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are in continual danger of giving us false notions of the consequences of human actions, and of misrepresenting the ways of Divine Providence; for the ways of men, so far as they are passive under the consequences of their own actions, are the ways of God. When we confine ourselves to real life, and are content with describing facts, with the
consequences that actually followed them, we may be unable to trace the designs of Providence, but then we do not misrepresent them; and the time will come, when God will be justified in all those complicated events, which we are unable now to reconcile with the known laws of justice and goodness. But when we dare to settle the fate of imaginary characters, we take the providence of God out of his hands, assuming an office for which no man is fit, and in which he cannot miscarry without some danger to himself and others. For example, a writer may mean well, and yet through short-sightedness and mistake, may bring virtue into distress, under such circumstances as Providence, perhaps, never did, nor will, and thereby may bring discouragements upon virtue, and even throw it into despair ; he may give to vice that success which it never had, nor will have, so long as God governs the world.*
To counterbalance this danger, Lord Bacon observes, that, “ in works of imagination there is liberty of representing virtue and vice in their proper colours, with their proper rewards ; and to correct, as it were, the common course of things, and satisfy the principles of justice, by which the mind of a reader is influenced.” In this respect, works of genius have had an advantage above real history, and
may be admitted, provided the writer himself is of sound judgment, and influenced by principles of truth and justice.
If, when you have weighed these things together, you should suspect that I have been too nice and severe, consider that it is better to err on the side of caution and prudence; and that I may say
for myself, what the Apostle said upon a like occasion, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy.” (2 Cor. xi. 2.)
Upon the whole, life is a serious thing, and all events are at God's disposal; and as the good and evil of this world, transient and momentary as it is, stands connected with the good and evil of the next, which is perpetual, it is dangerous to trifle with it, as they are tempted to do, who address themselves only to the passions of men, without having any principles of truth and justice to restrain them.”
* See Note 0. on Discourse II. p. 170.
Collier, in his Chapter on The Profaneness of the Stage, says, “ Poets are of all people most to blame. They want even the plea of Bullies and Sharpers. There's no rencounters, no starts of passion, no sudden accidents to discompose them. They swear in solitude and cool blood, under thought and deliberation, for business and for exercise: this is a terrible circumstance; it makes all malice prepense, and enflames the guilt and the reckoning." p. 58.
Again, in his ANSWER to The Ancient and Modern Stages Surveyed, he says, “ A Poet that writes loosely can never be excused, for this is done either out of inclination, or interest: if the first, he's a person of no sobriety, if the second, of no conscience.” p. 120.
How much a single author may do to reform the taste of the public, is shewn in the case of Menander among the Greeks, who coming after the corrupt state of the Stage in the times of Aristophanes, and of the Middle Comedy, set the model of correct, elegant, and moral Comedy. (See Blair, vol. ii. p. 367.) And Euripides considered the character of a poet in a higher light than that of being merely a minister to the taste of the public, whatever it might be; for, when the people of Athens were in an uproar, being offended at some sentence in a play of his, then being acted, and called upon the author to alter it, he stepped forward, and said, “I compose plays to instruct you, not that you
should instruct me.
G. p. 83, When we consider the mass of blasphemy, profaneness, indecency, and immorality, which have been brought forward by Collier, and by Bedford, and how much of these are still heard in our theatres almost nightly, and which exist in print as evidences of it, it must appear strange, that almost all the instances
upon record of the Lord Chamberlain's interference, are attributed to the ground of politics. The Tragedy of Lucius Junius Brutus, by Lee, the Opera of Polly, by Gay, the Tragedies of Edward and Eleanora, by Tompson, Gustavus Vasa, by Brooke, and Electra, by Shirley, have all been prohibited on this account. So likewise was a piece on the subject of the French Revolution, and the Destruction of the
* I find this anecdote mentioned in The Treasury of Wit, by H. Bennet, M. A. vol. i. p. 42. His collection of the Apophthegms of the Greeks, he professes to have taken from Plutarch, Erasmus, and others,
Bastile, and a Piece on the history of Wat Tyler, by Mr. Cumberland; Venice Preserved, which had long kept possession of the Stage, on being revived, and some passages received with a political reference, was ordered to be withdrawn. We have, as far as I am aware, only two instances upon record, of Dramas refused a licence on other grounds, the first is the German Tragedy of The Robbers, by Schiller, which having incited some of the students at the School of Fribourg to turn robbers, when it was presented to the Lord Chamberlain, he would not allow it to be performed; the other is a Piece in two Acts, which Mr. Cumberland had written on occasion of the Death of Lord Nelson, and which he says was refused. See his Memoirs of his own Life, vol. ii. p. 324. 8vo.
We find even Dryden himself, in the Dedication to his translation of Juvenal, to the Earl of Dorset, suggesting to him the important duties of his station : “ As Lord Chamberlain, I know, you are absoJute by your offices in all that belongs to the decency and good manners of the Stage. You can banish thence scurrility and profaneness, and restrain the licentious insolence of poets and their actors, in all things that shock the public quiet, or the reputation of private persons, under the notion of humour.” (p. viii. See also Blackmore's Essays, vol. i. p. 225.)
We are indebted to the Bishops of London and Durham, for their interference, a few years since, in respect to the indecent dress of the Opera dancers. The Bishop of London has since interfered, that the late hour at the Opera on Saturday night should not intrench upon Sunday morning
In an Occasional Report of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, published early in the year 1805, an account is given of a very indecent exhibition which took place at the Opera House. The Society informed The Lord Chamberlain of it, and he immediately forbid its being repeated.
H. p. 85. Some attempt towards purifying our Drama, has been lately made in The FAMILY SHAKSPEARE, which contains twenty of the most unexceptionable of Shakspeare's Plays, with the objectionable passages omitted. For this work the world is much indebted to the excellent Editor: to which appellation, I believe, may how be added the name of THOMAS BOWDLER, Esq. But, great as are our obligations for what he has done, I must confess, that I think he should have gone farther, and omitted, or altered, many
words and expressions, which still hold a place in the work. The task was certainly a difficult one, and the Editor might feel scrupulous of doing what might be accounted by many as too much; yet, on the other hand, it must be said, that any improper expresa sions, suffered to remain in a work of that kind, are doubly likely to mislead and be adopted, since the Editor professes to have expunged every thing objectionable. Should the work come to a second edition, as no doubt it will, the Editor, it is to be hoped, will give it a thorough reconsideration, and improve it still farther, The Work is comprized in 4 volumes, 12mo, very neatly printed, and sold at the reasonable price of £1. 108. Od. It strikes me, that it would have been more useful, had some Notes been added, particularly those of a moral tendency from Dr. Johnson, from Mrs. Griffith's Morality of Shakspeare's Drama illustrated, and from Professor Richardson's Essays on some of Shakspeure's Dramatic Characters, A selection of our best plays from other authors, on the same plan, would be another acceptable present to the public.
I am happy to find that our public Journals begin to take up the cause, and
aloud for amendment. In THE COURIER for October 3, 1808, is the following paragraph : "DRURY-LANE THEATRE. On Saturday evening, FleTCHER's Rule a Wife and have a Wife, was performed at this theatre. Before we enter into an examination of the performance, we shall recommend that the next representation of the play, present the public with a farther expur. gation of those pruriencies of language and idea, which unhappily render the plays of BEAUMONT and Fletcher totally unfit for the perusal of a female eye, and which we are convinced have so materially contributed to deprive those poets of the high estimation in which they ought to be held. Much has undoubtedly been effected on this score by GARRICK, whose alteration we believe to be now the Prompter's copy; but there are still some expressions in a dialogue between Leon and Margarita, and the conference of the Copper Captain with the Old Woman, which the proprietors will readily discover, and which they must absolutely revise."
A friend, who was at the representation of Farquhar's Comedy of The Inconstant, in December 1807,- informs me, that in the third Scene of the fourth Act, between Duretete and Bisarre, the Gallery hissed at the grossness of it; and that no part of the house seemed to support it in opposition to them. I consider this as a very
favourable circumstance in behalf of the audience, and of the lower part of it in particular. May the example be followed !
In The MORNING CHRONICLE, for October 10, 1808, is the following: " Our Play and Farce writers are not aware of the risk to which they expose themselves and the performers, by their mock
prayers and familiar use of the name of the Deity, when at a loss for matter to amuse the audience. By the 3d of James the First, Ch. XXI. “ If any person shall in any Stage-play, Interlude, or Shew, jestingly or profanely use the name of God, &c. he shall forfeit ten pounds.” That this statute has been acted upon appears from MR. DIBDIN's History of the Stage, in which, speaking of Collier's Work, he says, that “ The Stage afterwards was narrowly watched, obscene expressions in former plays were obliged to be expunged; and nothing new was produced before it underwent the examination of a licencer. In consequence of this, many were prosecuted by government for uttering profane or indecent expressions, among whom Betterton, and Mrs. Bracegirdle, were actually fined.” (Vol. IV. p. 218. See also Cumberland's Rise and Progress, p. 26.)
Though all times and circumstances are desirable and proper for amendment, yet there are periods, which form new eras as it were, in the lives of persons and in the conduct of affairs, which are peculiarly favourable for such purposes; and such an one seems now to present itself for amending the Stage, in the intended opening of a NEW THEATRE in COVENT-GARDEN. Were the Managers and Proprietors to determine, that henceforth no Play, either old or new, should be exhibited, which is at all calculated to corrupt the minds of the audience, then would they and the public
say the world-have reason to rejoice in that event, as one of not the least illustrious in the annals of this illustrious nation, in this illustrious age.
nay I will
WITHERSPOON says, that the Stage " implies, not by accident, but essentially and of necessity, the following things: 1. Such a number of plays as will furnish an habitual course of representations, with such changes as the love of variety in human nature necessarily requires. 2. These plays of such a kind, as to procure an audience of voluntary spectators, who are able and willing to pay for being 80 entertained. 3. A company of hired players, who have this as their only business and occupation, that they may give themselves