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The effect of the combined attack made upon this evil by the more reputable press generally, was quick and decided.
With my lance still quivering with the shock of the first blow, I saw the enemy retreating, demoralized and overthrown. There was no need to strike further blows.
In a time so brief that as I look back upon it now it seems almost marvelous, the theatres turned the burlesque women adrift and set about providing a more reputable style of entertainment.
The change was as magical, as sudden, as if worked by some dramatic Aladdin, with the wonderful lamp of public opinion-whose power to control theatres as well as other public institutions, is one which no wise manager will dare to resist.
It was public opinion which wrought this work-public opinion, aroused by the press, which is mighty in its
THE RECORD COMPLETE.
power when it seeks to stir up the public love of purity and morality—and whatever the results upon the drama itself, one thing is certain, our theatres no longer present the disgraceful spectacle of Virtue, Respectability and Decency crowded to the wall by Vice, Vulgarity and Indecency.
This chapter stands as a record of a period in the history of the drama which will long be remembered as an extraordinary one, and which I have no hesitation in prophesying will not find a parallel in the experience at least of the present generation.
Burlesque will no doubt have more or less place in our theatres, as it has always had, but it will not be the indecent thing it was, nor create the wild fever it did, in the first half of the year 1869. .
The Moral Aspects of Life Behind the Scenes and Before the Footlights.
Can the Theatre be Purified at all ?-Arguments on Both Sides.—The Views of Dr. Channing. — The Error of Wholesale Denunciation. — Nothing on Earth Utterly Bad. — The Bad should be Denounced, and the Good Recognized. – Çandor the Great Requirement of our Moral Censors. — Twaddle Fit for Babes. Men Laugh at It, and Satan Chuckles. Some Divines who have Spoken with Candor.—Dr. Bellows's Defense of the Stage. — Grave Mistakes.—Vices Not Amusements.-A Baleful Feud.- Amusement Defensible. - Advice to Players. — The Perils of Theatrical Life. — Preaching and Practice.-A Noble Demand.-CONCLUSION.
The moral.aspects of life behind the scenes and before the footlights have often been the theme of writers and speakers, and the usual tone of the religious press is, I need not say, one of wholesale condemnation.
The effect of wholesale condemnation of anything which is not utterly and wholly bad, is worse than useless -it is pernicious. It injures the cause of morality and religion, and steels the heart against those who are guilty of this grave error.
“It is difficult,” says a thoughtful writer in Harpers’ Magazine for June, 1863, “for an honest and simpleminded gentleman, who in his youth went to the theatre with his grandmother, and in his old age still goes to the theatre with his grandchildren, to comprehend the heavy charges of immorality which sober and serious people have made so long and with so much earnestness against the drama. He feels that his love of the mimic art has not contaminated his own nature; and he will not, with equanimity, be told that he is a degraded creature because he relishes the exquisite repartee of Congreve, and likes Shakespeare better in the show than in the printed sheets."
I know that many people are firm in the belief that it is impossible to ever purify the theatre itself, and that the only course for good people is to frown it down without stint or mercy.
And if it could be frowned down, why, then-
Its evils can be worked upon, modified, and perhaps eventually eradicated altogether. To that end, I join heart and soul and brain with all good people; but I shrink back appalled when it becomes a question of trying to frown down THE DRAMA!
I should as soon think of undertaking to frown down laughter, because, forsooth, laughter is often associated with scenes of drunken riot, and finds provocation from obscene jokes in the mouths of wicked men.
In the Springfield (Mass.) Republican, some years ago, I read an editorial article, in which it was remarked: “The attempts now made to stem the current so strongly setting towards amusements once considered worldly and harmful, if not decidedly sinful, are few and feeble. They fail, perhaps, more from wholesale and indiscriminate denunciations of all amusements than from any perversity in those to whom they are addressed. There is, of course, moral peril connected with recreations, as there is, indeed, with the more serious business of life. But it does not follow that all amusements, or all fun and frolic even, are therefore to be avoided. The accepted philosophy of the world, if not of the church, now, is that sport is as legitimate as work, recreation as rightful as worship. The old maxim that the Christian must not engage in anything which turns his mind from serious things is discarded, and the common belief is that the man who enjoys a dance, a game of chance, or any other innocent recreation, can be quite as devout at the proper time and place as one who considers everything vain and sinful that is not positively
THE QUESTION ARGUED.
religious. It is difficult to draw any exact line, and to set down this amusement as sinful and that as innocent, but our Christian casuists should not find it impossible to state the general principles governing all such matters so plainly that their application to particular cases will be obvious. In games of skill and chance, chess, checkers, backgammon, and such like, have long been tolerated in the most puritanical circles, while cards were formerly tabooed, for the then sufficient reason that gambling was chiefly done with cards, and there was consequently danger that whoever should play them might fall into that vice. If that objection has disappeared, cards are in themselves as innocent as chess or jackstraws. The practical question is, does card playing naturally lead to gambling? So of theatricals; religious people formerly opposed them because of the loose morality of plays and players, and the bad associations of the theatre. The prevalence of tableaux, exhibitions and parlortheatricals, and the growing tolerance of the theatre proper among our most precise Christians, show that the real objection is not to the stage, but to the abuses connected with it. It is very evident that the church is now educating its children to be theatregoers, and that in the next generation the theatre is to be more universally patronized than ever before. In principle there is no more objection to the theatre than to the exhibition of tableaux, and there are necessarily no greater moral exposures there than in any other place where all classes meet for instruction or amusement. The same may be said of all amusements not intrinsically wrong. What specially needs to be considered by those who endeavor to direct Christian opinion is this: If the church (by which we mean all who accept Christianity) does not think it necessary or possible to check or turn aside the current now setting so strongly towards public amusements, if it has tolerated them, it should take the direc