« PreviousContinue »
was taken to expunge every exceptionable passage from the pieces performed; at least to purify them according to the general opinions of the world; for, notwithstanding this, much heathenism, and much sentiment contrary to Christianity, were still suffered to remain: it was here, however, that, while I imbibed a love for the Drama, I acquired likewise some idea of wishing to render it more proper for public representation.
My love for the Drama certainly increased with my years, and, I must speak it to my shame, interfered too much with what ought to have been the object of my studies. I say, to my shame, not because I think time worse employed in cultivating a taste for the English Drama, than in studying the Greek and Roman Poets; but, as the study of the classics was a duty I then owed to my Parents and Teachers, that ought to have been my pursuit, had I possessed adequate ideas of filial obedience.
At length the time arrived, when, having taken my degree in the University, it became necessary for me to prepare for the profession to which the wisdom and kindness of my parents had intended me; and, in the autumn of 1792, I began to attend the Lectures of DR. HEY, then Norrisian Professor of Divinity; a circumstance, which I consider to have been one of the many great blessings which I have experienced in my life. At a time when the world was convulsed with new speculations in politics and divinity, likely to warp a young and uninformed mind, I conceive it to have been in a great measure
owing to the sound doctrines I imbibed at these Lectures, that I was not drawn aside by the specious glare of false philosophy.*
But, while I was studying divinity, my dramatic taste was occasionally gratified by some subject connected with it, and admirably illustrated by unexpected allusions to my favourite authors.
Soon after my entrance into Priest's Orders, I was licensed, by the late Bishop of Ely, in the year 1797, to the Sequestration of Hinxton, where parochial duties, and the studies immediately connected with my profession, began entirely to engross my thoughts; and yielding to the prejudices of the world, I determined to relinquish in great measure the amusement of the Stage. In the year 1801, I accordingly disposed of the greater part of a large Dramatic Library, with the produce of which I purchased books of a different description, chiefly in divinity. Amongst these, however, were the complete works of Mrs. H. More, in which I first saw her Dialogue on carrying Religion into the Amusements of Life, and her Preface to her Tragedies, in which she altogether condemns the Stage, as it is
* In speaking of the blessings I enjoyed at that time, gratitude requires that I should likewise mention the great advantages I derived from the friendship of the Gentleman who was then Tutor of ClareHall, THE REV. JOHN DUDLEY, and likewise of my greatly respected and lamented Friend and Private Tutor, the late Rev. WILLIAM WILSON, B. D. Fellow of St. John's College, and author of that very valuable and learned work, An Illustration of the Method of explaining the New Testament by the early opinions of Jews and Christians concerning Christ.
now conducted. These two Tracts had certainly a very great effect upon my mind. The circumstances of my parish, however, soon called my attention to the subject of convivial Songs, the result of which has been sometime before the public; and, for some years, I wholly abstained from the amusement of the Theatre. There have been always, however, several points, when the Theatre has been the subject of discussion, to which I could never assent; as the absolute unlawfulness of it, under all circumstances, and the impracticability of amending it to any extent. So long ago as the year 1794, I conceived an idea of writing a work upon the Drama, with a view to its improvement; but more in a critical, than in a moral or religious light, though not totally devoid of those considerations. My attention to the subject of convivial Songs, in some measure, revived my attention to the Drama, and, in the autumn of 1805, when I quitted Hinxton, I revolved in my mind, in what manner I should employ my time, till I should again find myself in the charge of another flock; and I determined, while I was endeavouring to improve myself for the undertaking such a charge, to compose at my leisure, out of the hours chiefly dedicated to relaxation, a set of "Lectures on English Poetry, chiefly as it relates to Dramatic and Lyric Poetry;" and those I had some idea of delivering in the University, should I find circumstances concuring. I mentioned my idea to one or two of my friends, but they seemed to think, (in which I did not acquiesce,) that the subject had no connection with the studies and objects of the
University. I sketched out my plan, and began to read for them accordingly, but was soon called off to more important concerns. Yet the subject has still occupied a place in my mind, and, whenever, in the course of my reading or recollection, I have met with any thing connected with it, I have noted it down, till my materials have accumulated to a considerable extent. Some circumstances occurred, during the last year, at Cambridge, to bring the subject of the Stage into frequent consideration and discussion; till it struck me, that it might be useful to put the more moral and religious part of my plan together, into Sermons, for the purpose of preaching them at that time, when plays are performed within a very short distance from the University.
The events, my Dear Sir, which have led to your return to the University, in a station of high importance, have unexpectedly, but most happily for me, been the cause of my acquiring a new and a very valuable Friend; and, when I mentioned my idea to you, as to a person, upon whose judgment and piety I might depend, you most obligingly attended to my statement, and gave me encouragement to proceed; the result has already met your approbation in private, and I trust you will have no reason to alter your good opinion upon my making these Discourses public,
I am well aware, that I shall have to encounter the prejudices of two very different descriptions of persons, in this attempt at reforming the Stage;
those who think the Stage does not stand in need of any reformation, at least to the extent which I would go; and those who think the Stage incapable of amendment to any valuable purpose: and both will perhaps concur in thinking it a matter foreign, if not derogatory, to the character of a Clergyman. Bishop Horne, however, whose opinion I am ever happy to cite, furnishes me with two authorities for my endeavours: "Every man (says he) in that way to which his genius directs him, should exert his abilities in the service of his Maker and Redeemer." * "There is no kind of knowledge, which, in the hands of the diligent and skilful, will not turn to account. Honey exudes from all flowers, the bitter not excepted; and the Bee knows how to extract it." My reasons for not thinking the subject foreign to my profession, are stated in more places than one in the Discourses themselves; and I conceive myself (and I hope I may be allowed to say so, without an imputation of vanity, as I speak it in great measure to my shame at the same time) to be particularly qualified for the office, from my former attachment to the Stage, and my subsequent attention to sacred subjects. The time which I formerly gave up to this subject, I acknowledge to have been misapplied; but, if it shall please. Providence to prosper this endeavour, good, as is his usual mode of dealing with man, will be produced out of evil, and it will not have been in vain: indeed, this appears to me to be the only mode of "redeeming the time"
Vol. of XVI Sermons. Discourse XIV.
+ Essays and Thoughts. Article Learning. §. 1.