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the hero replies in language that would not disgrace a moral philosopher;
" Far hence be Bacchus' gifts,
Inflaming wine, pernicious lo mankind,
It will be recollected that the strong man of old was a water drinker; and Milton in his Samson Agonistes discovers his own regard for strict temperance, by frequently enlarging upon this virtue. In one instance we find sentiments similar to those contained in the last quotation from Homer put into the mouths of the interlocutors.
Chorus. "Desire of wine and all delicious drinks,
Which many a famous warrior overturns,
"Whenever fountain or fresh current flow'd
Against the eastern ray, translucent, pure
There are but few objectionable passages in Homer in respect to intemperance and licentiousness; and, there are still fewer in Virgil. His scenes of festivity and love are described with greater delicacy of language and purity of thought than those of Homer. In the Æneid there is nothing to tempt the weakest virtue on the score of intemperance, unless the rage of thirst may be enkindled by such simple phrases as the following : “ Vina coronant;" “ Indulgent vino;" " Somno vinoque soluti.” In one passage in the Georgics, where he recommends the cultivation of useful trees instead of the vine, he strongly expresses his conviction of the injurious tendency of wine-bibbing. After mentioning the uses to which the various forest trees may be appropriated, he adds,
"Quid memorandum æque Baccheia dona tulerunt?
Bacchus et ad culpam causas dedit," etc.
which Dryden thus translates :
"Now balance with these gists, the fumy joys
Of wine, attended with eternal noise.
The Roman poet Lucretius wrote upon scientific subjects and had but little occasion to allude to the habits or morals of social life. In one instance attempting to prove the materiality and mortality of the human soul, from the effects of inebriation upon it, he uses the following language ;
“ When wine's quick force has pierced the brain,
From the brutalizing effect of wine, this Epicurean poet at. tempts to prove that man is kindred to the brute and that the soul which can thus be degraded and besotted with wine is material and mortal. Compare the thoughts above quoted of this heathen atheistical poet with a passage from the “ Divine Spencer," " the purity, devotion and exalted morality" of whose writings have been often commended.
The following “noble lines” as they are called by Mr. Gifford are supposed to be an imitation of a paragraph in the 7th satire of Juvenal :
“Whoever casts to compass weighty prize,
The numbers flow as fast as spring doth rise."
O if my temples were distained with wine :-
· It is true of ancient epic poetry, generally, that it has little
to inflame the passions of the modern sensualist. If the revels of bacchanalians are described, the picture is too gross to be alluring. They make no effort to throw a charm among the festive scene. They say little of the sweet de
lights the delicious reveries and extatic joys of inebriation. If there be vicious thoughts in their productions, they are not covertly expressed. The poison of vice is not wrapped in the garb of imaginary pleasure to render it agreeable. Vice, generally, owes its attractiveness to the artificial decorations that are thrown around it ; when divested of these, it becomes disgusting. “ Among the ancients,” says Porson, “ plain speaking was the fashion ; nor was that ceremonious delicacy introduced, which has taught men to abuse each other with the utmost politeness and express the most indecent ideas in the most modest language. The ancients had little of this. They were accustomed to give to every thing its proper name." But it is not so with modern writers. Those who now write for the popular eye are less gross but not less corrupt : more refined, and on that account, more dangerous. They teach libertinism by circumlocutions, and suggestions, and propagate their corrupt sentiments by hints and innuendos. Public opinion has been so far reformed, by Christianity, as to render it necessary for unprincipled men to assume the garb and language of virtue. Modern Anacreons, therefore, appear more like temperate men, and literature becomes more plausibly vicious. Its appeals are made to our most tender sensibilities, to those “ amiable weaknesses” of our nature, (as they have been preposterously named by some of our “ sentimental" writers,) which so readily yield to the seductions of sense. These remarks apply, more particularly, to dramatic and lyric poetry. The drama has been called the school of morals, and yet, in a majority of instances, its influence has been decidedly prejudicial to morals.
The character of ancient comedy cannot be defended. It deserves no apology. It originated in the buffoonery and low jesting that accompanied the worship and festivals of Bacchus. In its infancy, it was the amusement of the lowest rabble ; in its maturity, it catered for the tastes of the multitude. Though it contains many noble sentiments hap. pily expressed and much unrivalled wit and eloquence, yet as a whole it is deeply contaminated with licentiousness, intemperance and obscenity. Many of these indecencies, however, are rather offences against taste than morality, more gross than corrupt. Yet vulgar as it is, its very obscenity is surpassed not only by modern dramatists but by modern divines. The writings of Swift and Sterne are equally offensive and far more pernicious in their tendency. It is to the disgrace of civilization and the deep dishonor of Christianity, that the very hierophants of heathen orgies should in obscenity and vulgarity be outheathened by a Doctor of Divinity. Dr. Johnson in his life of Swift says, “ The greatest difficulty that occurs in analyzing his character is to discover by what depravity of intellect he took delight in revolving ideas from which almost every other mind shrinks with disgust. The ideas of pleasure, even when criminal may solicit the imagination, but what has disease, deformity and filth, upon which the thoughts can be allured to dwell ?”
If ancient comedy deserves no apology, on the score of decency and purity, ancient tragedy needs none. “ In Jamenting the corruptions of the theatre, in Athens," says Mrs. Hannah More, “justice compels us to acknowledge, that her immortal tragic poets, by their chaste and manly composition, furnish a noble exception. In no country has decency and purity, and to the disgrace of Christian countries, let it be added, have morality and even piety been so generally prevalent in any theatrical compositions as in what
- her losty grave tragedians taught
Having the decision of such a judge, of one whose good sense and piety cannot be questioned, we need not quote passages to prove our assertion. The same author in remarking of the English drama, says, “ our tragic poets have afforded scarce any instances, except Milton in his exquisite Comus and Samson Agonistes, and Mason in his chaste and classic dramas in which we can conscientiously recommend their entire, unweeded volumes as never deviating from that correctness and purity which should be the inseparable attendant on the tragic muse. In how many of the favorite tragedies of Rowe and Otway do we find passages calculated to awaken those very passions which it was the professed object of the author to counteract,
"Firsi raising a combustion of desire,
The earliest dramatic exhibitions in England were miracle plays or “mysteries.” They are so called because they taught the mysterious doctrines of Christianity and represented the miracles of the first founders of the faith, of the saints and martyrs. They frequently introduced allegorical characters, such as Charity, Sin, Death, Hope, Faith, etc. and finally, plays were formed consisting entirely of such characters - These were called “moralities.” These plays were monstrous combinations of piety and absurdity, of Scripture narratives and lying legends. They are not only characterized by what an enlightened age would call impiety and irreverence, but frequently polluted by gross and open obscenities. • In one play of the Old and New Testament," says Warton, “ Adam and Eve are both exhibited on the stage naked and conversing about their nakedness: this very pertinently introduces the next scene in which they have coverings of fig leaves. This extraordinary spectacle was beheld by a numerous assembly of both sexes with great composure.” These “ mysteries” were at first exhibited in the monasteries and churches,- afterwards in the universities and at court. The practice of acting plays in the churches became so offensive and troublesome that in the reign of Henry VIII, Bonner issued a proclamation to the clergy of his diocese, prohibiting “all manner of common plays, games or interludes to be played, set forth or declared within their churches, chapels, etc. These miracle plays and moralities contained the rudiments of the English drama. It is probable that the frequent occurrence of pageants and processions, shown on civil occasions, accompanied with great pomp and splendid decorations, first suggested the idea of introducing profane characters into the drama.
From this hybridous union of monkish piety and courtly revels, with the assistance of the numerous tribe of mimics, jugglers, dancers, tumblers, musicians, mummers, maskers and minstrels that thronged the palaces of nobles and kings, during the middle ages, arose the “ splendid fabric” of the English drama.
Warton has expressed an opinion that plays on general subjects were no uncommon mode of entertainment in the royal palaces of England, at least in the commencement of the fifteenth century. Notwithstanding the patronage extended to players by nobles and kings, the profession soon