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Corrupt State of the Stage.
was surely as uncharitable as it was unauthorised, and fully justifies Dennis's remark that the pamphlet was written in 'downright anti-Christian language.'
It was a sad pity that Dennis, having so strong a case, should have spoiled it by having recourse to the ad captandum argument that Law wrote in the interests of Jacobitism. Law had no such object in view ; he wrote in perfect sincerity and honesty, and if he had followed the example of the Archbishop whom he quoted, he might have written with telling effect. For the state of the stage was deplorably bad. If the efforts of Collier and others had done a little to purify it from the utter degradation into which it had fallen after the Restoration, it still was so corrupt that even a worldly man like John, Lord Hervey, was fain to confess that the law (passed ten years after Law's pamphlet was written) requiring plays to be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain was needed. But Law spoiled the effect which no one better than he could have produced by his unreasonable violence; and it is to be feared that there is some truth in Dennis's remark that the 'wild enthusiasm of Law's pamphlet would afford matter of scorn and laughter to infidels and freethinkers, and render our most sacred religion still more contemptible among them!' Those who had read none of Law's writings except this
others can.' Law, in point of fact, was far more of a Puritan, gh Churchman though he was, than any of the Methodists or Evangelicals were; in some points, indeed, as, for instance, that of clerical celibacy, he recommended and practised an asceticism which the Puritans never did ; and, singularly unlike them, he almost absolutely condemned all wars and all oaths. On the point of plays he was thoroughly at one with the 'Histriomastix’ of the preceding century.
| Lord Hervey's Memoirs, ii. 341. David Hume, also, who will hardly be accused of Puritanism, writing a few years later, speaks of the English stage being put to shame by a neighbour which has never been considered a model of purity. “The English are become sensible of the scandalous licentiousness of their stage from the example of the French decency and morals.' -Essay on the Rise of the Arts and Sciences,' Essays, iii. 135.
pamphlet, might really say of him as one of his antagonists on this question did : I never read a more unfair reasoner. He begs the question. He is a madman who rails at theatres till he foams again.'' But we shall do Law more justice if we remember that in this pamphlet he was really unworthy of himself; and we may close this painful account of what one cannot but call his escapade, with the judicious remark of Gibbon: ‘His discourse on the absolute unlawfulness of stage entertainments is sometimes quoted for a ridiculous intemperance of sentiment and language; .... but these sallies must not extinguish the praise which is due to Mr. William Law as a wit and a scholar ; '2 and we may add what the historian does not add, ‘as a most powerful advocate of the Christian cause and a noble example of the Christian life.'
Law himself thought his remarks upon the stage so important that he transferred them almost word for word to the pages of his 'Christian Perfection, the first of his great practical treatises, which was published in the same year as the Tract on the Stage (1726).
The merits of this treatise have been somewhat thrown into the shade by the still greater reputation of its immediate successor, ' The Serious Call. But the 'Serious Call' is, perhaps, the only work of the kind published in the eighteenth century to which the Christian Perfection' is inferior.
By 'Christian perfection' Law did not exactly mean what became soon afterwards the source of such fierce dispute between the Wesley and Whitefield sections of the
Law Outlawed'; or, a Short Reply to Mr. Law's Long Declamation against the Stage, wherein the wild rant, blind passion, and false reasoning of that piping hot Pharisce are made apparent to the meanest capacity. By Mrs. S. O., 1726.
? Autobiography. Misc. Works, i. 15.
Methodists. Intending the work to be exclusively what he termed it, “a practical treatise,' he carefully avoided all nice points of doctrine, and defined Christian perfection, at the outset, in a way to which no one who accepted Christianity at all could take exception :' viz. as 'the right performance of our necessary duties ;' it is such as men in cloysters and religious retirements cannot add more, and, at the same time, such as Christians in all states of the world must not be content with less.'
In his Christian Perfection' Law takes a very gloomy view of life-far gloomier than he took in his later works. The body we are in is 'a mere sepulchre of the soul ;' the world · but the remains of a drowned world--a mere wilderness, a vale of misery, where vice and madness, dreams and shadows, variously please, agitate, and torment the short, miserable lives of men.' "The sole end of Christianity is to separate us from the world, to deliver us from the slavery of our own natures and unite us to God.' This life is a state of darkness, because it clouds and covers all the true appearances of things; and what are called worldly advantages no more constitute the state of human life than rich coffins or beautiful monuments constitute the state of the dead.' The vigour of our blood, the gaiety of our spirits, and the enjoyment of sensible pleasures, though the allowed signs of living men, are often undeniable proofs of dead Christians.' Christianity buries our bodies, burns the present world, triumphs over death by a general resurrection, and opens all into an eternal state. There is nothing that deserves a serious thought but how to get out of the world and make it a right passage to our eternal state.' 'It is the same vanity to project for happiness on earth as to propose a happiness in the moon. Christianity,
So far as it went, that is. The Evangelicals would, of course, complain of it, as being very inadequate, as savouring more of the law than the gospel.
or the Kingdom of Heaven, has no other interests in this world than as it takes its members out of it; and when the number of the elect is complete, this world will be consumed with fire, as having no other reason for its existence than the furnishing members for that blessed society which is to last for ever.' Every condition in the world is equally trifling and fit to be neglected for the sake of the one thing needful.
Such being Law's theory of life, it naturally follows that he should recommend a course of severe austerity. Our cares and our pleasures are to be strictly limited to the necessities of nature. 'Self-denial and self-persecution are even more necessary now than they were in the first days of Christianity, when there was persecution from without.' There is no other lawful way of employing our wealth (beyond our bare necessities) than in the assistance of the poor.' 'Suffering is to be sought, to pay some of the debt due to sin.' 'The word of Christ,“ deny himself,” points to a suffering and self-denial which the Christian is to inAict upon himself. He must, in his degree, recommend himself to the favour of God on the same account and for the same reasons that the sufferings of Christ procured peace and reconciliation. Repentance is a hearty sorrow for sin ; and sorrow is a pain or punishment which we are obliged to raise to as high a degree as we can, that we may be fitter objects of God's pardon.''
Law reminds us that he wrote in the eighteenth century by going on to prove the reasonableness of his views; for reasonableness' was the very keynote of the theology of the period, and the writer who did not pay his homage to it would have had little chance of being listened to. He shows that while self-abasement is strictly according to
It is hardly necessary to remark how very inadequate and erroneous many of these sentiments would seem to the later evangelical school.
reason, 'pride is the most unreasonable thing in the world
-as unreasonable as the madman who fancies himself to be a king, and the straw to which he is chained to be a throne of state. Self-denial is no more unreasonable than if a person who was to walk upon a rope across some great river was bid to deny himself the pleasure of walking in silver shoes, or the advantage of fishing by the way. In both cases the self-denial is reasonable, as commanding him to love things that will do him good, or to avoid things that are hurtful.'
Law then descends into details; and, first of all, insists strongly upon the duty of fasting, devoting no less than twenty-five pages to the subject. Almost every ill temper, every hindrance to virtue, every clog in our way of piety, and the strength of every temptation, chiefly arises from the state of our bodies. If S. Paul thought his own salvation in danger without this subjection of his own body, how shall we, who are born in the dregs of time, think it safe to feed and indulge in ease and plenty ?
Then idleness, ambition, and worldly occupations are dealt with in the same spirit, in connection with self-denial. In this part of his work Law begins the plan, which he elaborated more carefully and in greater fulness in the Serious Call,' of illustrating his meaning by imaginary characters. Philo, who thinks all time to be lost that is not spent in the search of shells, urns, inscriptions, and broken pieces of pavement; Patronus, who never goes to the sacrament, but will go forty miles to see a fine altarpiece; who goes to church when there is a new tune to be heard, but never had any more serious thoughts about salvation than about flying ; Eusebius, who would be wholly taken up in the cure of souls, but that he is busy in studying the old grammarians, and would fain reconcile some differences amongst them before he dies ; Lucia, who