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with some real profit.
Such have been written in French, and have, in times past, been acted with applause.” Works, vol. vi. p. 376. See also the preface to his Horæ Lyricæ.
Bishop Rundle, quoting Plato's saying, " that if men could behold Virtue, she could make all of them in love with her charms,” adds, "A right play draws her picture in the most lively manner.” Letters, vol. ii. p. 108.
“ It is an easy
SEED, (one of the authors mentioned' by Orton, in his Sermon, as a censurer of the Stage,) in his Sermons, “ The Case of Diversions Stated,” and “On the Government of the Thoughts," has some passages very important to our purpose:
“ To comply with men's tastes, as far as we innocently can, in the little incidents, and daily occurrences of life, to bear a part in their favourite diversions, and to adjust our tempers to theirs, it is this that knits men's hearts to one another, and lays the foundation of friendships."
person of superior sense, to soar above the common sphere : his chief difficulty is to let himself down to the common level, without which, all his great knowledge will be, in some measure useless."
“ The man, who, though generally intent on great matters, yet can occasionally condescend to little things, without making himself little, singular in nothing but goodness, and uncomplying in nothing but vice : the man, who is “in all things like unto us, sin only excepted,” takes the most effectual method of making us like unto him in virtue. Whereas, a person, who looks upon all pleasantry as criminal, whatever other duties he may practise, forgets one of the most material of all, that of gaining over others to the interests of virtue, by making it appear to be, what it really is, a lovely form." (vol. i. Serm. VIII.)
“We must avoid the reading of bad books. For it is certain, that as good books adorn the mind with the treasures of good sense and beneficial knowledge; ill ones must store it with a fund of impure and immodest ideas. Thus many Plays, instead of ennobling the soul with generous sentiments, sully the imagination, by de. scribing lust with all its incentives and allurements, and awaken those passions which lay dormant before. It is granted, that good writers make the deeper impression, when they make their court to the fancy by bribing it with agreeable metaphors, paintings, and lively. imagery: because the soul being obliged to use the ministry of the senses, if we would gain an access to, and procure an audience from the soul, their sovereign; we must first address ourselves to the senses, as we do to other ministers.
“I would not be thought to pass a general, undistinguishing censure upon all Plays: Some of them are rational and manly entertainments, and may be read with improvement as well as delight. As for the rest, I would offer it to the consideration of virtuous persons, whether it be consistent with their character, as such, to read in the closet, or hear on the Stage, such lewd and immodest sentiments, as it would not be consistent to hear in private conversation.” (Serm. 1x:)
I have, on a former occasion,* quoted the sentiments of Andrew Fletcher, of Saltoun, who says, “That most of the ancient legislators, thought they could not well reform the manners of any city, without the help of a lyric and sometimes of a dramatic poet." See his Political Works, Lond. 1737. p. 372,
The benevolent, the moral, and the pious Jonas HANWAY, in his excellent work entitled, Virtue in Humble Life, in one of the conversations between the Father and his Daughter, thus expresses his sentiments on the subject of the Stage:
. D. Those who mis-spend their time in great cities, I suppose are as often admonished as we are?
F. Sometimes from the pulpit ; sometimes from the stage; the last being an advantage we do not enjoy here.
D. I am told that more evil than good is learnt at the playhouse,
F. Some plays had better not be represented: Your information is so far well grounded. We are sure that those who husband life as they ought, the first object of their concern should be to make their amusements tributary to the purity of their affections, and their regard to their fellow.creatures under all circumstances. If the Stage were well regulated, it would mend the heart, as well as delight the fancy: it might furnish entertainment for the best Christians and philosophers; and teach us all to be the good characters represented. If he
* Introductory Letter to A Collection of Songs, p. 2. 4to.
who writes a play, Mary, had his mind enriched with faith in the sacred writings, it would give strength and lustre to his genius, and charms to his humanity. And were he to teach the daily lessons we should learn, when the expence is not too heavy for our pockets, our minds might be improved by the playhouse, as well as the pulpit.
D. I fear those days will never come.
F. We are always to hope for the best. A skilful writer of Comedy or Tragedy might explore the recesses of the mind, and follow the man not into his closet only, but into every scene which the world might call upon him to act in. Let him interest the heart with regard to both worlds, and mark out in legible characters, the most useful parts of life, I think we have so much virtue, we should be pleased. Every scene in which wit is made offensive to modesty, or the native tenderness of the heart towards each other, should be totally expunged. You know that the Christian precepts. admonish us not to suffer any idle much less impure words, or unchaste conceits, once to be heard amongst us; shall we permit them on a public stage! We are naturally delighted at the report of generous actions, In spite of the weakness of the heart, envy herself may be discountenanced; great as our corruption is, we secretly applaud, or openly rejoice, when human nature supports its dignity in the person of him whose praises we hear. In this, respect the liberty of the theatre is greater than that of the pulpit. Invention in no character should be strained beyond the bounds of probability: let every thing represented have a foundation in reason and truth, and correspond with the ordinary events of life, as we now find it, and we shall be interested. Christian diversions should be agreeable to Christian duties. The precepts of the Gospel do not recommend insensibility; but they restrain the violence of all passion. Why should we, being Christians, delight to behold the soul tortured with passion, which Christianity forbids? Take real life as we find it, and there is enough of the marvellous to admire, whilst candour itself will often excite laughter.
D. And we may be sure, my father, there is no want of distress to make us weep.
F. Real life has, indeed, enough of that. Could we learn from our public shew's, as well as common life, how to live well, we should not be so ignorant how to die well, Whoever shews us our own hearts uncovered, and fairly laid open, discovers many black
spots in them: but let them in charity give also a just view of our good qualities : this may induce us to be more joyful than we had imagined ourselves capable of being; and balancing the account, leaving us rich in hope. He who is busy to mark out with a malignant eye, the characters which most disgrace human nature, is as little a friend to humanity, as him who flatters with a view to deceive. Compounded as we are, we must take the good and the evil together. Real life is made up of Comedy and Tragedy.
D. Do all kinds of people go to plays ?
F. You will find many of the middle ranks, as well as the great, attend theatrical representations. Some of the former empty their pockets there. Happy would it be were the playhouse a school, in which we might learn the manly and god-like duties of giving eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, bread to the hungry, and instruction to the ignorant. The religion and learning of a country, should determine what the Stage ought to be, to mix instruction with amusement. Whether
live to see this happy event or not, you may be sure the playhoụse shall never do you any harm.
D. By what means?
D. But are there not some very fine and religious sentiments in plays?
F. Many scattered in various parts; but I wish to see the Stage 30 modelled, as to unite entirely with the pulpit, and keep us in constant remembrance of the immortal glory of a life to come! Thus our amusement might be sanctified, our time redeemed, and no moment of our fleeting hours lost.
D. This would be glorious indeed! But I am afraid your conceit, though easy to understand, is too exalted to be carried into execution.
F. Rather say, ill suited to the present corruption of the heart, which prevails among the greatest part of our fellow-subjects. We must never despair. My notion is far from being impracticable. Plays are sometimes represented by boys at school. If any theatrical entertainment is proper for them, it should be such as will give them an early relish for religion, and teach them to discountenance vice and infidelity, and establish all the great truths of Christianity.” 2nd Edition 4to. vol. i. p. 214. See also p. 290.
RICHARDSON, the Author of Pamela, Sir Charles Grandison, &c. thus delivers his sentiments ;
“ A good Comedy is a fine performance. But how few are there that can be called good ? Even those that are tolerable, are so mixed with indecent levities (at which footmen have a right to insult, by their roars, ladies in the boxes,) that a modest young creature hardly knows how to bear the offence to her ears in the representation, joined with the insults given by the eyes
fellows she is surrounded by. These indecencies would be unnaturally shocking in Tragedy, as every one feels in the tragic Comedy more especially." Richardson's Correspondence, vol. iv. p. 219.
DR. Johnson, whose virtue and piety, in the last century, did so much to amend the morals of his age, and will lend their aid, we
- The trust, to ages to come, says in the Rambler, No. cxlvi. design of Tragedy is to instruct by moving the passions :" and he concludes his Prologue on opening Drury-Lane Theatre, in 1747, with these words addressed to the audience:
'Tis yours, this night, to bid the reign commence
Dr. Gregory, in his excellent Work, A Father's Legacy to his Daughters, in the chapter on Amusements, speaking of the Theatre, says,
“ There are few English Comedies a lady can see without a shock to delicacy.”—“Tragedy subjects you to no such distress. Its sorrows will soften and ennoble your
The elegant, the moral and the pious BLAIR, says, “ Dramatic Poetry has, among all civilized nations, been considered as a rational and useful entertainment.”
Speaking afterwards of Tragedy, he says, “ No kind of writing has so much power, when happily executed, to raise the strongest emotions. It is, or ought to be, a mirror in which we behold ourselves, and the evil to which we are exposed ; a faithful copy of the human passions, with all their direful effects, when they are suffered to become extravagant."
“ As Tragedy is a high and distinguished species of composition, so also in its general strain and spirit, it is favourable to virtue,"