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the more so where it is unseen and unsuspected, cannot surely be either improper or unseason. able. Where the danger and corruption is the greatest, there is the greatest call on the Minister to lift his warning voice, and to point to the line of duty. *
What may with propriety be called the principles of the Stage, may be considered, like those of the world, under two heads, namely, I. Religious, and II. Moral.
I.-- 1. When any thing, which has at all the semblance of religion, is introduced upon the Stage, it is commonly, either a strange mixture of the heathen with the true religion, or often heathenism itself. Even Christians are frequently represented as swearing by, appealing to, and putting their trust in the Gods; or making deities of Virtues; or, after the corruptions of popery, making their prayers to and putting their trust in Saints and Angels.t
It is not improbable, but that an Act of Parliament, passed in the reign of King James the First, (3d year, ch. 21.) “ for the preventing / and avoiding the great abuse of the Holy Name of God in Stage-plays,” hath, undesignedly, had some part in producing this effect; for writers
and perforiners on the Stage, in order to evade the penalty there annexed, or possibly from mistaken notions of piety in some, who, fearing to " take in vain the name of” the true “ God," have, instead of that, used the heathen term of the Gods, or sworn by some false, or inferior being. Most undoubtedly, the Name of God is not to be taken in vain; but surely to introduce it, even upon the Stage, with reverence, and in such circumstances as a person in real life ought to use it, is not " taking it in vain,” is hot irreverence, but is an useful lesson and example? The Act seems intended to prevent only " the great abuse of the Holy Name of God," and that they should not " speak or use the Holy Name of God, or of Jesus Christ, or of the Trinity, (which are not to be spoken but with fear and reverence) jestingly, or profanely. Many here present have heard, no doubt, the very justly celebrated speech upon Mercy, in one of the Plays of Shakspeare, where it is mentioned as " An attribute to God himself;" and it is afterwards stated, that “ earthly power does then shew likest God's,' when mercy seasons justice;" — when a pause hath been made before the word was pronounced, and when it hath then been uttered with profound awe ;--surely it cannot be said, that the Name
* See Bedford, p. 5. 268 and 288.
of God hath then been “ taken in vain,” but that it hath impressed the hearts of the hearers with a similar reverence and awe. Were the same sentiments to prevail in common life, we should not so often hear the blessed Names of God and of Christ used in common oaths and execrations, nor should we hear the words good God, and good Lord, and many others, which might be mentioned, used as common exclamations, on the most trifling occasions.
Sometimes on the Stage, the government of the world is taken out of the hands of PROVIDENCE, and given to Fortune or Fate, *
2. Another instance, wherein the Stage is highly presumptuous and censurable, is in attempting to know and exhibit the secrets of the invisible world. Angels, departed Spirits, the glories of Heaven, and the torments of Hell, have all been represented to the view; some of these, indeed, have been exhibited according only to the corrupt ideas of heathens, but others have been an attempt to embody what is revealed - only to our faith in Scripture. To attempt to represent to our gross imaginations what God hath thought proper to veil from our eyes, is, surely, great impiety; and to represent the degraded and impious ideas of a corrupt
* Note C.
feligion as if they were true, is to embody, and to spread the knowledge of, and the belief in what is false, and to degrade and confuse the ideas respecting that which is true. *
3. It will no doubt appear ridiculous to inany to think of censuring the exhibition of Witches and Conjurers, in these days, as being likely to produce any ill effects. But, let it be feniembered, that these beings, though professed by many to be imaginary, or at least that none such exist now, are, nevertheless, represented as having “ more than mortal knowledge,”+ an absolute fore-knowledge of future events, and that they have powers niore than human. To believe, that beings, possessing such power, ever existed, is contrary to what is taught us in the Sacred Writings, and to the ideas which we are there taught to entertain of the perfections of God: and although wicked persons have pretended to such knowledge and power, it is wrong to represent them on the Stage as really pogsessing it. We live in a boasted reason; but we have heard of persons, not very long ago, pretending to such fore-knowledge, and who found others weak and wicked enough to consult with them; and we need not go very far from this place to find witchcraft believed in, and persons really suffering oppression and
# Note D.
+ Macbeth, Act I, Scene 5.
cruelties from being imputed witches. May not these exhibitions tend, and have they not tended to keep up such a belief amongst an ignorant populace, and afforded an opportunity for the success of impious imposture ? *
4. Another instance of the profaneness of the Stage is in Prayers addressed to false objects, or in prayers addressed to the true God in an improper manner. What was before observed respecting the introduction of the name of God, seems to be equally applicable here. Writers and performers, with a view, perhaps, to avoid the seeming impiety of addressing the Deity in that, which was but a representation, a fiction, have run into the other impiety of offering a feigned prayer to a feigned object, and thus making light of that awful and necessary duty. Many, indeed, have doubted and denied the propriety of addresses to the Deity in representations, because they are not realities. But, if a character be introduced, as an example for our imitation, in such circumstances as, were he in real life, trust in God and prayer to him would be a duty, provided it be done with reverence, it does not appear to be a mockery, and in vain, but a highly useful lesson. Are we not too little accustomed, too much ashamed to let ourselves be seen, or known to be on our
* Note E.