is we like; only in general, we are transported with anything that is not English: so it be of a foreign growth, let it be Italian, French, or High-Dutch, it is the same thing. In short, our English music is quite rooted out, and nothing yet planted in its stead.
When a royal palace is burnt to the ground, every man is at liberty to present his plan for a new one; and though it be but indifferently put together, it may furnish several hints that may be of use to a good architect. I shall take the same liberty in a following paper, of giving my opinion upon the subject of music; which I shall lay down only in a problematical manner, to be considered by those who are masters in the art.
I AM sometimes very much troubled, when I reflect upon the three great professions of divinity, law, and physic; how
they are each of them over-burdened with practitioners, and filled with multitudes of ingenious gentlemen that starve one another.
We may divide the clergy into generals, field-officers, and subalterns. Among the first we may reckon bishops, deans, and arch-deacons. Among the second are doctors of divinity, prebendaries, and all that wear scarfs. The rest are comprehended under the subalterns. As for the first class, our constitution preserves it from any redundancy of incumbents, notwithstanding competitors are numberless. Upon a strict calculation it is found that there has been a great exceeding of late years in the second division, several brevets having been granted for the converting of subalterns into scarfofficers; insomuch that within my memory the price of lustring is raised above two-pence in a yard. As for the subalterns, they are not to be numbered. Should our clergy once enter into the corrupt practice of the laity, by the splitting of their freeholds, they would be able to carry most of the elections in England.
The body of the law is no less encumbered with superfluous members, that are like Virgil's army, which he tells us was so crowded, many of them had not room to use their weapons. This prodigious society of men may be divided into the litigious and peaceable. Under the first are comprehended all those who are carried down in coachfuls to Westminster Hall, every morning in term-time. Martial's descriptions of this species of lawyers is full of humour:
Iras et verba locant,
"Men that hire out their words and anger;" that are more or less passionate according as they are paid for it, and allow their client a quantity of wrath proportionable to the fee which they receive from him. I must, however, observe to the reader, that above three parts of those whom I reckon among the litigious, are such as are only quarrelsome in their hearts, and have no opportunity of showing their passion at the bar. Nevertheless, as they do not know what strifes may arise, they appear at the hall every day, that they may show themselves in readiness to enter the lists, whenever there shall be occasion for them.
The peaceable lawyers are, in the first place, many of the benchers of the several inns of court, who seem to be the dignitaries of the law, and are endowed with those qualifica
tions of mind that accomplish a man rather for a ruler than a pleader. These men live peaceably in their habitations, eating once a day, and dancing once a year, for the honour of the respective societies.
Another numberless branch of peaceable lawyers, are those young men, who being placed at the inns of court in order to study the laws of their country, frequent the playhouse more than Westminster Hall, and are seen in all public assemblies except in a court of justice. I shall say nothing of those silent and busy multitudes that are employed within doors, in the drawing up of writings and conveyances; nor of those greater numbers that palliate their want of business with a pretence to such chamber-practice.
If, in the third place, we look into the profession of physic, we shall find a most formidable body of men: the sight of them is enough to make a man serious; for we may lay it down as a maxim, that when a nation abounds in physicians, it grows thin of people. Sir William Temple is very much puzzled to find out a reason why the northern hive, as he calls it, does not send out such prodigious swarms, and over-run the world with Goths and Vandals, as it did formerly; but had that excellent author observed, that there were no students in physic among the subjects of Thor and Woden, and that this science very much flourishes in the north at present, he might have found a better solution for this difficulty than any of those he has made use of. This body of men, in our own country, may be described like the British army in Cæsar's time: some of them slay in chariots, and some on foot. If the infantry do less execution than the charioteers, it is because they cannot be carried so soon into all quarters of the town, and despatch so much business in so short a time. Besides this body of regular troops, there are stragglers, who, without being duly listed and enrolled, do infinite mischief to those who are so unlucky as to fall into their hands.
There are, besides the above-mentioned, innumerable retainers to physic, who, for want of other patients, amuse themselves with the stifling of cats in an air-pump, cutting up dogs alive, or impaling of insects1 upon the point of a needle for microscopical observations; besides those that are
There would be no objection to this raillery, if it were fit that raillery should be at all employed on a subject of this nature.