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action of the human heart, but which, when thus uttered, thus accompanied, become contagious and destructive. These, in short, make up a scene of temptation and seduction, of over-wrought voluptuousness, and unnerving pleasure, which surely ill accords with “ working out our salvation with fear and trembling," or with that frame of mind which implies that “the world is crucified to us, and we to the world.”
I trust I have sufficiently guarded against the charge of inconsistency, even though I venture to hazard an opinion that, in company with a judicious friend or parent, many scenes of Shakspeare may be read not only without danger, but with improvement. Far be it from me to wish to abridge the innocent delights of life, where they may be enjoyed with benefit to the understanding, and without injury to the principles. Women, especially, whose walk in life is so circumscribed, and whose avenues of information are so few, may, I conceive, learn to know the world with less danger, and to study human nature with more advantage, from the perusal of selected parts of this incomparable genius, than from most other attainable sources. I would in this view consider Shakspeare as a philosopher as well as poet; and I have been surprised to hear many pious people universally confound and reprobate this poet with the common herd of dramatists and novelists. To his acute and sagacious mind every varied position of the human heart, every shade of discrimination in the human character, all the minuter delicacies, all the exquisite touches, all the distinct affections, all the contending interests, all the complicated passions of the heart of man, seem, as far as is allowed to human inspection to discern them, to be laid open. Though destitute himself of the aids of literature, and of the polish of society, he seems to have possessed by intuition all the advantages that various learning and elegant society can bestow; and to have combined the warmest energies of passion, and the boldest strokes of imagination, with the justest proprieties of reasoning, and the exactest niceties of conduct. He makes every description a picture, and every sentiment an axiom. He seems to have known how every being which did exist would speak and act under every supposed circumstance and every possible situation; and how every being which did not exist must speak and act, if ever he were to be called into actual existence.
From the discriminated, the guarded, the qualified perusal of such an author, it would be impossible, nor does it appear to be necessary, to debar accomplished and elegantly-educated young persons. Let not the above eulogium be censured as too strong or too bold. In almost every library they will find his writings ; in almost every work of taste and criticism, the young reader will not fail to meet the panegyric of Shakspeare. The frequent allusions to him and the beautiful quotations from him, will, if they light upon a corresponding taste, inflame it with a curiosity to per ruse all his works. Now, would it not be safer to anticipate the danger which might result from a private and unqualified perusal, for the parent to select such pieces as have in them the fewest of
those corruptions, which truth must allow that Shakspeare possesses in common with other dramatic poets? For who will deny that all the excellences we have ascribed to him are debased by passages of offensive grossness ? are tarnished with indelicacy, false taste, and vulgarity? This is not the place for a discussion of those faults, too obvious to be overlooked, too numerous to be detailed, too strong to be palliated. Let me, however, be permitted to observe, that though Shakspeare often disgusts by single passages and expressions (which I will not vindicate by ascribing them to the false taste of the age in which he wrote; for though that may extenuate the fault of the poet, it does not diminish the danger of the reader), yet, perhaps the general tendency of his pieces is less corrupt than that of the pieces of almost any dramatist ; and the reader rises from the perusal of Shakspeare without those distinct images of evil on his mind, without having his heart 60 dissolved by amatory scenes, or his mind so warped by corrupt reasoning, or his heart so inflamed with seducing principles, as he will have experienced from other writers of the same description, however exempt their works may be from the more broad and censurable vices of composition which disfigure many parts of Shakspeare. Lest I be misrepresented, let it be observed, that I am now distinguishing the general result arising from the tendency of his pieces, from the effect of particular passages; and this is the reason why a discriminated perusal is so important. For, after all, the general disposition of mind with which we rise from the reading of a work, is the best criterion of its utility or mischief. To the tragedies of Shakspeare, too, belongs this superiority, that his pieces being faithful histories of the human heart, and portraits of the human character, love is only introduced as one passion among many which enslave mankind; whereas, by most other play writers, it is treated as the monopolizing tyrant of the heart.
It is not because I consider Shakspeare as a correct moralist and an unerring guide, that I suggest the advantage of having the youthful curiosity allayed by a partial perusal, and under prudent inspection : but it is for this very different reason, lest, by having that curiosity stimulated by the incessant commendation of this author, with which both books and conversation abound, young per. sons should be excited to devour in secret an author who, if devoured in the gross, will not fail, by many detached passages, to put a delicate reader in the situation of his own ancient Pistol when eating the leek; that is, to swallow and execrate at the same time.
But to conclude,—which I will do with a recapitulation of the principal objects already touched upon. That I may not be misun, derstood, let me repeat that this preface is not addressed to the gay and dissolute; to such as profess themselves to be “ lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God;"_but it is addressed to the more so. ber-minded ; to those who believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who wish to be enlightened by its doctrines, to be governed by its precepts, and who profess to be “ seeking a better country, even an heavenly one.” The question then which we have been asking is, whether the stage, in its present state, be a proper amusement for such a character. What it would be, if perfectly reformed, and cast into the Christian mould, we have considered as another question, which it will be time enough to answer when the reformation itself takes place.
Neither (as has been observed) is it to the present purpose to insist that theatrical amusements are the most rational ; for the ques. cion we have undertaken to agitate is, whether they are blameless. In this view, the circumstance of going but seldom cannot satisfy a conscientious mind; for if the amusement be right, we may partake of it with moderation, as of other lawful pleasures; if wrong, we should never partake of it.
Some individuals may urge that the amusements of the theatre never had the bad effects on their minds which they are said to have on the minds of others; but supposing this to be really the case (which however may admit of doubt), ought not such persons to reflect, that by their presence they sanction that which is obviously hurtful to others, and which must, if so, be displeasing to God?
The stage is, by universal concurrence, allowed to be no indifferent thing. The impressions it makes on the mind are deep and strong; deeper and stronger, perhaps, than are made by any other amusement. If, then, such impressions be in the general hostile to Christianity, the whole resolves itself into this short question Should a Christian frequent it?,
A TRAGEDY, IN FIVE ACTS.
The man resolved, and steady to his trust,
THE HON. MRS. BOSCAWEN. DEAR MADAM,
It seems somewhat extraordinary, that although, with persons of great merit and delicacy, no virtue stands in higher estimation than truth, yet, in such an address as the present, there would be some danger of offending them, by a strict adherence to it: I mean, by uttering truths so generally acknowledged, that every one, except the person addressed, would acquit the writer of flattery. And it will be a singular circumstance to see a Dedication without praise, to a lady possessed of every quality and accomplishment which can justly en. title her to it.
I am, dear madam, with great respect, your most obedient, and very obliged, humble servant,
WRITTEN BY THE REV. DR. LANGHORNE.
DEEP in the bosom of departed days, Where the first gems of human glory blaze; Where, crowned with flowers, in wreaths immortal dressed, The sacred shades of ancient virtue rest; With joy they search, who joy can feel, to find Some honest reason still to love mankind. There the fair foundress of the scene to-night, Explores the paths that dignify delight; The regions of the mighty dead pervades; The sibyl she that leads us to the shades. O may each blast of ruder breath forbear To waft her light leaves on the ruthless air; Since she, as heedless, strives not to maintain This tender offspring of her teeming brain ! For this poor birth was no provision made, A flower that sprung and languished in the shade. On Avon's banks, forsaken and forlorn, This careless mother left her elder born; And though unlike what Avon hailed of yore, Those giant sons that Shakspeare's banners bore, Yet may we yield this little offspring grace, And love the last and least of such a race. Shall the strong scenes, where senatorial Rome Mourned o'er the rigor of her patriot's doom; Where melting Nature, awed by Virtue's eye, Hid the big drop, and held the bursting sigh; Where all that majesty of soul can give, Truth, Honor, Pity, fair Affection live Shall scenes like these, the glory of an age, Gleam from the press, nor triumph on the stage? Forbid it, Britons ! and, as Romans brave, Like Romans boast one citizen to save.