"Whistling To Keep Myself From Being Afraid"
Context: Although it was condemned for grossness and ribaldry in later and less uninhibited times, Dryden's comedy enjoyed great popularity in its own day, and continued long as a stock item in the repertoire. The line quoted above, although still an item of popular usage, has evolved considerably. For example, Robert Blair, in a long and somewhat lugubrious poem entitled The Grave (1743), creates this familiar image: Oft, in the lone Church-yard at Night I've seen By Glimpse of Moon-shine, chequering tho' the Trees, The School-boy with his Satchel in his Hand, Whistling aloud to bear his Courage up . . . Whereas today, of course, we refer to such uneasy optimism quite simply as "whistling in the dark." The plot of Dryden's comedy is basically quite simple; Jupiter intends to seduce yet another mortal and beget one more minor god. In this case the object of his desire in Amphitryon's wife. One of the arrangements he makes involves the oafish servant Sosia; a junior god impersonates the latter, and the usual confusion results. The real Sosia, no matter what he does, is beaten for his pains. When Amphitryon desires a strict account from him, the unfortunate begins his story:
SOSIA. . . In plain prose then,–I went darkling, and whistling to keep myself from being afraid. . . .