Bombalio, Clangor, Stridor, Taratantara, Murmur
— FARN. RHET.
Rend with tremendous sounds your ears asunder,
With gun, drum, trumpet, blunderbuss and thunder.
I have heard of a very valuable picture, wherein all the painters of the age in which it was drawn are represented sitting together in a circle, and joining in a concert of music. Each of them plays upon such a particular instrument as is the most suitable to his character, and expresses that style and manner of painting which is peculiar to him. The famous cupola-painter of those times, to show the grandeur and boldness of his figures, bath a horn in his mouth, which he seems to wind with great strength and force. On the contrary, an eminent artist, who wrought up his pictures with the greatest accuracy, and gave them all those delicate touches which are apt to please the nicest eye, is represented as tuning a theorbo. The same kind of humour runs through the whole piece.
I have often from this hint imagined to myself, that different talents in discourse might be shadowed out after the same manner by different kinds of music; and that the several conversable parts of mankind in this great city might be cast into proper characters and divisions, as they resemble several instruments that are in use among the masters of harmony. Of these, therefore, in their order, and first of the drum.
Your drums are the blusterers in conversation, that with a loud laugh, unnatural mirth, and a torrent for noise, domineer in public assemblies, overbear men of sense, stun their companions, and fill the place they are in with a rattling sound, that hath seldom any wit, humour, or good breeding in it. The drum, notwithstanding, by this boisterous vivacity is very proper to impose upon the ignorant; and in conversation with ladies, who are not of the finest taste, often passes for a man of mirth and wit, and for wonderful pleasant company. I need not observe, that the emptiness of the drum very much contributes to its noise.
The lute is a character directly opposite to the drum, that sounds very finely by itself, or in a very small concert. Its notes are exquisitely sweet, and very low, easily drowned in a multitude of instruments, and even lost among a few, unless you give a particular attention to it. A lute is seldom heard in a company of more than five, whereas a drum will show itself to advantage in an assembly of five hundred. The lutanists, therefore, are men of a fine genius, uncommon reflection, great affability, and esteemed chiefly by persons of a good taste, who are the only proper judges of so delightful and soft a melody.
The trumpet is an instrument that has in it no compass of music or variety of sound, but is notwithstanding very agreeable, so long as it keeps within its pitch. It has not above four or five notes, which are, however, very pleasing, and capable of exquisite turns and modulations. The gentlemen who fall under this denomination, are your men of the most fashionable education and refined breeding, who have learned a certain smoothness of discourse, and sprightliness of air, from the polite company they have kept; but at the same time have shallow parts, weak judgments, and a short reach of understanding; a play-house, a drawing-room, a ball, a visiting-day, or a ring at Hyde Park, are the few notes they are masters of, which they touch upon in all conversations. The trumpet, however, is a necessary instrument about a court, and a proper enlivener of a concert, though of no great harmony by itself.
Violins, are the lively, forward, importunate wits, that distinguish themselves by the flourishes of imagination, sharpness of repartee, glances of satire, and bear away the upper part in every concert. I cannot, however, but observe, that when a man is not disposed to hear music, there is not a more disagreeable sound in harmony, than that of a violin.
There is another musical instrument, which is more frequent in this nation than in any other; I mean your bass-viol, which grumbles in the bottom of the concert, and with a surly, masculine sound strengthens the harmony, and tempers the sweetness of the several instruments that play along with it. The bass-viol is an instrument of a quite different nature to the trumpet, and may signify men of rough sense, and unpolished parts, who do not love to hear themselves talk, but sometimes break out with an agreeable bluntness, unexpected wit, and surly pleasantries, to the no small diversion of their friends and companions. In short, I look upon every sensible, true-born Briton to be naturally a bass-viol.
As for your rural wits, who talk with great eloquence and alacrity of foxes, hounds, horses, quickset hedges, and six-bar gates, double ditches, and broken necks, I am in doubt whether I should give them a place in the conversable world. However, if they will content themselves with being raised to the dignity of hunting-horns, I shall desire for the future that they may be known by that name.
I must not here omit the bagpipe species, that will entertain you from morning to night with the repetition of a few notes, which are played over and over, with the perpetual humming of a drone running underneath them. These are your dull, heavy, tedious story-tellers, the load and burthen of conversations, that set up for men of importance, by knowing secret history, and giving an account of transactions, that whether they ever passed in the world or not, doth not signify an halfpenny to its instruction, or its welfare. Some have observed, that the northern parts of this island are more particularly fruitful in bagpipes.
There are so very few persons who are masters in every kind of conversation, and can talk on all subjects, that I do not know whether we should make a distinct species of them; nevertheless, that my scheme may not be defective, for the sake of those who are endowed with such extraordinary talents, I shall allow them to be harpsichords, a kind of music which every one knows is a concert by itself.
As for your passing bells, who look upon mirth as criminal, and talk of nothing but what is melancholy in itself, and mortifying to human nature, I shall not mention them.
I shall likewise pass over in silence all the rabble of mankind, that crowd our streets, coffee-houses, feasts, and public tables. I cannot call their discourse conversation, but rather something that is practised in imitation of it. For which reason, if I would describe them by any musical instrument, it should be by those modern inventions of the bladder and string, tongs and key, marrowbone and cleaver.
My reader will doubtless observe, that I have only touched here upon male instruments, having reserved my female concert to another occasion. If he has a mind to know where these several characters are to be met with, I could direct him to a whole club of drums; not to mention another of bagpipes, which I have before given some account of in my description of our nightly meetings in Sheer Lane. The lutes may often be met with in couples upon the banks of a crystal stream, or in the retreats of shady woods and flowery meadows; which for different reasons are likewise the great resort of your hunting-horns. Bass-viols are frequently to be found over a glass of stale beer and a pipe of tobacco; whereas those who set up for violins, seldom fail to make their appearance at Will's once every evening. You may meet with a trumpet anywhere on the other side of Charing Cross.
That we may draw something for our advantage in life out of the foregoing discourse, I must entreat my reader to make a narrow search into his life and conversation, and upon his leaving any company, to examine himself seriously, whether he has behaved himself in it like a drum or a trumpet, a violin or a bass-viol; and accordingly endeavour to mend his music for the future. For my own part, I must confess, I was a drum for many years; nay, and a very noisy one, till having polished myself a little in good company, I threw as much of the trumpet into my conversation as was possible for a man of an impetuous temper, by which mixture of different musics, I look upon myself, during the course of many years, to have resembled a tabor and pipe. I have since very much endeavoured at the sweetness, of the lute but in spite of all my resolutions, I must confess with great confusion, that I find myself daily degenerating into a bagpipe; whether it be the effect of my old age, or of the company I keep, I know not. All that I can do, is to keep a watch over my conversation, and to silence the drone as soon as I find it begin to hum in my discourse, being determined rather to hear the notes of others, than to play out of time, and encroach upon their parts in the concert by the noise of so tiresome an instrument.
I shall conclude this paper with a letter which I received last night from a friend of mine, who knows very well my notions upon this subject, and invites me to pass the evening at his house, with a select company of friends, in the following words:
I intend to have a concert at my house this evening, having by great chance got a harpsichord, which I am sure will entertain you very agreeably. There will be likewise two lutes and a trumpet: let me beg you to put yourself in tune, and believe me,
Your very faithful servant,