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Italian plans, which should give a more natural and reasonable entertainment than what can be met wich in the elaborate trifles of that nation. This alarmed the poetasters and fidlers of the town, who were used to deal in a more ordinary kind of ware ; and therefore laid down an established rule, which is received as such to this day, “ That nothing is capable of being " well set to music that is not nonsense.”
This maxim was no sooner received, but we immediately fell to translating the Italian operas : and as there was no great danger of hurting the sense of those extraordinary pieces, our authors would often make words of their own, which were entirely foreign to the meaning of the passages they pretended to translate; their chief care being to make the numbers of the English verse answer to those of the Italian, that both of them might go to the same tune. Thus the famous song in Camilla :
Barbara si t’intendo, &c.
Barbarous woman! yes, I know your meaning
which expresses the resentments of an angry lover, was translated into that English lamentation.
Frail are lover's hopes, &c.
And it was pleasant enough to see the most refined persons of the British nation dying away, and languishing to notes that were filled with a spirit of rage and indignation. It happened also very frequently, where the sense was rightly translated, the necessary transposition of words, which were drawn out of the phrase of one tongue into that of another, made the music appear very absurd in one tongue that was very natural in the othcr. I remember an Italian verse that runs thus, word for word:
And turn'd my rage into pity; which the English for rhyme's sake translated,
And into pity turn'd my rage.
By this means the soft notes, that were adapted to Pity in the Italian, fell upon the word Rage in the English ; and the angry sounds that were turned to rage, in the original, were made to express pity in the translation, It oftentimes happened likewise, that the finest notes in the air fell upon the most insigni. ficant words in the sentence. I have known the word And pursued through the whole gamut; have been entertained with many a melodious The, and have heard the most beautiful graces, quavers, and divisions, bestowed upon Then, For, and From; to the eternal honour of our English particles.
The next step to our refinement was the introducing of Italian actors into our opera; who sung their parts in their own language, at the same time that our countrymen performed theirs in our native tongue. The king or hero of the play generally spoke in Italian, and his slaves answered him in English : the lover frequently made his court, and gained the heart of his princess, in a language which he did not understand. One would have thought it very difficult to have carried on dialogue after this manner, without an interpreter between the persons that conversed together; but this was the state of the English stage for about three years.
At length the audience grew tired of understanding half the opera; and therefore, to ease themselves entirely of the fatigue of thinking, have so ordered it at present, that the whole opera is performed in an unknown tongue. We no longer understand the language of our own stage ; insomuch that I have often been afraid, when I have seen our Italian performers chattering in the vehemence of action, that they have been calling us names, and abusing us among themselves; but I hope, since we do put such an entire confidence in them, they will not talk against us before our faces, though they may do it with the same safety as if it were behind our backs. In the mean time, I cannot forbear thinking how naturally an historian who writes two or three hundred years hence, and does not know the taste of his wise forefathers, will make the following reflection :- In the beginning of the
66 eighteenth century, the Italian tongue was so well · " understood in England, that the operas were acted r on the public stage in that language."
One scarce knows how to be serious in the confutation of an absurdity that shews itself at the first sight. It does not want any great measure of sense to see the ridicule of this monstrous practice; but, what makes it more astonishing, it is not the taste of the rabble, but of persons of the greatest politeness, which has established it.
If the Italians have a genius for music above the Eng. lish, the English have a genius for other performances of a much higher nature, and capable of giving the mind a much nobler entertainment. Would one think it was possible (at a time when an author lived that was able to write the Phædra and Hippolitus) for a people to be so stupidly fond of the Italian opera, as scarce to give a third day's hearing to that admirable tragedy? Music is certainly a very agreeable entertainment; but if it would take the entire possession of our ears, if it would make us incapable of hearing sense, if it would exclude arts that have a much greater tendency to the refinement of human nature;.... I must confess I wouli allow it no better quarter than Plato has done, who banished it out of his commonwealth.
At present, our notions of music are so very uncertain, that we do not know what it is we like; only, in general, we are transported with any thing that is not English; so be it of a foreign growth, let it be Italian, French, or High-Dutch, it is the same thing. In short, our English music is quite rooted out, and nothing yet planted in its stead.
When a royal palace is burnt to the ground, every man is at liberty to present his plan for a new one; and though it be but indifferently put together, it may furnish several hints to a good architect. I shall take the same liberty, in a following paper, of giving my opinion upon the subject of music; which I shall lay down only in a problematical manner, to be considered by those who are masters in the art.
No. XIX. THURSDAY, MARCH 22.
Di bene fecerunt, inopis me quodque pusilli
Thank Heaven that made me of an humble mind;
OBSERVING one person behold another who was an utter stranger to him, with a cast of his eye, which, methought, expressed an emotion of heart very different from what could be raised by an object so agreeable as the gentleman he looked at, I began to consider, not without some secret sorrow, the condition of an envious man. Some have fancied that envy has a certain magical force in it, and that the eyes of the envious have by their fascination blasted the enjoyments of the happy. Sir Francis Bacon says, VOL. I.
Some have been so curious as to remark the times and seasons when the stroke of an envious eye is most effectually pernicious, and have observed that it has been when the person envied has been in any circumstance of glory and triumph. At such a time the mind of the prosperous man goes, as it were, abroad, among things without him, and is more exposed to the malignity. But I shall not dwell upon speculations so abstracted as this, or repeat the many excellent things which one might collect out of authors upon this miserable affection; but, keeping in the road of common life, consider the envious man with relation to these three heads; his pains, his reliefs, and his happiness.
The envious man is in pain upon all occasions which ought to give him pleasure. The relish of his life is inverted; and the objects which administer the highest satisfaction to those who are exempt from this passion, give the quickest pangs to persons who are subject to it. All the perfections of their fellowcreatures are odious; youth, beauty, valour, and wisdom, are provocations of their displeasure. What a wretched and apostate state is this! To be offended with excellence, and to hate a man because we approve him! The condition of the envious man is the most emphatically miserable ; he is not only incapable of rejoicing in another's merit or success, but lives in a world wherein all mankind are in a plot against his quiet, by studying their own happiness and advantage. Will Prosper is an honest tale-bearer; he makes it his business to join in conversation with envious men. He points to such an handsome young fellow, and whispers that he is secretly married to a great fortune; when they doubt, he adds circumstances to prove it: and never fails to aggravate their distress, by assuring them, that, to his knowledge, he has an uncle will leave him some thousands. Will has many arts of this kind to torture this sort of temper,