« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
serenity of mind, he enjoys not the one, and is a stranger to the happiness resulting from a steady pursuance of the other. He seriences the remorse of the children of this world, without particizecinto ser extent in their indulgences; he suffers the tribulation of virtue wibout its reward. A most serious effect likewise accrues in the loss of thst self-respect which is so necessary to the proper government of a seatient and responsible being, in his intercourse with the world, and which is his dae in his intellectual and moral capacity. Constant failures, and repeated proofs of incapacity, superinduce a peevish and fretful temperament, and are calculated to make life miserable, and its enjoyments distasteful; whilst the tormenting consciousness, that all this has befallen him from his inertness of will and culpable indecision, wears into and saps his vital energies Every fresh instance of this infirmity decreases his capacity of volition; - tunstable as water, he cannot excel.” His own life is miserable, and its influence on those around him is unhappy; for he carries this warering, inconstant, uncertain disposition with him into the smallest and commonest concerns of life. He is the sport of every passing wind; his friends cannot depend upon him, who can place no reliance on himself; his enemies (for this state of mind necessarily creates him many,) take advantage of it, and we may receive it as an axiom, that such a character cannot prosper in any thing that he undertakes.
Let not any who peruse this paper imagine that it would be vain to attempt to eradicate this temper of mind; or suppose that it is one to which those who are afflicted with it must 'submit, as to a disease from which it is impossible to free themselves. Can we, for a moment, imagine it possible that man is sent forth from his Creator's hands, with all his faculties in a capacity for action, and yet with an irremediable corse of this kind clinging to him and rendering all his efforts abortive? No; it has its source in indolence, that bane to the developement of all our powers, whether of mind or body. It is curable, or rather, it is a disposition of mind which should never be contracted; and for which those who suffer themselves to become its prey will assuredly not be held guiltless. Let all, then, who feel the first approaches of this insidious, but fell destroyer, which, though sometimes assuming the garb of virtue, is alike destructive to man's happiness and prosperity, take a strong resolution to combat sloth in all its varied forms of approach, and never suffer their slightest resolve, when maturely considered, to remain unexecuted. The pious George Herbert's advice, though quaintly expressed, is sound:
“ When thou dost purpose aught within thy power,
Be sure to do it, though it be but small;
When wanton pleasures beckon us to thrall." For, reader, be assured of this, that although prudence be commendable, and a modest humility of our own merits be a cardinal virtue, no great or good action, no honourable and praiseworthy achievement has ever been recorded of the irresolute waverer, the infirm of purpose:
“ Who breaks his own bond, forfeiteth himself.” And how can we expect the man, who cannot keep faith with himself, to keep it with others, or become a benefactor to his species?
ROUSSEAU'S OPINION ON THEATRICAL ENTERTAINMENTS.
We are aware that the character of Rousseau, judging it from his own unblushing “confessions,” will not bear the slightest scrutiny, and that his example can never be held up for imitation. We know, too, that his writings, generally speaking, are distinguished alike for the dangerous notions they convey, in reference to the religious and social duties of mankind, as for the speciously delightful garb in which they are clothed. It must, nevertheless, be acknowledged, that he always wrote with an untrammelled spirit, and, indeed, seemed to delight in the singularity of the views he put forth, and in their opposition to generally-received opinions. Accordingly, in many instances, we find the practices and tastes of civilized society exposed with a force and ingenuity hardly paralleled. As an illustration, we present our readers with some extracts from his letter to D'Alembert, the celebrated French Encyclopædist, on “ The Effects of Theatrical Entertainments on the Manners of Mankind,” which contain, we apprehend, no small amount of truth.
“Public entertainments are made for the people, and it is only by their effects on them that we can determine their absolute qualities. There may be an infinite variety of these entertainments, as there is an infinite variety of manners, constitutions, and characters of different nations. Nature is the same, I allow; but nature modified by religion, government, law, customs, prejudice, and climates, becomes so different from itself, that we must no longer inquire for what is suitable to man in general, but what is proper for him in such a place or country. Hence Menander's plays, which had been written for the Athenian stage, did not at all suit that of Rome; hence the shows of gladiators, which, in the times of the republic, used to inspire the Romans with courage, had no other effect, under the emperors, than to make those very Romans ferocious and cruel : from the same spectacle, exhibited at different times, the people learned at first to undervalue their own lives, and afterwards to sport with those of others.
6 With regard to the species of public entertainments, this must be determined, by the pleasure they afford, and not by their utility. If there is any utility to be obtained by them, well and good : but the chief intent is to please; and, provided the people are amused, this view is fulfilled. This alone will ever hinder these institutions from having all the advantages of which they are susceptible; and they must be greatly mistaken, who form an idea of perfection, which cannot be reduced to practice, without offending those whom we would willingly instruct. Hence ariseth the difference of entertainments according to the different character of nations. A people of an intrepid spirit, but determined and cruel, will have spectacles full of danger, where valour and resolution are most conspicuous. A hot fiery people are for bloodshed, for battles, for the indulging of sanguinary passions. A voluptuous nation wants music and dancing. A polite people require love and gallantry. A trifling people are for mirth and ridicule: trabit sua quemque voluptas. To please all these, the entertainments must encourage; whereas, in right reason, they ought to moderate their affections.
“ The stage in general is a picture of the human passions, the original of which is imprinted in every heart; but if the painter did not
take care to flatter these passions, the spectators would soon be offended, not choosing to see their faces in such a light as must render them contemptible to themselves. And if he draws some in odious colours, it is only such as cannot be called general, and are naturally hated.
“ Let us not then attribute to the stage a power of changing opinions or manners, when it has only that of following or heightening them. An author who offends the general taste, may as well cease to write, for nobody will read his works. When Moliere reformed the stage, he attacked modes and ridiculous customs; but he did not affront the public taste, he either followed or explained it, as Corneille did also on his part. It was the ancient French theatre that began to offend this taste; for though the age improved in politeness, the stage still preserved its primitive rudeness. Hence the general taste having changed since those two authors, if both their masterpieces were still to make their first appearance, they would certainly be damned. Nor does it signify that they are yet admired by connoisseurs; if the public still admires them, it is rather through shame of retracting, than from any real sense of their beauties. It is said, that a good play will never miscarry; indeed, I believe it: and this is because a good play never runs counter to the manners of the present time.
“ The general effect of a play is to heighten the national character, to strengthen the natural inclinations, and to give a new vigour to the passions. In this sense, one would imagine, that as this effect consists in heightening, and not in changing, the established manners, the comic muse would have a good effect upon the good, and an ill one upon the vicious. Even in the first case the point would still be to know, whether when the passions are too much irritated, they do not degenerate into vices. I am not ignorant that the poetic art, so far as it regards the theatre, pretends to a contrary effect; and to purge while it excites the passions : but I have great difficulty to understand this rule. Is it that to grow temperate and wise we should begin with being intemperate and mad?
“ Not at all! it is not that, say the defenders of the stage. Tragedy indeed pretends, that the several passions should move us; but it does not always require that we should have the same feeling as a man really tormented by a passion. On the contrary, its aim more frequently is, to excite quite different sentiments from those with which it inspires its heroes.' They tell us, that a faithful representation of the passions, and of the anxieties attending them, is alone sufficient to make us avoid this rock with all possible care.
To be convinced of the insincerity of these answers, we need only to consult our own breasts at the end of a tragedy. Can the concern, the pain, and pity we feel during the play, and which continue some time after it is over, can these be said to be the forerunners of a disposition to regulate and subdue our passions? Those lively impressions, which by frequent repetition must needs grow habitual, are they proper to moderate our affections? Why should the idea of pain, arising from the passions, efface the remembrance of joys which also flow from the same source, and which the poet takes care to represent in lively colours, in order to embellish his play? Is it not well known, that all the passions are sisters, that one only is sufficient to excite a thousand, and that to combat one by means of another, is the way to render the heart more sensible to them all? The instrnment that serves to purge them is reason; and reason, I have already taken notice, has no cffect upon the stage. It is truc, we are not cqually affected with all the characters: for, as their interests are opposite, the poet must make us prefer some particular one to another, otherwise we should not be affected at all: but to attain this end, he is far from choosing the passion he likes himself, he is rather obligeil to choose that which is our favourite. What has been said of the species of plays, ought also to be understood of the interest by which they engage the audience. At London, a lady interests the spectators in her favour, by making them hate the French; at Tunis, the favourite passion would be piracy; at Messina, deep revenge; at Goa, the honour of committing Jews to the flames.
“ When the Romans declared comedians infamous by law, was it with a view to dishonour the profession? Of what use would so cruel a decree have been? No; they did not dishonour the profession, they only gave open testimony of the dishonour inseparable from it; for good laws never alter the nature of things, they are only guided by it; and such laws only are observed. The point is not therefore to cry out against prejudices; but to know first of all whether these are really prejudices—whether the profession of a comedian is not in itself dishonourable.
“What is then the so much boasted ability of a comedian? It is the art of counterfeiting, of assuming a strange character, of appearing differently from what he really is, of flying into a passion in cold blood, of saying what he does not think as naturally as if he really did think it; in short, of forgetting his own station to personate that of others. What is this profession of a comedian? A trade by which a man exhibits himself in public, with a mercenary view; a trade by which he submits to ignominies and affronts from people, who think they have purchased a right to treat him in this manner: a trade, in short, by which he exposes his person to public sale. I conjure every ingenuous man to tell me, whether he is conscious, in the bottom of his heart, that this traffic has something in it servile and base? What sort of spirit is it then that a comedian imbibes from his condition? A mean spirit-a spirit of falsehood, pride, and low ridicule, which qualifies him for acting every sort of character, except the noblest of all, that of man, which he lays aside.
"I am not ignorant, that the action of a comedian, is not like that of a cheat, who wants to impose upon you; that he does not pretend you should take him for the real person he represents; or that you should think him actuated by the passions which he only imitates: I know also, that by giving this imitation for what it really is, he renders it altogether innocent. Therefore I do not absolutely charge him with being a cheat, but with making it his whole business to cultivate the art of deception, and with practising it in habits, which, though innocent perhaps on the stage, must every where else be subscrvient to vice. Those fellows so genteely equipped, and so well practised in the theory of gallantry and whining, will they never make use of this art to seduce the young and innocent? Those lying varlets, so nimble with their tongue and fingers upon the stage, so artful in supplying the necessities of a profession more expensive than profitable, will they never try their abilities off the stage? Comedians must be honester by far than the rest of mankind, if they are not more corrupt.
“ The orator and the preacher, you will say, expose their persons in public, as well as the comedians. There is a very great difference. When the orator appears in public, it is to speak, and not to exhibit himself as a show: he represents only his own person, he acts only in his proper part, he speaks only in his own namc, he says, or he ought to say, no more than he really thinks: as the man and the character are the same being, he is in his right place; he is in the case of every other citizen that discharges the duties of his station. But a player is a person who delivers himself upon the stage in sentiments not his own; who says only what he is made to say; who oftentimes represents a chimerical being: consequently he is lost, as it were, in his hero. What shall I say of those who seem apprehensive of being too much respected in their native colours, and therefore degrade themselves so far as to act in characters, which they would be extremely sorry to resemble in real life? It is doubtless a sad thing to see such a number of villains in the world who pass for honest men: but what can be more odious and shocking, or more base, than to see an honest comedian acting the part of a villain, and exerting his whole abilities to establish criminal maxims which he sincerely detests in his own heart?
“ All this shows there is something dishonourable in the profession; but there is still another source of corruption in the debauched manners of the actresses which necessarily draw after it the same immorality in the actors. Yet why should this immorality be inevitable? Why, say you? At any other time there would be no occasion to ask this question; but in this present age, when prejudice and error reign triumphantly under the specious name of philosophy, mankind, intoxicated by their empty learning, are grown deaf to the voice of human reason as well as nature."
TO THE MOON.
And starry court, my dazzled senses steal ;
Of Cupid's darts. My “pensive soul” doth feel
Thy red round face, when, sluggard-like, at eve,
A noon-tide couch unwilling thou dost leave ;
When, as some midnight reveller, thou hast
Ought that can swell the milky tide, which fast
TO THE READER.
Of mocking levity my words may fall,
To scoff at feelings sacred deemed by all.
In thoughts of love and beauty. When I see
Of heavenly things is filled ; and then in me,
Creatures so beautiful. But yet the day
To me seems the fairest,--so love I the ray
The sunshine of the soul that sets men free,