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and Effect of the Stage; being an attempt to shew, that contributing to the support of a public theatre, is inconsistent with the Character of a Christian. By John WITHERSPOON, D.D. p. 105.
This Tract was published soon after the representation of the Tragedy of Douglas, at the Edinburgh Theatre in 1757.
Dr. W.'s works are collected together, and published in 9 volumes 12mo. 1805. This Tract is to be found in vol. vi, of that Edition, to which the references in this work are made. The work is quoted with great respect by ORTON, in a Sermon, entitled, A Serious dissuasive from frequenting the Play-house. See his Discourses on Practical Subjects, vol. ii, and likewise by Mr. Styles in his Essay on the Stage, published in 1806.
“ If you do go to a play) you have not only the guilt of buying so much vain communication, and paying people for being wicked, but are also as certainly guilty of going to the devil's house, and doing him the same honour, as if you was to partake of some heathen festival. You must consider, that all the laughter there is not only vain and foolish, but it is a laughter amongst devils, that you are upon profane ground, and hearing music in the very porch of hell. - Our playhouse is in fact the sink of corruption and debauchery.”
See The absolute unlawfulness of the Stage-Entertainment fully demonstrated. By WILLIAM LAW, M. A. p. 383, 384.
A new Edition of this Tract is lately published at the end of a new Edition of Law's Practical Treatise on Christian Perfection. Published by Baynes, in Paternoster Row, both in 8vo. and 12mo. The references are made to this 8vo. Edition.
It may be observed, that all Law's objections, when duly weighed, strike only at the abuses of the Stage.-See particularly p. 368. 392. and 412. ---It is, however, an admirable book for rousing the attention, and calling it to the consideration of these abuses.
B. p. 5. What Dr. Her says upon another subject is equally applicable here, substituting the terms Friends and Enemies to the Stage, for Papist and Puritan: “the Papists taught in one extreme, the Puritans in another; and the proper English reformed Ministers, in a mean between the two; but u mean, though the most reasonable, is least likely to strike men, or to succeed." Lectures in Divinity, vol. iv. p. 458.
“We may lay it down in general, that, whenever two propositions, which are true, seem inconsistent, it is owing to their implying some different situations and circumstances.” Ditto, vol. i. p. 432.
C. p. 7. Law says, “ Now it is to be observed, that this is not the state of the playhouse through any accidental abuse, as any innocent or good thing may be abused; but that corruption and debauchery are the truly natural and genuine effects of the Stage entertainment.” p. 384.
Henry, in his Exposition of the Bible, on Exodus xxiii. 13. says, “ It is in vain to think of reforming the playhouses.”
“ The establishment of a Stage can never be subservient to Virtue.” STYLES, p. 10. Note.
See also WILBERFORCE's Practical View of the Prevailing System of Professed Christians, ch. iv. sect. 5.
D. p. 9. One of the greatest adversaries of the Stage states this very point: “ The music of the Temple was, unquestionably, beyond all conception magnificent and grand. Many of the Psalms are litile Dramas, and were sung as dialogue, a part by the Priests, answers to their parts are finely interwoven, when at other times all Israel joined in Chorus; Psalm ii.-cxxxv. and many others, are fine specimens of this sort of poetry. The style of their music was probably much more solemn and simple than ours, and the instruments whereby it was conducted, powerful in a high degree. Perhaps nothing so nearly represented the joys of Heaven above, like the singing of the Psalms of David in the Temple of old.”
See A warning to Professors; containing Aphoristic Observations on the Nature und Tendency of Public Amusemenls; by 'ROWLAND, HILL, A. M. p. 36. Note.
E. p. 13. The Drama appears to be a much more obvious and natural mode of imitation than either sculpture or painting, and these, if not taught originally by Divine Revelation, were certainly acknowledged as lawful, and introduced into the Tabernacle and the Temple. St. Luke, it is said, exercised the profession of a Painter; and some of the Prophecies in the Book of Revelation are set forth in
pictures. Gilpin, in his Preface to that Book, says: “ The second part (which begins at the fourth Chapter, and ends with the ninth) contains the visions of the sealed book; on the leaves of which, the civil Revolutions of the Roman Empire, as they are connected with the Church, are supposed to be pourtrayed in a kind of prophetic tablature." Exposition of the New Testament, 8vo. vol. ii. p. 426.
And, again: " The generality of these visions, as hath been observed, are represented under the idea of pictures, pourtrayed on the leaves of a book. The Prophet, therefore, employs picturesque as well as poetic imagery; and hath marked the various figures he hath introduced, with such a glow of colouring, and strength of expression, as plainiy shews how much his imagination was fired with the original." p. 431.
We have many instances in Scripture of the Prophets teaching by actions. See particularly JEREMIAH, chapters i. xiii. xix. xxiv. l. v. 63. also EZEKIEL iv, v. viii. v. 23. xii, xxiv. xxxvii, 15.
Nathan's parable, which was designed " to catch the conscience of the King,"* was a fictitious story "something like" the circumstances of David's case, in " the murder of Uriah,” intended to excite his attention, and make him pass judgment upon himself, in the character of the rich man, 2 Samuel xii.
Our Saviour's Parables were probably some of them feigned stories, and some real facts, brought forward as instructive lessons.
F. p. 13. Christ, also, Acts ix. 5. when inthroned in supreme majesty, makes use of a Proverb, used also by Æschylus, Euripides, and Terence, when he checks the niadness of Paul. It seems to be a sort of argumentum ad hominem, as the two former authors were most probably familiar to Paul, who was brought up in the Schools of Tarsus, second only to Athens for learning. See BLACK WALL'S Sacred Classics, vol. i. part II. ch. 1. p.
F. f. p. 14. line 2. (N.B. The reference to this Note was omitted.) BISHOP ANDREWS, in the Preface to an edition of his Lectures, well observes of the eloquence of the pulpit, “ that the
* Hamlet, Act II. End.
abuse of it is worse than that of the Stage. For as faith cometh boy hearing, so doth infidelity; and that by hearing the word of God; by hearing it perverted; not rightly opened, nor well applied. So Mr. Herbert says, Sermons are no indifferent things ; people are either the better or the worse for them.". See The Scholar Armed. yol: ii: p. 258,
G. p. 22. Mr. STYLES very beautifully observes: “ Could I summon into one interesting groupe, the venerable men, who have in every age instructed and astonished the world by their wisdom and their virtue, and collect their aggregate opinion on the character and moral influence of the Stage, the decision, were it uniform, would demand some consideration, and from it Presumption itself would not venture to appeal. But this is not practicable, nor is it necessary'; their sentiments on this subject are upon record. There is scarcely a distinguished name among the Philosophers, Legislators and Moralists of the world, but is hostile to the Theatre: and they have left, by their bistorians, or in their writings, an imperishable protest against the Stage.” p. 39.
I, too, can; on my side, bring together a strong host of opinions in favour of the Stage, to be used comformably to Christian morality, and for the possibility of so regulating it. It must, however, be observed, that whatever were the opinions of the Philosophers, Legislators and Moralists quoted by Mr. S. on the subject of the abuses of the Stage, many of them certainly were frequenters of the Theatre; the moral and the amiable SOCRATES certainly was.
Mr. CUMBERLAND in his account of the Rise and Progress of the English Stage, prefixed to Cooke's select British Drama, says, “It is well known to the learned, at what expence the Athenians supported their Theatres, and how often from among their poets, they chose governors of their provinces, generals of their armies, and guardians of their liberties. Who were more jealous of their liberties than the Athenians!--who better knew, that corruption and debauchery are the greatest foes to liberty?-who better knew, than they, that the freedom of the Theatre (next to that of the Senate) was the best support of liberty, against all the undermining arts of those who wickedly might seek to sap its foundation ?--' Socrates assisted Euripides in his compositions. The wise Solon frequented plays, even in his decline of life; and PLUTARCH informs us, he thought
plays useful to polish the manners, and instil the principles of virtue."
“ As arts and sciences increased in Rome, when learning, eloquence, and poetry flourished, LÆlius improved his social hours with Terence ; and Scipio thought it not beneath him to make one in so agreeable a party. CÆSAR, who was an excellent Poet as well as Orator, thought the former title an addition to his honour; and ever mentioned Terence and Menander with great respect. AUGUsTUs found it easier to make himself sovereign of the world, than to write a good Tragedy: he began a play called Ajar, but could not finish it. Brutus, the virtuous, the moral Brutus, thought his time not misemployed in a journey from Rome to Naples, only to see an excellent troop of Comedians; and was so pleased with their performance, that he sent them to Rome, with letters of recommendation to Cicero, to take them under his patronage:-this too was at a tinie when the city was under no small confusion from the murder of Cæsar; yet, amidst the tumults of those times, and the hurry of his own affairs, he thought the having a good company of actors, of too much consequence to the public to be neglected. And in such estimation was Roscius held by Cicero, that in pleading the cause of the poet Archias, he makes the most honourable mention of that actor." p.
Dr. Owen, (p. 14.) quotes the opinion of St. CHRYSOSTOM against the Stage; but Bishop WATSON (in his Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, see Sermons and Tracts, p. 409.) informs us, that he “ is said to have slept with even an Aristophanes under his pillow."
But, to descend to the sentiments of those nearer our time, we will begin with MILTON, whose religious and political opinions, were by no means of a relaxed nature, and whose piety, as the Author of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, and Sanson Agonistes, (though I shall have occasion afterwards to censure another of his pieces) certainly entitles him to a hearing on the present occasion. In his Preface to the last mentioned work, he
“ Tragedy, as it was anciently composed, hath ever been held the gravest, moralest, and most profitable of all other poems: therefore said by Aristotle to be of power by raising pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions; that is, to