Hannah More.

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been cauffbt np in the third heaven ; ^ftcr he
had beheld the gbries to which he alludee. The
author of the Apocalyptic vision, having deeeribed
the inefiahle gbriee of the new Jerosaleoi, thus
pute new life and power into his deecriptioiu — * I
John self these things, and iUeml them.*

The power of distinguisbingobjecte increases
with our approach to tnem. llie ChrifUan fbeb
that he is entering on a state where every care
win cease, every fear vapish, every deeire be
fulfilled, every sm be done away, every grace
fttrfected : where there will be no more tompta*
tions to resist no more psssions to eobdue, ne
more insensibility to merotee, no more deidneM
in eervice, no more wandering ia prayer, ne
more sorrows to be felt for himself^ no tears to
be shed fbr others. He is going where his de-
votion win be without languor, his love without
aUoy, hte doobte certainty^ his expectation en*
joyment his bope frnitioo. AU wiO be perfeot,
for God win be an in aU.

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Wnm God lie knows that he shall derive im-
■lediatelj all his happiness^ It will no Ioniser
pass throngh anj of those channels which now
rally its porit J. It will be oflbred him throngh
no second cause which may fail, nointermediUe
agent which may deceife, no uncertain medium
which may disappoint The ftlicitv is not only
certain, but peneot,— not only perfect, hot eter.

As he approaches the land of realities, the
shadows of this earth cease to interest or midead
him. The films are remoTed fh>m his eyes. Ob-
'ects are stripped of their ftlse lustre. Nothiog
that is really little any longer looksneat The
mists of Tanity are dispersed. E^ery thing
which is to have an end appears small, appears
nothing. Eternal thinn assume their proper
wagninide, fbr he beholds them in the true point

of Tision. He has ceased to lean on the world,
for he has found it both a reed and a spear ; it
has failed and it has pierced him. He leans not
on himself for he has long known his weakness.
He leans not on his Tirtues, for they can do no-
thing fbr him. Had he no better refuge he foels
that his sun would set in darkness ; his life close
in despair.

But he knows in whom he has trusted, and
therefore knows not what he should foar. — ^He
looks upward with hoi? but humble confidence
to that great Shepher<C who having long since
conducted him into green pastures,— having by
his rod corrected, and by his staff supported
him, will, he humbly trusts, guide him through
the dark^ valley of the sbacbw of death, and
saftly land him on the peaoefol shores of evi»
lasting fe

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1 AM desiiOTiB to anticipate a censure which the cntical reader will be ready to brii^ fOrwziK
ou the apparent inconsistency between the contents of the latter part of this Tolume, composed <s
dramatic pieces, and seyeral sentiments not unfrequently introduced in some of my writmgs, re-
specting the dangerous tendency of certain public amusements, in which dramatic entertainments
will be naturally included. The candid reader will be able to solve the paradox when it is inti-
mated at what (ufferent periods of life these different pieces were written. The dates, if they were
regularly preserved, w^d explain that the seeming disagreement does not inTolve a contra^ticm,
as it proceeds not from an inconsistency, but from a revolution in the sentiments of the author.

From my youthful course of reading, and early habits of society and conversation, aided, per*
haps, by that natural but secret bias i;^ch the inclination gives to the judgment, I had been led
to entertain that common, but, as I must now think, delunve and groundless hope, that the stage,
under certain regulations, might be converted into a school of virtue ; and thus, like many others,
inferred, by a seemingly reasonable conclusion, that though a bad play would always be a tod
thing, yet the representation of a good one midit become not cmly harmless, but useful ; and
that it required nothing more than a correct judgment and a critical 'selection, to transform a
pernicious pleasure into a profitable entertainment.

On these grounds (while, perhaps, ae was intimated above, it was nothing mere than the in-
dulgence of a propensity), I was led to flatter myself it might be rendering that inferior service
to society which tne fabricator of safe and innocent amusements may reasonaUy be siqi^fosed to
confer, to attempt some theatrical compositions, which, whatever other defects might be justlv
imputable to them, should at least be found to have been written on the side of virtue and mo<^
esty ; and which should neither hold out any corrupt image to the mind, nor any impon desci^
tion to the fancy.

As the following pieces were written and performed at an dariy period of my life, vnder the
above impressions, I feel it a kind of duty (imploring pardon for the unavoidable esotism to which
it leads), not to send them afresh into the world in this collection, without prelucing to them a
candid declaration of my altered view. In so doing, I am fully aware that I et^uallv sul^eci
myself to the of^site censures of two different classes of readers, one of which wiU think that
the best evidence of my sincerity would have been the suppression of the tragedies themsehea,
^i^iile the other wiU reprobate the change of sentiment which^ves birth to the qualifying preface.

I should, perhaps, have been inclined to adopt the first of these two opinions, had it noC
occurred to me that the suppression would be thou^t disingenuous; and had I not bees
also desirous of grounding on the publication, though m a very cursory manner, my sentiments
on the general tendency of the drama ; for it appeared but fau* and candid to include in this
view my own compositions ; and thus, in some measure, though without adverting to them, to
involve myself in the general object oi my own animadversions.

I am not, even now, about to controvert the assertion of some of the ablest critics, that a wdl-
written tragedy is, perhnM, one of the noblest efforts of the human mind — I am not, even now,
sbout to deny, that of all public amusements it is the most interesting, the most intellectual, and
the most accommodated to the tastes and capacities of a rational being ; nay, that it is almost the
only one which has mind for its object; which has the combined advantage of addressins itself
to the imasination, the judgment, and the heart ; that it is the only public diversion whidi calk
out the hig^r energies of the understanding in the composition, and awakens the most lively and
natural feelings of the heart in the representation.

With all this decided superiority in point of mental pleasure which the stage possesses ovec
every other species of pulmc entertainment, it is not to be wondered at that ita admirers and
advocates, even the most respectable, should cherish a hope, that, under certain restrictions, and
under an improved form, it might be made to contribute to instruction as well as to pleasure ; anJ
it is on this plausible ground that we have heard so many ingenious defences of this species of

What the stage might be under another and an ima^ary state of things, it is not very easy
fnr OS to know, and therefore not very important to inquire. Nor is it, mdeed, die loiiiidest kgii

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to argae on the possible mxxlness of a thing, which, in the present circumstances ot society, is
doing positiTO evil, from the imagined good that thing might be conjectured to produce in a sup-
posed state of unattainable improvement. Would it not be more safe and sunple to determine
oar judgment as to the character of the thmg in questioiK on the more visible, and therefore more
rational grounds, of its actual state, and from the effects which it is known to produce in that state 1

For, imfortunatety, this Utopian eood cannot be produced, until not only the stage itself has
undergone a complete purification, but until the audience shall be purified also. For we must
first suppose a state of society in which the spectators will be disp(Med to relish all that is pure,
•nd to reprobate aU that is corrupt, before the ayatem of a pure and uncorrupt theatre can be
adopted with any reasonable h(^ of success. There must always be a congruity between the
taste of the spectator and the nature of the spectacle, in order to effect that point of union which
can produce pleasure : for it must be remembered that people g|0 to a play, not to be instructed^
but to be pleated. As we do not send the blmd to an exnibition of pictures, nor the deaf to a
concert, so it would be learing the projected plan of a pure stace in a state of imperfection, unless
the general corruption of human nature itself were so reformed as to render the amusements of
t pmectly purified stage {>alatable. If the sentiments and passions exhibited were no lonj^r
accmnmodated to the sentiments and passions of the audience, corrupt nature would soon with-
draw itself from the vapid and inappropriate amusement ; and thin^ I will not say empty benches
* would too probably be the reward of the conscientious reformer.

Far be it from me to wish to restore that obsolete rubbish of ignorance and folly with which
the monkish legends furnished out the rude materials of our early drama : I mean those uncouth
pieces, in which, under the titles of nu/tlaries and moralities^ the most sacred persons were intro-
duced as interlocutors ; in which events too solemn for exhibition, and subjects too awful for
detail, were brought before the audience vdth a formal gravity more offensive than levity itself.
The superstitions of the cloisterVere considered as suitu>le topics for the diversions of the stage ;
and celestial intelligences, uttering the sentiments and language, and blended with the buffoon-
eries, of Bartholomew fair, were regarded as appropriate subjects of merrimaking for a holyday
audience. But from this holy mmnmery, at which piety, taste, and common sense, would be
equally revolted, I return to the existing state of things.*

I have never perused any of those treatises, exceuent as some of them are said to be, which
pious divines have vmtten against the pernicious tendency of theatrical entertainments. The
convictions of my mind have arisen solely from experience and observation. I shall not, there-
fore, go over the well-trodden ground of those who nave inveighed, with too much justice, against
the immoral lives of too many stage professors, allowing always for some very honourable exce^
tions. I shall not remark on the gross and palpable corruptions of those plays which are obvi-
ously written vidth an open disregard to all purity and virtue : nor shall I attempt to show whether
any very material advantage would arise to the vain and the dissipated, were they to exclude the
theatre fixnn its turn in their undiscriminated round of promiscuous pleasure. But I would
coolly and respectfully address a few words to those many worthf and conscientious persons, who
would not, perhaps, so early and incautiously expose thehr youthful ofispring to the temptations of
au amusement of whici^ they themselves could be brought to see and to feel the existence.

The question, then, v.hich with great deference I would propose, is not whether those who
risk every thinff may not risk ihis also ; but whether the more correct and considerate Christian
miflht not find it worth while to consider if the amusement in question be entirely compatible
wi3i his avowed character 1 whether it be entirely consistent with the clearer views of one who
pTofiesses to l^ye in the sure and certain hope of tnat immortality which is brought to light by the

For, however wevfaty the arguments in favour of the superior rationality of plays may be
fbond in the scale, vraen a ratioiuil being puts one amusement in the balance against anotner .
however fkirly he may exalt the stage against other diversions, as being more adapted to a man
of sense ; yet this, perhaps, will not quite vindicate it in the opinion of the more scrupulous
Christian, who will not allow himself to think that of two evils either may be chosen. His
amusements must be blameless, as well as ingenious ; safe, as well as rational ; moral, as weD as
intaUectual. They most have nothing in them which may be likelj to excite any of the tempers
wbiah it is his daify task to subdue ; any of the passions which it is his constant business to keep
in order. His chosen amusements must not delmeratelv add to the " weight** which he is com-
manded <* to lay aside ;*' they should not irritate Uie ** besettuiff sin** agamst which he is strug-
* " * :t that *' spiritual mindedness" whicn he is told *' is life and peace p*

j; they should not obstruct t
they should not inflame that " lust of tHe flesh, that lust of the eye, and that pride of life,'** which
he IS forbidden to gratify. A religious person who occasionally indulges in an amusement not
consonant to his general views ana pursmts, inconceivably increases his own difficulties by whet-

* An sntlmslBst to the lilers l u ie of my own eoomry, and so Jealous of Its fkme as grudgingly to illow Its com-
parsihro inferiority In aoy om Instanco, I «b yei eompoltod lo acknowtodge, that, as ftr as my slender reading en-
ables nw to form a Jn^Bmnt, tbe EngUsb dxamatie poeu are in general more Ucentioas tban those of most other
eoutries. In that profflgato lelgn,

" When all the Biases were debauched at cotm,**
the slase attained its higbeoi degree of disooloteneso. Mr. Garrick did a great doal towards Us pnrUlcatlon It to
said not to have slnee Iwpc the groond It then gained.

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tiiigtastef and exoiting appetites, which it will cut him out sc much work to cofontenMrt, as wiB

Seatly oveibalance, in a conscientious mind, the short and trivial enjoyment. I speak now mi
e mere question of pleasure. Na;^, the more keen his relish for the amusement, the more ex-
quisite his discernment of the beauties of composition or the graces of action may be, the more
C'ent he may perhaps find it to deoy himself the gratification which is enjoyed at the slightest
rd of nis higher uterests ; a gratification which to him will be th^ more dao^erous, in pro-
portion as It is more poignantly felt.

A Christian, in our days, is seldom called, in iiis ordinary course, to great and signal sacrifices,
to very striking and very ostensible renunciations ; but he is daily called to a quiet, uniform, con-
stant series of self-denial in small thmgs. A dangerous aj»d bewitchinff, especially if it be not a
disreputable pleasure, nwy perhaps have a just place amofiff those sacrifices : and, if he be really
in earnest, he will not think it too mnch to renounce such petty enjoyments, were it only from
the single consideration that it is well to seize every little occasion which occurs of evidencing to
himself that he is constantly on the watch ; and of proving to the world, that in small things, as
well as in great, he is a follower of Him who " pleased not himself

Little, unobserved, and unostentatious abstinences, are among the sileaf^deeds of his ^aify
warfare. And whoever brings himself to exercise (his habitual self-denial, even in doubtful dues,
will soon learn, from hwppy experience, that in many instances abstinence is much more easily
practised than temperance. Inere is in this case no excited sensibility to allay ; there |s no*
occasional remorse to be quieted ; there is no lost ground to be recovered ; no difficult hacking out,
only to ^et again to the same place where we were before. This observation adopted into practice
might. It is presumed, effectually abolish the qualifying language of many of the more sober fre-
ouenters of the theatre, '* that they go but seldomi and never but %o ngooi play." We give
tnese moderate and discreet persons all due praise for comparative sobriety. But while they g9
«/ oZ/, the principle is the same ; for they sanction, by going sometimes, a diversion which is not
to be defended on strict Christian principles. Indeed, theu-^cknowle^g^ that it should be but
sparingly frequented, probably arises from a conviction that it is not quite right.

I have already remarked that it is not the object of this address to pursue the usual track ol
attacking bad plays, of which the more prudent and virtuous seklom vindicate the principle,
though uey do not always scrupulously avoid attending the exhibition. I impose rather on my-
self the unpopdar task of animadverting on the danj^erous effects of those which come under the
description of good plays ; for from those chiefly anses the danger (if danger there be), to good

Now, with all the allowed superiority justly ascribed to pieces of a better cast, it does not seem
to be a complete justification of the amusement, that the play in question is more chaste in ths
sentiment, more pure in the expression, and more moral in the tendency, than those which are
avowedly objectionable ; thouffh I readily concede all the degrees of distinction, and very isA-
portknt they are, between sucn compositions and those of the opposite character. But the point
lor which I am contending is of another and of a distinct nature ; namely, that there will, gen-
erally flaking, still remam, even in tragedies, otherwise the most unexceptionable, provided thn
are sufficient^ impassioned to produce a powerful effect on the feeling^ and have spirit eooiigo
to deserve to become popular ; there will still remain an essential radical «!tffeot. What I inosi
on is, t!<at there almost mevitably runs through the whole web of the tragic drama (for to this
least bl^eable half of stage composition I confine my remarks, as against comedy stfll stronger
objections may be urged), a prominent thread of fiilse principle. It is generally the leading
object of the poet to erect a standard of honour in direct opposition to tl^ standard of Chris-
tianity ; and this is not done subordinately, incidentally, occasionally ; but worldly nonour is the
very squI, and spirit, and lifegiving principle of the drama. Honour is the religiooi of tragedy.
It is her moral and political law. Her dictates form its institutes. Fear and shame are the capi-
tal crimes in her code. Against these, all the eloquence of her most powerful pleaders, against
these her penal statutes, pistol, sword, and poison, are in full force. Injured honour can only be
vindicated at the point of^ the sword ; the stains of injured reputation can only be washed out in
blood. Love, jealousy, hatred, ambition, pride, revei^ge, are too o£ien elevated into the rank of
splendid virtues, and form a dazzling system of worldly morality, in direct contrtdiction to the
spirit of that religion whose characteristics are ** charity, meekness, peaceaUeness, longsufier^
mg, gentleness, forgiveness." " The fruits of the Spirit" and the fruito of the stage, if the
parallel were followed up, as it might easily be, would perhi4M exhibit as pointed a contrast u
human imagination could conceive.

I Iw no means pretend to assert that religion is excluded from tragedies ; it is often incidentally
introduced ; and many a period is beautiful^ turned, and many a moral is exquisitely pointed, with
the finest sentiments of piety. But the single grains of this counteracting principle, scattered op
and down the piece, do not extend their antiseptic property in a sufficient degree to preserve from
corruption the body of a work, the general spirit ana leading tempers of which, as was said abors,
are evidently not drawn from that meek religion, the very essence of which consists in ** casting
down high imaginations :" while, on the other hand, the leaven of the predominating evil secretly
works and insinuates itself, till the whole mass becomes impregnated by the pervading princi^e.
Now, if the directing principle be unsound, the virtues growing out of it will be unsound also :
snd no subordinate merit, no collateral excellences, can operate with effectual potency against

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«i eril which is of prime axid faiulamantil force and eaetf^t wad which fomw the rery essence
of the work.

A learned and witty friend, who thought differently on this snbject, once asked me ifl went so
£ur as to think it necessary to try the merit of a song or a play by the ten commandments. To
this may we not ventuie to answer, that neither a song nor a play shoold at least contain any
thin^ hostile to the ten commandments. That, if harmless menuaent be not expected to advance
religion, we mnst take care that it do not appoue it ; that if we concede Ihat onr amusements are
not expected to make us better than we are, ought we not to condition xhat they do not make us
worse than they find us t If so, thei^whatever pleasantry of idea, whatever ffayety of senti-
ment, whatever airiness of expression we innocently admit, should we not jealously watch against
any onsoundness in the general principle, any mischief in the prevailing tendency t

We cannot be too o&a renunded, that we are, to an inconceivable degree, the creatures ot
habit. Our tempers are not principally governed, nor our characters formed, by single marked
actions ; nor is the colour of our lives often determined by prominent, detached circumstances ;
but the character is gradoa^y moalded by a series of se^nmgly insignificant but constantly re
omring practices, which, incorporated into our habits, become part of ourselves.

Now, as these lesser habits, if they take a wrong direction, silently and imperceptibly eat out
the very heart and life of vigorous virtue, they will be almost more sedulously watched by those
who are carefiil to keep their consciences tenderly alive to the perception of sin (however thev
mav elude the attention of ordinary Christians), than actions which deter by bold and decided evil

When it is recollected how man^ young men pick up their habits of thinking, and their notions
of morality, firom the playhouse, it is not perhaps gomg too far to suspect, that the principles and
examples exhibited on the stage may contribute in their full measure and proportion towuds sup-
plyinff a sort of reffular aliment to the aj^tite (how dreadfully increased !) for duelling, and even
suicide. For, if religion teaches, and experience proves, the immense importance to our temper?
and morals of a regular attendance on public worship, which attendance is only required of un
one day in a vreek ; and if it be considered how much the heart and mind of the attentive heareT
become gradually im^ed with the principles infused by this stated, though unfrequent attend-
ance ; who, that knows any thing of the nature of the human heart, will deny how much more
deep and lasting will be the impression likely to be made by a far more frequent attendance at
those places where sentiments of a direct contrary tendency are exhibited ; exhibited too, with
every addition which can charm the imagination and captivate the senses. Once in a week, it
maj be, the young minds are braced by the invigorating principles of a strict and self-denyiiig
religion : on the intermediate nights, their eood resolutions (if such they have fllSMle), are melted
down with all that can relax the soul, and mapose it to yield to the temptations against which it
was 'Jie object of the Sunday's lecture to guard and fortify it. In the one case, there is every
thing held out which can inflame or sooth corrupt nature, in opposition to those precepts which,
m the other case, were directed to subdue it. And this one mnd and important difference
between the two cases should never be overlooked, that reli^ous instruction, ^plied to the
human heart, is seed sown in an uncultivated soil, where much is to be cleared, to be broken up,
and to be rooted out, before sood fruit will be produced : whereas the theatrical seed, by lighting
on the fertBe soil prepared by nature for the congenial implantation, is likely to shoot deep,
spread wide, and brmg forth fruit in abundance.

But, to drop all metaphor. — ^They are told — and from whose mouth do they hear it 1 — ^that
** blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, and the peacemakers.** Will not these, and such
Vke humbling propositions, delivered one day m seven only, in all the sober and beautiful sim-
plicity of our church, with all the force of truth indeed, but wi^ all its plainness also, be more
than counterbalanced by the speedv and much more frequent recurrence of the nightly exhibi-
tion, whose precise object it too often is, not onl^ to preach, but to personify doctrines in dia-

Online LibraryHannah MoreThe complete works of Hannah More → online text (page 123 of 135)