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AN EVENING AT THE THEATRE.
It is a pleasant thing for any one who is fond of plays and players, after the cares and business of the day are satisfactorily over, to find himself snugly ensconced in a quiet and comfortable corner of a box five minutes previous to the rising of the curtain, with a fair prospect of three or four hours' råtional amusement before him. An evening so spent is good for the health, spirits, and understanding, and leaves the morals just about where it found them, neither much better nor worse. The stage, like every thing that has been made much the subject of controversy, has been greatly overrated, both for good and for evil, especially in regard to the impression it makes upon a gentleman's virtue. Its opponents have accused it of clearing a man's morals out of him in the most wholesale and expeditious manner; while its advocates, in the opposite extreme, contend that it possesses the singular property of filling a person with as much morality as he can well hold; and rather more, indeed, than he can decently and profitably get along with, as this world is constituted, without injuring his wife and family, and being obliged to eat his mutton cold.” The truth is, that both parties have written more nonsense about the matter, than is wholesome to read; and both have volunteered much solemn foolishness and ill-tempered declamation in their zeal to serve the cause of truth. The one will gravely cite as an argument, and a case in point, that "the three young men who lately robbed their employers to a considerable amount, were very frequently in the habit of attending the theatre ;" to which they might, with equal propriety and sagacity, have added, that these three young men were regularly in the habit of eating their dinner, and that the greatest depredator had long evinced a strange and suspicious partiality for roast pig; the one being as logical a deduction of effects from causes as the other. Then the Solomons, on the opposite tack, balance this by quoting certain cases, where
“Guilty creatures, sitting at a play,
as if a chance word spoken in a church or a tavern, a hay-field or a fish-market, might not just as easily have touched the tender point, and awakened
" That power within the guilty breast
Another favorite argument with those who denounce the stage is, that vice is often not sufficiently punished or virtue rewarded. But does this never happen in real life? and who is then to blame? It certainly does, and much more frequently off the stage than on; for dramatic authors in general, make no scruple of sacrificing both probability and possibility in their zeal to mete out poetical justice to the misbehaved persons of the drama. That man’s principles must be very weak and wavering who can be swayed either one way or the other by a few words, and the passing of a picture before his eyes ; and he must have a strong natural bias towards roguery, who finds his virtue giving way on seeing a vicious gentleman now and then get off scot-free on the stage. Such a one is not a whit safer in witnessing the proceedings of a court of justice; because, though nineteen rogues out of twenty be condemned, the twentieth may hold out a temptation to iniquity, by escaping in consequence of a flaw in the indictment. For my own part, I am well content to spend a few hours pleasantly at the theatre, without fretting about whether there has been any visible addition to my small stock of virtue, provided it does not suffer diminution. Men's morals are not like coal fires, requiring to be constantly stirred up and trimmed, to prevent their dying away or going out entirely.
But let who will argue or declaim, it is, as we said at first, a pleasant thing, after a day spent in harassing and jangling pursuits, to pass an evening at the theatre, and is as refreshing to the mind as a warm bath to the body, clearing away the little petty cares and vexations that business is so apt to engender and leave behind. Like the bath, it is only relaxing and enervating when immoderately indulged. There are more important things than plays-even the best of them-in the world, and it is by no means a good sign to see a young man lounging about a theatre. His education ought to be completed, and his mind stored with dry though necessary facts and useful information, before he takes an unlimited range into that region of passion and imagination, else, in the voyage of life he will be as a light bark with more canvas than ballast, on
a stormy sea, liable to be upset by every squall that blows.
But to a tolerably well regulated mind, what mines of inexhaustible and invaluable wealth are concealed behind that green curtain. Beyond that the bloody Richard and gallant Percy, the wronged Othello, the moralizing Jaques, the monster Caliban, the meditative Hamlet, honest Jack Falstaff and ancient Pistol-merry Rosalind, the pretty Perdita, the gentle Desdemona, and how many other thousands of pure and base, and great and glorious spirits having a living visible existence! There the spirit-stirring passages gleaned from records of antiquity are treasured up, and the warriors and sages of old again live and breathe, in the picture of the poet. The curtain rises, and lo! spare Cassius and gentle Brutus again walk the streets of Rome. The centuries that have elapsed are as nothing, and the spectator is present at the fall of "mighty Cæsar.” Or a drum is heard, and the tháne of Cawdor once more treads the “blasted heath,” to be met by the prophetic greetings of the weird sisters. Now if a man be not very wise, and altogether above being instructed by Shakspeare and other worthies, there is certainly something to be learnt from this, and such as this. The drama is, in truth, a stupendous creation; and let its decriers say what they may, it