IN THE COMMENTS: Our house ghost, Sir Archy pays a visit:
Spectatum admissi risum teneatis?
To Professor Althouse.
As the Ghost of a Person dead these 250 Years and more, you may imagine the Vagaries of Taste & Fashion to which I have been Witness. Nowhere is the World chang'd more sensibly than in the noble Art of Musick. In my Day, we thought harmonis'd Musick sweet; whereas the Present World seems continually bath'd in a Cacophony fitter to the Cataract at Niagra, than to sooth and ennoble the Soul of a rational Person.
So it is among the infinite Varities of Musick at the present Time, there are several that may be known as 'Contemporary Classical,' or 'Serious Musick,' or, to the Connoisseur, simply 'Modern Musick.' I will not play the Etymologist, and try Definitions of these upon your tiring Readers; suffice it to say that Musick of these Kinds will be fitt'd out with all manner of Squeaks, Honks, Knocks & Groans, not to mention every odd Thing that may be play'd upon any & all Instruments that Ingenuity may furnish.
I suppose, Madam, that I should be gratified that the Opera, irrational Entertainment as it may be, hath persisted from my Day to this. What are we suppos'd to make, then, of Operas, which were a bad enough Pastime in my Youth, now gone from the harmlessly Ridiculous to a Degree of Absurdity that only a Madman could compass? The Example you quote, Madam, seems to have been written by an Inmate of some Latter-Day Bedlam, but without, perhaps, the Common Sense of many a Lunatick I remember from that Institution. That an Opera may be written after the Manner of Modern Musick mentioned above, fill'd with Shrieks instead of Song, must be either a Sign of Madness, a Comick Pose, or, what is worse, that the Composer is pretending to a Humourous Irony.
The Portuguese are a lugubrious Nation. So it may be that, not having a form'd Taste for the refinements of Satire, they mistake what is Silly for Wit. That Monty Python have caus'd many Another to do so, may have lent Weight to the Pretense that, like the famous uncloath'd Chinese Emperor, Mr. Jones may be a Composer.
Before I close, Madam, I should like to quote Mr. Addison, writing in the Sixth Number of the Spectator, on Mynheer Handel's Opera of Rinaldo:
An Opera may be allowed to be extravagantly lavish in its Decorations,
as its only Design is to gratify the Senses, and keep up an indolent
Attention in the Audience. Common Sense however requires that there
should be nothing in the Scenes and Machines which may appear Childish
and Absurd. How would the Wits of King Charles's time have laughed to
have seen Nicolini exposed to a Tempest in Robes of Ermin, and sailing
in an open Boat upon a Sea of Paste-Board? What a Field of Raillery
would they have been let into, had they been entertain'd with painted
Dragons spitting Wild-fire, enchanted Chariots drawn by Flanders
Mares, and real Cascades in artificial Land-skips?
What a Field, indeed, had they my ghostly Fortune to be entertain'd by singing Kitchen Implements and dancing Auto-Mobiles.
Sensible of the Difficulties of Anyone who would play the Musick Critick,
I remain, Madam,
Your most humble & obt. Servant,