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keep in view, through the whole of its plot, the censure and reprobation of the follies, and improprieties, and vices of mankind, I admit: but have the writers of Comedy done this? Did not the author from whom you have made your quotations speak the truth when he said, that the English Comedy has been too often the school of vice?' And is it not so? Do not the most popular plays that are acted on the English stage throw open to our view intrigues of lewdness, which must raise impure emotions in the breast of the profane? and compel Virtue, if présent, to hide her blushing face, and wish herself away? Do they not give utterance to sentimeats and expressions, which, to say the least, border on profanity and blasphemy; and which, if admired or approved'of, must contaminate and defile ?”
Mr. Talbot. “But, Sir, I hope in the ardour of your zeal against the stage, you will not overlook the "distinction which the wisest and best of men have made between the use and the abuse of a thing. I grant that certain abuses, at various periods of history, have disgraced this department of the drama; but what then ? is it an argument against the thing itself, any more than the impositions of priestcraft are arguments against the value of true religion? I grant you that the most obscene and licentious compositions have disgraced the stage-but is the abuse of a thing any objection against its use ?" Licentious writers of the Comic class, as Dr. Blair very justly remarks, have too often had it in their power to cast a ridicule upon characters and subjects, which did not deserve it! but this is a fault not owing to the nature of Comedy, but to the genius and turn of the writers of it.”
Mr. Lewellin. “And pray, Sir, what makes it unlawful for a comic writer to compose obscene plays ? what makes it unlawful for him to light up the flames of a libidinous phrenzy in his compositions, for the fire of true genius, or for him to indulge himself in his licentious amours, instead of manifesting a tremulous anxiety for the honour of female virtue? and what makes it unlawful for him to use expressions which no one can repeat after him, but the very scum, and dregs, and offal of the profane world—the men and the women who loiter about in the market-place of evil to be hired in the service of
all manner of uncleanness and wickedness ? And what, Sir, makes it unlawful for him, after he has got up his obscene and licentious plays, which you have admitted have at various times disgraced this department of the drama, to go on the stage, and there have them acted by the profligate performers, whose chief business it is to promote the cultivation and growth of private and public virtue ?”
Mr. Talbot. “Why, Sir, do you not know, that no play can be acted on the English stage, unless it is licenced by the Lord Chamberlain fourteen days before it makes its appearance in public ? and do you not know that he is invested with full power to prohibit the representation of any established play, if he thinks it militates against the interests of virtue ?"
Mr. Lewellin. “ Then, Sir, if I understand you, it is lawful to introduce any play on the stage which the Lord Chamberlain licences."
Mr. Talbot. "Exactly so, Sir.”
Mr. Lcwellin. “ Then, Sir, is it not as lawful for the players to act those plays, which have been too often the school of vice, as it is to act those which you are pleased to call the school of virtue? And if so, what do
you mean by the abuse of the thing ?”
Mr. Talbot. Why yes, Sir, it is as lawful to do it; but still I maintain, that licentious plays are the abuse of Comedy."
Mr. Lewellin. “Will you explain your meaning, Sir, for I cannot understand you.
Mr. Talbot. Why, Sir, Comedy is designed as a satirical exhibition of the improprieties and follies of mankind, which must be very useful to the morals of society."
Mr. Lewellin. “ And yet you admit that it too often becomes the school of vice!"
Mr. Talbot. “ Yes, Sir, when it is abused !”
Mr. Lewellin. “ But you say that those Comedies which tend to produce licentiousness are sanctioned by the law of the land !”
Mr. Talbot. Yes, Sir, but they are still the abuse of the thing,"
Mr. Lewellin. “Then does the Chamberlain give his sanction to the abuse of the thing, to quote your own language, as well as to the legitimate use of it.”
Mr. Talbot.. "
Sir." Mr. Lewellin. “Indeed! Is not this" rather singular? But if an obscene and licentious play should perchance creep through the Chamberlain's Office, without being detected, and come out with its licence patent dangling at its tail; or if his Lordship should have been nodding over his pipe when examining it, and thus, unintentionally, overlook its exceptionable parts or if he should have a liking for the licentious and obscene, which you know is possible, when it makes its appearance before a British audience, do they raise their voice against it? Do they become its indignant censors, lest they should become its guilty accomplices? Do they drive it off the stage, as the Satan of lewdness obtruding itself into the presence of the sons of God? and call for the Manager to apologize for the insult offered to their sensitive virtue? Do they thus redeem themselves from all participation in the abuse of this most pure, and most commendable expedient to refine the morals of society; and give a decisive and unequivocal proof, that they will tolerate no source of amusement, which may prove a source of moral pollution ?»
Mr. Talbot. “Nothing, Sir, can be a stronger proof of the respect which a British theatrical audience feels for pure virtue, than the late opposition which has been made against
re-appearance of K- after his disgraceful conduct."
Mr. Lewellin. “ That determined opposition on the part of the more respectable public, has given me great pleasure-but yet I am decidedly of opinion, that if he had taken a tour or remained in the place unknown, for a few months, or weeks, till the public feeling had somewhat subsided, he would have met with a cordial reception on his again essaying the mimic scene. But he was precipitate,-he did not dream that there could he much more virtue before the scenes than behind; he concluded that an audience ripens into vice as fast as those who pander to their appetites—and having long since loatheď the “nice morality, and having so ekben witnessed the bursts of laughter, which his lewd dal liance with it, had occasioned in the house of impurity, be expected that all the admirers of the drama would have acted the part of Aaron and Hur, and upheld the
hands of the representative of Shakspeare's heroes. But he was mistaken. He forgot that many who will connive at the vices of the stage while they remain'in comparative obscurity, or are only whispered abroad in private circles, dare not, out of respect to the decent little observances to which they are attached, connive at them when they are sent out of a court of justice with a badge of indelible infamy hanging about their necks. His precipitancy was the cause of his rejection, rather than his crime; for even his most deadly opponents promised him their support, if he would refrain, only for a fortnight, from appearing on the boards, in deference to the taste and voice of the public."
Mr. Talbot. Well, Sir, after the public had expressed their disapprobation of his disgraceful conduct, and compelled him to perform a theatrical penanoe, do you expect them
force him off the stage for ever ? Mr. Lewellin. “No, Sir, I do not expect it. I know them too well. The vices of the players will never be the means of excluding them from the stage, if they possess the talent of pleasing the admirers of the drama. They are a humane people, whose mantle of charity is so broad, that it will easily cover a multitude of sins; and though some of them, when goaded by the severe invectives of the press, will raise their indig. nant voice against the bold transgressor who passes at once from the court of justice, where the disgusting scenes of his impurity have been exhibited in all their deep shades of guilt, to the school of virtue, in which the young and the aged, are to be made wiser and better, yet they will soon melt into pity, when he throws over them the charm of his mimic muse, and they will be heard to sing in sweetest harmony.
“ Poor profligate! I will not chide thy sins:
Yes, bapless outcast thou shalt have my tear?
Ought a female to marry, when she feels. conscious that she could not be happy with the person who wishes her to become his wife? or would it be an act of wisdom or prudence or piety, in a gentleman to drag a victim to the altar, who feels an abhorrence not to the ceremony, but to its appalling consequences ?