No. 141. Saturday, August 11, 1711. Steele.

... Migravit ab Aure voluptas
Omnis ...'

In the present Emptiness of the Town, I have several Applications from the lower Part of the Players, to admit Suffering to pass for Acting. They in very obliging Terms desire me to let a Fall on the Ground, a Stumble, or a good Slap on the Back, be reckoned a Jest. These Gambols I shall tolerate for a Season, because I hope the Evil cannot continue longer than till the People of Condition and Taste return to Town. The Method, some time ago, was to entertain that Part of the Audience, who have no Faculty above Eyesight, with Rope-dancers and Tumblers; which was a way discreet enough, because it prevented Confusion, and distinguished such as could show all the Postures which the Body is capable of, from those who were to represent all the Passions to which the Mind is subject. But tho' this was prudently settled, Corporeal and Intellectual Actors ought to be kept at a still wider Distance than to appear on the same Stage at all: For which Reason I must propose some Methods for the Improvement of the Bear-Garden, by dismissing all Bodily Actors to that Quarter.

In Cases of greater moment, where Men appear in Publick, the Consequence and Importance of the thing can bear them out. And tho' a Pleader or Preacher is Hoarse or Awkward, the Weight of the Matter commands Respect and Attention; but in Theatrical Speaking, if the Performer is not exactly proper and graceful, he is utterly ridiculous. In Cases where there is little else expected, but the Pleasure of the Ears and Eyes, the least Diminution of that Pleasure is the highest Offence. In Acting, barely to perform the Part is not commendable, but to be the least out is contemptible. To avoid these Difficulties and Delicacies, I am informed, that while I was out of Town, the Actors have flown in the Air, and played such Pranks, and run such Hazards, that none but the Servants of the Fire-office, Tilers and Masons, could have been able to perform the like. The Author of the following Letter, it seems, has been of the Audience at one of these Entertainments, and has accordingly complained to me upon it; but I think he has been to the utmost degree Severe against what is exceptionable in the Play he mentions, without dwelling so much as he might have done on the Author's most excellent Talent of Humour. The pleasant Pictures he has drawn of Life, should have been more kindly mentioned, at the same time that he banishes his Witches, who are too dull Devils to be attacked with so much Warmth.


'Upon a Report that Moll White had followed you to Town, and was to act a Part in the Lancashire-Witches, I went last Week to see that Play. [2] It was my Fortune to sit next to a Country Justice of the Peace, a Neighbour (as he said) of Sir ROGER'S, who pretended to shew her to us in one of the Dances. There was Witchcraft enough in the Entertainment almost to incline me to believe him; Ben Johnson was almost lamed; young Bullock narrowly saved his Neck; the Audience was astonished, and an old Acquaintance of mine, a Person of Worth, whom I would have bowed to in the Pit, at two Yards distance did not know me.

If you were what the Country People reported you, a white Witch, I could have wished you had been there to have exorcised that Rabble of Broomsticks, with which we were haunted for above three Hours. I could have allowed them to set Clod in the Tree, to have scared the Sportsmen, plagued the Justice, and employed honest Teague with his holy Water. This was the proper Use of them in Comedy, if the Author had stopped here; but I cannot conceive what Relation the Sacrifice of the Black Lamb, and the Ceremonies of their Worship to the Devil, have to the Business of Mirth and Humour.

The Gentleman who writ this Play, and has drawn some Characters in it very justly, appears to have been misled in his Witchcraft by an unwary following the inimitable Shakespear. The Incantations in Mackbeth have a Solemnity admirably adapted to the Occasion of that Tragedy, and fill the Mind with a suitable Horror; besides, that the Witches are a Part of the Story it self, as we find it very particularly related in Hector Boetius, from whom he seems to have taken it. This therefore is a proper Machine where the Business is dark, horrid, and bloody; but is extremely foreign from the Affair of Comedy. Subjects of this kind, which are in themselves disagreeable, can at no time become entertaining, but by passing through an Imagination like Shakespear's to form them; for which Reason Mr. Dryden would not allow even Beaumont and Fletcher capable of imitating him.

_But_ Shakespear's _Magick cou'd not copy'd be,
Within that Circle none durst walk but He_. [3]

I should not, however, have troubled you with these Remarks, if there were not something else in this Comedy, which wants to be exorcised more than the Witches. I mean the Freedom of some Passages, which I should have overlook'd, if I had not observed that those Jests can raise the loudest Mirth, though they are painful to right Sense, and an Outrage upon Modesty.

We must attribute such Liberties to the Taste of that Age, but indeed by such Representations a Poet sacrifices the best Part of his Audience to the worst; and, as one would think, neglects the Boxes, to write to the Orange-Wenches.

I must not conclude till I have taken notice of the Moral with which this Comedy ends. The two young Ladies having given a notable Example of outwitting those who had a Right in the Disposal of them, and marrying without Consent of Parents, one of the injur'd Parties, who is easily reconciled, winds up all with this Remark,

... _Design whate'er we will,
There is a Fate which over-rules us still_.

We are to suppose that the Gallants are Men of Merit, but if they had been Rakes the Excuse might have serv'd as well. Hans Carvel's Wife [4] was of the same Principle, but has express'd it with a Delicacy which shews she is not serious in her Excuse, but in a sort of humorous Philosophy turns off the Thought of her Guilt, and says,

_That if weak Women go astray,
Their Stars are more in fault than they_.

This, no doubt, is a full Reparation, and dismisses the Audience with very edifying Impressions.

These things fall under a Province you have partly pursued already, and therefore demand your Animadversion, for the regulating so Noble an Entertainment as that of the Stage. It were to be wished, that all who write for it hereafter would raise their Genius, by the Ambition of pleasing People of the best Understanding; and leave others who shew nothing of the Human Species but Risibility, to seek their Diversion at the Bear-Garden, or some other Privileg'd Place, where Reason and Good-manners have no Right to disturb them.'

August 8, 1711.

I am, &c.


[Footnote 1: This letter is by John Hughes.]

[Footnote 2: Shadwell's Play of the 'Lancashire Witches' was in the bill of the Theatre advertised at the end of this number of the 'Spectator'.

'By her Majesty's Company of Comedians.

At the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, on Tuesday next, being the 14th Day of August, will be presented, A comedy call'd the Lancashire Witches, Written by the Ingenious Mr. Shadwell, late Poet Laureat. Carefully Revis'd. With all the Original Decorations of Scenes, Witche's Songs and Dances, proper to the Dramma. The Principal Parts to be perform'd by Mr. Mills, Mr. Booth, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Bullock, Sen., Mr. Norris, Mr. Pack, Mr. Bullock, Jun., Mrs. Elrington, Mrs. Powel, Mrs. Bradshaw, Mrs. Cox. And the Witches by Mr. Burkhead, Mr. Ryan, Mrs. Mills, and Mrs. Willis. It being the last time of Acting in this Season.']

[Footnote 3: Prologue to Davenant and Dryden's version of the 'Tempest'.]

[Footnote 4: In Prior's Poem of 'Hans Carvel'.]

Translation of motto:
HOR. 1 Ep. ii. 187.
'Taste, that eternal wanderer, that flies
From head to ears, and now from ears to eyes.'