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TO THE WORK.
COLLECTIONS of Plays have been frequently prefaced
by a short History of The Stage, and particularly of the origin and progress of it in this kingdom. But, as it appears to me to be a subject which has not hitherto been viewed in its true light, and which requires a much more ample discussion than could be given to it within the short limits of this Preface, I shall wave the subject for the present; and, should I have leisure for the purpose, I hope to resume it at some future period. It is my intention to consider the Stage in connection with the civil and religious history of the principal nations where it has existed, shewing what it has been in itself, and what has been its influence upon morals and religion. Such a work I conceive might be rendered highly interesting and useful, and not foreign to the studies of a clergyman; especially when we consider that the stage was at one time in the hands of the clergy, when the church was the theatre, when Bishops were the dramatists, and the Clergy the performers. To witness a return of those days is by no means my wish; but I think it greatly to be lamented, that, when the stage was abandoned by the clergy, or taken out of their hands, it was given up to the low and dissolute. I wish, therefore, to refer the reader to my Discourses on The Stage, where he will find some short observations on the origin of the Drama, differing in some measure from the accounts usually given of it: and, as the Plays in these volumes are altered upon the principles laid down in those discourses, I shall employ the few pages allotted to a Preface in replying to some of the objections which have
been made to them, and in giving a short account of the origin and progress of this work. I cannot, however, forbear to express the satisfaction I have derived from the favourable reception with which that work has met from the readers of it in general, and especially from many theatrical persons; a reception which, as the work has not spared the abuses of the stage, gives me sanguine hopes, that these being seen and acknowledged by them, it will be their endeavour to remove or to reform them. While several have spoken in decided approbation of my work *, the open objectors have been but few. Indeed I am aware of only three, one of whom has written in too uncandid a manner to deserve notice. The other two are Mr. JOHN AUDLEY, of Cambridge, in an Advertisement prefixed to an Abridgement of Law's Tract on The Absolute Unlawfulness of the Stage Entertainment, published in September, 1809,-and a writer in The Eclectic Review for November, 1809, vol. V. p. 1031.
Law's work I have repeatedly quoted, and given my opinion of, in my Discourses, where I have said (p. 100.) that all his objections, when duly weighed, strike (6 only at the abuses of the Stage."" It is, however, (6 an admirable book for rousing the attention, and "calling it to the consideration of those abuses." I have also shewn the disingenuousness of Law, in quoting Archbishop Tillotson in support of his opinions against the Stage, and suppressing the conclusion of the passage, in which the Archbishop considers it possible to render
See The Literary Panorama for April 1809. Vol. VI. p. 52. The European Magazine, for June 1809. Vol. LV. p. 421. For July, August, September, October, and December, ditto, Vol. LVI. p. 26, 93, 189, 253, 438, and for January 1810, Vol. LVII. p. 33.
The British Critic, for April 1811, Vol. XXXVII, p. 356. The Argument to the Play of" The Abdication of Ferdinand,” 3d Edn. 12mo. 1811.
The Artist, A Collection of Essays, Relative to Painting, Poetry, Sculpture, Architecture, The Drama, Discoveries of Science, and various other Subjects. Edited by Prince Hoare, Esq. in 2 Vols. 4to. 1807 and 1810. Vol. II. No. ix. and xx. and
The Biographia Dramatica, (Edn. 1812.) Vol. I. Introduction, p. xi. Note, and p. 786, 787.
the Stage subservient to the cause of morality. (See p. 22, Note ‡.) This passage I have adopted as my motto to the present work.
It is a most curious fact, that Law, after having given this mutilated quotation, to make Archbishop Tillotson's opinion appear contrary to what it really was, says: "I have appealed to this great name, for no other end, "but to prevent the charge of uncharitableness."!! Indeed I cannot altogether acquit him. He was either uncharitable, or prejudice had blunted his usual acumen. Mr. Audley objects (p. 4.) to my having said, that I do not consider the Christian as called upon wholly "to renounce the Stage," but to do all "in his power "to amend it." And he reminds me (p. 5.) that I am "a clergyman," who have "professed that laying "aside the study of the world and the flesh," I I" would "labour as much as lay in" me, "to fashion" myself 66 according to the DOCTRINE of Christ, and be a whole66 some EXAMPLE to the flock of Christ."
To this I shall reply only by saying, that I conceive a Clergyman to be labouring in his calling, in endeadeavouring to remove impiety and immorality, wherever it may exist, and especially from a source of such extensive influence; that my endeavour has been to remove "the world and the flesh" from the Stage, and to "fashion" it" according to the DOCTRINE of Christ." My works are before the world; let Candour decide.
Much use has been made by Mr. Audley and other adversaries of the Stage, of the late conflagrations of the theatres of Covent-Garden and Drury-Lane; and of the "vain and presumptuous boasts which were ut"tered in the Epilogue, composed by Mr. Colman, and "spoken by Miss Farren (now the Countess of Derby) 66 on the night of opening the new theatre." p. 9.
The expressions alluded to in the Epilogue I certainly
"Ordination Service of the established church."
think had better not have been used; but we must not attach more force to the lines,
"The very ravages of fire we scout, "For we have wherewithal to put it out :" than we do to these,
"in ages yet anborn,
""Our castle's strength shall laugh a siege to scorn.' Does Mr. A. really suppose that the writer, the speaker, the managers, &c. could mean that, if the theatre were besieged by an army, it could stand against it? The passage is a quotation from Macbeth, and must be considered as meaning only that the building, was strong. So the providing a reservoir of water, and the iron curtain, were useful precautions; but I do not believe that the proprietors supposed, that, with these, it was impossible that the theatre should be burnt down. It is, however, a useful lesson, if we do not apply it presumptuously and uncharitably. If, as it seems to be intimated, the workmen were employed in building the theatre on a Sunday, and whatever abuses might exist in the theatre after it was built, let all persons concerned in it reflect upon the circumstances, and avoid them for the future. We must be careful how we decide upon. such a visitation being a judgment from God: Let us reflect upon those "Galileans, whose blood Pilate had "mingled with their sacrifices," and the "eighteen,
upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them." (Luke xiii. 1—5.) When we consider the combustible nature of theatres, and how much they are exposed to accidents by fire, from the lamps, &c. the wonder is, perhaps, that we do not hear of more frequent accidents in them. In these two cases how much cause is there for thankfulness, that the fires did not happen when the
The Insurance Offices are so perfectly aware of the very hazardous nature of Theatres, that they now charge five guineas per cent. on the sum for which they are insured, in London, a sum more than twenty times the common rate of insurance. The principal Provincial Theatres, as Birmingham, Edinburgh, &c. pay three guineas per cent. and the lesser Theatres two guineas. The Theatre at Barnwell, near Cambridge, being used only for three weeks in the year, pays ten shillings and sixpence per cent.
The Eclectic Review, after expressing surprize that a serious clergyman (as the writer of the article is pleased to consider me) should attempt to write a formal defence of the Stage, endeavours to explain the phænomenon, by a quotation from my Dedication to the work, (p. iv. and vi.) supposing, "that, in the preacher's youth, "the drama must have inspired a passion so deep, as to "become like one of the original principles of his 15 "mind, which therefore the judgment could never era"dicate, nor ever inspect without an involuntary bias "operating like a spell." (p. 1032.)
Were I inclined to cavil at phrases, I might ask the Reviewer, whether there are really such things as spells, and how they operate? The expression is, however, a popular one, and sufficiently intelligible. The suppoS sition is neither impossible nor very improbable; and the reader, by referring to the Dedication, (p. xii.) will find it stated by myself, and answered. But, may it not be asked, on the other hand, whether an aversion to the Stage may not, from early prejudices and habits, have become an original principle in the minds of its adversaries? I believe it to be equally possible and probable; and, that it is so, is to me apparent from the old arguments and objections being repeated at a distance of time, when the Drama is become certainly very dif
theatres were crouded with spectators. At Covent Garden it is said that more than thirty lives were lost. But these were firemen, volunteers, and others employed in the way of duty. Mr. Malone, in his Historical Account of the English Stage, (p. 50.) mentions an accident from "the full of a room at a Catholic sermon in the Black"friers, London," whereby about fourscore persons were killed, Oct. 24, 1623. And the dreadful accident at Liverpool, Feb. 11, 1810, when the spire fell into the body of the church, and about fifteen lives were Jost, chiefly children who had assembled for their catechetical duties, is still fresh in our remembrance. What can we say to these things, but "how unsearchable "are" God's "judgments, and his ways past finding "out"? Rom. xi. 33.