« PreviousContinue »
“ Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ,
That tastes those gifts with joy.
Thy goodness I'll pursue,
The glorious theme renew.
Divide thy works no more,
Thy mercy shall adore.
A joyful song I'll raise,
To atter all thy praise."
SHOULD BE A SCHOOL OF MORALITY.
Quid deceat, quid non; quo virtus, quo ferat
What fit, what not; what excellent or ill.
SINCE two or three writers of comedy who are now
living have taken their farewell of the stage, those who succeed them finding themselves incapable of rising up to their wit, humour, and good sense, have only imitated thein in some of those loose unguarded strokes, in which they complied with the corrupt taste of the more vicious part of their audience. When per
Bons of a low genius attempt this kind of writing,
Were our English stage but half so virtuous as that
. If the English stage were under the same regulations the Athenian was formerly, it would have the same effect that had, in recommending the religion, the government, and public worship of its country. Were our plays subject to proper inspections and limitations, we might not only pass away several of our vacant hours in the highest entertainments; but should always rise from them wiser and better than we sat down to them.
It is one of the most unaccountable things in our age, that the lewdness of our theatre should be so much complained of, so well exposed, and so little redressed. It is to be hoped, that some time or other we may be at leisure to restrain the licentiousness of the theatre, and make it contribute its assistance to the advancensent of morality, and to the reformation of the age. As matters stand at present, multitudes are shut out from this noble diversion, by reason of those abuses and corruptions that accompany it. A father is often afraid that his danghter should be ruined by those entertainments, which were invented for the accomplishment and refining of human nature. The Athepian and Roman plays were written with such a regard to morality, that Socrates used to frequent the one, and Cicero the other,
It happened once indeed, that Cato dropped into the Roman theatre, when the Floralia were to be represented; and as in that performance, which was a kind of religious ceremony, there were several indecent parts to be acted, the people refused to see them whilst Cato was present. Martial on this hint made the following epigram, which we must suppose was applied to some grave friend of his, that had been accidentally present at some such entertainment.
Nosses jocosæ dulce cum sacrum Flore,
Why dost thou come, great censor of thy age,
An accident of this vature might happen once in an age ainong the Greeks or Romans; but they were too wise and good to let the constant nightly entertainment be of such a nature, that people of the most sense and virtue could not be at it. Whatever vices are repre. sented upon the stage, they ought to be so marked and branded by the poet, as not to appear either laudable or amiable in the person who is tainted with them, But if we look into the English comedies above-men. tioned, we would think they were formed upou a quite contrary maxim, and that this rule, thongh it held good upon the heathen stage, was not to be regarded in Christian theatres. There is another rule likewise, which was observed by authors of antiquity, and which these modern geniuses have no regard to, and that was never to choose an improper subject for ridicule. Now a subject is improper for ridicule, if it
is apt to stir up horror and commiseratiou rather than laughter. For this reason, we do not find any comedy in so polite an author as Terence, raised upon the vio. lations of the marriage bed. The falsehood of the wife or husband has given occasion to poble tragedies, but a Scipio or a Lelius would have looked upon incest or murder to have been as proper subjects for comedy. On the contrary, cuckoldom is the basis of most of our modern plays. If an alderman appears upon the stage, you may be sure it is in order to be cuckolded. An husband that is a little grave or elderly, generally meets with the same fate. Knights and baronets, country squires, and justices of the quorum, come up to town for no other purpose. I have seen poor Dog. get cuckolded in all these capacities. In short, our English writers are as frequently severe upon this in. nocent anhappy creature, commonly known by the name of a cuckold, as the ancient comic writers were upon an eating parasite, or a vain-glorious soldier.
At the same time the poet so contrives matters, that two criminals are the favourites of the audience. We sit still, and wish well to them through the whole play, are pleased when they meet with proper opportunities, and out of humour when they are disappointed. The truth of it is, the accomplished geutleman npon the English stage, is the person that is familiar with other men's wives, and indifferent to bis own; as the fine woman is generally a composition of sprightliness and falsehood. I do not know whether it proceeds from barrenness of invention, depravation of manners, or ignorance of mankind; but I have often wondered that our ordinary poets cannot frame to themselves the idea of a fine man who is not a whoremaster, or of a fine woman that is not a jilt.
I have sometimes thought of compiling a system of ethics out of the writings of these corrupt poets, under the title of Stage Morality. But I have been diverted from this thought, by a project which has been exe. cuted by an ingenious gentleman of my acquaintance.
He has composed, it seems, the history of a young fel. low, who has taken all his notions of the world from the stage, and who has directed himself in every cir. cumstance of his life and conversation, by the max. ims and examples of the fine gentlemen in English co. medies. If I can prevail upon him to give me a copy of this new-fashioned povel, I will bestow on it a place in my works, and question not but it may have as good an effect upon the drama, as Don Quixote had upon romance.
MODESTY AND ASSURANCE DIS
Fallit enim vitium specie virtutis et umbra.
JUV. Vice oft is hid in virtue's fair disguise, And in hier borrow'd form escapes inquiring eyes.
R. Locke, in his Treatise of Human Understand
ing, has spent two chapters upon the abuse of words. The first and most palpable abuse of words, he says, is, when they are used without clear and distinct ideas: the second, when we are so inconsistent and unsteady in the application of them, that we some. times use them to signify one idea, sometimes another. He adds, that the result of our contemplations and reasonings, while we have no precise ideas fixed to our words, must needs be very confused and absurd. To avoid this inconvenience, more especially in moral discourses, where the same word should constantly be used in the same sense, he earnestly recommends the use of definitions. A definition, says he, is the only way whereby the precise meaning of moral words can be known. He therefore accuses those of great negli. gence who discourse of moral thjugs with the least ob.