Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

fess, however, that I do not altogether acquiesce in his sentiments respecting places. It appears to me best to keep sacred places apart for sacred purposes, and common ones for common purposes. We are apt to associate ideas with places; and I had rather, therefore, attend a sacred Oratorio in a Church, than in the theatre, though I would not keep away, merely because it was performed there. The subjects, too, which may, with the utmost propriety, occupy our thoughts and conversation at another time, may be not only out of place and time, but very improper in a Church, to which we should resort only with holy thoughts. It may, perhaps, with some justice be remarked, that when an Oratorio is performed in a Church, it is to be lamented that it seems to be considered by many, as merely a public place of amusement to frequent, in order to see and be

seen ; but the same remark, I fear, may be too often made with justice, when the Church is opened for public worship. The late Mr. Newton, in his Series of Discourses on the

passages selected for Handel's Oratorio of The Messiah, seems to object entirely to that, and to the performance of it at Westminster Abbey ; doubting its having a devotional effect upon many, and censuring the setting such subjects to music as are there treated. See Sermons I. and IV.

In opposition to these opinions, I will merely oppose those of three others, whose good sense and piety are not likely to have been misled either by enthusiasm on the one hand, or by a too great love of worldly pleasure on the other.

Bishop Horne, in his Sermon on The Antiquity, Use, and Excellence of Church Music, preached at the opening of a new Organ in the Cathedral at Canterbury, alluding to the performances in Westminster Abbey, says, “ A performance, however, has lately been exhibited, and, to our honour, has been exhibited in Britain-its sound still vibrates in the ears of many who hear me) which furnished the best idea we shall ever obtain on earth of what is passing in heaven. It did justice (and that is saying very much indeed) to a composition of the great master, to which may be applied the observation of a learned writer upon a chorus in an anthem penned by the same hand, that " nothing less is suggested by it to the imagination, than all the powers of the universe associated in the worship of its Creator." Volume of sixteen Sermons, p. 319.

T

46 A

Mr. Jones (of Nayland) alluding to the same performance, as 'I suppose, says, great admirer and practitioner of sacred music,” (the late Rev. Sir John Dolben) “ who was also a man of great piety and devotion, was present at a grand Church performance, with which he felt his mind so wrapt and elevated, that in describing the sensation afterwards, he made use of this emphatical expressionI thought I should have gone out of the body.Sermon on The Nature and Excellence of Church Music. Works, vol. vi. p. 135.

My third authority is Dr. Hey, himself a musician, as well as a Divine: “Sacred music has been successfully cultivated. It has been said, that the Opere is the highest entertainment arising out of the polite arts, as uniting music, painting, poetry, fine and graceful action, grandeur, dancing, &c. all which are supposed to heighten one another, and to receive additional effect from the sympathy of the spectators;

but what Opera liad ever the effect of the sacred music in Westminster Abbey for four years together? I sincerely believe, that nothing of the kind, but what is founded on religion, will ever be able to attract such numbers, to produce such expensive contributions, to delight and elevate for such a length of time." Lectures, vol. ii. p. 171.

I cannot, however, forbear observing, that when Oratorios are performed, I think they should be kept free from any mixture of baser materials. I do not consider Alexander's Feast, nor even Milton's L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, nor Acis and Galatea, as proper performances to be mixed with sacred subjects; much less Mad Bess, introduced to shew off the vocal powers of some favourite singer, and Solo Concertos, &c. to shew off the skill of some instrumental performer.

Mr. Styles seems to think, that the spectacle of the theatre is its principal attraction: “ It has often struck me, when meditating on this subject, that, could we banish from the theatre the illusion with which its scenery, the dress, and language of the performers captivate the mind, we should lose all temptation to visit it for amusement." p. 128. And he then proceeds, humourously, by quoting Rousseau, to ridicale the “ daubed curtain," &c. &c. and, in the same way, we might ridicule all paintings, and all the arts and sciences whatever, even Mr. Walker's transparent Orrery, of which Mr. Hill speaks with so much approbation. But, though the scenery, dress, &c. certainly add to the beauties of a good play, and make many a bad

one attractive, yet I conceive that there is a delight, independant of these, ever attached to the Drama : else how is it that those, who have seen a play with all its attractions in Londoni, will attend a performance of the same, by a strolling company, in a barn, with all these things of the most homely, and often ridiculous kind? How is it, that a single person will collect together an audience in a room, without

any of these concomitants, and amuse them for an evening? But if, according to Mr. S. the scenery, &c. are the great attractions ; then corrupt principles and sentiments are not so essential to the Stage. It cannot indeed be denied (says Mr. S.) that some dramatic pieces have been received with approbation, which abound in just sentiments, and which contain some good moral principles; but their success must be attributed to other causes than their moral tendency; for had they been filled with the most obnoxious general sentiments, their dramatic beauty, and their constructior for Stage effect, would have rendered them quite as popular. The talents of the writer, and not his principles, have secured him applause." p. 31. see also p. 9. Mr. Styles's argument, then, amounts to na more than this, that talents in the writer, and dramatic beauty, and construction for Stage effect, are necessary to make a drama popular; and, indeed, I do not think, that corrupt principles would go down with the corrupt without these; and, with these, even pure morals may be rendered attractive to the corrupt.

How DESIREABLE

THEN IS IT TO GAIN THE STAGE TO THE CAUSE OF YIRTUE

ALONE!!

Y. p. 41. Mr. Gilpin, in his Aneusements of Clergymen, wishes to have different theatres for the different ranks of life: In

my Eutopia, I mean to establish'two_one for the higher--the other for the lower orders of the community. In the first, of course, there will be more elegance, and more expense; and the drama must be suited to the audience, by the representation of such vices, and follies, as are found chiefly among the great. The other theatre shall be equally suitable to the lower orders." Dialogue II. p. 124.

With great respect for Mr. Gilpin's opinion, it does not appear to me to be adviseable, that the rich and the poor should be so widely separated in their amusements, but that it is highly expedient, if not absolutely necessary, that the places of amusement of the lower classes should be open to the inspection and influence of the higher; and a

moral writer might so construct his dramas as to make them interesting to both classes ; indeed it is one mode of making each class, in some measure, acquainted with the other. Who does not admire the amiable condescension of Lord Townly and, Lady Grace, (in the Provok'd Husband,) in admitting John Moody into their presence, and the simplicity of the old faithful servant, in his account of his master and the family! We have many instances to shew that the lower classes can be introduced, so as to interest the higher: Walter, in The Children in the Wood, is a very interesting character to the higher, and instructive to the lower ; Tyke has been mentioned before, (see p. 151,) and there is a scene in the Cure for the Heartache, where Frank Oatland is debating with himself, whether he shall take the purse, which has been thrown in his way as a snare; an excellent lesson both to high and low. Simple nature, if not represented in her coarsest dress, is always sure to please. Some of the pictures of Gainsborough, of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and of Barker, are instances of this. So also are Moreland's and Bigg's. If there is more spirit in the former of these two, there is a degree of polish in the latter, which is very pleasing, Teniers, though often good, is too frequently coarse and low,

When, on a Tour in Wales, in the summer of 1792, I was at Llangollen. I walked out in the evening, and saw a crowd at a distance, which I supposed to be a Mountebank and Merry Andrew, I hastened to the spot, and joined the throng. A Stage, about three yards square, and about two from the ground, was raised against the gable-end of a house, with a ladder on one side for the performers to ascend and descend. Two persons were on the Stage, conversing in the Welch language. The people were, some sitting, and some standing about in groups. At a little distance from the thickest of the crowd, a woman, of a better appearance than the rest, was seated on a chair, earnestly intent upon what was passing before her. I went up to, and addressed her; and being answered in English, inquired what was going forward. She informed me, that it was an Interlude, what we called in England a Stage-play; and, when I told her that I was unacquainted with the Welch language, she explained it to me as it went on. The play was performed by two persons only, who changed their dresses in the house, as occasion, required, When I first went, one character was dressed as an old man, with & humped back and mask, which was painted upon a flat piece of

leather ; he was ansv

oswerable, as I understood, to the Pantaloon of our pantomimes; the other was dressed as a woman, in a blue cloth gown and petticoat, and a man's hat, after the manner of the Welch women; he soon went down, and appeared again in his own clothes, but did not stay long, and when he was gone again, the old man died. Both of them then appeared as Merry Andrews, and ended the piece with a song, of which we had had some before. The purport of this tragic-comic-operatic drama, as I was informed, was ridiculing the methodists, taxes, horse-racing, &c. and was a great favourite with the lower class of people; indeed their frequent and very loud bursts of laughter sufficiently testified their applause; but there was no clapping with the hands. There was no scene, and the prompter sat upon the stage the whole time. A man with a wooden bowl went about collecting half-pence, &c.

This is the most simple state of the Drama I ever witnessed ; yet even this could interest. I have been informed that these interludes were made use of, at that time, to propagate Jacobinism amongst the lower orders; but, I do not see why they might not be turned to good account. I must confess, seeing the drama in the light in which I do at present, were such pieces as the Dialogues in the 5th and 6th Parts of The Two Shoemakers, the 2nd Part of The History of Mr. Bragwell, or The Two Wealthy Farmers, and Village Politics, * to be performed in my parish, if I had one, I should be happy to see my parishoners so amused, as I trust they would be; and, at the same time, so instructed ; and I should rejoice for myself, to see so admirable a sequel on the week day, to the discourse delivered from the pulpit on the Sunday.

Captain Budworth, in his Ranble to The Lakes, mentions a custom formerly prevailing, in that part, amongst the farmers' sons and farmers' servants, by way of employment in long winter evenings, being a time of year when they had very little to do, of performing plays. The plays he mentions are Cato, Barbarossa, Taming the Shrew, 8c. but much more tragedy than comedy, as it had a greater effect upon

the audience. I p. 96. 2nd Edition. It strikes me, that

* See also Observations on the Effect, &c. p. 21.

+ Mr. Styles says, that “ Tragedy is chiefly suited to men of literature, and to those who in understanding are raised above the coinmon'level:" but I do not conceive this to be altogether the case ;

« AnteriorContinuar »