페이지 이미지

which are before the world, on the moraland immoral tendency of the Stage, (from the days of William Prynne and Jeremy Collier down to our own times,) will lead the reasonable inquirer to determine, that the question has not yet been considered in the dispassionate manner, which can alone lead to a satisfactory conclusion. Assailants and defenders appear to have been misled by prejudice, and blinded by enthusiasm. Overheated zeal, on the one side, has been met by unbecoming virulence on the other. Eloquence and learning have been abundantly employed, but mixed up with such an undue proportion of acrimonious invective, so coloured by personal animosity, that reasoning is weakened by the bitterness of controversial excitement, and truth forgotten in the tumult of conflicting assertions. Violence provokes, but does not convince. If an opponent commences his attack, by telling you, you are a sinner, and you retort by calling him a hypocrite, both positions may be true, but neither the one nor the other is proved or disproved by the counter assertion. When men become angry with each other, and exchange epithets instead of examing arguments, it is painful to read, and unprofitable to consider a discussion so conducted. It is in a totally different spirit that I

pursue the inquiry, and while I can scarcely hope to appeal to better authorities, or produce more powerful reasoning than other advocates of the Drama who have preceded me, I trust, at least, to avoid

propose to

the personalities by which their cause is weakened, and the violence by which their pages are disfigured. The greater portion of Dr. Bennett's discourse appears to be founded on the publications entitled, “ An Essay on the Character and Influence of the Stage,” by the Rev. John Styles, D. D., and “The Christian Father's Present to his Children, and “ Youth Warned,” by the Rev. J. Angell James. These writers have, in their turn, drawn largely from Dr. Witherspoon, Law, Bedford, and Collier : indeed so closely are the same trains of reasoning, the same conclusions, and the same authorities adopted throughout, that the present work may rather be called, a modified transcript of former opinions, than an original view of the subject, now for the first time promulgated. This is satisfactory in a double sense, as it enables me to widen the scope of my defence, and to render my reply general rather than individual; at the same time relieving me from the delicacy I should have felt in using the arguments of others, when I find them sufficiently moderate to accord with my own convictions.

A long period of two thousand four hundred years has elapsed since Thespis first attracted the attention of the Athenians, by the novelty of his rude invention. During that time, the Stage has flourished most, and has been most generally upheld in those countries, where taste has been refined, and manners softened by the gradual influence of civilization. This is a fact which its history sufficiently establishes; but that, from its inherent evil, it has therefore operated powerfully on the degeneracy and profligacy of man, is a sentence of condemnation less easily borne out by evidence. The almost " universal diffusion of the Drama is hailed by its admirers as a mighty blessing,' and deplored by its antagonists, as an “unmitigated curse.' On the one hand, the Theatre is extolled as a grand source of pure instruction, while on the other, it is degraded as a complex instrument of mischief, more variable in its hues of evil, than the colours of the cameleon, and shifting alternately from a cause to a consequence, in defiance of every rule of logic or law of consistency. All these are extreme positions, and extremes, whether in argument or in action, are equally conducive to error. Men look on them with a suspicious eye, as springing from prejudice, rather than founded on reason. “ The middle course is the safest,” says the heathen poet and moralist ;* “ Let your moderation be known unto all men,” says the Christian preacher and apostle.t Let us examine the question rationally, with a view to a practical, rather than a theoretical conclusion, and if we should succeed in showing, that to go to the Theatre, as an occasional recreation, is not absolutely “ to follow a multitude to do evil,” I it will scarcely be unfair to

* “ Medio tutissimus ibis.”—Horat.
† St. Paul, Philippians, iv. 5. [ Exodus, xxiii. 2.

apply the context of the sacred passage, and say, the sweeping censure thus disproved, is “speaking in a cause to decline after many to wrest judg


To ascertain the real qualities of the Drama, we must balance arguments with facts, and form our judgment by a comparative, rather than by any positive standard. All human institutions, as proceeding from an imperfect source, are imperfect in their nature, and cannot be otherwise in their application. The most valuable are formed of good and evil blended together in unequal proportions, and the utmost that can be claimed or proved for the best, is a preponderance of good. We have to deal with the productions of men for the use and instruction of men, and cannot do more than apply our materials to the best purposes of which their nature is capable. It is thus philosophers, Christian as well as Heathen, have found the necessity of deciding, when ideal theories are reduced to practical reality; and thus, good and evil, in actual exercise, become relative and comparative, rather than abstract and positive qualities.. A prudent legislator will not hastily reject an institution as all evil, because it is not all good ; but will rather investigate the proportions of each, and so endeavour to direct the application, that the good shall be enhanced, while the evil is diminished, till the balance inclines to the improvement of mankind.*

* Exodus, xxiii. 2.

Beyond this, I apprehend the lessons of the practical teacher, however powerfully enforced, cannot extend. He who expects a complete result from an insufficient cause, exacts from the human faculties, a degree of perfection, incompatible with human infirmities. He pursues a chimera instead of a reality, a shadow without a substance, and wastes his time in profitless disappointment. The richest field that was ever tilled by human labour, has idle tares among the fruitful produce; the fairest garden that ever bloomed beneath the care of man, has noxious weeds entwined around the sweetest flowers. To judge an institution fairly, we must consider its component qualities, rather than the uses to which they are, or may have been, perverted, and should endeavour to separate the elements of which it consists, from the misapplication of which they are capable; and between these a wide distinction is to be drawn. The one is in

* “ So true our experience doth find those Aphorisms of Mercurius Trismegistus, Αδύνατον το αγαθόν ενθάδε καθαρεύειν της κακίας,

'to purge goodness quite and clean from all mixture of evil, here is a thing impossible. Again, tò min λιαν κακόν ενθάδε το αγαθόν έστι, when in this world we term any thing good, we cannot, by exact construction, have any other true meaning, than that the said thing is not noted to be a thing exceedingly evil.'"--HOOKER's Eccles. Pol., B. VII., c. xxiv. 16.

« 이전계속 »