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John Sterling's Admiration of the Remarks.' 35
necessarily good and just, from the excellence of justice and goodness; and it is the will of God that makes moral virtue our law, and obliges us to act reasonably. Here, Sir, is the noble and divine origin of moral virtue ; it is founded in the immutable relations of things, in the perfections and attributes of God, not in the pride of man or the craft of cunning politicians. Away, then, with your idle and prophane fancies about the origin of moral virtue! For once, turn your eyes towards Heaven, and dare but own a just and good God, and then you have owned the true origin of religion and moral virtue.
The transition from the sarcasms with which the section commences to the grave and elevated tone in which it closes is very striking. One can quite understand the enthusiasm with which John Sterling speaks of the first section of Law's remarks as one of the most remarkable philosophical essays he had ever seen in English. Now this section,' he adds, ‘has all the highest beauty of his (Law's) polemical compositions, and a weight of pithy right reason, such as fills one's heart with joy. I have never seen, in our language, the elementary grounds of a rational ideal philosophy, as opposed to empiricism, stated with nearly the same clearness, simplicity, and force.'
In the second section Law answers with convincing force the objection to the reality of virtue on the ground that what has the appearance of virtue proceeds from some blind impulse; in the third he returns to his satirical tone and cuts up in his most slashing style Mandeville's assertion that there was no greater certainty in morals than in matters of taste. The next two sections deal with the immortality of the soul and the nature of hope ; the sixth and last comments on a defence which Mandeville had put forth and in · Letter from John Sterling to F. D. Maurice, quoted in Maurice's • Introduction' to the Remarks on the Fable of the Bees.
Design of the Fable of the Bees,
which he had the audacity to affirm that the Fable of the Bees' was designed for the entertainment of people of probity and virtue, and was a book of severe and exalted morality!' 'I should, exclaims Law, with pardonable indignation, ‘have thought him in as sober a way if he had said that the author was a seraphim, and that he was never any nearer the earth than the fixed stars! He now talks of diverting persons of probity and virtue, having in his book declared that he had never been able to find such a person in existence; he now talks of morality, having then declared the moral virtues were all a cheat ; he now talks of recommending goodness, having then made the difference between good and evil as fanciful as the difference between a tulip and an auricula!'
Attached to the Remarks' is a postscript attacking Mr. Bayle's assertion that religious opinions and beliefs had no influence at all upon men's actions.
Law on Stage Entertainments.
'THE UNLAWFULNESS OF STAGE ENTERTAINMENTS,
AND ‘CHRISTIAN PERFECTION.'
LAW wrote two more works before he emerged from his obscurity. The first is a tract entitled “The Absolute Unlawfulness of Stage Entertainments fully Demonstrated.' It is decidedly the weakest of all his writings, and most of his admirers will regret that he ever published it. Regarded merely as a composition, it is very inferior to his usual standard. Unlike himself, he gives way to passion and seems quite to lose all self-control ; unlike himself, he indulges in the most violent abuse; and unlike himself he lays himself open to the most crushing retorts. He makes no distinction whatever between the use and abuse of such entertainments. The stage is not here condemned, as some other diversions, because they are dangerous, and likely to be occasions of sin, but it is condemned as drunkenness, and lewdness, as lying and profaneness are to be condemned, not as things that may only be the occasion of sin, but such as are in their own nature grossly sinful. You go to hear a play: I tell you that you go to hear ribaldry and profaneness; that you entertain your mind with extravagant thoughts, wild rants, blasphemous speeches, wanton amours, profane jests, and impure passions.' I
It has been said that Law was never worsted in argument, and, as a rule, the statement is true ; but every rule
John Dennis' Reply to Law.
has its exceptions. Law measured his strength with some of the very ablest men of his day, with men like Hoadly and Warburton and Tindal and Wesley; and it may safely be said that he never came forth from the contest defeated. But, absurd as it may sound, it is perfectly true that what neither Hoadly nor Warburton nor Tindal nor Wesley could do, that was done by John Dennis! In the controversy between Law and Dennis, the latter assuredly has the advantage. “Plays,' wrote Law,' are contrary to Scripture, as the devil is to God, as the worship of images is to the second commandment.' To this Dennis gave the obvious and unanswerable retort that when S. Paul was at Athens, the very source of dramatick poetry, he said a great deal publickly against the idolatry of the Athenians, but not one word against their stage. At Corinth he said as little against theirs. He quoted on one occasion an Athenian dramatick poet, and on others Aratus and Epimenides. He was educated in all the learning of the Grecians, and could not but have read their dramatic poems; and yet so far from speaking a word against them, he makes use of them for the instruction and conversion of mankind.'!
Dennis again convicts Law of something very like disingenuousness in quoting Archbishop Tillotson's strictures against plays as they were then ordered, but omitting to add the Archbishop's qualification that plays might be so framed and governed by such rules as not only to be innocent and diverting, but instructive and useful. It was the whole purport of Law's treatise to show that this was impossible. It is really painful to quote the unmeasured abuse which he pours not only upon the entertainment itself but upon all who took part in it ; but it is the duty
| The Stage defended from Scripture, reason, experience, and the common sense of mankind for 2000 years, occasioned by Mr. Law's Pamphlet. By Mr. Dennis, 1726.
Law's Violence against the Stage.
of a faithful biographer not to shrink from admitting the weaknesses of his subject. Perhaps, writes Law, ' you had rather see your son chained to a galley, or your daughter driving a plough than getting their bread on the stage, by administering in so scandalous a manner to the vices and corrupt pleasures of the world! The business of the player is not a more christian employment than that of robbers! There is as much justice and tenderness in telling every player that his employment is abominably sinful as in telling the same to a thief!' «The playhouse, not only when some very profane play is on the stage, but in its daily common entertainments, is as certainly the house of the devil as the church is the house of God.' 'Can pious persons tell you of any one play for this forty or fifty years that has been free from wild rant, immodest passions, and profane language?'To suppose an innocent play is like supposing innocent lust, sober rant, or harmless profaneness. The stage never has one innocent play; not one can be produced that ever you saw acted in either house, but what abounds with thoughts, passions, and language, contrary to religion ! This is true of the stage in its best state, when some admired tragedy is upon it.'
When it is remembered that such a play, for example, as Addison's Cato' had, within Law's lifetime been acted with immense success, and that Shakespeare's tragedies, though not so popular as they deserved to be, must have been perfectly well known to him, one can scarcely conceive how he could stigmatise all plays in such a sweeping tone of condemnation. His scurrilous abuse of players, too,
1 It is interesting to contrast the views of the master with those of one of his most distinguished disciples on this point. John Wesley, after condemn. ing, as well he might, the barbarous amusements of bear-baiting, cock-fighting, &c., adds, 'It seems a great deal more may be said in defence of seeing a serious tragedy. I could not do it with a clear conscience; at least not in an English theatre, the sink of all profaneness and debauchery, but possibly