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No. 065 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 65
Tuesday, May 15, 1711.
‘… Demetri teque Tigelli

Discipularum inter jubeo plorare cathedras.’


After having at large explained what Wit is, and described the false Appearances of it, all that Labour seems but an useless Enquiry, without some Time be spent in considering the Application of it. The Seat of Wit, when one speaks as a Man of the Town and the World, is the Play-house; I shall therefore fill this Paper with Reflections upon the Use of it in that Place. The Application of Wit in the Theatre has as strong an Effect upon the Manners of our Gentlemen, as the Taste of it has upon the Writings of our Authors. It may, perhaps, look like a very presumptuous Work, though not Foreign from the Duty of a SPECTATOR, to tax the Writings of such as have long had the general Applause of a Nation; But I shall always make Reason, Truth, and Nature the Measures of Praise and Dispraise; if those are for me, the Generality of Opinion is of no Consequence against me; if they are against me, the general Opinion cannot long support me.

Without further Preface, I am going to look into some of our most applauded Plays, and see whether they deserve the Figure they at present bear in the Imagination of Men, or not.

In reflecting upon these Works, I shall chiefly dwell upon that for which each respective Play is most celebrated. The present Paper shall be employed upon Sir Fopling Flutter. [1] The received Character of this Play is, That it is the Pattern of Genteel Comedy. Dorimant and Harriot are the Characters of greatest Consequence, and if these are Low and Mean, the Reputation of the Play is very Unjust.

I will take for granted, that a fine Gentleman should be honest in his Actions, and refined in his Language. Instead of this, our Hero in this Piece is a direct Knave in his Designs, and a Clown in his Language. Bellair is his Admirer and Friend; in return for which, because he is forsooth a greater Wit than his said Friend, he thinks it reasonable to persuade him to marry a young Lady, whose Virtue, he thinks, will last no longer than till she is a Wife, and then she cannot but fall to his Share, as he is an irresistible fine Gentleman. The Falshood to Mrs. Loveit, and the Barbarity of Triumphing over her Anguish for losing him, is another Instance of his Honesty, as well as his Good-nature. As to his fine Language; he calls the Orange-Woman, who, it seems, is inclined to grow Fat, An Over-grown Jade, with a Flasket of Guts before her; and salutes her with a pretty Phrase of How now, Double Tripe? Upon the mention of a Country Gentlewoman, whom he knows nothing of, (no one can imagine why) he will lay his Life she is some awkward ill-fashioned Country Toad, who not having above four Dozen of Hairs on her Head, has adorned her Baldness with a large white Fruz, that she may look Sparkishly in the Forefront of the King’s Box at an old Play. Unnatural Mixture of senseless Common-Place!

As to the Generosity of his Temper, he tells his poor Footman, If he did not wait better–he would turn him away, in the insolent Phrase of, I’ll uncase you.

Now for Mrs. Harriot: She laughs at Obedience to an absent Mother, whose Tenderness Busie describes to be very exquisite, for that she is so pleased with finding Harriot again, that she cannot chide her for being out of the way. This Witty Daughter, and fine Lady, has so little Respect for this good Woman, that she Ridicules her Air in taking Leave, and cries, In what Struggle is my poor Mother yonder? See, see, her Head tottering, her Eyes staring, and her under Lip trembling. But all this is atoned for, because she has more Wit than is usual in her Sex, and as much Malice, tho’ she is as Wild as you would wish her and has a Demureness in her Looks that makes it so surprising! Then to recommend her as a fit Spouse for his Hero, the Poet makes her speak her Sense of Marriage very ingeniously: I think, says she, I might be brought to endure him, and that is all a reasonable Woman should expect in an Husband. It is, methinks, unnatural that we are not made to understand how she that was bred under a silly pious old Mother, that would never trust her out of her sight, came to be so Polite.