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reason why their fore-fathers used to sit together like an audience of foreigners in their own country, and to hear whole plays acted before them in a tongue which they did not understand.
Arsinoe was the first opera that gave us a taste of Italiau music. The great success this opera met with, produced some attempts of forming pieces upon Italian plans, which should give a more natural and reasonable entertainment than what can be met with in the elaborate trifles of that nation. This alarmed the poetasters and fiddlers of the town, who were used to deal in a more ordinary kind of ware; and therefore laid down an established rule, which is received as such to this day, 'That nothing is capable of being well set to music, that is not nonsense.'
This maxim was no sooner received, but we immediately fell to translating the Italian operas; and as there was no danger of hurting the sense of those extraordinary pieces, our authors would often make words of their own, which were entirely foreign to the meaning of the passages they pretended to translate; their chief care being to make the numbers of the English verse answer to those of the Italian, that both of them might go to the same tune.
Thus the famous song in Camilla,
Barbara si t'intendo,
which expresses the resentments of an angry lover, was translated into that English lamentation,
'Frail are a lover's hopes,' &c.
And it was pleasant enough to see the most refined persons of the British nation dying away and languishing to notes that
Arsinoë, Queen of Cyprus, an opera after the Italian manner, by Thomas Clayton. It was firs“ performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury-Lane: in 1707.-*
were filled with a spirit of rage and indignation. It happened also very frequently, where the sense was rightly translated, the necessary transposition of words which were drawn out of the phrase of one tongue into that of another, made the music appear very absurd in one tongue that was very natural in the other. 1 remember an Italian verse that ran thus, word for word
* And turn'd my rage into pity;'
whink the English for rhyme sake translated,
“And into pity turn'd my rage.'
By this means the soft notes that were adapted to pity in the Italian, tell upon the word rage in the English; and the angry sounds tExt were turned to rage in the original, were made to express pity in the translation. It oftentimes happened likewise, that the finest notes in the air fell upon the most insignificant words in the sentence. I have known the word and pursued through the whole gamut, have been entertained with many a melodious the, and have heard the most beautiful graces, quavers and divisions bestowed upon then, for, and from, to the eterna honour of our English particles.
The next step to our refinement, was the introduction of the Italian actors into our opera,
sung their parts in their own language, at the same time that our countrymen performed theirs in our native tongue. The king or hero of the play generally spoke in Italian, and his slaves answered him in English: the lover frequently made his court, and gained the heart of his princess, in a language which she did not understand. One would have thought it very difficult to have carried on dialogues after this manner, without an interpreter between the persons that conversed together; but this was the state of the English stage for about three years.
At length the audience grew tired of understanding half the opera; and therefore to ease themselves entirely of the fatigue of thinking, have so ordered it at present, that the whole opera is performed in an unknown tongue. We no longer understand the language of our own stage; insomuch, that I have often been afraid, when I have seen our Italian performers chattering in the vehemence of action, that they have been calling us names, and abusing us among themselves; but I hope, since we put such an entire confidence in them, they will not talk against us before our faces, though they may do it with the same safety as if it were behind our backs. In the mean time, I cannot forbear thinking how naturally an historian who writes two or three hundred years hence, and does not know the taste of his wise fore-fathers, will make the following reflection : 'In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Italian tongue was so well understood in England, that operas were acted on the publio stage in that language.'
One scarce knows how to be serious in the confutation of an absurdity that shews itself at the first sight. It does not want any great measure of sense to see the ridicule of this monstrous practice; but what makes it the more astonishing, it is not the taste of the rabble, but of persons of the greatest politeness, which has established it.
If the Italians have a genius for music above the English, the English have a genius for other performances of a much higher nature, and capable of giving the mind a much nobler entertainment. Would one think it was possible (at a time when an author lived that was able to write the Phædra and Hippolitus) · for a people to be so stupidly fond of the Italian opera, as scarce to give a third day's hearing to that admirable
* A tragedy by Edmund Smith, brought out unsu
successfully in 1707, but favourably received in print.-G.
tragedy ? Music is certainly a very agreeable entertainment, bu if it would take the entire possession of our ears, if it would make us incapable of hearing sense, if it would exclude arts that have a much greater tendency to the refinement of human nature; I must confess I would allow it no better quarter than Plato has done, who banishes it out of his commonwealth.'
At present, our notions of music are so very uncertain, that we do not know what it is we like; only in general we are transported with any thing that is not English : so it be of a foreign growth, let it be Italian, French, or High-dutch, it is the same thing. In short, our English musio is quite rooted out, and nothing yet planted in its stead.
When a royal palace is burned to the ground, every man is at liberty to present his plan for a new one; and though it be but indifferently put together, it may furnish several hints that may be of use to a good architect. I shall take the same liberty in a following paper, of giving my opinion upon the subject of music: which I shall lay down only in a problematical manner to be considered by those who are masters in the art.
No. 21. SATURDAY, MARCH 24.
Locus est et pluribus umbris.
Hor. Ep. 5, 1. 1. v. 28.
I am sometimes very much troubled, when I reflect upon the three great professions of divinity, law, and physic; how they
* In speaking of this passage, Johnson says, “ The authority of Addison is great; yet the voice of the people, when to please the people is the purpose, deserves regard. In this question, I cannot but thick the people in the right.' V. Johnson's Lives of the Poets. Smith, p. 22 – G
are each of them over-burdened with practitioners, and filed with multitudes of ingenious gentlemen that starve one another.
We may divide the clergy into generals, field-officers, and subalterns. Among the first we may reckon bishops, deans, and archdeacons. Among the second are doctors of divinity, prebendaries, and all that wear scarfs. The rest are comprehended under the subalterns. As for the first class, our constitution preserves it from any redundancy of incumbents, notwithstanding competitors are numberless. Upon a strict calculation, it is found that there has been a great exceeding of late years in the second division, several brevets having been granted for the converting of subalterns into scarf-officers; insomuch, that within iny memory the price of lustring is raised above two-pence in a yard. As for the subalterns, they are not to be numbered. Should our clergy once enter into the corrupt practice of the laity, by the splitting of their freeholds, they would be able to carry most of the elections in England.
The body of the law is no less encumbered with superfluous members, that are like Virgil's army, which he tells us was so crowded, many of them had not room to use their weapons. This prodigious society of men may be divided into the litigious and peaceable. Under the first are comprehended all those who are carried down in coach-fulls to Westminster Hall, every morning in term-time. Martial's description of this species of lawyers is full of humour :
Iras et verba locant.
• Men that hire out their words and anger; ' that are more or less passionate according as they are paid for it, and allow their client a quantity of wrath proportionable to the fee which they receive from him. I must, however, observe to he reader, that above three parts of those whom I reckon among the litigious