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who writes a play, Mary, had his mind enriched with faith in the sacred writings, it would give strength and lustre to his genius, and charms to his humanity. And were he to teach the daily lessons we should learn, when the expence is not too heavy for our pockets, our minds might be improved by the playhouse, as well as the pulpit.
D. I fear those days will never come.
F. We are always to hope for the best. A skilful writer of Comedy or Tragedy might explore the recesses of the mind, and follow the man not into his closet only, but into every scene which the world might call upon him to act in. Let him interest the heart with regard to both worlds, and mark out in legible characters, the most useful parts of life, I think we have so much virtue, we should be pleased. Every scene in which wit is made offensive to modesty, or the native tenderness of the heart towards each other, should be totally expunged. You know that the Christian precepts admonish us not to suffer any idle much less impure words, or unchaste con. ceits, once to be heard amongst us; shall we permit them on a public stage? We are naturally delighted at the report
of In spite of the weakness of the heart, envy herself may
be dis, countenanced; great as our corruption is, we secretly applaud, or openly rejoice, when human nature supports its dignity in the person of him whose praises we hear. In this respect the liberty of the theatre is greater than that of the pulpit. Invention in no character should be strained beyond the bounds of probability: let every thing represented have a foundation in reason and truth, and correspond with the ordinary events of life, as we now find it, and we shall be interested. Christian diversions should be agreeable to Christian duties. The precepts of the Gospel do not recommend insensibility; but they restrain the violence of all passion. Why should we, being Christians, delight to behold the soul tortured with passion, which Christianity forbids ? Take real life as we find it, and there is enough of the marvellous to admire, whilst candour itself will often excite laughter. D. And we may
be sure, my father, there is no want of distress to make us weep.
F. Real life has, indeed, enough of that. Could we learn froni qur public shew's, as well as common life, how to live well, we should not be so ignorant how to die well. Whoever shews us our own 'hearts uncovered, and fairly laid open,
spots in them: but let them in charity give also a just view of our good qualities : this may induce us to be more joyful than we had imagined ourselves capable of being; and balancing the account, leaving us rich in hope. He who is busy to mark out with a malig. nant eye, the characters which most disgrace human nature, is as little a friend to humanity, as him who flatters with a view to deceive. Compounded as we are, we must take the good and the evil together. Real life is made up of Comedy and Tragedy.
D. Do all kinds of people go to plays?
F. You will find many of the middle ranks, as well as the great, attend theatrical representations. Some of the former empty their pockets there. Happy would it be were the playhouse a school, in which we might learn the marly and god-like duties of giving eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, bread to the hungry, and instruction to the ignorant. The religion and learning of a country, should determine what the Stage ought to be, to mix instruction with amusement.
live to see this happy event or not, you may be sure the playhouse shall never do you any harm.
D. By what means?
purposes. D. But are there not some very fine and religious sentiments in plays?
F. Many scattered in various parts; but I wish to see the Stage so modelled, as to unite entirely with the pulpit, and keep us in constant remembrance of the immortal glory of a life to come! Thus our amusement might be sanctified, our time redeemed, and no moment of our fleeting hours lost.
D. This would be glorious indeed! But I am afraid your conceit, though easy to understand, is too exalted to be carried into execution.
F. Rather say, ill suited to the present corruption of the heart, which prevails among the greatest part of our fellow-subjects. We must never despair. My notion is far from being impracticable. Plays are sometimes represented by boys at school. If any theatrical entertainment is proper for them, it should be such as will give them an early relish for religion, and teach them to discountenance vice and infidelity, and establish all the great truths of Christianity." 2nd Edition 4to. vol. i. p. 214. See also p. 290.
RICHARDSON, the Author of Pamela, Sir Charles Grandison, &c. thus delivers his sentiments :
" A good Comedy is a fine performance. But how few are there that can be called good? Even those that are tolerable, are so mixed with indecent levities (at which footmen have a right to insult, by their roars, ladies in the boxes,) that a modest young creature hardly knows how to bear the offence to her ears in the representation, joined with the insults given by the eyes of the young fellows she is surrounded by. These indecencies would be unnaturally shocking in Tragedy, as every one feels in the tragic Comedy more especially." Richardson's Correspondence, vol. iv. p. 219.
DR. JOHNSON, whose virtue and piety, in the last century, did so much to amend the morals of his age, and will lend their aid, we trust, to ages to come, says in the Rambler, No. cxlvi. design of Tragedy is to instruct by moving the passions:" and he concludes his Prologue on opening Drury-Lane Theatre, in 1747, with these words addressed to the audience:
"Tis yours, this night, to bid the reign commence
DR. GREGORY, in his excellent Work, A Father's Legacy to his Daughters, in the chapter on Amusements, speaking of the Theatre, says,
“ There are few English Comedies a lady can see without a shock to delicacy."_" Tragedy subjects you to no such distress. Its sorrows will soften and ennoble your hearts."
The elegant, the moral and the pious Blair, says, “ Dramatic Poetry has, among all civilized nations, been considered as a rational and useful entertainment.”
Speaking afterwards of Tragedy, he says, “ No kind of writing has so much power, when happily executed, to raise the strongest emotions. It is, or ought to be, a mirror in which we behold ourselves, and the evil to which we are exposed; a faithful copy of the human passions, with all their direful effects, when they are suffered to become extravagant."
“ As Tragedy is a high and distinguished species of composition, so also in its general strain and spirit, it is favourable to virtue."
" 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 holds 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 necessary 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 Rousseau and D'Alembert, as well as some theologians, have written for and against the Stage, that the question is become more difficult to decide, and too long a digression would be required to place it in a new light. It is not easy to ascertain what impression may be made on spectators at the Theatres, or on readers in their closets, by faithful pictures of the vices we should shun, and of the virtues we should love, if we consider the various dispositions brought by these persons, whether to the Stage, or to the closel. It is difficult to deduce from this knowledge, the rules necessary to be observed by an author for succeeding, not only in pleasing, but in correcting. Finally, it is difficult to decide how far the impression of pleasure, produced by the art of imitation, the truth of the pictures, and the charm of representation, may contribute, or be detrimental to the end proposed; which is to turn to the profit of virtue, and to the love of excellence, those sentiments which must be excited by every faithful description of a hateful, odious, or ridiculous object.
It is not by the magisterial decision of a philosopher or a theologian, that we ought to determine what influence the Stage has on morals, and whether it may not contribute, by the poet's fault, or by some other cause, to foment human passions. But this is certain, that theologian or not, a man who calls himself a Christian, and is such in fact, ought not to think himself authorised to pronounce in this matter, without having examined whether his understanding is sufficiently enlightened for the task; for much judgment is certainly requisite, to decide on the morality of a kind of amusement and pleasure, which must be owned to have nothing criminal in its nature, but merely to become so from certain accessary causes, which it might not be impossible to remove.
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 themselves 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