« PreviousContinue »
from a common observation, that in the several assemblies of these orators, nature itself has instructed the hearers to stand with their mouths open, and erected parallel to the horizon, so as they may be intersected by a perpendicular line from the zenith, to the centre of the earth. In which position, if the audience be well compact, every one carries home a share, and little or nothing is lost.
I confess there is something yet more refined, in the contrivance and structure of our modern theatres. For, first, the pit is sunk below the stage, with due regard to the institution above deduced; that, whatever weighty matter shall be delivered thence, whether it be lead or gold, may fall plumb into the jaws of certain critics, as I think they are called, which stand ready opened to devour them. Then, the boxes are built round, and raised to a level with the scene, in deference to the ladies; because, that large portion of wit, laid out in raising pruriences and protuberances, is observed to run much upon a line, and ever in a circle. The whining passions, and little starved conceits, are gently wafted up, by their own extreme levity, to the middle region, and there fix and are frozen by the frigid understandings of the inhabitants. Bombastry and buffoonery, by nature lofty and light, soar highest of all, and would be lost in the roof, if the prudent architect had not, with much foresight, contrived for them a fourth place, called the twelve-penny gallery, and there planted a suitable colony, who greedily intercept them in their
Now this physico-logical scheme of oratorial receptacles or machines, contains a great mystery; being a type, a sign, an emblem, a shadow, a symbol, bearing analogy to the spacious commonwealth of writers, and to those methods, by which they must exalt themselves to a certain eminency above the
inferior world. By the pulpit are adumbrated the writings of our modern saints in Great Britain, as they have spiritualized and refined them, from the dross and grossness of sense and human reason. The matter, as we have said, is of rotten wood; and that upon two considerations; because it is the quality of rotten wood, to give light in the dark; and secondly, because its cavities are full of worms; which is a type with a pair of handles,* having a respect to the two principal qualifications of the orator, and the two different fates attending upon his works.
The ladder is an adequate symbol of faction and of poetry, to both of which so noble a number of authors are indebted for their fame. Of faction, Hiatus in MS. becauset *
Of poetry, because its orators do perorare with a song; and because, climbing up by slow degrees, fate is sure to turn them off, before they can reach within many steps of the top: and because it is a preferment attained by transferring of propriety, and a confounding of meum and
Under the stage itinerant, are couched those productions designed for the pleasure and delight of mortal man; such as, Six-penny-worth of Wit,
The two principal qualifications of a fanatic preacher are, his inward light, and his head full of maggots; and the two ditferent fates of his writings are, to be burnt or worm-eaten.-H.
† Here is pretended a defect in the manuscript; and this is very frequent with our author, either when he thinks he cannot say anything worth reading, or when he has no mind to enter on the subject, or when it is a matter of little moment; or perhaps to amuse his reader, whereof he is frequently very fond; or, lastly, with some satirical intention.-H.
Thus a former commentator; but it is obvious, that the gap is left to infer the danger of describing the factious partizans' progress to that consummation which is the subject of discussion.
Westminster Drolleries, Delightful Tales, Complete Jesters, and the like; by which the writers of and for Grub-street, have in these latter ages so nobly triumphed over Time; have clipped his wings, pared his nails, filed his teeth, turned back his hourglass, blunted his scythe, and drawn the hob-nails out of his shoes. It is under this class I have presumed to list my present treatise, being just come from having the honour conferred upon me, to be adopted a member of that illustrious fraternity.
Now, I am not unaware, how the productions of the Grub-street brotherhood, have of late years fallen under many prejudices, nor how it has been the perpetual employment of two junior start-up societies to ridicule them and their authors, as unworthy their established post in the commonwealth of wit and learning. Their own consciences will easily inform them whom I mean; nor has the world been so negligent a looker-on, as not to observe the continual efforts made by the societies of Gresham,* and of Will's,† to edify a name and reputation upon the ruin of OURS. And this is yet a more feeling grief to us, upon the regards of tenderness as well as of justice, when we reflect on their proceedings not only as unjust, but as ungrateful, undutiful, and unnatural. For how can it be forgot by the world or themselves, to say nothing of our own records, which are full and clear in the point, that they both are seminaries not only of our planting, but our watering too? I am informed,
* Gresham College was the place where the Royal Society then met, from whence they removed to Crane-Court, in Fleetstreet.-N.
+ Will's coffee-house, in Covent-Garden, was formerly the place where the poets usually met, which, though it be yet fresh in memory, in some years may be forgotten, and want this explanation.-H.
our two rivals have lately made an offer to enter into the lists with united forces, and challenge us to a comparison of books, both as to weight and number. In return to which, with licence from our president, I humbly offer two answers: first, we say, the proposal is like that which Archimedes made upon a smaller affair,* including an impossibility in the practice; for, where can they find scales of capacity enough for the first, or an arithmetician of capacity enough for the second? Secondly, we are ready to accept the challenge; but with this condition, that a third indifferent person be assigned, to whose impartial judgment it should be left to decide, which society each book, treatise, or pamphlet, do most properly belong to. This point, God knows, is very far from being fixed at present; for we are ready to produce a catalogue of some thousands, which in all common justice ought to be entitled to our fraternity, but by the revolted and new-fangled writers, most perfidiously ascribed to the others. Upon all which, we think it very unbecoming our prudence, that the determination should be remitted to the authors themselves; when our adversaries, by briguing and caballing, have caused so universal a defection from us, that the greatest part of our society has already deserted to them, and our nearest friends begin to stand aloof, as if they were half ashamed to own us.
This is the utmost I am authorized to say upon so ungrateful and melancholy a subject; because we are extreme unwilling to inflame a controversy, whose continuance may be so fatal to the interests of us all, desiring much rather that things be amicably composed; and we shall so far advance on our side, as to be ready to receive the two prodigals with
* Viz., About moving the earth.-Original.
open arms, whenever they shall think fit to return from their husks and their harlots; which, I think, from the present course of their studies,* they most properly may be said to be engaged in; and, like an indulgent parent, continue to them our affection and our blessing.
But the greatest maim given to that general reception, which the writings of our society have formerly received, (next to the transitory state of all sublunary things,) has been a superficial vein among many readers of the present age, who will by no means be persuaded to inspect beyond the surface and the rind of things; whereas, wisdom is a fox, who, after long hunting, will at last cost you the pains to dig out; it is a cheese, which, by how much the richer, has the thicker, the homelier, and the coarser coat; and whereof, to a judicious palate, the maggots are the best: it is a sack-posset, wherein the deeper you go, you will find it the sweeter. Wisdom is a hen, whose cackling we must value and consider, because it is attended with an egg; but then lastly, it is a nut, which, unless you choose with judgment, may cost you a tooth, and pay you with nothing but a worm. In consequence of these momentous truths, the grubæan sages have always chosen to convey their precepts and their arts, shut up within the vehicles of types and fables; which having been perhaps more careful and curious in adorning, than was altogether necessary, it has fared with these vehicles, after the usual fate of coaches over finely painted and gilt, that the transitory gazers have so dazzled their eyes, and filled their imaginations with the outward lustre, as neither to regard nor consider the person, or the parts, of the owner within. A misfortune we undergo with some
* Virtuoso experiments, and modern comedies.-Original.