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intentions, and the respectability of their characters are entitled, I should, were I to allow the justice of their fears, be obliged to regret that a department of literary composition, which affords the amplest field to the talents of the writer, and the feelings of the reader of poetry, should be liable to the imputation of such hurtful consequences; I should remind them how much of life is spent, and must be spent, in amusements; and that, to draw the young and the gay into innocent fields of amusement, is to gain or to save a great deal of their time from hurtful dissipation. But, in truth, the plea on behalf of theatrical exhibitions rests on higher and more certain grounds; for it is proved by repeated experience, marked in the accurate and impartial registers of officers of police, that in several great cities, when, from any accident, such exhibitions are suspended, every kind of wickedness and crime, even those which trench on the public safety, (without taking into account any advantage of improvement in manners,) has always increased in a very great degree. "The truth seems to be," as our venerable colleague Dr Adam Ferguson expresses it, in a letter to me on the subject of Mr Home's dramatic writings, "that theatrical compositions, like every other human production, are, in the abstract, not more laudable or censurable than any other species of composition, but are either good or bad, moral or immoral, according to the management or the effect of the individual tragedy or comedy we are to see represented, or to peruse." On this ground, certainly the tragedy of Douglas may confidently put itself on its trial; both the sentiments and the feelings expressed in it being of the most laudable and virtuous kind,—parental tenderness, and aspiring virtue.
The elder Sheridan, then manager of the Theatre at Dublin, sent Mr Home a gold medal, in testimony of his admiration of Douglas; and his wife, a woman not less respectable for her virtues than for genius and accomplishments, drew the idea of her admired novel of Sydney Biddulph, (as her introduction bears,) from the genuine moral effect of that excellent tragedy.
Amidst the censures of the Church, the public suffrage was strong in its favour, and the houses were crowded every night of its representation. Perhaps the success of the play excited the envy of some as much as the nature and species of its composition, and the situation,of its author, produced the censure of others ; for, among ihejeux d'esprit produced on the occasion, were some written by men themselves poets, and not at all remarkable for religious strictness or severe morality. Its defenders were found among all ranks and professions. Mr Wedderburn, afterwards Lord Loughborough, wrote some of its lighter defences. Mr Adam Ferguson published a serious pamphlet, in defence of the morality of dramatic composition, deduced from Scripture, particularly exemplified in the story of Joseph and his Brethren; Dr Carlyle, an ironical pamphlet, under the title of, "Reasons why the Tragedy of Douglas should be Burnt by the hands of the Common Hangman;" and afterwards he wrote a paper, calculated for the lower ranks, which was hawked about the streets, "History of the Bloody Tragedy of Douglas, as it is now performing at the Theatre in the Canongate." This paper had such an effect as to add two more nights to the already unprecedented run of the play.
Against Dr Carlyle, the prosecution of the Presbytery was carried on for a considerable time, till at last it terminated in the brutum fulmen of a censure and admonition. The learned Dr Wallace, of whom I have made mention in a former part of this Memoir, wrote an anonymous letter to Dr Carlyle, full of the soundest advice, and assuring him of his support in the proceedings before the Presbytery.
The Synod of Mid-Lothian and Tweeddale, a body free from the partialities and prejudices of the Presbytery of Edinburgh, pronounced a much more moderate sentence than this last-mentioned judicature had done on the matter of Douglas, and of Mr Home's conduct as a dramatic author; and the sentence of the Synod was affirmed in the General Assembly, by 117 votes to 34. Yet next day, on
the motion of a gentleman, whom one would not have supposed likely to be the advocate of severe or illiberal proceedings, Mr George Dempster, the Assembly passed a declaratory act, prohibiting the clergy from being concerned in, or countenancing, theatrical representations. But the manners overcame the law of the Church; and country clergymen, when in Edinburgh, frequented the theatre when any eminent actor or actress performed there. During the first visit of Mrs Siddons to this city, in 1784, while the General Assembly was sitting, there was, I have been told, great difficulty in procuring a full attendance of its members, on those evenings when she was to perform. A distinction was justly allowed between exhibitions, in which that great actress gave new force and impression to the noblest tragic sentiments, and those more exceptionable representations, which our comic stage, even in its present reformed state, sometimes exhibits. The persecution, however, which Mr Home and his tragedy endured, was of use to both. L.ord Bute, to whom I have mentioned his introduction by the Duke of Argyle, now warmly patronized an author, whose sufferings, as well as genius, recommended him to his benevolence and favour. Mr Home went to London, soon after the publication of his tragedy, in March 1757, when it was brought out at Covent-Gardcn, with much success. Garrick at that time maintained his resolution of not
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bringing it out at Drury-Lane, but afterwards made up for his former neglect, by the warmest patronage of Mr Home's subsequent tragedies; which I am sorry to be obliged to impute to that respect for great men for which that celebrated actor was remarkable, Lord Bute's favour being a surer passport to his theatre than the merit even of Douglas.
Mr Home now lived very much with that nobleman, and was in such habits of intimacy with his young pupil, the Prince of Wales, as seldom falls to the share of any individual of his rank and situation in life. Lord Bute was a man of gome learning, and considerable science, and of not less virtue than either; but his virtue was of an austere unbending sort, and his natural shyness and reserve did not, any more than his better qualities, accommodate themselves to the circle around him, which a minister of England must necessarily cultivate, if he does not happen to possess those splendid and commanding talents which make some men, but those very rare, independent of any other support.
From this disposition, which his original station of preceptor to the Prince did not tend to over, come, Lord Bute was, more than any other minister, inclined to relax from the constraints of form, and the severity of business, in the society of a few familiar friends, with whom he found himself at perfect ease. This is natural to the situation, because the mind, like the body, feels a relief in the