« PreviousContinue »
self against the charge of using language which should not be heard by "ears polite," by asserting that she feels herself bound to paint men and things in their true colours. Whether she has done so or not does not matter; the vindication was deemed sufficient by the five hundred English ladies who forwarded her an address, thanking her for her work, detailing its effects upon themselves, and encouraging her in the good work she had begun. The same may be said of " Illustrations of Border Life," “Scottish Reminiscences," and many others, the authors of which we still respect and esteem.
It cannot, we think, be proved that Shakspere was an immoral or licentious man. His life leads to quite a contrary conclusion. He may, as De Quincey alleges, have committed an immoral act before his marriage, for which he atoned, and of which, if we may judge from the following speech of Prospero, in " The Tempest,” he fully repented :
"As my gift and thine own acquisition,
As Hymen's lamps shall light you.” Had he been naturally licentious, we should never have had any of those moving appeals to our inmost feelings ; of those touches of nature which make the world akin; of the exalted sentiment and profound philosophy of his dialogues and soliloquies ; nor, in short, any of those thousand beauties which all men have admired, and which all will continue to admire. The noble and inoffensive part of his works far outbalances the low and objectionable portions. That this is so may be inferred from the fact that the Messrs. Chambers have published an edition of Shakspere, in which every objectionable phrase has been carefully expunged, and that the plot of each play has not materially suffered thereby. We may be told that Shakspere might also have omitted such passages. He might; but he would have but partially fulfilled his aim in depicting men in his own and past ages; and therefore, though the above edition becomes the drawing-room, it is quite out of place in the study. Had Shakspere been licentious himself, we should have bad his works overloaded with it, without a single redeeming quality, as is the case with Congreve, Colley Cibber, and others of the period of the Restoration, when,
* Like a bow long forced into a curve,
Of the refinement of the commonalty in Shakspere's time we may judge from the fact, that the wholesale massacre in the play of “ Titus Andronicus,” which would not now be tolerated on the stage, was then, according to Ben Jonson, not only tolerated, but applauded. The belief in witchcraft was fixed on, with no less a sanction than that of royalty, and hence witches are introduced into "Macbeth," one of the most moral pieces existing. It is this sound moral which counteracts the effects of any otherwise objectionable passages. Even in "Troilus and Cressida “the vicious characters sometimes disgust, but they cannot corrupt, for both Cressida and Pandarus are detested and condemned."
Respecting the plot of some of the plays, which some may object to, as turning upon the commission of a heinous crime, it may be observed, that "in proportion to the enormity of such a crime as adultery, should be the caution with which the suspicion of it is permitted to be entertained ; and our great dramatic moralist was, no doubt, desirous of enforcing this axiom, when he made it, as he has done, the subject of no less than four of his most finished productions.” The same observation holds good respecting other crimes or predominate passions, on which plays are founded. Shakspere's aim, however, is to correct and reprove; not, like the dramatist of a century and a half later, to embellish and inculcate licentiousness. To this end, in the words of Charles Knight, “he has not represented mere abstract qualities, such as a good man and a bad man, a mild and a hasty, an humble and proud; but he has painted men as they are, with mixed qualities and mixed motives, the result of temperament and education; and so painting them, he has not only succeeded in keeping and cherishing within us the highest admiration and love of what is noble and generous, and just and true, but in making us kind and tolerant towards the errors of our fellow-creatures, compassionate even to their vices; but the same man has never broken down the distinction, as other writers have done, between what is to be loved and imitated, and what is to be pitied and shunned. We have no moral monsters in Shakspere, no generous housebreakers, no philanthropic murderers; we see men as they are ; but we see them also with a clearness that it would be vain to expect from our own unassisted vision. The same great moralist of all the secrets of the human heart is also the expounder of the very highest and noblest philosophy."
We forbear to urge as an argument a thought which has presented itself to our mind while writing these lines, and will, perhaps, occur to others. It is this,—that those who maintain that Christians--for “members of Christian churches” means, I presume, the same thing -cannot consistently take part in the tercentenary demonstration, tacitly declare that all who do take part in it are acting inconsistently with their profession; and that those who have devoted the best hours of their lives to the study of Sbakspere, and have endeavoured, by cheap and corrected editions of the poet, to infuse a love and reverence of him into the cottage homes of England, can scarcely be deserving of the name of Christians at all. Such an assertion might have been made once, but we think few would venture to maintain it now. We can hardly think that the many eminent ministers of the gospel, of all denominations, who have already sig. nified their intention to take part in the demonstration, have done 80 without considering carefully what they were about. But be this as it may, the argument rests upon a firmer basis. As an honest man, painting man faithfully, affording us innocent amusement, immense gratification, and invaluable moral lessons, we think members of Christian churches not only can consistently take part in the demonstration to Shakspere, but that if they follow the precept of rendering to every man his due, they are bound to do so.
R. S. NEGATIVE ARTICLE.-I. The fact of the question which stands at the head of this article being suggested for debate, is of itself sufficient to show the low state of religion at the present time; were there much vital godli. ness existent in the great body of professing Christians, there would be no need to discuss the question :-“Can members of Christian churches consistently take part in the Shakepere tercentenary?" but that question would at once be met with a decided and unanimous negative. It is the low view of what constitutes a Christian, which is so prevalent in this day, that makes it possible for the question now discussed to be a debatable point. A national establishment of religion has long fostered that false notion, that all members of that establishment are Christians, while Nonconformists are fast following in the wake of the Established Church. The standard of Christianity which is set up is low enough for any one who is not notoriously wicked to come up to, though he may know no more of what constitutes true religion than do the pen with which we write. The scriptural description of a Christian is lost sight of and ignored ; indeed, many who profess to be Christians are not aware of the description given in the Bible of what a Christian is, and how he ought to live and act. The consequence is, that a man is thought to be a Christian, though he be as deeply sunk in the spirit and practices of the world as those who make no profession of religion; and it is a prevalent feeling, that a Christian may lawfully indulge in worldly vanities and pleasures.
I. We propose to notice some of the characteristics of true Christians; also what they are required to be, and how they are required to act. In doing this, we must use the only unerring standard-the word of God. That book of books tells us that Christ's end in giving Himself for men was to purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Titus ii. 14). It tells us that pure religion is for a man to keep himself unspotted from the world (James i. 27). It likewise shows us that the friendship of the world is enmity with God, and that a friend of the world is the enemy of God; also, that if a man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him (James iv. 4. ; 1 John ii. 15). The precepts given in Scripture to Christians are as follows:-“ Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." “Be not conformed to this world.”
“ Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing." • Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” Other precepts of a similar nature may be found, but those given above are amply sufficient for our present purpose.
If. We notice some of the features of the works of Shakspere. Here we confess to having read none of them, and never to have seen any of his plays performed. This may be thought to incapacitate us for judging of his works; but to obviate this objection, we wish to state that we should not consider the greatest excel. lences that his works may, unknown to us, contain, to be any compensation for their known evils. Though we have never read Shakspere's works, yet we can adduce trustworthy evidence as to their nature and tendencies. The affirmative writers will not dispute the existence, in Shakspere's works, of what we consider to be great evils, though as respects the evil character of those things we possibly may differ.
In noticing some of the evils contained in the works of Shakspere, we observe that “Much Ado about Nothing,” “Love's Labour's Lost,"
," " Merchant of Venice,” “ All's well that Ends well," " Tam. ing of the Shrew," and others, contain irreverent mention of the name of God, thus violating the command, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”. Many of the scenes in Shakspere's plays contain gross impurities of speech, which can only have an immoral tendency. “Measure for Measure,” “ Antony and Cleopatra," " Venus and Adonis," with others, may be adduced as instances. The tendency of the “Merry Wives of Windsor " is most evil. In it lustful desires are familiarly alluded to and jocosely treated. Its tendency is to teach that adultery is a trifle, and that morality and virtue are things of small consequence. Dr. Johnson writes of Shakspere thus : "Shakspere, with his excellences, has likewise faults, and faults sufficient to obscure and overwhelm апу other merit. He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful to please than to instruct, that he seems to write without any moral purpose."
But it will be said that we are dwelling on the worst features of Shakspere, while we omit to notice such as are commendable. In his favour it may be alleged that his writings contain many great and noble ideas, which deserve to be read by all
. To this we reply, that a dish of the most solid and excellent food is entirely vitiated by its containing a few grains of arsenic; and it is with the works of Shakspere as with some publications of the present day, which contain many things worthy of being read and noted, yet, being pervaded by matter of a licentious tendency, their effects are positively unwholesome and injurious, in spite of all that they contain which is good.
III. Having seen what is the scriptural description of Christians, and how they are enjoined by the word of God to live and act, and having also shown the nature and tendencies of the productions of Shakspere, our task is now easy to show the inconsistency and unjustifiableness of members of Christian churches taking part in the Shakspere tercentenary movement.
1. The descriptions given us in the Scriptures of Christians would not lead us to suppose them to be persons taking part in the Shakspere tercentenary movement, nor is their doing so consistent with the descriptions of character which are given of them in the word of God. We have seen that Christ gave Himself for them, to make them a peculiar people, zealous of good works; but where is their peculiarity in uniting with the multitude to celebrate the Shakspere tercentenary ? It is a prominent feature of the times that there exists a strong and wide-spread desire to do away with all peculiarity on the part of Christians, and to bring them to assimi. late themselves to those who make no profession of religion, and to amalgamate with them, thus being guilty of manifest inconsistency with the description given of a Christian in the Bible. We find the statement of Scripture to be that it is pure religion for a man to keep himself unspotted from the world, that the friendship of the world is enmity with God ; that a friend of the world is the enemy of God; and that if a man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Now, as taking part in the Shakspere tercentenary movement is not keeping unspotted from the world, as taking part in that movement is manifestly and glaringly an act of friendship with the world, and therefore of enmity with God, it cannot possibly be consistent for members of Christian churches to take part therein.
2. The precepts given to Christians in the Bible are such as positively prohibit their joining in such a movement as that of the Shakspere tercentenary. They are commanded to let their light so shine before men, that men may see their good works, and glorify their Father who is in heaven. "When the conduct of Christians is such that men are constrained to acknowledge that their profession and their practice correspond, God is glorified by that acknowledgment, but such an acknowledgment cannot be extorted by Christians uniting in the Shakspere tercentenary movement. They are bidden to be not conformed to this world. No one can deny that taking part in the movement to which this debate refers is an act of conformity to the world. Indeed, without altering the signification of the question, its terms might be changed so as to stand thus :Can members of Christian churches consistently be conformed to the world ? A statement of the question in these words would at once show an affirmative answer to be plainly contradictory of the word of God. Christians are commanded to come out from the ungodly, and be separate; yet in the face of this precept, the