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In the first place, then, I would not allow of prayers offered to false objects, or to the true object upon a wrong
occasion.* Imogen, in Cymbeline, when she is in bed and about to go to sleep, says,
To your protection I commend me, Gods!
A. II. S. 3. Here the prayer is addressed to the wrong object, and admits the existence of Fairies.
Macduff, after hearing of the murder of his wife and children by Macbeth, says,
A. IV. S. 3, which implies a wish, that Heaven may not forgive him; which, notwithstanding the injuries Macduff had sustained, is certainly an unchristian wish.
I saw this play acted at Covent-Garden Theatre, in October 1807, after some years entire absence from all Theatres, during which time my ideas respecting plays had undergone very great
* In the Poem of The Landscape, which contains many
beauties and displays much taste, the Author says,
To heaven devoutly I've address’d my prayer.-
Again the moss-grown terraces to raise,
B. II. 1. 8,
Curse on the pedant jargon, that defines
Who dares not judge till he consults his rule. B. I. 1. 79.
B. III. 1. 219,
changes. When the performer went down upon one knee and spoke this, I felt very much shocked.
To shew how prone mankind are to abstract their thoughts from Christianity, when they get to the poets and the common occurrences of the world, I cannot forbear bringing forward a passage from the BISHOP OF LAND AFF's Speech, intended to have been spoken in the House of Lords, November 22, 1803, wherein he says, speaking of the Ruler of France, - There is not an Admiral, an Officer, a Sailor, in the British Navy, who does not burn with impatience to have an opportunity of attacking the enemy; who is not ready to exclạim with Macduff,
Within my sword's length set liim, if he 'scape
May Heav'n forgive him too."
farther the venerable and pious prelate, speaking of the calamities which would befall us, were we to become a prey to the invader, says, « Sooner than all this should happen, I would say (did Christianity permit such a wish) may the fate of the Saguntines become the fate of Britons !"-p. 45.
In the Tragedy of The Regent, where Manuel, the supposed murderer of Dianora's husband, offers her the choice of submitting to his will, or of having her child murdered, She says,
Yet a moment pause! (kneels)
A. 5. S. 3. To the first part of this prayer, I see no objection. In the latter she gives way to the sin of " doing evil, that good may come." (Romans iii. 8.)
In Hamlet, A. III. S. 3. there is a scene, where the King is represented as stung with remorse, on account of the discovery being made of his having murdered his brother, and his reflections thereon. Some of them are very good, but the passage is too long and too well known to be quoted. At length he kneels, and continues for some time in that posture, praying, or rather endeavouring to pray
silently; till finding his soul too much distracted with a sense of his sin, he gives it up. During this scene Hamlet enters; and, seeing him unguarded, would put him to death, but that he thinks killing him, whilst at his prayers, would be the mean of sending him to heaven, and so his father would not be revenged. This part of Hamlet's character is so shocking, and contrary to the spirit of Christianity, that it is omitted on the Stage. It is much to be wished. that the same principle were extended. Our plays would then be much improved, and the passage before quoted from Macbeth would be equally omitted.
Another instance of a character represented on the Stage as praying, without the words being given, is in Lady Jane Gray. In A. V. S. 2. she is discovered kneeling, as at her devotion ; a light, and a book placed on a table before her. Lord Guilford Dudley and two female attendants enter. One of them says to him,
Softly, my Lord!
Mark her vermilion lips, with fervour trembling;
And waft them upward to the throne of grace.
My heart had ended ev'ry earthly care,
While all the little bus'ness, that remain'd,
And leave a life become indifferent to me. Another instance of this kind, which I shall bring forward, is in The School of Reform. I first met with this play at the house of a friend, and was much struck with it; particularly with the scene at the end of the third act, between Robert Tyke and his father. Robert had led a very wicked life for some years, and had been transported for horse-stealing. He returns, and at length meets with his father, who he supposed had been dead, killed with grief for his son's wickedness. The old man says, that heaven will pardon him. He replies,
No, don't say that, father, because it can't.
Tyke. Yes, I know it is. I know it would if it could—but not me!-No, No!
Old Man Kneel down, and ask its mercy.
Tyke. I dare— father—I dare not! ---Oh! if I durst but just thank it for thy life!
Old Man Angels will sing for joy:
in energetic devotion.--The curtain falls. I had conversed with friends who had seen it, and said that in London it was played with great seriousness, and was received in the same manner by the audience, and had a very good effect. A friend, who had seen it played in the country, said that the performer burlesqued it, and that the audience laughed. When at Aldborough, on the Suffolk Coast, last September, a company of players was there, and this play was announced for representation. I determined to attend. The theatre was very small, there was but little accommodation, and the company of players few in number, and of course not of the first rate, but respectable. At a place of that kind the audience in the gallery consisted chiefly of fishermen, soldiers, and gentlemen's servants, who seemed rather inclined to be talkative and laugh, and that at some things at which they ought to have been silent, particularly at the old man's crying. But, when it came to that scene, it was well played, by both the old man and Tyke, and was received by the audience with the utmost respect. So was another passage, in Act IV. Scene 2. where Lord Avondale, after
this, wishes to persuade Tyke to commit a robbery, to secure some papers which he wants. Upon Tyke's trembling, Lord A. asks, What alarms you? No one hears.
Tyke. Yes, there does.
(Tyke, shuddering, points up to Heaven.) I consider both these incidents as instructive, as I fear in most audiences, there may be some persons in the same or similar circumstances, and who do not go to a church to hear their duty there, whose knees are unaccustomed to bow before their Creator and Redeemer, and to whom it may be a useful lesson. It may turn their thoughts to think seriously, till they learn to attend to the doctrines of the liturgy and the pulpit, or apply to their minister for farther spiritual instruction.
Will those who object to prayers acted upon the Stage, allow children to be taught to kneel, and lift up their hands, as in the act of devotion before their heavenly Father, long before they can have an idea of such a Being as God? “ Men are but children of a larger growth,” and there are many grown persons, I fear, almost as little acquainted with their Creator and Redeemer, and as ignorant of the duty, and the nature and efficacy of prayer, as a child of a few years old can be, and to whom such a sight may be a valuable lesson.
In A World without Souls, (p. 25) are these remarkable words, which I submit to the consideration of the reader: “ The first accents which Caroline St. Amand ever heard from the lips of her parents were those by which they taught her to know God: and her knees were bent, and her hands closed in the attitude of devotion long before it was possible for her to know the object of prayer. They loved indeed to see her rehearse those scenes of piety, which they trusted she would act upon the Slage of life.”
There is another passage in The School of Reform, which is beautiful and instructive. The Bailiffs are going to take the Old Man to prison for a debt, incurred in employing counsel in behalf of his son;
Opens a drawer and takes out a book. Bailiff. Ay, we'll take a drop with you—What! a book ?
Old Man. Yes, of Devotion! And had your employer tasted of its spirit, he would have turned the cup of bitterness from the lips of the afflicted,