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University. I sketched out my plan, and began to read for them accordingly, but was soon called off to more important concerns. Yet the subject has still occupied a place in my mind, and, whenever, in the course of my reading or recollection, I have met with any thing connected with it, I have noted it down, till my materials have accumulated to a considerable extent. Some circumstances occurred, during the last year, at Cambridge, to bring the subject of the Stage into frequent consideration and discussion; til it struck me, that it might be useful to put the more moral and religious part of my plan together, into Sermons, for the purpose of preaching them at that time, when plays are performed within a very short distance from the University,
The events, iny Dear Sir, which have led to your return to the University, in a station of high importance, have unexpectedly, but most happily for me, been the cause of my acquiring a new and a very valuable Friend; and, when I mentioned my idea to you, as to a person, upon whose judgment and piety I might depend, you most obligingly attended to my statement, and gave me encouragement to proceed; the result has already met
your approbation in private, and I trust you will have no reason to alter your good opinion upon my making these Discourses public,
I am well aware, that I shall have to encounter the prejudices of two very different descriptions of persons, in this attempt at reforming the Stage ;
those who think the Stage does not stand in need of any reformation, at least to the extent which I would go; and those who think the Stage incapable of amendment to any valuable purpose : and both will perhaps concur in thinking it a matter foreign, if not derogatory, to the character of a Clergyman. Bishop Horne, however, whose opinion I am ever happy to cite, furnishes me with two authorities for my endeavours : Every man (says he) in that way to which his genius directs him, should exert his abilities in the service of his Maker and Redeemer." * " There is no kind of knowledge, which, in the hands of the diligent and skilful, will not turn to account. Honey exudes from all flowers, the bitter not excepted; and the Bee knows how to extract it.”+ My reasons for not thinking the subject foreign to my profession, are stated in more places than one in the Discourses themselves; and I conceive myself (and I hope I may be allowed to say so, without an imputation of vanity, as I speak it in great measure to my shame at the same time) to be particularly qualified for the office, from my former attachment to the Stage, and my subsequent attention to sacred subjects. The time which I formerly gave up to this subject, I acknowledge to have been misapplied; but, if it shall please Providence to prosper this endeavour, good, as is his usual mode of dealing with man, will be produced out of evil, and it will not have been in vain : indeed, this appears to me to be the only mode of “redeeming the time"
* Vol. of XVI Sernions. Discourse XIV.
and turning my knowledge in that branch to use, and to be an imperious duty incunbent upon me, And one motive with me for chusing this form for my work, has been the hope, that these Discourses might furnish materials to my Brethren, residing in towns where plays are performed, and so to put their congregations in possession of that knowledge, and of those facts, which might never reach them through the medium of the press only.
The present undertaking may be said to recall my attention to subjects, which I now acknowledge to be wrong; but this I do not consider as any privilege or indulgence, but rather as a duty ;* and certainly, to a very considerable degree, a mor tification. The person in quest of medical knowledge, for the benefit of mankind, thinks it no privilege to attend in the surgery and the dissecting room; but if, by his own personal inconvenience, he can benefit others, he is in the way of duty, and in that he finds his reward ; and if I, by recurring to what I, otherwise, should be rejoiced to forget, can render any service to mankind, I trust in Providence to preserve my own mind from any material contamination; and, if I can be of any service to my fellow-creatures, in this my generation, shall trust to reap my reward, by witnessing it, both in this life, and in the next. That the work is attended with some danger to myself, I am perfectly aware, but it has neither been undertaken, nor carried on, without looking to Him, “ from whom all holy desires, all good
* Dr. Hey, vol. i. p. 438,
counsels and all just works do proceed,” (2d Collect Evening Service;) and while I have been employed in a service of danger in the enemy's country, I have endeavoured to labour with the sword of the Spirit by my side. (Nehemiah iv. 13—23.)
I know not whether, on account of my former attachment to the Stage, I may not be accused of partiality, and therefore, as being an incompetent judge in the business. I have repeatedly asked myself this question, and I think I can decide upon it with confidence. As far as a man can judge of his own heart (which he ought ever to be aware “ is deceitful above all things,” Jerem. xvii. 9.) I do not think that there ever was a time, in which I should not have acquiesced, had the Stage been represented to me in the light in which it is here set forth; and I could have given it up in its corrupted state, without reluctance: but, when I saw persons condemning plays, and yet going to them, when I heard the profession censured, and yet encouraged, by attending the representations of its professors, I confess there was a contradiction, in which I could not acquiesce, and which I did not then see through.
Mr. Styles, in his Essay on the Stage, says, that " the difficulty which persons under a powerful conviction of the truth and importance of religion, feel in resigning to its influence their last favourite --the Stage-is a proof, that it has lodged in the hearts of many the strongest prejudices against the practical influence of Christianity.” (p. 81.)
And he says, farther, “ Two persons, one an emi. nently pious minister of the Gospel, and the other an accomplished and excellent female, assured me, when conversing with them on this subject, that, previous to their becoming serious, the Stage opposed to their hearts the most powerful barrier to their receiving genuine religion ; they thought they could sacrifice every thing to its claims—but the Theatre.” (Ditto, Note.)
It will be found, from the following Discourses, that I do not conceive the Christian to be called upon wholly to renounce the Stage; that he is called upon to do his part, whatever may be in his
power, to amend it, I certainly think; but, were it necessary to renounce it for ever, I could hear, without regret, the reflection that I never was to read or see another play. For several
For several years, I never entered a Theatre; and it is only lately, when considering the Stage in a moral and religio s point of view, that I have again witnessed the representation of a few plays, and read a few more. A good play (good as the amusement of a fallen world now goes) I certainly consider one of the most rational amusements; but a bad, or an indifferent one, gives me no satis, faction.
While I have been thus free in censuring the compositions of others, it will, no doubt, be asked by those, who know that I have myself been a writer and publisher of plays, What are my sentiments with respect to my own? I, by no means, exculpate them from the general censure. They are the