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young men in England, who, in their pursuit after fame, were every night employed in roasting porters, smoking cobblers, knocking down watchmen, overturning constables, breaking windows, blackening sign-posts, and the like immortal enterprises, that dispersed their reputation throughout the whole kingdom. One could hardly find a knocker at a door in a whole street after a midnight expedition of these beaux esprits. I was lately very much surprised by an account of my maid, who entered my bed-chamber this morning in a very great fright, and told me she was afraid my parlour was haunted, for that she had found several panes of my windows broken, and the floor strewed with halfpence. I have not yet a full light into this new way, but am apt to think that it is a generous piece of wit, that some of my contemporaries make use of, to break windows and leave money to pay for them.
MR, BICKERSTAFF ILLUSTRATES THE PREVALENT CORRUPTION
OF MANNERS AND LANGUAGE.
PHEN a man has engaged to keep a stage coach,
he is obliged, whether he has passengers or not, to set out : thus it fares with us weekly historians. ... The present grandeur of
the British nation might make us expect that we should rise in our publick diversions and manner of enjoying life, in proportion to our advancement in glory and power. Instead of that, take and survey this town, and you will find rakes and debauchees are your men of pleasure ; thoughtless atheists and illiterate drunkards call themselves free-thinkers; and gamesters, banterers, biters, swearers, and twenty newborn insects more, are, in their several species, the modern men of wit. Hence it is, that a man who has been out of town
has lost the language, and must have some friend to stand by him, and keep him in countenance for
talking common sense. To-day I saw a short interlude at White's of this nature, which I took notes of, and put together as well as I could in a publick place. The persons of the drama are Pip, the last gentleman that has been made so at cards ; Trimmer, a person half undone at them, and is now between a cheat and a gentleman ; Acorn, an honest Englishman of good plain sense and meaning; and Mr. Friendly, a reasonable man of the town.
White's Chocolate-house, May 5.
Enter Pip, Trim, and Acorn. Ac. What's the matter, gentlemen ? What! Take no notice of an old friend?
Pip. on it! Don't talk to me, I am voweld by the count, and cursedly out of humour.
Ac. Voweld; prithee, Trimmer, what does he mean by that?
Trim. Have a care, Harry, speak softly; don't show your ignorance. If you do, they will bite you where e'er they meet you, they are such cursed curs,- the present wits.
Aci Bite me! What do you mean?
Pip. Why! Don't you know what biting is ? Nay, you are in the right on't. However, one would learn it only to defend one's self against men of wit, as one would know the tricks of play, to be secure against the cheats. But don't you hear, Acorn, that report, that some potentates of the alliance have taken care of themselves exclusive of us ?
Ac. How! heaven forbid ! after all our glorious victories ; all the expense of blood and treasure !
Exit Pip and Trimmer, laughing. Ac. Ho! Mr. Friendly, your most humble servant; you heard what passed between those fine gentlemen and me. Pip complained to me that he has been vowel'd, and they tell me I am bit.
Friend. You are to understand, sir, that simplicity of behaviour, which is the perfection of good breeding and good sense, is utterly lost in the world, and in the room of it there are started a thousand little inventions, which men, barren of better things, take up in the place of it. Thus, for every character in conversation that used to please, there is an impostor put upon you. He whom we allowed formerly for a
certain pleasant fubtilty, and natural way of giving you an unexpected hit, called a droll, is now mimick'd by a biter, who is a dull fellow, that tells you a lie with a grave face, and laughs at you for knowing him no better than to believe him. Instead of that sort of companion who could rally you, and keep his countenance till he made you fall into some little inconsistency of behaviour, at which you yourself could laugh with him, you have the sneerer, who will keep you company from morning to night, to gather your follies of the day (which perhaps you commit out of confidence in him) and expose you in the evening to all the scorners in town. For your man of sense and free spirit, whose set of thoughts were built upon learning, reason, and experience, you have now an impudent creature made up of vice only, who supports his ignorance by his courage, and want of learning by contempt of it.
Ac. Dear fir, hold. What you have told me already of this change in conversation, is too miserable to be heard with any delight; but methinks as these new creatures appear in the world, it might give an excellent field to writers for the stage, to divert us with the representation of them there,
Friend. No, no; as you say, there might be some hopes of redress of these grievances, if there were proper care taken of the theatre, but the history of that is yet more lamentable than that of the decay of conversation I gave you,
Ac. Pray, sir, a little. I han't been in town these six years, till within this fortnight.
Friend. It is now some years since several revolutions in the gay world had made the empire of the stage subject to very fatal convulsions, which were too dangerous to be cured by the skill of little King Oberon, who then fat in the throne of it. The laziness of this prince threw him upon the choice of a person who was fit to spend his life in contentions, an able and profound attorney, to whom he mortgaged his whole empire. This Divito is the most skilful of all politicians : he has a perfect art in being unintelligible in discourse and uncomeatable in business. But he having no understanding in this polite way, brought in upon us, to get in his money, ladder-dancers, rope
dancers, jugglers, and mountebanks, to strut in the place of Shakespeare's heroes and Johnson's humourists. When the seat of wit was thus mortgaged, without equity of redemption, an architect arose, who has built the muse a new palace, but secured her no retinue, so that instead of action there, we have been put off by fong and dance. This later help of sound has also began to fail for want of voices, therefore the palace has since been put into the hands of ... any foreign fellow . and passes him upon us for a singer of Italy.
Ac. I'll go out of town to-morrow. Friend. Things are come to this pafs, and yet the world will not understand, that the theatre has much the same effect on the manners of the age, as the bank on the credit of the nation. Wit and spirit, humour and good sense, can never be revived, but under the government of those who are judges of such talents, who know, that whatever is put up in their stead, is but a short and trifling expedient to support the appearance of them for a season. It is possible a peace will give leisure to put these matters under new regulations, but at present all the assistance we can see towards our recovery, is as far from giving us help, as a poultice is from performing what can be done only by the grand elixir.