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ON THE INFLUENCE OF SONGS AND SONG-SINGING ON
THE HABITS, APPETITES, AND MANNERS OF A PEO-
Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,
It is well known to every scholar, that Bishop Lowth, in a solemn introduction to his Lectures on Sacred Poetry, has inserted, in the very first place, and as one of the most striking instances of the power of poetry, a Greek political ballad, which used to be sung by the Athenian liberty boys, at all their jolly drinking bouts, and by the mob and the ballad-singers, in the streets and alleys of the city. The bishop, after citing it at full length, suggests, that if, after the memorable ides of March, such a song had been given by the Tirannicides of Rome to the common people to be sung in the suburbs and the forum, it would have been all over with the party and the tyranny of the Cæsars. The ballad, Harmodion Melos, would have done more than all the philippics of Cicero: and yet this ballad, though in Greek, is not better than many a one that has been sung in praise of Wilkes and li
berty, of “ forty-five” memory. It bears a considerable resemblance to several popular songs written by Tom D'Urfey and George Alexander Stevens, whom some future lecturer in poetry may call (as the bishop does Callistratus, the author of his favourite song) ingeniosus poetas et valde bonos cives. That the bishop should have thought proper to select a trivial ballad to shew the force of poetry, when he was going to treat of inspired poetry, evinces that he deemed ballads capable of producing wonderful effects on the human heart, and therefore of great consequence, and worthy to be ranked with the highest poetry.
There must, doubtless, have been a favourite tune to these words, which is lost past recovery; for among us a popular tune and popular words are generally united; at least the words will seldom be long popular, without a favourite tune. Words scarcely above nonsense have had a fine effect when recommended by favourite sounds : Lillibullero is an obvious instance, and many others might be enumerated. Lord Wharton boasted that he rhymed the king out of the kingdom by it. “ Hearts of oak are our ships, hearts of oak are our men,” is as good a composition as that of the old Grecian with the hard name; and it is not improbable may have contributed to animate many a poor creature whose unhappy lot it was to be food for gunpowder, and afterwards for sharks. “ Hosier's Ghost," “ The Vicar of Bray," and “Joy to Great Cæsar," had great weight in their day.
But if political songs produce so great an effect, it is
but reasonable to conclude, that Bacchanalian and amorous songs have, in their way, an influence similar and no less powerful. Music and poetry are wonderfully efficacious on the mind when they act separately; and when united, their power is more than doubled. They are of necessity united in songs, and the effect is usually increased by wine, cheerful conversation, and every species of convivial joy.
It is here then argued, that if political songs have had such wonderful effects as to lead on armies to conquest, and to dethrone kings, those songs in which the joys of love and wine are celebrated, must have done great execution in private life. It is fair, at least we conceive so, to draw such an inference.
In Dr. Burney's History of Music there is a curious article on the Medicinal Powers attributed to Music by the Ancients," which he derived from the learned labours of a modern physician, M. Burrette, who, doubtless, could play a tune too, as well as prescribe one to his patients. He conceives that music can relieve the pains of sciatica (rheumatism of the hip-joint), and that independent of the greater or less skill of the physician; by flattering the ear, diverting the attention, and occasioning certain vibrations of the nerves, it can remove those obstructions which occasion this disorder. M. Burrette, and many other modern physicians and philosophers, have believed that music has the power of affecting the mind, and the whole nervous system, so as to give a temporary relief in certain diseases, and even a radical cure. De Mairan, Branchini,
and other respectable names, have pursued the same career. But the ancients record miracles.
“ Music and the sounds of instruments," says the sensible Vigneul de Marville, “contribute to the health of the body and mind; they assist the circulation of the blood, they dissipate vapours, and open the vessels, so that the action of perspiration is freer.”
The same author tells a story of a person of distinction, who assured him, that once being suddenly seized by violent illness, instead of a consultation of physicians, he immediately called a band of musicians, and their violins acted so well upon his inside, that his bowels became perfectly in tune, and in a few hours were harmoniously becalmed.
A story is related of Farinelli, the famous singer, who
was sent for to Madrid to try the effect of his magical voice on the King of Spain. His majesty was absorbed in the profoundest melancholy; nothing could raise an emotion in him; he lived in a state of total oblivion of life; he sat in a darkened chamber, entirely given up to the most distressing kind of madness. The physicians at first ordered Farinelli to sing in an outer room ; and for the first day or two this was done, without producing any effect upon the royal patient. At length, it was observed, that the king, awakening from his stupor, seemed to listen ; on the next day, tears were seen starting from his eyes; the day after, he ordered the door of his chamber to be left open; and, at length, the perturbed spirit entirely left our
modern Saul, and the medicinal voice of Farinelli effected what no other medicine could.
The following facts our readers may consider as a trial of their credulity; their authorities, however, are by no means contemptible. Naturalists assert, that animals and birds, as well as “ knotted oaks," as Congreve informs us, are sensible of the charms of music. The following may serve as an instance:-An officer was confined in the Bastile. He begged the governor to permit him the use of the lute, to soften, by the harmonies of his instrument, the rigour of his prison. At the end of a few days, this modern Orpheus, playing on his lute, was greatly astonished to see frisking out of their holes great numbers of mice, and descending from their woven habitations, crowds of spiders, who formed a circle about him, while he continued breathing his soul-subduing instrument. His surprise at first was so great, that he was petrified with astonishment; when, having ceased to play, the assembly, who did not come to see his person, but to hear his instrument, immediately broke up. As he had a great dislike to spiders, it was two days before he ventured again to touch his lute. At length, having conquered, for the novelty of his company, his dislike of them, he re-commenced his concert, when the assembly was by far more numerous than at first; and in the course of farther time, he found himself surrounded by a thousand musical amateurs. Having thus succeeded in attracting his company, he treacherously contrived to