« AnteriorContinuar »
No. 405. SATURDAY, JUNE 14.
Οι δε πανημέριοι μολπη θεόν ιλάσκοντο, ,
Hom. II. i. 472.
With hymns divine the joyous banquet ends;
I am very sorry to find, by the opera-bills for this day, that we are likely to lose the greatest performer in dramatic music that is now living, or that perhaps ever appeared upon a stage. I need not acquaint my reader that am I speaking of Signior Nicolini. The town is highly obliged to that excellent artist, for having shewn us the Italian music in its perfection, as well as for that generous approbation he lately gave to an opera own country, in which the composer endeavoured to do justice to the beauty of the words, by following that noble example, which has been set him by the greatest foreign masters in that art.
I could heartily wish there was the same application and endeavours to cultivate and improve our church-music, as have been lately bestowed on that of the stage. Our composers have one very great incitement to it: they are sure to meet with excellent words, and, at the same time, a wonderful variety of them. There is no passion that is not finely expressed in those parts of the inspired writings, which are proper for divine songs and anthems.
There is a certain coldness and indifference in the phrases of our European languages, when they are compared with the oriental forms of speech; and it happens very luckily, that the Hebrew
* V. No.
idioms run into the English tongue with a particular grace and beauty. Our language has received innumerable elegancies and improvements, from that infusion of Hebraisms, which are derived to it out of the poetical passages in holy writ. They give a force and energy to our expressions, warm and animate our language, and convey our thoughts in more ardent and intense phrases, than any that are to be met with in our own tongue. There is something so pathetic in this kind of diction, that it often sets the mind in a flame, and makes our hearts burn within
How cold and dead does a prayer appear, that is composed in the most elegant and polite forms of speech, which are natural to our tongue, when it is not heightened by that solemnity of phrase, which may be drawn from the sacred writings. It has been said by some of the ancients, that if the gods were to talk with men, they would certainly speak in Plato's style; but I think we may say, with justice, that when mortals converse with their Creator, they cannot do it in so proper a style as in that of the holy Scriptures.
If any one would judge of the beauties of poetry that are to be met with in the divine writings, and examine how kindly the Hebrew manners of speech mix and incorporate with the English language; after having perused the book of Psalms, let him read a literal translation of Horace or Pindar. He will find in these two last such an absurdity and confusion of style, with such a comparative poverty of imagination, as will make him very sensible of what I have been here advancing.
Since we have therefore such a treasury of words, so beautiful in themselves, and so proper for the airs of music, I cannot but wonder that persons of distinction should give so little atten*tion and encouragement to that kind of music, which would have its foundation in reason, and which would improve our virtue in proportion as it raised our delight. The passions that are excited by ordinary compositions, generally flow from such silly and absurd occasions, that a man is ashamed to reflect upon them seriously: but the fear, the love, the sorrow, the indignation that are awakened in the mind by hymns and anthems, make the heart better, and proceed from such causes as are altogether reasonable and praise-worthy. Pleasure and duty go hand in hand, and the greater our satisfaction is, the greater is our religion.
Music among those who were styled the chosen people, was a religious art. The songs of Sion, which we have reason to believe were in high repute among the courts of the eastern monarchs, were nothing else but psalms and pieces of poetry that adored or celebrated the Supreme Being. The greatest conqueror in this holy nation, after the manner of the old Grecian lyrics, did not only compose the words of his divine odes, but generally set them to music himself: after which, his works, though they were consecrated to the tabernacle, became the national entertainment, as well as the devotion of his people.
The first original of the drama was a religious worship consisting only of a chorus, which was nothing else but an hymn to a deity. As luxury and voluptuousness prevailed over innocence and religion, this form of worship degenerated into tragedies; in which however the chorus so far remembered its first office, as to brand every thing that was vicious, and recommend every thing that was laudable, to intercede with heaven for the innocent, and to implore its vengeance on the criminal.
Homer and Hesiod intimate to us how this art should be applied, when they represent the muses as surrounding Jupiter, and warbling their hymns about his throne. I might shew, from innumerable passages in ancient writers, not only that vocal and instrumental music were made use of in their religious worship, but that their most favourite diversions were filled with songs and hymns to their respective deities. Had we frequent entertainments of this nature among us, they would not a little purify and exalt our passions, give our thoughts a proper turn, and cherish those divine impulses in the soul, which every one feels that has not stifled them by sensual and immoderate pleasures.
Music, when thus applied, raises noble hints in the mind of the hearer, and fills it with great conceptions. It strengthens devotion, and advances praise into rapture. It lengthens out every act of worship, and produces more lasting and permanent impressions in the mind, than those which accompany any transient form of words that are uttered in the ordinary method of religious worship.
No. 407. TUESDAY, JUNE 17.
-abest facundis gratis dictis.
OVID. Met. xiij. 127.
Most foreign writers who have given any character of the English nation, whatever vices they ascribe to it, allow, in general, that the people are naturally modest. It proceeds, perhaps, from this our national virtue, that our orators are observed to make use of less gesture or action than those of other countries. Our preachers stand stock-still in the pulpit, and will not so much as move a finger to set off the best sermons in the world. We meet with the same speaking statues at our bars, and in all public places of debate. Our words flow from us in a smooth continued stream, without those strainings of the voice, motions of the body, and majesty of the hand, which are so much celebrated in the orators of Greece and Rome. We can talk of life and death in cold blood, and keep our temper in a discourse which turns upon every thing that is dear to us. Though our zeal breaks out in the finest tropes and figures, it is not able to stir a limb about us. I have heard it observed more than once by those who have seen Italy, that an untravelled Englishman cannot relish all the beauties of Italian pictures, because the pos. tures which are expressed in them are often such as are peculiar to that country. One who has not seen an Italian in the pulpit, will not know what to make of that noble gesture in Raphael's picture of St. Paul preaching at Athens, where the apostle is represented as lifting up both his arms, and pouring out the thunder of his rhetoric amidst an audience of pagan philosophers.
It is certain that proper gestures and vehement exertions of the voice cannot be too much studied by a public orator. They are a kind of comment to what he utters, and enforce every thing he says, with weak hearers, better than the strongest argument he can make use of. They keep the audience awake, and fix their attention to what is delivered to them, at the same time that they shew the speaker is in earnest, and affected himself with what he so passionately recommends to others. Violent gesture and vociferation naturally shake the hearts of the ignorant, and fill them with a kind of religious horror. Nothing is more frequent than to see women weep and tremble at the sight of a moving preacher, though he is placed quite out of their hearing; as in England we very frequently see people lulled asleep with solid and elaborate discourses of piety, who would be warmed and transported out of themselves by the bellowings and distortions of enthusiasm.
If nonsense, when accompanied with such an emotion of voice and body, has such an influence on men's minds, what might we not expect from many of those admirable discourses which are printed in our tongue, were they delivered with a becoming fervour, and with the most agreeable graces of voice and gesture ? We are told, that the great Latin orator very much impaired