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silently; till finding his soul too much distracted with a sense of his sin, he gives it up. During this scene Hamlet enters; and, seeing him unguarded, would put him to death, but that he thinks killing him, whilst at his prayers, would be the mean of sending him to heaven, and so his father would not be revenged. This part of Hamlet's character is so shocking, and contrary to the spirit of Christianity, that it is omitted on the Stage. It is much to be wished that the same principle were extended. Our plays would then be much improved, and the passage before quoted from Macbeth would be equally omitted.
Another instance of a character represented on the Stage as praying, without the words being given, is in Lady Jane Gray. In A: V. S. 2. she is discovered kneeling, as at her devotion ; a light, and a book placed on a table before her. Lord Guilford Dudley and two female attendants enter. One of them says to him,
Softly, my Lord!
Mark her vermilion lips, with fervour trembling;
And waft them upward to the throne of grace.
My heart had ended ev'ry earthly care,
While all the little bus'ness, that remain'd,
And leave a life become indifferent to me. Another instance of this kind, which I shall bring forward, is in The School of Reform. I first met with this play at the house of a friend, and was much struck with it; particularly with the scene at the end of the third act, between Robert Tyke and his father. Robert had led a very wicked life for some years, and had been transported for horse-stealing. He returns, and at length meets with his father, who he supposed had been dead, killed with grief for his son's wickedness. The old man says, that heaven will pardon him. He replies,
No, don't say that, father, because it can't.
Tyke. Yes, I know it is. I know it would if it could—but not me!--No, No!
Old Man Kneel down, and ask its mercy.
Tyke. I dare— father— I dare not !-Oh! if I durst but just thank it for thy life!
Old Man. Angels will sing for joy:
in energetic devotion. The curtain falls. I had conversed with friends who had seen it, and said that in London it was played with great seriousness, and was received in the same manner by the audience, and had a very good effect. A friend, who had seen it played in the country, said that the performer burlesqued it, and that the audience laughed. When at Aldborough, on the Suffolk Coast, last September, a company of players was there, and this play was announced for representation. I determined to attend. The theatre was very small, there was but little accommodation, and the company of players few in number, and of course not of the first rate, but respectable. At a place of that kind the audience in the gallery consisted chiefly of fishermen, soldiers, and gentlemen's servants, who seemed rather inclined to be talkative and laugh, and that at some things at which they ought to have been silent, particularly at the old man's crying. But, when it came to that scene, it was well played, by both the old man and Tyke, and was received by the audience with the utmost respect. So another passage, in Act IV. Scene 2. where Lord Avondale, after
this, wishes to persuade. Tyke to commit a robbery, to secure some papers which he wants. Upon Tyke's trembling, Lord A. asks, What alarms you? No one hears.
Tyke. Yes, there does.
(Tyke, shuddering, points up to Heaven.) I consider both these incidents as instructive, as I fear in most audiences, there may be some persons in the same or similar circumstances, and who do not go to a church to hear their duty there, whose knees are unaccustomed to bow before their Creator and Redeemer, and to whom it may be a useful lesson. It may, turn their thoughts to think seriously, till they learn to attend to the doctrines of the liturgy and the pulpit, or apply to their minister for farther spiritual instruction.
Will those who object to prayers acted upon the Stage, allow children to be taught to kneel, and lift up their hands, as in the act of devotion before their heavenly Father, long before they can have an idea of such a Being as God? “ Men are but children of a larger growth,” and there are many grown persons, I fear, almost as little acquainted with their Creator and Redeemer, and as ignorant of the duty, and the nature and efficacy of prayer, as a child of a few years old can be, and to whom such a sight may be a valuable lesson.
In A World without Souls, (p. 25) are these remarkable words, which I submit to the consideration of the reader : “ The first accents which Caroline St. Amand ever heard from the lips of her parents were those by which they taught her to know God: and her knees were bent, and her hands closed in the attitude of devotion long before it was possible for her to know the object of prayer. They loved indeed to see her rehearse those scenes of piety, which they trusted she would act upon the Stage of life.”
There is another passage in The School of Reform, which is beautiful and instructive. The Bailiffs are going to take the Old Man to prison for a debt, incurred in employing counsel in behalf of his son;
Opens a drawer and takes out a book.
Old Man. Yes, of Devotion! And had your employer tasted of its spirit, he would have turned the cup of bitterness from the lips of the afflicted.
The reply of the Bailiff is worth preserving: “Why, that may be; but, remember, old gentleman, that for one unfeeling creditor, we get hold of a hundred hard-hearted debtors, who, to have twenty dishes on their own table, will prevent twenty honest men from having one upon theirs.”
There are many faults in this play, but there is much that is valuable.
In Jane Shore, A. IV. after Gloster has sentenced her to be turned out into the street to perish, she kneels, and prays
And only hope forgiveness in the grave. Perhaps some, even if they should admit the general question of the lawfulness of introducing prayers, will not approve this form, and think that it, ought wholly to have been omitted, or else that redemption by a Mediator should have been mentioned. In A. V. S. 2. she says of Alicia, who had' denied her assistance,
In mercy look upon her, gracious Heav'n, ,
Nor visit her for any wrong to me. In The Siege of Damascus, A. V. S. 2. Abudal, a Saracen, is represented as praying in these words,
O Power Supreme,
Or pardon unknown error !In Percy there are several prayers; and, as Mrs. More has revised the play, I conclude, had she considered them improper, she would have omitted them. Elwina says,
Thou, who in judgment still remember'st mercy,
Blest be the fountain of eternal mercy.
Ditto. Receive me to thy mercy-gracious Heaven. (She dies.) Ditto. There is a passage in Macbeth, which, though it be not a prayer in itself, yet is an account of one, which is highly beautiful and affecting, and a good lesson. Macbeth is giving an account to his Lady of the murder which he has just committed, and of the conduct of those who were in the same room; and his reflections on his own inability to say Amen to their prayers are very fine:
There's one did laugh in his sleep, and one cry'd murder!
Again to sleep.
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands,
When they did say, God, bless us.
I had most need of blessing, and Amen
A. II. S. 2. In The Robbers, if my memory serve me rightly, there is a very beautiful passage on this subject. Charles Moore, in an interval of reflection, is looking back with keen regret, upon his days of comparative innocence, and says,
“The time has been, when I could not have slept, had I not said my prayers."
In some of Mr. Dibdin's Songs there are passages which strike me as being useful, particularly when we consider the persons into whose hands they are likely to fall
, namely, soldiers and sailors.
When on the wings of thy dear love,
Thy fervent orisons are flown,