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dramatic representations, the opinions, the dispositions, and the actions of the frequenters of the theatre will acquire some degree of similitude. What is heard with admiration and pleasure, will be remembered: what is seen under those impressions, will be imitated. The impression of the sentiment will be, in some measure, modified by the leading qualities and inclinations of the mind of the hearer: and the fidelity with which the example will be copied, will depend on a variety of circumstances favouring or discouraging closeness of imitation. The growth of the plant will vary, as it is fixed in auspicious or in ungenial foil : the quantity of its fruit will be affected by the smiles and frowns of the sky. But there is feldom a soil so ungenial as entirely to obftruct its vegetation; feldom a sky so frowning as for ever to divest it of fertility. From antient times to the present hour the influence of the Stage has been difcerned. Has it been the object to inculcate or to explode particular opinions ; to 3


elevate or to degrade the characters of individuals; to strengthen or to shake existing forms of government? From the days of Grecian and Roman antiquity, down to the French revolution, the Stage has been an engine eagerly employed by those who have had it under their control. Is its in, fluence unperceived or disregarded in our own country? The legal restraints to which the theatre is subjected, and the stamp of official approbation which every new play must receive before it can be exhibited, answer the question. The lowest orders of the people, mutable, uninformed, and parsionately addicted to spectacles of amuse, ment, may probably be acted upon, through the medium of theatrical representations, with greater facility and success than other classes of the community. But, to speak of individuals among the upper and middle ranks of life, young women are the persons likely to imbibe the strongest tinge from the sentiments and transactions set before them in the drama. Openness of heart, warmth of feeling, a lively perception of the lu



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dicrous, a strong sense of the charms of novelty, readiness to adopt opinions recommended by fashion, proneness to give large scope to the influence of association and of sympathy, these are circumstances which characterise youth, more especially youth in the female sex. And they are circumstances which render those whom they characterise liable, in a peculiar degree, to be practically impressed by the language and examples brought forward on the Stage.

The English Stage has, for a considerable time, laboured under the heavy imputation of being open to scenes and language of gross indelicacy, which foreign theatres would have proscribed. This observation is applicable even to our tragedies. Of English comedy, an eminent writer (1) of our own country observes, that, although we ourselves overlook its immorality,


(1) Dr. Blair, in his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, 4to. vol. ii. p. 547; where he quotes several instances in confirmation of his remark. Mr. Diderot pronounces English comedy to be without morals.” Vol

“ all foreigners, " the French especially, who are accustomed " to a better regulated and more decent “ Stage, speak of it with surprise and asto6 nishment.' Of the moral changes which

taire, who, undoubtedly, was no rigid moralist, speaks of it in the strongest terms of reprobation. M. Moralt, in his Letters upon the French and English Nations, afcribes the corruption of manners in London to comedy, as its chief cause. “ Their comedy, he says, is like that of no other “ country. It is the school in which the youth of both « fexes familiarise themselves with vice, which is never

represented there as vice, but as mere gaiety.

Dr. Blair's opinion of the principal of the English comic writers, from the reign of Charles II. to that of George II. is contained in the following sentence. “ It is extremely “ unfortunate that, together with the freedom and boldness “ of the comic spirit in Britain, there should have been

joined such a spirit of indecency and licentiousness, as " has disgraced English comedy beyond that of any nation 6 since the days of Aristophanes.” Lectures, vol. ii. p. 542. He adds, p. 547, 548, that“ of late years a sen“ fible reformation, derived in a considerable degree from " the French theatre, has begun to take place.” The improvement is unquestionable; but the innocence and morality of most of our modern comedies are only comparative. M 3


the Stage may have experienced in France since the commencement of the political convulsions which for some years past have agitated, and still continue to agitate, that country, I am not qualified to speak. But, antecedently to those events, it seems to have been the concurrent opinion of competent judges, that, although corruption of manners and of private conduct had arisen at Paris to an excess by no means to be paralleled at London, the drama of the former capital was far superior in purity to that of the latter. Let not this fact be deemed contradictory to the opinion recently given of the powerful effect which theatrical representations are adapted to produce on the moral character and behaviour of those who frequent them. In France, public dissoluteness was pushed on by causes from which, of late, England has been, by the blessing of Providence, exempted; causes which, though capable of deriving strength from a depraved Stage, would not have been effectually withstood by the lessons of theatres


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