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divine principle. While the metaphysical speculator is compelled to abandon “ the wisdom of this world” as “ foolishness," "the zvanderer in fairy-land is reminded of an Apostle's assertion, '“ When I became a man, I put away childish things."
Before him fancy's gilded clouds decay,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.” Jones (of Nayland,) in a note to Bishop Horne's character of Voltaire, says of him, that, “ By making unjust associations, and putting things good and bad together, he leaves no value nor superiority in any thing. The Bible makes known to us the existence of - Angels: but what then? Kings had their couriers ; so men thought they could do no less than give them to their Deities. Mercury and Iris were the messengers of heathenism ; the Persians had their Peris; the Greeks had their Dæmons, &c. In this way he puts-error and truth together, till the mind of an unlearned reader, having no touchstone, is confounded and believes nothing.” (See The Scholar Armed, vot. ii. p. 283.)
On the subject of Ghosts I will be more brief. As the Ghost of Banguo is now managed, in the Banquet Scene in Macbeth, that is, merely by the guilty conscience of Macbeth picturing it to himself, the effect is very fine and instructive; but I certainly object to introducing them in a visible form. It is true, that many believe departed spirits do sometimes actually appear to persons in this world; and there are some stories of them, on which a thinking and religious mind will not pronounce that they are false; but, excepting those recorded in the Sacred Writings, I know of none to which I can give my positive assent; and we have so little revealed to us in Scripture upon the subject, that I consider it as improper to introduce them. There are some goud remarks on this subject, in some papers on The Intermediate State, in the Orthodox Churchman's Magazine, vol. iv. See also Letter LII. in Sir W. Forbes's Life of Dr. Beattie.
There is a remarkable instance of the power of fancy excited and nourished by such representations in Dr. Dodd's Thoughts in Prison, (toward the end of Week the Third,) where he supposes himself to see his Father's Ghost, evidently taken from Hamlet ; the passage likewise bearing marks of circumstances derived from Kiny John and Macbeth, : Not that I suppose he really fancied he sawy his
Father's Ghost; but, having been conversant with these ideas in former days, the effect of it appeared, even under the awful circumstances of imprisonment for a capital crime, and under a near prospect of death. (See also a former passage, p. 136.)
Since there is scarcely any thing so absurd, but that some persons may
be found to believe it, (as Ghosts, Witchcraft, Fairies, Second Sight, Charms, and the multitude of popular superstitions,) ought not writers to be very cautious how they administer food to such minds, and to restrain their imaginations ? Poetic fancy should rather be employed in embellishing, than inventing ; when imagination gets the ascendancy over reason, it is madness. Do not these fictions tend to draw away the mind from truth, and will not plays and poems written upon them, if they get into the places where they are believed, increase the disorder? Such I conceive to be the effect of the Poems of Ossion, in the Highlands of Scotland, of the Witches in Macbeth, (as is farther shewn in a subsequent Note, E.) and the ballad of William and Margaret, &c. &c.
I remember being very much shocked, (though then little more than a school boy, and certainly not having the same respect for Sacred subjects which I have now,) with the opening scene in Poor Vulcan, where the heathen deities are represented as being in heaven. There are, I believe, other pieces in which heaven is represented in a still more degrading manner; but I do not recollect ever to have seen it represented but that time. It is true, that this,' and other exhibitions, are intended to expose the false religion of the heathens; but still there was something in the attempt to represent heaven which I found very repugnant to my feelings.
Hell is represented in the Pantomime of Don Juan, or The Libertine Destroyed, to which Don Juan is brought, as a punishment for his wickedness; but, though I believe it to be intended, that the piece should have a good moral, and serve as a warning to the libertine, yet the representing hell, and that with furies and dæmons flashing torches over his head, I consider as presumptuous and profane. I have seen the hell of the heathens represented in one or two Harlequin Pantomimes. In these there is generally a mixture of the ludicrous. Collier, speaking of Dryden's King Arthur, says, “Why are truth and fiction, heathenism and Christianity, the most serious and the most trifling things blended together, and thrown into one form of diversion? Why is, all this done, unless it be to
ridicule the whole, and make one as incredible as the other?” (p. 188.) “ To droll upon the vengeance of Heaven, and the miseries of the damned, is a sad instance of Christianity! Those that bring devils upon the Stage, can hardly believe them any where else," p. 189.
Mr. Foster, speaking of Virgil, says, “ Perhaps the chief counteraction of Christian sentiments, which I should apprehend to an opening susceptible mind, would be a depravation of its ideas concerning the other world, from the picturesque scenery which Virgil has opened to his hero in the regions of the dead, and the solemn and interesting images with which he has shaded the avenue to them. Essay IV. vol. ii. Letter V. p. 259. 2nd Edition.
E. p. 29. It will merely be necessary here to mention the name of Mrs. Williams, the well-known fortune-teller, concerning whom, I think, it appeared, in a prosecution against her, that she was consulted by persons of considerable rank. The case of Powell, the conjurer, happened little more than a year ago, and excited much attention.
In the second Part of the Address of The Society for the Suppression of Vice, published in 1803, it appeared, that thirty four Fortune Tellers and notorious Impostors, had been convicted by the Society in about a year.
I remember, some years ago, when a piece of plate was missing, the servant was for going to consult The Wise Woman in a neighbouring parish, to know where it was ; but the Wise Woman was dead, and the plate was soon after found.
I resided once in a parish where witchcraft was believed in by many, and those by no means the most ignorant. I found on conversing with one of the persons who believed in it, that he had formerly seen the play of Macbeth, and I had reason to think that that had strengthened his belief. See before, Note D. p. 144.
As our plays are now managed, I do not think that uninformed minds distinguish readily, if at all, between that which is represented as being merely the history of former times, and that which is intended as present fact. The Christian Observer, very properly, states, “ It has been most justly asserted, that the real moral of a tale is the impression left on the reader's mind. It may be very true, that the tragedy of Macbeth illustrates the nature and fruit of ambition; but we believe, that a young person rises from the perusal of Macbeth”
(how much more then must an uninformed mind retire from the representation of it?) “ with an imagination crowded with daggers, weird sisters, and apparitions." Vol. vii. p. 329.
In the Cambridge Chronicle, for May 21, 1808, appeared an account of Anne Izzard of Great Paxton, in the County of Huntingdon, whose house was broken into, who was dragged out of bed, and forced into the yard by a man, where three women and several men assaulted her in the most barbarous manner, and repeated the same the following evening, on account of her being a reputed witch. The paragraph then states, that “ Anne Izzard is a very harmless, inoffensive woman, nearly sixty years of age, and is the mother of eight children.-A few weeks ago, some misguided people raised the cry of witchcraft against her; and oh! shame to relate it! at this moment, the poor in general of the parishes of Great and Little Paxton, and some of the farmers also, really believe that she is actually a witch — they firmly believe that she bewitched the women who assaulted her—they believe that she afflicted them with grievous fits—they believe that she overturned a cart drawn by three horses, and loaded with corn-they believe that she carried five bushels of wheat upon her back from St. Neots, to Great Paxton, with as much ease as if they weighed only five pounds--they believe that she has the power of making herself invisible—they believe that she can convey herself from place to place through the air in an instant--they believe that she gives suck to several imps, which they say she employs in her diabolical arts of witchcraft-and, what is worst of all, they believe that this poor woman may be assaulted, either by ducking or otherwise, as they think proper, with impunity. The writer of this is shocked, that notions, so worthy of the very darkest ages superstition and barbarism, so repugnant to common sense, and so disgraceful to humanity, should, at this enlightened period, vitiate the minds of any of the people of England."
The very day I am writing this note, The Courier of yesterday, (Wednesday October the 26th) brings a most shocking account of imposture and credulity, which has happened in the neighbourhood of Leeds. William Perigo, of Bramley, applied to Mary Bateman, of Campfield, in August 1806, to cure his Wife of some complaint. Mary declined to undertake the cure herself; but said, that she had a friend at Scarbro', a Miss Blyth, who could “read the stars," and collect the knowledge requisite to remove all corporeal and mental inaladies. Mary Bateman was the pretended medium through
which all communications were to pass; and she obtained from them money, and various articles, at different times, amounting to a very considerable sum, till fearing their discontent, and her being discovered, under the pretence of giving them a powder, in a pudding, as a charm, she administered poison to them, of which the wife died, and Perigo's constitution was ruined, and he lost the use of his limbs, M. Bateman, who has a husband and several children, is committed to gaol to take her trial.
F. p. 30. The objections of Mrs. More and of Mr. Hill, appear to me, to apply only to what I conceive to be the abuse of prayers on the Stage: “ It is perhaps one of the most invincible objections to many Tragedies, otherwise not very exceptionable, that the awful and treinendous name of the infinitely glorious God is shamefully and almost incessantly introduced in various scenes, both in the way of asseveration, and of invocation.” Mrs. M.'s Preface, p. 26.
“ The next charge which equally rests against almost all theatrical exhibitions, is the horrid profanation of the SACRED Name of God. Whether our minds ought to be more disgusted at the light and frothy style in which the Comedian sports with THAT SACRED NAME,_or, whether the like profaneness adopted in the solemn grimace of Tragedy, may not be still more offensive than the former, might be difficult to determine. For can any thing be more shocking, than when the tragic actor, at times, can bend his knee in his mock devotions, as in the presence of the eternal God, in language apparently the most solemn, though on a subject, perhaps the most insulting to the purity and holiness of the divine existence.” R. Hill's Warning, p. 16.
Mr. Styles, however, condemns them entirely: “What has a fictitious character on the Stage to do with Heaven?" p. 92. See also p. 95.
My reasons for admitting prayers, under certain restrictions, are given in the Sermon. In addition to what I have there said, I will observe, that
prayers and addresses to the Deity are introduced into our Oratorios, which, as I have before observed, (see p. 10 and 40) are dramatic representations; yet I never heard any one find fault with these. The objection then seems to be against the manner of introducing them, not against the thing itself, and I will therefore bring forward some instances of prayers, which I think are wrong, and some which I consider as right.