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I AM desirous to anticipate a censure which the critical reader will be ready to bring forward on the apparent inconsistency between the contents of this volume, composed of dramatic pieces, and several sentiments not unfrequently introduced in some of the other volumes, respecting the dangerous tendency of certain public amusements, in which dramatic entertairments will be naturally included. The candid reader will be able to solve the paradox, when it is intimated at what different periods of life these different pieces were written. The dates, if they were regularly preserved, would explain that the seeming disagreement does not involve a contradiction, 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, perhaps, by that natural but secret bias which the inclination gives to the judgment, I had been led to entertain that common, but, as I must now think, delusive 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 bad thing, yet the representation of a good one might become not only harmless, but useful; and that it required nothing more than a correct jndgment and a critical selection, to transform a pernicious pleasure into a profitable entertainment.
On these grounds, (while, perhaps, as was intimated above, it was nothing more than the indulgence of a propensity,) I was led to Aatter myself it might be rendering that inferior service to society which the fabricator of safe and innocent amusements may reasonably be supposed to confer, to attempt some theatrical compositions, which, whatever other defects might be justly imputable to them, should at least be found to have been written on the side of virtue and modesty; and which should neither hold out any corrupt image to the mind, nor any impure description to the fancy.
As the following pieces were written and performed at an early period of my life, under the above impressions, I feel it a kind of duty (imploring pardon for the unavoidable egotism to which it leads,) not to send them afresh into the world in this collection, without prefixing to them a candid declaration of my altered view. In so doing, I am fully aware that I equally subject myself to the opposite censures of two different classes of readers, one of which will think that the best evidence of
sincerity would have been the suppression of the tragedies themselves, while the other will reprobate the change of sentiment which gives birth to the qualifying preface.
I should, perhaps, have been inclined to adopt the first of these two opinions, had it not occurred to me that the suppression would be thought disingenuous; and had I not been also desirous of grounding on the publication, though in a very