Sweet peace, and heavenly
hope, and humble joy,
Divinely beam on his exalted soul.
But I must tell what I have been seeing at the theatre, and should tell it much better had not the charms of Countess Ferris’s conversation engaged my mind, which would otherwise perhaps have been more seized on than it was, by the sight of an old pantomime, or wretched farce (for there was speaking in it, I remember), exploded long since from our very lowest places of diversion, and now exhibited here at Padua before a very polite and a very literary audience; and in a better theatre by far than our newly-adorned opera-house in the Hay-market. Its subject was no other than the birth of Harlequin; but the place and circumstances combined to make me look on it in a light which shewed it to uncommon advantage. The storm, for example, the thunder, darkness, &c. which is so solemnly made to precede an incantation, apparently not meant to be ridiculous, after which, a huge egg is somehow miraculously produced upon the stage, put me in mind of the very old mythologists, who thus desired to represent the chaotic state of things, when Night, Ocean, and Tartarus disputed in perpetual confusion; till Love and Music separated the elements, and as Dryden says,
Then hot and cold, and moist
In order to their stations leap,
And music’s power obey.
For Cupid, advancing to a slow tune, steadies with his wand the rolling mass upon the stage, that then begins to teem with its motley inhabitant, and just representative of the created world, active, wicked, gay, amusing, which gains your heart, but never your esteem: tricking, shifting, and worthless as it is—but after all its frisks, all its escapes, is condemned at last to burn in fire, and pass entirely away. Such was, I trust, the idea of the person, whoever he was, that had the honour first to compose this curious exhibition, and model this mythological device into a pantomime! for the mundane, or as Proclus calls it, the orphick egg, is possibly the earliest of all methods taken to explain the rise, progress, and final conclusion of our earth and atmosphere; and was the original theory brought from Egypt into Greece by Orpheus. Nor has that prodigious genius, Dr. Thomas Burnet, scorned to adopt it seriously in his Telluris Theoria sacra, written less than a century ago, adapting it with wonderful ingenuity to the Christian system and Mosaical account of things; to which it certainly does accommodate itself the better, as the form of an egg well resembles that of our habitable globe; and the internal divisions, our four elements, leaving the central fire for the yolk. I therefore regarded our pantomime here at Padua with a degree of reverence I should have found difficult to excite in myself at Sadler’s Wells; where ideas of antiquity would have been little likely to cross my fancy. Sure I am, however, that the original inventor of this old pantomime had his head very full at the time of some very ancient learning.