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dency to relax the principles, and debauch the feelings. The morality of comedy is not the morality of Christianity. Can it be so, when religion and its ministers are placed in ridiculous situations, and made the butts of sarcasm and ribaldry? Can it be so, when female delicacy must be either shocked or blunted? Can it be so, when one species of comedy is full of unrepressed freedom, gross, palpable, and undisguised profaneness ; another replete with the nice refinements and more dangerous seductions of gay and fascinating profligacy, with Bacchanalian debauchery and polished libertinism; or when modern comedy borrows the licentiousness of the old without its spirit, and its indecency without its wit? Can it be so, when the shafts, which should be directed against the vanities and inconsistencies and vices of mankind, are aimed at their misfortunes ; when the objects of unceasing and unsparing ridicule are the abused father, the injured husband, the deluded wife; the man, who should be venerable from his age, or sacred from his profession; and all who have not cast away their credulous and unsuspicious honesty, or shaken off their antediluvian prejudices in favour of sobriety and decorum : when the heroines are novel-reading runaway girls, or pert, thievish, accommodating chambermaids; and the heroes, either rascally valets, or hair-brained youths, who are a compound of the rake, the spendthrift, and the duellist, the seducer, the adulterer, and the unbeliever. But there is the work of Jeremy Collier somewhere in the room-he shall speak for me upon this point.
URBANUS. Oh, if we are to have any of his Jeremiades produced in addition to your own comprehensive censures, little mercy indeed will be shewn to the poor Comic Muse ;-although she, as Thomson says,
Holds to the world a picture of itself,
Or charm the heart.
CLERICUS. I have just hit upon a passage to my purpose. After examining a variety of comedies, which were at that time in possession of the English stage, honest Jeremy makes the following induction as the result of his scrutiny. The truth of the sentiments cannot be altered by the general quaintness, and occasional coarseness of the language :" To sum up the evidence, a fine gentleman is a fine whoring, swearing, smutty, atheistical man. lifications, it seems, complete the idea of honour. They are the top-improvements of fortune, and the distinguishing glories of birth and breeding! This is the stage-test for quality, and those that can't stand it ought to be disclaimed. The restraints of conscience and the pedantry of virtue are unbecoming a cavalier. Future securities and reaching beyond life are vulgar provisions. If he falls a-thinking at this rate, he forfeits his honour; for his head was only made to run against a post! Here you have a man of breeding and figure, that burlesques the Bible, swears, and talks smut to ladies, speaks ill of his friend behind his back and betrays his interest ; a fine gentleman, that has neither honesty, nor honour, conscience, nor manners, good nature, nor civil hypocrisy :-fine, only in the insignificancy of life, the abuse of religion, and the scandals of conversation. These worshipful things are the poets' favourites; they appear at the head of the fashion, and shine in character and equipage. If there is any sense stirring, they must have it, tho' the rest of the stage suffer never so much by the partiality. And what can be the meaning of this wretched distribution of honour? Is it not to give credit and countenance to vice, and to shame young people out of all pretences to conscience and regularity? They seem forced to turn lewd in their own defence : they can't otherwise justifie themselves to the fashion, nor keep up the character of gentlemen. Thus people, not well furnished with thought and experience, are debauched both in practice and principle. And thus religion grows uncreditable, and passes for ill education. The stage seldom gives quarter to any thing that's serviceable or significant, but persecutes worth and goodness under every appearance. He that would be safe from its satire must take care to disguise himself in vice, and hang out the colours of debauchery. How often is learning, industry and frugality, ridiculed in comedy? The rich citizens are often misers and cuckolds; and the universities schools of pedantry upon this score. In short: libertinism and profaneness, dressing, idleness and gallantry, are the only valuable qualities. As if people were not apt enough of themselves to be lazy, lewd and extravagant, unless they were pricked forward and provoked by glory and reputation. Thus the marks of honour and infamy are misapplied, and the ideas of virtue and vice confounded. Thus monstrousness goes for proportion, and the blemishes of human nature make up the beauty of it. The fine ladies are of the same cut with the gentlemen.” He then proceeds to demonstrate this latter point in a way, which I much fear can leave no doubt upon the subject.
URBANUS. Yet Jeremy Collier might be subpænaed on both sides. In many respects he would be a witness in my favour. It must be remembered, that he lived in the very worst periods of the stage; and while he attacks with unrelenting and uncompromising boldness, the scandalous abuses which were then prevalent, he still appears of opinion, that the theatre has sometimes been, and is always capable of becoming, a school both of refinement and of virtue. Whenever indecency and irreligion are introduced upon the stage, he invariably talks of them as reprehensible as well before the tribunal of criticism, as in the court of consci. ence; and defects in the taste and genius at least as much as in the morality of the author. See what he says of Plautus. “ To be short ;-where he is most a poet, he is generally least a buffoon. And where the entertainment is smut, there is rarely any other dish well dressed. The contrivance is commonly wretched, the sense lean, and full of quibbles.” And he concludes with the following very fine observation: “ So that his understanding seems to have left him, when he began to abuse it." He indeed, , evidently supposes, that the comic stage may subsist and flourish without the supports of immorality and indelicacy; and that a play may be not only excellent, but well received, in which there is nothing offensive either to the piety of man, or the modesty of womanNeque spurcidici insunt versus immemorabiles.
CLERICUS. Why is there no such play then in existence? Yet in the present day I could hardly advise an author to try the experiment, if success was an object to him, or he wanted to make money by his performance. Such a play, he might be assured, would not be,
Gratus, et imis, " agreeable to the gods in the upper gallery, and the gods in the lower."
URBANUS. Comedy, I believe, can effect neither of its objects; it cannot either delight or instruct, without occasionally descending to scenes of low humour, and even of low profligacy. A comic writer cannot just glance over an illicit intrigue, or a vicious action, according to the elegant but fanciful description, which Jeremy Collier gives of Sophocles. “ We see how lightly the poet touches upon an amorous theme; he glides along like a swallow upon the water, and skims the surface without dipping a feather.” An author of comedy, on the contrary, must often be more particular, and exhibit in their full size the worst features of human life; but such representations, if conducted with skill and judgment, may be attended with an excellent effect; may be moral and impressive in the highest degree; may be a guide to the inexperienced, and a warning to
CLERICUS. All this, my good sir, I very much doubt; I doubt both the truth of the principle, and the safety of the practice. The bad parts of life ought rather to be cast into the shade, and kept as much as possible in the back ground, All knowledge is not good; all knowledge is not desirable, There are many vices, many proceedings, and many scenes of being, upon the very existence of which it is far better to be in the dark. Here too our censor of the stage has
some very shrewd and sensible remarks. “ What then? must life be huddled over, nature left imperfect, and the humour of the town not shown ? And pray where is the grievance of all this? Must we relate whatever is done? And is every thing fit for representation? Is a man that has the plague proper to make a sight of? And must he needs come abroad, when he breathes infection, and leave the tokens upon the company? What then? Must we know nothing? Look you! All experiments are not worth the making. 'Tis better to be ignorant of a disease, than to catch it. Who would wound himself for information about pain, or smell a stench for the sake of the discovery ?" And again. “ I hope modesty is much better than resemblance. The imitation of an ill thing is the worse for being exact. And sometimes to report a fault, is to repeat it.” And he recurs to this topic in a third place. In one of his plays, Durfey, as he well might, had given offence to the female part of his audience, by some coarse liberties, which he had taken in his language. * This censure, says Jeremy Collier, Mr. Durfey seems heartily sorry for. He is extremely concerned that the ladies, that essential part of the audience, should think his performance nauseous and indecent. That is, he is very sorry that they brought their wits, or their modesty along with them. However, Mr. Durfey is not so ceremonious as to submit; he is resolved to keep the field against the ladies, and endeavours 'to defend himself by saying, “I know no other way in nature to do the characters right, but to make a romp speak like a romp, a clownish bore blunder;" and so forth.
“By his favour, all imitations, though never so well counterfeited, are not proper for the stage. To present nature under every appearance, would be an odd undertaking. A midnight cart, or 'a 'dunghill, would be no ornamental scene. Nastiness, and dirty conversation, are of the same kind. For words are a picture to the ear, as colours and surface are to the eye. Such discourses are like dilating upon ulcers, and leprosies; the more 'natural 'the worse; for the disgust always rises with the life of the description. Offensive language, like offensive smells, does but make a man's senses a burden, and affords him nothing but loathing