When Men read, they taste the Matter with which they are entertained, according as their own respective Studies and Inclinations have prepared them, and make their Reflections accordingly. Some perusing Roman Writers, would find in them, whatever the Subject of the Discourses were, parts which implied the Grandeur of that People in their Warfare or their Politicks. As for my part, who am a meer SPECTATOR, I drew this Morning Conclusions of their Eminence in what I think great, to wit, in having worthy Sentiments, from the reading a Comedy of Terence. The Play was the Self-Tormentor. It is from the Beginning to the End a perfect Picture of human Life, but I did not observe in the whole one Passage that could raise a Laugh. How well disposed must that People be, who could be entertained with Satisfaction by so sober and polite Mirth? In the first Scene of the Comedy, when one of the old Men accuses the other of Impertinence for interposing in his Affairs, he answers, I am a Man, and cannot help feeling any Sorrow that can arrive at Man. It is said, this Sentence was received with an universal Applause. There cannot be a greater Argument of the general good Understanding of a People, than a sudden Consent to give their Approbation of a Sentiment which has no Emotion in it. If it were spoken with never so great Skill in the Actor, the Manner of uttering that Sentence could have nothing in it which could strike any but People of the greatest Humanity, nay People elegant and skilful in Observations upon it. It is possible he might have laid his Hand on his Breast, and with a winning Insinuation in his Countenance, expressed to his Neighbour that he was a Man who made his case his own; yet I'll engage a Player in Covent-Garden might hit such an Attitude a thousand times before he would have been regarded. I have heard that a Minister of State in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth had all manner of Books and Ballads brought to him, of what kind soever, and took great Notice how much they took with the People; upon which he would, and certainly might, very well judge of their present Dispositions, and the most proper way of applying them according to his own purposes.  What passes on the Stage, and the Reception it meets with from the Audience, is a very useful Instruction of this Kind. According to what you may observe there on our Stage, you see them often moved so directly against all common Sense and Humanity, that you would be apt to pronounce us a Nation of Savages. It cannot be called a Mistake of what is pleasant, but the very contrary to it is what most assuredly takes with them. The other Night an old Woman carried off with a Pain in her Side, with all the Distortions and Anguish of Countenance which is natural to one in that Condition, was laughed and clapped off the Stage. Terence's Comedy, which I am speaking of, is indeed written as if he hoped to please none but such as had as good a Taste as himself. I could not but reflect upon the natural Description of the innocent young Woman made by the Servant to his Master. When I came to the House, said he, an old Woman opened the Door, and I followed her in, because I could by entring upon them unawares better observe what was your Mistress's ordinary manner of spending her Time, the only way of judging any one's Inclinations and Genius. I found her at her Needle in a sort of second Mourning, which she wore for an Aunt she had lately lost. She had nothing on but what shewed she dressed only for herself. Her Hair hung negligently about her Shoulders. She had none of the Arts with which others use to set themselves off, but had that Negligence of Person which is remarkable in those who are careful of their Minds--Then she had a Maid who was at work near her, that was a Slattern, because her Mistress was careless; which I take to be another Argument of your security in her; for the Go-betweens of Women of Intrigue are rewarded too well to be dirty. When you were named, I told her you desired to see her, she threw down her Work for Joy, covered her Face, and decently hid her Tears --He must be a very good Actor, and draw Attention rather from his own Character than the Words of the Author, that could gain it among us for this Speech, though so full of Nature and good Sense.
The intolerable Folly and Confidence of Players putting in Words of their own, does in a great measure feed the absurd Taste of the Audience. But however that is, it is ordinary for a Cluster of Coxcombs to take up the House to themselves, and equally insult both the Actors and the Company. These Savages, who want all manner of Regard and Deference to the rest of Mankind, come only to shew themselves to us, without any other Purpose than to let us know they despise us.
The gross of an Audience is composed of two sorts of People, those who know no Pleasure but of the Body, and those who improve or command corporeal Pleasures by the addition of fine Sentiments of the Mind. At present the intelligent part of the Company are wholly subdued, by the Insurrections of those who know no Satisfactions but what they have in common with all other Animals.
This is the reason that when a Scene tending to Procreation is acted, you see the whole Pit in such a Chuckle, and old Letchers, with Mouths open, stare at the loose Gesticulations on the Stage with shameful Earnestness; when the justest Pictures of human Life in its calm Dignity, and the properest Sentiments for the Conduct of it, pass by like meer Narration, as conducing only to somewhat much better which is to come after. I have seen the whole House at some times in so proper a Disposition, that indeed I have trembled for the Boxes, and feared the Entertainment would end in the Representation of the Rape of the Sabines.
I would not be understood in this Talk to argue, that nothing is tolerable on the Stage but what has an immediate Tendency to the Promotion of Virtue. On the contrary, I can allow, provided there is nothing against the Interests of Virtue, and is not offensive to Good-manners, that things of an indifferent nature may be represented. For this Reason I have no Exception to the well-drawn Rusticities in the Country-Wake; and there is something so miraculously pleasant in Dogget's acting the aukward Triumph and comick Sorrow of Hob in different Circumstances, that I shall not be able to stay away whenever it is acted. All that vexes me is, that the Gallantry of taking the Cudgels for Gloucestershire, with the Pride of Heart in tucking himself up, and taking Aim at his Adversary, as well as the other's Protestation in the Humanity of low Romance, That he could not promise the Squire to break Hob's Head, but he would, if he could, do it in Love; then flourish and begin: I say, what vexes me is, that such excellent Touches as these, as well as the Squire's being out of all patience at Hob's Success, and venturing himself into the Croud, are Circumstances hardly taken Notice of, and the height of the Jest is only in the very Point that Heads are broken. I am confident, were there a Scene written, wherein Penkethman should break his Leg by wrestling with Bullock, and Dicky come in to set it, without one word said but what should be according to the exact Rules of Surgery in making this Extention, and binding up the Leg, the whole House should be in a Roar of Applause at the dissembled Anguish of the Patient, the help given by him who threw him down, and the handy Address and arch Looks of the Surgeon. To enumerate the entrance of Ghosts, the Embattling of Armies, the Noise of Heroes in Love, with a thousand other Enormities, would be to transgress the bounds of this Paper, for which reason it is possible they may have hereafter distinct Discourses; not forgetting any of the Audience who shall set up for Actors, and interrupt the Play on the Stage; and Players who shall prefer the Applause of Fools to that of the reasonable part of the Company.
[Footnote 1: Is this another version of the very wise man whom Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, in a letter to Montrose, said that he knew, who
'believed, that if a Man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation'?
Andrew Fletcher, who could not have known any of Elizabeth's statesmen, was yet alive when this paper was written.]
[Footnote 2: Heautontimoroumenos, Act ii. sc. 2.]
[Footnote 3: Dogget had been acting a few nights before in the Country Wake. The part of Hob was his own in every sense, he being the author of the farce, which afterwards was made into a very popular ballad opera called Flora, or Hob in the Well.]Translation of motto: