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promontory, where after having repeated a stanza of her own verses, which we could not hear, she threw herself off the rock with such an intrepidity, as was never before observed in any who had attempted that dangerous leap. Many who were present related, that they saw her fall into the sea, from whence she never rose again; though there were others who affirmed, that she never came to the bottom of her leap; but that she was changed into a swan as she fell, and that they saw her hovering in the air under that shape. But whether or no the whiteness and fluttering of her garments might not deceive those who looked upon her, or whether she might not really be metamorphosed into that musical and melancholy bird, is still a doubt among the Lesbians.
Alcæus, the famous lyric poet, who had for some time been passionately in love with Sappho, arrived at the promontory of Leucate that very evening, in order to take the leap upon her account; but hearing that Sappho had been there before him, and that her body could be nowhere found, he very generously lamented her fall, and is said to have written his hundred and twenty-fifth Ode upon that occasion. Leaped in this Olympiad 250.
THERE is nothing which lies more within the province of a Spectator than public shows and diversions; and as among these there are none which can pretend to vie with those elegant entertainments that are exhibited in our theatres, I think it particularly incumbent on me to take notice of everything that is remarkable in such numerous and refined assemblies.
It is observed, that of late years there has been a certain person in the upper gallery of the play-house, who, when he
is pleased with anything that is acted upon the stage, expresses his approbation by a loud knock upon the benches or the wainscot, which may be heard over the whole theatre. This person is commonly known by the name of the "Trunkmaker in the upper gallery." Whether it be, that the blow he gives on these occasions resembles that which is often heard in the shops of such artisans, or that he was supposed to have been a real trunk-maker, who, after the finishing of his day's work, used to unbend his mind at these public diversions with his hammer in his hand, I cannot certainly tell. There are some, I know, who have been foolish enough to imagine it is a spirit which haunts the upper gallery, and from time to time makes those strange noises; and the rather, because he is observed to be louder than ordinary every time the ghost of Hamlet appears. Others have reported that it is a dumb man, who has chosen this way of uttering himself, when he is transported with anything he sees or hears. Others will have it to be the play-house thunderer, that exerts himself after this manner in the upper gallery, when he has nothing to do upon the roof.
But having made it my business to get the best information I could in a matter of this moment, I find that the Trunk-maker, as he is commonly called, is a large black man, whom nobody knows. He generally leans forward on a huge oaken plant, with great attention to everything that passes upon the stage. He is never seen to smile; but upon hearing anything that pleases him, he takes up his staff with both hands, and lays it upon the next piece of timber that stands in his way with exceeding vehemence: after which he composes himself in his former posture, till such time as something new sets him again at work.
It has been observed, his blow is so well timed, that the most judicious critic could never except against it. As soon as any shining thought is expressed in the poet, or any uncommon grace appears in the actor, he smites the bench or wainscot. If the audience does not concur with him, he smites a second time; and if the audience is not yet awaked, looks round him with great wrath, and repeats the blow a third time, which never fails to produce the clap. He sometimes lets the audience begin the clap of themselves, and at the conclusion of their applause ratifies it with a single thwack. He is of so great use to the play-house, that it is said a
former director of it, upon his not being able to pay his attendance by reason of sickness, kept one in pay to officiate for him till such time as he recovered; but the person so employed, though he laid about him with incredible violence, did it in such wrong places, that the audience soon found out that it was not their old friend the Trunk-maker.
It has been remarked, that he has not yet exerted himself with vigour this season. He sometimes plies at the opera; upon Nicolini's first appearance, was said to have demolished three benches in the fury of his applause. He has broken half a dozen oaken plants upon Dogget; and seldom goes away from a tragedy of Shakspeare, without leaving the wainscot extremely shattered.
The players do not only connive at this his obstreperous approbation, but very cheerfully repair at their own cost whatever damage he makes. They had once a thought of erecting a kind of wooden anvil for his use, that should be made of a very sounding plank, in order to render his strokes more deep and mellow; but as this might not have been distinguished from the music of a kettle-drum, the project was laid aside.
In the mean while I cannot but take notice of the great use it is to an audience, that a person should thus preside over their heads, like the director of a concert, in order to awaken their attention, and beat time to their applauses; or, to raise my simile, I have sometimes fancied the Trunk-maker in the upper gallery to be like Virgil's ruler of the wind, seated upon the top of a mountain, who, when he struck his sceptre upon the side of it, roused an hurricane, and set the whole cavern in an uproar.
It is certain the Trunk-maker has saved many a good play, and brought many a graceful actor into reputation, who would not otherwise have been taken notice of. It is very visible, as the audience is not a little abashed if they find themselves betrayed into a clap, when their friend in the upper gallery does not come into it; so the actors do not value themselves upon the clap, but regard it as a mere brutum fulmen, or empty noise, when it has not the sound of the oaken plant in it. I know it has been given out by those who are enemies to the Trunk-maker, that he has sometimes been bribed to be in the interest of a bad poet, or a vicious player; but this is a surmise which has no foundation; his strokes are always just, and his admonitions seasonable; he does not deal about
his blows at random, but always hits the right nail upon the head. That inexpressible force wherewith he lays them on, sufficiently shows the evidence and strength of his conviction. His zeal for a good author is indeed outrageous, and breaks down every fence and partition, every board and plank, that stands within the expression of his applause.
As I do not care for terminating my thoughts in barren speculations, or in reports of pure matter of fact, without drawing something from them for the advantage of my countrymen, I shall take the liberty to make an humble proposal, that whenever the Trunk-maker shall depart this life, or whenever he shall have lost the spring of his arm by sickness, old age, infirmity, or the like, some able-bodied critic should be advanced to this post, and have a competent salary settled on him for life, to be furnished with bamboos for operas, crab-tree cudgels for comedies, and oaken plants for tragedy, at the public expense. And to the end that this place should be always disposed of according to merit, I would have none preferred to it, who has not given convincing proofs both of a sound judgment and a strong arm, and who could not, upon occasion, either knock down an ox, or write a comment upon Horace's Art of Poetry. In short, I would have him a due composition of Hercules and Apollo, and so rightly qualified for this important office, that the Trunkmaker may not be missed by our posterity.
No. 237. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1.
Visu carentem magna pars veri latet. SENEC. IN OEDIP.
It is very reasonable to believe, that part of the pleasure which happy minds shall enjoy in a future state, will arise from an enlarged contemplation of the Divine wisdom in the government of the world, and a discovery of the secret and amazing steps of Providence, from the beginning to the end of time. Nothing seems to be an entertainment more adapted to the nature of man, if we consider that curiosity is one of the strongest and most lasting appetites implanted in us, and that admiration is one of our most pleasing passions; and what a perpetual succession of enjoyments will be afforded to both these, in a scene so large and various as shall then be
laid open to our view in the society of superior spirits, who perhaps will join with us in so delightful a prospect!
It is not impossible, on the contrary, that part of the punishment of such as are excluded from bliss, may consist not only in their being denied this privilege, but in having their appetites at the same time vastly increased, without any satisfaction afforded to them. In these, the vain pursuit of knowledge shall, perhaps, add to their infelicity, and bewilder them in labyrinths of error, darkness, distraction, and uncertainty of everything but their own evil state. Milton has thus represented the fallen angels reasoning together in a kind of respite from their torments, and creating to themselves a new disquiet amidst their very amusements: he could not properly have described the sports of condemned spirits, without that cast of horror and melancholy he has so judiciously mingled with them.
Others apart sat on a hill retired,
In thoughts more elevate, and reasoned high
In our present condition, which is a middle state, our minds are, as it were, chequered with truth and falsehood; and as our faculties are narrow, and our views imperfect, it is impossible but our curiosity must meet with many repulses. The business of mankind in this life being rather to act than to know, their portion of knowledge is dealt to them accordingly.
From hence it is, that the reason of the inquisitive has so long been exercised with difficulties, in accounting for the promiscuous distribution of good and evil to the virtuous and the wicked in this world. From hence come all those pathetical complaints of so many tragical events, which happen to the wise and the good; and of such surprising prosperity, which is often the reward of the guilty and the foolish; that reason is sometimes puzzled, and at a loss what to pronounce upon so mysterious à dispensation.
Plato expresses his abhorrence of some fables of the poets, which seem to reflect on the gods as the authors of injustice; and lays it down as a principle, that whatever is permitted to befall a just man, whether poverty, sickness, or any of those things which seem to be evils, shall either in life or