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No. 335. Sir Roger goes to the play; sees the tragedy of the Distressed Mother; his behaviour during the performance.
Respicere exemplar vitæ morumque jubebo
HOR, Ars Poet. 317.
way up Fleet
My friend Sir Roger de Coverley, when we last met together at the club, told me that he had a great mind to see the new tragedy with me, assuring me at the same time, that he had not been at a play these twenty years. “The last I saw,' said Sir Roger, 'was The Committeen, which I should not have gone to neither, had not I been told before-hand that it was a good church of England comedy.' He then proceeded to inquire of me who this Distressed Mother n was; and upon hearing that she
was Hector's widow, he told me that her husband was a brave 10 man, and that when he was a school-boy he had read his life at
the end of the dictionary. My friend asked me, in the next place, if there would not be some danger in coming home late, in case the Mohocks n should be abroad. “I assure you,' says he, 'I thought I had fallen into their hands last night; for I observed two or three lusty black men that followed me half street, and mended their pace behind me in proportion as I put on to get away from them. You must know,' continued the knight, with a smile, 'I fancied they had a mind to hunt me; for
I remember an honest gentleman in my neighbourhood, who was 20 served such a trick in king Charles II.'s time, for which reason he
has not ventured himself in town ever since. I might have shewn them very good sport, had this been their design ; for as I am an old fox-hunter, I should have turned and dodged, and have played them a thousand tricks they had never seen in their lives before.' Sir Roger added, that if these gentlemen had any such intention, they did not succeed very well in it; ‘for I threw them out,' says he, at the end of Norfolk-street, where I doubled the corner, and got shelter in my lodgings before they could imagine
what was become of me. However,' says the knight, “if Captain 30 Sentry will make one with us to-morrow night, and if you will
both of you call upon me about four o'clock, that we may be
at the house before it is full, I will have my own coach in readiness to attend you, for John tells me he has got the fore-wheels mended.'
The Captain, who did not fail to meet me there at the appointed hour, bid Sir Roger fear nothing, for that he had put on the same sword which he made use of at the battle of Steenkirk n, Sir Roger's servants, and among the rest, my old friend the butler, had, I found, provided themselves with good oaken
plants, to attend their master upon this occasion. When we had 10 placed him in his coach, with myself at his left hand, the Captain
before him, and his butler at the head of his footmen in the rear, we convoyed him in safety to the play-house, where, after having marched up the entry in good order, the Captain and I went in with him, and seated him betwixt us in the pit. As soon as the house was full, and the candles lighted, my old friend stood up and looked about him with that pleasure, which a mind seasoned with humanity naturally feels in itself, at the sight of a multitude of people who seem pleased with one another, and par
take of the same common entertainment. I could not but fancy 20 myself, as the old man stood up in the middle of the pit, that he
made a very proper centre to a tragic audience. Upon the entering of Pyrrhus, the knight told me that he did not believe the king of France himself had a better strut. I was indeed very attentive to my old friend's remarks, because I looked upon them as a piece of natural criticism; and was well pleased to hear him, at the conclusion of almost every scene, telling me that he could not imagine how the play would end. One while he appeared much concerned for Andromache, and a little while after as much
for Hermione; and was extremely puzzled to think what would 30 become of Pyrrhus.
When Sir Roger saw Andromache's obstinate refusal to her lover's importunities, he whispered me in the ear, that he was sure she would never have him; to which he added, with a more than ordinary vehemence, “You can't imagine, Sir, what it is to have to do with a widow.' Upon Pyrrhus his threatening afterwards to leave her, the knight shook his head and muttered to himself, “Ay, do if you can.' This part dwelt so much upon my friend's imagination, that at the close of the third act, as I was
thinking of something else, he whispered in my ear, “These 40 widows, Sir, are the most perverse creatures in the world. But
pray,' says he, 'you that are a critic, is this play according to your dramatic rules, as you call them ? Should your people in tragedy always talk to be understood? Why, there is not a single sentence in this play that I do not know the meaning of.'
The fourth act very unluckily began before I had time to give the old gentleman an answer: 'Well,' says the knight, sitting down with great satisfaction, 'I suppose we are now to see Hector's ghost.' He then renewed his attention, and, from time
to time, fell a-praising the widow. He made, indeed, a little 10 mistake as to one of her pages, whom at his first entering he
took for Astyanax: but he quickly set himself right in that particular, though, at the same time, he owned he should have been very glad to have seen the little boy, Who,' said he, must needs be a very fine child by the account that is given of him.' Upon Hermione's going off with a menace to Pyrrhus, the audience gave a loud clap; to which Sir Roger added, “On my word, a notable young baggagė!'
As there was a very remarkable silence and stillness in the audience during the whole action, it was natural for them to take 20 the opportunity of these intervals between the acts, to express
their opinion of the players and of their respective parts. Sir Roger hearing a cluster of them praise Orestes, struck in with them, and told them that he thought his friend Pylades was a very sensible man; as they were afterwards applauding Pyrrhus, Sir Roger put in a second time, “And let me tell you,' says he, * though he speaks but little, I like the old fellow in whiskers as well as any of them.' Captain Sentry seeing two or three wags who sat near us, lean with an attentive ear towards Sir
Roger, and fearing lest they should smoken the knight, plucked 30 him by the elbow, and whispered something in his ear, that lasted
till the opening of the fifth act. The knight was wonderfully attentive to the account which Orestes gives of Pyrrhus his death, and at the conclusion of it told me, it was such a bloody piece of work, that he was glad it was not done upon the stage. Seeing afterwards Orestes in his raving fit, he grew more than ordinary serious, and took occasion to moralize (in his way) upon an evil conscience, adding, that Orestes, in his madness, looked as if he saw something.
As we were the first that came into the house, so we were the 40 last that went out of it; being resolved to have a clear passage
for our old friend, whom we did not care to venture among the justling of the crowd. Sir Roger went out fully satisfied with his entertainment, and we guarded him to his lodgings in the same manner that we brought him to the play-house; being highly pleased, for my own part, not only with the performance of the excellent piece which had been presented, but with the satisfaction which it had given to the good old man.-L.
No. 383. Sir Roger and the Spectator go by water to Vauxhall
Juv. Sat. i. 75. As I was sitting in my chamber, and thinking on a subject for my next Spectator, I heard two or three irregular bounces at my 10 landlady's door, and upon the opening of it, a loud cheerful voice
inquiring whether the philosopher was at home. The child who went to the door answered very innocently, that he did not lodge there. I immediately recollected that it was my good friend Sir Roger's voice; and that I had promised to go with him on the water to Spring-garden, in case it proved a good evening. The knight put me in mind of my promise from the bottom of the stair-case, but told me, that if I was speculating, he would stay below till I had done. Upon my coming down, I
found all the children of the family got about my old friend, 20 and my landlady herself, who is a notable prating gossip, en
gaged in a conference with him: being mightily pleased with his stroking her little boy upon the head, and bidding him be a good child, and mind his book.
We were no sooner come to the Temple-stairs, but we were surrounded with a crowd of water-men, offering us their respective services. Sir Roger, after having looked about him very attentively, spied one with a wooden leg, and immediately gave him orders to get his boat ready. As we were walking
towards it, 'You must know,' says Sir Roger, “I never make 30 use of anybody to row me, that has not either lost a leg or
I would rather bate him a few strokes of his oar than not employ an honest man that has been wounded in the Queen's service, If I was a lord or a bishop, and kept a
barge, I would not put a fellow in my livery that had not a wooden leg.'
My old friend, after having seated himself and trimmed the boat with his coachman, who, being a very sober man, always serves for ballast on these occasions, we made the best of our way for Vaux-hall. Sir Roger obliged the waterman to give us the history of his right leg, and hearing that he had left it at La Hogue , with many particulars which passed in that glorious
action, the knight, in the triumph of his heart, made several 10 reflexions on the greatness of the British nation; as, that
one Englishman could beat three Frenchmen; that we could never be in danger of popery so long as we took care of our fleet; that the Thames was the noblest river in Europe ; that London bridge was a greater piece of work than any of the seven wonders of the world; with many other honest prejudices which naturally cleave to the heart of a true Englishman.
After some short pause, the old knight, turning about his head twice or thrice, to take a survey of this great metro20 polis, bid me observe how thick the city was set with churches,
and that there was scarce a single steeple on this side Templebar. “A most heathenish sight!' says Sir Roger: 'There is no religion at this end of the town. The fifty new churches n will very much mend the prospect: but church-work is slow, churchwork is slow.'
I do not remember I have anywhere mentioned, in Sir Roger's character, his custom of saluting everybody that passes by him with a good-morrow or a good-night. This the old man does
out of the overflowings of his humanity, though at the same 30 time it renders him so popular among all his country neigh
bours, that it is thought to have gone a good way in making him once or twice knight of the shire n. He cannot forbear this exercise of benevolence even in town, when he meets with any one in his morning or evening walk. It broke from him to several boats that passed by upon the water; but to the knight's great surprise, as he gave the good-night to two or three young fellows a little before our landing, one of them, instead of returning the civility, asked us, what queer old put we had in
the boat, and whether he was not ashamed to go a wenching 40 at his years ? with a great deal of the like Thames ribaldry.