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made out of the argument, that avarice generates dishonesty, for prodigality is well known to do the same thing, only in a higher degree. How many persons, young and old, have been utterly ruined by yielding to the temptations to dishonesty, inspired by habits of extravagancel Both of these characters are worthy of all condemnation, but that of the spendthrift is the more injurious to society, because it wastes the rewards of industry, and offers a greater number and variety of temptations to the young and the thoughtless.
Are Theatres more beneficial than injurious?
FIRST SPEAKER. (Affirmative.)—Whatever exposes vice, and commends virtue, is undeniably a public benefit. This is the special office of the drama. It discovers the secret springs of wicked deeds, brings virtue out, at last, always triumphant, and so gives wholesome and impressive warning to those disposed to evil. It is, in short, a sort of school of morals.
SECOND SPEAKER. (Negative.)—If the office of the drama is to expose vice and commend virtue, it certainly has not been very true to its obligations. Plays, for the most part, abound in obscenities and profanities. They represent vicious characters, in colors so fascinating, that unreflecting people rather admire than condemn them.
If the theatre be considered a school of morality, the devil, as Dr. Dwight has observed, must have turned schoolmaster. The moral instructions of the stage, even when unexceptionable, both in principle and in language, fail of their effect, because not given in the right time, the right place, and under the right circumstances.
THIRD SPEAKER. (Affirmative.)—Whatever exceptions may be found or imagined, the general rule is, that the drama is decidedly in favor of sound morals. If the moral teachings of the theatre fail of their object, the fault lies not in the teaching, but in the dullness or perverseness of the pupils. We might as well take exception to the teachings of the pulpit, because so many turn a deaf ear to the voice of the preacher. It should be considered a great advantage in the theatre, that it attracts and teaches classes of people, whom the appointed agencies of the church seldom reach or affect.
FourTH SPEAKER. (Negative.)—It is idle to talk of the moral tendencies of the stage, when it is quite notorious, that actors and actresses themselves, to say nothing whatever of the auditors, are, with few exceptions, not a little profligate in character. The plays, whether you regard the language, the sentiment, the dress, or other kindred circumstances, are often highly objectionable in point of delicacy and refinement. What must be the character and tendency of that teaching, which attracts and delights the vicious, and which exercises no corrective influence, either upon the players themselves, or those who habitually attend upon their performances?
FIFTH SPEAKER. (Affirmative.)—The stage is confessedly beneficial in a literary point of view, whatever we say about its moral bearings. For justness of pronunciation, for true emphasis, for appropriate gestures, for all the graces of oratory, it stands pre-eminent. “Why is it,” said a distinguished clergyman once to a great actor, “that you players are able to excel our profession in awakening and prolonging attention?” “It is,” said the actor, “because we represent fiction as if it were truth, while you represent truth as if it were fiction!” The theatre is a school of oratory, and the excellence of its instructions is well attested by the fact, that extracts from plays are universally employed in schools and colleges, as the best exercises in elocution.
SIXTH SPEAKER. (Negative.)—It is not true that the pronunciation of the player is always in accordance with the most approved standards. In the matter of emphasis, gesture, and whatever else may be used to aid in giving the true effect to a piece, it is not denied, that great actors take great pains. But, in general, it may be affirmed with entire truth, that the theatre af. fords very imperfect exhibitions of character. If Shakspeare's plays be excepted, few others will be found, which do not frequently represent vice and virtue in strange, improbable, and often impossible situations. In the acting, moreover, there is little, or nothing, true to our every-day experience.
SEVENTH SPEAKER. (Affirmative.)—Theatres are excellent means of amusement. They mingle what is useful, with what is entertaining, and, as people must have entertainment, the theatre becomes a great public benefit by affording it. In all countries some public entertainments have been found necessary. The Olympic and other games, &c., &c., sufficiently attest this.
EIGHTH SPEAKER. (Negative.)—A man's character may often be determined, in some measure, by the character of his amusements. Now, what are the amusements at the theatre? Are they such as good men, such as people of the best and purest morals, can fully approve and patronize 2 Are they not notoriously, such in general, as bring together and entertain the vile, the ignorant, the abandoned 2
NINTH SPEAKER. (Affirmative.)—The just objects and character of the legitimate drama are not to be confounded with everything in that form, presented on the stage. The theatre, properly managed, is everything that has been claimed for it in this debate, and more. It is, then, emphatically a good School; the players being good men and women, the plays being works of genius, abounding in all that is fitted to mend the heart, to improve the taste, to please the imagination, and to delight the eye and the ear, while the audience, refined, cultivated, or at least moral and respectable, meet and part, not only without injury, but with positive benefit. Can any one doubt the utility of such a theatre?
TENTH SPEAKER. (Negative.)—The point to be settled in this controversy is not what theatres might be, but what they are. As they now exist, and are managed, and must continue to be managed, in all likelihood, they are the sources of evil in many forms. What with the ill tendencies of the plays themselves, what with the ill influence on the players and their hearers, what with the late hours and feverish excitement which they necessitate, what with the bad associations they throw in the way of the young and the innocent, what with the drinking shops, the gaming tables, and other nameless snares and abominations therein and thereabout abounding, the theatre seems really incapable of producing any good result what€Wer.