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In the view we have taken of this mass of dramatic literature, we have dwelt little on the literary execution of the several works -for many reasons: first, that it is their moral, or rather immoral, tendency, which is the chief object of our notice; secondly, an examination of their literary merits would take more time and space than we can afford to the subject-each play would require an article to itself; and finally, because this class of plays does
poetry, and stands but little on the merits of the expression. The majority are in prose, and it is evident that the principal object of the writers has been the interest arising from situation. The old tragic ingredients of terror and pity are sacrificed to what the Italians call the imbroglio-which is, in truth, an expedient of comedy, or rather of farce. Beaumarchais gave, if not the first, at least the ablest examples of this style, and his two comedies are most able and amusing, though somewhat dissolute, specimens of the imbroglio ; he attempted it, also, in his tragic continuation of these dramas, La Mêre Coupable, using it in this instance with a more sparing hand, but it must be confessed with very pathetic effect. We look, indeed, on La Mêre Coupable as the very culpable parent of Hugo's and Dumas's extravagances; but Beaumarchais had a strong feeling of the pathetic in sentimenthis imitators have no notion but of the striking in situation. Beaumarchais affected—these only surprise. But even as mere works of art, these dramas have defects so striking, that we carinot pass them over wholly unobserved: the principal is the extraordinary paucity of invention, which drives the authors to such frequent repetitions of the same character and similar situations. Nothing can be less new than their novelties--nothing so scrvile as their freedoms-nothing so threadbare as their extravagances. Bastardy, seduction, rape, adultery, and incest as motives—the poniard, poison, and prostitution, as means—this is their whole gamut; and even these original notes they contrive to repeat in the same monotonous succession, borrowing from themselves, and from one another, with the least possible variety of combination.
Of the female characters, in the ten plays which we have specially noticed, we find that eight are adulteresses, five are prostitutes of various ranks, and six are victims of seduction, of whom two are brought to bed almost on the stage. Four mothers are in love with their own sons, or sons-in-law, and in three instances the crime is complete. Eleven persons are murdered, directly or indirectly, by their paramours ; and in six of these pieces the prominent male characters are bastards and foundlings; and all this accumulation of horrors is congregated in ten plays of two authors, produced within the last three years in the city of Paris.
We do not forget that crime, and the worst cause of crime, has been in all ages the domain of tragedy. We do not forget the families of Atreus and Laius-and the whole tribe of mythological and historical tragedies, in all languages--nor, in our own, the Fair Penitent, Jane Shore, George Barnwell, and many others; but most of these inculcate nioral lessons-none of them offend decency-none of them inflame criminal passions. In the earlier periods of our drama, there were frequently coarse expressions, and occasionally a gross scenembut the taste of modern audiences has long since prohibited the exhibition of any such indelicacy. But, what excites our wonder and our sorrow, in the present appearance of the French stage, is to see, of a sudden, the rare exception becoming the general rule-to find nothing but turpitude every night, on every stage, of a great and civilized people-in every work of its most able and most popular writers—to witness the enthusiastic repetition of such pieces for forty, fifty, or sixty nights—in fact, until the author, urged by the double stimulus of profit and fame, has had time to sketch out another and higher-seasoned piece of the same, or of a worse character. It seems to us that all this must be the consequence, or must be the cause of a general lapse of morals-an universal dissolution of the principles of society-in the people who are fed nightly on such intoxicating and mortal poison; and when we again remind our readers, that all our examples have been taken, not from the mass of Parisian dramatists, but from the two who are universally admitted to be at the head of French literature, while hundreds and thousands of inferior hands are busy in producing execrable imitations, in which all the faults of their prototypes are extended and exaggerated —when we remind our readers of all this, they will, we are confident, agree with us, that the state of the public mind in France is now a phenomenon-a fearful phenomenon, such as the civilized world never before witnessed. The influence of the stage-while well conducted, may, perhaps, be sometimes salutary, or, at the most, innoxious; and the long period for which it was, both in England and France, conducted with decency and some degree of reserve, has rendered modern statesmen rather incredulous as to its influence, and of course, indifferent as to its effects ; but we are much mistaken if we shall not ere long see irresistible proofs that it is an implement of popular excitement which requires the most cautious attention of governments; and in France, we think, it will be very soon discovered, that the Government must control the stage, or the stage will overthrow the Government, and, ultimately, the whole frame of society. Messrs. Hugo and Dumas boast loudly that their genius has taken these high flights on the
mere abolition of the control of the government; and it is the fashion even in England to complain of the authority of the licenser —but, without some such authority, neither domestic peace nor public tranquillity could be for a moment secured. Against the libels or seditious provocations of the stage there can be no other antecedent preservative, as there can be no subsequent redress : the line that dishonours a private character or excites a public tumult, when once uttered, cannot be recalled-fugit irrevocabile verbum-and punishment is out of the question, for the offensive expression often is really, and may always be alleged to be innocent in itself: the danger is in the application which a heated audience may make of it. Take, for instance, the example which we have before noticed, from Le Roi s'amuse. There was a line in which the author protests he had no sinister meaning-a line suited to the character who uttered it to the circumstances in which, and the persons to whom it was spoken; yet that line, it is confessed, branded, as with a red-hot iron, the domestic character of a whole family, and might have thrown a great city, perhaps a whole nation, into a bloody conflict! Can any honest lover of literature-can any man, with any regard for the peace of private families, or the maintenance of public order, doubt that places of no abstract utility, but of mere popular amusement, should be saved by a precautionary authority from the risk of producinginadvertently on the parts, certainly, of the actors, and probably of the authors—such deplorable consequences ? The French government, we see, even in the first fervour of their liberal professions and pledges, were obliged to interfere—but their interference, though it perhaps suspended or averted the public danger, could not obliterate the mark of the red-hot brand from an innocent family--innocent, we mean, of the peculiar crime alleged. We fear that in London the minor theatres, which are not subjected to the licenser, have already shown an alarming disregard of delicacy; and even in the larger theatres, the licenser is, we believe, very reluctant to use a power, the exercise of which subjects him to personal odium and public complaint. The matter is of more extent and importance than we can here develope; but we trust we have said enough to call public attention to what may become with ourselves a very important consideration, and which assuredly is already a subject of intense anxiety to every one who wishes for the establishment and continuance of a moral and orderly government in that great country, which, from its position and its power, must exercise so great and so exemplary an intluence, either for good or for evil, over the rest of the European world.
Art. IX.-Natural Theology: or Essays on the Existence of
Deity, of Providence; on the Immortality of the Soul; and a Future State. By the Reverend Alexander Crombie, LL.D.,
F.R.S. 2 vols. 8vo. London. 1829. ON N a recent occasion, we expressed our regret, that the parties
intrusted with the execution of Lord Bridgewater's testamentary disposition, should have mistaken the purpose which that nobleman had in view, and should have given series of detached and expensive treatises, inaccessible to the less wealthy classes of society, instead of one compendious publication on the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, as manifested in creation.' The regret then experienced has been in some degree abated by the perusal of the work now before us. In these volumes, Dr. Crombie has presented, as we believe, the most comprehensive view of the whole science of natural theology that has hitherto appeared. He deduces the existence, the power, and the goodness of God from the phenomena of the universe; he examines and overthrows all the principal arguments which have been brought forward in support of Atheism ; and he points out those errors in reasoning, and in the philosophy of logic, which have hitherto retarded the progress of natural religion, considered as 'a science. This is the most original, and perhaps the most valuable, portion of the book. momentous questions, error has been mistaken for truth, because truth has appeared in the garb of error. The arguments of the Atheist have been admitted, because those of the Theist have been logically untenable. Religion has thus been endangered by the weapons wielded in her defence, fully as much as by those which have been employed against her. On these grounds, we are of opinion, that Dr. Crombie has rendered invaluable service to the cause of truth-by showing us the inconclusiveness and the inapplicability of certain mere metaphysical reasonings, and à priori arguments, which have been frequently and mischievously employed in support of Theism; and by applying to natural theology that inductive logic which has led to so many brilliant results in physical science. It is as necessary, to the full development and rapid reception of religious truth, that we should discard the à priori reasonings of Locke and Clarke, as it was necessary, in another field, to reject the fictitious principles and gratuitous assumptions by which Descartes and others endeavoured to guess at nature, and to anticipate the results of experience. A brief examination of the theological arguments of Locke and Clarke will be sufficient to show that they are calculated to confirm rather than to remove the doubts and difficulties of the honest sceptic.
Nothing, indeed, can be more evident than that every question which comes under the scope of the rational faculty must be either a question of fact or a question of mere relation-a question of substantial existence, or one purely notional and abstract. Subjects of the latter kind, referring solely to the relations of our ideas, are in their very nature independent of facts. The deductions of the mathematician would be demonstrably certain, if there were not a circle or a triangle in existence. The converse position is equally true,-that questions of fact necessarily exclude abstract argumentation. And if Clarke had as clearly seen the inapplicability of all abstract reasoning to every question of fact, and therefore to the existence of Deity, as the great Bacon perceived the utter invalidity of all à priori reasoning in physical science, he never would have instituted an abstruse argument in defence of Theism. Of this error, indeed, he seems himself to have been partly aware, and his only apology is, what he offered to Whiston, when conversing with him on the subject in the garden of Peter-house,*—that, as Theism had been metaphysically assailed, he was anxious to show that it might be metaphysically defended. Let us look at their reasonings.
The argument of Locke amounts to this :- Nothing cannot produce something : therefore, something must have existed from eternriy; that which is incogitative, therefore, cannot produce that which is cogitative ; that which has existed from eternity must be a cogitative being. To this argument for the existence of a God, the philosophic sceptic has an obvious reply. We have no knowledge of different causes : we cannot conceive how an incogitative substance should produce a cogitative; but neither is it given for the human faculties to conceive how a cogitạtive being should produce an incogitative. That matter should produce mind, is wholly incomprehensible ; but not less incom, prehensible is it, that mind should produce matter. How that which feels and thinks, should proceed from that which is extended and divisible, is to us absolutely inexplicable; but then it is equally inexplicable to us, how that which is extended and divisible should proceed from that which feels and thinks. By no metaphysical and abstract reasoning from causation--of the nature of which we are wholly ignorant-can we possibly discover whether that which has existed from eternity is matter or is mind.
The celebrated argument of Dr. Clarke is not more conclusive than that of Mr. Locke. . The Atheist maintains, that there is no first cause, and that the universe is an infinite succession of causes
* Whiston, pointing to a nettle, told Clarke, it contained better evidence of the existence of Deity than all his metaphysics.