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in the schools of the philosophers, in regard to which, no person, as far as I know, has thought it necessary to lay down rules. The fourth kind, the pathetic, hath in point of aim more similarity to the eloquence of the theatre, tragedy in particular, than to that either of the bar or of the senate. But the difference in form, arising from the nature of the work, between all dramatic compositions, and the discourses prepared for the pulpit, is so extremely great, that I have not judged it necessary hitherto so much as to name this
species of oratory.
And as probably I shall not have occasion in these prelections to mention it hereafter, I shall now take the liberty to give you briefly, in passing, my sentiments concerning theatrical performances, and the use which may be made of them by the Christian orator. As to the drama in general, it is manifestly no more than a particular form, in which a tale or fable is exhibited; and, if the tale itself be moral and instructive, it would require no small degree of fanaticism to make one think, that its being digested into so many dialogues and dressed up in the dramatic form, can render it immoral and pernicious. So much for the question of right, as I may call it. If from this, we proceed to a question of fact, to which the other very naturally gives occasion, and inquire, whether the greater number of modern plays, be such tales as we can really denominate moral and instructive, or on the contrary such as have a tendency to vitiate the principles and debauch the practice of the spectators; to this point, I acknowledge, it is more difficult to give a satisfactory
I own indeed, that in my judgment the far greater part of our comedies, I say not all, merit the latter character, rather than the former. For not to mention the gross indecencies with which many of them abound, (and to the reproach of our national taste, as well as morals, English comedy perhaps more than any other) what is generally the hero of the piece, but a professed rake or libertine, who is a man of more spirit, forsooth, than to be checked in his pursuits by the restraints of religion, the dictates of conscience, the laws of society, or (which were accounted sacred even among pagans and barbarians) by the rights of hospitality and of private friendship? Such a one, the poet, in order to recommend him to the special favour of the audience, adorns with all the wit and humour and and other talents, of which he himself is master, and always crowns with success in the end. Hence it is, that the stage with us may, without any hyperbole, be defined, the school of gallantry and intrigue, in other words, the school of dissoluteness. Here the youth of both sexes may learn to get rid of that troublesome companion modesty, intended by Providence as a guard to virtue, and a check against licentiousness. Here vice may soon provide herself in a proper stock of effrontery for effectuating her designs, and triumphing over innocence.
But besides the evil that too commonly results from the nature and conduct of the fable, there is another, in the tendency to dissipation and idleness, the great enemies of sobriety, industry and reflection, which theatrical amusements ordinarily give to the younger part of the spectators. On the other hand, are there no advantages which may serve as a counterbalance to these evils? There are some advantages; it would not be candid to dissemble them, but they can be no counterbalance. What is just pronuncia- . tion, easy motion and graceful action, compared with virtue? Those accomplishments are merely superficial, an external polish ; this is internal and essential. But at the same time that we acknowledge, that the manner and pronunciation of the orator may be improved by that of the actor, we must also admit on the other side, that by the same means it may be injured. And I have known it, in fact, injured in consequence of too servile an imitation of the stage. I allow, that what hath been advanced regards only the modern English comedy, for, though some of our tragedies are also exceptionable in point of morals, yet they are comparatively but a few, and those by no means faulty in the same way and much less to the same degree. And as I would with equal freedom approve, and even recommend what I think laudable and useful, as I would censure what I think blameable and hurtful, I cannot deny, but that both in regard to the sentiments, and in the wonderful talent of operating on the passions, the tragic poet will often give important lessons to the preacher. I would be far then from dissuading you from consulting occasionally whatever may contribute to your improvement. Our great apostle, as we learn from his history and epistles, did not scruple to read the dramatic pieces of heathen poets ; nay he has even thought fit sometimes to quote their sentiments with approbation, and to give their very words the sanction of sacred writ. Where debates arise on any subject, it is almost invariably the case, that both sides run to extremes, alike deserting truth and moderation. It is the part of a wise man, like the bee, to extract from every thing what is good and salutary ; and to guard against whatever is of a contrary quality. But I am aware, that the most of what I have said on this subject may be looked on as a digression. I acknowledge, it in a great measure is so; but as the mention of it was perfectly apposite, and as few topics have occasioned warmer disputes among christians, I did not think it suited that decorum of character, which I would wish always to preserve, to appear artfully, when a fair opportunity offers, to avoid telling freely my opinion.
On the Composition of Lectures. IN my
last lecture on the subject of pulpit eloquence I told you, that every discourse was addressed either to the understanding of the hearers, to their imagination, to their passions, or to their will. As those addressed to the understanding, may be intended either for explaining something unknown to them, or for proving something disbelieved or doubted by them, sermons in the largest acceptation of the word may be distributed into five classes, the explanatory, the argumentative or controversial, the demonstrative or commendatory, the pathetic, and the persuasive. It will not be amiss here, in order to prevent mistakes, to take notice of the particular import which I mean to give to some terms, as often as I employ them on this subject. The first I shall mention is the term demonstrative, which in the application usual with rhetoricians, hath no relation to the sense of the word as used by mathematicians. Here it hath no concern with proof or argument of any kind, but relates solely to the strength and distinctness with which an object is exhibited, so as to render the conceptions of the imagination almost equal in vivacity and vigour with the perceptions of sense. This is entirely agreeable to the