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Vage 557. I 23. far exist ence'read" exercise. —■ 573. 1, 5. before learning read the history of.
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For SEPTEMBER, 1811.
Art. I. The Life of Arthur Murphy, Esq. By Jesse Foot, Esq. his Executor. 4to. pp. 464. Price 21. 2s. Faulder. 1811.
A LL authors intend, as all readers are apprized, the public good, as their first object. And such is confessedly the moral state of society that the good intended must, in almost every particular instance, be of the nature of a corrective of some evil. Each book, therefore, may be regarded as a kind of medicinal preparation; and persons a little accustomed to inspect the practice in this department, can make a tolerable guess at the disease intended to be attacked, by a slight examination of what is prepared to be administered. Such an inspection of the present very costly composition, prepared in so large a quantity, leaves us no doubt of the apprehended prevalence of the disorder called Methodism. Some of the most efficacious sanatives and preservatives are, we believe, by many learned and many quack professors and practitioners against this melancholy distemper, reputed to be found in the theatrical part of the moral Materia Medica;—and here some of its most salutary powers are combined and exhibited in the vehicle of a thirty years' history of play-houses, and their players, and their plays.
But whatever may be the preventive operation of this laudable compound—and we will confess it is not ill adapted to have some effect in that way—we think it at least doubtful whether it will do much in the way of cure. As it would, too probably, be now in vain for us to pretend to have altogether escaped the contagion we have referred to, we have nothing to lose by confessing, that the result of the experiment on ourselves confirms our scepticism as to the remedial qualities of this work. We will own, th it though comedies and farces, actors and actresses, encores, clappings, and bens
Vol. VII. • 3 R
fit-nights, should all seem to bear some very strict relation to gaiety, we have felt a prevailing melancholy sentiment in going through the story of a man, the main business of whose indefatigable life was to communicate to society as large a measure as possible of that kind of advantage which it derives, from deputing a number of thousands of its least trusty members, to form, six nights a week, the grand congress of society and wisdom in a theatre. Through a gloomy perversity of feeling, incident to the complaint under which we labour—and which we humbly beg to plea'l, beforehand, in excuse for any puritanical hallucinations into which we may fall—the reflection would again and again come upon us," what a pitiful spectacle it is to see a man most earnestly bubbling his mind to make sentences to be conned and emitted, in the name of Timurkan, or Mandane, or Zenobia, or what not, by the tinselled profligate kings and queens of the green-room;—what a number of important subjects must have been absent from his thoughts during that vast portion of time that his mind was filled with images of the stage, pit, and boxes;—what a preparation for society in a more advanced stage of existence was likely to be acquired in the company of Woodward, Foote, Shuter, or Garrick ;—and what a balance he would have to strike, if he ever thought of such a matter, between the possible scantling of good done by a little slight morality in his plays, and the mischief done, at the same time, by the prodigious concourse of courtezans,—or, to put this consideration at its lowest degree of force, the mischief done through those circumstances and influences, by which a theatre surpasses most other scenes of public resort, in aiding the designs and accumulating at once the crimes and miseries of this most wretched class of destroyers.—But we will not open the way for the vast, the almost endless train of thoughts of the same gloomy kind, which would be suggested by the idea of the theatre, if seriously considered in all its connexions; nor enlarge on such as unavoidably suggest themselves in looking over the life of a man that laboured more, probably, than any writer of the last century, to promote the popularity of this grand "national school of morals."
Mr. Murphy wrote nearly as many, we should think, as twenty plays; a considerable number of which, it seems, collected, amused, and, as his aged biographer would doubtless maintain, instructed, in the Drury Lane and Covent Garden houses, large crowds of people, blooming and withered, comely and haggard, stylish and vulgar, who are now distributed in the burying grounds of the metropolis and of various other places, and most of them forgotten by a race