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At a coffee-house near the Temple, I found a couple of young gentlemen engaged very smartly in a dispute on the succession to the Spanish monarchy. One of them seemed to have been re. tained as advocate for the Duke of Anjou, the other for his Imperial Majesty. They were both for regulating the title to that kingdom by the statute laws of England; but finding them going out of my depth, I passed forward to Paul's Church-Yard, where I listened with great attention to a learned man, who gave the company an account of the deplorable state of France during the minority of the deceased king.
I then turned on my right hand into Fish Street, where the chief politician of that quarter, upon hearing the news, (after having taken a pipe of tobacco, and ruminating for some time) "If, (says he,) the king of France is certainly dead, we shall have plenty of mackerel this season; our fishery will not be disturbed by privatcers, as it has been for these ten years past.' He afterwards considered how the death of this great man would affect our pilchards, and by several other remarks infused a general joy into his whole audience.
I afterwards entered a bye coffee-house that stood at the upper end of a narrow lane, where I met with a Nonjuror, engaged very warmly with a Laceman who was the great support of a neighbouring conventicle. The matter in debate was, whether the late French king was most like Augustus Cæsar or Nero. The controversy was carried on with great heat on both sides, and as 'each of them looked upon me very frequently during the course of their debate, I was under some apprehension that they would appeal to me, and therefore laid down my penny at the bar, and made the best of my way to Cheapside.
I here gazed upon the signs for some time before I found one to my purpose. The first object I met in the coffee-room was a person who expressed a great grief for the death of the French king; but upon his explaining himself, I found his sorrow did not arise from the loss of the monarch, but for his having sold out of the bank about three days before he heard the news of it: upon which a haberdasher, who was the oracle of the coffee-house, and had his circle of admirers about him, called several to witness that he had declared his opinion above a week before, that the French king was certainly dead ; to which he added, that considering the late advices we had received from France, it was impossible that it could be otherwise. As he was laying these together, and dictating to his hearers with great authority, there came in a gentleman from Garraway's, who told us that there were several letters from France just come in, with advice that the king was in good health, and was gone out a hunting the very morning the post came away: upon which the haberdasher stole off his hat that hung upon a wooden peg by him, and retired to his shop with great confusion. This intelligence put a stop to my travels, which I had prosecuted with much satisfaction; not being a little pleased to hear so many different opinions upon so great an event, and to observe how naturally upon such a piece of news every one is apt to consider it with a regard to his own particular interest and advantage.
I am very sorry to find, by the opera-bills for this day, that we are likely to lose the greatest performer in dramatic music that is now living, or that perhaps ever appeared upon a stage. I need not acquaint myøreader that am I speaking of Signior Nicolini.' The town is highly obliged to that excellent artist, for having shewn us the Italian music in its perfection, as well as for that generous approbatioŋ 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-music, 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 pathetic 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 beauti. ful in themselves, and so proper for the airs of music, I cannot but wonder that persons of distinction should give so little atten. tion and encouragement to that kind of music, 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. Music among those who were styled the chosen people, was a religious art. The songs of Sion, which we have reason to believe were in high repute among the courts of the eastern monarchs, were nothing else but psalms and pieces of poetry that adored or celebrated the Supreme Being. The greatest conqueror in this holy nation, after the manner of the old Grecian lyrics, did not only compose the words of his divine odes, but generally set them to music himself: after which, his works, though they were con. secrated to the tabernacle, became the national entertainment, as well as the devotion of his people. The first original of the drama was a religious worship consisting only of a chorus, which was nothing else but an hymn to a deity. As luxury and voluptuousness prevailed over innocence and religion, this form of worship degenerated into tragedies; in which however the chorus so far remembered its first office, as to brand every thing that was vicious, and recommend every thing that was laudable, to intercede with heaven for the innocent, and to implore its vengeance on the criminal. Homer and Hesiod intimate to us how this art should be applied, when they represent the muses as surrounding Jupiter, and warbling their hymns about his throne. I might shew, from in. uumerable passages in ancient writers, not only that vocal and instrumental music were made use of in their religious worship, but that their most favourite diversions were filled with songs and hymns to their respective deities. Had we frequent enter