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Not to expect it, and not to attempt it, is certainly the way not to bring it about; and to expect wholly to purify the Stage, is to look for more than we are warranted in this imperfect state of being
One argument, however, in favour of the attempt is, that something—I might almost say much-hath already been done. Even the unconciliating invectives against the Stage have had their effect in opening the eyes of people to the immoralities and dangers of it, and contributed towards its amendment. What, then, may not be expected from endeavours set about in the spirit of Charity? The attempt is at least desirable and commendable; let us sow the good seed, and trust in the bounty of Providence for an abundant harvest. And, to use the words of an excellent writer upon another subject, supposing there were good reason for calling this but Theory, I must own that I should not be so much disturbed by it as some might be. A Theory is often only a set of observations and conclusions, drawn from experiments, and reduced into some regular shape; and, in things moral, it is only a set of rules, very useful, found out by degrees, after several corrections, each correction occasioned by some actual inconvenience, and each rule adopted as utility appeared, and as men could be prevailed upon to practise it; and the whole moulded into
some form, in which it can be plainly seen, and easily applied. When a set of useful rules is so fabricated, men look back upon it, and can perceive, that it would have been best if they could always have acted from such a system or plan.” This may be called Theory; " therefore, when once it is formed, referring to it must be the easiest method of ascertaining wherein our duty consists." *
As to the common imputation against those, who aim at amendment, of forming Eutopian schemes, there is, in fact, nothing in it.
“Go on unto Perfection" (Heb. vi. 1.) is the language of an Apostle ; and although it is to be feared that we shall ever fall short of the mark aimed at, he, who aims at any thing below perfection, is not likely to succeed, even in an inferior degree. But, at the same time, in carrying on our designs, prudence, caution, and firmness, and a due allowance for the infirmities, prejudices, and wrong-headedness of mankind, must ever be made.
And, tó set one human authority against another, I shall quote the sentiments of Archbishop Tillotson, an author praised by some of the greatest adversaries of the Stage, for his
* See a Paper on PATRONAGE, in the Orthodox Church man's Magazine, vol. xiii. p. 174, attributed to Dr. Hey.
candour, gentleness, and moderation *. In his Sermon on The evil of corrupt Communication t, where he is speaking of plays, he says, “ that as they are now ordered among us, they are a mighty reproach to the age and nation.” But, continues he, “ To speak against them in general, may be thought too severe, and that which the present age cannot so well brook, and would not perhaps be so just and reasonable; because it is very possible, they might be so framed, and governed by such rules, as not only to be innocently diverting, but instructing and useful, to put some vices and follies out of countenance, which cannot perhaps be so decently reproved, nor so effectually exposed and corrected any other way.”
We might now, I think, proceed to consider what are the abuses of the Stage, with a view to correcting them; but the time not permitting, I must defer it to a future opportunity.
* Orton's Discourses, vol. ii. p. 295. Law, p. 415. + Vol. xi. 8vo. Serm. ccxiv. p. 4316.
1 Law, (p. 414.) in quoting Archbishop Tillotson's opinion against plays, omits this passage, which admits the lawfulness of the Stage, considered in itself, and the possibility of rendering it useful. Highly as I respect Law's character, and excellent as I consider much of his writings, I cannot but consider him as disingenuous in this instance, and seeming to write with prejudices. Note G.
The Abuses and Uses of the Stage pointed out.
I. Cor. XV. 33.
BE NOT DECEIVED: EVIL COMMUNICATIONS CORRUPT GOOD MANNERS.
Tue Apostle, in this chapter, is discoursing with his Corinthian converts upon the Gospel, which he had preached to them, and on that material article of it, the resurrection of the dead. He mentions his own labours in the Gospel, and the perils which he had undergone in the propagation of it, looking for his sole reward in the resurrection of the dead to a life of glory. If it were not for this, says he, one might join with the Epicureans, who, disbelieving a future state, place their whole happiness in the sensual enjoyments of this world, and say, " Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” But he instantly breaks out into this awful warning, “ Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God.
I speak this to your shame." A warning which may be applied to those in this day, who lead a life of pleasure, regardless of the object for which they came into
this world, and of the judgment for endless glory, or endless misery, which awaits theni in another. Thus does our conduct in this life, even with respect to every particular circumstance, become a subject of awful consideration.
In a former discourse, the much controverted question of the lawfulness of the Stage was taken into consideration, and it was shewn, I think, upon sufficient evidence, that the Stage is an amusement by no means unlawful in itself; but, that, like all other good things, it hath been perverted in the hands of the great Adversary of mankind, and made a most powerful mean of corruption; a fact allowed by all reasonable advocates for the Stage. It becomes, therefore, not only adviseable, but is likewise our bounden duty, to endeavour to separate the good from the evil, and to render it not merely an innocent amusement, but a source of rational and moral instruction. To contribute, as far as is in my power, to this desirable end, I shall endeavour, in the present discourse, to point out what are the particular corruptions of the Stage, that we may know what to reject; and the ascertaining what are its faults, will point out the proper subjects for public representation. Nor let it be thought, that, in doing this, the Christian Minister is stepping aside from his office. To warn his hearers where danger lies,