Story type: Essay
Friday, March 28, 1712.
[–Nil fuit unquam
Tam dispar sibi.
I find the Tragedy of the Distrest Mother is publish’d today: The Author of the Prologue, I suppose, pleads an old Excuse I have read somewhere, of being dull with Design; and the Gentleman who writ the Epilogue  has, to my knowledge, so much of greater moment to value himself upon, that he will easily forgive me for publishing the Exceptions made against Gayety at the end of serious Entertainments, in the following Letter: I should be more unwilling to pardon him than any body, a Practice which cannot have any ill Consequence, but from the Abilities of the Person who is guilty of it.
I had the Happiness the other Night of sitting very near you, and your worthy Friend Sir ROGER, at the acting of the new Tragedy, which you have in a late Paper or two so justly recommended. I was highly pleased with the advantageous Situation Fortune had given me in placing me so near two Gentlemen, from one of which I was sure to hear such Reflections on the several Incidents of the Play, as pure Nature suggested, and from the other such as flowed from the exactest Art and Judgment: Tho I must confess that my Curiosity led me so much to observe the Knights Reflections, that I was not so well at leisure to improve my self by yours. Nature, I found, play’d her Part in the Knight pretty well, till at the last concluding Lines she entirely forsook him. You must know, Sir, that it is always my Custom, when I have been well entertained at a new Tragedy, to make my Retreat before the facetious Epilogue enters; not but that those Pieces are often very well writ, but having paid down my Half Crown, and made a fair Purchase of as much of the pleasing Melancholy as the Poets Art can afford me, or my own Nature admit of, I am willing to carry some of it home with me; and cant endure to be at once trick’d out of all, tho by the wittiest Dexterity in the World. However, I kept my Seat tother Night, in hopes of finding my own Sentiments of this Matter favour’d by your Friends; when, to my great Surprize, I found the Knight entering with equal Pleasure into both Parts, and as much satisfied with Mrs. Oldfield’s Gaiety, as he had been before with Andromache’s Greatness. Whether this were no other than an Effect of the Knights peculiar Humanity, pleas’d to find at last, that after all the tragical Doings every thing was safe and well, I don’t know. But for my own part, I must confess, I was so dissatisfied, that I was sorry the Poet had saved Andromache, and could heartily have wished that he had left her stone-dead upon the Stage. For you cannot imagine, Mr. SPECTATOR, the Mischief she was reserv’d to do me. I found my Soul, during the Action, gradually work’d up to the highest Pitch; and felt the exalted Passion which all generous Minds conceive at the Sight of Virtue in Distress. The Impression, believe me, Sir, was so strong upon me, that I am persuaded, if I had been let alone in it, I could at an Extremity have ventured to defend your self and Sir ROGER against half a Score of the fiercest Mohocks: But the ludicrous Epilogue in the Close extinguish’d all my Ardour, and made me look upon all such noble Atchievements, as downright silly and romantick. What the rest of the Audience felt, I cant so well tell: For my self, I must declare, that at the end of the Play I found my Soul uniform, and all of a Piece; but at the End of the Epilogue it was so jumbled together, and divided between Jest and Earnest, that if you will forgive me an extravagant Fancy, I will here set it down. I could not but fancy, if my Soul had at that Moment quitted my Body, and descended to the poetical Shades in the Posture it was then in, what a strange Figure it would have made among them. They would not have known what to have made of my motley Spectre, half Comick and half Tragick, all over resembling a ridiculous Face, that at the same time laughs on one side and cries o tother. The only Defence, I think, I have ever heard made for this, as it seems to me, most unnatural Tack of the Comick Tail to the Tragick Head, is this, that the Minds of the Audience must be refreshed, and Gentlemen and Ladies not sent away to their own Homes with too dismal and melancholy Thoughts about them: For who knows the Consequence of this? We are much obliged indeed to the Poets for the great Tenderness they express for the Safety of our Persons, and heartily thank them for it. But if that be all, pray, good Sir, assure them, that we are none of us like to come to any great Harm; and that, let them do their best, we shall in all probability live out the Length of our Days, and frequent the Theatres more than ever. What makes me more desirous to have some Reformation of this matter, is because of an ill Consequence or two attending it: For a great many of our Church-Musicians being related to the Theatre, they have, in Imitation of these Epilogues, introduced in their farewell Voluntaries a sort of Musick quite foreign to the design of Church-Services, to the great Prejudice of well-disposed People. Those fingering Gentlemen should be informed, that they ought to suit their Airs to the Place and Business; and that the Musician is obliged to keep to the Text as much as the Preacher. For want of this, I have found by Experience a great deal of Mischief: For when the Preacher has often, with great Piety and Art enough, handled his Subject, and the judicious Clark has with utmost Diligence culled out two Staves proper to the Discourse, and I have found in my self and in the rest of the Pew good Thoughts and Dispositions, they have been all in a moment dissipated by a merry Jigg from the Organ-Loft. One knows not what further ill Effects the Epilogues I have been speaking of may in time produce: But this I am credibly informed of, that Paul Lorrain –has resolv’d upon a very sudden Reformation in his tragical Dramas; and that at the next monthly Performance, he designs, instead of a Penitential Psalm, to dismiss his Audience with an excellent new Ballad of his own composing. Pray, Sir, do what you can to put a stop to those growing Evils, and you will very much oblige
Your Humble Servant,
[–Servetur ad imum
Qualis ab incepto processerit, et sibi constet.
[Footnote 2: The Prologue was by Steele. Of the Epilogue Dr. Johnson said (in his Lives of the Poets, when telling of Ambrose Philips),
It was known in Tonson’s family and told to Garrick, that Addison was himself the author of it, and that when it had been at first printed with his name, he came early in the morning, before the copies were distributed, and ordered it to be given to Budgell, that it might add weight to the solicitation which he was then making for a place.
Johnson calls it
the most successful Epilogue that was ever yet spoken on the English theatre.
The three first nights it was recited twice, and whenever afterwards the play was acted the Epilogue was still expected and was spoken. This is a fifth paper for the benefit of Ambrose Philips, inserted, perhaps, to make occasion for a sixth (No. 341) in the form of a reply to Physibulus.]
[Footnote 3: Paul Lorrain was the Ordinary of Newgate. He died in 1719. He always represented his convicts as dying Penitents, wherefore in No. 63 of the Tatler they had been called Paul Lorrains Saints. ]