NATURE AND TENDENCY OF THE STAGE.
REV. THOMAS BRAINERD.
DELIVERED IN THE
THIRD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA,
ON SABBATH EVENING, SEPT. 6TH, 1840.
PRINTED AND FOR SALE AT NO. 45 CHESTNUT STREET.
The following Lecture, written in the ordinary round of pulpit service, has excited an interest as gratifying as it was unexpected. The present publishers, desirous that its effects might be made more permanent and diffusive than they were likely to be in the columns of a newspaper, asked a copy for circulation in a pamphlet form. In granting this request, I have supplied what was extemporaneous in the delivery, and modified a few paragraphs.
It makes no pretensions. If it shall accomplish some good, the author, and those who contribute to its enlarged circulation, will have an ample reward.
Philadelphia, Sept. 17th, 1840.
Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners.—1 Cor. 15:33.
If any apology be deemed necessary for the present effort to set before this audience the real nature and effects of the Stage—the true character and tendency of theatrical amusements—consider,
First, That six theatres are now opened, or are about to be opened, the present season, in this city and liberties. As every evening is occupied, and as full audiences must be secured in order to defray the expenses of these large establishments, it will be seen that a great number of our citizens are destined to come under their influence for good or evil.
Secondly. Reflect that if ministers of the gospel be silent, the public press, with a few honourable exceptions, is daily occupied in commending theatres to the patronage of this community. The splendor of the edifices, the beauty of the decorations, the sweetness of the music, and the skill and fascination of the actors, are daily described and applauded. These journals, inviting and urging all to the theatre, find their way to the shop of the artisan, the store of the merchant, the study of the clergyman; and, like the frogs of Egypt, they obtrude themselves into every dwelling.
Though these fulsome and perpetual commendations of the stage appear often as editorial, yet we are not hence to infer that they are all written by the respectable editors of our daily papers. I understand they are generally furnished by those having a pecuniary interest in theatres, and inserted as the price of a season ticket for the editor and his family. But the effect on the public mind is not lessened by the fact that editors, instead of writing themselves, lend their columns to others. To our children and youth, these daily adulations of theatres, plays and actors, come sustained by all that respect and confidence which they cherish for the able and worthy conductors of the press in this city.
Add to this daily commendation of the press, the fact that theatre bills are found in every public room, on the corners of our streets, and even attached to the walls of our churches, and you see the confidence with which the stage obtrudes itself upon the notice of this community, and the ubiquity of its temptations.
Thus we are gravely assured that one theatrical establishment is so pure in its arrangements, that it is proper for all persons, including clergymen of course, to attend. And in regard to the actors in this concern, a public journal, which comes daily into my family, says one is "capital and graceful," another is "glorious," and a third, an actress, is a "fixed star!"
We see how these establishments force themselves upon our notice. We see how they are commended to our families. Shall we put away the prejudices of education, and go with our children to share in the amusements of the theatre?
I am no enemy to necessary recreation and safe amusements. Theatres are either safe or pernicious, either moral or immoral, in their tendency. If they be moral and instructive, as they claim to be, then it is my duty to urge you to go, and my duty to lead the way. If, on the other hand, they be wasteful of time and money, and most pernicious in their moral bearing, then I am under a solemn obligation to warn this audience against their influence. If theatres be necessary and safe, it is not enough that the pulpit is silent; it must mingle its voice with the daily press in chanting their praises. But if these establishments be always pernicious—if, from their very nature, they are fountains of moral corruption, and the pests of society—then the more embellished and attractive, and the more commended by the daily press, by so much the more is every preacher of the gospel under obligations to strip off their false covering, and raise a salutary note of alarm.
You see that I am compelled to adopt one of these alternatives, and you have anticipated which I shall adopt. These are public institutions daily forced on your attention and mine. Believing them to be most mischievous in their moral tendency, most ruinous to the happiness of families, and most fatal to the prospects, temporal and eternal, of our youth,—who has a right to complain if I express concerning them my deliberate convictions?
I was never in a theatre in this city. I never in my life, to my knowledge, exchanged a word with a theatre proprietor or actor; and, of course, have no pique to gratify, and no temptation to indulge in personalities.
In speaking of the impurity of theatres, I may be compelled to use very plain language. This I know the friends of truth and of virtue will approve; and I am certainly under no apprehension of offending the modesty of such ladies as can listen to the plays of Shakespeare and Fielding without a blush.
The first objection which I shall urge against theatrical amusements, is their waste of time.
This is an argument better estimated at the close of life than in its progress. However anxious some may be to kill time in the days of health and prosperity, they learn to appreciate its value as its last hours plume their wings for flight.
It is the practice in theatres to open at 7 or 8 o’clock, P.M., and to close at 11 or 12 o’clock. Here are four hours occupied at evening in the excitements of play.
It is the nature of theatrical amusements to induce a desire for repetition. The thrilling excitement which they create and sustain, originates a disrelish for more sober recreations; and hence when one has become accustomed to such amusements at the theatre, he is dissatisfied with an evening spent out of the theatre. The variety of entertainment provided, and the puffs of the press, tend to fix the habit of constant attendance. Our youth, then, are invited and urged to occupy four hours of each day—one-fourth part of their waking hours—in mere amusement.
I speak not now of the lessons of immorality which they acquire, or of the baleful associations which they form; it is enough to condemn these amusements that they rob, without compensation, our youth of that time which constitutes their day of probation.
Four hours of the evening devoted to laughing at comic buffoonery, or weeping luxuriously at the catastrophes of mock tragedy! Employ this time in business, and, with the blessing of God, it is transmuted into the means of present competence and of future wealth: employ it in useful reading, or in attendance at Lyceums and public lectures, and it accumulates a treasure of useful knowledge to be the cheerer of solitude, the means of respectability and usefulness, the ornament of wealth, and the refuge of adversity. Occupy these wasted hours in the family circle in cheerful converse, and in mutual efforts to promote social felicity, and they would render home a spot verdant and beautiful in the desert of the world: occupy them in seeking out and relieving the sorrows of the poor, the sick, the homeless stranger, and in binding up the heart crushed under life’s woes, and you light up many a gloomy dwelling with renewed hope and peace; you rekindle warmth on the cold hearth of the orphan, and make the heart of the widow, sitting desolate and solitary, to sing for joy. Use these hours for the service of God—in the closet, the social meeting, and the sanctuary, or in active efforts to restore the prodigal, exiled and starving, to the bread of his father’s house—and you open, by the grace of GOD, over your own undying spirit, a window through which the light and peace of a better world dawns upon your hopes; and you prepare yourself, as one who has turned many to righteousness, to shine as a star, undimmed even by the brightness of Heaven’s firmament, for ever and ever. With the possibility, the necessity, the privilege—nay, the solemn duty of using time for some of these noble purposes, who can afford to waste his hours amid the mockery of theatrical amusements? Remember it was the unprofitable servant who was cast into outer darkness.
My second objection against theatrical amusements, is the waste of money which they occasion.
This may seem to be a frail objection to those who live ill affluence, and know no other use for money but to pamper their appetites and riot in pleasure. But at the last day God will exact an account of the use made of wealth. It not unfrequently happens that children in poverty and starvation would be greatly blessed by the money which their parents have squandered in fashionable folly.
But admit that your means are so abundant that your own family, in your estimation, is placed almost beyond the possibility of want, just open your eyes to the condition of the suffering poor in this city—let the vail of widows and the cry of orphans break upon your ear—go and gaze upon the mother who attempts to save her children from the winter’s blast by drawing them to her own chilled bosom—go and look at six hundred millions of Pagans waiting to be supplied with the word of God, and the institutions of civilization and Christianity;—and then, in view of your final account, ask if you can squander your money upon the theatre without guilt.
How many of our young men rashly waste in amusement the money which, rightly appropriated, would be the germ of competence for age? How much they resemble the reckless sailor, who throws overboard in the harbour the bread and water which were destined to sustain life on the wide and desert ocean before him.
And to what measures have too many young men resorted ill order to obtain the means of attending the theatre? Let our merchants, robbed of their property—let our police reports answer.
Mr. Wells, keeper of the house for juvenile offenders in Boston, testified under oath, "that of 20 young men confined for crime, 17 confessed that they were first tempted to steal by a desire of purchasing tickets to visit the theatre."
I speak not now of the crime of thus poisoning society by corrupting the hearts of the young in the germ of their manhood. I only ask are amusements to be patronized at once so ensnaring, so useless, and so expensive?
I perceive by a New York paper, friendly to the stage, that a certain woman has brought to the theatres where she has been employed, sixty thousand dollars in fifteen weeks!!
And what compensation has this female rendered for this vast appropriation of money? Has she, Like Newton, struck out new principles in science? Has she, like Fulton, made new discoveries in the arts, by which the public comfort and wealth have been promoted? Has she, like Howard or Mrs. Fry, come as a missionary to visit the prisoner in his solitude—"to take the gauge of human misery"—to move hearts to feel for human sorrow, and hands to open in Christian charity? Has she given a new impulse to principles of moral rectitude in their control over the public conscience, so that in all the relations of life we find more gentleness, industry, economy, piety and benevolence? Has she brought a leaf plucked from the tree of life with which to stanch the wounds of a heart bleeding under guilt? Has she hung up a brighter star over the path to immortality? Has she taught our young men and maidens more wisely to live and more safely to die?
We gave Baron Steuben a single township of land in the cold north, for coming from Prussia to fight the battles of liberty in the Revolution. We gave to La Fayette, the young and chivalrous nobleman who left the wife of his youth and his little children, to aid our struggles for independence, some fifty thousand dollars in land and money. What boon of blessedness—what surpassing benefit has this German woman conferred upon us, that we have given her sixty thousand dollars for fifteen weeks? She has danced for us—that is all of it!
While many intelligent, amiable and most worthy females, sunk from affluence to poverty, have plied the needle with aching heads and hearts until the midnight hour, for a compensation that hardly procured daily bread for their children—we have lavished sixty thousand dollars upon a strolling dancer!
The public press have called her "the divine Fanny;" but her divinity it seems is not in her head or heart, but in her heels.
This case is not without parallel. The daughter of Herodias danced off the head of John the Baptist. We have not heard that this German woman has danced off any heads. She has only danced sixty thousand dollars out of the pockets of our fellow citizens in these times of pecuniary embarrassment, and danced the brains out of the heads of those young men who harnessed themselves to her carriage in place of horses in Baltimore; that is, if such young men ever had more brains than the carriage horses which they supplanted.
I am sorry that the nature of the subject has compelled me to indulge in this strain. But those who dig for peet must enter bogs. The Saviour when he instructed publicans must sit at their table. In censuring folly, I am compelled to hold up to your view the follies which I would condemn.
It is for this audience now to decide—it is for our young men, yet as I trust uncorrupted by evil habits, to decide whether their money shall go where it rewards no virtue, compensates no valuable service, relieves no misery and promotes no personal or public good?
In view of the suffering to be met and relieved the present season in this city, may we not say, "It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the" strangers.
My third objection against theatrical amusements is, that their moral tendency in all ages and among all nations has been most eminently pernicious.
This is a grave charge and requires to be sustained by strong testimony. A theatre always furnishes facilities for intemperance. If the theatre, as some tell us, be a school of education and morality, we might expect that soon after it was planted we should see school-houses, lyceums and churches rising under its fostering care. But did you ever know a theatre originate a school-house or a church?
It is the mother of none of these. Its proper child is a grog shop. One of these dark altars on which have been sacrificed the hard earnings of so many honest men—the peace of so many families—the blood of so many immortal souls—always rises and flourishes under the shade of a theatre. The child seems to sustain to its mother the same relation that Death does to sin in "Paradise Lost," and has the same refuge and aliment.
And who associate in these grog shops? Here I refer again to testimony drawn out by a Committee appointed by the proprietors of the Tremont Theatre in Boston.
This Committee aver, "That there is no cause of complaint against the Tremont Theatre which has not always existed in all theatres."
Now let us hear what evils are regarded as necessary to all theatres.
Mr. Justice Simmons, of the Police Court, Boston, testifies, "That males and abandoned females have been in the habit of tippling at the bar, until the excitement of the liquor resulted in quarrels, broils and fighting. Indecent and profane language, and manners offensive to good breeding, have characterised the assembly."
The same officer testifies: "That between the acts and during the afterpiece there has usually been an accession to the third row (filled with abandoned females) of from 50 to 100, who go from the boxes and can return at pleasure—some of them men, but most of them boys or youngsters, such as merchants’ and traders’ clerks, gentlemen’s sons who have no stated employment, students, &c.
Now I ask parents in this audience, can the theatre be a safe place for the presence of your sons? Can any other grog shop, however low and polluted, pretend to compete with theatre grog shops in the work of moral corruption? Is there any place this side of the bottomless pit more black with infamy than the place described by this officer?
But let us leave this grog shop, this child of the theatre, and look at the complexion of the mother herself.
Here I remark, Secondly, that in the theatre provision is openly made for the presence and entertainment of the most abandoned of the human race.
I know that separate seats are provided—but in entering, in leaving, in looking over the audience, your sons and daughters are furnished with examples which no pure mind can contemplate without a crimson cheek.
Listen again to the committee of distinguished men who were appointed to investigate the state of Tremont Theatre.
This committee, though friends of the Theatre, say: "It is unquestionably true that the third row has been and is frequented by women of notoriously bad character. It is also true that very young men and minors, whose respectable connexions and domestic education ought to have made them ashamed of the vulgarity, have, in former years, been in the habit of frequenting that part of the theatre. It is true, as the records of our police courts show, that scenes of riot and disorder have accrued from this congregation of vice."
"This is nothing new or peculiar to the Tremont Theatre. On the contrary, there has been no time within memory when it was not so at every theatre in Boston."
Now I am willing to rest the question of the immorality of the theatre on these admissions of the friends of the theatre. They declare this state of things to be universal in all theatres—and I declare them to be most pernicious to public virtue, and most abominable in the sight of GOD.
Suppose a corner of this house, or a place in yonder gallery, were set apart for the presence of such characters; suppose they were held under no restraint by the solemnity of the place or services; suppose the services were graduated to their taste, and suppose their unchaste deportment to be exhibited under the very eyes of our youth—which of these discreet matrons, which of these amiable and modest maidens, would not blush to acknowledge she had been here? How many of you would hold a seat in a house thus haunted by the dark spirits of evil?
Some may say these scenes show to our children the world as it is. But is it safe to associate youth daily with corruption to show them the world?
"Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
That to be hated needs but to be seen;
But seen too oft—familiar with her face—
We first abhor—then pity—then embrace."
I remark, thirdly, that the theatre is immoral in its tendency, because of the false standard of character which it sets up and applauds. Our youth, in public journals, find constant commendations of theatre actors—in the theatre they see these favorite performers welcomed with shouts of applause.
The love of praise is a universal, and, under proper limitations, a salutary characteristic of every human being. No passion is stronger than the desire of fame. When applause follows virtue, then it ennobles and elevates the aspirations of youth. But when it is lavishly poured out upon persons of loose moral principle and of licentious lives, upon persons who have conferred upon community no substantial benefits, and whose lauded gifts terminate, perhaps, in the power of memory and mimicry, then applause becomes a premium for corruption—and no wonder if we find our clerks and apprentices, our gay sons and daughters, in the rehearsal of comic buffoonery, or in the heroics of mock tragedy, on their way to immortal fame.
Could not many fathers and many masters in this city testify that this is the process by which their children or their apprentices have been led to ruin?
I know that Garrick, Kemble, Mrs. Siddons, Bellamy, and others in England, and some in America, have carried to the stage and sustained on the stage a reputation not only for genius but for moral worth; but it is for this audience to decide whether they have not been in their profession "like two grains of wheat in two bushels of chaff," and whether their eminence, by endorsing a profession generally licentious and profane, has not beguiled many of the young into the path of guilt and perdition?
And what is generally ridiculed in modern comedy ? Not intemperance, unkindness, libertinism, idleness, profligacy, fraud and impiety. Simplicity is ridiculed under the imputation of ignorance of the world. Honest labour is made contemptible by its association with blundering stupidity. Religion is reviled under the caricature of cant or hypocrisy. Gentleness and forbearance are made odious by association with a spirit mean and cowardly.
The applauded hero of the modern drama is the rich, proud, chivalrous, revengeful and buckish dandy. The heroine is the idle, romantic and passionate belle.
Whoever saw the character of the skilful and laborious mechanic—of the enterprising merchant—of the faithful teacher of our youth—of the honest labourer, represented with eclat on the stage?
A Roman Catholic writer, 150 years ago, most truly said: "That plays are almost always a representation of vicious passions, so that the greater part of Christian virtues are incapable of being represented upon the stage. Silence, patience, moderation, temperance, wisdom, and contrition for guilt, are no virtues the exhibition of which will divert spectators."
Hence the stage, by establishing a false standard of character—by its inability to encourage men in the sober duties of life—by its direct ridicule of these duties, and by commendation of passions at once violent and pernicious, has always been and always will be most immoral in its tendencies and results.
Parents, would you lead your children where they would see a character constantly applauded, the very opposite of that which you wish them to exhibit in life?
Fourthly, The tendency of dramatic tragedy is to harden the heart against sympathy with real suffering.
In real life, human sufferings are contemplated at periods relatively infrequent, so that the heart has power to recover itself from one shock before it feels another. There are also in real life few of those great and appalling changes of which we read on the page of history.
Hence few individuals are daily wrought up to that excessive excitement in view of suffering, which, in its reaction, finally benumbs the heart and chills the sympathies.
In dramatic tragedy, all this is reversed. The characters selected occupy just that lofty station in life which makes a fall most appalling. One scene of suffering is made to follow another in rapid succession. The changes of an entire life in the history of kings and princes are compressed into a few hours. By this process, the passions are wrought up to excessive and thrilling excitement.
This excitement, though coveted, is unnatural, and the heart, striving against the sympathetic pain of its presence, and seeking natural repose, becomes more and more indurated, so that finally the tragedy, which once convulsed with sobs and tears, can be witnessed without emotion! Habit makes suffering familiar, and strips it of power to excite sympathy.
Thus, by the common law of England, a butcher was not allowed to pronounce as a juror on the guilt of a man tried for his life. This, while it acknowledged our principle, pushed it to a ridiculous extreme.
In Rome, under Nero, ladies could look on not only without pain, but with every demonstration of pleasure, to see Christians wrapped in combustibles and burning, as tapers, to illumine the public walks, or torn in pieces by wild beasts in the amphitheatre.
Our legislators, knowing how the vision of such scenes, by the multitude, pollutes the public morals, have wisely ordained that executions shall be private.
Now, if the heart finally becomes hardened by habit, so that it can view the astounding catastrophes of dramatic tragedy with almost no emotion, what must be its effect in steeling the sympathies against the ordinary miseries of life?
There may be a starving family in a neighbouring court, a sick and dying domestic in a garret, or a poor relative reduced from affluence to beggary. But what are all these to the theatre-going lady, who has been accustomed every night to see kings dethroned, imprisoned, and murdered; princes wandering in beggary and starvation; nobles outlawed and put to death; mothers butchered in presence of their children, and maidens betrayed and seeking revenge with a dagger or with poison? What are the real ills of life to one who lives amid scenes like these? They are the unheeded sighings of the zephyr in ears filled by the roar of the tornado. These are the slighted murmurs of the rivulet to one who dwells under the voice of Niagara’s cataract.
In the worst days of the French Revolution, when the streets of the capital flowed with warm blood, the theatres were never better attended. Multitudes went with a high zest from the mock tragedies of the drama to gaze delighted on the real tragedies of the guillotine.
Save me and mine from the tender mercies of such as have daily poured out their sympathy on fictitious sorrow, until the hackneyed heart has now no deep affections; I would as soon trust the strength of a man who had kept an open vein for the daily waste of his own blood.
And what are the ordinary conjugal, parental, and filial endearments of life to one who daily witnesses love represented as justly the master passion of the race, burning and uncontrollable, and rushing over religion and law to its object? What to such an one are the sincere, tranquil, and enduring affections of home and kindred? What is a cup of cold water to one accustomed to quench his thirst at the inebriating bowl?
Finally, Contemplate the impurity of most of the plays acted in the theatre. Here, for many reasons, I prefer to use the language of Dr. Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and President of the College of New Jersey. In a published article, he says:
"Where can plays be found that are free from impurity either directly or by allusion and double meaning? It is amazing to think that women who pretend to decency and reputation, whose brightest ornament ought to be modesty, should continue to abet, by their presence, so much unchastity as is to be found in a theatre. How few plays are acted which a modest woman can see consistently with decency? No woman of reputation, much less of piety, who has been ten times in a play house, durst repeat in company all she has heard there. With what consistency they return to the same school of lewdness they themselves best knew."
I think it was Cicero who said he wondered how two heathen priests, conscious of imposing on the credulity of the people, could look each other in the face without laughing. We may be allowed to wonder how two modern fine ladies, in their exit from a theatre, can look each other in the face without blushing.
You may imagine that the speaker is bigoted and illiberal. Listen then to the testimony of moralists of other ages and nations.
Plato says, "Plays raise the passions and pervert the use of them, and of consequence are dangerous to morality."
Aristotle says, "The seeing of plays and comedies should be forbidden to young people, until age and discipline have made them proof against debauchery."
Tacitus says, "The German women were guarded against danger, and preserved their purity, by having no play houses among them." Germany sent out no missionary dancers in the days of Tacitus.
The poet Ovid, himself not too moral, advises the Emperor Augustus "to suppress theatrical amusements, as a grand source of moral corruption."
Rousseau, resisting the introduction of the stage into Geneva, calls it "a monument of luxury and effeminacy," and asks, "Where would be the imprudent mother who would dare to carry her daughter to this dangerous school? And what respectable woman would not think herself dishonoured by going there?"
Archbishop Tillotson calls the play house "the devil’s chapel, a nursery of licentiousness and vice, which ought not to be tolerated among a civilized, much less a christian people."
Dr. Johnson, speaking of Collier’s view of "The Immorality of the English Stage," says, "The wise and pious caught the alarm, and the nation wondered that it had suffered irreligion and licentiousness to be taught openly at the public charge."
President Dwight says of plays, "What art, labour, and genius are engaged in them to garnish gross and dreadful vice? How great a part are mere means of pollution: all the course of exhibition, except a little part thrust in as a sacrifice to decency and reputation, is formed of polluted sentiments and polluted characters. From the stage, men are directly prepared to go to the brothel. The corruption of the one fits the mind to direct its course to the other."
You see how heathen moralists and Christian divines harmonize in their views of the stage. The speaker, then, in raising a note of warning against its temptations, only echoes the almost unbroken and universal testimony of good men, that theatres throw a moral miasma on every community doomed to endure their presence and polluting tendency. The Dramatic Art took its rise at Athens, amid the orgies of Bacchus. It was an exhalation from the frantic revels of a periodical national abandonment to intoxication and debauchery; and though at first limited and regulated by law, and more recently refined by public sentiment, as to its grosser abominations, it has retained, in all ages, a tendency to lead back communities and nations to the Bacchanalian corruption in which it originated.
To this view of the nature and tendency of the stage, I have only to add the exhortation of the text, "Be not deceived."
1st. "Be not deceived" by your past experience. Moral poison is not like the venom of the asp, killing by one deadly blow. It more resembles the contagion of a fatal disease, which insinuates its virus without any pain to startle, or any immediate effects to alarm. That you are not conscious of any pernicious effects is no evidence that your moral principles have not been impaired; for moral poison, while it taints, also benumbs the conscience and the heart. The causes of your ruin may be accumulating and combining, while you are more and more secure in moral apathy.
Those lately hurried to a violent death by the falling of the Albany bridge, had, perhaps, passed a thousand times over its decaying timbers. Where are they now? Let their premature graves reply!
2d. "Be not deceived" by evil example. In the road to ruin there was never a want of very respectable and fashionable pioneers. The most ultra fashionable and exquisite, if they associate with the mass no where else, have generally not been so "exclusive" as to refuse to walk with them in the "broad road." It was once fashionable in a certain place to cry "Crucify him, crucify him—away with this fellow from the earth."
When agitating the question how we may protect our present and eternal interests, and how by example we may shelter the young from those vices, which ruin alike the body and the soul, we cannot pause to inquire what may, in any given time and place, be fashionable.
But it is denied that in this city it is fashionable to attend the theatre. Probably not one in twenty of our citizens ever enter these establishments. Among the most respectable and wealthy merchants, among the great majority in the learned professions, among the enterprising mechanics, among the really intelligent, refined and virtuous portion of the female sex, how few enter the doors of a theatre? Indeed, it would ruin the commercial credit of any young man, to be known as devoted to theatrical amusements. The habit of attending at these establishments creates a suspicion as to moral worth, in either sex—a suspicion which the closest scrutiny into the most redeeming excellencies can hardly remove.
3d. "Be not deceived" by your own hearts. Inclination is an unsafe moral guide. The head of our race consulted his inclination rather than duty, and brought the curse of sin and the penalty of death over the whole earth.
Benedict Arnold followed his inclinations when he attempted to betray his country. He covered his name with everlasting infamy. It is not in vain that the Bible admonishes us that "he who trusts his own heart is a fool."
You may tell me, perhaps, that you are acquainted with some who have been long in the habit of witnessing theatrical performances, but are still apparently uncorrupted. This may be true. I have seen several persons who escaped unhurt from the fearful wreck of the PULASKI—but those who perished in that awful catastrophe I have not seen, nor shall I see them until the "the sea gives up its dead."
Those whom the stage has ruined, you see not. They have passed from the circle of respectable society, to association with profligates—to the revels of the grog shop—to the practice of gambling and licentiousness—to crime, degradation, and a premature grave. They have sunk too deep to leave a ripple on the surface of respectable society. Their names you will find on the annals of public justice, and in the records of our penitentiaries. The seventeen ruined young men, referred to by Mr. Wells of Boston, you have never known. May you never, like them, follow a depraved inclination, to share their crimes and their punishment!
4th. "Be not deceived" by the public press. I believe that no city has a press more pure and worthy of commendation than our own. But is it not true of a portion of the press almost every where, that instead of looking to elevated principles and essaying to guide public opinion into safe channels, it contents itself with echoing what it believes to be public opinion? Does it not more resemble the "bow light" of a ship, shifting with its course, than the polar star which guides towards the desired haven?
There are some papers in this city, which seem to estimate their responsibility for the moral impulse which they impart in the wide field of their influence. Such, more anxious to prevent crime than to chronicle its loathsome details, deserve well of their country.
If there be others which cater for the morbid appetite of sensuality—which, like Catiline, lend their influence to corrupt the young, that they may secure the patronage of the depraved whose vices they at the same time flatter and aggravate, such should be treated as utterly unworthy of confidence. Let them be turned over to the sole fellowship and patronage of that class whom they seem most anxious to please.
As most of the worthy editors of our daily papers may not have reflected sufficiently on the effects of the drama to estimate its baleful influence on the public morals, we can give them our personal respect, while at the same time we caution the young not to be deceived by commendations of the stage. These commendations contradict the experience of all ages.
To professors of religion, I would remark, that in this discourse I have aimed to reach the class most exposed to temptations from the stage. It seemed almost libellous to assume that in this enlightened age, and in this city of churches and revivals, any professors of religion could be patrons of a theatre.
An English writer in the time of Charles I. "made a catalogue of authorities against the stage, which contains every name of eminence in the heathen and Christian world—it comprehends the united testimony of the Jewish and Christian churches—the deliberate acts of fifty-four ancient and modern, general, national, and provincial councils and synods, both of the western and eastern churches; the condemnatory sentence of seventy-one ancient fathers, and one hundred and fifty modern Catholic and Protestant authors."
With this clear, decided, universal and almost unbroken testimony of the whole church of God—with the repeated warnings of the Holy Scriptures against "conformity to the world"—with a perception of the ruin to which theatres in this city have hurried so many of our youth of both sexes—with a knowledge of the baneful influence exerted by professors of religion when they sanction iniquity by their presence, and thus hold out false lights to beckon souls to shipwreck and to death;—with all this in view, it seemed slanderous to suppose that members of our churches could so far forget their high obligations, as to abet in any manner the abominations of the stage. If any can so tamper with temptation—if any can so betray the honour of the Saviour, the peace of their churches, and the safety of immortal souls under their influence, they must have acquired a moral obtuseness and hardihood adapted to discourage any effort for their reformation. Such would do well to remember that they may perhaps be preparing to act as principals in a real tragedy, the most appalling ever exhibited on earth—the tragedy of a hopeless death-bed! From such a final "Act" in the drama of life, may GOD in his mercy preserve them. To them I would emphatically say, "Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
With this view of the Stage, and these cautions against its influence, I have only to say to my people, in the language of the sacred volume, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."
Footnote: The American Congress, soon after the declaration of independence, passed the following resolution.
"Whereas, true religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness:
"Resolved, That it be and hereby is earnestly recommended to the several states, to take the most effectual measures for the encouragement thereof—and for the suppression of theatrical entertainments, horse-racing, gaming, and such other diversions as are productive of idleness, dissipation, and a general depravity of principles and manners." [back]