Front Page Titles (by Subject) Freeholder, No. 34 - Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays
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Freeholder, No. 34 - Joseph Addison, Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays 
Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays, ed. by Christine Dunn Henderson and Mark E. Yellin, with a Foreword by Forrest McDonald (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Freeholder, No. 34
Monday, April 16, 1716
In rabiem coepit verti jocus———
It is very justly, as well as frequently observed, that if our nation be ever ruined, it must be by itself. The parties and divisions which reign among us may several ways bring destruction upon our country, at the same time that our united force would be sufficient to secure us against all the attempts of a foreign enemy. Whatever expedients therefore can be found to allay those heats and animosities, which break us into different factions and interests, cannot but be useful to the publick, and highly tend to its safety, strength, and reputation.
This dangerous dissension among us discovers itself in all the most indifferent circumstances of life. We keep it up, and cherish it with as much pains, as if it were a kind of national blessing. It insinuates itself into all our discourses, mixes in our parties of pleasure, has a share in our diversions, and is an ingredient in most of our publick entertainments.
I was not long ago at the Play called Sir Courtly Nice, where to the eternal reproach of good sense, I found the whole audience had very gravely ranged themselves into two parties, under Hot-head and Testimony.2Hot-head was the applauded Hero of the Tories, and Testimony no less the favourite of the Whigs. Each party followed their champion. It was wonderful to see so polite an assembly distinguishing themselves by such extraordinary representatives, and avowing their principles as conformable either to the zeal of Hot-head, or the moderation of Testimony. Thus the two parts which were designed to expose the faults of both sides, and were accordingly received by our ancestors in King Charles the Second’s reign,3 meet with a kind of sanction from the applauses which are respectively bestowed on them by their wise posterity. We seem to imagine that they were written as patterns for imitation, not as objects of ridicule.
This humour runs so far, that most of our late Comedies owe their success to it. The audience listens after nothing else. I have seen little Dicky place himself with great approbation at the head of the Tories for five Acts together, and Pinky espouse the interest of the Whigs with no less success.4 I do not find that either party has yet thrown themselves under the patronage of Scaramouch, or that Harlequin5 has violated that neutrality, which, upon his late arrival in Great-Britain, he professed to both parties, and which it is thought he will punctually observe, being allowed on all sides to be a man of honour. It is true, that upon his first appearance, a violent Whig tradesman in the pit begun to compliment him with a clap, as overjoyed to see him mount a ladder, and fancying him to be dressed in a highland plad.
I question not but my Readers will be surprized to find me animadverting on a practice that has been always favourable to the cause which now prevails. The British Theatre was Whig even in the worst of times; and in the last reign did not scruple to testify its zeal for the good of our country, by many magnanimous claps in its lower regions, answered with loud huzzas from the upper gallery. This good disposition is so much heightened of late, that the whole neighbourhood of the Drury-lane Theatre very often shakes with the loyalty of the audience. It is said, that a young Author, who very much relies on this prevailing humour, is now writing a Farce to be called A Match out of Newgate, in allusion to the title of a Comedy called A Match in Newgate;6 and that his chief person is a round-shouldered man with a pretty large nose and a wide mouth, making his addresses to a lovely black woman that passes for a Peeress of Great-Britain. In short, the whole Play is built upon the late escape of General Forster,7 who is supposed upon the road to fall in love with my Lord Nithisdale,8 whom the ingenious Author imagines to be still in his riding-hood.
But notwithstanding the good principles of a British audience in this one particular, it were to be wished that every thing should be banished the Stage which has a tendency to exasperate men’s minds, and inflame that party rage which makes us such a miserable and divided people. And that in the first place, because such a proceeding as this disappoints the very design of all publick diversions and entertainments. The institution of sports and shews was intended by all governments, to turn off the thoughts of the people from busying themselves in matters of state, which did not belong to them; to reconcile them to one another by the common participations of mirth and pleasure; and to wear out of their minds that rancour which they might have contracted by the interfering views of interest and ambition. It would therefore be for the benefit of every society, that is disturbed by contending factions, to encourage such innocent amusements as may thus disembitter the minds of men, and make them mutually rejoice in the same agreeable satisfactions. When people are accustomed to sit together with pleasure, it is a step towards reconciliation: but as we manage matters, our politest assemblies are like boisterous clubs, that meet over a glass of wine, and before they have done, throw bottles at one another’s heads. Instead of multiplying those desirable opportunities where we may agree in points that are indifferent, we let the spirit of contention into those very methods that are not only foreign to it, but should in their nature dispose us to be friends. This our anger in our mirth is like poison in a perfume, which taints the spirits instead of chearing and refreshing them.
Another manifest inconvenience which arises from this abuse of publick entertainments, is, that it naturally destroys the taste of an audience. I do not deny, but that several performances have been justly applauded for their wit, which have been written with an eye to this predominant humour of the town: but it is visible even in these, that it is not the excellence, but the application of the sentiment, that has raised applause. An Author is very much disappointed to find the best parts of his productions received with indifference, and to see the audience discovering beauties which he never intended. The Actors, in the midst of an innocent old Play, are often startled with unexpected claps or hisses; and do not know whether they have been talking like good subjects, or have spoken treason. In short, we seem to have such a relish for faction, as to have lost that of wit; and are so used to the bitterness of party rage, that we cannot be gratified with the highest entertainment that has not this kind of seasoning in it. But as no work must expect to live long which draws all its beauty from the colour of the times; so neither can that pleasure be of greater continuance, which arises from the prejudice or malice of its hearers.
To conclude; since the present hatred and violence of parties is so unspeakably pernicious to the community, and none can do a better service to their country than those who use their utmost endeavours to extinguish it, we may reasonably hope, that the more elegant part of the nation will give a good example to the rest; and put an end to so absurd and foolish a practice, which makes our most refined diversions detrimental to the publick, and, in a particular manner, destructive of all politeness.
[1. ]“till jest, now growing cruel, turned to open frenzy—” Horace Epistles II.i.148–49.
[2. ]Sir Courtly Nice; Or, It Cannot Be, a comedy by John Crowne, was first staged in 1685. Still popular during the publication of The Freeholder, it was produced three times in London during the 1715–16 season. By the early eighteenth century, Hothead and Testimony had become common political caricatures.
[3. ]Charles II reigned 1660–85.
[4. ]Addison is referring to two actors, Henry Norris (1665–1731), commonly called “Jubilee-Dicky” and William Penkethman (or Pinkethman, d. 1725), nicknamed “Pinky.” A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London (1660–1800), vol. 2, by Philip H. Highfill, Jr., Kalman A. Burnim, and Edward A. Langhans (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987), 50–53, 320–29.
[5. ]A standard character in Italian and French farce, the cowardly and boasting Scaramouch was constantly bludgeoned by Harlequin.
[6. ]Christopher Bullock’s A Woman’s Revenge; or, A Match in Newgate was published and first staged in October, 1715. Emmett L. Avery, ed. The London Stage, 1660–1800, part 2, vol. 1 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1960), 372.
[7. ]One of James Stuart’s generals, Thomas Forster surrendered at Preston; he was imprisoned in and eventually escaped from Newgate.
[8. ]William Maxwell, Lord Nithsdale supported James Stuart, was imprisoned following the battle at Preston, and escaped from the Tower in February of 1716.