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soliciting for the copy of a play, which he had delivered to the licenser twenty years before.
“I waited,” says he, “ often on the licenser, and with the utmost importunity entreated an answer.” Let Mr. Brooke consider, whether that importunity was not a sufficient reason for the disappointment. Let him reflect how much more decent it had been to have waited the leisure of a great man, than to have pressed upon him with repeated petitions, and to have intruded upon those precious moments which he has dedicated to the service of his country.
Mr. Brooke was, doubtless, led into this improper manner of acting, by an erroneous notion that the grant of a license was not an act of favour, but of justice; a mistake into which he could not have fallen, but from a supine inattention to the design of the statute, which was only to bring poets into subjection and dependence, not to encourage good writers, but to discourage all.
There lies no obligation upon the licenser to grant his sanction to a play, however excellent; nor can Mr. Brooke demand any reparation, whatever applause his performance may meet with.
Another grievance is, that the licenser assigned no reason for his refusal. This is a higher strain of insolence than any of the former. Is it for a poet to demand a licenser's reason for his proceedings? Is he not rather to acquiesce in the decision of authority, and conclude, that there are reasons which he cannot comprehend ?
Unhappy would it be for men in power, were they always obliged to publish the motives of their conduct. What is power, but the liberty of acting without being accountable? The advocates for the licensing act have alleged, that the lord chamberlain has always had authority to prohibit the representation of a play for just reasons. Why then did we call in all our force to procure an act of parliament? Was it to enable him to do what he has always done? to confirm an authority which no man attempted to impair, or pretended to dispute ? No, certainly: our intention was to invest him with new privileges, and to empower him to do that without reason, which with reason he could do before.
We have found, by long experience, that to lie under a necessity of assigning reasons, is very troublesome, and that many an excellent design has miscarried by the loss of time spent unnecessarily in examining reasons.
Always to call for reasons, and always to reject them, shows a strange degree of perverseness; yet, such is the daily behaviour of our adversaries, who have never yet been satisfied with any reasons that have been offered by us.
They have made it their practice to demand, once a year, the reasons for which we maintain a standing army.
One year we told them that it was necessary, because all the nations round us were involved in war; this had no effect upon them, and, therefore, resolving to do our utmost for their satisfaction, we told them, the next year, that it was necessary, because all the nations round us were at peace.
This reason finding no better reception than the other, we had recourse to our apprehensions of an invasion from the Pretender, of an insurrection in favour of gin, and of a general disaffection among the people.
But as they continue still impenetrable, and oblige us still to assign our annual reasons, we shall spare no endeavour to procure such as may be more satisfactory than any of the former.
The reason we once gave for building barracks was, for fear of the plague; and we intend next year to propose the augmentation of our troops, for fear of a famine.
The committee, by which the act for licensing the stage was drawn up, had too long known the inconvenience of giving reasons, and were too well acquainted with the characters of great men, to lay the lord chamberlain, or his deputy, under any such tormenting obligation.
Yet, lest Mr. Brooke should imagine that a license was refused him without just reasons, I shall condescend to treat him with more regard than he can reasonably expect, and point out such sentiments, as not only justly exposed him to that refusal, but would have provoked any ministry less merciful than the present, to have inflicted some heavier penalties upon him.
His prologue is filled with such insinuations, as no friend of our excellent government can read without indignation and abhorrence, and cannot but be owned to be a proper introduction to such scenes, as seem designed to kindle in the audience a flame of opposition, patriotism, publick spirit, and independency; that spirit which we have so long endeavoured to suppress, and which cannot be revived without the entire subversion of all our schemes.
The seditious poet, not content with making an open attack upon us, by declaring, in plain terms, that he looks upon freedom as the only source of publick happiness, and national security, has endeavoured with subtilty, equal to his malice, to make us suspicious of our firmest friends, to infect our consultations with distrust, and to ruin us by disuniting us.
This, indeed, will not be easily effected; an union founded upon interest, and cemented by dependence, is naturally lasting; but confederacies which owe their rise to virtue, or mere conformity of sentiments, are quickly dissolved, since no individual has any thing either to hope or fear for him. self, and publick spirit is generally too weak to combat with private passions.
The poet has, however, attempted to weaken our combination by an artful and sly assertion, which, if suffered to remain unconfuted, may operate, by degrees, upon our minds, in the days of leisure and retirement, which are now approaching, and, perhaps, fill us with such surmises as may at least very much embarrass our affairs.
The law by which the Swedes justified their opposition to the encroachments of the king of Denmark, he not only calls
Great Nature's law, the law within the breast, but proceeds to tell us, that it is
-stamp'd by heaven upon th' unletter'd mind.
By which he evidently intends to insinuate a maxim, which is, I hope, as false as it is pernicious, that men are naturally fond of liberty till those unborn ideas and desires are effaced by literature,
The author, if he be not a man mewed up in his solitary study, and entirely unacquainted with the conduct of the present ministry, must know that we bave hitherto acted upon different principles. We have always regarded let. ters as great obstructions to our scheme of subordination, and have, therefore, when we have heard of any man remarkably unlettered, carefully noted him down, as the most proper person for any employments of trust or honour, and considered him as a man, in whom we could safely repose our most important secrets.
From among the uneducated and unlettered, we have chosen not only our ambassadors and other negotiators, but even our journalists and pamphleteers; nor have we had any reason to change our measures, or to repent of the confidence which we have placed in ignorance. Are we now, therefore, to be told, that this law is
-stamp'd upon th' unletter'd mind?
Are we to suspect our placemen, our pensioners, our generals, our lawyers, our best friends in both houses, all our adherents among the atheists and infidels, and our very gazetteers, clerks, and court-pages, as friends to independency? Doubtless this is the tendency of his assertion, but we have known them too long to be thus imposed upon: the unlettered have been our warmest and most constant defenders; nor have we omitted any thing to deserve their favour, but have always endeavoured to raise their reputation, extend their influence, and increase their number.
In his first act he abounds with sentiments very inconsistent with the ends for which the power of licensing was granted; to enumerate them all would be to transcribe a great part of his play, a task which I shall very willingly leave to others, who, though true friends to the government, are not inflamed with zeal so fiery and impatient as mine, and, therefore, do not feel the same emotions of rage and resentment at the sight of those infamous passages, in which venality and dependence are represented, as mean in themselves, and productive of remorse and infelicity.
One line, which ought, in my opinion, to be erased from every copy, by a special act of parliament, is mentioned by Anderson, as pronounced by the hero in his sleep,
O Sweden! O my country ! yet I'll save thee. This line I have reason to believe thrown out as a kind of a watchword for the opposing faction, who, when they meet in their seditious assemblies, have been observed to lay their hands upon their breasts, and cry out, with great vehemence of accent,
OB- b! O my country! yet I'll save thee. In the second scene he endeavours to fix epithets of contempt upon those passions and desires, which have been always found most useful to the ministry, and most opposite to the spirit of independency.
Base fear, the laziness of lust, gross appetites,
Or fetter'd in their fears. Thus is that decent submission to our superiours, and that proper awe of authority which we are taught in courts, termed base fear and the servility of the soul. Thus are those gaieties and enjoyments, those elegant amusements and lulling pleasures, which the followers of a court are blessed with, as the just rewards of their attendance and submission, degraded to lust, grossness, and debauchery. The author ought to be told, that courts are not to be mentioned with so little ceremony, and that though gallantries and amours are admitted there, it is almost treason to suppose them infected with debauchery or lust.