Joseph Addison backstage
I look upon the playhouse as a world within itself. They have lately furnished the middle region of it with a new set of meteors, in order to give the sublime to many modern tragedies. I was there last winter at the first rehearsal of the new thunder, which is much more deep and sonorous than any hitherto made use of. They have a Salmoneus behind the scenes who plays it off with great success. Their lightnings are made to flash more briskly than heretofore; their clouds are also better furbelowed, and more voluminous; not to mention a violent storm locked up in a great chest, that is designed for ''The Tempest.'' They are also provided with above a dozen showers of snow, which, as I am informed, are the plays of many unseccessful poets artifically cut and shreaded for that use. Mr. Tymer's ''Edgar'' is to fall in snow at the next acting of ''King Lear,'' in order to heighten, or rather to alleviate, the distress of that unfortunate prince; and to serve by way of decoration to a piece which that great critic has written against.
I do not wonder that the actors should be such professed enemies to those among our nation who are commonly known by the name of critics, since it is a rule among these gentlemen to fall upon a play, not because it is ill written, but because it takes [with the public]. Several of them lay it down as a maxim that whatever dramatic performance has a long run must of necessity be good for nothing; as though the first precept in poetry were, not to pleasem. Whether this rule holds good or not, I shall leave to the determination of those who are better judges than myself; if it does, I am sure it tends very much to the honour of those gentlement who have established it; few of their pieces having been disgraced by a run of three days, and most of them being so exquisitely written that the town would never give them more than one night's hearing.
I have a great esteem for a true critic, such as Artistotle and Longinus among tyhe Greeks, Horace and Quintilian among the Romans, Boileau and Dacier among the French. But it is our misfortune, that some who set up for professed critics among us are so stupid, that they do not know how to put ten words together with elegance or common propriety, and withal so illiterate, that they have no taste of the learned languages, and therefore criticise upon old authors only as second hand. They judge of them by what others have written, and not by any notions they have of the authors themselves. The words unity, action, sentiment, and diction, pronounced with an air of authority, give them a figure among unlearned readers who are apt to belive they are very deep, because they are unintelligible.