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No. 051 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 51
Saturday, April 28, 1711.

‘Torquet ab Obscenis jam nunc Sermonibus Aurem.’


Mr. Spectator,

‘My Fortune, Quality, and Person are such as render me as Conspicuous as any Young Woman in Town. It is in my Power to enjoy it in all its Vanities, but I have, from a very careful Education, contracted a great Aversion to the forward Air and Fashion which is practised in all Publick Places and Assemblies. I attribute this very much to the Stile and Manners of our Plays: I was last Night at the Funeral, where a Confident Lover in the Play, speaking of his Mistress, cries out:

Oh that Harriot! to fold these Arms about the Waste of that Beauteous strugling, and at last yielding Fair! [1]

Such an Image as this ought, by no means, to be presented to a Chaste and Regular Audience. I expect your Opinion of this Sentence, and recommend to your Consideration, as a SPECTATOR, the conduct of the Stage at present with Relation to Chastity and Modesty.

I am, SIR,
Your Constant Reader
and Well-wisher.

The Complaint of this Young Lady is so just, that the Offence is [great [2]] enough to have displeased Persons who cannot pretend to that Delicacy and Modesty, of which she is Mistress. But there is a great deal to be said in Behalf of an Author: If the Audience would but consider the Difficulty of keeping up a sprightly Dialogue for five Acts together, they would allow a Writer, when he wants Wit, and can’t please any otherwise, to help it out with a little Smuttiness. I will answer for the Poets, that no one ever writ Bawdy for any other Reason but Dearth of Invention. When the Author cannot strike out of himself any more of that which he has superior to those who make up the Bulk of his Audience, his natural Recourse is to that which he has in common with them; and a Description which gratifies a sensual Appetite will please, when the Author has nothing [about him to delight [3]] a refined Imagination. It is to such a Poverty we must impute this and all other Sentences in Plays, which are of this Kind, and which are commonly termed Luscious Expressions.

This Expedient, to supply the Deficiencies of Wit, has been used more or less, by most of the Authors who have succeeded on the Stage; tho’ I know but one who has professedly writ a Play upon the Basis of the Desire of Multiplying our Species, and that is the Polite Sir George Etherege; if I understand what the Lady would be at, in the Play called She would if She could. Other Poets have, here and there, given an Intimation that there is this Design, under all the Disguises and Affectations which a Lady may put on; but no Author, except this, has made sure Work of it, and put the Imaginations of the Audience upon this one Purpose, from the Beginning to the End of the Comedy. It has always fared accordingly; for whether it be, that all who go to this Piece would if they could, or that the Innocents go to it, to guess only what She would if She could, the Play has always been well received.

It lifts an heavy empty Sentence, when there is added to it a lascivious Gesture of Body; and when it is too low to be raised even by that, a flat Meaning is enlivened by making it a double one. Writers, who want Genius, never fail of keeping this Secret in reserve, to create a Laugh, or raise a Clap. I, who know nothing of Women but from seeing Plays, can give great Guesses at the whole Structure of the fair Sex, by being innocently placed in the Pit, and insulted by the Petticoats of their Dancers; the Advantages of whose pretty Persons are a great Help to a dull Play. When a Poet flags in writing Lusciously, a pretty Girl can move Lasciviously, and have the same good Consequence for the Author. Dull Poets in this Case use their Audiences, as dull Parasites do their Patrons; when they cannot longer divert [them [4]] with their Wit or Humour, they bait [their [5]] Ears with something which is agreeable to [their [6]] Temper, though below [their [7]] Understanding. Apicius cannot resist being pleased, if you give him an Account of a delicious Meal; or Clodius, if you describe a Wanton Beauty: Tho’ at the same time, if you do not awake those Inclinations in them, no Men are better Judges of what is just and delicate in Conversation. But as I have before observed, it is easier to talk to the Man, than to the Man of Sense.