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No. 28. MONDAY, APRIL 2.
-Neque semper arcum
Hor. I SHALL here present my reader with a letter from a projector, concerning a new office which he thinks may very much contribute to the embellishment of the city, and to the driving barbarity out of our streets. I consider it as a satire upon projectors in general, and a lively picture of the whole art of modern criticism. SIR,
Observing that you have thoughts of creating certain officers under you, for the inspection of several petty enormities which you yourself cannot attend to; and finding daily
; absurdities hung upon the sign-posts of this city, to the great scandal of foreigners, as well as those of our own country, who are curious spectators of the same: I do humbly pro
you would be pleased to make me your Superintendent of all such figures and devices as are or shall be made use of on this occasion; with full powers to rectify or expunge whatever I shall find irregular or defective. For want of such an officer, there is nothing like sound literature and good sense to be met with in those objects, that are everywhere thrusting themselves out to the eye, and endeavouring to become visible. Our streets are filled with blue boars, black swans, and red lions; not to mention flying pigs, and hogs in armour,
other creatures more extraordinary than any in the deserts of Afric. Strange! that one who has all the birds and beasts in nature to choose out of, should live at the sign of an Ens Rationis !
“My first task therefore should be, like that of Hercules, to clear the city from monsters. In the second place I would forbid, that creatures of jarring and incongruous natures should be joined together in the same sign; such as the bell and the neat’s-tongue, the dog and grid-iron. The fox and goose may be supposed to have met; but what has the fox and the seven stars to do together? And when did the lamb and dolphin ever meet, except upon a sign-post ? As for the cat and fiddle, there is a conceit in it; and therefore I do not intend that anything I have here said should affect it. I
must however observe to you upon this subject, that it is usual for a young tradesman, at his first setting up, to add to his sign that of the master whom he served; as the husband, after marriage, gives a place to his mistress's arms in his own coat. This I take to have given rise to many of those absurdities which are committed over our heads; and, as I am informed, first occasioned the three nuns and a hare, which we see so frequently joined together. I would therefore establish certain rules, for the determining how far one tradesman may give the sign of another, and in what
may be allowed to quarter it with his own. “In the third place, I would enjoin every shop to make use of a sign which bears some affinity to the wares in which it deals. What can be more inconsistent than to see a bawd at the sign of the angel, or a tailor at the lion ? A cook should not live at the boot, nor a shoemaker at the roasted pig; and yet, for want of this regulation, I have seen a goat set up before the door of a perfumer, and the French king's head at a sword-cutler's.
“ An ingenious foreigner observes, that several of those gentlemen who value themselves upon their families, and overlook such as are bred to trade, bear the tools of their forefathers in their coats of arms. I will not examine how true this is in fact : but though it may not be necessary for posterity thus to set up the sign of their forefathers, I think it highly proper for those who actually profess the trade, to show some such marks of it before their doors.
“ When the name gives an occasion for an ingenious signpost, I would likewise advise the owner to take that opportunity of letting the world know who he is. It would have been ridiculous for the ingenious Mrs. Salmon to have lived at the sign of the trout; for which reason she has erected before her house the figure of the fish that is her namesake. Mr. Bell bas likewise distinguished himself by a device of the same nature: and here, sir, I must beg leave to observe to you, that this particular figure of a beli has given occasion to several pieces of wit in this kind. A man of your reading must know that Able Drugger gained great applause by it in the time of Ben Johnson. Our apocryphal heathen god is also represented by this figure; which, in conjunction with the dragon, makes a very handsome picture in several of our streets. As for the Bell Savage, which is the sign of a savage man standing by a bell, I was formerly very much puzzled upon the conceit of it, till I accidentally fell into the reading of an old romance translated out of the French; which gives an account of a very beautiful woman who was found in a wilderness, and is called in the French La Belle Sauvage; and is everywhere translated by our countrymen the Bell Savage. This piece of philology will, I hope, convince you that I have made sign-posts my study, and consequently qualified myself for the employment which I solicit at your hands.
But before I conclude my letter, I must communicate to you another remark which I have made upon the subject with which I am now entertaining you, namely, that I can give a shrewd guess at the humour of the inhabitant by the sign that hangs before his door. A surly, choleric fellow generally makes choice of a bear; as men of milder dispositions frequently live at the lamb. Seeing a punch-bowl painted upon a sign near Charing-Cross, and very curiously garnished, with a couple of angels hovering over it, and squeezing a lemon into it, I had the curiosity to ask after the master of the house, and found upon inquiry, as I had guessed by the little agrémens uponi his sign, that he was a Frenchman. I know, sir, it is not requisite for me to enlarge upon these hints to a gentleman of your great abilities; so, humbly recommending myself to your favour and patronage,
“ I remain,” &c. I shall add to the foregoing letter another, which came to me by the same penny-post.
“ From my own Apartment near Charing-Cross. “ HONOURED SIR,
Having heard that this nation is a great encourager of ingenuity, I have brought with me a rope-dancer that was caught in one of the woods belonging to the Great Mogul. He is by birth a monkey; but swings upon a rope, takes a pipe of tobacco, and drinks a glass of ale, like any reasonable creature. He gives great satisfaction to the quality; and if they will make a subscription for him, I will send for a brother of his out of Holland that is a very good tumbler; and also for another of the same family, whom I design for my merry-andrew, as being an excellent mimic, and the greatest droll in the country where he now is. I hope to have this entertainment in a readiness for the next winter; and doubt not but it will please more than the opera or puppet-show. I will not say that a monkey is a better man than some of the opera beroes ; but certainly he is a better representative of a man than the most artificial composition of wood and wire. If you will be pleased to give me a good word in your paper, you shall be every night a spectator at my show for nothing.
“I am,” &c.
No. 29. TUESDAY, APRIL 3.
-Sermo linguâ concinnus utraque Suavior : ut Chio nota si commista Falerni est. HOR. THERE is nothing than has more startled our English audience, than the Italian recitativo at its first entrance upon the stage. People were wonderfully surprised to hear
generals singing the word of command, and ladies delivering messages in music. Our countrymen could not forbear laughing when they heard a lover chanting out a billet-doux, and even the superscription of a letter set to a tune. The famous blunder in an old play of “ Enter a king and two fiddlers solus,” was now no longer an absurdity ; when it was impossible for a hero in a desert, or a princess in her closet, to speak anything unaccompanied with musical instruments.
But however this Italian method of acting in recitativo might appearl at first hearing, I cannot but think it much more just than that which prevailed in our English opera before this innovation : the transition from an air to recitative music being more natural, than the passing from a song to plain and ordinary speaking, which was the common method in Purcell's operas.
The only fault I find in our present practice, is the making use of Italian recitativo with English words.
To go to the bottom of this matter, I must observe, that the tone or (as the French call it) the accent of every
nation in their ordinary speech, is altogether different from that of every other people; as we may see even in the Welsh and Scotch, who border so near upon us. By the tone or accent,
| Might appear.] I should rather have said, “ might affect us at first hearing.”
I do not mean the pronunciation of each particular word, but the sound of the whole sentence. Thus it is very common for an English gentleman, when he hears a French tragedy, to complain that the actors all of them speak in a tone; and therefore he very wisely prefers his own countrymen, not considering that a foreigner complains of the same tone in an English actor.
For this reason, the recitative music in every language should be as different as the tone or accent of each language; for otherwise, what may properly express a passion in one language, will not do it in another. Every one who has been long in Italy knows very well, that the cadences in the recitativo bear a remote affinity to the tone of their voices in ordinary conversation ; or, to speak more properly, are only the accents of their language made more musical and tuneful.
Thus the notes of interrogation, or admiration, in the Italian music, (if one may so call them,) which resemble their accents in discourse on such occasions, are not unlike the ordinary tones of an English voice when we are angry; insomuch that I have often seen our audiences extremely mistaken as to what has been doing upon the stage, and expecting to see the hero knock down his messenger, when he has been asking him a question; or fancying that he quarrels with his friend, when he only bids him good-morrow.
For this reason the Italian artists cannot agree with our English musicians in admiring Purcell's compositions, and thinking his tunes so wonderfully adapted to his words; because both nations do not always express the same passions by the same sounds.
I am therefore humbly of opinion, that an English composer should not follow the Italian recitative too servilely, but make use of many gentle deviations from it, in compliance with his own native language. He may copy out of it all the lulling softness and "dying falls," (as Shakspeare calls them,) but should still remember that he ought to accommodate himself to an English audience; and by humouring the tone of our voices in ordinary conversation, have the same regard to the accent of his own language, as those persons had to theirs whom he professes to imitate. It is observed, that several of the singing birds of our own country learn to sweeten their voices, and mellow the harshness of their natural notes, by practising under those that come