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An irresistible inclination for the new and extraordinary ; a desire to enjoy excitement; gave, according to Sulger, existence to the stage. Exhausted by the monotonous, often oppressive, transactions of the day; satiated with the ordinary pleasures of life; man necessarily feels a vacuum in his being, which is contrary to his continual longing after activity; and our nature, equally incapable of always enjoying those ordinary sensual pleasures, as it is of being in such a state as to continue the elevated exertions of the mind, requires a medium, which unites the two opposite extremes; which reduces painful excitement to soft harmony, and facilitates the mutual passage from one state to the other. This object is usually gained by the exstatic sense, or the taste for the beautiful and sublime. As it must be the first aim of a wise legislator to select from two effects the most beneficial, he will not be satisfied with only having disarmed the inclinations of his people ; but he will if possible use them for more noble projects, and endeavor to change them into sources of happiness. He therefore selected The STAGE, which opens to the mind thirsting after activity an unlimited field; gives nourishment to every power of the soul, without overstraining one; and unites the cultivation of the mind and heart with the noblest of enter. tainments.
He who first made the observation that · The strongest pillar of a gov. ernment is Religion ;' that without it even the laws lose their power; has, perhaps without intending it, defended the Stage on its noblest side. It is the insufficiency, the vascillating quality of political laws, that ren. ders religion indispensable to a country, which decides the moral influ. ence of the Stage. He intended to say, that laws turn only on negative duties; Religion extends her demands to real actions; laws only clog effects, which would dissolve the unity of society ; Religion commands such as bind it more firmly.
The laws take no cognizance beyond the open manifestations of the will; actions alone are subject to them. Religion holds her jurisdiction over the most remote corners of the heart, and persecutes thought to its inmost source. Laws are changeable as caprice or passion; reli. gion binds strongly and eternally. If then we allow Religion to possess such power over the heart of man, can she, or will she complete his education ? Religion (we separate the political side from the godly one) works in general upon the senses of the people; and therefore it is that she works the more efficiently; her power is gone when we rob her of this: she ceases to be any thing to the mass of mankind when we take from her her Scriptural accessories; when we destroy her hea. ven and her hell. What reinforcement to religion and the laws, when they enter into league with the stage ! - where there is reality and pre
sence; where virtue and vice, happiness and misery, folly and wisdom, pass before men in a thousand true and easily-understood pictures; where Providence solves her riddles, and loosens her knots before their eyes; where the human heart, under the torture of passion, confesses its deepest and most secret emotions; where all masks fall, all illusions vanish; and Truth, incorruptible as Rhadamanthus, sits as judge!
The jurisdiction of the stage begins where the limits of worldly laws end. When justice is blinded by gold, and luxuriates in the
pay vice ; when the crimes of the powerful laugh at her weakness; and when fear of man ties the arm of the judge ; then the Stage takes up the sword and balance, and forces vice before her awful tribunal. The entire field of imagination and history, the past and the future, are ready at her command. Bold criminals, who have been mouldering for centuries in their dust, are summoned by the mighty appeal of poetry, and react their horrible career, as examples for trembling posterity. Powerless as the shadows in a phantasmagora, the terrors of their era pass before our eyes, and with a voluptuous trembling we curse their memory! Though morality should be no more taught; though Reli. gion should no longer find believers; though laws should cease to exist, yet still we should shudder on beholding Medea descending the palacesteps after her horrid infanticide. Virtuous terror will seize humanity, and in silence will every man praise his good conscience, when the sleepless Lady Macbeth washes her hands, and calls for all the perfumes of Araby to destroy the damning smell of murder! As sure as yisible representation works more effectually than the dead letter and cold history, so surely does the Stage work deeper and more lastingly than morality or the laws.
But in all this she only assists the worldly jurisdiction : a larger field is open to her; a thousand crimes which the laws leave unpunished, she punishes; a thousand virtues on which they are silent, are recommended by her. It is the Stage that accompanies virtue and religion ; from their pure source she takes her precepts and examples, and dresses severe duty in a charming and alluring garment. With what heavenly feelings, resolutions and passions she fills our souls; what divine ideals she places before us for our imitation! When Augustus, great as his gods, extends his hands to the traitor who already reads his death-sentence on his lips; when he exclaims Let us be friends, Cinna! who in the crowd would not willingly press the hand of his greatest enemy, to imitate the noble Roman ? When Franz of Sichengen, on his way to punish a prince and fight for others' rights, looks back and sees his castle, where he has just left his helpless wife and child, in flames, but still marches on to keep his plighted word, how great then appears man! - how despicable the so-much-feared and invincible fate!
The Stage shows vice in her terrible mirror as hideous as she shows virtue attractive. When the helpless and childish Lear, with his hoary locks streaming in the wind, knocks at the door of his daughter, and tells the raging elements how unnatural his Regan has been; when his bursting heart at last finds vent in the words, 'I gave you all ! how awful appears to us ingratitude; how fervently do we promise filial love and obedience!
But the field of action for the Stage extends still farther. Even where Religion and the laws deem it beneath their dignity to follow the feelings of man, she is still busy for our education. The welfare of society is destroyed as often by folly as by crime and vice. Experience, old as the world, teaches us, that in the machinery of human life, the heaviest weights often hang on the smallest and most delicate threads; and when we retrace actions to their source, we smile ten times before we are horrified once. Our register of criminals becomes smaller every day we grow older, and that of fools every day larger. We know but one secret to prevent mankind from degenerating, and that is, to shield their hearts against weakness.
Much of this effect we may expect from the Stage. She it is who holds the mirror up to the numerous class of fools, and chides their thousand follies with salutary mockery. That which she has produced by exciting our feelings and terror, she now effects, perhaps quicker, by laughter and satire. Were we to estimate comedy and tragedy according to the measure of the effect produced by each, experience would probably give the preference to the first. Scorn and contempt wound the pride of man more than horror tortures his conscience. Our cowardice hides itself before the horrible, but it is even this very cowardice which hands us over to the sting of satire. We may perhaps suffer a friend to attack our motives, but it will cost us dear to forgive the laugh at our expense. Our crimes may permit a judge, rather than our weakness a witness. The Stage alone may with impunity ridicule our weaknesses, for the reason that she spares our vanity, and does not name the guilty one. We see our own caricature in her mirror, without blushing, and in silence thank her for the soft correction.
But her entire field of action is yet by no means ended. The Stage, more than any other school of the state, is a school of practical wisdom. An unerring key to the most secret recesses of the human soul. We grant that vanity and a hardened conscience often destroy her best effects; that a thousand crimes look boldly into her mirror; a thousand good sentiments rebound fruitlessly from the cold heart of the spectator. Molière's Harpagon may not have cured one miser; few gamesters
have been withheld from their destructive passion by the suicide of Beverly; the unhappy robber, Charles Moor, may not have rendered the public highways more safe ; but if we limit the great effects produced by the Stage, if we are even so unjust as to deny them altogether, how immense still remains her influence! If she does not succeed in destroying or diminishing crime, she at least makes us acquainted with it. With such as commit it, we are obliged to live; we must avoid or meet them ; defeat or be defeated by them; but they cannot surprise us; we are prepared against their schemes.
The Stage betrays to us the secret how to discover and how to render them harmless. She tears the mask from the hypocrite, and shows the net with which intrigue and cunning envelopes us. She drags deceit and falsehood from their labyrinthic hiding places, and exhibits their hateful faces to the world. Perhaps not one roue is terrified by the fate of the dying Sara : all pictures of punished seduction may not correct him; nay, the cunning actress may herself be desirous of preventing
such an effect; yet sufficient is gained, that confiding Innocence knows his snares; that the Stage teaches her to distrust his professions, and to shudder at his adoration.
Not only to man and man's character, but to Providence, the Stage directs our attention, and teaches us the great art to bear its decrees. In the labyrinth of our life, accident and pain play an equally important part. The latter we direct, but to the former we are obliged blindly to submit. Fortunate are we, when inevitable misfortunes do not find us wholly unprepared ; and our mind and our courage having been already exercised in similar circumstances, our hearts are hardened to their strokes. The Stage brings before our eyes varied scenes of human suffering. She draws us artfully into the misfortunes of others, and compensates us for the momentary suffering by voluptuous tears and an added courage and experience. With her we follow the abandoned Ariadne through the echoing Naxos ; with her we descend to the prison of the starving Ugolino; with her we ascend the horrid scaffold, and listen with her in the sublime hour of death. Here we hear surprised Nature acknowledge loudly and irrevocably that which our soul feels in its vague glimmerings. In the halls of the Tower, the favor of his queen abandoned the deceived Essex. Now that he must die, the affrighted Franz de Moor is abandoned by his deceitful and sophistic wisdom. Eternity gives leave to its dead to reveal secrets which no mortal can know, and the secure malefactor loses his last refuge — for even the grave talks.
But it is not enough that the Stage makes us acquainted with the fate of man ; she teaches us to be more just toward the unfortunate, and to judge them with more lenity. It is only when we measure the depths of his sufferings, that we can pronounce judgment upon him. No crime is more degrading than theft; but do we not all mingle a tear of compassion with our sentence, when we measure the dreadful misery under which Edward Ruhbergh and Werner committed this crime? Suicide is universally condemned ; but when threatened with the curse of a raving father, tortured by love and the fear of the dreaded cloister, Marianne drains the poisoned goblet, who of us will be the first to cast the stone at the pitiful victim of suffering and sorrow?
One class of men more than any other have reason to be grateful to the Stage. It is here that the great and powerful of this world hear what they seldom or ever listen to the truth. The merits of the better Stage, in the matter of moral cultivation, are great and manifold; but not the less praise is due to her for the general refinement and ex. pansion of the mind. It is in the higher sphere that the noble writer, the ardent patriot, knows how to use her. He casts his glance over the whole human race; compares people with people, centuries with centuries, and finds how slavish the great mass of the people ; how they are glued to the chains of intolerance and prejudice ; that the pure rays of wisdom have illumined but few minds, who have purchased this small advantage over the rest of mankind by the study of a life-time. How can the wise legislator diffuse them through a whole nation ?
The Stage is the common channel into which the light of wisdom flows from the thinking and better portion of the people, and from thence expands in milder rays through the whole country. Just ideas, puri.
fied principles, true sentiments, flow from thence through all the veins of the mass. The darkness of barbarism and gloomy superstition disappear; night flies before the conquering light. Among the many excellent fruits of the better Stage, we will designate but two. Within the past few years, how general has become the toleration of religion and sects ? Before Nathan the Jew and Saladin the Saracen shamed death by teaching us the divine lesson that obedience to God is independent of our different modes of worship; before Joseph II. combatted the dreadful · hydra of bigoted hatred and persecution ; the Stage had planted humanity and toleration in our hearts. The horrid pictures of fanaticism taught us to avoid religious persecutions. Errors of education might surely be combatted by the stage, with as favorable a result; and we hope soon to witness a play which will treat on this most important theme. No subject is so important to a country in its results, as education, and yet none is so much exposed to error and carelessness on the part of parents. The stage could place before them the unhappy victims of neglected education in moving and terrible pictures; she could teach our fathers to renounce self-willed maxims, our mothers to love more prudently. False opinions misguide the heart of the best meaning instructor; how much worse, if he prides himself on his method, and ruins systematically the tender sprig in the philanthropic hot-house.
Not less might the opinions of the nation in regard to government and its rulers be guided by the stage, if its guardians knew how to use it. The legislative power might here speak by symbols to the subject; might defend itself against his complaints before they could be trusted abroad; and might bribe his wish of finding fault without appearing to do so. Even industry and enterprise might be encouraged by the Stage, if poets would deem it worth their while to be patriots, and governments would condescend to listen to them.
It is impossible for us to pass over in silence the great influence which a Stage of the higher order might have over the spirit of a nation. We call the national spirit and patriotism of a people that similarity and coincidence of opinions in regard to which another nation is diametrically opposed. The Stage is capable of effecting in a high degree the general accord of opinion, because she wanders through the whole field of human knowledge, exhausts all situations of life, and illuminates every corner of the heart; because she unites in herself all classes and sects, and possesses the most trodden path to the mind and heart. If one principal feature existed in all our dramas; if our poeis would unite themselves for this end; if care in selection were to guide all their labors; if they would picture national subjects ; if we could see a national stage, we should also become a nation. What chained ancient Greece so closely together ? — what drew the people so irresistibly to its theatres ? Nothing, but the patriotic subjects of the drama ; the Grecian spirit, the great, the overweighing interests of the State and of humanity breathed in them.
One other merit is due to the Stage ; a merit which we mention with the more pleasure now, that we hope her suit with her prosecutors is already gained. What we have hitherto endeavored to prove, that she works effectually upon morals and the mind, may be doubted per.