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St. Paul saith, be “ so much as named among Christians :" to meddle with them is not to disport, but to defile one's-self and others. There is indeed no more certain sign of a mind utterly debauched from Piety and Virtue, than delighting in such conversation.” (Barrow.)
The same may be said of wit, when employed to the prejudice of morality in general, whether it be by recommending vice, or depreciating virtue; or in rendering contemptible the characters of those, whom we are bound to respect, as our rulers, magistrates, parents, and relations of various descriptions.
And wit is then at its worst (as far as regards human beings) when it is used to the prejudice of another, not merely for want of consideration, but out of malevolence.': To give needless pain, or offence, to any fellow-creature, to blast his character by open attacks, or sly insinuations, if it should ever give a man the character of a wit, must, at the same time, brand him as a pest in society: As the object of ridicule should be the amendment of the faults of those against whom it is exercised, to do it with malevolence, so that the person shall see that it proceeds from an ill-will, and not a good will towards him, this will indispose him to
attend to it, and defeat its purpose; * and, to ridicule the faults of another, when he is absent, and cannot profit by it, (unless it be done to set them in their proper light for others to avoid,) is another gross abuse of this faculty.
5. Upon the whole, then, we conclude,
That wit, in its pure state, as the ornament nd seasoning of conversation, is lawful. That ridicule, when employed in the cause of virtue and religion, not as the test of truth, but as the incentive to bring us to the test of truth, is not only innocent but useful; and, consequently, that the lighter species of Drama, denominated Comedy, is lawful, and may be employed, (as was acknowledged by Archbishop Tillotson)+ to very excellent ends; but, that, it is like all other good things, capable of being abused, so as to do infinite harm. In the hands of the wicked, it is neither the sword of truth, nor the probe of the skilful and humane practitioner, but the sword of the despoiler, and the dagger of the assassin. Let us, therefore, always consider with attention the quarter whence it comes, and, if it be from any but the virtuous and the pious, we have reason to more than doubt the purity of its
purpose. * Note C. + See Discourse I. p. 22.
With respect to ourselves, we must consider, that wit is a difficult and dangerous weapon to wield, that it requires the skill of a master in the art, and that its fascinating power may be likely to lead us beyond the bounds of prudence, virtue and piety;* and, against this we must ever be upon our guard, joining in the prayer of the Psalmist: “ Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; and keep the door of my lips. O let not my heart be inclined to any evil thing; let not my heart be occupied in ungodly works with the men that work wickedness, lest I partake of such things as please them.” (cxli. 3, 4.). “ Out of the abundance of the heart (saith our Saviour) the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things. But I say
idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the Day of Judgment: for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matt. xii. 34-37.)
of Note E.
On the most probable means of Improving the Stage.
JAMES IV. 17.
TO HIM THAT KNOWETH TO DO GOOD, AND DOETA IT NOTY
TO HIM IT IS SIN
IN n three former Discourses, the great question of the lawfulness of the Stage hath been treated at large, and it was determined, That the Stage, considered in itself, is an amusement by no means unlawful, and that it might be made a source of the most pleasing and useful instruction. It is acknowledged, however, that very grievous abuses are to be found in it. These have been particularized, and the proper subjects for representation on the Stage have been pointed out. In my last Discourse, I endeavoured to shew how far wit (as making a part of that kind of Drama, called Comedy) is lawful, and how far that species of wit, called ridicule, is a test of truth. The subject shall be closed in this Discourse, by pointing out, as the most probable means of improving the Stage, the duties of the persons concerned in its several departments. These are the Conductors, or as they