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The Stage our only school of elocution-Demosthenes schooled by an actor—Higher ends
“Macbeth” the most felicitous of Shakespeare's plays in plot and execution-Shakespeare
HETHER from the peculiar nature of the rites in which it
originated, and the comparatively unsophisticated state of the times in which it appeared, or from an extraordinary
purity of mind in the authors themselves, the Greek drama is distinguished by a chasteness of moral which, it must be admitted, puts that of the Christian dramatist to the blush. Our stage may thank itself for the disrepute into which it has fallen. In an assembly in which women are present, it is an act of the grossest impropriety to exhibit scenes of vice, the mention of which would sully the purity of the domestic hearth. I would even go so far as to say that the dramatist who writes for the mere amusement of an audience compromises his dignity. Genius has a higher duty to discharge. If the reason of ordinary men is given them in order that they may recognize and honour the attributes of their Creator, how much more incumbent it is upon the peculiarly well gifted to make their talents subservient to utility, while exercising them in the cause of wisdom and virtue. I do not say that an audience should not be made to smile. The playful thought, the arch conceit, the droll peculiarity, are things I love, but I admire them most when they are made the seasonable and salutary relief to matter of weightier moment.
To the imaginative and imitative faculties of man-faculties which
are the most active that enter into the composition of his mind-may be attributed the origin of the drama. The child scarcely begins to lisp when it
appears as a dramatist in the dialogue which it frames for itself and its toy. The imaginative principle is rapidly developed. The doll, or the handkerchief pinned up to represent one, is at once endowed with thought and passion; and the urchin, scarcely released from his leading strings, already anticipates maturity, and delineates the parent in all the sternness of reproof or tenderness of endearment. As maturity is approached, the above-mentioned faculties begin to manifest themselves in more elaborate results. Few parents there are whose daughters have not done the honours of the drawing-room before they ever made their blushing entry into one, or whose sons have not been tradesmen, merchants, captains by sea and captains by land, knights, earls, dukes, princes, nay, who have not aspired to royalty itself, even while yet they were subject to the jurisdiction of the ferule. Nor does the dramatist disappear when the dignities of manhood are assumed. He is still at work in the dreams of love, of ambition-of whatsoever constitutes a spring of human desire. What is castle-building but the constructing of a drama in which we ourselves are the heroes, which has its plot, its scenes, its acts, its incidents, its situations, its opening, and its dénouement? There is no man, howsoever sober and matter-of-fact, who, in this way, has not played the dramatist; who, in this way, has not tried his hand at tragedy, comedy, or farce, inventing scenes in comparison with which the occurrences of real life are weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.
No wonder if, in a crude and simple state of society, we find the earliest traces of the dramatic art the germs of which are universally distributed among the human race. No wonder if we find traces of that art, I do not say only in the school or the study, but in the valley and on the mountain side, where the shepherd tended his flock, and the husbandman tilled the ground. This noble art which for ages has lorded it over the most powerful passions of mankind; to which all kinds and