Infomotions, Inc.Essay upon Wit / Blackmore, Sir Richard, 1654?-1729

Author: Blackmore, Sir Richard, 1654?-1729
Title: Essay upon Wit
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Title: Essay upon Wit

Author: Sir Richard Blackmore

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[Date last updated: February 15, 2005]

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Sir Richard Blackmore


With Commentary by Joseph Addison (Freeholder, No. 45, 1716)
and an Introduction by Richard C. Boys

_Series One: Essays on Wit_
No. 1

Sir Richard Blackmore's
_Essay upon Wit (1716)_


Joseph Addison's 
_Freeholder, No. 45 (1716)_

With an Introduction by 
Richard C. Boys

The Augustan Reprint Society
May 1946
Price: 60c

Membership in the Augustan Reprint Society entitles the subscriber
to six publications issued each year. The annual membership fee
is $2.50. Address subscriptions and communications to the Augustan
Reprint Society in care of the General Editors: Richard C. Boys,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan; or Edward N. Hooker
or H.T. Swedenberg, Jr., University of California, Los Angeles 24,


The battle between the puritans and the sophisticates is never ending.
At certain stages of cultural development the worldly wise are in the
ascendent in the literary world, as they were in the Restoration and
after the first World War. Yet those with a more sober view of life
are never submerged, even when they are overshadowed. The court of
the restored Charles gave full play to the indelicacy of Rochester,
Dryden, and their circles, but most of their contemporaries were
probably more content to read George Herbert, Queries, Baxter, and
Bunyan. Though the fashionable and urbane remained dominant in letters
through the age of Dryden, the forces of morality were rallying, and
after 1688 the court (with which Blackmore was connected) threw
its weight on the side of virtue. Jeremy Collier was but the most
important voice of a great movement, destined to have its effect on

Sir Richard Blackmore contributed his share to the growing wave of
bourgeois morality, which in the 18th century was reflected in the
middle-class appeal of Addison and Steel, Lillo's _London Merchant_,
and Richardson's almost feminine plea for virtue rewarded. A
physician, Blackmore had turned to poetry for relaxation and composed
his soporific epics, by his own admission, in the coffee-houses and in
his coach while visiting patients. In the preface, to _Prince Arthur_
(1695) the City Bard took occasion to flay the Wits of the day for
their immorality, an attack which he followed up in 1697 with the
Preface to _King Arthur_, whose thinly disguised political allegory
won him a knighthood. Up to this point the Wits had treated him with
amused scorn, but when he called his big guns into action in the
_Satyr against Wit_ (dated 1700 but issued late in 1699) the Wits set
out to crush him for once and all. _Commendatory Verses on the Author
of the Two Arthurs and the Satyr against Wit_ (1700), the reply,
was far from commendatory. Edited by Tom Brown and sponsored by
Christopher Codrington, this miscellany attempted in scurrilous and
often bad verse to laugh the Knight out of literary existence. Its
main distinction lies in the list of contributors, among whom were Sir
Charles Sedley, Richard Steele, Tom Brown, and probably John
Dennis. Blackmore's supporters answered _Commendatory Verses_ with
_Discommendatory_ _Verses on Those Which are Truly Commendatory, on
the Author of the Two Arthurs, and the Satyr against Wit_. (1700).
It is not at all certain that Blackmore emerged second best in this
exchange of blows in the miscellanies. At any rate, unabashed he went
on to write more epics on Elizabeth, Alfred, Job, and to win himself a
doubtful immortality by being pilloried in Pope's _Dunciad_.

Throughout his writings Blackmore has a good deal to say about Wit,
and much about the abuse of it. While Swift in the _Tale of a Tub_
scolds the Wits for their addiction to nonsense and irreligion,
Blackmore goes still further in the _Satyr_, seeing Wit as something
which, in common practice, is evil and vicious, to be eradicated as
quickly as possible. It is the enemy of virtue and religion (in the
Preface to _Creation_, 1712, he links it with atheism), a form of
insanity, in opposition to 'Right Reason', and the seducer of young
men. Combatting its iniquities, Blackmore proposes to set up a Bank
and Mint of Wit to assure that it will be refined and purified. By
this process, the works of Dryden, Congreve, Southerne, Wycherley,
Garth, and Vanbrugh will be melted down to separate the sludge from
the pure metal. In the _Nature of Man_ (1711) he takes a more kindly
attitude towards Wit and pairs it with Sense, Reason, Genius, and even
Piety. While he is moderate in his denunciation of Wit in the _Essay
upon Wit_, he does insist that even at its best it can never be noble.
Wit is harmful, he states, because it is often employed in immoral
subjects, raillery, ridicule, and satire. It is chiefly useful as
ornamentation: "The Addition of Wit to Proper Subjects, is like the
artful Improvement of the Cook, who by his exquisite Sauce gives to a
plain Dish, a pleasant and unusual Relish".

Addison's _Freeholder_ essay (No. 45) was inspired by Blackmore's
_Essay upon Wit_, to which he paid a compliment in his opening remarks
(much to the disgust of Swift, who accused him of double-dealing).
Although Addison had praised Blackmore's _Creation_ warmly in the
_Spectator_ No. 339, he had not always been friendly, for earlier
Blackmore had sneered at Addison in the _Satyr against Wit_, a jibe
that drew Steele's reply in _Commendatory Verses_.

Blackmore's _Essay upon Wit_ appeared in his _Essays upon Several
Subjects_; the one-volume first edition of this work was published
in 1716 and was followed by the second edition, in two volumes, the
following year. The present reprint is from the first edition. The
1716 _Freeholder_ No. 45 here reproduced is from the edition of 1758.
Both copies are owned by the University of Michigan.

  Richard C. Boys

  University of Michigan


The Inclinations of Men, in this their degenerate State, carry them
with great Force to those voluptuous Objects, that please their
Appetites and gratify their Senses; and which not only by their
early Acquaintance and Familiarity, but as they are adapted to the
prevailing Instincts of Nature, are more esteem'd and pursu'd than all
other Satisfactions. As those inferior Enjoyments, that only affect
the Organs of the Body are chiefly coveted, so next to these, that
light and facetious Qualification of the Mind, that diverts the
Hearers and is proper to produce Mirth and Alacrity, has, in all
Ages, by the greatest Part of Mankind, been admir'd and applauded. No
Productions of Human Understanding are receiv'd with such a general
Pleasure and Approbation, as those that abound with Wit and Humour,
on which the People set a greater Value, than on the wisest and most
instructive Discourses. Hence a pleasant Man is always caress'd above
a wise one, and Ridicule and Satyr, that entertain the Laughers, often
put solid Reason and useful Science out of Countenance. The wanton
Temper of the Nation has been gratify'd so long with the high
Seasonings of Wit and Raillery in Writing and Conversation, that
now almost all Things that are not accommodated to their Relish by a
strong Infusion of those Ingredients, are rejected as the heavy and
insipid Performances of Men of a plain Understanding and meer Masters
of Sense.

Since the Power of Wit is so prevalent, and has obtained such Esteem
and Popularity, that a Man endow'd with this agreeable Quality, is by
many look'd on as a Heavenly Being, if compar'd with others, who have
nothing but Learning and a clear arguing Head; it will be worth the
while to search into its Nature, and examine its Usefulness, and take
a View of those fatal Effects which it produces, when it happens to be

Tho perhaps the Talent which we call Wit, like that of Humour, is
as clearly understood by its simple Term, as by the most labour'd
Description; an Argument or which is this, That many ingenious
Persons, by their unsuccessful Essays to explain it, have rather
obscur'd than illustrated its Idea; I will notwithstanding adventure
to give the Definition of it, which tho it may fall short of
Perfection, yet I imagine, will come nearer to it, than any that has
yet appear'd. _Wit is a Qualification of the Mind, that raises and
enlivens cold Sentiments and plain Propositions, by giving them an
elegant and surprizing Turn_.

It is evident, that Wit cannot essentially consist in the Justness and
Propriety of the Thoughts, that is, the Conformity of our Conceptions
to the Objects we conceive; for this is the Definition of Truth, when
taken in a Physical Sense; nor in the Purity of Words and Expression,
for this may be eminent in the Cold, Didactick Stile, and in the
correct Writers of History and Philosophy: But Wit is that which
imparts Spirit to our Conceptions and Diction, by giving them a lively
and novel, and therefore an agreeable Form: And thus its Nature is
limited and diversify'd from all other intellectual Endowments. Wit
therefore is the Accomplishment of a warm, sprightly, and fertile
Imagination, enrich'd with great Variety of proper Ideas; which active
Principle is however under the Direction of a regular Judgment, that
takes care of the Choice of just and suitable Materials, prescribes to
the tighter Faculties the due Bounds of their Sport and Activity, and
assists and guides them, while they imprint on the Conceptions of the
Mind their peculiar and delightful Figures. The Addition of Wit to
proper Subjects, is like the artful Improvement of the Cook, who by
his exquisite Sauce gives to a plain Dish, a pleasant and unusual
Relish. A Man of this Character works on simple Proportions a rich
Embroidery of Flowers and Figures, and imitates the curious Artist,
who studs and inlays his prepar'd Steel with Devices of Gold and
Silver. But Wit is not only the Improvement of a plain Piece by
intellectual Enameling; besides this, it animates and warms a cold
Sentiment, and makes it glow with Life and Vigor; and this it effects,
as is express'd in the last Part of the Definition, by giving it as
elegant and surprizing Turn. It always conveys the Thought of the
Speaker or Writer cloath'd in a pleasing, but foreign Dress, in which
it never appear'd to the Hearer before, who however had been long
acquainted with it; and this Appearance in the Habit of a Stranger
must be admirable, since Surprize naturally arises from Novelty,
as Delight and Wonder result from Surprize; which I have more fully
explain'd in the former Essay.

As to its efficient Cause; Wit owes its Production to an extraordinary
and peculiar Temperament in the Constitution of the Possessors of it,
in which is found a Concurrence of regular and exalted Ferments, and
an Affluence of Animal Spirits refin'd and rectify'd to a great
degree of Purity; whence being endow'd with Vivacity, Brightness and
Celerity, as well in their Reflexions as direct Motions, they become
proper Instruments for the sprightly Operations of the Mind; by which
means the Imagination can with great Facility range, the wide Field of
Nature, contemplate an infinite Variety of Objects, and by observing
the Similitude and Disagreement of their several Qualities, single
out and abstract, and then suit and unite those Ideas, which will best
serve its purpose. Hence beautiful Allusions, surprizing Metaphors and
admirable Sentiments are always ready at hand: And while the Fancy is
full of Images collected from innumerable Objects and their different
Qualities, Relations and Habitudes, it can at pleasure dress a common
Notion in a strange, but becoming Garb; by which, as before observ'd,
the same Thought will appear a new one, to the great Delight and
Wonder of the Hearer. What we call Genius results from this particular
happy Complexion in the first Formation of the Person that enjoys it,
and is Nature's Gift, but diversify'd by various specifick Characters
and Limitations, as its active Fire is blended and allay'd by
different Proportions of Phlegm, or reduc'd and regulated by the
Contrast of opposite Ferments. Therefore as there happens in the
Composition of a facetious Genius a greater or less, tho still an
inferior degree of Judgment and Prudence, and different Kinds
of Instincts and Passions, one Man of Wit will be vary'd and
distinguish'd from another. That Distinction that seems common to
Persons of this Denomination, is an inferior Degree of Wisdom and
Discretion; and tho these two Qualities, Wit and Discretion, are
almost incapable of a friendly Agreement, and will not, but with great
Difficulty, be work'd together and incorporated in the Constitution of
any Individual; yet this Observation is not so conspicuous in any, as
in those, whose native Complexion comes the nearest to a Subversion
and Absence of Mind, tho it should never degenerate into that
distemper'd Elevation of the Spirits: Nothing is more common, than to
see Persons of this Class always Think Right, and always Act Wrong;
admirable for the richness, delicacy, and brightness of their
Imaginations, and at the same Time to be pity'd for their want
of Prudence and common Sense; abounding with excellent Maxims and
instructive Sentiments, which however are not of the least Use to
themselves in the Conduct of their Lives. And hence it is certain,
that tho the Gentlemen of a pleasant and witty Turn of Mind often make
the industrious Merchant, and grave Persons of all Professions, the
Subjects of their Raillery, and expose them as stupid Creatures, not
supportable in good Company; yet these in their Turn believe they have
as great a right, as indeed they have, to reproach the others for
want of Industry, good Sense, and regular Oeconomy, much more valuable
Talents than those, which any mere Wit can boast of; and therefore
wise Parents, who from a tender Concern for the Honour and Happiness
of their Children, earnestly desire they may excel in intellectual
Endowments, should, instead of refin'd Parts and a Genius turn'd for
pleasant Conversation, wish them a solid Understanding and a Faculty
of close and clear Reasoning, these Qualifications being likely to
make them good Men, and the other only good Companions.

And this leads to another Observation, namely, That Persons of
facetious Talents and agreeable Humour, in whose Temperament,
Judgment, and Discretion, as before observ'd, are usually found in a
disproportionate Measure, are more inclin'd than others to Levity and
dissolute Manners: The same swiftness of Thought and sprightliness of
Imagination, that qualifies them for ingenious Conversation, Sports of
Fancy and Comick Writing, do likewise give them an exquisite Taste
of sensual Pleasures, and expose them to the prevailing Power of
Tempting, tho forbidden Enjoyments. The Passions and Appetites
of these Men, from the same Spring from whence they derive their
extraordinary Parts, that is, a Redundancy of warm and lively Spirits,
are more violent and impatient of Restraint, than those in a cooler
and less active Complexion, who however may be more eminent in the
superior Faculties of the Mind: Hence it will be no wonder, that while
their Propensions to Pleasure are much stronger, and their Reason much
weaker than those of other Men, they should be less able than others,
to resist the Allurements of criminal Delights; and this Remark is
confirm'd by daily Experience. How few of this facetious and comick
Species of Men, caress'd and applauded for their shining Parts and
witty Discourses, escape the Snares that encompass them, and preserve
their Vertue and Sobriety of Manners? It too often happens, that a
Man elevated above the rest by his uncommon Genius, is as much
distinguish'd by his extraordinary Immorality: And it would be well
if it stop'd here; but by degrees he often grows much worse, by adding
Impiety and Profaneness to Looseness of Manners: For being unable,
that is, having a moral Impotence of Will to restrain his evil
Propensions and govern his vicious Appetites, and finding his guilty
Enjoyments, attended with inward Uneasiness and unavoidable Remorse,
and being conscious that his irregular Life is inconsistent with
Safety and Happiness in a Future State; to remove the troublesome
Misgivings of his Mind from the Apprehensions of Guilt here, and rid
himself of the Fears of Suffering hereafter, he at length disclaims
the Belief of a Supream Being and a Future Existence, and with
much ado brings over his Judgment to the side of his Passions: This
ingenious Libertine, having too little strength of Reason to subdue
his Appetites, and too much Wit to think, that if that be not done,
he shall escape at last Divine Punishment, abolishes his Creed for the
Quiet of his Mind, and renounces his God to preserve his Vices.

The Objects about which Wit is exercis'd, are the common and less
important Actions of Life. It is the Province of the Civil Magistrate
to make Laws against enormous Crimes and great Immoralities, and by
punishing Offenders, to deter Men from the like Transgressions; but
they take no notice of lower Errors, either because they have not such
noxious Influence on the State, or because it is impossible to foresee
and enumerate their numberless Classes, and prevent their Growth:
Where then the Legislator ends, the Comick Genius begins, and presides
over the low and ordinary Affairs and Manners of Life. It extends
its Power and Jurisdiction over the wide Field of inferior Faults and
ridiculous Follies, over the Districts of Indiscretion, Indecency,
and Impertinence, and is Visitor of the Regions void of Discipline,
Politeness, and Civility.

Wit is employ'd in its own Province, when the Possessor of it
exercises his Genius on the ordinary Customs and Manners of Life,
either in Conversation, or Comick Writing. It has therefore no
place in the Works where severe Knowledge and Judgment are chiefly
exercis'd; those superior Productions of the Understanding must be
express'd in a clear and strong manner, without intervening Strains
of Wit or facetious Fancies, which, were they admitted, would appear
incongruous and impertinent, and diminish the Merit of the Writing.
Hence Wit has no place in History, Philology, Philosophy, or in the
greater Lyrick or Epick Poems; the two last of which containing
either the Praises of Deities or Demi-Gods, or treating of lofty and
illustrious Subjects; such as the Foundation, Rise, and Revolution of
Kingdoms, Commotions of State, Battles, Triumphs, solemn Embassies,
and various other important Actions of Princes and Heroes, are exalted
above the Sphere of Wit and Humour. The Strength and Dignity of the
sublime Stile is debas'd and adulterated by the foreign and improper
Mixture of light Sentiments, and pretty Fancies. These Sallies and
Sports of the Imagination, will no more advance the Beauty of such
superior Productions, than the Addition of glittering Tinsel and glass
Beads will improve the Imperial Purple, or adorn the Crowns of great
Monarchs. And therefore we see, with what judicious Care _Virgil_ has
avoided this Error; how clear are his celebrated Writings from the
least sprinkling of Wit and pleasant Conceits, which corrupt the
Purity, debase the Majesty, and sully the Lustre of the greater
Species of Poetry? And as the Gravity and Chastness of the sublime
Stile, in the Works last mention'd, will not endure the gay Ornaments
of Fancy; so does that light Dress more misbecome the pious and wise
Discourses, that come either from the Pulpit or the Press. Wit is so
far from being a Grace or Improvement of Divine Eloquence, that on the
contrary, it destroys its Dignity, breaks its Force, and renders it
base and puerile.

The End and Usefulness of this ingenious Qualification, is to delight
and instruct. It animates and sweetens Conversation, by raising
innocent Mirth and good Humour; and by this Effect it relieves
Domestick Cares, revives Men of Business and studious Professions, and
softens the Asperity of morose Dispositions. It suspends uneasy
and anxious Thoughts, dispels cloudy and fallen Melancholy, and by
unbending and exhilerating the Minds of the Assembly, gives them new
Life and Spirit to resume the Labour of their respective Employments.
The Exercise of Wit and a pleasant Genius, excels all other
Recreations. What is the Satisfaction that arises from Country Sports,
or the politer Diversions of Balls and Operas, compar'd with the
delightful Conversation of Men of Parts and facetious Talents? Other
Amusements, how agreeable soever, only please the Body and gratify the
Senses, but this strikes the Imagination, touches the Passions, and
recreates the Intellectual Faculties. And as the Taste of the Soul is
more delicate and exquisite than that of the Body, so much superior
are the Pleasures of one to those of the other: It is no wonder then,
that the Assemblies of Friends are dull and heavy, that Feasts and
Wine are flat Entertainments, unless some ingenious Persons are
present to improve their Taste, and enliven the Company by agreeable

Another part of the Province in which Wit is properly exercis'd, are
ingenious Writings, intended to please and improve the People; and
this is more various and extensive than Comick Poetry, tho of the same
Kind; for it takes in not only the Subjects of Prudence and Decency,
regular Behaviour and vertuous Actions, but likewise the justness of
Human Sentiments and Opinions in Points of Controversy; of the
last, the Dialogue of Dr. _Eachard_ against Mr. _Hobbes_ is a famous
Example, where, by great Strength and Solidity of Reason, mixt with
agreeable Wit and Raillery, he entertains and informs the Reader, and
at once exposes and confutes the conceited Philosopher. An Instance of
the first is, the celebrated History of _Don Quixote_, compil'd by
the _Spanish_ Wit _Michael de Cervantes_; a Book so well imagin'd,
and writ with so much Spirit and fine Raillery, that it effectually
procur'd the End of the admirable Author; for by turning into Mirth
and Ridicule the reigning Folly of Romantick Chivalry, and freeing the
Minds of the People from that fashionable Delusion, he broke the Force
of as strong an Enchantment, and destroy'd as great a Monster as was
ever pretended to be vanquish'd by their imaginary Heroes. And many
more Books on other moral Subjects have been compos'd with much Wit
and Vivacity in our own and foreign Countries, to expose Vice
and Folly, and promote Decency and Sobriety of Manners. But the
Productions of this Nature, which have of late appear'd in this
Nation, whether we regard the just and generous Sentiments, the
fertile Invention, the Variety of Subjects, the surprizing Turns of
Wit and facetious Imagination, the genteel Satire, the Purity and
Propriety of the Words, and the Beauty and Dignity of the Diction,
have surpass'd all the Productions of this kind, that have been
publish'd in any Age or Country. The Reader no doubt is before-hand
with me, and concludes, that I mean the _Tatler_ and _Spectator_,
which for the greatest Part, have all the Perfection of Writing, and
all the Advantages of Wit and Humour, that are requir'd to entertain
and instruct the People: And it must chiefly be owing to the great
Depravity of Manners in these loose and degenerate Times, that such
worthy Performances have produc'd no better Effects.

But this excellent and amiable Qualification of the Mind is too apt to
be abus'd and perverted to ill purposes. Instead of being ingag'd on
the Side of Vertue, and us'd to promote just Notions and Regularity of
Life, it is frequently employ'd to expose the most Sacred Things,
to turn Gravity and reserv'd Behaviour into Ridicule, to keep in
Countenance Vice and Irreligion, and with a petulant and unrestrain'd
Liberty, to deride the Principles and Practices of the wisest and best
of Men. The Conversation of ingenious Libertines generally turns upon
Reveal'd Religion and the venerable Teachers of it; or on those of
the Laity, who seem most sincere in the Belief of Christianity, and
express the greatest Conformity in their Actions to the Precepts of
it. Nothing gives so high a Seasoning to their Raillery, and more
improves the Taste of their Jests, than some sharp and pointed
Ingredients, that wound Religion and the Professors of it; whereof
some are made the Entertainment of the Company by these facetious
Scoffers, and expos'd as Persons fetter'd with Prepossessions, and
biass'd by Notions of Vertue, deriv'd from Education and the early
Instructions of canting Parents. Others are represented as indebted
for their Piety to the Prevalency of the Spleen, and an immoderate
mixture of Melancholy in their Complexion, which, say they, give
to the Mind a superstitious Turn, and fill the Head with religious
Chimeras, frightful Phantomes of Guilt, and idle Fears of imaginary
Punishments; while others are ridicul'd as Men of a cold and
phlegmatick Complexion, without Spirit and native Fire; who derive,
say they, their Vertue, not from Choice or Restraint of Appetite, but
from their deadness and indisposition to Pleasure; not from the Power
of their Reason, but the Weakness of their Passions. It would be
endless to enumerate the various Ways which the atheistical Wit and
merry Libertine employ, to take off all Veneration of Religion,
and expose its Adherents to publick Derision. This is certainly the
greatest Abuse of Wit imaginable. In all the Errors and monstrous
Productions of Nature, can any appear more deform'd than a Man of
Parts, who employs his admirable Qualities in bringing Piety into
Contempt, putting Vertue to the Blush, and making Sobriety of Manners
the common Subject of his Mirth; while with Zeal and Industry, he
propagates the malignant Contagion of Vice and Irreligion, poisons
his Friends and Admirers, and promotes the Destruction of his native
Country? And if these foolish Wits and ingenious Madmen could reflect,
they would soon be convinc'd, that while they are engag'd against
Religion they hurt themselves; and that Wit and Humour thus
misapply'd, will prove but a wretched Compensation for their want of

In this Place I crave leave to transcribe some Passages relating to
this Subject, from the Writings of a good Judge of Wit, and as great
a Master of it as perhaps any Nation ever bred, I mean Archbishop
_Tillotson_; "I know not how it comes to pass, _says he_, that some
Men have the Fortune to be esteem'd Wits, only for jesting out of the
common Road, and for making bold to scoff at those things, which the
greatest Part of Mankind reverence--. If Men did truly consult the
Interest, either of their Safety or Reputation, they would never
exercise their Wit in such dangerous Matters. Wit is a very
commendable Quality, but then a wise Man should have the keeping of
it. It is a sharp Weapon, as apt for Mischief as for good Purposes,
if it be not well manag'd: The proper use of it is to season
Conversation, to represent what is Praise-worthy to the greatest
Advantage, and to expose the Vices and Follies of Men, such things as
are in themselves truly ridiculous: But if it be apply'd to the
Abuse of the gravest and most serious Matters, it then loses its
Commendation. If any Man thinks he abounds in this Quality, and
hath Wit to spare, there is scope enough for it within the Bounds of
Religion and Decency; and when it transgresseth these, it degenerates
into Insolence and Impiety--And afterwards: A sharp Wit may find
something in the wisest Man, whereby to expose him to the Contempt
of injudicious People. The gravest Book that ever was written, may be
made ridiculous, by applying the Sayings of it to a foolish purpose,
for a Jest may be obtruded upon any thing; and therefore no Man ought
to have the less Reverence for the Principles of Religion, or for the
Holy Scriptures, because idle and profane Wits can break Jests
upon them. Nothing is so easy, as to take particular Phrases and
Expressions out of the best Book in the World, and to abuse them, by
forcing an odd and ridiculous Sense upon them." And in another place,
having mention'd the most proper Objects of Wit, he thus expresses
himself,--"This I say on purpose to recommend to Men a nobler Exercise
for their Wits, and if it be possible, to put them out of Conceit with
that scoffing Humour, which is so easy and so ill-natur'd, and is not
only an Enemy to Religion, but to every thing else that is wise and
worthy; and I am very much mistaken, if the State as well as the
Church, the Civil Government as well as Religion, do not in a short
space find the intolerable Inconvenience of this Humour."

Tho the Persons addicted to this impious Folly, expose the sacred
Mysteries of Christianity, and make its Votaries the common Topick of
their Raillery, it cannot thence be concluded, that they are certain
that those whom they thus deride, as whimsical, stupid, and deluded
Men, have not the least Reason to support their Religious Principles
and Practice; for if they were sure of this, they would treat such
unhappy Persons as Men rob'd of their Senses, with Tenderness and
Compassion; for none will allow such distemper'd Minds to be proper
Subjects of Ridicule and Derision: But those, who attentively observe
the Manner and Air of these jesting Libertines, when they laugh at
Vertue, will see plainly their licentious Mirth springs from other
Principles; either from this, That the Example of many Persons, who
in earnest embrace and profess the Articles of Religion, continually
disturbs their Opinion of themselves, and creates severe Misgivings
and Distrust in their Minds, lest their Notions about Religion should
not be true, when they observe, that many Persons of eminent Parts,
superior Reason and Erudition, maintain with Zeal quite contrary
Sentiments; or else it proceeds from their Hatred of Men of Vertue,
founded in the Dissimilitude of Dispositions and Manners, and
Disagreement in Interest, Employments and Designs; or from an Envy of
their great Merit, innocent Life, and worthy Actions, which from the
prevailing Power of their own vicious Inclinations, they are unable
to imitate; for after all their Raillery and Expressions of Contempt,
Vertue has that native Lustre and amiable Appearance, that will compel
Men secretly to esteem it, even while they deride the Possessors of
it. Such is the Pride and Vanity of degenerate Nature, that loose Men
will always endeavour to level the eminent Characters of religious and
sober Persons, and reduce them to the inferior Degree of their own:
And for that end, they will labour to sink the Opinion and Esteem of
any Excellence or Merit, to which themselves can make no Pretence.
While they cannot equal the bright Example of Vertue in others, they
strive to sully or efface it, and by turning it into Ridicule, make
it seem rather the Dishonour and Deformity, than the Beauty and
Perfection of the Mind: And if they can disgrace Religion, and subvert
all moral Distinction, Men will be valu'd only for their intellectual
Endowments, and then they imagine they have gain'd their Point, since
the Superiority of Wit, as they suppose, is on their Side. These
seem to me the genuine and natural Causes, why Men of great Parts
and extraordinary Wit, but of loose Principles and immoral Lives, who
above all others affect Popularity and gasp after Applause, take so
much Pleasure, without the least regard to Modesty and Decency, in a
Christian Country to mock Religion and jerk with spiteful Satire Men
of Vertue and inoffensive Behaviour.

WIT is likewise misapply'd, when exercis'd to ridicule any unavoidable
Defects and Deformities of Body or Mind; for since nothing is a moral
Blemish, but as it is the Effect of our own Choice, nothing can be
disgraceful but what is voluntary, and brought freely upon our selves;
and since nothing is the proper Object of Raillery and Ridicule, but
what is shameful, it must be a Violence to Reason and Humanity, to
reproach and expose another for any thing that was not in his Power to
escape. And therefore to make a Man contemptible, and the Jest of
the Company, by deriding him for his mishapen Body, ill figur'd Face,
stammering Speech, or low Degree of Understanding, is a great Abuse of
ingenious Faculties.

Nor is it a less criminal Use of this Talent, when it is exercis'd
in lascivious and obscene Discourses. The Venom is not less, but more
infectious and destructive, when convey'd by artful Insinuation and a
delicate Turn of Wit; when impure Sentiments are express'd by Men of a
heavy and gross Imagination, in direct and open Terms, the Company
are put out of Countenance, and nauseate the Coarseness of the
Conversation: but a Man of Wit gilds the Poison, dresses his wanton
Thoughts in a beautiful Habit, and by slanting and side Approaches,
possesses the Imagination of the Hearers, before his Design is well
discover'd; by which means he more effectually gains Admission to the
Mind, and fills the Fancy with immodest Ideas.

Nothing can be more ill-manner'd, or disagreeable to Persons of Vertue
and Sobriety of Manners, than wanton and obscene Expressions; on
which Subject the excellent Archbishop _Tillotson_ has the following
Paragraph: "Nothing that trespasses upon the Modesty of the Company,
and the Decency of Conversation, can become the Mouth of a wise and
vertuous Person. This kind of Conversation would fain pass for Wit
among some sort of Persons, to whom it is acceptable; but whatever
savours of Rudeness and Immodesty, and Ill-Manners, is very far from
deserving that Name; and they that are sober and vertuous cannot
entertain any Discourse of this kind, with Approbation and Acceptance.
A well bred Person will never offend in this way. And therefore it
cannot but be esteem'd as an Affront to modest Company, and a rude
presuming upon their Approbation, impudently taking it for granted,
that all others are as lewd and dissolute as themselves."

Men of finer Spirits do likewise abuse their Parts, as well as
misapply their Time, when to gain Applause and increase their
Popularity, they run, without Distinction, into Company, and by
too great Condescention and false Humanity, mingle in inferior and
unworthy Assemblies; where delighted with the silly Approbation of
ignorant Laughers, they shine forth in a great Effusion of Wit and
Humour; by which they make themselves cheap, if not contemptible in
the Opinion of wise and discerning Persons. Men of singular Wit, like
Women of great Beauty, should never be unguarded; for if not endow'd
with a decent Reservedness, a modest Air, and a discreet Behaviour,
they sink in their Value, and by appearing in all Places, and becoming
common and familiar, lose, in a great measure, their Honour, and the
Opinion of their Merit. It is a meretricious Prostitution of Wit, when
the Possessors of it can deny no Addresses, and refuse no Invitations
and Appointments, but suffer themselves to be shown at every
Entertainment; Besides the gratifying of their Vanity, by a constant
pursuit of Approbation and Praise, which is the Spring whence this
Prodigality of Parts and waste of facetious Humour chiefly arise; it
is evident, they spend a great deal of Time, of which a wise Man can
give no Account, while Wit, which should in its proper place, renew
and revive the Spirits for useful Employment, becomes a continu'd
Diversion, and makes everlasting Idleness the Business of Life.

It is pity that a Man of fine Spirit and a fertile, as well
as delicate Imagination, should think himself engag'd in high
Conversation, when he is only employ'd in the lowest Affairs that
concern Mankind. His Post is of the same Kind, and but the next
in Order above that of Players on Instruments, admirable Voices,
excellent Actors on the Stage, and famous Dancers; whose Province is
only to amuse and recreate; and is therefore far below theirs, who
are either busied in governing the State, defending their Country,
improving the Minds, or relieving the Bodies of other Men.

Hence the Labours of the meanest Persons, that conduce to the Welfare
and Benefit of the Publick, are more valuable, because more useful,
than the Employments of those, who apply themselves only, or
principally, to divert and entertain the Fancy; and therefore must be
as much preferable to the Occupation or Profession of a Wit, as the
Improvement and Happiness of Men is to be regarded above their Mirth
and Recreation. I allow, that the Talents of these ingenious Men
are very much to be esteem'd in their proper place; that is, as they
unbend the Mind, relieve the Satiety of Contemplation and Labour, and
by the Delight which they give, refresh the Spirits and fit them for
the Returns of Study and Employment: But then it must be granted,
that, as I have said, this is the meanest, as being the least
beneficial Province in which our intellectual Faculties can be
engag'd; and therefore these facetious Men can only claim the highest
Rank among those, who are Inventors or Ministers of Pleasure, and
provide Amusements and Recreations for the Busy and the Wise.

I would illustrate what I have asserted by the following Reflection.
Domestick Fowls, the Hen, the Turkey, and Goose are preferable, as
more useful, to the singing Bird, and the Parrot. The Ox, that ploughs
the Field and brings home the Harvest, the Horse, the Mule, and
even the stupid Ass, that carry their Owners, or their Goods and
Merchandize, are more to be regarded than the Hound, the Lap-Dog,
and various other Animals that seem to have been created only for
our Pleasure and Amusement: And the Reason of this is very evident,
Mankind may be very happy, and States and Kingdoms may remain in a
flourishing Condition, tho there were no such diverting Creatures
in the World: And from the same Consideration, Men, tho of a lower
Station, who are not only beneficial, but necessary to the Well-being
of Human Societies, are of far greater Importance, and therefore
deserve more Esteem than those, who only are subservient to our
Recreation; for the World may still subsist, and continue in very
comfortable Circumstances without one, but not without the other: And
'tis easy to name some learned and powerful Communities, the Envy and
Terror of their Neighbours, who tho they abound in Men of good Sense
and diligent Application to Business, yet have few Wits and Jesters
among them to make them merry.

The Truth of what I have asserted will farther appear, if we reflect
that generally Men of a plain Understanding and good Sense, but of
great Industry and Capacity for Business, are in all Governments
advanc'd to Posts of Trust and great Employments in the State, while
meer Wits are regarded as Men of the lowest Merit, and accordingly are
promoted to the meaner and less profitable Places, being look'd on,
by reason of their Inapplication and volatile Temper, as unfit for a
higher Station.

Another pernicious Abuse of Wit is that which appears in the Writings
of some ingenious Men, who are so hardy as to expose from the Press
the most venerable Subjects, and treat Vertue and Sobriety of Manners
with Raillery and Ridicule. Several, in their Books, have many
sarcastical and spiteful Strokes at Religion in general, while others
make themselves pleasant with the Principles of the Christian. Of
the last kind this Age has seen a most audacious Example in the Book
intitul'd, _A Tale of a Tub_. Had this Writing been publish'd in a
Pagan or Popish Nation, who are justly impatient of all Indignity
offer'd to the Establish'd Religion of their Country, no doubt but the
Author would have receiv'd the Punishment he deserv'd. But the Fate of
this impious Buffoon is very different; for in a Protestant Kingdom,
zealous of their Civil and Religious Immunities, he has not only
escap'd Affronts and the Effects of publick Resentment, but has
been caress'd and patroniz'd by Persons of great Figure and of all
Denominations. Violent Party-Men, who differ'd in all Things besides,
agreed, in their Turn, to shew particular Respect and Friendship to
this insolent Derider of the Worship of his Country, till at last the
reputed Writer is not only gone off with Impunity, but triumphs in his
Dignity and Preferment. I do not know, that any Inquiry or Search was
ever made after this Writing, or that any Reward was ever offer'd
for the Discovery of the Author, or that the infamous Book was ever
condemn'd to be burnt in Publick: Whether this proceeds from the
excessive Esteem and Love that Men in Power, during the late Reign,
had for Wit, or their defeat of Zeal and Concern for the Christian
Religion, will be determin'd best by those, who are best acquainted
with their Character.

But the most extensive Abuse of Parts and Ingenuity, appears in the
loose Productions of our Writers to the Stage. It was the Complaint
of the celebrated Wit of _Spain, Michael de Cervantes_, before-cited,
that the Comedies in his Time were not only extravagant and monstrous
in their Contrivance, but likewise the Exemplars of Vice and
Representations of Lewdness: But had the Plays in _Spain_, at that
Time, been as Immoral and Unchaste as the daily Entertainments of the
_British_ Theatre, which have a manifest Tendency to vitiate the Taste
of the People, fill their Imaginations with obscene Ideas, and their
Lives with Levity, Idleness and Luxury; I say, if that great Man,
whose Judgment was equal to his admirable Genius, had seen Religion
and Vertue so derided, and Modesty, Reservedness, and Decency so
insulted and expos'd, his Zeal for the Honour of his Country, and his
Love of Mankind, would have animated him to have attack'd the Comick
Poets with the same Spirit, with which he assaulted the prevailing
Folly of his Age, the Romantick Atchievements of Knights Errant; his
Wit and good Sense would have made those merry Authors as odious for
poisoning the People with their loose and immoral Writings, as he made
the others ridiculous for their extravagant and idle Tales.

No doubt a Comedy may be so contriv'd, that it may at once become
delightful, and promote Prudence and Sobriety of Manners; that is,
when the Characters are well chosen, justly delineated, and every
where distinguish'd; When the various Manners are exactly imitated and
carry'd on with Propriety and Uniformity; when the principal Action
contains an instructive Moral, and all the Parts in a regular
Connexion, Dependance and Proportion, illustrate and support each
other, and have a manifest Influence on the main Event; When the
Incidents are well imagin'd, and result from the Manners of the
Dramatick Persons, when the Turns are surprizing, the Knots or
Obstructions natural and unconstrain'd, and the unraveling of them,
tho unforeseen, yet free and easy; and when the Diction is pure,
proper and elegant, as well as chaste and inoffensive to the modest
and vertuous Hearers. So regular and beautiful a Piece as this cannot
but greatly please and divert, as well as instruct the Audience. Nor
is it, I imagine, from want of Knowledge of the Rules of Writing,
nor of sufficient Genius, in which this Nation abounds, that so few
Comedies, distinguish'd by these Perfections, have been produc'd: But
this Defect arises partly from this, that the Comick Poets are often
Men of loose Manners, and therefore unlikely Persons to undertake the
Promotion and Encouragement of Vertue, of which they have no Taste,
and to discountenance Imprudence and Immorality, when by doing so,
they must expose their own Character to derision; tho sometimes it may
happen, that a loose Poet as well as Preacher, merely from his just
Manner of Thinking, and his Sense of Decency in forming Discourses
becoming his Character, may entertain the Audience with laudable

Another, and the chief Cause of the Immorality of the Theatre, is
the ill Taste of the People, who, notwithstanding they have applauded
several clean and regular Ttagedies, such as those which have of late,
appear'd that are worthy of the greatest Commendation, especially
_Cato_ and the Plays for the most part of Mr. _Row_, as great a Genius
for Tragedy as any Nation in any Age has produc'd, yet still frequent
and encoutage the loosest Comedies. It happens, that the greatest part
of Men of Wit and Humour, who not being easy in their Fortunes,
work for the Stage, and are Day-Labourers to the Muses, lie under
a Necessity of bringing those Productions to Market, which are in
Fashion, and therefore vendible; while others, tho of ever so much
greater Value, would be turn'd back upon their Hands; nor would the
Actors, who live by their Employment, as the Comick Writers do by
theirs, undertake to represent an Innocent, and much less a Comedy of
yet higher Merit.

Tho several Assaults have been made upon the Comick Poets in Fashion,
and many Batteries have been rais'd against the Theatre, yet hitherto
they have prov'd unsuccessful; the Stage is become Impregnable, where
loose Poets, supported by Numbers, Power, and Interest, in Defiance
of all Rules of Decency and Vertue, still provide new Snares
and Temptations to seduce the People, and corrupt their Manners.
Notwithstanding the earnest Cries of this great City, that importune
these Writers to reform the Theatre, and no longer to infest her
Youth, and draw their Inclinations from their Professions and
Employments; notwithstanding the Sighs and Tears of many once
flourishing, but now disconsolate Families, ruin'd by the dissolute
Lives of their chief Branches, who lost their Vertue by frequenting
the fatal Entertainments of the Theatre; notwithstanding the wise and
sober part of the Kingdom earnestly sollicit them to spare the
People, to stop the spreading Plague and slay the destroying Pen, they
persevere with intrepid Resolution and inexorable Cruelty, to poison
the Minds, and ruin the Morals of the Nation.

The great Archbishop _Tillotson_ has set our present Theatre in a true
Light in his Discourse upon _Corrupt Communication_:

"I shall only speak a few words concerning Plays, which as they are
now order'd among us, are a mighty Reproach to the Age and Nation.

"To speak against them in general, may be thought too severe, and that
which the present Age cannot so well brook, and would not perhaps be
so just and reasonable; because it is very possible they might be
so fram'd and govern'd by such Rules, as not only to be innocently
diverting, but instructing and useful, to put some Vices and Follies
out of Countenance, which cannot perhaps be so decently reprov'd, nor
so effectually expos'd and corrected any other way. But as the Stage
now is, they are intollerable, and not fit to be permitted in a
civiliz'd, much less a Christian Nation. They do most notoriously
minister both to Infidelity and Vice. By the Profaneness of them, they
are apt to instil bad Principles into the Minds of Men, and to
lessen that awe and reverence which all Men ought to have for God and
Religion: and by their Lewdness they teach Vice, and are apt to infect
the Minds of Men, and dispose them to lewd and dissolute Practices.

"And therefore I do not see how any Persons pretending to Sobriety and
Vertue, and especially to the pure and holy Religion of our Blessed
Saviour, can, without great Guilt, and open Contradiction to his holy
Profession, be present at such lewd and immodest Plays, much less
frequent them, as too many do, who yet would take it very ill to be
shut out of the Communion of Christians, as they would most certainly
have been in the first and purest Ages of Christianity."

And not only wise and sober Men have declar'd their detestation of
the Immorality of the Stage, but eminent Poets themselves, who have
written the most applauded Comedies, have own'd, that the Theatre
stands in great need of Restraints and Regulation, and wish'd that
Plays were compil'd in such an inoffensive Manner, that not only
discreet and vertuous Persons of the Laity, but a Bishop himself,
without being shock'd, might be present while they were acted. Mr.
_Dryden_ has, up and down in his Prefatory Discourses and Dedications,
freely aeknowledg'd the Looseness of our Dramatick Entertainments,
which sometimes he charges upon the Countenance given to it by the
dissolute Court of King _Charles_ the Second, and sometimes upon the
vitiated Taste of the People. In his Dedication of _Juvenal_, made
_English_, to the late famous Earl of _Dorset_, he thus bespeaks him;
"As a Counsellor bred up in the Knowledge of the Municipal and
Statute Laws may honestly inform a just Prince how far his Prerogative
extends, so I may be allow'd to tell your Lordship, who by an
indisputed Title are the King of Poets, what an Extent of Power you
have, and how lawfully you may exercise it over the petulant Scriblers
of the Age. As Lord Chamberlain, you are absolute by your Office, in
all that belongs to the Decency and good Manners of the Stage; You can
banish thence Scurrility and Profaneness, and restrain the licentious
Insolence of the Poets and their Actors, in all things that shock the
publick Quiet or the Reputation of private Persons, under the Notion
of _Humour_." Hence it evidently appears, that Mr _Dryden_ look'd on
the Decency of the Stage to be violated in his Time, by licentious and
insolent Poets; and I wish I could say, that there is less Reason
of Complaint in ours; In a Copy of Verses, publish'd in one of the
Volumes of the Miscellany Poems, the same celebrated Author inveighs
against the Lewdness and Pollutions of the Stage in the strongest
Expressions that can be conceiv'd; and in his latter days, when
his Judgment was more Mature, he condemns all his loose and profane
Writings to the Flames, which, he says, they justly deserve: Which
is not only a free and ingenious Confession of his Fault, but a
considerable Mark of Repentance, and worthy to be imitated by his
Successors, who have broken in upon the Rules of Vertue and Modesty in
the like manner.

Tho all Men of Vertue, who wish well to Mankind, and are zealous for
the Happiness of their Country, cannot but observe the mischievous
Effects of these licentious Dramatick Compositions, yet they will find
it very difficult to suggest an effectual Remedy for the Cure of so
obstinate an Evil. The ingenious _Spaniard_ mention'd before, for
stopping the Progress of this contagious Lewdness in his Country,
propos'd to the Government, that an Officer or Inspector might be
establish'd, with Authority to peruse and correct the Poet's Writings,
and that no Comedies should be presented to the Publick without his
Licence and Approbation.

But if this would have been sufficient to have prevented or remov'd
this hurtful Practice, the _British_ Nation would long since have had
no reason to complain on this Subject. We have Officers intrusted
with this useful and important Power, and are able, if they please, to
hinder the spreading of the Infection, by not permitting such noxious
Productions to appear in Publick: But whether those Inspectors have
had a true Taste and Judgment themselves, or have diligently apply'd
themselves to the Reading and Amending the Comedies put into
their Hands for their Approbation, or whether they comply with the
Importunity of the Actors, who tell them, that such is the Disposition
of the Audience, that no Plays of that kind will appear beautiful, if
they are strip'd of those Embellishments and Ornaments of Wit, which
some morose and unfashionable People stile impure and obscene, and
that to leave out those ingenious Strokes and Heightnings of Fancy,
and put into the Mouths of the Actors only good Sense and modest and
clean Expressions, is to clear and refine our Comedies from the most
entertaining and delightful Parts: Perhaps they assure them, that the
Audience will endure no Reformation of the Stage, and that it were
altogether as adviseable to shut up the Doors of the Play-House, as to
attempt a Regulation of the Pleasures and Diversions of it.

But tho Men who love their Country, born down with a Torrent of
profane Libertines, Persons without Taste and Distinction of Vertue
and Vice, have almost despair'd of seeing the Comick Poets reform'd,
and the exorbitant Liberties of the Stage restrain'd within the Limits
of modest Language and decent Behaviour; yet now their Hopes revive,
and they promise to themselves a sudden and effectual Reformation of
these Abuses, since the Government has plac'd so worthy a Person at
the Head of the Actors, and given him ample Authority to rectify their
Errors: What a happy Revolution, what a regular and clean Stage may
justly be now expected? How free from all sordid and impure Mixtures,
how innocent, as well as diverting, will our Comedies appear, when
they have been corrected and refin'd by such an accomplish'd Director
of the Dramatick Poets? One that has a true and delicate Taste, and
who is sensible of the Indecencies and hurtful Nature of our Plays;
who has engag'd his celebrated Pen, in defiance of sneering Wits and
powerful Libertines, on the Side of Vertue, and has propagated the
Esteem of Morals, Humanity, Decorum and Sobriety of Manners; who
with great Spirit, Genius, and Courage, to his lasting Honour, has
publickly expos'd the Absurdities, Vices, and Follies, that stain
and disgrace the Theatre; in which Censure he has not spar'd his own
Performances: One who has express'd a warm Zeal on this Subject, and
declar'd his generous Intention, if it were in his Power, to cleanse
these polluted Places, and not to suffer a Comedy to be presented but
what had past a severe Examination, and where all things which might
shock a modest Ear, or be look'd on as repugnant to good Manners,
might be expung'd.

But if these fair Expectations should be blasted in the Bloom, and
notwithstanding the vigorous Efforts which will be made by this
Reformer, Immorality shall maintain its ground and keep Possession
of the Theatre, some other Expedients may be suggested to procure
a Regulation. It might, perhaps be desirable, that a few Persons
of Importance, Men of Learning, Gravity, and good Taste, might be
commission'd by Authority, as a Check upon the Actors, to censure
and suppress any Dramatick Entertainments that shall offend against
Religion, Sobriety of Manners, or the Publick Peace; and all Persons
should be encourag'd to send them such loose or profane Passages which
they hear from the Stage, or read in the printed Plays: Nor will it
be less expedient, that they should be instructed to peruse the Plays
already publish'd, and which are now publickly acted, and to expunge
all offensive and criminal Mixtures, that hereafter they may become
a clean and innocent Diversion. Besides, this End would the more
effectually be accomplish'd, if the Writers of Comedy, Farce, and
Interludes, were rewarded and supported by Means independent on the
Actors: For while the Poets, who write for a Maintenance, are paid by
the Theatre, they will be under a great Temptation to write as desir'd
and directed by the Actors, which was the Complaint of _Cervantes_
above-cited, concerning the Comick Poets of _Spain_. The Actors, we
may safely conclude, are not restrain'd by such rigorous Precepts
of Vertue, but that they will always be inclin'd to present those
Performances which will best fill the House and promote their
Interest; and therefore they will readily humour the vitiated Taste of
the Audience, by acting the most immoral Plays, while they find their
account in doing so: And that which confirms this Observation is, that
they never, as far as I have heard, rejected any Comedy merely for
its Looseness, tho I believe they have refus'd many for want of
that entertaining Quality. Now were the Comick Writers provided of a
Subsistence some other way, they would be deliver'd from the Necessity
of complying with their Actors, by writing such Plays as they
shall bespeak, or at least approve, as the most likely to invite a
profitable Audience.

It would prove an effectual Remedy for this Evil, if the Ladies would
discountenance these loose Comedies, by expressing their dislike, and
refusing to be present when they are acted: And this no doubt they
would do, were they inform'd, that the Comedies which they encourage
by their Appearance at the Theatre, are full of wanton Sentiments,
obscene Allusions, and immodest Ideas, contain'd in Expressions of
a double Meaning: for it cannot be imagin'd they would bear with
Unconcernedness, much less with Pleasure, Discourses in Publick, which
they detest as unsufferable in private Convention, if they knew them
to be unchast. And should the Ladies assert their Esteem of Vertue,
and declare openly on the Side of Modesty, the most attractive Beauty
of the fair Sex, as certainly they would do, if they understood how
much those amiable Qualities have been expos'd and affronted by our
most eminent Comick Poets; this would lay the Ax to the Root, and at
one Blow destroy this pernicious Practice; for after this, what Writer
would transgress the Rules of Decency and Purity of Expression, when
he knows, that by his immodest Mixtures he shall fright the Ladies
from the House?

It would be another effectual Means to redress the Grievance of the
Stage, if the Clergy could be prevail'd upon to condemn from
the Pulpit and the Press, as well as in their Conversation, the
unjustifiable Entertainments of the Theatre; would they insist upon
it, and urge it as a necessary Duty of the People to avoid these
Occasions, and at least Appearances of Evil; would they shew them,
that by frequenting these unwarrantable Diversions, they rush into
Snares, court Temptation, and invite others to follow their criminal
Example; would they set before them the Hazard of playing on the nice
and dubious Limits of Innocence, and adventuring to the utmost Extent
of Vertue and the Frontier of Vice, there would be great hopes of
stemming this strong Tide of Iniquity. And this is no more than the
indispensable Obligation, which our Divines are under, whose proper
Province it is to warn the People of their Danger, and to press
them earnestly to fly from it. This venerable Order have, by solemn
Engagements, set themselves apart, as spiritual Guides, to point out
the fatal Rocks and treacherous Sands to their Neighbours, that they
may not make Shipwreck of Modesty and Innocence, and plunge into the
Depths of Irreligion and Vice: Nor is it obvious, why these Reverend
Teachers, by their Silence and Neutrality, should give Profaneness and
Immorality such fair Play, as if the Controversy between the Stage
and the Pulpit were compremis'd, and the Poets and the Priests
were engag'd, as indeed they ought to be, in the same good Designs,
Interests, and Pursuits. It is certain, that this Mildness, and
friendly Behaviour of the Clergy to the Comick Writers, cannot arise
from any Respect or handsome Usage which that sacred Order has met
with on the Theatre, where they have been so often jerk'd and expos'd
in such a manner, that their Divine Function has been wounded through
their Sides.

The Clergy lie under such manifest Obligations to attack publick
Immorality, wherever it is found, and by whatsoever Patrons of Power,
Dignity, and Interest it is shelter'd and supported, thar, as I
have suggested, it is not easy to imagine whence their Lenity and
Tenderness for the Theatre can proceed. But if the true Reason of
it, whatever it is, and which is so hard to be accounted for, were
remov'd, and our Divines would interest themselves with Zeal in the
Cause of Vertue, in respect to our Dramatick Entertainments, as they
espouse and defend it in all other Instances, I cannot believe that
the Stage, without a Regulation, would be able to stand, when batter'd
with Vigor from the Pulpit. The Poets and Players would soon find
themselves oblig'd to restrain their licentious Conduct, reform
the Theatre, and present to the Town, if not instructive, at least
inoffensive and unshocking Diversions. And it is very desirable, that
this Expedient were set on foot, that the Honour of the _English_
Theatre may be retriev'd; that while we justly boast of our Priority
in Wit and Humour to our Neighbours, we may not be oblig'd to
acknowledge the great Inferiority of our Comedies, in respect of
Cleanness and moral Beauty: that we may not be reproach'd, that while
we profess a Reform'd and pure Religion, we encourage an immodest and
unreform'd Theatre, and that we are very defective in the Practice
of Vertue and Regularity of Manners, while these Abominations are
indulg'd, and these unhallow'd Groves and High Places of Immorality
are frequented without Disturbance.



No 45 Friday, May 25.

  _Nimium risus pretium esi si probitatis impendis constat_

Laughter is bought too dear, if it be at the expence of honesty.

I have lately read, with much pleasure, the Essays upon several
subjects published by Sir _Richard Blackmore_; and though I agree
with him in many of his excellent observations, I cannot but take
that reasonable freedom, which he himself makes use of, with regard
to other writers, to dissent from him in some few particulars. In his
reflexions upon works of wit and humour, he observes how unequal they
are to combate vice and folly; and seems to think, that the finest
rallery and satire, though directed by these generous views, never
reclaimed one vicious man, or made one fool depart from his folly.

This is a position very hard to be contradicted, because no Author
knows the number or names of his converts. As for the _Tatlers_ and
_Spectators_ in particular, which are obliged to this ingenious and
useful Author for the character he has given of them, they were so
generally dispersed in single sheets, and have since been printed
in so great numbers, that it is to be hoped they have made some
proselytes to the interests, if not to the practice of wisdom and
virtue, among such a multitude of readers.

I need not remind this learned Gentleman, that _Socrates_, who was the
greatest propagator of morality in the heathen world, and a martyr
for the Unity of the Godhead, was so famous for the exercise of this
talent among the politest people of antiquity, that he gained the name
of [Greek: ha Eibon] _the Drole_.

There are very good effects which visibly arose from the
above-mentioned performances and others of the like nature; as, in the
first place, they diverted rallery from improper objects, and gave a
new turn to ridicule, which for many years had been exerted on persons
and things of a sacred and serious nature. They endeavoured to make
mirth instructive, and, if they failed in this great end, they must
be allowed at least to have made it innocent. If wit and humour begin
again to relapse into their former licentiousness, they can never hope
for approbation from those who know that rallery is useless when it
has no moral under it, and pernicious when it attacks any thing that
is either unblameable or praise-worthy. To this we may add, what has
been commonly observed, that it is not difficult to be merry on the
side of vice, as serious objects act the most capable of ridicule; as
the party, which naturally favour such a mirth, is the most numerous;
and as there are the most standing jests and patterns for imitation in
this kind of writing.

In the next place: Such productions of wit and humour, as have a
tendency to expose vice and folly, furnish useful diversions to all
kinds of readers. The good or prudent man may, by these means, be
diverted without prejudice to his discretion, or morality. Rallery,
under such regulations, unbends the mind from serious studies and
severer contemplations, without throwing it off from its proper bias.
It carries on the same design that is promoted by Authors of a graver
turn, and only does it in another manner. It also awakens reflexion
in those who are the most indifferent in the cause of virtue or
knowledge, by setting before them the absurdity of such practices
as are generally unobserved, by reason of their being common or
fashionable: Nay, it sometimes catches the dissolute and abandoned
before they are aware of it: who are often betrayed to laugh at
themselves, and upon reflexion find, that they are merry at their own
expence. I might farther take notice, that by entertainments of this
kind, a man may be chearful in solitude, and not be forced to seek for
company every time he has a mind to be merry.

The last advantage I shall mention from compositions of this nature
when thus restrained, is, that they shew wisdom and virtue are far
from being inconsistent with politeness and good humour. They make
morality appear amiable to people of gay dispositions, and refute the
common objection against religion, which represents it as only fit
for gloomy and melancholy tempers. It was the motto of a Bishop very
eminent for his piety and good works in King _Charles_ the Second's
reign, _In servi Deo & laetare_, 'Serve God and be chearful.' Those
therefore who supply the world with such entertainments of mirth as
are instructive, or at least harmless, may be thought to deserve well
of mankind; to which I shall only add, that they retrieve the honour
of polite learning, and answer those sour Enthusiasts who affect
to stigmatize the finest and most elegant Authors, both ancient and
modern, (which they have never read) as dangerous to religion, and
destructive of all sound and saving knowledge.

Our nation are such lovers of mirth and humour, that it is impossible
for detached papers, which come out on stated days, either to have
a general run, or long continuance, if they are not diversified and
enlivened from time to time, with subjects and thoughts, accommodated
to this taste, which so prevails among our countrymen. No periodical
Author, who always maintains his gravity, and does not sometimes
sacrifice to the Graces, must expect to keep in vogue for any
considerable time. Political speculations in particular, however just
and important, are of so dry and austere a nature, that they will not
go down with the public without frequent seasonings of this kind. The
work may be well performed, but will never take, if it is not set off
with proper scenes and decorations. A mere Politician is but a dull
companion, and, if he is always wise, is in great danger of being
tiresom or ridiculous.

Besides, papers of entertainment are necessary to increase the
number of readers, especially among those of different notions and
principles; who by this means may be betrayed to give you a fair
hearing, and to know what you have to say for yourself. I might
likewise observe, that in all political writings there is something
that grates upon the mind of the most candid reader, in opinions which
are not conformable to his own way of thinking; and that the harshness
of reasoning is not a little softned and smoothed by the infusions of
mirth and pleasantry.

Political speculations do likewise furnish us with several objects
that may very innocently be ridiculed, and which are regarded as such
by men of sense in all parties; of this kind are the passions of our
States-women, and the reasonings of our Fox-hunters.

A Writer who makes fame the chief end of his endeavours, and would be
more desirous of pleasing than of improving his readers, might find
an inexhaustible fund of mirth in politics. Scandal and satire are
never-failing gratifications to the public. Detraction and obloquy
are received with as much eagerness as wit and humour. Should a writer
single out particular persons, or point his rallery at any order of
men, who by their profession ought to be exempt from it; should he
slander the innocent, or satirize the miserable; or should he, even
on the proper subjects of derision, give the full play to his mirth,
without regard to decency and good-manners; he might be sure of
pleasing a great part of his readers, but must be a very ill man, if
by such a proceeding he could please himself.


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