John Newton, Messiah.  Fifty Expository Discourses, on the Series of Scriptural Passages, Which form the Subject of the celebrated Oratorio of Handel.


[…] MESSIAH, the great subject of the Oratorio, is the leading and principal subject of every sermon. [1:xv]



[I. “Comfort ye my people”]


[…] But a regard to the satisfaction and advantage of my stated hearers, has often made me desirous of adopting some plan, which might lead me to exhibit the principal outlines of the Saviour’s character and mediation in a regular series of discourses; so as to form, if not a picture, at least a slight sketch, of those features of his glory and of his grace, which endear him to the hearts of his people.  Such a plan has lately, and rather unexpectedly, occurred to me.  Conversation in almost every company, for some time past, has much turned upon the commemoration of Handel; the grand musical entertainments, and particularly his Oratorio of the Messiah, which have been repeatedly performed on that occasion in Westminster Abbey.  If it could be reasonably hoped that the performers and the company assembled to hear the music, or the greater part, or even a very considerable part of them, were capable of entering into the spirit of the subject; I will readily allow that the Messiah, executed is no masterly a manner, by persons whose [3] hearts, as well as their voices and instruments, were tuned to the Redeemer’s praise; accompanied with he grateful emotions of an audience duly affected with a sense of their obligations to his love; might afford one of the highest and noblest gratifications, of which we are capable in the present life.  But they who love the Redeemer, and therefore delight to join in his praise, if they did not find it convenient, or think it expedient, to hear the Messiah at Westminster, may comfort themselves with the thought, that, in a little time, they shall be still more abundantly gratified.  Ere long death shall rend the vail [sic] which hides eternal things from their view, and introduce them to that unceasing song and universal chorus, which are even now performing before the throne of God and the Lamb.  Till then, I apprehend, that true Christians, without the assistance of either vocal or instrumental music, may find greater pleasure in a humble contemplation on the words of the Messiah, than they can derive from the utmost efforts of musical genius.  This therefore is the plan I spoke of.  I mean to lead your meditations to the language of the Oratorio, and to consider in their order, [4] (if the Lord on whom our breath depends shall be pleased to afford life, ability and opportunity) the several sublime and interesting passages of Scripture, which are the basis of that admired composition. [1:2–4]


The Messiah of Handel consists of three parts.  The first, contains prophecies of his advent and the happy consequences, together with the angel’s message to the shepherds informing them of his birth, as related by St. Luke.  The second part describes his passion, death, resurrection and ascension; his taking possession of his kingdom of glory, the commencement of his kingdom of grace upon the earth, and the certain disappointment and ruin of all who persist in opposition to his will.  The third part expresses the blessed fruits and consummation of his undertaking in the deliverance of his people from sin, sorrow and death, and in making them finally victorious over all their enemies.  The triumphant song of the redeemed, to the praise of the Lamb, who bought them with his own blood, closes the whole.  The arrangement of series of these passages, is so judiciously disposed, so well connected, and so fully comprehends all the principal truths of the Gospel, that I shall not attempt either to alter, or to enlarge it. [1:5]


II.  Tho’ the last clause of the verse does not belong to the passage, as selected for the Oratorio, it is so closely connected with the subject, that I am not willing to omit it. [1:15]


3.  To be capable of the comfort my text proposes, the mind must be in a suitable disposition.  A free pardon is a comfort to a malefactor, but it implies guilt; and therefore they who have no apprehension that they have broken the laws, would be rather offended, than comforted, by an offer of pardon.  This is one principal cause of that neglect, yea contempt, which the gospel of the grace of God meets with from the world.  If we could suppose that a company of people who were all trembling under an apprehension of his displeasure, constrained to confess the justice of the sentence, but not as yet [23] informed of any way to escape, were to hear this message for the first time, and to be fully assured of its truth and authority, they would receive it as life from the dead.  But it is to be feared, that for want of knowing themselves, and their real state in the sight of him with whom they have to do, many persons, who have received pleasure from the music of the Messiah, have neither found, nor expected, nor desired to find, any comfort from the words. [1:22–23]



[II. “The voice of him…”]


Now to see, by the eye of faith, the glory of the Redeemer in his appearance; to see Power divine preparing the way before him; to enter into the gracious and wonderful design of his salvation; to acknowledge, admire and adore him as the Lord, and humbly to claim him as our God, must afford a pleasure, very different from that which the most excellent music, however well adapted to the [29] words, can possibly give.  The latter may be relished by a worldly mind; the former is appropriate, and can only be enjoyed by those who are taught of God. [1:28–29]


Among the heathens, ignorance, idolatry, sensuality and cruelty universally prevailed. […] They had philosophers, poets, orators, musicians and artists, eminent in their way; but the nations reputed the most civilized, were overwhelmed with abominable wickedness equally with rest. [1:33]


Those of you who have heard the Messiah will do well to recollect, whether you were affected by such thoughts as these, while this passage was performed; or whether you were only captivated by the music, and paid no more regard to the words than if they had no meaning.  They are, however, the great truths of God.  May they engage your serious attention, now they are thus set before you! [1:44]



[III. “Thus saith the Lord”]


If you put a telescope into the hands of a child, he will probably admire the outside, [47] especially if it be finely ornamented.  But the use of it, in giving a more distinct view of distant objects, is what the child has no conception of.  The music of the Messiah is but an ornament of the words, which have a very weighty sense.  This sense no music can explain, and when rightly understood, will have such an effect as no music can produce.  That the music of the Messiah has a great effect in its own kind, I can easily believe.  The ancients, to describe the power of the music of Orpheus, pretend, that when he played upon his harp, the wild beasts thronged around him to listen, and seemed to forget their natural fierceness.  Such expressions are figurative, and designed  to intimate, that by his address and instructions, he civilized men of fierce and savage dispositions.  But if we were to allow the account to be true in the literal sense, I should still suppose that the wild beasts were affected by his music only while they heard it, and that it did not actually change their natures, and render lions and tigers gentle, as lambs, from that time forward.  Thus I can allow, that they who heard the Messiah, might be greatly impressed during the performance; but when it was [48] ended, I suppose they would retain the very same dispositions they had before it began.  And many, I fear, were no more affected by this sublime declaration of the Lord’s design to shake the heavens and the earth, than they would have been, if the same music had been set to the words of a common ballad. [1:46–48]


[…] But vaulted roofs, and costly garments, the solemn parade of processions, music and choristers, and the presence of nobles and dignitaries, are not necessary to constitute the glory of gospel worship.  It is enough that he, in whose name they meet, condescends to visit them with the power and influence of his Spirit, to animate and hear their prayers, to feed them with the good word of his grace, and to fill them with joy and peace in believing. [1:57]



[IV. “The Lord, whom ye seek”]


[…] I represent to myself a number of persons of various characters, involved in one common charge of high treason.  They [64] are already in a state of confinement, but not yet brought to their trial.  The facts, however, are so plain, and the evidence against them so strong and pointed, that there is not the least doubt of their guilt being fully proved, and that nothing but a pardon can preserve them from punishment.  In this situation, it should seem their wisdom, to avail themselves of every expedient in their power for obtaining mercy.  But they are entirely regardless of their danger, and wholly taken up with contriving methods of amusing themselves, that they may pass away the term of their imprisonment with as much chearfulness [sic] as possible.  Among other resources, they call in the assistance of music.  And amidst a great variety of subjects in this way, they are particularly pleased with one.  They chuse to make the solemnities of their impending trial, the character of their judge, the methods of his procedure, and the awful sentence to which they are exposed, the groundwork of a musical entertainment.  And, as if they were quite unconcerned in the event, their attention is chiefly fixed upon the skill of the composer, in adapting the style of his music, to the very solemn language and  [65] subject with which they are trifling.  The king, however, out of his great clemency and compassion towards those who have no pity for themselves, prevents them with his goodness.  Undesired by them, he sends them a gracious message.  He assures them that he is unwilling they should suffer: he requires, yea, he entreats them to submit.  He points out a way in which their confession and submission shall be certainly accepted; and in this way, which he condescends to prescribe, he offers them a free and a dull pardon.  But instead of taking a single step towards a compliance with his goodness, they set his message likewise to music; and this, together with a description of their present state, and of the fearful doom awaiting them if they continue obstinate, is sung for their diversion, accompanied with the sound of cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of instruments.  Surely, if such a case as I have supposed could be found in real life, though I might admire the musical taste of these people, I should commiserate their insensibility! [66]

But is not this case more than supposition?  Is it not in the most serious sense actually realized amongst ourselves?  I should insult your understandings, if I judged a long application necessary.  I know my supposition must already have led your thoughts to the subject of the Messiah, and to the spirit and temper of at least the greater part of the performers, and of the audiences.  The holy scripture concludes all mankind under sin.  It charges them all with treason and rebellion against the great sovereign Lawgiver and Benefactor; and declares the misery to which, as sinners, we are obnoxious.  But God is long-suffering and waits to be gracious.  The stroke of death, which would instantly place us before his awful tribunal, is still suspended.  In the mean time he affords us his gospel, by which he assures us there is forgiveness with him.  He informs us of a Saviour, and that of his great love to sinners, he has given his only Son to be an atonement and mediator, in favour of all who shall sue for mercy in his name.  The character of this Saviour, his unspeakable love, his dreadful sufferings, the agonies he endured in Gesthemane, and [67] upon the cross, are made known to us.  And as his past humiliation, so his present glory, and his invitation to come to him for pardon and eternal life, are largely declared.  These are the principal points expressed in the passages of the Messiah.  Mr. Handel, who set them to music, has been commemorated and praised, many years after his death, in a place professedly devoted to the praise and worship of God; yea, (if I am not mis-informed) the stated worship of God, in that place, was suspended for a considerable time, that it might be duly prepared for the commemoration of Mr. Handel.  But, alas! how few are disposed to praise and commemorate MESSIAH himself!  The same great truths, divested of the music, when delivered from the pulpit, are heard by many admirers of the oratorio with indifference, too often with contempt.

Having thus, as I conceived myself bound in duty, plainly and publickly delivered my sentiments, of the great impropriety of making the fundamental truths of Christianity, the subject of a public amusement, I leave what I have said to your serious reflections, hoping it will not be forgotten; for I do not mean [68] to trouble you often with a repetition of it. [1:63–68]



[VI. “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion”]


Does the language of my text cause joy to spring up in your hearts? or is it nothing to you?  If you heard the Messiah, you were, perhaps, affected by the music of the passage; how much are you to be pitied, if you are hitherto unaffected by the sentiment! [1:123]



[VIII. “The people that walked in darkness”]


I have observed formerly, and I make no apology for repeating a truth so very important, and so little attended to, that the glorious gospel of the blessed God, when faithfully preached, and thankfully received and improved, renders an obscure village more [150] honourable, and of more real consequence, than the metropolis of a great empire, where this light shineth not. [1:149–50]


God is gracious and long-suffering, but he will not be mocked.  Humble yourself at once and implore his mercy, or else prepare to meet him in judgment.  But be assured he will not meet you as a man. [1:161]



[IX. “For unto us a Child is born”]


The truth is, the world will allow of a vehemence approaching to extasy, [166] on almost any occasion, but on that alone, which, above all others, will justify it.  A person who would be thought destitute of taste, if he was unaffected by the music to which this passage is set, would, at the same time, hazard his reputation for good sense, with some judges, if he owned himself affected by the plain meaning of the words.  Incompetent judges surely! who are pleased to approve of warmth and emotion of spirit, provided the object be trivial, and only condemn it in concerns of the greatest importance!  But, I trust, the character of my auditory is very different, and that the most of you desire to enter into the spirit of this passage, and to have a more lively sense of your own interests in it.  May the Lord grant your desire, and accompany our meditations upon it with his power and blessing! [1:165–66]



[X. “There were in the same country shepherds”]


The gratification of the Great, the Wealthy, and the Gay, was chiefly consulted in the late exhibitions in Westminster-Abbey.  But notwithstanding the expence of the preparations, and the splendid appearance of the auditory, I may take it for granted, that the shepherds, who were honoured with the first information of the birth of MESSIAH, enjoyed at free cost, a much more sublime and delightful entertainment.  How poor and trivial is the most studied magnificence and brilliancy of an earthy court, compared with that effulgence of glory which surrounded the shepherds?  The performers of this Oratorio, if I may be allowed the expression, were a multitude of the heavenly host.  And though I do not suppose that the angel delivered his message in the cadence, which we call Recitative, I have no doubt but the chorus was a Song, sweetly melodious as from blest voices.  A song which the redeemed and the angels of the Lord, are still singing before the throne.  A new song.  A song which will be always new.  We are made acquainted with the subject, yea, with the very words of this song.  May our hearts [183] be suitably affected by the consideration of them to day!  The melody and harmony of heaven are far above our conceptions.  The music of that happy land has no dependance upon the vibrations of the air, or the admirable structure of the human ear.  But we have reason to believe, there is, in the world of light and love, something analogous to what we call music, though different in kind, and vastly superior in effect, to any strains that can be produced by the most exquisite voices, or instruments, upon earth.  As we readily judge the glory of an angel to be unspeakably more excellent, both in kind, and in degree, than any thing that is deemed glorious among mortals. [1:182–83]



[XI. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion”]


The passage of the Messiah which follows the chorus of the heavenly host, is taken from these verses.  It does not include the whole of them.  In one clause there is a small alteration in the expression, but it does not affect the sense.  Instead of, He is just having slavation, it is, He is a righteous Saviour. [1:203]


I am bound to take every opportunity of noticing the striking parallel in this respect, between the Jewish nation in our Saviour’s time, and the nations, who, since that period, have admitted the New Testament as a revelation from God.  By assuming the Christian name, and so far calling the Saviour Lord, while they reject the spirit and design of the gospel, and treat the ministers of it with neglect or contempt, they tread in the steps, and share in the guilt, of those who pretended to [206] expect MESSIAH, and yet crucified him when he appeared among them.  In person, he could be crucified but once, but the scripture speaks of those who crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to open shame.  How far this is the case of the persons who can bear to hear of his passion and his kingdom, when made the subject of a musical entertainment, but upon no other occasion, deserves their serious consideration. [1:205–6]


IV.  Two characters of this king.  He is just having salvation, or, as it is in the passage of the Messiah, He is a righteous Saviour. [1:209]



[XIV. “Come unto me [Him]”]


This passage (including the two following verses) closes the first part of the Oratorio. [1:260]



[XIX. “Surely He hath borne our griefs”]


A representation of the Redeemer’s sufferings, capable of exciting tears and moving the passions, may be made by the powers of oratory; and similar emotions have often been produced by a romance or a tragedy, though the subject is known, before-hand, to be entirely a fiction.  But light in the understanding, is necessary to convince and influence the heart.  Unless the mind be deeply penetrated with the causes, which rendered MESSIAH’s death necessary, the most pathetic description of the fact, will leave the will and affections unchanged.  I hope many of my auditory can assign these causes. [1:345]



[XXII. “Reproach…]


Should any of you hear the Messiah performed again, then and there, if not before, may God impress upon your heart the sense of this passage.  Then you will understand, that the sufferings of the Son of God, are, by no means, a proper subject for the amusement of a vacant hour. [1:404]



[XXIII. Is it nothing to you…]


I find it in the series of the passages in the Messiah […] [1:408]


The expostulation, and the question, are equally applicable to the sufferings of [410] MESSIAH.  The former, indeed, is not inserted in the Oratorio, but I am not willing to leave it out. [1:409–10]



[XXV. For thou wilst not leave…]


I do but touch upon these particulars at present, because the subject will come under our consideration again, from a subsequent passage in the Oratorio. [1:444]



[XXIX. Thou hast ascended…]


…God is reconciled; that there is forgiveness with him for sinners who implore his mercy; one in our nature and on our behalf, has taken possession of the kingdom.  The series of texts in this part of the oratorio, recals [sic] this subject frequently to our thoughts, nor can we think of it too often.  It is the foundation of our hopes, the source of our sublimest joys, and the sufficient, the only sufficient answer to all the suggestions by which guilt, fear, unbelief and Satan, fight against our peace. [2:55]



[XXX. “The Lord gave the word”]


However, this passage is properly introduced in The Messiah, and in its proper place, immediately after the view given of our Saviour’s triumphant ascension, as it leads us to consider the first visible effect of that great event: for soon afterwards, when the day of Pentecost was fully come, the Lord gave the word. [2:71]



[XXXV. “Thou shalt break them”]


Thirdly, the final issue of their mad resistance, their confusion and ruin, is the subject of the verse I have read, which prepares for the close of the second part of the Oratorio. [2:160]


I have been informed, that the music to which this passage is set, is so well adapted to the idea it expresses, as, in a manner, to startle those who hear it.  They who live in sinful habits, regardless of the gospel, would be startled, indeed, if they were duly sensible how directly the words apply to their own situation, and that the Psalmist describes the manner in which God will treat them, if they continue impenitent.  If we could see all that passes upon dying beds, we should often see the false peace, and [171] vain hopes of sinners, dashed to pieces, when eternity is opening upon their view.  We shall certainly see the solemnity of the great day.  For we must all appear, not only as spectators, but as parties nearly interested in the proceedings, before the judgment-seat of Christ.  [2:170–71]



[XXXVI. “Hallelujah”]


Their united voices are here compared to the voice of many waters, and of mighty thunders, and this is the solemn close, the chorus of their song, Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

The impression, which the performance of this passage in the Oratorio, usually makes upon the audience, is well known.  But however great the power of music may be, should we even allow the flights of poetry to be truth, That it can soften rocks, and bend [176] the knotty oak, one thing we are sure it cannot do.  It cannot soften and change the hard heart, it cannot bend the obdurate will of man.  If all the people who successively hear the Messiah, who are struck and astonished, for the moment, by this chorus in particular, were to bring away with them an abiding sense of the importance of the sentiment it contains, the nation would soon wear a new face.  But do the professed lovers of sacred music in this enlightened age, generally live, as if they really believed that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth?  Rather, do not the greater part of them live, as they might do, if they were sure of the contrary? as if they were satisfied to a demonstration, that either there is no God, or that his providence is not concerned in human affairs?  I appeal to coincidence; I appeal to fact. [2:175–76]



[XXXVII. “The kingdoms of this world…”]


It is introduced, with great propriety, in the Messiah, as a close to the second part, which begins with a view of the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world, by the power of his priestly office; and concludes with an account of his glorious success as the King of kings, and Lord of lords. [2:195]



[XXXVIII. “King of Kings”]


The description of the administration and glory of the Redeemer’s kingdom, in defiance of all opposition, concludes the second part of the Messiah.  Three different passages from this book are selected to form a grand chorus, of which his title in this verse is the close.  A title, which has been sometimes vainly usurped, by proud worms of the earth. [… 214 …] But let the great and the mighty know, that wherein they speak proudly, MESSIAH is above them.  The whole verse (of which the latter clause only is in the Oratorio) offers two points to our meditations. [2:213–14]



[XXXIX. “I know that my redeemer liveth”]


And it forms a beautiful and well chosen introduction to the third part of the Messiah, the principal subject of which is, the present privileges and future prospects, of those who believe in the Saviour’s name.  [2:232]



[XLI. “Since by man came death”]


From Mr. Handel’s acknowledged abilities as a composer, and particularly, from what I have heard of his great taste and success, in adapting the style of his music to the subject, I judge, that this passage afforded him a fair occasion of displaying his genius and powers.  Two ideas, vastly important in themselves, are here represented in the strongest light, by being placed in contrast to each other.  Surely the most solemn, the [266] most pathetic strains must be employed, if they accord with the awful words, By man came death, in Adam all die.  Nor can even the highest efforts of the heavenly harpers, more than answer, to the joy, the triumph and the praise, which the other part of my text would excite in our hearts, if we are interested in it, provided we were capable of comprehending the full force and meaning of the expressions, By man came also the resurrection, In Christ shall all be made alive.  [2:265–66]



[XLII. “Behold, I tell you a mystery”]


If you put a treatise on the mathematics, or a system of music, into the hands of a plowman or labourer, you will not be surprised to find, that he cannot understand a single page.  Shall the works of a Sir Isaac Newton, or of a Handel, be thus inexplicable to one person, while another peruses them with admiration and delight?  Shall these require a certain turn of mind, anda close attention?  And can it be reasonably supposed, that the Bible is the only book, that requires no peculiar disposition, or degree of application, to be understood; though it is designed to make us acquainted with the deep things of God?  [2:288]



[XLV. [What shall we say then to these things?] “If God be for us”]


Though this short lively question, is omitted in the musical composition, I am not willing to leave it out. [2:340]



[XLVIII. Thou hast redeemed…]


…yea, sometimes a single sentence, when unfolded and examined, will be found to contain all the great principles of duty and comfort.  Such is the sentence which I have now read to you.  In the Messiah, it is inserted in the grand chorus taken from the 12th and 13th  verses of this [397] chapter. [2:396–97]



[L. “Blessing and honour…”]


And oh! for a coal of fire from the heavenly altar, to warm your hearts and mine, that our love, joy and gratitude may be awakened into lively exercise, and that the close of our meditations on the Messiah, may leave us deeply impressed with desires, and well-grounded hopes, of meeting ere long before the throne, to join, with the angels and the redeemed, in signing the praise of God and the Lamb! [2:445]


Thus, according to the measure of my ability and experience, I have endeavoured to point out to you the meaning and importance of the well-chosen series of scriptural passages, which are set to music in the Oratorio of the Messiah. [2:458]


It is probable, that those of my hearers, who admire this Oratorio, and are often present when it is performed, may think me harsh and singular in my opinion, that of all our musical compositions, this is the most improper for a public entertainment.  But while it continues to be equally acceptable, whether performed in a church, or in the theatre, and while the greater part of the [460] performers and of the audience, are the same at both places, I can rate it no higher, than as one of the many fashionable amusements, which mark the character of this age of dissipation.  Though the subject be serious and solemn, in the highest sense, yea, for that very reason, and though the music is, in a striking manner, adapted to the subject, yet, in the far greater part of the people who frequent the Oratorio, are evidently unaffected by the Redeemer’s love, and uninfluenced by his commands, I am afraid, it is no better, than a profanation of the name and truths of God, a crucifying the Son of God afresh.  You must judge for yourselves.  If you think differently from me, you will act accordingly.—Yet, permit me to hope and to pray, that the next time you hear the Messiah, God may bring something that you have heard in the course of these sermons, nearly connected with the peace and welfare of your souls, effectually to your remembrance. [2:459–60][1]




Feb 6

[Charles Burney to Mr. Barrow, secretary to the Musical Society]


I shall be much obliged to you, if, at the Meeting of the Governors

of the Musical Society, this Evening you would present

my Compliments to such Members as shall be present, and

beg them to favour me with their Opinion of the Expediency

of having the Sub-directors books bound, as a small mark of

distinction; and of presenting Copies of the Commemoration

Account to the following Persons and public Libraries, besides

those already received by their Majesties, the Royal Family,

Directors, Conductor, and such as are intended for the


   Mr Belchier, One of Mr Handel’s few surviving Friends

who has furnish’d several Anecdotes inserted in his Life. [80]

Mr Maddison, (in large Paper handsomely bound, as he is

so kind as to transact all the banking Business for the Society


   Mr Wyatt, who has often been consulted in the Designs for

the Prints and Plans of the Orchestra in the Abbey.

   The Designers, and Engravers of the Plates, who are usually

furnish’d with a Copy of Works, which they contribute to


   The Royal Society; Museum, and Bodleian Library.

   And it seems as if Mr Bates, who has desired to purchase

Six Copies for his Particular Friends, shou’d not be allowed

to pay for them; with respect to these Present.

   I beg you will assure the Governors and Court of Assistants,

that they are such as I my self wou’d have made, had the Book

been published for my own Emolument; but as it is now the

Property of the Society, I wou’d not venture at such a Measure

without their Approbation.

   You will likewise acquaint the Gentlemen present, when this

Letter is communicated that though the high Price at which

the Book by the advice of the Publishers, is now sold, may some

what diminish the number of Purchasers; yet the profits will

not only be greater on those that are sold, but there will be

more Copies to spare for indivduals, and the value of the Present

will be considerably enhanced.  And as much discontent

seems to prevail among the Performers at the Commemoration,

which has been both publickly and privately expressed,

I cou’d wish that the Copies promised to them might be

delivered as soon as they can be made ready by the Binders:

as the risking a problematical Evil, by the early dispersion of

so many Copies, will be more than ballanced by the punctual

and honourable Performance of a Promise to Persons whose

Assistance will again soon be wanted; and who, if offended,

may greatly injure, not only the ensuing Benefit but all future

Performances upon the large Scale in present Contemplation.

I am, Sir, Your most humble Servant,

Chas. Burney

February 6 1785

To Mr Barrow

Secretary to the Musical Society[2]




Feb 11

[King George III to Mary Delany, 11 February 1785]


            The King has just received the copies of the three operas Mrs. Delany so obligingly borrow’d for him.  He therefore returns the three scores, the two other books that accompanied them, as also the terzetto in the [/248] unrivalled author’s own handwriting, and the beautiful song in eight parts; and desires Mrs. Delany will express everything that is proper to her nephew for communications that have been so agreeable.  The King hopes when the spring is far enough advanced that he may have the pleasure of having that song performed at the Queen’s house to the satisfaction of Mrs. Delany; not forgetting to have it introduced by the overture of Radamistus.









[Feb.] 11.  The Music in Commemoration of Handel.


16.  Messiah.


18.  Acis and Galatea—Dryden’s Ode.


23.  L’Allegro Il Penseroso—Coronat. Anth.


25.  Alexander’s Feast—Handel’s Music.


[parallel column]


[Feb] 23.  Judas Maccabaeus.[4]







A sp[l]endid Account of the Musical Performances in Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon, in Commemoration of HANDEL, being just published by Dr. BURNEY, who was per[s]onally intimate with him, and who to this Account has prefixed A Sketch of his Life, we are enabled to present our Readers with some interesting Anecdotes, in Addition to the Memoirs of this illustrious Master, which we have already given, with his Portrait annexed, in the Supplement to the Twenty-sixth Volume of our Magazine.

In his Dedication to the King, Dr. Burney introduces the following excellent observation on Music in general:

‘The delight which Music affords seems to be one of the first attainments of rational nature; whenever there is humanity, there is modulated sound.  The mind set free from the resistless tyranny of painful want, employs its first leisure upon some savage melody.  Thus in those lands of unprovided wretchedness, which your Majesty’s encouragement of naval investigation has brought lately to the knowledge of the polished world, though all things else were wanted, every nation had its Music; an art of which the rudiments accompany the commencements, and the refinements adorn the completion of civility, in which the inhabitants of the earth seek their first refuge from evil, and perhaps, may find at last the most elegant of their pleasures.’

We have already mentioned the early age at which Handel began to compose.  ‘The late Mr. Weideman,’ says Dr. Burney, ‘was in possession of a set of Sonatas, in three parts, which Handel composed when he was only ten years old.  The Earl of Marchmont, in his travels through Germany, when Lord Polworth, picked them up as great curiosities, and gave them to Mr. Weideman, of whom he took lessons on the German flute.  A frined, who favoured me with this anecdote, procured a copy of these juvenile productions, which are now in his Majesty’s collection, and which Weideman shewed to Handel; who seemed to look at them with much pleasure, and laughing, said, ‘I used to write like the D[evi]l in those days, but chiefly for the hautbois, which was my favourite instrument.’  This, and the having such an exquisite performer to write for, as San Martini, accounts for the frequent opportunities which Handel took of composing for that instrument, in the early part of his life.

In a work of Musical Biography and Criticism, by John Mattheson, a celebrated Musician of Hamburgh, entitled, Foundations of a Triumphal Arch in Honour of Music and Musicians, published in 1740; and in a Translation of the English Life of Handel, with Annotations, by the same Author, published in 1761, Dr. Burney says he found a more ample and satisfactory account of Handel’s juvenile compositions and adventures, than he had been able to find elsewhere.  Among other particulars which he selects from Mattheson, we learn, that Handel, who arrived at Hamburgh in the summer of 1703, at first played only a ripieno violin in the opera orchestra, and behaved as if he could not count five, being naturally inclined to dry humour, that, at this time, he composed extreme long airs and cantatas without end; of which, though the harmony was excellent, yet true taste was wanting; which, hoever, he very soon acquired by his attendance on the opera.  In another place Mattheson says, that ‘though Handel, who at first had no better part assigned to him in the opera than the second ripieno violin, [91] pretended then to know nothing, yet he used to be very arch, for he had always a dry way of making the gravest people laugh, without laughing himself.  But his superior abilities were soon discovered, when, upon the occasion of the harpsichord player of the opera being absent, he was first persuaded to take his place; for he then shewed himself to be a great master, to the astonishment of every one, except myself, who had frequently heard him before upon keyed-instruments.’

Upon a vacancy in an Organist’s place at Lubec, they travelled thither together, and in the wagen, composed several double fugues, da monte, says Mattheson, not da penna.  Buxtehude was then at Lubec, and an admirable organ-player; however, Handel’s performance on that instrument astonished even those who were accustomed to hear that great performer.  Handel and Mattheson were prevented from becoming candidates for the place of organist at Lubec, by a condition that was annexed to the obtaining that office; which was no other than to take with it, a wife, whom their constituents were to nominate; but thinking this too great an honour, they precipitately retreated to Hamburgh.

About this time an opera, called Cleopatra, composed by Mattheson, was performed on that stage, in which he acted the part of Anthony himself, and Handel played the harpsichord; but Mattheson being accustomed, upon the death of Anthony, which happens early in the piece, to take the harpsichord, in the character of composer, Handel refused to indulge his vanity, by relinquishing to him this post; which occasioned so violent a quarrel between them, that at going out of the house, Mattheson gave him a slap on the face; upon which, both immediately drew their swords, and a duel ensued in the Market-place, before the door of the Opera-house: luckily, the sword of Mattheson was broke against a metal button upon Handel’s coat, which put an end to the combat, and they were soon after reconciled.

Such is the account, which, long before the death of Handel, Mattheson himself published, concerning the difference that happened between them, during his residence at Hamburgh.

The English biographer is very roughly handled by Mattheson, for saying that this duel had ‘more the appearance of assassination than of a rencounter,’ and accuses him of constantly and wilfully diminishing the age of Handel, in order to represent him not only as a prodigy in music, but a youth of too tender years to be possessed of courage, reason, or skill, sufficient to defend himself; but if he had been capable of making a defence, says the author of his Life, ‘he could not be prepared for it.’  In answer to all this, Mattheson observes, that ‘Handel, at the time of the quarrel, was twenty years of age; tall, stong, broad-shouldered, and muscular; consequently, well able to defend himself:’ and adds, that ‘a dry slap on the face was no assassination, but rather a friendly hint, to put him on his guard.’

This rencounter happened the 5th of December, 1704; and, as a proof of a speedy reconciliation, Mattheson tells us, that on the 30th of the same month, he accompanied the young composer to the rehearsal of his first opera of Almira, at the theatre, and performed in it the principal part; and that, afterwards, they became greater friends than ever.

A sketch of Handel’s Musical Warfare in England we have already given.  In the course of Dr. Burney’s account, the following anecdotes are recorded:

Carestini, Conti detto Gizziello, and Cafferello, were all great singers, in a new style of execution, which Handel was unwilling to flatter.  ‘Verdi prati,’ which was constantly encored during the whole run of Alcina, was, at first, sent back to Handel by Carestini, as unfit for him to sing; upon which, he went, in a great rage, to his house, and in a way which few composers, except Handel, ever ventured to accost a first-singer, cries out, ‘You toc! don’t I know better as your seluf, vaat is pest for you to sing?  If you vill not sing all de song vaat I give you, I will not pay you ein sliver.’

His government of singers was certainly somewhat despotic: for, upon Cuzzoni insolently refusing to sing his admirable air, ‘Falsa Imagine,’ in Otho, he told her that he always knew she was a very Devil; but that he should now let her know, in her turn, that he was Beelzebub, the Prince of the Devils.  And then, taking her up by the waist, swore, if she did not immediately obey his orders, he would throw her out of the window.

When Handel went through Chester, in his way to Ireland, in the year 1741, I was at the Public-School in that city, and very well remember seeing him smoke a pipe, over a dish of coffee, at the Exchange Coffee-house; for being extremely curious to see so extraordinary a man, I watched him narrowly as long as he remained in Chester; which, on account of the wind being [92] unfavourable for his embarking at Park-gate, was several days.  During this time, he applied to Mr. Baker, the organist, my first music-master, to know whether there were any choirmen in the cathedral who could sing at sight; as he wished to prove some books that had been hastily transcribed, by trying the choruses which he intended to perform in Ireland.  Mr. Baker mentioned some of the most likely singers then in Chester, and, among the rest, a printer of the name of Janson, who had a good base voice, and was one of the best musicians in the choir.  At this time Harry Alcock, a good player, was the first violin at Chester, which was then a very musical place; for besides public performances, Mr. Prebendary Prescott had a weekly concert, at which he was able to muster eighteen or twenty performers, Gentlemen, and Professors.  A time was fixed for this private rehearsal at the Golden Falcon, where Handel was quartered; but, alas! on trial of the chorus in the Messiah, ‘And with his stripes we are healed,’----Poor Janson, after repeated attempts, failed so egregiously, that Handel let loose his great bear upon him; and after swearing in four or five languages, cried out in broken English, ‘You shcauntrell! tit not you dell me dat you could sing at soite?’----‘Yes, Sir, says the printer, and so I can; but not at first sight.’

One night, while Handel was in Dublin, Dubourg having a solo part in a song, and a close to make, ad libitum, he wandered about in different keys a great while, and seemed indeed a little bewildered, and uncertain of his original key…but, at length, coming to the shake, which was to terminate this long close, Handel, to the great delight of the audience, and augmentation of applause, cried out loud enough to be heard in the most remote parts of the theatre: ‘You are welcome home, Mr. Dubourg!’

[To be concluded in our next.][5]









4.  Judas Maccabaeus.


11.  Samson.


16.  Messiah.


18.  Messiah.[6]






In Dr. Burney’s late Sketch of the Life of Handel (enlarged from the Memoirs published by Mr. Maynwaring in 1760, which you abridged in the vol. for that year), this ingenious biographer has omitted to mention, that when he first came to England in 1710, he wrote his name Hendel.  This appears from the Spectator, No. V, and also by a letter in Mr. Hughes’s Correspondence vol. I, from Mr. Roner, a teacher of music, of which, as it relates to an early period of Handel’s life, and is unnoticed by Dr. Burney, I have sent you a translation.



“SIR, Tuesday, July 31, 1711.

Having received this morning a letter from Mr. Hendel*, I thought it my duty to send you, as soon as possible, an extract of it, which relates to you, in answer to the compliment which you conveyed by me.  I shall write to him next Friday, so you need only send me, if you please, what you intend for him; and I can assure you, Sir, that if the honour of your acquaintance is particularly pleasing to him, I am no less pleased with being the means of promoting your correspondence; and of giving you a proof of the extreme regard with which I have the honour to be, Sir, &c.”


Extract from Mr HENDEL’s Letter.

“Present my best compliments to Mr. Hughes.  I will take the liberty of [166] writing to him the first opportunity.  If, in the mean time, he will honour me with his commands, and add to them one of his charming English poems, he will lay me under the greatest obligations.  Since I left you, I have made some progress in that language, &c.”[7]




Apr 30


[dedication: “Cambridge, April 30th, 1785.”]



   But in your present intervening state,

While expectation dooms you to await

More solid honours and a riper age,

Falstaff and Falstaff’s tribe may well engage

Thy youthful moments; well may’st thou employ

The parti-colour’d crew in social joy:

To cheer thy banquet and thy mirth to raise

With attic wit and prostituted praise

To tell the bawdy tale, or smother sense

In the rich vein of rapid eloquence; [22]

To bear thy jeers, to play each scurvy trick

That flatters folly,---but makes reason sick;

Or, should thy need a quick supply demand,

To search each corner of Judaean land;

To sell POST-OBITS,* or a JEWEL bear

To hide it’s lustre in a broker’s care; [23]

[… 24 …]

---But when thy sated passions rage no more,

And wild excess is purg’d by boiling o’er;

When thy chang’d mind, renew’d by wisdom’s rays,

Gives the fair earnest of thy future days.

With princely resolution, bid adieu

To the bold leader, and his servile crew,

Dash his fond hopes,---and, in the tow’ring pride

Of all their wishes, spurn them from your side.

Delighted Britain will the deed approve,

And well reward thee with a nation’s love.






[book review] Poems upon several Occasions, English, Italian, and Latin, with Translations, by John Milton.  [edited by] Thomas Warton.


At length, in 1733 and 4, Dr. Pearce and the two Richardsons contributed to rescue these [Milton’s juvenile] poems from oblivion, and their reputation was farther extended by Jortin, Warburton, and Hurd.  In 1738 Comus was adapted to music, and presented on the stage; soon after, L’Allegro and Il Penseroso were set to music [291] by Handel; and in 1748 “Lycidas was imitated by Mr. Mason.”[9]




May 9



[May 9] Universally regretted [...] Richard Timms, esq. late second lieut. and lieut. col. of the second troop of horse-guards [...] He was a great encourager of theatrical merit...He is said to have caught a cold by attending his duty, in escorting their majesties to the oratorio, which threw him into a hasty decline.[10]




May 19

[Mary Delany to Frances Hamilton, 19 May 1785]


Her [i.e. Miss Port’s] uncle Dewes comes to town to hear the fine performance of the Abbey music. [... 254 ...]

            Since I last wrote to you, I have had some intercourse with his Majesty again by the way of letters on his returning the books of Mr. Handel’s music, which my nephew Mr. J. Dewes had lent him.  The King sent his acknowledgements [sic] to my nephew in the most obliging manner; adding that he would not ask me to come and hear it performed at the Queen’s house till the spring was so far advanced that it might be safe for me to venture.[11]




May 20

MAY 20.

The Jubilee instituted last year, in commemoration of that great musical genius, the late Mr. Handel, was celebrated with an éclat, scarce ever known upon any occasion before.  The number of performers also that assisted, was greater than ever remembered; and the very excellent conduct of so large a band reflected the highest honour upon the gentleman that conducted it, and the managers who appointed him to that office.  The Jubilee being to be held again, this year, under the management of the same gentleman, and Mr. Joah Bates, the former conductor again appointed to lead, the public may expect to meet with the same satisfaction, as to the excellence of the performance, but with increased pleasure as to the grandeur and sublimity of the band.  On the former the number of the musicians, who assisted, was five hundred and nine; on the present occasion six hundred and seven have offered, whose qualifications ranged under their distinct heads, are classed as follows:

106         Violins                                        18      Double Basses

  28         Violas                                         12      Trumpets

  26         Oboes                                        12      Horns

    6         Flutes                                           6      Trombonis

  28         Violoncellos                                  4      Drums

  28         Bassoons                                    68      Cantos

    1         Double Bassoon                         60      Altos

    2         Serpents                                   100      Tenors              Chorus.

                                                   102      Basses


               Total                            607[12]






Allow me to mention something relative to Handel, as you have of late given room to anecdotes concerning him.  When his ill success, in the conduct of the opera, had obliged him to exert his genius in its full nerve, and to have recourse to the novelty of Oratorios, they were at first received with some disgust by those religious votaries who could not bear the Scriptures adapted to music.  Their sublime merit, however, at last made way for them: but when the most inspired of all human compositions, the Messiah, was announced for the stage under that denomination, the zeal took fire with a vengeance, and was near involving Handel, and his composition, in utter destruction.  Under these circumstances, and depressed also in finance, Handel carried over his favourite performance to Dublin; and the Music-hall, in Fishamble-street, in that city, was the first scene of that unbounded applause which ever since has followed this divine composition, which, one may almost say (pardon the unintended profaneness), was written by the singer of God himself.  Yours,

A. T. M.[13]





[Catalogue of New Publications]

The Words of the Music at the Commemoration of Handel, 6d              Lowndes[14]




Jun 1

WEDNESDAY 1 JUNE [1785] […. 305 …] Drank tea at Horn Tavern, and then was introduced by the landlord to the Royal Hanoverian Lodge of Bucks. [a fraternal society like freemasonry]  Was well entertained with singing, and sung “Mortals wisely,” etc.5 [15]




Jun 2

[Court Dewes, Esq. to the Rev. John Dewes, 2 June 1785]


            It is now eleven o’clock.  I was ys morning at ye music in ye Abby [sic], w[hi]ch was by far ye finest thing both for sight or sound I ever saw or heard; I think you and Bernard w[oul]d have been full as well entertained w[i]th it as w[i]th ye best day’s fly-fishing you ever had!  I reserve a more particular account till we meet, w[hi]ch I hope will not be long first.


            P.S. Mrs. Delany tolerably well, and she was at ye Abby ys morning![16]




Jun 1–4

[Betsy Sheridan to Alicia LeFanu, 1–4 June 1785]


Wednesday – Yesterday we had a visit from Luke Yarker who is come to Town for a few days, he caught us just going to visit them so we all went together.  He wish’d to prevail on his sister to go to the Abbey tomorrow.  She was rather doubtful but at last it is fix’d that we both go with him and that I accept my Ticket from him.  My Father had intended giving me one but I found myself offend the whole family if I refuse their offer.


            This day I have been kept at home waiting for Mr Marshall that my head may be beautiful tomorrow but I begin to dispair [sic] of him. [... 50 ...]

            Friday – I meant yesterday to have given an account of my entertainment but could not leave my Father ’till bed time when to say the truth I was too sleepy to hold a pen.  A little before nine Luke Yarker and his sister call’d for me as we thought to have our choice of places by going at that hour.  However we found the middle Aisle entirely full and a considerable part of the others, but we got very good places.  At twelve the performance began and never was I more truly delighted.  The beginning of the Te deum was so truly great that my whole frame thrill’d and the tears ran down my cheeks in spite of me.  I would have given any thing to have been behind a Pillar to have cried in comfort – but I was forced to struggle and almost choak [sic] to behave decently.  I know you do not like that stile of musick in general but I am sure you would have join’d me yesterday.  I thought it the only homage worthy of the Devine [sic] being which I had ever heard offer’d up.  The number of performers did not by any means produce a too powerful sound.  An Oratorio in the Round Church has appear’d to me infinitely louder.  All was one compleat full sound the most perfect than can be conceived.  The single songs appear’d to disadvantage I think after this glorious Band.  Madame Mara was the only singer of real merit – her voice is uncommonly fine perhaps beyond Mrs Sheridan’s, but that [51] something Angelic which was in the sound of hers is wanting as well as that beauty and expression which necessarily gave such additional charms to our sister’s singing.  Norris, Reinhold &c. you know, Fischer was almost beyond himself.  At the Dead March in Saul a Second suffocation seised [sic] me.  Indeed I had scarcely an idea of the power of instrumental music before.

            I wish’d you with me for we suffer’d nothing from heat or croud from the amasing height of the building and the regularity with which every thing was conducted.  The King, Queen, and the Three Princesses with two of the younger childred [sic] occupied two Boxes fronting the Orchestra.  The Duchess of Devonshire and all the women of Fashion in a gallery near them.  The Bishops in a seat adorn’d with Purple and our Bath Dr Cleaver so near as almost to rank among them.  The Band which consisted of six hundred performers entirely fill’d a scaffolding that was raised almost to the Ceiling.  The whole place was boarded and the side seats raised but not entirely to conceal the monuments, which added rather to the dignity and solemnity of the Scene.

            With regard to the company the Women appeared to disadvantage as being forbid Hats and Feathers they had almost uniformly put on the most disfiguring head-dress I ever saw – A Mob of a most immense size, simply illustrated with blue or yellow ribbons – this over friz’d Heads and sallow complexions had a very bad effect – a few with fair skins and clear brown hair bore the disguise tollerably [sic].

            There was between 2 and 3 thousand people there – Crouds of clergymen.  In the way of acquaintance I met some of our Bath gentlemen, D’Ivernois, and Purcell who sat just behind me.  The whole performance was over at four and we got out without trouble or confusion.  Mrs Yarker for fear the children should be famish’d had provided each of us with a paper of sweetmeats and another of cakes.  My Father has consented to dine there to day so I must leave you to dress, so God bless you my dear Woman.[17]




Jun 3, 6, 8

Friday 3 [June].

A grand musical concert, from Handel’s Works, was performed in Westminster Abbey to a most brilliant audience of more than 2000 persons, many of them of the highest rank, and patronized by the royal family.  The instrumental performers amounted to 600.


Monday 6 [June].


The musical commemoration at Westminster Abbey was again represented.  It consisted of a selection of Handel’s miscellaneous pieces.  The performers were the same as in the last concert, and the composition was admirably correct in all its parts.  Their majesties countenanced this performance likewise with their presence.


Wednesday 8 [June].


This day the sacred Oratorio of the Messiah, the most sublime of all Handel’s compositions, was performed as the entertainment of the third day of the musical festival, in an orchestra, consisting of more than 600 musicians.  The performance was so exquisitely correct, that it was heard by their Majesties, and all present, with the most rapturous attention.[18]




Jun 6

[Frances Boscawen to Mary Delany, 6 June 1785]


[I] hear that Miss Port was return’d to you, and that she was well, for she had been at the Abby [sic], [...]


[...] but my poor Duchess had the ill-luck to sprain her weak leg the first day of the musick at the Abby [sic], and has been upon her couch ever since till yesterday, [...][19]




Jun 7

[Horace Walpole to Lady Ossory, Tuesday 7 June 1785]


My Lord {Harcourt} too is quite Count Castiglione the perfect courtier.  General Conway, who never remembers what anybody is or was, asked him, on speaking of Handel’s music at Westminster Abbey, whether his Lordship had been in waiting! concluding he was a lord of the Bedchamber.[20]





Mr Fox having persuaded the Prince of Wales to appear at the Queen’s birthday, she invited him to go to the Abbey to Handel’s music, where he had not been the last year, and he went, as he did to Windsor on his brother William’s arrival from Germany, and seemed pleased to be reconciled to the King, yet the King would not let Prince William go to a ball which the Prince gave that night at Carleton House.[21]




Jun 19

[Horace Walpole to Lady Ossory, Monday 20 June 1785]


Tuesday. / I could not finish my letter yesterday, for Lord Sandwich who was to breakfast with me, arrived sooner than I expected. {...} I could but look with admiration at the Earl, who at our age can enter so warmly into any pursuits and find them amusing!  It is pleasant to have such spirits, that after going through such busy political scenes, he can be diverted with carrying a white wand at Handel’s jubilee—and for two years together![22]




Jun 24

[Abigail Smith Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, London, 24 June 1785]


I HAVE been here a month without writing a single line to my American friends.  About the 28th of May we reached London, and expected to have gone into our old quiet lodgings at the Adelphi; but we found every hotel full.  The sitting of Parliament, the birth-day of the King, and the famous celebration of the music of Handel at Westminster Abbey had drawn together such a concourse of people, that we were glad to get into lodgings at the moderate price of a guinea per day, for two rooms and two chambers at the Bath Hotel, Westminster, Piccadilly, where we yet are.[23]




Jun 28

[Joah Bates to his sister, 28 June 1785]


Nothing more has been done in the affair of my

promotion ... The performances at the Abbey

were great beyond all imagination; between 11

& 12,000£ were collected; this makes near

24,000£ in the two years ... The demand for

tickets was so prodigious that the subscription

was closed several days before the performances,

& they cou’d not be purchased for any money.[24]





[book review] Milton’s Juvenile Poems.  With Notes, &c. By Thomas Warton, B. D.


Il Penseroso, ver. 106,

Such notes, as warbled to the string,

Drew iron tears down Pluto’s cheek.

When Handel’s L’Allegro and Il Penseroso were exhibited at Birmingham, a few years ago, this passage, for obvious reasons, was more applauded than any in the whole performance.”[25]






[... 472]



Handel’s Ghost, an Ode, 1s 6d  Debrett[26]





[“Catalogue of New Publications”]

* Burney’s Commemoration of Handel, 4to, boards, 1l 1s  Payne[27]




Aug 25

[Anna Seward to Helen Williams, 25 August 1785.]


I WRITE to you, dear Helen, amidst the bustle of those feminine preparations, which necessarily precede the design of attending an harmonic festival at Manchester, where the abbey drums are to thunder, Mara exhibit vocal miracles, and, what is much more to the genuine lovers of musical pathos and energy, our friend Saville is to open the Messiah, and take all the principal tenor and contra-tenor songs.  He unites poetic taste, and the vivid emotions of a feeling heart, and of an high and kindling spirit, to a rich, extensive, and powerful voice, and the most perfect knowledge of his science.  It is the former which direct, with unerring power, the energy and pathos of his expression.  Others sing with as much, perhaps more musical fancy, and artful elegance; but he alone, of all his brethren of the lyre, sings with impulses congenial to those with which Milton wrote and Handel composed, though he never aims to dazzle or astonish his audience.[28]




Aug 27

[Anna Seward to Mrs G…, 27 August 1785.]


            We shall soon, I trust, meet at Manchester, hear the vollies of the abbey drums, see Mara exhibit ballooning vocalities, and our friend do the noblest justice to the inspirations of Handel.  Some spirit, friendly to the juster conceptions of the art, early in life whispered Saville,

            “Ah friend! to dazzle let the vain design,

                        To raise the heart, and touch the soul, be thine.” [82]

            I am sure you will agree with me, that the judicious admonition was not breathed in vain.[29]




Oct 21

On Friday last, the gentlemen educated in his

Majesty’s Chapel Royal, under the immediate care

of Bernard Gates, Esq; held their annual dinner at

the Star and Garter, Pall-mall. The hilarity of

the day was greatly heightened by the good

humour and pleasantry of Mr. Beard, whose voice

and spirits are still blooming, and whose animated

and energetic manner of singing, will ever be

remembered with credit and honour to this country.[30]




Oct 27

[Anna Seward to Mrs Cotton, 27 October 1785.]


            It was at Manchester that I beheld, for the first time, the new-risen star of the harmonic world, Mara.  Her fires are very dazzling, it must be confessed.  She has, however, some harsh notes in the lower part of her voice, when she throws it out fortissimo; and the excursive cadences she uses are too gay ornaments for the mourning robes of Handel’s solemn songs.

            Her Italian pathetic songs are enchanting;—her bravura ones stupendous;—but those violent efforts, though miraculously successful, were as unpleasing to my ear, as they were visibly painful to the Syren who hazarded them.  Ah! it was not tones in such supernatural altitudes that made Ulysses struggle in his voluntary chains.

            Certainly, however, Mara is a glorious singer.  It is the false taste of the multitude which tempts her to aim at astonishing her audience, rather than affecting their passions.[31]




Oct 31

[Mary Delany’s Diary, Monday 31 October 1785]


[...] at 5 Miss Goldsworthy brought a message from their Majesties, that I, Mr. [304] Dewes, and Miss Port should go to the Lodge; we went a little before 8; found the Queen at work, some of the princesses working, and others drawing; a very fine concert, that lasted from 8 till 10.[32]




Nov 9

[Mary Delany to Frances Hamilton, 9 November 1785]


I have been several evenings at the Queen’s Lodge, with no other company but their own most lovely family.  They sit round a large table, on which are books, work, pencils, and paper.  The Queen has the goodness to [309] make me sit down next to her; and delights me with her conversation, which is informing, elegant, and pleasing, beyond description; whilst the younger part of the family are drawing and working, &c. &c., the beautiful babe, Princess Amelia, bearing her part in the entertainment; sometimes in one of her sister’s laps; sometimes playing with the King on the carpet; which, altogether, exhibits such a delightful scene, as would require an Addison’s pen, or a Vandyke’s pencil, to do justice to it.  In the next room is the band of music, which plays from eight o’clock till ten.  The King generally directs them what pieces of music to play, chiefly Handel.[33]




Dec 23

[Anna Seward to William Hayley, 23 December 1785.]


[…] my purposed visit is to Mr Dewes, at his seat in Warwickshire.  Of his talents and worth I have before spoken to you.  […] Though an esquire and a justice, he little resembles his brethren of that tribe.  Last summer, he told me, he had danced up to town, in a herd of [91] them, to the Handelian commemoration, like the brutes after Orpheus.[34]




The Task, A Poem in Six Books.  London: 1785.  Book VI: The Winter Walk at Noon



…—Instances of man’s extravagant praise of man.—…


  Man praises man.  Desert in arts or arms

Wins public honor; and ten thousand sit

Patiently present at a sacred song,

Commemoration-mad; content to hear

(Oh wonderful effect of music’s pow’r!)

Messiah’s eulogy, for Handel’s sake.

But less, methinks, than sacrilege might serve—

(For was it less?  What heathen would have dared

To strip Jove’s statue of his oaken wreath

And hang it up in honor of a man!)

Much less might serve, when all that we design

Is but to gratify an itching ear,

And give the day to a musician’s praise.

Remember Handel? who that was not born

Deaf as the dead to harmony, forgets,

Or can, the more than Homer of his age?

Yes—we remember him.  And while we praise

A talent so divine, remember too

That His most holy book from whom it came

Was never meant, was never used before

To buckram out the mem’ry of a man.

But hush!—the muse perhaps is too severe,

And with a gravity beyond the size

And measure of th’ offence, rebukes a deed

Less impious than absurd, and owing more

To want of judgment than to wrong design.

So in the chapel of old Ely House,

When wand’ring Charles, who meant to be the third,

Had fled from William, and the news was fresh,

The simple clerk but loyal, did announce,

And eke did rear right merrily, two staves,

Sung to the praise and glory of King George.

—Man praises man, and Garrick’s mem’ry next,

When time hath somewhat mellow’d it, and made [254]

The idol of our worship while he lived,

The God of our idolatry once more,

Shall have its altar; and the world shall go

In pilgrimage to bow before his shrine.[35]





The following authenticated story of our artist will also serve to shew how much more easy it is to detect ill-placed or hyperbolical adulation respecting others, than when applied to ourselves.  Hogarth being at dinner with the great Cheselden, and some other company, was told that Mr. John Freke, surgeon of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, a few evenings before at Dick’s Coffee-house, had asserted, that Greene was as eminent in composition as Handel.  “That fellow Freke,” replied Hogarth, “is always shooting his bolt absurdly one way or another!  Handel is a giant in music; Greene only a light Florimel kind of a composer.”—“Ay,” says our artist’s informant, “but at the same time Mr. Freke declared you were as good a portrait-painter as Vandyck.”—“There he was in the right,” adds Hogarth; “and so by G— I am, give me my time, and let me choose my subject!”[36]






Struck with the wonder of his master’s art*,[37]





The Lessons of DOMINICO SCARLATTI have ever been esteemed by Musical Theorists for their many excellencies of Taste, Genius, and Originality. [… 2 …]

            Among the enthusiastic admirers of SCARLATTI’s Lessons, was the late Dr. ARNE, who always considered them, with the “Suites de Pieces” of HANDEL, as the best calculated Performances to compleat the Practical Part of a Musical Education.[38]



[1] John Newton, Messiah.  Fifty Expository Discourses, on the Series of Scriptural Passages, Which form the Subject of the celebrated Oratorio of Handel.  Preached in the Years 1784 and 1785, In the Parish Church of St. Mary Woolnoth, Lombard-Street, 2 vols. (London: the author, 1786).

[2] Betty Matthews, “Handel and the Royal Society of Musicians,” The Musical Times 125 ([no. 1692, February] 1984), 79–82: 79–80.

[3] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:247–48.

[4] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55 (1785/1): 132.

[5] The Universal Magazine 76 (1785/1): 90–92.

[6] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55 (1785/1): 211.

* This great master (who was born at Hall in Upper Saxony, Feb. 24, 1684,) arrived at London in the winter preceding the date of this letter.  There cannot be a more eminent proof of Mr. Hughes’s acknowledged skill in the two sister arts than his being so soon noticed and distinguished by this modern Orpheus, who, probably in consequence of this introduction, composed Mr. Hughes’s “Cantata of Venus and Adonis.”

[7] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55 (1785/1): 165–66.

* The lives of common fathers are common commodities in the jewish market;—but my curiosity is rather awake to know how a post obit could be arranged, which hangs upon the life of the father of his people;—This idea brings an event to my mind, that may without any impropriety, be recorded on this page.—On one of the days appointed for the commemoration of Handel, I happened to be seated near some of the few members of opposition, who attended on that occasion, and was more than surprized to see them all move off, at the commencement of the coronation anthem, except one, who sat next to me, and very soon explained the cause of their departure; for upon the grand burst of God save the King, he seemed to receive a slight electrical stroke; at long live the King, the shock appeared to be very violent indeed; but at may the King live for ever, he started from his place, swore by God that was too much, and hurried away with a most indecent impatience.

[8] [William Combe], The Royal Dream; Or the P—— in a Panic.  An Eclogue, with Annotations (London: S. W. Fores, 1785), 21–24.

[9] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55 (1785/1): 290–91.

[10] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55 (1785/1): 405.

[11] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:253–54.

[12] The Universal Magazine 76 (1785/1): 276.

[13] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55/1 (January–June 1785): 326; NB: duplicated pagination.

[14] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55 (1785/1): 384.

5 [editorial footnote 5] The opening words of an adaptation, called “The Advice,” of the aria “Stringo al fine” from Handel’s Ezio:

                                    Mortals wisely live to measure

                                    Life by the extent of joy.

[15] James Boswell, Boswell: The Applause of the Jury: 1782–1785, edited by Irma S. Lustig and Frederick A. Pottle (New York et al.: McGraw-Hill, 1981), 305.

[16] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:257.

[17] Betsy Sheridan’s Journal: Letters from Sheridan’s sister, 1784–1786 and 1788–1790, edited by William LeFanu (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, [1960]), 49–51.

[18] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55 (1785/1): 484.

[19] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:257, 259.

[20] Horace Walpole’s Correspondence with the Countess of Upper Ossory II (“The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, Vol. 33”), edited by W. S. Lewis and A. Dayle Wallace (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 463.

[21] Horace Walpole, “Journals of George III,” p. 110; MSS, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

[22] Horace Walpole’s Correspondence with the Countess of Upper Ossory II (“The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, Vol. 33”), edited by W. S. Lewis and A. Dayle Wallace (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 468.

[23] Abigail Smith Adams, Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams.  With an Introductory Memoir by her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, 3rd edition, 2 vols. (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841), 2:96.

[24] Betty Matthews, “Joah Bates: A remarkable amateur,” The Musical Times 126 ([no. 1714, December] 1985), 749–53: 751.

[25] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55 (1785/1): 457.

[26] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55/1 (January–June 1785): 472.

[27] The Gentleman’s Magazine 55/2 (July–December 1785): 540.

[28] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 1:76.

[29] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 1:81–82.

[30] The Morning Chronicle, and London Advertiser, no. 5120, Monday 24 October 1785, [2].

[31] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable 1811), 1:89.

[32] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:303–4.

[33] The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, edited by Lady Llanover, second series, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), 3:308–9; also in Mrs. Delany at Court and among the Wits (London: Stanley Paul & Co., 1925), 273–74.

[34] Letters of Anna Seward: written between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), 1:90–91.

[35] William Cowper, The Poems of William Cowper.  Volume II: 1782–1785, edited by John D. Baird and Charles Ryskamp (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 235, 253–54.

[36] [John Nichols], Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth; With a Catalogue of His Works chronologically arranged; And Occasional Remarks, 3rd enlarged and corrected edition (London: John Nichols, 1785), 57.

* Mr. Smith was a pupil of Handell, and afterwards his successor in the management of the Oratorios.

[37] The Poetical Works of David Garrick, Esq., 2 vols. (London: George Kearsley, 1785), 1:132.

[38] The Beauties of Dominico Scarlatti.  Selected from his Suites de Lecons, for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte and Revised with a Variety of Improvements by Ambrose Pitman.  Volume the First ([?London]: [?], [?1785]), 1–2.