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No. 405 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 405
Saturday, June 14, 1712. Addison.
Oi de panaemerioi molpae theon hilaskonto,
Kalon aeidontes paiaeona kouroi Achaion,
Melpontes Ekaergon. Ho de phrena terpet akouon.]


I am very sorry to find, by the Opera Bills for this Day, that we are likely to lose the greatest Performer in Dramatick Musick that is now living, or that perhaps ever appeared upon a Stage. I need not acquaint my Reader, that I am speaking of Signior Nicolini. [1] The Town is highly obliged to that Excellent Artist, for having shewn us the Italian Musick in its Perfection, as well as for that generous Approbation he lately gave to an Opera of our 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-Musick, 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 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 pathetick in this kind of Diction, that it often sets the Mind in a Flame, and makes our Hearts burn within us. 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 Musick, I cannot but wonder that Persons of Distinction should give so little Attention and Encouragement to that Kind of Musick, 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.