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upon; but we are so far gone in years, that he observes when he is among us, an earnestness to have him fall on some divine topick, which he always treats with much authority, as one who
has no interests in this world, as one who is hastening to the 5 object of all his wishes, and conceives hope from his decays
and infirmities. These are my ordinary companions. *
No 5. Tuesday, March 6. [1711.]
Spectatum admissi risum teneatis ?.
An Opera may be allowed to be extravagantly lavish in its decorations, as its only design is to gratifie the senses, and keep up an indolent attention in the audience. Common sense however requires, that there should be nothing in the Scenes and Machines which may appear childish and absurd. How would the Wits of King Charles's time have laughed to have seen Nicolini exposed to a tempest in robes of Ermin, and sailing in an open boat upon a sea of Paste-board ? What a field of raillery would they have been let into, had they been entertained with painted dragons spitting wild-fire, enchanted chariots drawn by Flanders mares, and real Cascades in artificial land-skips? A little skill in criticism would inform us, that shadows and realities ought not to be mixed together in the same piece; and that the scenes which are designed as the representations of nature, should be filled with resemblances, and not with the things themselves. If one would represent a wide champian country filled with
[*« Though this paper in former Editions is not marked with any Letter of the word CLIO, by which Mr. ADDISON distinguished his performances; it was thought necessary to insert it, as containing characters of the several persons mentioned in the whole course of this work.” - Tickell.]
herds and flocks, it would be ridiculous to draw the country only upon the scenes, and to crowd several parts of the stage with sheep and oxen. This is joining together inconsistencies, and making the decoration partly real and partly imaginary. I would recommend what I have here said, to the Directors, 5 as well as to the Admirers of our modern Opera.
As I was walking in the streets about a fortnight ago, I saw an ordinary Fellow carrying a Cage full of little birds upon his shoulder; and, as I was wondering with my self what use he would put them to, he was met very luckily by an acquaintance, who had the same curiosity. Upon his asking him what he had upon his shoulder, he told him, that he had been buying Sparrows for the Opera. Sparrows for the Opera, says his friend, licking his lips, what are they to be roasted ? No, no, says the other, they are to enter towards the end of the first
15 Act, and to fly about the stage.
This strange dialogue awakened my curiosity so far, that I immediately bought the Opera, by which means I perceived the Sparrows were to act the part of singing birds in a delightful grove; though upon a nearer enquiry I found the Sparrows put the same trick upon the audience, that Sir Martin Mar-all practised upon his Mistress; for though they flew in sight, the musick proceeded from a consort of Flageolets and Bird-calls which were planted behind the scenes. At the same time I made this discovery, I found by the discourse of the Actors, 25 that there were great designs on foot for the improvement of the Opera; that it had been proposed to break down a part of the wall, and to surprize the audience with a party of an hundred horse, and that there was actually a project of bringing the New-River into the house, to be employed in jetteaus 30 and water-works. This project, as I have since heard, is post-poned 'till the summer-season; when it is thought the coolness that proceeds from fountains and cascades will be more acceptable and refreshing to people of Quality. In the
mean time, to find out a more agreeable entertainment for
upon without catching cold, and indeed without much 5 danger of being burnt; for there are several Engines filled
with water, and ready to play at a minute's warning, in case any such accident should happen. However, as I have a very great friendship for the owner of this Theatre, I hope that he has been wise enough to insure his house before he would let this Opera be acted in it.
It is no wonder, that those scenes should be very surprizing, which were contrived by two Poets of different nations, and raised by two Magicians of different sexes. Armida (as we
are told in the argument) was an Amazonian Enchantress, 15 and poor Signior Cassani (as we learn from the Persons rep
resented) a Christian Conjurer (Mago Christiano.) I must confess I am very much puzzled to find how an Amazon should be versed in the Black art, or how a good Christian, for such is the part of the Magician, should deal with the Devil
To consider the Poets after the Conjurers, I shall give you a taste of the Italian from the first lines of his preface. Eccoti, benigno Lettore, un Parto di poche Sere, che se ben nato
di Notte, non è però aborto di Tenebre, mà si farà conoscere 25 Figliolo d'Apollo con qualche Raggio di Parnasse. Behold,
gentle reader, the birth of a few evenings, which though it be the offspring of the night, is not the abortive of darkness, but will make it self known to be the Son of Apollo, with a certain
ray of Parnassus. He afterwards proceeds to call Minheer 30 Hendel the Orpheus of our age, and to acquaint us, in the
same sublimity of stile, that he composed this Opera in a fortnight. Such are the Wits, to whose tastes we so ambitiously conform our selves. The truth of it is, the finest writers among the modern Italians express themselves in such a florid
form of words, and such tedious circumlocutions, as are used by none but Pedants in our own country; and at the same time fill their writings with such poor imaginations and conceits, as our youths are ashamed of before they have been two years at the University. Some may be apt to think that it is
5 the difference of genius which produces this difference in the works of the two nations; but to shew there is nothing in this, if we look into the writings of the old Italians, such as Cicero and Virgil, we shall find that the English writers, in their way of thinking and expressing themselves, resemble those Authors much more than the modern Italians pretend to do. And as for the Poet himself, from whom the dreams of this Opera are taken, I must entirely agree with Monsieur Boileau, that one verse in Virgil is worth all the Clinquant or Tinsel of Tasso.
But to return to the Sparrows; there have been so many 15 flights of them let loose in this Opera, that it is feared the house will never get rid of them; and that in other Plays they may make their entrance in very wrong and improper Scenes, so as to be seen flying in a Lady's bed-chamber, or perching upon a King's throne; besides the inconveniences which the heads of the audience may sometimes suffer from them. I am credibly informed, that there was once a design of casting into an Opera the story of Whittington and his Cat, and that in order to it, there had been got together a great quantity of Mice; but Mr. Rich, the Proprietor of the Play- 25 house, very prudently considered that it would be impossible for the Cat to kill them all, and that consequently the Princes of the stage might be as much infested with Mice, as the Prince of the Island was before the Cat's arrival upon it; for which reason he would not permit it to be acted in his house. 30 And indeed I cannot blame him : for, as he said very well upon that occasion, I do not hear that any of the performers in our Opera pretend to equal the famous Pied Piper, who made all the Mice of a great town in Germany follow his
musick, and by that means cleared the place of those little noxious animals.
Before I dismiss this paper, I must inform my reader, that I hear there is a treaty on foot with London and Wise (who 5 will be appointed gardeners of the Play-house) to furnish the
Opera of Rinaldo and Armida with an orange-grove; and that the next time it is acted, the singing birds will be personated by Tom-tits: The Undertakers being resolved to spare neither pains nor money for the gratification of the audience.
N° 7. Thursday, March 8. [1711.]
Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, Sagas,
Going yesterday to dine with an old acquaintance, I had the misfortune to find his whole family very much dejected. Upon asking him the occasion of it, he told me that his wife had
dreamt a strange dream the night before, which they were afraid 15 portended some misfortune to themselves or to their children.
At her coming into the room I observed a settled melancholy in her countenance, which I should have been troubled for, had I not heard from whence it proceeded. We were no sooner sate down but, after having looked upon me a little while, My dear, (says she, turning to her husband) you may now see the stranger that was in the candle last night. Soon after this, as they began to talk of family affairs, a little boy at the lower end of the table told her, that he was to go into join-hand on Thursday.
Thursday? (says she) no child if it please God, you shall not 25 begin upon Childermas-day : tell your writing-master that Friday
will be soon enough. I was reflecting with my self on the oddness of her fancy, and wondering that any body would establish it as a rule to lose a day in every week. In the midst of