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Shakspeare is a little more just to the Puritans; in fact, it may be questioned whether he had not a secret hankering after them. In the Twelfth Night, Act II. Scene 3, when Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria, are discoursing of the character of the conceited Malvolio, the dialogue thus proceeds
Sir Toby. Possess us, possess us, tell us something of him.
Maria. Marry, Sir, sometimes he is a kind of Puritan.
Sir Andrew. Oh, if I thought that, I'd beat him like a dog.
Sir Toby. What, for being a Puritan? Thy exquisite reason, dear knight?
Sir Andrew. I have no exquisite reason for't, but I have reason good enough.
Maria. The devil a Puritan that he is, or any thing constantly but a time-pleaser.
What is this, but slily saying that the Puritans were often beaten without reason; and were no time-servers. The sentiment of beating the Puritans, comes from a character whom Shakspeare has made a blockhead; and I am not sure, that it is not a sly hit upon some of the persecuting priests, or drunken justices, of that age. In the Merry Wives of Windsor, too, we have the character of Sir Hugh, an Episcopal clergyman, who drinks sack, haunts taverns, and fights duels. Now when we remember that Shakspeare never takes his characters but from
known resemblances, we must suppose there were many such preachers in the English church; and the Puritans were justified in their separation from it. The testimony of such writers is better, perhaps, than the records of formal history-it is impartial.
In reading past history—and in no portion of history more than that which pertains to the period which generated the principles of our fathers--the reader is perplexed by the different and even opposite representations, which the clashing factions give to their cause; and he is inclined to ask, with Pilate, What is truth? My direction would be, look through the loopholes; catch up the accidental rays, which peep through the crevices and chasms, where sincerity is not stifled by art. Every accidental pamphlet, every sermon and poem of a cotemporary writer, may be considered as throwing light on that fermenting age, when the tree of liberty was (we may almost say) planted; and, certainly, began to take the deepest root, and cast the broadest shade. It was an era of great efforts, great sufferings, and great minds. Then were formed the Hampdens and Pyms of Old England, and the Carvers and Winthrops of the New; and it seems essential to the character we are to act, and the station that we are to fill, that we should rightly estimate them; at least, to place them too low in our hearts, would be contrary to the policy of all nations, and the practice of all ages. To reach the truth, then, let every youthful student in history con
sider the eternal law of historical probability, which Montesquieu has laid down; let him reflect, we receive our first impressions from English literature; we hear the tale from an exasperated faction, once defeated, but finally victorious. Let him dig the statues of his fathers from the mud, in which they have been buried; wash them; set them on their proper pedestal; view them, and review them, in the light of the sun; and survey their serious, but beautiful features, until he catches whatever is firing in their burning spirits, and copies whatever is great, in their great example.
I HAVE already told my patient reader, who has seen fit to accompany me thus far, that I was for a time a resident in the city of Boston. No man leaves the smoke of his paternal chimney without enlarging his ideas, for good or for evil. I was invited to attend the theatre, that abomination of the Puritans ; and I must confess there was a long contest between my curiosity and my conscience. My only conception of a play was from an old mutilated copy of Addison's Cato, which might serve for an emblem of eternity, as it had neither beginning nor ending to it; and a pamphlet with pasteboard covers, containing Sir Richard Steel's Conscious Lovers, both of them I found in my grandfather's garret, and left by some Boston family that had occupied a part of his house,
during three months in the summer. prised the sum of my dramatic knowledge; and I recollect, that my conscience smote me once bitterly for reading Cato on a Saturday night, after the sun had set, as I was taught to believe that at this hour, the Sabbath had already commenced.
But in Boston, one gets a new conscience; and I, who had groaned over my profane reading, was now actually induced to go and see a play. I had heard a great deal said, about the drama's being a representation of nature; that players were the abstract and brief chroniclers of the times; that they held the mirror up to nature; and that a good tragedy, well acted, was as much a moral lecture as one of Blair's sermons. I hesitated for some time; but Tom Wildbull at last telling me, that he believed that Shakspeare was as much inspired as ever Solomon was, and a far wiser man, I concluded to put my conscience into my pocket, and go to this new school of wisdom; especially as grandpa' and aunt Hannah would never be likely to know it.
It was in the winter of 1802-3. Barrett was then manager of the Federal street theatre, and chief tragedian. The Haymarket house was then deserted, standing as an enormous wooden pile, and dreaded as the nest-egg of some future conflagration. The victory of the amateurs of the drama over the puritanical scruples of the town of Boston, had then just been won, and, such was the rapid increase of histrionic