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and turning my knowledge in that branch to use, and to be an imperious duty incumbent upon me, And one motive with me for chusing this form for, my work, has been the hope, that these Discourses might furnish materials to my Brethren, residing in towns where plays are performed, and so to put their congregations in possession of that knowledge, and of those facts, which might never reach them through the medium of the press only.
The present undertaking may be said to recall my attention to subjects, which I now acknowledge to be wrong; but this I do not consider as any privilege or indulgence, but rather as a duty ;* and certainly, to a very considerable degree, a mortification. The person in quest of medical knowledge, for the benefit of mankind, thinks it no privilege to attend in the surgery and the dissecting room; but if, by his own personal inconvenience, he can benefit others, he is in the duty, and in that he finds his reward ; and if I, by recurring to what I, otherwise, should be rejoiced to forget, can render any service to mankind, I trust in Providence to preserve my own mind from any material contamination; and, if I can be of any service to my fellow-creatures, in this my generation, shall trust to reap my reward, by witnessing it, both in this life, and in the next, That the work is attended with some danger to myself, I am perfectly aware, but it has neither been undertaken, nor carried on, without looking to Him, “ from whom all holy desires, all good
* Ds. Hey, vol. i. p. 438.
counsels and all just works do proceed,” (2d Collect Evening Service;) and while I have been employed in a service of danger in the enemy's country, I have endeavoured to labour with the sword of the Spirit by my side. (Nehemiah iv. 13-23.)
I know not whether, on account of my former attachment to the Stage, I may not be accused of partiality, and therefore, as being an incompetent judge in the business. I have repeatedly asked myself this question, and I think I can decide upon it with confidence. As far as a man can judge of his own heart (which he ought ever to be aware “ is deceitful above all things,” Jerem. xvii. 9.) I do not think that there ever was a time, in which I should not have acquiesced, had the Stage been represented to me in the light in which it is here set forth; and I could have given it up in its corrupted state, without reluctance: but, when I saw persons condemning plays, and yet going to them, when I heard the profession censured, and yet encouraged, by attending the representations of its professors, I confess there was a contradiction, in which I could not acquiesce, and which I did not then see through.
Mr. Styles, in his Essay on the Stage, says, that “ the difficulty which persons under a powerful conviction of the truth and importance of religion, feel in resigning to its influence their last favourite --the Stage—is a proof, that it has lodged in the hearts of many the strongest prejudices against the practical influence of Christianity.” (p. 81.)
And he says, farther, “ Two persons, one an eminently pious minister of the Gospel, and the other an accomplished and excellent female, assured me, when conversing with them on this subject, that, previous to their becoming serious, the Stage opposed to their hearts the most powerful barrier to their receiving genuine religion; they thought they could sacrifice every thing to its claims but the Theatre.” (Ditto, Note.)
It will be found, from the following Discourses, that I do not conceive the Christian to be called upon wholly to renounce the Stage;' that he is called upon to do his part, whatever may be in his power, to amend it, I certainly think; but, were it necessary to renounce it for ever, I could bear, without regret, the reflection that I never was to read or see another play. For several years, I never entered a Theatre; and it is only lately, when considering the Stage in a moral and religious point of view, that I have again witnessed the representation of a few plays, and read a few more. A good play (good as the amusement of a fallen world now goes) I certainly consider one of the most rational amusements; but a bad, or an indifferent one, gives me no satisfaction.
While I have been thus free in censuring the compositions of others, it will, no doubt, be asked by those, who know that I have myself been a writer and publisher of plays, What are my sentiments with respect to my own? I, by no means, exculpate them from the general censure, They are the
productioris of a writer more conversant with plays than with human nature and the Christian Religion; but, though they are such as I would not now send abroad into the world, I do not wonder that they are not better; they contain some, heathenism, and some false sentiment; but, at the same time, I think, some good. Some exceptionable passages in one of them are mentioned in the Notes to these Discourses. I have the satisfaction, however, in 'reflecting that their circulation has not been very extensive; and, therefore, that they would not have done any great injury to the world, had the principles of them been worse than they really are.
În the following Discourses instruction has been my only object. I have not, therefore, scrupled to avail myself of the writings of others, whenever I found them to my purpose; for I consider the taking another person's sentiments, and putting them into other, and perhaps inferior language, for the purpose of passing them off for an author's own, to be not only unnecessary, but disingenuous. By adopting the sentiments of another, the person becomes responsible for them; and, on subjects of importance, he has the advantage, in so doing, of adding weight to his opinion. But, where my own sentiments differ from those of another, even of any person for whom I have the greatest respect, I have made no scruple in expressing it. The opinions stated in these Discourses and Notes are the result of long and mature deliberation, and formed after reading some of the most important works written against the subject here treated; such as they are, I conceive them
to be true; nevertheless I am perfectly aware, that every man is liable to be deceived, and as I by no means consider myself an exception to the general rule, I claim the privilege of retracting, * should I ever see occasion; for I trust I should not think it any disgrace to find myself wiser to-morrow than I am to-day.
With sentiments of the warmest gratitude and respect to you, my Dear Sir, for the kindness
yoų have shewn me on this and other occasions; and wishing you many years of health and happiness, not only on your own account, but that we, in this place, and the world at large, may profit by your Writings, your Influence and your Example, is the sincere wish of
Your much obliged
and devoted humble Servant,
* Sce Dr. Hey, yol. ii. B. IV. Art. I. p. 213.