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temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight, stirred up by reading or seeing those passions well imitated. --Hence philosophers and other gravest writers, as Cicero, Plutarch and others, frequently cite out of tragic poets, both to adorn and illustrate their discourse. -Seneca, the philosopher, is by some thought the author of those Tragedies (at least the best of them) that go
under his name.—This is mentioned to vindicate tragedy from the small esteem, or rather infamy, which, in the account of many, it undergoes at this day with other common interludes; happening through the poet's error of intermixing comic stuff with tragic sadness and gravity; or introducing trivial and vulgar persons, which by all judicious hath been accounted absurd ; and brought in without discretion, corruptly to gratify the people.”
Sir RichARD BLACKMORE, in his Essay upon Wit, says, “No doubt a Comedy may be so contrived, that it may at once become delightful, and promote prudence and sobriety of manners ; that is, when the characters are well chosen, justly delineated, and every where distinguished; when the various manners are exactly imitated and carried on with propriety and uniformity; when the principal action contains an instructive moral, and all the parts in a regular connection, dependance and proportion, illustrate and support each other, and have a manifest influence on the main event; —and when the diction is pure, proper and elegant, as well as chaste and inoffensive to the modest and virtuous hearers. So regular and beautiful a piece as this cannot but greatly please and divert, as well as instruct an audience.” Essays, vol. i. p. 219.
The opinion of Addison, the moral and the pious Addison, the reformer of the manners of his times by his elegant and pious writings in the Spectator, and the author of the Evidences of Christianity, bath been cited before p. 99. from the Spectator, No. 93. and, again in No. 446. he says,
“ Were our English Stage but half so virtuous as that of the Greeks or Romans, we should quickly see the influence of it in the behaviour of the politer part of mankind. It would not be fashionable to ridicule religion, or its professors; the man of pleasure would not be the complete gentle. man; Vanity would be out of countenance; and every quality which is ornamental to human nature, would meet with that em which is due to it.
“ If the Stage were under the same regulations the Athenian was formerly, it would have the same effect that had, in recommending the religion, the government and public worship of its country. Were our plays subject to proper inspections and limitations, we might not only pass away several of our vacant hours in the highest entertainńients; but should always rise from them wiser and better than we sat down to them."
If it be acknowledged that the Stage at Athens, at one time, subsisted in a pure state, so far as their notions of religion and morality extended, shall Christinns deny the possibility of its existing in a pure state in a Christian Country? To say this, is to deny the purifying principle of the Gospel. But, if any persons, through prejudice shall deny the possibility of purifying it; or, through vice, or indolence, neglect to attempt it, The Men of Athens SHALL RISE UP.
JUDGMENT AGAINST THIS GENERATION AND DEMN IT. (Matt. xii. 41, 42.)
COLLIER, although the great scourge of the abuses of the Stage, yet allows that "the abuse of a thing is no argument against the use of it.” (p. 5.) His ideas respecting the proper business of the Stage, have been before quoted, (See Sermon II. p. 36.) and he says,
“ Our Poets write with a different view, and are gone into another interest. 'Tis true, were their intentions fair, they might be serviceable to this purpose. They have in a great measure the springs of thought and inclination in their power. Show, Music, Action, and Rhetoric, are moving entertainments; and rightly employed, would be very significant.” (p. 1.)*
* After seeing these passages, I am surprised to find Mr. Dibdin, in his History of the Stage, saying of Collier, that “ Nothing would content him but rooting out the evil, by abolishing the Stage itself.” Voliv. p. 217. Indeed Mr. D. himself appears to have thought more favourably of Collier's Work at a subsequent period; for in his Professional Life, vol. ii. p. 85. he says, “ As to Dryden's Amphytrion, it was one of those things that drew on the Stage the indignation of Collier, certainly with too much reason, whose strictures having honest moral, and fair truth on their side, completely triumphed over the weak and inadequate defence held out by all the wits of that time. They had the good effect of restoring decency to the Stage."
Again, speaking of Comedy, he says, “ 'To laugh without reason is the pleasure of fools, and against it, of something worse. The exposing, and making lewdness ridiculous, is a much better occasion for laughter. And this with submission I take to be the end of Comedy. And therefore it does not differ from Tragedy in the end, but in the means. Instruction is the principal design of both. The one works by terror, the other by infamy. 'Tis true, they don't move 'in the same line, but they meet in the same point at last. For this opinion I have good authority, besides what has been cited already.
1. Monsieur RAPIŃ affirms, “That delight is the end that poetry. aims at, but not the principal one. For poetry being an art, ought to be profitable by the qualities of its own nature, and by the essential subordination that all arts should have to polity, whose end in general is the public good. This is the judgment of Aristotle and of Horace his chief interpreter.' (Rapin, Reflect. &c. p. 10.) Ben Jonson in his dedicatory Epistle of his Fox, has somewhat considerable upon this argument, and declaims with a great deal of zeal, spirit and good sense, against the licentiousness of the Stage. He lays it down for a principle, • That 'tis impossible to be a good poet, without being a good man. That he (a good poet) is said to be able to inform young men to all good discipline, and enflame grown men to all great virtues, &c. - That the general complaint was that the writers of those days had nothing remaining in them of the dignity of a poet, but the abused name." (Collier p. 156—8.)
Be DFORD, another powerful writer against the Stage, in ch. xxi. of his Serious Remonstrance, (see p. 35. of this work) quotes the opinions of Archbishop Tillotson, Collier, and Sir Richard Blackmore, retaining those passages which admit of the possibility of a pure Slage.
Dr. Watts, in his Discourse on the Education of Children and Youth, says, “ It is granted, that a dramatic representation of the affairs of human life is by no means sinful in itself: I am inclined to think, that valuable compositions might be made of this kind, such as might entertain a virtuous audience with innocent delight, and even
Mr. Cumberland, too, in his Rise and Progress of the Stage, calls Collier, “ an enemy to the very toleration of Dramatic entertail.. ments." p. XXV.
with some real profit. Such have been written in French, and have, . in times past, been acted with applause.” Works, vol. vi. p. 376. See also the preface to his Horæ Lyricæ.
Bishop Rundle, quoting Plato's saying, “ that if men could behold Virtue, she could make all of them in love with her charms," adds, "A right play draws her picture in the most lively manner.” Letters, vol. ii. p. 108.
SEED, (one of the authors mentioned by Orton, in his Sermon, as a censurer of the Stage,) in his Sermons, “ The Case of Diverşions Stated,” and “ On the Government of the Thoughts," has some passages very important to our purpose:
“ To comply with men's tastes, as far as we innocently can, in the little incidents, and daily occurrences of life, to bear a part in their favourite diversions, and to adjust our tempers to theirs, it is this that knits men's hearts to one another, and lays the foundation of friendships.”
“ It is an easy matter for a person of superior sense, to soar above the common sphere : his chiet difficulty is to let himself down to the common level, without which, all his great knowledge will be, în some measure useless.”
“ The man, who, though generally intent on great matters, yet can occasionally condescend 'to little things, without making himself little, singular in nothing but goodness, and uncomplying in nothing but vice : the man, who is “ in all things like unto us, sin only ercepted,” takes the most effectual method of making us like unto him in virtue. Whereas, a person, who looks upon all pleasantry as criminal, whatever other duties he may practise, forgets one of the most material of all, that of gaining over others to the interests of virtue, by making it appear to be, what it really is, a lovely form." (vol. i. Serm. VIII.)
“We must avoid the reading of bad books. For it is certain, that as good books adorn the mind with the treasures of good sense and beneficial knowledge; ill ones must store it with a fund of impure and immodest ideas. Thus many Plays, instead of ennobling the soul with generous sentiments, sully the imagination, by de. scribing lust with all its incentives and allurements, and awaken those passions which lay dormant before. - It is granted, that good writers make the deeper impression, when they make their court to the fancy by bribing it with agreeable metaphors, paintings, and lively
imagery: because the soul being obliged to use the ministry of the senses, if we would gain an access to, and procure an audience from the soul, their sovereign; we must first address ourselves to the senses, as we do to other ministers.
“I would not be thought to pass a general, undistinguishing censure upon all Plays: Some of them are rational and manly entertainments, and
may be read with improvement as well as delight. As for the rest, I would offer it to the consideration of virtuous
whether it be consistent with their character, as such, to read in the closet, or hear on the Stage, such lewd and immodest sentiments, as it would not be consistent to hear in private conversation.” (Serm. IX.)
I have, on a former occasion,* quoted the sentiments of ANDREW FLETCHER, of Saltoun, who says, “ That most of the ancient legislators, thought they could not well reform the manners of any city, without the help of a lyric and sometimes of a dramatic poet." See 'his Political Works, Lond. 1737. p. 372.
The benevolent, the moral, and the pious Jonas Hanway, in his excellent work entitled, Virtue in Humble Life, in one of the conversations between the Father and his Daughter, thus expresses his sentiments on the subject of the Stage:
D. Those who mis-spend their time in great cities, I suppose are as often admonished as we are?
F. Sometiines from the pulpit ; sometimes from the stage; the Last being an advantage we do not enjoy here.
D. I am told that more evil than good is learnt at the playhouse.
F. Some plays had better not be represented: Your information is so far well grounded. We are sure that those who husband life as they ought, the first object of their concern should be to make their amusements tributary to the purity of their affections, and their regard to their fellow-creatures under all circumstances. If the Stage were well regulated, it would mend the heart, as well as delight the funcy: it might furnish entertainment for the best Christians and philo sophers; and teach us all to be the good churacters represented. If he
* Introductory Letter to A Collection of Songs, p. 2. 4to. p. vii. 12mo.