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´╗┐Title: A Letter to A.H. Esq.; Concerning the Stage (1698) and The Occasional Paper No. IX (1698)
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
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THE STAGE (1698) AND THE OCCASIONAL PAPER NO. IX (1698)***


Note: H. T. Swedenberg, Jr. (1906-1978) was a professor at the University
      of California (Los Angeles). In 1946 he, Edward N. Hooker, and
      Richard C. Boys founded the Augustan Reprint Society, with
      Swedenberg as general editor. The Society reprinted many rare
      works, drawn largely from the collections of the University of
      California's library. The two anonymous essays here were part of a
      series of essays on the stage.



Series Three: Essays on the Stage

No. 1

A LETTER TO A.H. ESQ; CONCERNING THE STAGE (1698)

and

THE OCCASIONAL PAPER: NO. IX (1698)


With an Introduction by H. T. Swedenberg, Jr.

The Augustan Reprint Society
September, 1946

Price: 75c

Membership in the Augustan Reprint Society entitles the subscriber to
six publications issued each year. The annual membership fee is $2.50.
Address subscriptions and communications to The Augustan Reprint
Society in care of the General Editors: Richard C. Boys, University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan; or Edward N. Hooker or H.T. Swedenberg,
Jr., University of California, Los Angeles 24, California. Editorial
Advisors: Louis I. Bredvold, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,
Michigan, and James L. Clifford, Columbia University, New York.



INTRODUCTION


In the spring of 1698 the rumblings against the excesses of the
English stage broke into a roar with the publication of Jeremy
Collier's _Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English
Stage_. A wild joyousness marked Collier's attack, and at times it
seemed as though the zeal of the Lord had eaten him up. But he was no
enthusiast without plan or reason. A man of some learning, he used it
for all it was worth to confound the playwrights and the critics.

Collier was careful to make good use of accepted and honored critical
principles. He contended that the purpose of the stage is to instruct;
he argued for poetic justice; he discussed the unities; he spoke of
propriety of manners and language; and he warned of the danger of
fancy's overriding judgment--"the Fancy may be gain'd, and the Guards
corrupted, and Reason suborn'd against itself." Unfortunately for
Collier, however, such argument from reason and critical theory was
only part of his book. He pretended to be attacking the current
excesses, but a reading of his entire book gives the definite
impression that he was really opposing the stage as an institution.
His enemies were quick to point this out. He also weakened his
argument by finding bawdry where there was none, overlooking the many
unquestionably off-color passages in the Restoration plays.
Furthermore he was extremely touchy about the clergy, arguing
violently that no priest should ever be satirized. In short, Collier
weakened a strong position by immoderate demands and contentions.

After a short, uneasy silence, the defenders of the stage began to
answer. By the end of the summer, ten rejoinders had appeared, among
which was the anonymous _A Letter to A.H. Esq; Concerning the Stage_.
The initials in the title have been identified as those of Anthony
Hammond, pamphleteer, small poet, and politician, whom Bolingbroke
characterized as "silver-tongued Hammond." Charles Hopkins has been
suggested as the probable author of the pamphlet (E.N. Hooker, _Modern
Language Notes_, LIV [1939], 388). Hopkins was a wit, a friend of
Hammond, as of Dryden, Congreve, Dorset, Southerne, and Wycherley, a
clever fellow who loved the bottle and the ladies so much that,
according to Giles Jacob, he died at 36, "a Martyr to the cause." _His
Epistolary Poems_, published in 1694, had been dedicated to Hammond
and had included an effusive poem addressed to him. Some other wit
among Hammond's friends might have been the author of the pamphlet,
however, for Hammond yearned for immortality through the works of
others and frequently asked writers of his acquaintance to mention
him.

Whoever the author was, he spotted the weaknesses in Collier's
arguments, at the same time pointing out the essential usefulness of
the _Short View_ as a corrective. He was not particularly original,
for many of the points he made were considered public property by
writers in the controversy. Thus, along with Dennis and others, the
writer admitted the necessity for reform, but opposed Collier's
apparent desire to abolish the stage. He pointed out the fallacy of
Collier's argument from the authority of the church fathers and the
absurdity of his contentions about the ridicule of the clergy. And
using ancient doctrine, he defended the stage as an instrument of
instruction in manners and morals. Of particular interest is his
belief that the stage had contributed to the improvement of the
language, especially in dissuading the clergy from a fantastic,
conceited rhetoric.

The fury of Collier's attack seemed to dull the wits of the defenders
of the stage. Too often they allowed themselves to be drawn into
quibbling over trivialities. None of them distinguished himself with a
brilliant answer. With the exception of Dennis's _The Usefulness of
the Stage_, the _Letter to A.H. Esq._ is as suave and sensible as any
of the answers, and considerably better then many.

Among the pamphlets taking the part of Collier was _The Occasional
Paper: Number IX_, attributed to Richard Willia, Chaplain to William
III and later Bishop of Winchester. In this paper the approach of
literary criticism is abandoned completely, the author feeling that
the controversy over the stage has already been obscured by wit and
learning. He concerns himself with religion and morality, and argues
the danger of going to plays. Though he admits that good plays are
possible, it is clear that he considers the stage a bad influence upon
Christians. Collier might veil his true attitude toward the theater,
but Willis makes no pretense of hiding his. Plays are bad.

The _Letter to A.H. Esq._ was announced in the _Post Man_ of June
11-13, 1698; _The Occasional Paper: Number IX_ was noted in the same
journal for May 19-21, 1698. The copy of the _Letter to A.H. Esq._
reprinted here is owned by the University of Michigan. _The Occasional
Paper: No. IX_ is reproduced by permission of the The Huntington
Library, San Marino, California.

H. T. Swedenberg, Jr.

University of California, Los Angeles



A LETTER TO
A.H. Esq;
Concerning the STAGE.


LONDON,
Printed for A. Baldwin, near the Oxford-Arms in Warwick-Lane,
1698.



(I)

TO A.H. Esq; &c.

SIR,

Forgive me if I think it Ill-nature in you to leave the Town, at a
Time when it wants your Company, and seems to beg your Assistance: How
can you propose to live at Ease in the Country, when so many of your
Friends, the Wits, are engag'd here in open War? Let Mr. _Collier_ say
what he pleases of Mr. _Dryden_, I begin to think 'twas his prophetick
Genius mov'd him to declaim against Priests; and there is great reason
to complain of their being the Incendiaries of the People, when they
set the World on fire by Preaching, which they were only sent to warm.
But what can Mr. _Collier_ mean by exposing the Stage so? he wou'd not
surely have it silenc'd: That wou'd be a little too barbarous, and too
much like Cant to be entertain'd by Men of Thought or Ingenuity. I
wou'd rather suppose he design'd a Reformation; and that is so
reasonable, I wonder any Man should put his Face in disorder, or study
a Revenge for the Attempt. But it may be ask'd, Cou'd he not have done
that without exposing so many great _Genius_'s? Had it not been
better to have let Mr. _Durfey_ alone? Tho' even this Method wou'd not
have pleas'd every body; for whate'er Effect it has had on Mr.
_Vanbroug_ and _Congreve; Motteux_ and _Guildon_ resent it to the last
degree. Is their nothing in their Works Illustrious, or that cou'd
merit Censure? Indeed some People are not to be reclaim'd by Ridicule;
and Mr. _Collier_ knowing their Vertues, with how much Compos'dness
and Resignation they can bear a Hiss, out of Compassion, took Example
by the Town and neglected both.

It is the Observation of some, That whereever the State flourishes,
the Theatre has never fail'd of Encouragement; and that 'tis hardly
possible the State shou'd suffer without the others sinking in its
Reputation. It is Pity that _England_ shou'd be the only Exception,
and since we have some of our Nobility, who have a Taste of Eloquence,
and all those Vertues which adorn the Stage, that It shou'd want their
Assistance by whom it was at first rais'd, and since maintain'd: If it
has fallen from its Purity, or never arriv'd to what they fully lik'd,
let it not want their Countenance, without whom 'tis impossible to be
any thing at all, and by whom it may become all that we can wish. They
alone can free it from Contempt and Censure, by maintaining such an
Awe, that the least Glymps of Profaneness and Immorality shou'd not
dare to appear on the Stage; and this may be done by encouraging none
but those who write well: for when a good Poet takes on him to
instruct, we need fear no Immodesty; for 'tis impossible in a Regular
Play, he shou'd find room for an Indecency. I know you'll ask, Why
shou'd I appear so zealous in desiring the Favour of the Nobility for
what is deny'd to be lawful; and that I ought not to wish an
Encouragement of the Stage, when 'tis affirm'd that from Thence we
derive our Corruption of Manners. Mr. _Collier_ has endeavour'd to
prove this from the Looseness of some of our Plays, and then has
brought the Opinion of the Fathers to condemn the Theatre in general.

As to the _First_ Objection, _That the Debauchery of the Town is to be
attributed to the Looseness of our Plays and Stage_.

If this were true, it is an Objection only against the present
Corruption of the Theatre; and is of no force against a regulated
Stage; for that admits of nothing Immodest or Immoral.

As to the _Second_ Objection brought from Councils and Fathers, if
what is quoted were really design'd by them against the Theatre in
general, yet it can have but little effect with the People, I mean the
Men of Probity and Learning; for they are not to be mov'd by the
Opinions of others no longer than those Opinions are agreeable to
Reason: No Man ought to pay such a Respect either to Councils or
Fathers, as to submit his Judgment contrary to his Reason. Their
saying so in this Case ought to have no more effect with us than if
they had at the same time given us their Opinion of the Truth of
_Transubstantiation_.

I think the Matter ought to be disputed by it self; for the Opinion of
the Fathers cannot alter the Nature of the Thing. Sir, give me leave
to make this Digression: 'Tis my Opinion, even in Matters of Religion,
the preaching up the Fathers so much has been of fatal Consequence. If
we run out of our selves to search for Truth, we are expos'd to be
deceiv'd; and relying too much upon another's Judgment, may be the
occasion of an Errour in our own. A false Quotation or Interpretation
by a Man of some Figure, to an easie Credulous Bigot, has been the
Conversion of a great many, and of excellent Service in the Church of
_Rome_: They cannot attack any without a Father or Council, and that
to a Person who knows nothing of the matter, is as good as a
Demonstration. The Fathers were but Men, and as capable to be deceiv'd
as others: And I do not know why the Bishop of _Worcester_ may not
deserve an equal Esteem; he understands the Languages, and has as much
Sincerity as any of them; and why then shou'd he not be able to give
the Sense of the Scripture as well.

I have a Veneration for them as good Men, and where their Opinion is
a Consequent of true Reason, it ought to be embraced; but where 'tis
not, I need not say it ought to be rejected; and I think any Man may
be allowed to dispute whether it be so or no. The Bishop of
_Worcester_ cannot publish a Book, but you'll have an Answer to it.
It would indeed be of Reputation to the Councils and Fathers, some of
them at least, if what were objected against them were of no more
force. His Philosophy is too rational to be weak'ned by Sophistry,
his Divinity too solid to be shook by Heresie: He seems to have been
predestinated to Glory, and the appointed Instrument to deliver us
from Popery, Atheism, Deism, and Socinianism, with all those spurious
Sectaries which have been spawned into the Worlds: What can resist
the Power of his Arguments? And who is able to abide his Force. But
to return, I think the Controversie, in short, is this:

    _Whether the Allowance of a Theatre in a Christian Country, is
    consisting with the Christian Religion._

The Answer to this Question may be this:

    That whatever is approved by lawful Authority, and is not against
    any positive revealed Law of God, is consisting with the Christian
    Religion.

Now it lies upon the Adversaries of the Stage to prove, That the
Theatre is against Law or Scripture.

'Tis unfair to take the advantage of the present Corruptions, and cry
down the Stage, because Men make an ill use of it. The Priests Won't
allow this Argument in another Case; and I think an ill Poet is no
more an Objection against the Stage, than a Clergyman's being a
Blockhead, is to the Pulpit. 'Tis our Misfortune to have too many in
both Vocations; tho', as bad as the Stage is, I don't doubt but the
World has receiv'd a great many Advantaged from it. I shall name you
some, and the first may be the reclaiming the Manners of the Clergy.

'Tis certain, since the Stage has used the Gown freely, and the Laity
have not been afraid to look into their Faults, that they are more
humble, and less publickly vicious: They know if _Tom D'urfey_ can
light upon a frail Priest, he won't scruple to expose his Infirmities,
tho' he is not the only _Whipping Tom_ of the Stage; if they had not
others to fear, they wou'd soon grow too many for him. I believe they
wou'd be angry, if they thought the People gave the Honour of their
Reformation to the Stage; tho' you can't believe otherwise, if
you consider the difference of the former and present Clergy, what a
strange alteration there is where the Knowledge of Plays have come (I
wou'd be understood only of those who needed a Reformation) There are
now, and have always been, Men among them able and fit to give Laws,
and from whom the World was glad to receive them, who appear'd as
burning and shining Lights in their Generation; and it was from them
we learnt the difference; it was their Light which expos'd the other,
and the Stage only took their evil Deeds, to shew them truly the Evils
of them. But besides their Reforming of Manners, the Stage has taught
them to speak English, and preach more like Ambassadors of their great
Master. It has taught them to argue rationally, and at once mended
their Stile, and Form of their Sermons. How did Religion labour under
heavy Language, and how many People rather absented the Church, than
come to hear the Word of God Burlesqu'd? In what a ridiculous Dress
did Religion appear? When to spin out the time in old Proverbs, and
wretched Puns, a Fellow wou'd run it up to _Six and thirtiethly_,
before he came to his _Use_ and _Applications_. In short, the
Drunkenness, Whoring, Insolence, and Dulness that has appear'd under a
Black Coat on the Stage, have made the Men of the same Colour of it
keep within Bounds: And that a Man might not teize them with the
Representation, they have endeavour'd to appear in as differing a Form
as possible.

If what Mr. _Collier_ says was true, That when a Clergyman is brought
on the Stage, it is with a design to ridicule the Function, it wou'd
be abominable, and as bad as the Town is, wou'd be hiss'd off the
Stage. I dare say, whatever the Intention of the Poet is, 'tis not
receiv'd so by the Audience. For at this rate, every foolish Peer who
Is brought on the Stage, must be suppos'd to intend a Reflection on
all the Men of Condition; and an Alderman, who is a Cuckold, must be
look'd on as the Representative of his Brethren. 'Tis absurd to make
no distinction; as if a particular Vice in a particular Man, cou'd not
be expos'd without a design'd Reflection on all who belong to him. It
ought to touch no body but whom it concerns; and it has its end, if it
reclaims where it was design'd, and prevents others, by shewing the
Danger: And this is the Design of Comedy. But the Question is, Whether
our Poets have managed it as they ought? Whether they have not pick'd
out a particular Person, and expos'd the Character in general, under
the Notion of one Man? I answer to this, That whatever the Design of
the Poet has been, it has not had the effect with the People: For who
disbelieves the Authority of their Function, or thinks the worse of
Good, Learned, and Ingenious Men among them? Are not the Religious
very much reverenc'd? Has any Body thought the worse of
_Stillingfleet_, _Tillotson_, and _Burnet_, upon this Account? Who can
believe, that when Mr. _Vanbroug_ disguises a Parson, that he thought
of these Men, or any who lives soberly, and makes Religion their
Business, and at the same time, don't make it inconsistent with good
Manners? The Good among them know the People love them, and that
nothing but their own mis-behaviour draws them into Contempt. Any
Minister, tho' he was but of mean Understanding, yet if he had other
good Qualities, if he liv'd soberly, and did his Duty religiously,
that ever such a Man was pickt out to be the Scandal of his
Neighbours, or a Ridicule of the Stage. Whence is it then, that the
Clergy are so angry? If you hook but one of them, all the rest are
upon your Back, and you can't expose his Vices without being an Enemy
to the Church: And in this, _Priests of all Religions are the same_.

But after all, why shou'd Mr. _Collier_ blame Mr. _Dryden_ for making
_Dorax_ exclaim against the _Mahometan_ Priest? Or how can that be a
Prejudice to the Character of the Christian Clergy? Is it not natural
for such a one as _Dorax_ to say as much, and especially against such
a one as the _Mufti_ in the Play? And does Mr. _Collier_ blame Mr.
_Dryden_ for writing naturally? I think it is a Fault throughout Mr.
_Collier's_ Book, that in his Criticisms of the Plays, he never
considers the Person who speaks; that is, Whether 'tis not natural for
a Man of such a Character, to say such a thing? It wou'd have been of
more Service to have proved, That no Person is to be brought on the
Stage to say an ill thing, and then he had thrown away all the
Profaneness, which is so much an Offence, at once. But if such Persons
are to be represented, there is not so much Reason against any of our
present Plays, as is urg'd by Mr. _Collier_; for you must allow a
Coquett to talk like her self, a Lover to vent his Passion in
Raptures, and a Rake to speak the Language of the Town.

I have already told you, That I am far from vindicating the present
Stage. I don't know a regular Play, or that ought to be represented on
a regular Stage; yet I know a great many Plays that I would not loose
for want of that Regularity. Who wou'd not have Sir _G. Etheridge_,
Mr. _Wicherly_, and even some of Mr. _Dryden_'s Plays? Who would
reject the _Orphan_, because Mr. _Collier_ objects against a loose
Speech in it.

But Mr. _Collier_ has laid other things to the Poet's Charge besides
the Abuse of the Clergy; and that the profane Characters in the Play,
has had an ill Effect on the Age, by promoting of Immorality and Vice.
This I very much question; for I can't apprehend so much danger even
in the present Stage as Mr. _Collier_ wou'd suggest. The greatest
Faults of our Plays are their being generally, in one part or other,
unnatural: That which is regular in any of them can never be an
Offence; and where that Monster appears, it rather frightens than
allures; so that we are not in so much danger, even from our very bad
Plays: For the more monstrous, the less Power it has to please; and
whatever looses the Power, can never do much damage. So that if Mr.
_Collier_ should make a Collection of _D'urfey_'s Works, who is there
that wou'd become a Convert? And who wou'd turn Parson to be drunk and
beat the Watch? Or who wou'd be proud of an Imitation of any of his
Heroes? Has any Body brought themselves under his Character, in hopes
to recommend them to the World? It would be happy if the World had
learnt no more Irreligion from the Pulpit than it has from the Stage;
at least, the Consequence of the first has been more fatal. What
dismal Effect has the holy Cant had upon the Multitude: What
Rebellion, Blood-shed and Mischief have been encourag'd under the Name
of _Sanctity_, _Religion_, and the _Good old Cause_. Whoever learnt to
cut a King's Throat by seeing of Plays? But by going to Church, the
People were instructed to _bind the King in Chains, and his Nobles in
Fetters of Iron, That the Kingdom ought to be taken away, and given to
the Saints_; And who wou'd not be a Saint for such an Inheritance? Who
cou'd refuse resisting of Authority, when instead of _Damnation_, it
was _coming forth to the Help of the Lord against the Mighty_? But
this is but one Mischief of the Pulpit; this is only putting a Kingdom
in Civil Broils, intestine Wars, and unnatural Murthers. But when Men
of debauch'd Principles shall become the Teachers of the Nation, what
may we not expect from their Industry and Sedition.

After all, my Lord _Foppington_ was never design'd to teach People to
speak or act like him; nor was it intended that the Ladies shou'd be
byass'd by the Example of _Berinthia_ to turn Coquetts. These and the
like Characters in other Plays, are not propos'd as a Direction for
the _Gallant Man_, or the _Vertuous Lady_; but that seeing how such
Persons behave themselves on the Stage, that they may not make the
like Figure in the World; but if any body shou'd rather be in love
than terrified by these Examples, 'tis their Fault, and not the Poets,
since the best things are liable to Corruptions. But it may be
objected, That our Poets don't make Persons speak like themselves.
That indeed is a Fault, and I can't say any thing to excuse it but
this; That they who, have the Judgment to know when a Poet speaks
improperly, ought to have so much Judgment, as not to be byassed by
his Irregularities: The People who don't understand it, generally
suppose, that what is Vertuous is to be imitated, and what is Vicious
is to be avoided. That this is the general Observation of those who
frequent Plays, may justly be inferr'd from the Practice of the Town:
For I challenge any Man to prove, That any one Vice, now in being,
took its Rise from the Stage. The Stage takes Examples from the Town.
The Scene must be really acted in the World before it comes to be
expos'd: So that whatever appears Vicious or Ridiculous, is owing to
the Wickedness of the Times, and not to the Theatre. It may be
objected, That what is generally acted on the Stage, if it was done
before; yet it was done in private, but the Stage publishes it. To
this I answer, That it does not intend to license it, only to set it
in a true Light, that it may be expos'd and shunn'd.

As to those Objections, That the Actors are generally debauch'd, and
of leud Conversation; and that no Person who is a known Adulterer, or
Profane, ought to be encouraged. That the Play-house is a Resort of
vicious Persons, and gives Opportunity to such who have wicked
Inclinations. All these wou'd fall upon the advancement of a regular
Stage; but as 'tis, the Objections are not levell'd Right; for the
State is chargeable with the Immoralities. There are Laws for the
Punishment of Vice; and if the Magistrate neglect his Duty, he must
answer for it. I don't know that any body is oblig'd to a Conversation
with the Players; and their Lives can influence only their Associates;
and such they wou'd find, whether they are Players or not. When they
are on the Stage they are confin'd to the Poets Language: And if we
shou'd see Mr. _Powel_ acting a Brave, Generous and Honest Part; or
Mrs. _Knight_, a very Modest and Chaste one, it ought not to give us
Offence; because we are not to consider what they are off the Stage,
but whom they represent: We are to do by them as in Religion we do by
the Priest, mind what they say, and not what they do. Tho' the Stage
is not so abandon'd but that there are some Honest and Vertuous, for
any thing the Town can say to the contrary. And I wou'd leave it to
themselves, whether they don't find their Account in it; whether the
Town is not more favourable on any Occasion; so that it ought to be an
Encouragement to persist in their Vertue.

The Objection against the Play-House it self, because it gives
Opportunities for Wickedness, is so trifling, it is hardly worth
answering, for they who are viciously inclin'd will find an
Opportunity; and as long as the Toleration Act is in force, there is
never a Meeting in Town but will afford extraordinary Hints of that
kind; the Morning and Evening Lectures are precious Seasons, Mr.
_Doelittle_ may thresh his Heart out, there will be Tares among the
Wheat; and those Houses are haunted with a sort of Spirits that are
not to be cast out with Prayer and Fasting.

I think from the little I have said, it is certain the Town has not
been debauch'd by the Stage, and that 'tis much easier to demonstrate
the Good, than prove the Evil Effect even of our bad Plays. I have
shew'd that there has been a Vertue in them; and we might very well
pardon them if it were only for that one Benefit, of being so
serviceable to the reclaiming of the Clergy. If they can give me an
Instance of any Play, whose Vices have had so ill Effect with the
People as to counter-balance the Good it has wrought in them, I shou'd
set my self against the Stage too; but then as to other Advantages
which we have receiv'd from the Plays of the first Rank, we are
certainly very much in debt to them. The Refinement of our Tongue is
principally owing to them; Good Manners and good Conversation is owing
to our Comedy; and I don't doubt but some of our Tragedies have fired
some with a Greatness of Spirit, and taught to act the Hero with
Prudence, Vertue and Courage.

I shall conclude this part of my Letter with this Observation, that if
the present Stage has not been so terrible an Enemy to Christianity,
but on the contrary, has afforded a great deal of good to the World;
that a Regulated Stage wou'd be of infinite Service to the Nation.

I have proposed it as an Argument in Defence of a Regular Stage, that
it lies on its Adversaries to prove it against Law or Scripture, and
so might leave it justify'd till some Person or other make the
Discovery to the World: But because 'tis my Opinion 'tis utterly
impossible, I shall give you some Reasons why I think it not only
lawful in it self but very necessary in this populous City. And,
First, if we consider the Matter that ought to be represented, whether
it be Tragedy or Comedy; there is nothing in either that can offend
Religion or Good Manners.

Tragedy is a Representation of an Action by some Great Man, teaching
us to regulate our Passions with exactness, and by shewing the strange
and differing Accidents of Life, to which the most important Persons
are subject; proving to us that Vice never goes unpunished; and that
true Happiness does not chiefly consist in the Enjoyment of this
World.

Comedy is a Representation of common Conversation; and its Design is
to represent things Natural; to shew the Faults of Particular Men in
order to correct the Faults of the Publick, and to amend the People
thro' a fear of being expos'd, with this Observation, That the
Ridiculous of the Stage is to be only a Copy of the Ridiculous found
in Nature.

In short, 'tis the Property both of Tragedy and Comedy to instruct:
The Characters in both are to be Natural; and the Persons concern'd in
the whole Action, are to be such whose Vertues ought to provoke us to
an Emulation, or whose Vices ought to deter us from imitating their
Example, The Language and Sentiments are to be suitable to each
Character: A Wife, Good, and Great Man is to say nothing but what is
natural for such a one to say: The Gallant Man is to appear with all
the Qualities of a Man of Honour: and the Fool in his proper colour'd
Coat. The Vices of the Wicked are not to be represented so nicely, as
punish'd severely; that is, a Vicious Person is not to be allow'd to
plead in favour of his Vices, or to represent his Villany so calmly as
to tempt any Man to try Practices in another Place. Vice is only to be
brought there to be condemn'd, and the reason of this is, that our
Terrour may be excited, and all our Passions vent themselves with
Strength and Reason. Our Pity is not to be extended in a wrong place.
In short, The Disposition of the play is to be such that all the
Characters have a proper Effect with us. Our Fear, Love, and Anger are
to be exerted with Justice; and we are to learn from a just Fable how
to behave our selves in earnest. Thus may we exercise our Souls by
examining our reasonable Faculties, and try how we can love to
extremity, and yet without a Fault; to be angry and sin not; to be
just without partiality, and rejoyce with them that rejoyce. We are
there instructed to Love, Hate, and Fear within measure, how we may be
Men without debasing our Souls; and all this by moving Examples, which
in spite of Stubbornness, will force its Impressions; and 'tis our own
Fault if they are not lasting. This certainly must recommend the Stage
to the Vertuous; and Piety can't be offended at the decent reproving
of Vice, and the insinuating recommendation of Vertue. Here we find
Morality urg'd by Precept and Example, and the Stage reprehending
those Follies which the Pulpit wou'd blush to correct; for tho' the
Church is the Place to declaim against Sin, yet there are some sorts
of Wickedness which can't be so decently reprov'd there; so that the
Stage is serviceable on this account, to supply the Defects of the
Pulpit. In short, whatever may be objected against the present
management of the Stage, is of no force against such Proceedings as
these. Religion and Morality can receive no Damage here; for as long
as these Rules are observ'd, they strictly include both.

It was the Opinion of a great Master of Reason, that Tragedy conduces
more to the Instruction of Mankind, than even Philosophy itself,
because it teaches the Mind by Sense, and rectifies the Passions by
the Passions themselves. And there is this further Advantage, that we
have always the Example of great Men before us, and are generally
inclinable to take our Manners from them. There has indeed Authorities
been produc'd against the Stage, tho' there don't want as ancient
Advocates for it; and some of the Fathers themselves writ Plays,
however Mr. _Collier_ came to forget it.

If the Theatre is capable to give us such Advantage, it will easily be
prov'd of what necessity there is for its encouragement in this
Populous City: If there were no Politick Reasons, yet the Good to
Religion that may be done by it, is a convincing Argument at once for
its Lawfulness and Use. I know the Gravity of some can't dispense with
so much time to be spent in Diversion, tho' I can't think this a
reasonable Objection where so much Profit may attend our Delight. If
it be lawful to recreate our selves at all, it can never be amiss to
frequent such a Diversion, that only takes up our Time to make us
wiser. I wou'd to God all of them were directed to the same End. No
Man is to employ himself so as to exclude the Duties of Religion; and
there is as much danger in minding too much the Business of the World,
as the Pleasures of it; both of them are to be kept within bounds, and
both subservient to Religion. The Passions of Men are active and
restless; and 'tis the Prudence of every State to encourage some
publick Exercise to keep them at quiet. If the Theatre was down, the
Churches wou'd not be the fuller for't. Or if they shou'd, Religion is
not always the design of them who come there; so that I cannot see
that any thing can be allow'd for the publick Diversion with so much
Innocence and so much, Advantage. I'm only afraid that such a
Regularity wou'd be too Vertuous for the Age; and I don't doubt but
the Beaux and Poetasters wou'd be full of Exclamation: For it wou'd be
a dreadful Time if the Ladies should regard the Play more than their
Beaux Airs; and how wou'd _Vanbroug_ be able to pass a Comedy on them,
if they shou'd once be so nice in their Taste as to disgust Obscenity;
this indeed wou'd be a Vexation, and such a Delicacy which Mr.
_Congreve_ cou'd not be pleased with: And if the Town shou'd be so
refin'd to admit of nothing but what is Natural, we can't expect that
ever he will gratifie us with another Tragedy. _Durfey_ and _Motteux_
wou'd write no more Farces; _Guildon_ and _Tom_. _Brown, &c._ wou'd be
the Saints with wry Mouthes and scrue'd Faces: Mr. _Guildon_ indeed
has Philosophy enough to support himself under such a Calamity, and
knows a Method to prevent starving; for who can think that he who writ
_Blunt_'s Life can be at a loss for a decent dispatch of his own? 'Tis
a deplorable Case, indeed, and I pity a Man who cannot get Bread by
Writing, and yet must beg or starve without it.

The Prince of _Conti_ believ'd the _French_ Stage wou'd not have been
so bad if the Priests had begun sooner to declaim against it: It is
possible that some of our Defects may be owing to such a Negligence.
However 'tis never too late to mend; and since Mr. _Collier_ has took
up the Cudgels, I wish the rest of the same Coat wou'd so far as is
just and reasonable, stand his Second: He has his Faults, but they are
such as I wou'd not have lost his Book for. I know there are some
violent Wits, who will not allow him either Wit or Style, but, in
plain terms, to be a Fool. I hope none of them will go about to prove
it. I confess he has kept ill Company of late; but surely they don't
ground a Conjecture upon that, especially when a Man only converses to
convince. The naming Mr. _Durfey_, or examining his Works, is not so
contagious as to stain a Man's Reputation. We are indeed to answer for
evil Communication; and tho' I cannot justifie a Man who wou'd read
Mr. _Durfey_ with too much Delight, because we must not set our
Affection on things below, yet I wou'd pardon any who wou'd read him
only to forewarn others of the Danger.

'Tis a Misfortune to have good Poets stand in need of Assistance; but
'tis very much aggravated when they are deny'd it. A Man who is
oblig'd to write for his Bread, is forc'd to be very hasty to prevent
starving; And every Man's Genius is not so sharp as his Appetite. This
may be one Reason we have so many things appear Abortive. Some Poets
have not so much as to save their longing; and if their Muse miscarry,
or come with an ugly Mark into the World, are rather to be pity'd than
condemn'd. In what Pangs have I seen some poor Creatures to be
deliver'd, when at the same time they have fear'd the Poverty of their
Brats, and that the World wou'd discover they were very sick in the
breeding. A good Poet ought never to want a worthy Patron; and our
Nobility and Gentry ought to be Industrious in the Advancement of
Letters. They might do it with great ease and little Expence; for the
Number is not so great who deserve their Countenance. In vain we
complain of the Irregularity of the Stage, if they who cou'd support
its Honour, want support themselves: So that one great Step to advance
the Theatre, is to take care, that they who write for the Stage, do
not want for Encouragement.

You see, Sir, I have given my Thoughts freely: I wish they may receive
your Approbation; because I wou'd never think but to please you. I
dare not now think of excusing any thing I have writ, for I was
resolv'd to tie my self to no Method, but to think as much as I cou'd
for the advantage of the Stage, which I must believe very lawful, for
any thing I have yet met to the contrary. Nor can I be perswaded, that
our Plays have had so ill effect as some wou'd imagine. The best of
our Plays have nothing in them that is so scandalous; and for the
worst, I wou'd not allow them the Credit, nor the Authors the Vanity
to think they could influence any one Man. The evil Conversation of
some of them wou'd frighten a Man from being vicious; so that they are
serviceable against their Wills, and do the World a Kindness through
mistake. I dare not stay any longer with you, tho' I have a great
Inclination to beg you'd excuse the roughness of my Stile: But you
know I have been busie in _Virgil_; and that they say, at _Will_'s, is
enough to spoil it: But if I had begg'd a more important thing, and
ask'd you to forgive the length of my Letter, I might assure my self
you wou'd oblige,

Your Humble Servant.


FINIS.



THE Occasional Paper:
Number IX.

Containing some
CONSIDERATIONS ABOUT THE DANGER
Of going to PLAYS.


In a Letter to a Friend.


LONDON,
Printed for M. Wotton, at the Three Daggers in Fleet Street.
1698.



SIR,

Being well assured that you sincerely desire to live as becomes a
Christian, though you are not in Holy Orders; and that your complying
with some things in use among those with whom you converse, is rather
from a care to avoid being over-nice to the prejudice of Religion,
than any want of a due Concern for the Interest of it: I cannot refuse
the letting you see all at once, my thoughts of that, which having
been at several times discoursed on between us, was never yet brought
to a perfect Conclusion.

I have always found you doubting the _Lawfulness_, at least the
_Expedience_ of going to _Plays, as they are now acted amongst us_;
and sometimes you have seem'd to think it did not consist with the
Faith of the _Gospel_, considering the Outrage committed there for the
most part upon it, in one instance or other. And a fresh sense of this
I perceive has been given you, by the late _lively Account of the
Stages_, the natural colours of which indeed are so black as to be
more than enough to affright those who have any _Fear of Him that
ought to be feared_, or any Dread of the Ruin of Men.

But for as much as the thread of that serious _Design_ may seem broken
too often with Observations of Learning, and Reflections of Wit, to be
closely follow'd by those who are either not used to the one, or too
fond of the other; the same good End may perhaps be helped forward a
little, by setting this matter in a less interrupted Light, and a
Simpler View.

And if things are as bad as they are there represented apart, looking
on them together, you will scarce think those expressions too hard,
which in a more large and general State of the Case, you sometimes
thought did a little exceed. And very possibly the Zeal of some may
have proceeded too far in running down to the ground, all _Diversions
of this kind_ without any distinction: Tho' at the same time 'tis
easie accounting for that seeming distance between those who agree
that _Vertue_ shall be their common Design.

For they that are most for condemning these Entertainments, do not
deny but some proper Instructions for civil Conduct at least, might
thereby be gently instill'd; nor are they wholly against _Unbending_
the Mind, as if they suppose the Spirits of Men wou'd carry them
through the Business of Life without any Relief: But they think these,
as they stand, are _dangerous Schools_: And, as for _Refreshment_,
they see none in that which _unfits_ us for our respective duties. And
thus much is granted by those who wou'd shew a regard to the weakness
of Nature, and not be over severe upon the Practice of those they
think well enough of in other Respects.

Whenever you have inclined to savour these _Idle Amusements_, you have
set them before you in an Innocent Dress, and contended for nothing
but what might _Please_ without giving _Offence_, you never design'd
that what was _Prophane_ or _Immodest_, should have your _Protection_;
or to allow your self or your Friends a _Conversation_ that was apt to
_Corrupt_. You always hoped such _Spots_ might be separated from those
things you took in to _Divert_, and when you had made them as clear as
you cou'd, you was easie to own, they might still be too freely
indulged: For which reason I do not believe we shall differ much when
we come to the End.

Taking then these _Plays_ at the best, _pure_ from all those _defiling
Ingredients_, and _free_ from the blemish of a _Vicious Resort_, a
condition so perfect as we never yet saw the _Theater_ in: All this
would not make it a Place to be greatly frequented by those, that
desire to keep their Minds in a suitable frame. No one wou'd chuse to
converse always with _Fiction_ and _Show_, that cared to preserve
something _Real_ within; Mens Minds in effect being nothing else but
their usual Thoughts, which passing continually through them with
repeated delight, are sure to leave their Image upon them; as we can't
but observe the _Admirers_ of _Scenes_ to have something Romantick in
all that they do.

Were we daily to be in the _House_ of _Feasting_ and the soberest
Mirth, our Spirits wou'd grow by degrees so frothy and light, that we
shou'd not easily bring them to settle again on any thing that was
worthy our care: Without something now and then to raise them a
little, they wou'd be dull and unactive, but _all_ Relaxation wou'd
make them too airy, and of no sort of Use. They wou'd not serve to
keep up our Souls from sinking under the pleasures of sense, but so
unawares betray us into them, by loosning the strength we have to
resist, and improving the Charm, that tho' we supposed the whole
Concern of the _Stage_ to set out all Virtuous at first, we cou'd not
expect its continuing long in that primitive State, before it run into
some foolish Excess. For if Mens coming often and many together, on
business, or kind and friendly Occasions, is apt to lay a snare in
their Way; Nay if _Societies_ form'd for the very promotion of Virtue;
and ti'd to all the Discipline of it, are yet hardly kept from growing
irregular: What can we hope from such places of Concourse, where
Imagination expects to be rais'd, and the End is Delight?

But I doubt we never began so fairly as this, because our present
_Corruption_ is greater, than can well be conceiv'd to have sprung
from a _Root_ that had at first no _Bitterness_ in it.

Was there nothing _ill_ in the _Representations_ themselves, yet there
is so much of that by agreement of All, in the Vain _Behaviour of
those that are there_; that they must needs be very fond of a _Play_,
that can bring themselves to sit often and long in such _Company_ for
it.

And yet one wou'd think sufficient care had been taken by those on the
_Stage_, to heighten and please the most vicious _Tast_. They appear
to have study'd all the _Arts_ of an easie _Defilement_, and to have
left out no _Colours_ that were likely to _Stain_. And that these may
be sure to sink deep enough, their business is to discharge the Heart
of all its pure and _native Impressions_, that it may be the better
disposed to receive what _Tincture_ they please.

Men must here begin to _unlearn_ what their _Parents_ and grave
_Instructors_ have told them in the very tenderest part of their care;
and learn to suspect some of their first and plainest Notions of
things. They are now to be taught how they might _Be_, without a
Creator; and how, now they are, they may live best without any
Dependance on his Providence. They are call'd to doubt of the
_Existence_ of _God_, or if that be allow'd them, 'tis only to
question what _Notice_ he takes: His Wise _Providence_ at every turn
is charged with _Neglect_, and often not for, that which has something
of Precedent, supporting the Wicked, but which is _dreadfully New_
disappointing their _Lusts_. Things they are no longer ashamed of, but
publickly own, without so much as pretending to hide them from _God_,
whom they are not afraid to treat as blind, or as giving _Consent_.

Thus is His _Holiness_ turn'd to the vilest Reproach, his perfect
_Knowledge_ mention'd with scoffing, and his infinite _Power_
despised.

Had we nothing to oppose to this; but that sense of things which is
natural to Us, and which even with all these Arts is not quickly
defaced, we could not but stand amazed at such Presumptions as these,
in so poor, and ignorant, and short lived a Creature as _Man_; who
came naked but lately out of the Earth, and must soon return to that
condition again; who finds his sight bounded in every thought, and
meets with a thousand stops in all his Designs; who every step that he
takes, wants some one to help him, and can scarce avoid being
conscious of that Hand to which he ows his Support. And yet as if it
was honour to rave, this impotent Wretch must still be daring at
something above him, as if he reckon'd it weakness to own of what he
was made, and thought any submission too great a price to pay for
being preserv'd.

This cou'd not be accounted less than a Monstrous _Extravagance_, had
we no other _Rule_ than that of _Reason_ to measure it by; and a Man
with only his senses about him, would have a horrour to be thus
Entertain'd. How then shall he that professes the _Christian
Religion_, be able to bear so licentious a Treatment of all that is
Good? a little degree of _temperate Zeal_ wou'd turn him against such
_Abuses_ as these, and a middle proportion of _Faith_ spread over the
World, wou'd keep these Places from being so throng'd in their present
State as they shamefully are.

They whose Dependence is on them, are so apprehensive of this; that
they are very industrious to weaken the force of that _Revelation_
which darts it's rays so strongly against them, and discovers the
vileness of that, they wou'd have Men admire. _Redeemer_ and _Saviour_
are Titles bestow'd upon infamous persons, which shews what sense they
have of the want of him to whom they belong: And for what they are
pleas'd to mention as _Sins_, they are sure to find as slight an
_Attonement_. They make very bold with the _Grace_ of God, and crave
_Inspiration_ to serve the ends of _Lust_ and _Revenge_: In which that
they may have nothing to check them, all _Flames_ but their own are
meer _Fancies_ and _Dreams_; the sickly Thoughts of a future Account
must be banish'd away, and _Conscience_ dismissed as a weak and
_Cowardly_ thing.

That nothing may bind it, the Holy _Scripture_ is used as a _Fable_,
and at every turn brought out in disguise to be the better exposed:
They will allow it to be but one of these two, either _Imposture_ or
_Madness_. And they who profess to make it their _Rule_, and to lead
others by it, are scorn'd and traduc'd as running into _Frenzy_ or
_Cheat_, that no body else may have any regard to them or their way.

And when the _Fences_ are thus broken down, what hopes can we have any
_Virtue_ shou'd stand without being impair'd at the least? Nor do they
stick to pursue their design, but go on overturning the natures of
things as fast as they can, and they have met but with too much
success.

The _Sense of God_ being pretty well laid, the next thing to be sunk
is all Respect to Superiours here; A _Prince_ seldom appears to
advantage, and 'tis easie to guess what use of this the Subjects will
make. Imposing on _Parents_, and despising their Age is made a Mark of
Spirit and Wit, and few are brought in _dull_ enough to _Obey_. False
Notions of _Honour_ are here proposed as the ground of Esteem, and
something of _Wildness_ must go to the gaining _Applause_. To set up
for themselves is the first thing young People must learn, and to
think it brave to trample on all that stands in their Way: No
_Greatness_ like a thorough _Revenge_, nor any Spirit so _Mean_ as
that which _forgives_; _Abusing_ those that honestly help them with
their _Labour_, or _Goods_, has briskness and _Reach_, and a lively
_Cheat_ go's off with more _Reputation_ than paying ones _Debts_.

Their _Friendships_ are built upon serving their Pleasures, and so
cannot but be as loose as that which holds them together: They who are
Constant in breaking their _Vows_, shall here be caress'd as
_Faithful_ and _True_; but to shew _Fidelity_ where it is ow'd, is too
_formal_ a business for those who have the _sense_ to be _free_, and
can relish nothing but what is forbid.

This makes them treat all _Regular Love_ with that Stile of contempt,
as if keeping of Measures was unbecoming our nature; and it was a
shame to have the _Bed undefiled_. They mix with _Marriage_ all the
disagreeable things they can find to turn the _single_ against it, and
make those that are in weary and sick of so flouted a _State_: To
increase their uneasiness under which Holy and Prudent Restraint,
wandring Images are dressed up with all possible skill to affect them,
and their heads are filled with the ways, of bringing these strange
Desires to pass.

If this be the Case in the Main, as it plainly appears from the
_Account_ above mention'd, and might further be shewn by a very great
addition of proof; then whether all this can be found at any one time,
or whether some Days may not possibly be pretty clear of it all but
what is brought thither, is not very material, more than to determin,
what particular _Plays_ should always be chosen by those that will go
to Any. For the fitness of allowing this Custom, or giving it any
Encouragement, will not depend upon it's not being faulty alike in
every Part; but 'tis enough to condemn it, if what has been said is
the general Scope, tho' I doubt a Tryal wou'd shew that All offend in
one thing or other.

Matters, then, being so, you will readily grant that they who go to be
pleased, with any of those things which are hardly fit to be named;
are wickedly bent, and live to the _Scandal_ of that _Religion_ they
still make some shew to profess: Tho' not enough to give any hopes of
their being reclaim'd, until we can find them perswaded indeed, that
there is such a thing as _Sin_ in the World, which will certainly have
its _Wages_ at last.

But for those who are satisfied of this, and wou'd be loath to savour
so much as the _Appearance of Evil_, they must be beg'd to consider,
what _Vows_ they are under, and _whereof they are made_, and How much
Weaker still many _Others_ may be, and What _Mankind_ must come to in
time if this _Humour_ prevails, and How much the _next Life_ must be
at this rate more wretched than this!

Who that reflected what it was to _Renounce_ the _World_, the _Flesh_,
and the _Devil_, wou'd play with the sharpest Weapons of these, and
offer themselves to such apparent _Danger_ in _Sport_? there's not one
of these _Enemies_ but know how to take the utmost advantage, and will
be sure to hit all the Blots that they give, they cannot without
receiving some hurt, be so much as a Minate off from their _Guard_;
and sure they do not come hither to _Watch_.

Who that had engaged to believe the _Christian Faith_, cou'd be
content to see it exposed in every branch? To have their _Lord_ and
_Master_ affronted for pretending to _Save_, and his _Ministers_
scorn'd for the work he gave them to do! to hear a _Moment_ preferr'd
to the hopes of Eternity, and the _Judgment to come_ thrown off with a
Jest!

Who that had promised _Obedience_ to God in all his Wise and Holy
_Commands_, would bear the seeing them not only broken with ease, as
often as Mens Inclinations rose up against them, but charged as
unconcernedly too with harshness and folly! Their _Souls_ one wou'd
think shou'd be _vex'd_ at such daring _Impieties_, and their _Spirits
stirr'd_ in them to see such Vices Adored; to find _Lewdness_ vaunting
it over Religion and Virtue, and usurping their place in a bold
recommending itself to the affections of Men, with all those
Advantages God design'd for the Adorning of Things that were really
Good.

And who wou'd lightly endure all this, that from their Vows went on to
reflect of what they were made? I suppose they wou'd find as they
often complain, that they are Weak and Infirm, that while this _Flesh
and Blood_ is about them, their _Souls_ are heavy, apt to decline, and
seldom continue long in one posture and stay; that the World is upon
them where ever they go, and the Devil busily marking their steps in
every Path. That their _Faith_ wavers upon many Surprises, their
_Hopes_ languish, and their _Fervour_ decays; that in such cold
seasons as these, their Spirits move but stiffly about, and seldom
rise into any earnest petitions for Grace, but sink under the burden
of _Prayer_, or steal away to some Trifle, or other for a little
Relief. That in such cases they have no _Heart_ to go on with the rest
of their Duties, all the Commandments of God growing grievous upon
them, and _Repentance_ beginning to have a discouraging face: That
they know not how to follow their Master, wheresoever he goeth with
all this Oppression, the _Cross_ being now too much for them to take
up, and they feeling now no _Ease_ in his _Yoke_.

And when they often find it thus to their grief, even where they think
they take care to prevent it, wou'd one ever believe they shou'd act,
as if they desir'd these Gloomy Returns, or thought the present Light
they enjoy'd cou'd never be obscured again? How shall we do to think
them sincere in their daily bewailings of _Human Infirmities_, while
they continue to lay new weights on their Nature, as if the common
Occasions of Life afforded not tryal enough for their faith, unless
they call'd in _Temptations_ to prove how much they coul'd bear?

Wou'd they that desired to be _fervent in Prayer_, and _attend_ on the
Lord with as little _Distraction_ as their State would admit, fill
their Heads with a crowd of extravagant thoughts, and run to see
_Devotion_ it self ridiculed, as if nothing was in it but Solemn
_Pretences_? Or wou'd they that proposed to have their _Affections_ in
order, and their Appetites calm, chuse to thrust in themselves, where
_Moving the Passions_ is the business in hand, and such things are
rendred inviting, to which the Heart is but too much inclined?

It cannot sure be safe for any to let _Errours_ come often before them
in such shapes, as may make them wish they were true. It must needs
enfeeble their Minds, to have those Spirits divided that want to be
fixed; and to converse with _loose Manners_ brought down into fashion,
and dress'd up with intent to deceive, is much too great a hazard to
run in that little ground that is left to hope for the grace and
assistance of God, where his _Spirit is griev'd_, and his _Being_
deny'd.

And it is to be feared that they who come freest from any of that
Pollution, which is in such quantities scattered there, have at least
some dust to wipe off before they get home: 'Tis hard staying so long
in such a Cloud of black vapours and smoak, without having so much as
a soiling remain; great odds it is, but something will stick for a
sober reflection to banish, and a Prayer to correct. And who is there
that wants more work of that nature than He has already.

But tho' these shou'd be well enough armed to go away as clear as they
came, yet Methinks they shou'd have some concern for the _Weakness of
Others_, and the heat of their blood, as not to lead them into so
_Contagious_ a _Place_. All that go thither as yet uncorrupted, are
not however so fully prepar'd, as to be above taking any Infection:
Their Experience is little, and their Aversions to Evil but
imperfectly setled; that it can't be expected they shou'd be proof
against all the Assaults that are made in a pleasing Disguise. That
_Root of Vanity_ that secretly twists it self with their natures, is
drawn out by degrees, and they are carryed on to the hopes of their
_Liberty_ and of being _Admired_.

Now were they to find no Company here, but such as were lost to good
manners and shame, they wou'd suspect some deceit in the whole, and
look well to themselves: But going under the shelter of many that have
names for Religion, and I trust have it indeed; they are emboldned to
think they are very secure, and that there is no need of being so
Nice. Thus while those, by whose Example these are encouraged,
preserve it may be themselves from the _Danger_ they run; these unwary
beholders take all that glisters for Gold, and are sadly betray'd.

[Sidenote: 1 Cor. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.]

St. _Pauls_ advice to those that were strong, in another case is so
fitted to this, that I cannot forbear the letting you have it at
large. _Take heed_ (says he) _least by any means this Liberty of yours
become a Stumbling-block to them that are weak. For if any Man see
thee which hast knowledge, sit at Meat in the Idols Temple, shall not
the Conscience of him that is weak, be emboldned to eat those things
that are offered to Idols: And through thy knowledge shall the weak
Brother perish, for whom Christ dyed? But when ye sin so against the
Brethren, and wound their weak Consciences, ye sin against Christ_.

And as forreign as this Instance may seem, was there any comfort in
drawing the _Parallel_, we shou'd find but too great a Similitude
between the _Places_ in question, and the _Idolatrous Temples_; while
the other difference that is in the case seems to lie on the side I am
writing, that if Christians might sin in the use of their _Liberty_ to
the offence of their Brethren, much more wou'd they do so in such a
Point as we have before us, where their own Consciences can hardly be
clear, as we shall think it more difficult for them to be, if we
consider yet further what _Mankind_ will come to at last if this
_Humour_ prevails.

It is confess'd on all hands, that we live in a sad degenerate Age,
and though some have suggested other causes of our horrid Declension,
yet most considering People have the fairness to own, that the _Stage_
has gon furthest in running us down to this low and almost Brutal
condition; nor will there remain much question of this, if we can but
agree what _Corruption_ is.

If Exposing Religion with the Persons and things design'd for the
keeping it up in the World, will pass for disorder; or if the Increase
of Pride and Injustice, Blood and Revenge, are any signs of our being
_Depraved_; or if want of Modesty, Obedience, and Love, contempt of
Marriage, and neglect of it's Bonds may serve to shew the
_foundations_ of things to be at all _out of Course_. I think we have
sufficient warrant to lay the confusion at that _Door_, which opens to
these.

That these things are taught there, and found in the World, can be no
way deny'd, and then it is not of any great use to enquire, whether
strictly speaking they were at first brought from thence, or carryed
thither. For when our Bodies and Minds are much out of order at once,
'tis hard saying where the Distemper began; and the less material to
know, when both must have their Cures apply'd, and it is to the
advantage of neither, that they go on to hurt one another. If the ill
humour does not begin in the place we suppose, it is there at least
increased to a head, and thrown out again into all parts of the body,
many of which to be sure first have it from thence, tho' they
afterwards help to keep up the Spring: And if this pestilent Matter,
be not only thus suffered to circulate, but assisted to spread, the
_Sickness_ will quickly be _unto Death_.

For whatever some fancy, a Nation can never live long without any
Religion, nor Religion subsist without some to attend it as their
principal Care: So that shou'd it indeed come to pass, that no body
minded what Men of this Character said, as these _Teachers_ would have
it, Darkness with all it's hideous works wou'd soon cover the face of
the Land, and make it fit for the Stroke.

We are already almost advanced to the brink of the Pit, by People's
unlearning only what once they were taught, of the Honour and
Advantage of _Marriage_, and the mutual Duties of Husbands and Wives,
which are indeed so grosly forgot, that the Offenders have well nigh
made their own Doctrine against it, appear to be true: But then it
cannot confuse it self better, then by bidding so fair to destroy all
the Comfort and Use of a _Social Life_: For if Mankind cannot indeed
be happy in Wedlock, they are in a very deplorable State.

It was deservedly thought a Monstrous Error in those that declaimed
against Marriage of old, as bringing more Creatures into the World to
Sin, and be punished for it; tho' Salvation and Purity were their
design: How much then above these are they to be blamed, who wou'd
fain bring it into discredit, without any intent to keep Souls from
Miscarrying, or set an unspotted life in it's place; but on purpose to
spread their _Abominations_ the wider, in defiance of all the
Threatnings of God denounced against them, and those they defile.

And who then that had any serious concern for the Glory of God, or the
welfare of Men in this life or the next, wou'd not stop and consider a
while with themselves, how far they shou'd give any countenance to
such _Recreations_, as tend to disturb even the best of their present
Enjoyments and Peace, and lead to extreme _Despair_ in the _End_? For
however Men may with vain words be sadly deceived, _the Wrath of God
cometh upon the Children of Disobedience, because of these things_,
and when they have mock'd all they can, they will find that He is _a
Consuming fire_.

Compassion, then, one wou'd think, shou'd work upon those that are
good, to discourage by all their Endeavours, such Customs as bring on
the ruine of many, and do hurt to the whole, tho' they shou'd have
strength to go in, without being tainted themselves: Not that they can
pretend to be safe even from taking _Infection_, if once their
_Preservatives_ come to be frequently used, and to lose their Virtue,
as they will by degrees. At least they will want a great deal of
fulfilling the duty incumbent upon them to _Adorn their Holy
Profession_, and can hardly assure themselves of their being redeemed
from the vain Conversation they had in the World. Those allowances to
this, at best, _careless spending of time_, which a little share in
it, will bring them to make, cannot chuse but abate a great part of
their _Zeal_, and slacken their pace in their spiritual Course; to
which these _Entertainments_ are so flat a Reverse, that _Dying
daily_, and going to them, set out as they are, can scarce have their
good Opinion together.

And who then that desired to perfect their natures, by a patient
_striving for Mastery_ over their Lusts, and following the _Captain_
of their _common Salvation_ thro' all the Paths of an humble
Obedience, wou'd care to appear under so different a _Banner_, and
encumber their Souls with more than they need, of what must again be
thrown out of their way, or hinder their winning the _Prize_.

This being the case, good Christians certainly cannot have the much
easier thoughts of such freedoms as these, for not finding them in so
many words expresly forbid. Such as these will consider the end and
design of the Gospel, and the frailty of Man, and think themselves
obliged to be jealous of any fashion that tends to increase the
weakness of one, and lessen the force of the other: When this plainly
appears to be the Consequence of any Indulgence, they allow it to lay
as full a Restraint, as cou'd be set by one or two particular Texts,
which a corrupt understanding wou'd be at less pains to evade.

And yet if it blemishes any opinion to be Earthly and Sensual, or if
_Evil Communications_ are ever the worse for their effect upon
_Manners_: If to cherish a _Mind that is at Enmity with God_, and
declared to be _Death_, be opposing his Will, and endangering the
Souls of them that support the Resistance; Accusations abound against
the Custom that passes for so inoffensive a thing.

If _casting down Imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth it
self against the knowledge of God, and bringing into Captivity every
thought to the Obedience of Christ_, be the Warfare of those that
wou'd go by his Name; If arming themselves against the _Lust of the
Flesh, the Lust of the Eye, and the pride of Life_, be that Task he
has set them to do; If a _chast Conversation coupled with fear_, and
_letting their Light so shine before Men_, that they may see 'em _do
all to the glory of God_, be the duty of Christians; we have places
enough to shew them of what importance it is, to withdraw from those
that walk so very disorderly, as wou'd not have been in the times of a
livelier Faith, allow'd the outward Communion of Saints.

Nor is the Case so mightily altered from what it was then, unless it
be for the worse; as that we shou'd from thinking them wholly unworthy
to come into our _Assemblies_, run flocking to theirs: For what
vileness has ever offended the World, which is not exceeded if
possible there? Can the Burlesquing an absurd Religion, or Mocking it
upon the Stage be so bad as defying one that is reasonable and wise,
or paying Honour to _Gods that were not_, be like the blaspheming him
that is _True_? This cannot sure in reason be thought, whatever
Excuses People may find to palliate that which they cannot find in
their Hearts to condemn.

Nor is that primitive Spirit so wholly extinct, but that some in our
days, and of _that Religion_ which carries more marks of the World,
then God be thanked are met with in ours, have dared to appear
directly against that vain Practice, which notwithstanding sits easie
on many of so much a _stricter Communion_ than theirs. And this
Instance is so far from being the worse for coming from _France_, that
it is a great deal the more fit to be urged in the present debate. For
if, in a Country disposed to a _lighter Temper and Air_, where the
_Church_ has greater Corruption, and the _Theater_ fewer, there can
yet be whole Bodies of _Casuists_ found, disallowing the sight of
their _Modester Plays_; Methinks it shou'd not be thought an Absurdity
here, to go about to disswade so _thoughtful_ a _People_ as we reckon
our selves, from going to ours which shew so little of that
Reformation to which we pretend.

[Sidenote: P. of _Conde_. _Vid. traite de la Comedie_.]

And least this should seem to be only the sense of some retired
_Divines_, I beg leave to observe that the same censure is also pass'd
by a _Prince of the Blood_, as highly Esteem'd for his _Learning_ as
_Birth_. And I wish his Example were follow'd here, that the shameful
_Indignities_ put upon Persons of the _Highest Descent_ by those of
the _Meanest_, wou'd stir up some excellent Spirit of that Eminent
Rank, to shew them how much beneath them it was, to stoop so low to be
thus coarsly entertained: And that it betray'd a want of _Honour_ as
well as _Religion_, tamely to see themselves as well as their _Maker_
abused, and to seem pleased with that in a Croud, which said or done
before them any where else, they wou'd be obliged to resent as the
highest Affront.

At least I hope that one way or other, they will be convinced how much
it concerns them to put a stop to this Insolent Course, and find out
some other _Diversions_, till these at least are reform'd, more
suitable to the Christian Religion, and less threatning their Virtue
and Fame. And such no doubt may be found, tho' some perhaps will be
apt to reply, that, at this way of talking, all are condemn'd.

But this I conceive is not fair, nor rightly deduced from what has
been said; good reasons I know are sometimes press'd with these kind
of Extremities, when Men have not a mind to admit their natural force;
and to hinder inferring any thing from them, they frowardly insist on
their proving too much: And thus I think it wou'd be in those, who
shou'd offer to urge that this sort of arguing puts an end to all kind
of Mirth.

For are then all Diversions alike? And can there be none without such
follies, as no Man in his sense wou'd endure? Must all easie
Conversation be lost, unless Men have leave to be loose and profane?
And can there be no coming together of Strangers or Friends, but some
naked Vice must dance and be praised, or some Virtue made a Sacrifice
of, to fill up the Feast?

There may very well be, and no doubt but there is, in most
Conversation, a great deal of that which shou'd never be there; and
this is what one cannot wholly avoid without leaving the World. But
can this be reason why we must let People make to themselves new and
needless Occasions of Vanity, and lay dangerous snares in the way of
unwary People? I shou'd rather think the Argument lay; that since
there were so many faults, in all parts of the World and divertion of
life, Men shou'd not look out for more of this Trash to offend their
Company with, and foment the Disease, but get clear away from all the
Infection they cou'd, and lay in a Stock of such agreeable and wholsom
provisions, as might enable them to treat others with Safety and Ease,
and sometimes to correct the ill humours they found.

But then they must not go to such _Books_ and prescriptions for these,
as are full of the leaven they shou'd put out from amongst them, and
can serve for nothing else but to poyson their Food: To converse with
Impiety here, is to give it all the advantage they can, it is to
surrender the Mind entirely up to whatever assaults it, without being
able to save so much as a stragling thought. For they whose _Closets_
are fill'd with nothing but these, do not even pretend to resist the
force they call in, and a good Book standing idly by, will be little
security, against the strong Delusions of those they read with
concent: And therefore they who wou'd have their own virtue preserved,
and see more in the World, must not only avoid ill commerce abroad,
but reject it at home, and employ their Retirements in preparing
themselves to appear in publick without danger, and to some kind of
life.

This care, I am sure, of our selves, and this Compassion one of
another, God and Nature and the Gospel require; and how much or how
little soever others may be affected at this, you Sir, I dare say,
will think best of your self, when you tread most in the steps of your
_Saviour_, and like him, _go about doing good_: When you relieve the
Afflicted, assist your Neighbours, and comfort your Friends; when you
please and benefit those that desire to hear you, and Reverence and
Kindness and Truth, are the Law of your Tongue. When a meek and quiet
Spirit adorns you, and Piety gives the grace to your looks, when your
Religious Example shines so lovely and clear, as to draw those after
you, to whom it shews the beautiful way, and Vanity has not the face
to appear; then, and not much before then, will you think you have
made some Advance to Peace and a Crown.

In hopes of that desired Success,

I am,

SIR,

Your, &c.


FINIS.



These sermons preach'd upon several Occasions. By the Right Reverend
Father in God, Richard Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Remarks upon an Essay concerning Humane Understanding: In a Letter
address'd to the Author.

Second Remarks upon an Essay concerning _Humane Understanding_; In a
Letter address'd to the Author. Being a Vindication of the _First
Remarks_, against the Answer of Mr. _Lock_, at the End of His _Reply
to the Lord Bishop of_ Worcester.

_The Occasional Paper_: Numb. I. II. III. IV. V. VI. VII. VIII.

A Guide to the Devout Christian in 3 Parts. By _John Inett M.A._
Chanter of the Cathedral Church in _Lincoln_.

A Guide to Repentance, or the Character and Behaviour of the Devout
Christian in Retirement. By _John Inett, M.A._


Printed for _Matt. Wotton_, at the _Three Daggers_ in _Fleetstreet_.





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