No. 270. Wednesday, January 9, 1712. Steele.

Discit enim citius, meminitque libentius illud, Quod quis deridet, quam quod probat.

I do not know that I have been in greater Delight for these many Years, than in beholding the Boxes at the Play the last Time The Scornful Lady [1] was acted. So great an Assembly of Ladies placed in gradual Rows in all the Ornaments of Jewels, Silk and Colours, gave so lively and gay an Impression to the Heart, that methought the Season of the Year was vanished; and I did not think it an ill Expression of a young Fellow who stood near me, that called the Boxes Those Beds of Tulips. It was a pretty Variation of the Prospect, when any one of these fine Ladies rose up and did Honour to herself and Friend at a Distance, by curtisying; and gave Opportunity to that Friend to shew her Charms to the same Advantage in returning the Salutation. Here that Action is as proper and graceful, as it is at Church unbecoming and impertinent. By the way, I must take the Liberty to observe that I did not see any one who is usually so full of Civilities at Church, offer at any such Indecorum during any Part of the Action of the Play.

Such beautiful Prospects gladden our Minds, and when considered in general, give innocent and pleasing Ideas. He that dwells upon any one Object of Beauty, may fix his Imagination to his Disquiet; but the Contemplation of a whole Assembly together, is a Defence against the Encroachment of Desire: At least to me, who have taken pains to look at Beauty abstracted from the Consideration of its being the Object of Desire; at Power, only as it sits upon another, without any Hopes of partaking any Share of it; at Wisdom and Capacity, without any Pretensions to rival or envy its Acquisitions: I say to me, who am really free from forming any Hopes by beholding the Persons of beautiful Women, or warming my self into Ambition from the Successes of other Men, this World is not only a meer Scene, but a very pleasant one. Did Mankind but know the Freedom which there is in keeping thus aloof from the World, I should have more Imitators, than the powerfullest Man in the Nation has Followers. To be no Man's Rival in Love, or Competitor in Business, is a Character which if it does not recommend you as it ought to Benevolence among those whom you live with, yet has it certainly this Effect, that you do not stand so much in need of their Approbation, as you would if you aimed at it more, in setting your Heart on the same things which the Generality doat on. By this means, and with this easy Philosophy, I am never less at a Play than when I am at the Theatre; but indeed I am seldom so well pleased with the Action as in that Place, for most Men follow Nature no longer than while they are in their Night-Gowns, and all the busy Part of the Day are in Characters which they neither become or act in with Pleasure to themselves or their Beholders. But to return to my Ladies: I was very well pleased to see so great a Crowd of them assembled at a Play, wherein the Heroine, as the Phrase is, is so just a Picture of the Vanity of the Sex in tormenting their Admirers. The Lady who pines for the Man whom she treats with so much Impertinence and Inconstancy, is drawn with much Art and Humour. Her Resolutions to be extremely civil, but her Vanity arising just at the Instant that she resolved to express her self kindly, are described as by one who had studied the Sex. But when my Admiration is fixed upon this excellent Character, and two or three others in the Play, I must confess I was moved with the utmost Indignation at the trivial, senseless, and unnatural Representation of the Chaplain. It is possible there may be a Pedant in Holy Orders, and we have seen one or two of them in the World; but such a Driveler as Sir Roger, so bereft of all manner of Pride, which is the Characteristick of a Pedant, is what one would not believe could come into the Head of the same Man who drew the rest of the Play. The Meeting between Welford and him shews a Wretch without any Notion of the Dignity of his Function; and it is out of all common Sense that he should give an Account of himself as one sent four or five Miles in a Morning on Foot for Eggs. It is not to be denied, but his Part and that of the Maid whom he makes Love to, are excellently well performed; but a Thing which is blameable in it self, grows still more so by the Success in the Execution of it. It is so mean a Thing to gratify a loose Age with a scandalous Representation of what is reputable among Men, not to say what is sacred, that no Beauty, no Excellence in an Author ought to attone for it; nay, such Excellence is an Aggravation of his Guilt, and an Argument that he errs against the Conviction of his own Understanding and Conscience. Wit should be tried by this Rule, and an Audience should rise against such a Scene, as throws down the Reputation of any thing which the Consideration of Religion or Decency should preserve from Contempt. But all this Evil arises from this one Corruption of Mind, that makes Men resent Offences against their Virtue, less than those against their Understanding. An Author shall write as if he thought there was not one Man of Honour or Woman of Chastity in the House, and come off with Applause: For an Insult upon all the Ten Commandments, with the little Criticks, is not so bad as the Breach of an Unity of Time or Place. Half Wits do not apprehend the Miseries that must necessarily flow from Degeneracy of Manners; nor do they know that Order is the Support of Society. Sir Roger and his Mistress are Monsters of the Poets own forming; the Sentiments in both of them are such as do not arise in Fools of their Education. We all know that a silly Scholar, instead of being below every one he meets with, is apt to be exalted above the Rank of such as are really his Superiors: His Arrogance is always founded upon particular Notions of Distinction in his own Head, accompanied with a pedantick Scorn of all Fortune and Preheminence, when compared with his Knowledge and Learning. This very one Character of Sir Roger, as silly as it really is, has done more towards the Disparagement of Holy Orders, and consequently of Virtue it self, than all the Wit that Author or any other could make up for in the Conduct of the longest Life after it. I do not pretend, in saying this, to give myself Airs of more Virtue than my Neighbours, but assert it from the Principles by which Mankind must always be governed. Sallies of Imagination are to be overlooked, when they are committed out of Warmth in the Recommendation of what is Praise worthy; but a deliberate advancing of Vice, with all the Wit in the World, is as ill an Action as any that comes before the Magistrate, and ought to be received as such by the People.


[Footnote 1: Beaumont and Fletchers. Vol. II.]

Translation of motto:
HOR. 1 Ep. ii. 262.
'For what's derided by the censuring crowd,
Is thought on more than what is just and good.'
'There is a lust in man no power can tame,
Of loudly publishing his neighbour's shame;
On eagle's wings invidious scandals fly,
While virtuous actions are but born, and die.'
(E. of Corke).
'Sooner we learn, and seldomer forget,
What critics scorn, than what they highly rate.'
('Hughes's Letters', vol. ii p 222.)