No. 290. Friday, February 1, 1712. Steele.

[Projicit ampullas et sesquipedalia verba.
Hor. [1]]

The Players, who know I am very much their Friend, take all Opportunities to express a Gratitude to me for being so. They could not have a better Occasion of Obliging me, than one which they lately took hold of. They desired my Friend WILL. HONEYCOMB to bring me to the Reading of a new Tragedy; it is called The distressed Mother. [2] I must confess, tho some Days are passed since I enjoyed that Entertainment, the Passions of the several Characters dwell strongly upon my Imagination; and I congratulate to the Age, that they are at last to see Truth and humane Life represented in the Incidents which concern Heroes and Heroines. The Stile of the Play is such as becomes those of the first Education, and the Sentiments worthy those of the highest Figure. It was a most exquisite Pleasure to me, to observe real Tears drop from the Eyes of those who had long made it their Profession to dissemble Affliction; and the Player, who read, frequently throw down the Book, till he had given vent to the Humanity which rose in him at some irresistible Touches of the imagined Sorrow. We have seldom had any Female Distress on the Stage, which did not, upon cool Examination, appear to flow from the Weakness rather than the Misfortune of the Person represented: But in this Tragedy you are not entertained with the ungoverned Passions of such as are enamoured of each other merely as they are Men and Women, but their Regards are founded upon high Conceptions of each others Virtue and Merit; and the Character which gives Name to the Play, is one who has behaved her self with heroic Virtue in the most important Circumstances of a Female Life, those of a Wife, a Widow, and a Mother. If there be those whose Minds have been too attentive upon the Affairs of Life, to have any Notion of the Passion of Love in such Extremes as are known only to particular Tempers, yet, in the above-mentioned Considerations, the Sorrow of the Heroine will move even the Generality of Mankind. Domestick Virtues concern all the World, and there is no one living who is not interested that Andromache should be an imitable Character. The generous Affection to the Memory of her deceased Husband, that tender Care for her Son, which is ever heightned with the Consideration of his Father, and these Regards preserved in spite of being tempted with the Possession of the highest Greatness, are what cannot but be venerable even to such an Audience as at present frequents the English Theatre. My Friend WILL HONEYCOMB commended several tender things that were said, and told me they were very genteel; but whisper'd me, that he feared the Piece was not busy enough for the present Taste. To supply this, he recommended to the Players to be very careful in their Scenes, and above all Things, that every Part should be perfectly new dressed. I was very glad to find that they did not neglect my Friends Admonition, because there are a great many in his Class of Criticism who may be gained by it; but indeed the Truth is, that as to the Work it self, it is every where Nature. The Persons are of the highest Quality in Life, even that of Princes; but their Quality is not represented by the Poet with Direction that Guards and Waiters should follow them in every Scene, but their Grandeur appears in Greatness of Sentiment[s], flowing from Minds worthy their Condition. To make a Character truly Great, this Author understands that it should have its Foundation in superior Thoughts and Maxims of Conduct. It is very certain, that many an honest Woman would make no Difficulty, tho she had been the Wife of Hector, for the sake of a Kingdom, to marry the Enemy of her Husbands Family and Country; and indeed who can deny but she might be still an honest Woman, but no Heroine? That may be defensible, nay laudable in one Character, which would be in the highest Degree exceptionable in another. When Cato Uticensis killed himself, Cottius a Roman of ordinary Quality and Character did the same thing; upon which one said, smiling, Cottius might have lived, tho Cæsar has seized the Roman Liberty. Cottius's Condition might have been the same, let things at the upper End of the World pass as they would. What is further very extraordinary in this Work, is, that the Persons are all of them laudable, and their Misfortunes arise rather from unguarded Virtue than Propensity to Vice. The Town has an Opportunity of doing itself Justice in supporting the Representation of Passion, Sorrow, Indignation, even Despair itself, within the Rules of Decency, Honour and Good-breeding; and since there is no one can flatter himself his Life will be always fortunate, they may here see Sorrow as they would wish to bear it whenever it arrives.


I am appointed to act a Part in the new Tragedy called The Distressed Mother: It is the celebrated Grief of Orestes which I am to personate; but I shall not act it as I ought, for I shall feel it too intimately to be able to utter it. I was last Night repeating a Paragraph to my self, which I took to be an Expression of Rage, and in the middle of the Sentence there was a Stroke of Self-pity which quite unmanned me. Be pleased, Sir, to print this Letter, that when I am oppressed in this manner at such an Interval, a certain Part of the Audience may not think I am out; and I hope with this Allowance to do it to Satisfaction. I am, SIR, Your most humble Servant, George Powell.


As I was walking tother Day in the Park, I saw a Gentleman with a very short Face; I desire to know whether it was you. Pray inform me as soon as you can, lest I become the most heroick Hecatissa's Rival.

Your humble Servant to command,


Dear Madam,

It is not me you are in love with, for I was very ill and kept my Chamber all that Day.

Your most humble Servant,



[Footnote 1:

[Spirat Tragicum satis, et foeliciter Audet.


[Footnote 2: This is a third blast of the Trumpet on behalf of Ambrose Philips, who had now been adapting Racine's Andromaque.]

Translation of motto:
HOR. Ars Poet. ver. 97.
'Forgets his swelling and gigantic words.'