Monday, May 5, 1712. Steele.
‘Totus Mundus agit Histrionem.’
Many of my fair Readers, as well as very gay and well-received Persons of the other Sex, are extremely perplexed at the Latin Sentences at the Head of my Speculations; I do not know whether I ought not to indulge them with Translations of each of them: However, I have to-day taken down from the Top of the Stage in Drury-Lane a bit of Latin which often stands in their View, and signifies that the whole World acts the Player. It is certain that if we look all round us, and behold the different Employments of Mankind, you hardly see one who is not, as the Player is, in an assumed Character. The Lawyer, who is vehement and loud in a Cause wherein he knows he has not the Truth of the Question on his Side, is a Player as to the personated Part, but incomparably meaner than he as to the Prostitution of himself for Hire; because the Pleader’s Falshood introduces Injustice, the Player feigns for no other end but to divert or instruct you. The Divine, whose Passions transport him to say any thing with any View but promoting the Interests of true Piety and Religion, is a Player with a still greater Imputation of Guilt, in proportion to his depreciating a Character more sacred. Consider all the different Pursuits and Employments of Men, and you will find half their Actions tend to nothing else but Disguise and Imposture; and all that is done which proceeds not from a Man’s very self, is the Action of a Player. For this Reason it is that I make so frequent mention of the Stage: It is, with me, a Matter of the highest Consideration what Parts are well or ill performed, what Passions or Sentiments are indulged or cultivated, and consequently what Manners and Customs are transfused from the Stage to the World, which reciprocally imitate each other. As the Writers of Epick Poems introduce shadowy Persons, and represent Vices and Virtues under the Characters of Men and Women; so I, who am a SPECTATOR in the World, may perhaps sometimes make use of the Names of the Actors on the Stage, to represent or admonish those who transact Affairs in the World. When I am commending Wilks for representing the Tenderness of a Husband and a Father in Mackbeth, the Contrition of a reformed Prodigal in Harry the Fourth, the winning Emptiness of a young Man of Good-nature and Wealth in the Trip to the Jubilee, –the Officiousness of an artful Servant in the Fox:  when thus I celebrate Wilks, I talk to all the World who are engaged in any of those Circumstances. If I were to speak of Merit neglected, mis-applied, or misunderstood, might not I say Estcourt has a great Capacity? But it is not the Interest of others who bear a Figure on the Stage that his Talents were understood; it is their Business to impose upon him what cannot become him, or keep out of his hands any thing in which he would Shine. Were one to raise a Suspicion of himself in a Man who passes upon the World for a fine Thing, in order to alarm him, one might say, if Lord Foppington  were not on the Stage, (Cibber acts the false Pretensions to a genteel Behaviour so very justly), he would have in the generality of Mankind more that would admire than deride him. When we come to Characters directly Comical, it is not to be imagin’d what Effect a well-regulated Stage would have upon Men’s Manners. The Craft of an Usurer, the Absurdity of a rich Fool, the awkward Roughness of a Fellow of half Courage, the ungraceful Mirth of a Creature of half Wit, might be for ever put out of Countenance by proper Parts for Dogget. Johnson by acting Corbacchio  the other Night, must have given all who saw him a thorough Detestation of aged Avarice. The Petulancy of a peevish old Fellow, who loves and hates he knows not why, is very excellently performed by the Ingenious Mr. William Penkethman in the Fop’s Fortune; where, in the Character of Don Cholerick Snap Shorto de Testy, he answers no Questions but to those whom he likes, and wants no account of any thing from those he approves. Mr. Penkethman is also Master of as many Faces in the Dumb-Scene as can be expected from a Man in the Circumstances of being ready to perish out of Fear and Hunger: He wonders throughout the whole Scene very masterly, without neglecting his Victuals. If it be, as I have heard it sometimes mentioned, a great Qualification for the World to follow Business and Pleasure too, what is it in the Ingenious Mr. Penkethman to represent a Sense of Pleasure and Pain at the same time; as you may see him do this Evening?