Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

anxious to preserve sisters and aunts from infection, as well as wives.

But Mr. S. observes, “ Seriousness becomes a subject of so much importance.” If Mr. S. with his strong sense of religion, can thus lay himself open, even when he is writing upon so serious a subject, and in a work which censures the failings of others; let him consider, how difficult it is to guard the tongue and the pen, amid the gaiety of the heart, and to make allowance for those who are not blest with an equal sense of morality and piety.

N. p. 95. MR. STYLES has appropriated a chapter (the Vth) to the consideration of the question, Whether the Stage is in a state of moral improvement ? and determines in the negative ; saying, that The writings of Congreve and Dryden, are absolutely pure, when compared with the vile disgusting offspring of” “ Kotzebue;" and he then instances the plays of The Stranger, Pizarro, Lovers Vows, and The Noble Lie, as proofs of his position. Mrs. More likewise, in her Strictures on Female Education, (chap. i.) has found great fault with the former of these. Mrs. West, in her Letters to a Young Lady, (vol. ii. Letter IX.) adds to the two former, the play of John Bull; and Mr. Thirlwall, in bis Solemn protest against the Royalty Theatre, adds his most decided censure of these three. Other very respectable critics and moralists (under which term I wish to be understood vindicators of morality, as sanctioned by the Christian Religion,) have likewise joined in the very heavy censure which has been cast upon them. After what I have said, therefore, in my IV th Discourse, upon the comparatite superiority of the Dramas of the present day, to those of the age after the Restoration, I conceive it to be my duty to offer my sentiments respecting these plays. It is not, however, without much reluctance, that I enter upon this part of my task, as I am aware that I shall advance some opinions, contrary to those of persons for whom I entertain the highest respect; and, likewise, as the near relationship in which I stand to one of the Translators of several of the German Dramas, may subject me, in the opinion of some, to a partiality towards them. These opposite considerations, however, and, above all, the solemn interest which I trust I feel in the cause of TRUTH, will influence me to discard all prejudices and private regard, and to speak with a view to the cause of truth alone:

Amicus Plato, amicus Socrates, sed magis amica VERITAS: and I shall console myself in the recollection of one of Bishop Wilson's Marims, under the article Controversy, that, " In most

controversies there is some truth on both sides; prejudice will not let us see, much less acknowledge it.” Were I to allow prejudice and respect for private character, and a similarity of opinions on many important questions to bias me, it would be in favour of those, whose sentiments I now controvert. The case appears to me to be this. Much infidelity and immorality have been imported into this country from the Illuminati of Germany: We have, therefore, been jealous of every thing which came from that quarter, have given them a more than common trial, for such productions, but have condemned without carrying on the investigation to the limit which it required. It is well that a spirit of trying, what are commonly esteemed lighter productions, by a high test, is excited; let us endeavour to improve it, and bring them to the only sure test by which their merit can be ascertained. I shall begin, then, with

The STRANGER. The story of the play is briefly this. Count Waldbourg, a person of extreme sensibility of disposition, had married a young lady of the age of sixteen; and after having lived happily with her for some time, and had two children by her, a friend, for whom he had engaged himself, treacherously lost him more than half his fortune. This embarrassed their circumstances, and clouded the disposition of the Count. Adelaide, the Countess, imagined that her husband's manner grew colder to her; that he denied her pleasures and amusements still within their reach ; her vanity was mortified, and her confidence was not courted. Another friend, to whom he was ardently attached, whom he had assisted with his means, and promoted with his interest, taking advantage of their altered circumstances, by forged letters, and the treachery of a servant whom the Countess most confided in, fixed her belief that her lord was false, and that all the coldness she complained of was disgust to her, and love for another; and all his home retrenchments but the means of satisfying a rival's luxury. With this conviction, she left her children, father, and husband, to follow a villain. In a few weeks the delirium was at an end, she left her seducer, and hearing of the benevolence of the Countess Wintersen, she concealed her name and her story, and applied to the Countess to take her in the capacity of a sort of upper housekeeper, at the Count's estate in the country; where, for three years, under the name of Mrs. Haller, she led a life of sorrow for her breach of faith to her husband, and exercising charity to all distressed objects around her. The husband, Count Waldbourg, on his wife's going off with her seducer, retired from society, placed his children under the care of a widow, hired

Cc

of

a lodge at the entrance of Count Wintersen's park, and, with a man-servant only, lived a life of seclusion. His temper being soured by disappointment, he became a misanthrope ; yet, retaining some of his good qualities, he is charitable where objects occur. At this period the piece commences. The Count and Countess Wintersen and her brother, Baron Steinfort, come to make a stay at Wintersen, and the Baron, seeing Mrs. H. falls in love with her, mentions his passion to his sister, and desires her to make proposals of marriage to Mrs. H. The Countess complies, when Mrs. H. confesses who she is, and tells her whole story. Count Wintersen's son, about five years age, in going over a bridge in the grounds, which gives way, falls into the water. Count Waldbourg, (who is known at Wintersen only by the name of The Stranger) being in the park, plunges into the water, rescues him, and runs away. Count W. sends to invite him to the castle, to receive his thanks. He refuses to come. The Baron goes to request his company, and, in the Stranger, finds his intimate friend, whose life he had once saved. Count Waldbourg relates his story, and Baron S. makes him promise to come to the castle to receive Count Wintersen's thanks, and likewise to sue with Mrs. Haller in his behalf. The Stranger comes to the castle, and when he and Mrs. H. meet, they recognize each other ; Mrs. H. faints, and Count Wald. bourg rushes out. He had before determined to leave the place, since the retirement of it was broken in upon, and he bad sent his servant for the children to take with him. The Countess Waldbourg on recovering, requests to see her husband, in order that she may confess her guilt, and give him an acknowledgment of it, in order that he may obtain a divorce, should he wish to marry again. Count Waldbourg at first refuses to see her, feels his pride hurt, but at length, at the instigation of his friend, consents. In the interview, she confesses her guilt, but does not wish to injure his honour by being restored to his arms. Many struggles take place in his mind between affection and honour, or pride; at length the children are introduced, the sight of their offspring revives the feelings of former tenderness, they embrace them, and then rush into each others arms, and the piece concludes.

Mrs. More's remarks upon this piece are, that'" the character of an adulteress, which, in all periods of the world, ancient, as well as modern, in all countries, heathen, as well as christian, has hitherto been held in detestation, and has never been introduced, but to be

[merged small][ocr errors]

reprobated, is for the first time presented to our view in the most
pleasing and fascinating colours. The heroine is a woman, who
forsook a husband the most affectionate, and the most amiable, and
lived for some time in a criminal commerce with her seducer.
Repenting at length of her crime, she buries herself in retirement.
The talents of the poet, during the whole piece, are exerted in
attempting to render this woman the object, not only of the com-
passion and forgiveness, but of the esteem and affection of the
audience. The injured husband convinced of his wife's repentance,
forms a resolution, which every man of true feeling and Christian
piety will probably approve. He forgives her offence, and promises
her through life his advice, protection, and fortune, together with
every thing which can alleviate the misery of her condition, but
refuses to place her in the situation of his wife. But this is not suf-
ficient for the German author. His efforts are employed, and it is to
be feared but too successfully, in making the audience consider the
husband as an unrelenting savage, while they are led by the art of the
poet, anxiously to wish to see the adultress restored to the rank of
women who have not violated the most solemn covenant that can be
made with man, nor disobeyed one of the most positive laws which
has been enjoined by God.” See Strictures on Female Education,
in Mrs. More's Works, vol. vii. p. 49.
Mrs. West; speaking of this play, and of Mrs M.'s remarks upon

I think this Lady observes, that Adelaide was the first adulteress who was ever exhibited in a favourable point of view to a British audience. It escaped her recollection at the moment, that Rowe had contrived to give our sex an excellent lesson in his historical play of June Shore. But though we pity and forgive this real penitent, and though she is by far the most interesting character in this captivating tragedy, we return from seeing it exhibited, with very different sentiments from those with which we have witnessed the efforts of its German copyist. By the one, virtue is confirmed, from seeing the predicted “ruin, reproach, and endless shame," dreadfully exemplified; by the other, her foundation is undermined, and conjugal infidelity seems not so sad or so irreparable an offence, since it appears that Adelaide and her injured lord will be very happy after all that has passed.” Letters to a Young Lady, vol. ii.

it, says,

P. 316.

Besides this instance of Jane Shore, the Queen in Hamlet, is an adulteress exhibited on the Stage, who had married her husband's brother, after he had murdered him, and still lives with him in an

incestuous intercourse ; and, though she is not rendered equally interesting with Jane Shore and Mrs. Haller, yet she excites a considerable degree of interest and respect from the audience, notwithstanding she is not a penitent.

In the plays of Congreve and Vanbrugh, and other writers of that day, we hare several instances of adulteresses represented in such a light, as if infidelity to a husband were no sin, and in a manner much more likely to undermine the principles of the female part of the world, than the character of Mrs. Haller. I will refer the reader to Mrs. Inchbald's remarks on this play; and, before I proceed to consider more minutely the character of Mrs. Haller, and how far the author has constructed his Drama with propriety, I will say. a few words upon the question, abstractedly considered, whether it is proper to compassionate a repentant adulteress, and to restore her to respectability in life, and to the arms of her husband. I think it is: and my reasons are these :

The Holy City, Jerusalem, or the Church, is represented in Scripture, as a wife, a bride, and, in her corrupt state, as an harlot, an adulteress; yet she is invited to repentance, that her “sins which were scarlet, may become white as snow," and, purified, may again become the bride of her head, or husband, which is Christ. See Isaiah i. 10, &c. Jeremiah iii. 1, &c. and iv. l. Hosea ch. ii. Ephes. v. Colos. i. 18, &c. and Revelation xxi. 2. The account likewise of the woman taken in adultery, John viii, 3, &c. and of the woman who was a sinner, mentioned Luke vii. 37, &c. though perhaps, they will not form arguments by themselves, will give satisfaction read in this place.

St. Paul, in the fifth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, upbraids them that there is such sin amongst them “ so much as named amongst the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed, might be taken away

."-" Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." ver. 1-5. Such were the sentiments of Paul, toward this person, while he was living in a state of sin. But, in his Second Epistle, written within a year, or, as some think, within half a year

after the first, understanding that the offender had repented, and put away the occasion of his sin, then he says,

• Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise,

as

is not

from among

you."

« AnteriorContinuar »