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designs, which we any way countenance and encourage; and thus it is, that the guilt of all wicked things, which we countenance and assist, will certainly be laid to our charge."* (Ditto, p. 378.)
These considerations are offered, not with a view to suppress the Theatre, and prevent all persons from attending it in an amended state, but to represent the matter in its true light, with a view to its amendment; to convince those concerned in it of the impiety and immorality of the Stage, as it now exists, to excite them to endeavours to amend, it, and to 'stir
up the frequenters of the Theatre, no longer to encourage that which is bad, but to shew their decided approbation of that which is good: -It is done with the view to induce them to
" throw the worser part of it, And live the purer with the other half;"'t and it is much to be wished, that good persons, and persons of weight, in places where plays are permitted, would attend upon them, for the purpose of checking all improprieties, and of leading the public taste. It is not to be expected that total reformation can be the work of a day: but no moment should be lost in commencing it. Let all persons exert themselves
* Note M,
of Hamlet, Act III. Scene 4.
in their respective stations, walk hand and hand in the path of improvement, and “
go on unto pei fection:" (Heb. vi. 1.). That we are in that path is evident, on comparing the Dramas of the age after the Restoration, with those of the present day.*
6. In the important work of superintendance and reformation, Magistrates have not only high and awful duties to perform, but they have ample means of influencing and enforcing. By their office, they are “ the ministers of God” to his people
“ for good,” (Rom. xiii. 4.) “ for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well.” (1 Pet. ii. 14 ) Were their duties discharged with fidelity, with firmness and with mildness, were profaneness and licentiousness punished, and the good encouraged, being swayed neither by fear, by indolence, nor by partiality, then would vice hide its head, and virtue would flourish. In this good work, let the Church join with the State; and, so long as vice shall keep its place upon the Stage, let not the ministers of Christ be backward to warn their hearers against it, and to point it out wheresoever it may lurk.t
7. A few words may be said, in the last place, respecting the Literary Censors of the age.
Should all the other classes have conspired together to encourage or connive at vice and profaneness, still much is within their power. At the most corrupt period of the Stage, “ the zeal of an individual (the pious, the learned, and the witty Collier) when pleading the cause of truth, triumphed over the powers of wit, and the force of prejudice.”* To his labours have succeeded those of others in the same line, in which, though there may be too much unqualified censure, (as hath before been observed,) yet they certainly contain much truth, and have produced their good effects. The periodical publications, at the beginning of the last century, written in a more pleasing and conciliatory style, had certainly their good effects likewise; but, in these days, we possess the superior advantage, were the means employed to the right end, of having professed critics, as the arbiters, the guardians, and the guides of the public taste and morals. Writing in the seclusion of the study, and aloof from the glitter and allurements of the Theatre, it is their's to determine, according to the dictates of reason and religion, upon the merits of all productions, and of their effects upon the public mind; and it is their duty to confirm with their sanction, or to censure, and to open the
* Observations on the Effect, &c. p. 28. Davis's Life of Garrick, vol. ii. p. 373.
eyes of the public, if any thing may have unwarily imposed upon them, in the hour of sympathetic mirth or sorrow.
Such are the sentiments of one, who hath considered the subject with much attention ; who hath considered it, as it strikes him, as being conformable, or not, to the Word of God; and who thinks it his duty thus publicly to state his sentiments, that all parties may revolve them in their minds, and act with respect to them as their consciences may then dictate; recollecting, that, “ To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin,” and “ If ye know these things,” and “ do them, happy” will it be for you, both now and for ever more.
* Note P.
Note A. page 4.
IN former times, when wit was no offence,
Prologue to the Tragedy of King Charles the First.
The Stage is "the mirror of a nation's Virtue, and the enlightened and polished School of a free People.” : Quoted in An Essay on the Character, Inmoral and Antichristian Tendency of the Stage, By JOHN Styles, p. 19. See also p. 25.
The exhibition of Dramatic Compositions on the Stage, " has, by some of the wisest and best men in all ages, been countenanced, as highly serviceable to the cause of Virtue.” Biographia Dramatica. vol. i. p. vii.
“ The Stage might be made a perpetual source of the most noble and useful entertainments, were it under proper regulations." Spectator. N. 93.
" Is not the Theatre truly and essentially, what it has been often called rhetorically, the School of impiety, where it is their very business to learn wickedness?" See a Serious Inquiry into the Nature