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gem of domestic honour, as a 'recompence for the reward of private friendship. But, I forbear. Enough is public, to justify the severe, though just remarks, of a living writer.* “ The conduct of persons who appear on the stage has never been the most irreproachable ; and it may be doubted whether such a mass of living vice as the actors and actresses but too generally present in their private lives, is not more injurious to public morals, than the splendid examples of virtue which they exhibit in their theatrical characters are useful.”
Mr. T. “And, Sir, has no unsuspecting family had occasion to rue the day, when they received into its friendship the ministers of grace? Have they never broken down the fence that guards the sanctity of domestic virtue ? Have they never been publicly convicted of crime ?"
Mr. L. “Yes, Sir, but when you compare the relative numbers of the two professions, you will be compelled to admit, that there are but comparatively few of the clerical order, who trample on the decencies and virtues of social life, and yet continue to discharge their ministerial functions. Only let a Clergyman be suspected, and he is shunned; but let him be convicted, and he is disrobed ; and held in abhorrence, not only by the public, but by his brethren. And though the light and trifling spirits of the age are fond of traducing the reputation of the ministers of religion ; and often impute to them crimes of which they are not guilty, yet I fearlessly assert, that, with few exceptions, they are an ornament to their profession, and are not surpassed, if equalled, by any order of men, in any age or in any country, for sobriety, chastity, benevolence, and all the virtues which bless and adorn social life.”
Mr. Proctor. “I very much dislike the introduction of reflections on the clerical order into these discussions, because they are irrelevant to the question before us, and tend to perplex, and embarrass it
, rather than to bring it to a fair issue. The question is simply this,
Is the moral tendency of theatrical amusements favourable to the cultivation and growth of private and public virtue." It is admitted, that the members of the
* The Editor of the Times.
theatrical profession, are, with few exceptions, loose and profligate in their manners, and Mr. Lewellin has attempted to prove, that their profession has a tendency to produce it. The argument which he has taken is a fair
If these amusements are favourable to the cultivation and growth of private and public virtue, we have a right to expect that the persons who are employed to conduct them, should exhibit, in their own character, the virtues, which they profess to cultivate amongst us. But they do not. This is a fact. We never think of recommending our sons or our daughters, to go to the actors and actresses of the stage, for models from which they are to mould their own characters. If we knew that they were forming an intimacy with them, we should check it, we should forbid it, under a full conviction that they would, from that hour, sink in the esteem of the more respectable part of society; and stand exposed to the most powerful and seducing temptations. Thus far, I think Mr. Lewellin has gained his point; but the question is not yet decided. The players may be profligate, and a keen eye may trace a connection between their professional labours, and the corruption of their moral principles and habits : but notwithstanding this, we may derive great advantage from the discharge of their theatrical duties. “ Their business is, to recommend virtue and discountenance vice, to shew the uncertainty of human greatness, the sudden turns of fate, and the unhappy conclusion of violence and injustice" to expose the folly of pride, the baseness of ingratitude, the vileness of hypocrisy; and to prove by an appeal to the senses, rather than by an argumentative process of conviction, that virtue is its own reward, and vice its own tormentor; and surely, Sir," addressing himself to Mr. Lewellin,
that the immorality of their private lives” disqualifies us from receiving the moral benefit of their public labours? This I think would be a position which you could not maintain.”
Mr. Lewellin." I readily grant that you have stated with great precision, a part of the professed objects which they have in view, in their theatrical labours, but you have not stated all; and though I feel no disposition to deal out wanton and unjust censurés, yet it is my decided opinion, fron the combination of circumstances
connected with the lessons of morality, which they give through the medium of their splendid examples of virtue, and disgusting examples of vice, that they produce much greater injury to private and public morals, than good.”
Mr. Proctor. “But have I not stated all the objects they profess to keep in view, in their theatrical labours ?" Mr. Lewellin. “No, Sir!
have omitted to mention our amusement,' which is a leading one."
Mr. Proctor. Well, Sir, I presume you are not prepared to say, they fail in this department of their labours ? Mr. Lewellin. “ No, Sir, I am not.
I have no doubt, but the great majority who frequent our theatres, enjoy, even to ecstacy, the scenes which are exhibited, and retire from the enchanting place, deeply regretting that the dull uniformity of life presents no attractions half so transporting. They smile, and laugh, and even chuckle with delight, when the intrigue of double dealing has ensnared its victimwhen the lewd debauchee ogles his mistress, and by some sudden spring, seizes her by surprise-when virtue is made to look ridiculous by the tenderness of her scruples—when the doctrines and precepts of our holy religion are caricatured by the profane vitling of the farce; and vice, disgusting and appalling vice, speaks out its profanity, in ludicrous expressions-or acts its parts with the adroitness of consummate villany.
Then, it is, that “the feast of soul” is enjoyed, and the spirits which have been exhausted by ennui, or by the monotonous duties of a long day's labour, are recruited, and the agreeable alterative of the mind takes place. O yes, Sir, the stage amuses. "It is, indeed, the elysium of bliss; and if it should be closed, many would weep and sigh, who never wept or sighed over a remembrance of their sins; and deem that life a burden which was given, not for the participation of such enjoyments, but for the nobler purpose of deriving purer felicity from the invisible Fountain of all goodness and excellence." Mr. Proctor. "But, Sir, must we be always weeping over our sins, and never allowed to partake of any pleasure, but what arises from religious pursuits ?”
Mr. Lewellin. “I presume, Sir, you will admit that we ought sometimes to monrn over our sins; and ought sometimes to devote our attention to religious pursuits, unless we reject the entire system of revelation as “a cunningly devised fable ?"
Mr. Proctor. I think, Sir, I am as firm a believer in the Divine origin of Christianity as yourself; though probably we may differ on some high points of speculative opinion; yet, Sir, I cannot perceive that Christianity condemns the theatre, nor am I disposed to object to its performances in toto, because an audience sometimes derives a momentary gratification from scenes and descriptions, and expressions, which a severe moralist might very naturally condemn."
Mr, Talbot. “If, as Mr. Lewellin' appears to contend, the Christian religion condemns theatrical amusements, and if notwithstanding, they are innocent and rational, it then follows that man was not made for the christian religion, although that religion was made for man; the scandal of such an inference, and its infallible support of Scepticism, cannot but make it highly desirable to prove that the Christian religion does not condemn. them."
Mr. Lewellin. “ If they are innocent! and if they are rational ! but I maintain they are not innocent, and if viewed, as they ought to be, in connection with our eternal destiny, I maintain they are not rational ; but to avoid anticipating arguments, which will appear in a further part of the discussion, I will at once challenge you to bring forward your proof from the Scriptures in favour of these corrupting amusements.”
Mr. Talbot. “I have no positive proof to adduce in favour of them, as the Scriptures are entirely silent on the question; but, Sir, is not that silence a strong presumptive argument in their favour? Did any of the Apostles ever condemn the theatrical exhibitions of the times in which they lived?. but would they not have done it, if their tendency had been at variance with the spirit and design of that religion which they came to propagate amongst mankind ??? Mr. Lewellin. “Then, Sir, because they did not, in
in their Epistles, which were addressed to the converted Pagans, who had renounced their former evil customs, condemn the gladiatorial exhibitions of Rome, and of Greece, you think that a fair argument arises in favour of them ?”
Mr. Talbot. “Why, Sir, if they had considered them as unfavourable to the morals of the people, they most certainly would ??
Mr. Lewellin. “What, if the persons to whom they wrote, had previously renounced them ?"
Mr. Talbot.“ But, Sir, we have no proof that the early Christians did abstain from these sources of national amusement."
Mr. Lewellin. “Sir, you are mistaken. We have incontestable evidence, that the early Christians did abstain from these corrupt sources of national amusement, and condemned them in the most unqualified terms of reprobation.”
“ The Romans," says Cæcilius, the Heathen, in Minatius, “ govern and enjoy the world, while you Christians are careful and mopish, abstaining even from lawful pleasures ; you visit not Shows, nor are present at the Pomps: you abhor the holy Games-a melancholy ghastly people ye are.
" True,” says Octavius,“ we Christians refrain from the Play-House, because of its intolerable corruptions.We cannot be present at the Plays, without great sin and shame."
Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, who flourished about the year 170, in his book to Autolicus has these words It is not lawful for us to be present at the prizes of your gladiators, lest by this means we should be accessaries to the murders there committed. Neither dare we presume upon the liberty of your Shows, lest our senses should be tinctured and disobliged with indecency and profaneness. The tragical distractions of Tereus and Thyestes are nonsense to us.
We are for seeing no representations of lewdness.-God forbid that Christians, who are remarkable for modesty and reservedness; who are obliged to discipline, and trained up in virtue, God forbid, I say, that we should dishonour our thoughts, much less our practice, with such wickedness as this !"