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turn in their undiscriminated round of promiscuous pleasure. But I would coolly and respectfully address a few words to those many worthy and conscientious persons, who would not, perhaps, so early and incautiously expose their youthful offspring to the temptations of an amusement, of which they themselves could be brought to see and to feel the existence.
The question, then, which with great deference I would propose, is not whether those who risk every thing may not risk this also; but whether the more correct and considerate Christian might not find it worth while to consider if the amusement in question be entirely compatible with his avowed character; whether it be entirely consistent with the clearer views of one who professes to live in the sure and certain hope of that immortality which is brought to light by the Gospel.
For, however weighty the arguments in favor of the superior rationality of plays may be found in the scale, when a rational being puts one amusement in the balance against another; however fairly he may exalt the stage against other diversions, as being more adapted to a man of sense; yet this, perhaps, will not quite vindicate it in the opinion of the more scrupulous Christian, who will not allow himself to think that of two evils either may be chosen. His amusements must be blameless, as well as ingenious; safe, as well as rational ; moral, as well as intellectual. They must have nothing in them which may be likely to excite any of the tempers which it is his daily task to subdue; any of the passions which it is his constant business to keep in order. His chosen amusements must not deliberately add to the “weight” which he is commanded “to lay aside;" they should not irritate the “besetting sin ” against which he is struggling; they should not obstruct that “spiritual mindedness” which he is told" is life and peace;" they should not inflame that 5 lust of the flesh, that lust of the eye, and that pride of life," which he is forbidden to gratify. A religious person, who occasionally indulges in an amusement not consonant to his general views and pursuits, inconceivably increases his own difficulties, by whetting tastes, and exciting appetites, which it will cut him out so much work to counteract, as will greatly overbalance, in a conscientious mind, the short and trivial enjoyment. I speak now on the mere question of pleasure. Nay, the more keen his relish for the amusement, the more exquisite his discernment of the beauties of composition or the graces of action may be, the more prudent he may perhaps find it to deny himself the gratification which is enjoyed at the slightest hazard of his higher interests; a gratification which to him will be the more dangerous, in proportion as it is more poignantly felt.
A Christian in our days is seldom called, in his ordinary course, to great and signal sacrifices, to very striking and very ostensible renunciations; but he is daily called to a quiet, uniform, constant series of self-denial in small things. A dangerous and bewitching, especially if it be not a disreputable pleasure, may perhaps have a just place among those sacrifices; and, if he be really in earnest, he will not think it too much to renounce such petty en
joyments, were it only from the single consideration that it is well to seize every little occasion which occurs of evidencing to himself that he is constantly on the watch; and of proving to the world, that in small things, as well as in great, he is a follower of Him who “pleased not himself.”
Little, unobserved, and unostentatious abstinences are among the silent deeds of his daily warfare. And whoever brings himself to exercise this habitual self-denial, even in doubtful cases, will soon learn from happy experience, that in many instances abstinence is much more easily practised than temperance. There is in this case no excited sensibility to allay; there is no occasional remorse to be quieted; there is no lost ground to be recovered, no difficult backing out, only to get again to the same place where we were before. This observation adopted into practice might, it is presumed, effectually abolish the qualifying language of many of the more sober frequenters of the theatre, “that they go but seldom, and never but to a good play.” We give these moderate and discreet persons all due praise for comparative sobriety. But while they go at all, the principle is the same; for they sanction, by going sometimes, a diversion which is not to be defended on strict Christian principles. Indeed, their acknowledging that it should be but sparingly frequented, probably arises from a conviction that it is not quite right.
I have already remarked, that it is not the object of this address to pursue the usual track of attacking bad plays, of which the more prudent and virtuous seldom vindicate the principle, though they do not always scrupulously avoid attending the exhibition. I impose rather on myself the unpopular task of animadverting on the dangerous effects of those which come under the description of good plays; for from those chiefly arises the danger (if danger there be) to good people.
Now, with all the allowed superiority justly ascribed to pieces of a better cast, it does not seem to be a complete justification of the amusement, that the play in question is more chaste in the sentiment, more pure in the expression, and more moral in the tendency, than those which are avowedly objectionable; though I readily concede all the degrees of distinction and very important they are—between such compositions and those of the opposite character. But the point for which I am contending is of another and of a distinct nature ; namely, that there will, generally speaking, still remain, even in tragedies, otherwise the most unexceptionable, provided they are sufficiently impassioned to produce a powerful effect on the feelings, and have spirit enough to deserve to become popular;—there will still remain an essential radical defect. What I insist on is, that there, almost inevitably, runs through the whole web of the tragic drama (for to this least blamable half of stage composition I confine my remarks, as against comedy still stronger objections may be urged), a prominent thread of false principle. It is generally the leading object of the poet to erect a standard of honor in direct opposition to the standard of Christianity; and this is not done subordinately, incidentally, occasion. ally ; but worldly honor is the very soul, and spirit, and life-giv ing principle of the drama. Honor is the religion of tragedy It is her moral and political law. Her dictates form its institutes. Fear and shame are the capital crimes in her code. Against these, all the eloquence of her most powerful pleaders, against these her penal statutes, pistol, sword, and poison, are in full force. Injured honor can only be vindicated at the point of the sword; the stains of injured reputation can only be washed out in blood. Love, jealousy, hatred, ambition, pride, revenge, are too often elevated into the rank of splendid virtues, and form a dazzling system of worldly morality, in direct contradiction to the spirit of that religion whose characteristics are “ charity, meekness, peaceableness, long-suffering, gentleness, forgiveness." " The fruits of the Spirit," and the fruits of the stage, if the parallel were followed up, as it might easily be, would perhaps. exhibit as pointed a contrast as human imagination could conceive.
I by no means pretend to assert that religion is excluded front tragedies; it is often incidentally introduced; and many a period is beautifully turned, and many a moral is exquisitely pointed, with the finest sentiments of piety. But the single grains of this counteracting principle, scattered up and down the piece, do not extend their antiseptic property in a sufficient degree to preserve from corruption the body of a work, the general spirit and leading tempers of which, as was said above, are evidently not drawn from that meek religion, the very essence of which consists in “casting down high imaginations ;' while, on the other hand, the leaven of the predominating evil secretly works and insinuates itself, till the whole mass becomes impregnated by the pervading principle. Now, if the directing principle be unsound, the virtues growing out of it will be unsound also; and no subordinate merit, no collateral excellences, can operate with effectual potency against an evil which is of prime and fundamental force and energy, and which forms the very essence of the work.
A learned and witty friend, who thought differently on this subject, once asked me if I went so far as to think it necessary to try the merit of a song or a play by the ten commandments. To this may we not venture to answer, that neither a song nor a play should at least contain any thing hostile to the ten commandments? that, if harmless merriment be not expected to advance religion, we must take care that it do not oppose it? that if we concede that our amusements are not expected to make us better than we are, ought we not to condition that they do not make us worse than they find us? If so, then, whatever pleasantry of idea, whatever gayety of sentiment, whatever airiness of expression we innocently admit, should we not jealously watch against any unsoundness in the general principle, any mischief in the prevailing tendency? · We cannot be too often reminded, that we are to an inconceive able degree the creatures of habit. Our tempers are not principally governed, nor our characters formed, by single marked actions; nor is the color of our lives often determined by prominent detached circumstances: but the character is gradually moulded by a series of seemingly insignificant, but constantly recurring practices, which, incorporated into our habits, become part of ourselves
Now, as these lesser habits, if they take a wrong direction, silently and imperceptibly eat out the very heart and life of vigorous virtue, they will be almost more sedulously watched by those who are careful to keep their consciences tenderly alive to the perception of sin (however they may elude the attention of ordinary Christians), than actions which deter by bold and decided
When it is recollected how many young men pick up their habits of thinking and their notions of morality from the playhouse, it is not, perhaps, going too far to suspect, that the principles and examples exhibited on the stage may contribute, in their full measure and proportion, towards supplying a sort of regular aliment to the appetite (how dreadfully increased !) for duelling, and even suicide. For, if religion teaches, and experience proves, the immense importance to our tempers and morals of a regular attendance on public worship, wbich attendance is only required of us one day in a week; and if it be considered how much the heart and mind of the attentive hearer become gradually imbued with the principles infused by this stated, though unfrequent attendance; who, that knows any thing of the nature of the human heart, will deny how much more deep and lasting will be the impression likely to be made by a far more frequent attendance at those places, where sentiments of a direct contrary tendency are exhibited; exhibited, too, with every addition which can charm the imagination and captivate the senses? Once in a week, it may be, the young minds are braced by the invigorating principles of a strict and self-denying religion : on the intermediate nights, their good resolutions (if such they have made) are melted down with all that can relax the soul, and dispose it to yield to the temptations against which it was the object of the Sunday's lecture to guard and fortify it. In the one case, there is every thing held out which can inflame or soothe corrupt nature, in opposition to those precepts which, in the other case, were directed to subdue it. And this one grand and important difference between the two cases should never be overlooked, that religious instruction, applied to the human heart, is seed sown in an uncultivated soil, where much is to be cleared, to be broken up, and to be rooted out, before good fruit will be produced ; whereas the theatrical seed, by lighting on the fertile soil prepared by nature for the congenial implantation, is likely to shoot deep, spread wide, and bring forth fruit in abundance.
But, to drop all metaphor. They are told—and from whose mouth do they hear it?--that “ blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, and the peace-makers.” Will not these, and such like humbling propositions, delivered one day in seven only, in all the sober and beautiful simplicity of our church, with all the force of truth indeed, but with all its plainness also, be more than counterbalanced by the speedy and much more frequent recurrence of the nightly exhibition, whose precise object it too often is, not only to preach, but to personify doctrines in diametrical and studied opposition to poverty of spirit, to purity, to meekness, forbearance, and forgiveness? Doctrines, not simply expressed, as those of the Sunday are, in the naked form of axioms, principles, and precepts, but realized, imbodied, made alive, furnished with organs, clothed, decorated, brought into lively discourse, into interesting action; enforced with all the energy of passion, adorned with all the graces of language, and exhibited with every aid of emphatical delivery, every attraction of appropriate gesture. To such a complicated temptation is it wise, voluntarily, studiously, unnecessarily, to expose frail and erring creatures? Is not the conflict too severe ? Is not the competition too unequal ?
It is pleaded by the advocates for church music, that the organ and its vocal accompaniments assist devotion, by enlisting the senses on the side of religion ; and it is justly pleaded as an argument in favor of both, because the affections may fairly and properly derive every honest aid from any thing which helps to draw them off from the world to God. But is it not equally true, that the same species of assistance, in a wrong direction, will produce an equally forcible effect in its way, and at least equally contribute in drawing off the soul from God to the world ? I do not presume to say that the injury will be inevitable, much less that it will be irretrievable; but I dare repeat, that it is exposing feeble virtue to a powerful temptation ; and to a hazard so great, that were the same reason applied to any worldly subject, it would be thought a folly to yenture on any undertaking where the chances against our coming off unhurt were so obviously against us. Besides, if we may pursue the doctrine of chances a little farther, that is at best playing a most unprofitable game, where, if we even could be sure that nothing would be lost, it is clear to demonstration that nothing can be gained; so that the certain risk is not even counterbalanced by the possible success.
It is not in point to the present design to allude to the multitude of theatrical sentiments which seem to be written as if in avowed opposition to such precepts as “Swear not at all ;” “He that looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery in his heart," &c. &c. We are willing to allow that this last offence, at least, is generally, I would it were invariably-confined to those more incorrect dramas which we do not now profess to consider. Yet it is to be feared we should not find many pieces (are we sure we can find one?) entirely exempt from the first heavy charge. And it is perhaps one of the most invincible objections to many tragedies, otherwise not very exceptionable, that the awful and tremendous name of the infinitely-glorious God is shamefully, and almost incessantly, introduced in various scenes, both in the way of asseveration and of invocation.
Besides, the terms good and bad play are relative; for we are so little exact in our general definitions, that the character given to the piece often takes its color from the character of him who gives it. Passages which would escape censure from the decent moral man