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" Though Dramatic writers may sometimes, like other writers, be guilty of improprieties, though they may fail of placing virtue precisely in the due point of light, yet no reasonable person can deny Tragedy to be a moral species of composition. Taking Tragedies complexly, I am fully persuaded, that the impressions left by them upon the mind, are, on the whole, favourable to virtue and good dispositions." Lectures on Rhetoric and the Belles Lettres, vol. iii. Lect. XLV.
GILPIN, in his Dialogues on the Amusements of Clergymen, in the person of Dr. STILLINGFLEET, afterwards Bishop of Worcester, says of the Playhouse, “ What a noble institution have we here, if it were properly regulated. I know of nothing that is better calculated for moral instruction--nothing that hoids the glass more forcibly to the follies and vices of mankind. I would have it go, hand in hand, with the pulpit. It has nothing indeed to do with Scripture, and Christian doctrines. The pageants, as I think they were called, of the last century, used to represent Scripture stories, which were very improperly introduced, and much better handled in the pulpit. But it is impossible for the pulpit to represent vice and folly in so strong a light as the stage. One addresses our reason, the other our imagination; and we know which receives commonly the more forcible impression.” Dialogue 2. p. 116.
In the following extract from the life of ProFESSOR GELLERT, prefixed to his Moral Lessons, in 3 vols. 8vo. by Mrs. DOUGLAS, we have the sentiments of two very excellent persons at the same time. Mrs. D. says, that he had “ the idea of employing his talents in works of taste, and in the reformation of the Theatre, with a view to make this public entertainment more moral, and, consequently, more useful."
“ This was the end Gellert proposed to himself, and no more is wanting to be assured of it, than to cast our eyes on the preface he has placed at the head of his dramatic works.* It is not necessary, here, to enter into researches concerning the morality of the Stage, and the advantages and disadvantages of this public amusement, now become almost nécessary about courts, and in great cities.
* It is to be wished that these were translated and published for the benefit of the English Reader, and perhaps of the English Stage.
There is so little precision in what modern philosophers, such as
It is not by the magisterial decision of a philosopher or a theo-
If not possessed of all the knowledge requisite for such a discussion, we are in danger of mistaking, and of advancing opinions quite opposite, and no less erroneous. Persons, who have, in other respects, studied morality, pretty accurately, may be very bad judges in these matters, if they are not sufficiently acquainted with works of taste, and the influence they may have on the human mind; of the utility to be derived from them by religion, and of the harmony which
may exist between virtue and the pleasures of the understanding. Moralists, who are not sufficiently enlightened on these points, ought to confine theniselves to general exhortations, “ to prove
all things, and hold to that which is good,” to be moderate in the use of pleasures, to avoid what may too much stimulate the passions, and
take care that the amusements we allow ourselves, may not inspire us with disgust towards religious duties. To exceed these bounds on the subject is likely to draw us into declamation, to make us exceed in severity, and to inspire distrust, even, though all we say should, on every other point of morality, be most indisputably rational:
Gellert proposed to himself, in his dramatic works, to attack vice and folly, and, by drawing the most interesting pictures of virtue, to inspire the minds of men with the love of it.” Vol. i. p. 45.
BISHOP PORTEUS, in his 16th Lecture on St. Matthew's Gospel, speaking of the different ways by which a man may make his brother to offend, or fall off from God, notices the profane and immoral publications of the time, and says,
“ What then have they to answer for, who are every day obtruding these publications on the world, in a thousand different shapes and forms, in history, in biography, in poems, in novels, in dramatic pieces, "-" and instead of being inspired, as they ought to be, even apon the Stage, with a just detestation of vice, they are furnished with apologies for it, which they never forget, and are even taught to consider it as a necessary part of an accomplished character."
Dr. Hey, in his Lectures in Divinity, speaking of the propagation of Christianity, says,.“ That any one, who was master of the history and antiquities of the early ages of Christianity might form fables, Mubor, out of them, for epic or dramatic compositions, which would be extremely interesting, affecting, and improving." Vol. i.
Again, in his chapter (book II. ch. iv.) of using Ridicule in Disputes about Religion, he says, I conclude this account of authors with the mention of one or two now living; Madame De Sillery-Brulart (late Madame Genlis) and Monsieur Berquin. In their pleasing, moral, affecting Dramas,* I find a mixture of comic and ethic, which is peculiarly powerful; it has, from many
* Particularly those contained in the 4th vol. of the Theatre of Education ; and the larger pieces in L'Ami des Enfans.
readers drawn tears in torrents, of the most delicious kind; I wish some student in the higher parts of criticism, (which include the emotions of the mind,) would examine this mixture ; -one may see, that the comic makes the virtue so unaffected and unpretending, as greatly to heighten the merit and the effect of it: but the more it was examined, the more clearly would the use and excellence of ridicule appear, when rightly refined and judiciously applied.” Vol. i. p. 453.
Speaking of The School for Scandal, he says, “ Joseph Surface is, in my judgment, an hurtful piece of humour; sentiments are expressed as ridiculous, which indeed every honest man feels.-Ridicule is, in this play, very useful in exposing censoriousness pretending to candour.” Ditto. In his Chapter Of improving Religious Societies, (B. III. ch. xv.)
“ With the same view of improving Religion, we must endeavour to improve our imagination. What I mean, is to be done by improving the fine arts, and by applying them to religious uses. By the fine arts are usually understood painting, music, poetry, eloquence, sculpture, architecture, and perhaps some others; these give the mind ideas of beauty, sublimity, grandeur, order, symmetry, harmony, rythm, &c. and serve to excite and strengthen sentiments of various kinds:--if these are in an improved state, they refine and polish, and as it were, enrich and ennoble the mind, so long as they are applied to any subjects which are moral or only innocent;-- but they are far more useful, and do much more good to the mind, if they are employed in the service of religion : religious paintings are very improving; sacred music, even its plainest kinds, softens and soothes the heart, and makes it feel a warm and affectionate piety; and when it becomes subliune, it exalts the mind to heavenly conceptions: when pathetic, it melts the heart with “ godly sorrow,” in a manner not to be described ;--and similar observations might be made on poetry, eloquence, and the rest; though there may be a difference in degree.
It seems to be undeniably true (and surely it proves how great and noble a thing religion is in itself, and how cungenial to the human mind,) that the fine arts are (generally speaking) infinitely more efficacious, when exercised on religious subjects, than any others. The paintings which have the greatest effect, are on religious subjects; I should be curious to compare the works of the best masters in the Art of Painting, and whether the best work
of each is not religious; the Nativity, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, strikes me more than any other piece of his that I have seen. I doubt whether the Art of Sacred Poetry has as yet been well studied.” (Vol. ii. p. 170.)
Afterwards, in the same chapter, speaking of superstition, he says, it is
enemy to reason, and to arts and sciences. Reason is dull and tedious, in comparison with the imagination; and their dictates will thwart and contradict each other. Reason thus becomes despised and abhorred, and if it pretends to make much resistance, gets persecuted. If the fine arts are only neglected by the superstitious, they are fortunate; they may easily get reckoned supporiers of impiety, and then they will suffer persecution.” Ditto, p. 178.
The amiable and pious, and, in some respects, severe Cowper, in a letter to his friend Dr. Hurdis, speaking of his tragedy of Sir Thomas More, says, “ I wish to know what you mean to do with Sir Thomas. For though I expressed doubts about his theatrical possibilities, I think him a very respectable person, and with some improvement, well worthy of being introduced to the public." Hayley's Life of Cowper, Letter CXXXVIII. vol. iii, 8vo. p. 335.
MR. CUMBERLAND's opinion and example, as a man of con. siderable piety, as well as a dramatic writer, must not be omitted. It is not my meaning to defend his writings altogether, though most of them, I think, have a good tendency. His Calvary is a poem which does honour to literature, and his Few plain Reasons for believing in Christ, are excellent. So is his Observer. The Wheel of Fortune, a highly interesting and popular Comedy, I consider as a good lesson on the forgiveness of injuries.
Mr. Dibdin, a dramatic author, as well as the writer and composer of some of the best ballads in the English language, and upon whose writings I have elsewhere freely made my remarks,* says of himself, “ It cannot be denied, that my proper duty is to instruct as well as amuse, and it would be impossible without instruction, to convey any amusement that would not be
* See Introduction to Collection of Songs : Postscript.