The Evils of Theater-going
By Hiram Mattison, 1867
Is it necessary to prove to a Christian that the theater is evil and only evil, and that to attend upon it is a sin and shame? It scarcely seems possible. And yet it is said there are professed Christians among us, who apologize for and even attend theaters, and allow their children to do so! Let us, then, consider the evil of this practice in the light of the moral character of the theater, and its invariable influence upon society.
If any confidence is to be placed in history, the theater has been one unmitigated moral pest through the whole twenty-five centuries of its existence.
I. The Ancient Pagan Moralists condemned the theater as subversive of public morality.
1. Four hundred years before Christ, PLATO said: "Plays raise the passions and pervert them, and by consequence are dangerous to morality." Again: "The diversions of the stage are dangerous to temper and sobriety — they swell anger and desire too much. Tragedy is apt to make men boisterous — and comedy, buffoons. Thus those passions are cherished which ought to be checked, virtue loses ground, and reason grows precarious."
2. ARISTOTLE says: "The law ought to forbid young people the seeing of comedies, until age and discipline have confirmed them in sobriety, fortified their virtue, and made them, as it were, proof against debauchery."
3. CICERO denounces "licentious plays and poems as the bane of sobriety and wise thinking." He says "that comedy exists on lewdness, and that pleasure is the root of all evil."
4. LIVY says of the origin of plays among the Romans: "They were brought in upon the score of religion, to pacify the gods." He adds, "The remedy in this case was worse than the disease, and the atonement more infectious than the plague!" The same author says, "that when a theater was being built under the direction of the censors, Scipio spoke against it in the House, as a useless and debauching experiment, and got an order for pulling it down!"
5. VALERIUS MAXIMUS says: "The theaters of Rome were the occasions of civil distractions, and the state first blushed and then bled for these entertainments."
6. PLUTARCH condemns plays on the ground "that they tend to corrupt the young."
7. SENECA says: "Nothing is so pernicious to good morals as to be present at these spectacles. Vice easily finds it way into the heart through the pleasurable emotions which they excite. From such scenes I depart more ambitious and luxurious than before." Again, he charges the theater "with having produced the extravagance and debauchery of the age."
8. OVID, in a work in which he endeavors to make amends for the injury done by the pernicious poems he had formerly written, proposes a plan for the reformation of public morals, and among other suggestions advises "the suppression of plays, on the ground that they promote lewdness and dissoluteness of manners."
Such was the opinion which heathen moralists formed of the character and influence of the theater, even centuries before the Christian era.
II. The Early Christian Writers were emphatic in their condemnation of the theater as a school of vice.
1. THEOPHILUS, thus writes in the second century: "Tis not lawful for us to be present at the prizes of your gladiators, lest by these means we shall be accessory to the murders there committed; neither dare we presume upon the liberty of your plays, lest our senses should be tinctured with indecency and profaneness. We are for seeing no representations of lewdness." "God forbid that Christians should dishonor themselves by such wickedness as this!"
2. TERTULLIAN, towards the close of the second century, says: "We keep away from your public shows. There is superstition and idolatry in the case, and we dislike the entertainment because we dislike the reason of its institution; besides we have nothing to do with the prizes of the race-course, the lewdness of the play-house, or the barbarities of the bear-pit." (The Bear-Pit served as both a theater and a blood sports arena for bear-baiting and bull-baiting and other 'animal sports'.)
In an argument to dissuade Christians from these indulgences, he says that "the tenor of their faith — the bond of principle and order of discipline had bound them against the entertainments of the town. Some people's faith is either too full of scruples, or too lax of sense. Nothing will serve to settle them but a plain text of Scripture. They hover in uncertainty, because it is not said as expressly, "You shall not go to the play-house," as it is said "You shall not kill." But this looks more like fencing than argument. For we have the meaning of the prohibition, though not the sound, in the first Psalm: 'Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.'"
3. CLEMENT of Alexandria says: "The circus and theater may not improperly be called the chair of pestilence. Away, then, with these lewd, ungodly diversions, which are but impertinence at the best. What part of impudence, either in words or practice, is omitted by the stage? Don't the buffoons take almost all manner of liberties, and plunge through thick and thin to make a jest?"
4. CYPRIAN says of the play-house: "What business has a Christian in such places as these? A Christian, who has not the liberty so much as to think of an evil thing — why does he entertain himself with lewd representations? Has he a mind to discharge his modesty and be fleshed for the practice? By using to see these things, he'll learn to do them."
5. CHRYSOSTOM says of plays and public shows: "What need have I to speak of the lewdness of the spectacles and be particular in description? For what's there to be met with, but lewd laughing — but smut, railing, and buffoonery? In a word, 'tis all scandal and confusion. I speak to you all. Let none who partake of this holy table disqualify themselves with such mortal diversions."
6. AUGUSTINE calls theaters "cages of immorality and public schools of debauchery!"
III. Modern Christian Writers have not been less explicit in their condemnation of the theater.
1. TILLOTSON calls the theater "the devil's chapel, a nursery of licentiousness and vice; a recreation which ought not to be allowed among a civilized people, much less among a Christian people."
2. The Bishop of Flanders, in 1697, issued a pastoral letter, in which he says: "A man must be very ignorant of his religion not to know the great disgust it has always declared for public sights, and for plays in particular. The holy Fathers condemn it in their writings. They look upon them as works of heathenism and schools of debauchery, and they have always been abominated by the Church."
3. JEREMY COLLIER, in 1698, declared that "nothing had gone farther in debauching the age, than the stage-poets and play-house."
4. JOHN WESLEY, in 1764, wrote to the mayor and city of Bristol against the erection of a theater in the town: "The present stage entertainments not only sap the foundation of all religion, but tend to drinking and debauchery of every kind, which are constant attendants on these entertainments."
5. WILBERFORCE admonishes Christians against patronizing such places, "which," he says, "the debauched, inflamed with wine, or bent on the indulgence of his licentious appetites, finds most congenial to his state and temper of mind."
6. WILLIAM PRYNNE published in 1633 a volume of more than a thousand pages, closely printed, entitled "The Player's Scourge!" The book is a rare one, and he is a lucky man who possesses a copy of it. An author of our own day — a man of no less authority and right to speak than John Angell James — says of this book: "It contains a catalogue of authorities against the stage, which comprises every name of eminence in the heathen and Christian world. It comprehends the united testimony of the Jewish and Christian Churches, the deliberate acts of fifty-four ancient and modern general, national, and provincial councils and synods, both of Western and Eastern Churches; the condemnatory sentence of seventy-one ancient Fathers, and one hundred and fifty-one modern Catholic and Protestant authors."
But more upon this point in the next chapter.
IV. As a general rule, the theater is essentially evil in its matter.
Read the following from one who has thoroughly studied the subject: "The great mass of the plays presented to the people today are either insipid or wicked, or both. Any honest reader who will wade through the trash that attracts at the theater will be perfectly amazed. I have searched whole plays in vain for one inspiring, manly thought. I have endured this dirty work as a physician endures the stench of the pest-house — because it is necessary for a right understanding of the work done in society by the stage. Let us take a few specimens:
"The Serious Family" is presented at the Haymarket Theater, London, where its popularity excelled. Now what is the theme of this play? Amminadab Sleek represents Christian benevolence, and is held up as a hypocrite. Lady Creamly is a benevolent solicitor, but is put in the worst light as a female despot. Her antipathy to fast living and fast men is made the excuse for licentiousness and infidelity in her son-in-law. Sir Charles Torrens, an admitted debauchee, is held up as a model man. The restraints of virtue are the sufficient excuse for his crimes. Lady Torrens is a model wife. She is made to lie to avoid inconvenience, is ridiculed and pitied while inclined to be virtuous, and is praised when she goes into excesses to please her husband. Widow Delmaine is mirthful in excess, always flirting, in no way religious — yet most generous and philanthropic as contrasted with the mock benevolence of Christians. Aside from the profanity that leavens the play, what but evil can come of it? Vice is a pleasant thing. Licentiousness is commendable. True religion is condemned. All the good deeds are done by bad people — and all the bad deeds by good people.
The play takes a serious family, inclined to be religious, and through the influence of a debauchee and libertine — converts them into an immoral, frivolous family. This is held up as a great reform, more to be desired than the reformations wrought by Christianity. If the work of Jesus was upward — then the work of this play is downward. Choose which gospel you will embrace.
I need hardly refer to "The Hypocrite" — so popular in the American theaters. A viler assault upon true religion and all that can save society, would be difficult to find.
A play very popular in nearly all the theaters of this country, gives us another specimen of what is demanded of stage-managers and furnished by them when possible. "Camille" carries the sympathy of the crowd through every extremity of crime and profligacy. She is accomplished and winning — but none the less an admitted and open prostitute. She is loved and almost worshiped, though in her the rottenness of depravity breaks out in a running sore. All her lewdness and shameless sin, are charged to the over-virtue of society. She is pitied as a victim, not of deception — but of public opinion. Society is too good, and the mission of this play is to tone it down to a level, where the wicked shall be honorable and the virtuous shall be despised.
The "The French Spy" has no virtue calculated to attract. The motive power is in the peculiar dress, or rather undress, of the actress. Vulgarity and immoral passion are the fruits of such representations.
"Mazeppa" may depends upon its lewdness for its power. Its chief attraction is in binding the actress, apparently naked, to a horse, and in representations of the same class.
Can any one be profited by witnessing the horrid scenes in the "Six Degrees of Crime". Will it not stain and corrupt a young heart?
If I had space, this argument might be extended indefinitely by the analysis of such plays as 'The Forty Thieves,' 'The Devil in Paris,' 'Devil to Pay,' 'Great Devil,' and the like. There is not the same amount of poison in each of these plays, but what is lacking in some is made up by the actors!
V. The theater is a School of Profanity and irreligion.
It has come to be a great virtue in a popular actor, to be able to extemporize profanity. The "joke," as impromptu swearing is called, is a stated part of the entertainment. When the interest flags, and the "roughs" become restive — the actor must feast them with a little fresh swearing. It is a sad fact that no part is cheered more than this — when swearing is adroitly thrown in or voluminously poured out. It is today, as it was in the days of Addison, who laments that in his day, swearing, curses, and imprecations would raise storms of applause — while sentiments of genuine beauty and virtue dropped dead from the actor's lips.
Anyone reading the comedies so much applauded at our theaters would hardly see the demand for more profanity than is already crowded into them. Take "Handy Andy," or "Box and Cox," or "The Loan of a Lover," or any others of the class, and the foul swearings almost touch each other from beginning to end. The best characters are the worst swearers. But even in these the "joke" gives additional spice.
What defense can be made for the usual interlude, the fancy dance, so essential to the greatest success? Conceive of a woman dressed in short illusion skirts, whirling on one foot, with the limbs making an angle of 120 degrees. This may be entertaining, but it can hardly be called refining, or elevating, or moral.
The play of "The Hypocrite" was worked over into a worse form, solely to ridicule religion and hold up God's ordained means of saving men to the contempt and raillery of the crowd gathered for a special treat.
An actress in a Chicago theater "brought down the house" by saying: "The first woman plucked the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and gave it to the first man to eat, and thus brought death into the world. But I, a woman, uphold and glory in the deed of the first of my gender!"
These are but samples of the material and animus of the modern theater; so that if bad plays, if profanity by wholesale, if familiarity with the worst crimes, if the ridicule of all that is pure, or good, or holy, if the defense and apology for falsehood, licentiousness, prostitution — and every flagrant violation of decency, and honor, and purity, and virtue, can make an institution evil — then the theater of today is evil — evil from its purpose, evil in its matter, evil in its acting, evil in its fruit! It is evil, and only evil, continually!
The following recipe for a modern theatrical performance is from the Round Table, which is anything but a religious periodical:
"Sixteen pounds of powdered brimstone for lightning;
twenty-four peals of thunder;
a dozen imps with tails;
a dozen bloody daggers;
a skull and cross-bones;
six terrific combats — three of them double-handed;
a huge course of crimes;
a pair of bloodied shirts;
one comic and lewd song;
three hundred curse words, and
sixty-four pages of blasphemy. This is what our city's Bowery masses and village loafers delight in.
VI. The character of the theater may be inferred from the EFFECTS produced in the neighborhood in which one is located.
No sooner is the flaming poster set up, the doors opened, and the gas lighted — than decency flees, as health would a plague-spot. The erection of a new theater in a previously respectable quarter of one of our cities is well known to destroy that quarter for any future decency of moral living. The private house is turned into a brothel, the shop of honest trade is turned into the saloon or bar-room; and the play-house stands a spectacle of vice, supported by its congenial aids of brawling, gambling, drunkenness, and prostitution. Now, these effects are marked, unmistakable and uniform.
A theater located in any neighborhood in this or any other city, blights that neighborhood as with a moral leprosy. It breaks out upon the very surface of things. Not only the inhabitants, but the houses, become scabbed with moral corruption. It demands and must have accessories and surroundings answering to its own moral character. There must be a bar-room under the same roof, or so near that it can be easily reached between the acts. And those who have been there know what a stampede there is between the acts when the thirsty patrons rush out to wet their whistles.
Theater-goers insist upon these accommodations. They require that licentiousness, and rum, and gambling shall be convenient to the place where they convene — so that they can pass easily from one despicable excitement to the other.
7. The Reputation of Actors as a class, furnishes additional evidence with regard to the character of the theater.
1. It is not said that there are no exceptions to this statement. There was one righteous man in Sodom — but that did not do much towards elevating the average character of its population. There was one righteous man among the antediluvians, but Noah's character only made more apparent and hateful, the abominations and corruptions which prevailed everywhere else. But these individual cases with regard to actors and actresses, are the exceptions to the general rule. It still remains true that as a class, they have been in bad repute for two thousand years.
How is it that members of this profession can set all laws of morality at defiance in their private lives? How does it happen that an actor can divorce his wife and take to himself the wife of another man — and it seem no glaring impropriety? How is it that he may live in scandalous and admitted wickedness — and still be admired by society? How does it come to pass that men or women in that profession are notorious for being wicked? The whole world knows that a virtuous actor or actress is now and always has been the exception, and not the rule.
2. A Church Council in the year 424 declares: "That the legal testimony of people of ill-reputation, of actors, and others in such scandalous employment — shall not be admitted against any person."
3. Theophilus of Antioch, two hundred years before, says: "Even those very magistrates who favor the theater, discountenance the actors; they stigmatize their character; the whole tribe of them is thrown out of all honor or privilege." That was over sixteen hundred years ago. He says: "They are neither allowed to be lords nor gentlemen, to come within the senate, nor be members of the common council."
4. Cyprian, in reply to a letter that he received on the subject, writes: "You have asked my thoughts concerning a certain actor in your neighborhood, whether such a person ought to be allowed the privilege of communion. This man, it seems, continues his scandalous practices, and keeps a nursery of vice under him; he sets himself up for a master of debauchery, and propagates the lewd mystery. The case standing thus, 'tis my opinion that the admission of such a member would be a breach of the discipline of the gospel; neither do I think it fit that the Church should suffer by so infamous a correspondence."
5. Cicero says of the Romans, "They counted all stage-plays uncreditable and scandalous, insomuch that any Roman who turned actor, was not only to be degraded, but likewise, as it were, disincorporated, unnaturalized, by order of the censors."
6. Livy says that common actors "were expelled from their tribe and not allowed to bear arms."
The Athenians had a law that forbade any judge of the Areopagus to write a comedy.
The Lacedemonians would not allow the theater among them on any terms or under any circumstances.
In the Theodocian code, actors are called "People maimed and blemished in reputation."
The Junction of Actors was counted scandalous, and those who came upon the stage to amuse the people had a mark of infamy set upon them.
In an old English work actors are classed with rogues, vagabonds, and brash beggars.
Then we have the councils and decrees of the Church excommunicating actors and denying the sacrament to any woman who marries an actor.
7. Rousseau, the infidel, said: "I observe, in general, that the situation of the actor is a state of licentiousness and bad morals; that the men are abandoned to disorder, and that the women lead scandalous lives."
Everybody knows that such is the reputation of most of the stage-actors of the present day.
8. Henry Ward Beecher, who is certainly quite loose enough both in his theology and his views of amusement, says: "Putting together, in one class, all gamblers, circus-players, actors and actresses — I pronounce them to be men who live off society without returning any useful equivalent for their support. It is within the knowledge of all, that men who cater for public pleasure are excluded from respectable society. In the support of gamblers, circus-players, actors and actresses — a Christian and industrious people are guilty of supporting mere mischief-makers; men whose very hearts are diseased, and whose sores exhale contagion to all around them. We pay moral assassins to stab the purity of our children. We warn our children of temptation, and yet plant the seeds which shall bristle with all the spikes and thorns of the worst temptations!"
9. Not long ago a paper of high literary order, published in the city of New York, making no claims to a religious character, used the following language: "Exceptions there may be, and are; but as a class, the members of the dramatic profession in this country today are people who are very properly debarred from respectable society."
10. After a full and successful trial of the actor's life, Macready gave it up — unwilling that his daughters should mature under its perverting influence. Go behind the scenes. Looseness of manners, vileness of conversation and recklessness of morals prevail there. The theatrical life itself is socially wrong. Go to the homes of actors. In the late hours of the night they return there, flushed with the excitement of applause or wine. They sleep heavily until near noon-time, and rise languidly to rehearsals.
11. "Actors and actresses," says Dr. Taylor Lewis, "never have and never can be regarded as a reputable class in society." The cold-blooded assassin who butchered our beloved President made it his boast that he had received $20,000 for his performances on the stage for a single year.
Not many years ago a notorious woman, for publicly dancing and indecently exposing herself on the stage, received the sum of $60,000 in fifteen weeks. Madam Rachel, when she died, left each of her illegitimate children a large fortune.
12. One more test that will bring the matter home to our own bosoms. You, reader, may be a father, with sons and daughters growing up around you — would it be a pleasant fact for you to know that your daughters are intimate with the actors who visit your city from time to time? You have sons, it may be, just going into life at a time when its perils gather thickly about them, and when one step makes or mars their destiny forever — would you like to know that they are given a free entrance at all times to the theater and are familiar with its mysteries?
Perhaps you have children in whom your thoughts and wishes are bound up, as they can be in nothing else in this life. In all your bright dreams for their honorable future — did it ever cross your mind that your boy might become an actor? You have thought of medicine, of the law, of trade, of his being an editor, or filling the pulpit — almost everything possible of honor, has passed before your vision as you have dreamed upon this subject. And you have, perhaps, prayed alone in your room, and have prayed together, that, as he passes through the world, he might never be too harshly exposed to its temptations and perils. Did it ever cross your mind that he might run into these sharp temptations, by connecting himself with the theater?
Let me ask you, young man, justly proud of your sister, would you not about as soon follow her to her grave — as to have her marry an actor? And so, parents, as to your sons and daughters; would you not about as willingly follow any one of them to the grave — as to have them marry an actor or an actress?
The corrupters of others necessarily become debauched themselves. Men and women whose nightly business it is to act a lie, to seem to be what they are not, who are trained to assume the most vile passions and moral states, have no power to prevent this life of falsity and sham from reacting most disastrously upon themselves. What God has linked together as cause and effect — no man can put asunder. There is absolutely no escape from the injury inflicted upon the character, by this reflex influence. The actor who does not become thoroughly depraved, is a spectacle to angels and to men. The actress who passes through this terrible ordeal unstained — is more to be marveled at than if she had walked blindfolded in the midst of red-hot plowshares without being burned.
VIII. All the affinities of the theater are for vice and corruption, in the midst of which it naturally lives and flourishes.
1. This proposition will scarcely be doubted by any reader. And how is it to be accounted for, except upon the theory of the inherent moral corruption of the theater itself?
2. "Most theaters," says the Central Christian Advocate, "are houses of prostitution, liquor-saloons, and gambling-hells combined — or so intimately connected that you cannot separate them. No theater can live and be decent. The house of harlots is necessary to the success of any play-house. Some decent people affect not to know these things, but if they will inquire of any honest policeman, they will find out some things they never knew perhaps."
"We repeat it, the theater is attractive to most people on account of its impurities; and many men go there often to make trysts. It stands next to the brothel in vileness, and holds the same relation to it that the water of the mill-dam does to the mill — that is, it runs it. Its ways are the ways of death!"
From first to last it was an evil place;
And now such things were acted there, as made
The devils blush; and from the neighborhood,
Angels and holy men, trembling, retired.
3. Go back to the time of the French Revolution. The vilest corruption and crime openly prevailed — while the theaters in Paris were increased fourfold during that Revolution.
"There were in Paris no fewer than twenty-eight theaters, great and small, most of them kept open at the public expense, and all of them crowded every night. Among the gaunt, haggard forms of famine, amidst the yells of murder, the tears of affliction and the cries of despair, the song and the dance, the mimic scene and the buffoon laughter, went on as regularly as in the mirthful hours of festive peace. Even under the scaffold of judicial murder, and the gaping planks that poured down blood upon the spectators — the space was hired out for a show of dancing dogs. The society of Paris was like a den of outlaws upon a doubtful frontier — a lewd tavern for the revels and debaucheries of banditti, assassins, and paramours, filled with licentious and blasphemous songs appropriate to their brutal and hardened course of life. The crowd went at night to the theater to be diverted with the representation of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and turned in the morning to the congenial work of butchering babes and half-grown girls."
IX. To attend theaters, is to put yourself in the company of the basest and vilest classes in society.
1. No effort that has ever been made, or can be made, has induced, or will induce, Christian people to patronize the theater to any great extent. As a rule, therefore, it is a place to which the God-fearing and prayerful and virtuous never go, or allow their children to go.
2. A few decent, reputable, and sober people may attend the theater, but they are not there in such numbers as to give character to the audience.
But whether you find them there or not, you will find another class there. You will find the profligates and the gamblers; the immoral men and the loose women; the harlots and the libertines. This is not the kind of company into which a young man should go. I don't say that you will make these men your associates, but the best characteristics of youth — its ingenuousness, its frankness, its susceptibility to impressions, its very best traits — render him peculiarly liable to yield to these evil influences.
Can a man take pitch in his hands and not be defiled? Can he take fire into his bosom and not be burned? He may associate with these people and not be injured. But it is not a thing to be expected. " Do not be misled — Bad company corrupts good character!" The very air of some places is so loaded with moral contagion that a man cannot breathe it without being rendered worse for it. And much of the company that gathers in and about the theater is of such a character that every young man especially ought to shun the place as he would shun the very gates of Hell! No leper-house or hospital for the diseased, with small-pox or cholera patients, is so dangerous to a young man — as the company that convenes night after night about the theater.
X. The theater has never been known to do anyone any good, while it has led its tens of thousands to ruin and eternal damnation!
1. A long and earnest conflict has been going on in the world, pro and con — as to the utility of the theater. Its advocates have all along claimed that it was a school of virtue and an instrument of reform and moral exaltation.
Where, then, are their specimens or illustrations? Christianity can point to her millions which she has rescued from drunkenness, profanity, and other vices. Where are the men and women reformed and made virtuous by the theater? Who will point to the first man or woman who has been reformed or elevated, or even strengthened or encouraged, in the ways of virtue and sobriety.
"We are told," says a secular New York paper, "that theaters reform the wicked. Where they reform one — they ruin thousands. 'The Ticket-of-Leave-Man,' lately so popular, once led — as the story goes — an absconding clerk to return to his employers $1,500 out of $2,500 which he had stolen. So the theater taught him to ease his conscience by returning only a part and retaining $1,000 of his plunder. Grand moral teaching that! And yet it is not at all probable that this partial restitution of stolen money by a theater-going thief, ever took place.
"We know that good men and wise will differ with us in these views. They will tell us that the pure, the true, and the cultured have patronized and participated in theatrical representations. That may all be, but they were not made what they were by these; they remained what they were — in spite of them!"
2. Hear this secular and irreligious paper still further: "The youth entranced by the siren power of the theater becomes no worthier son or truer brother. The friends of home are not his links of life. The spell of a magician mightier than they is upon him. The thronged galleries, the brilliant stage, the tinseled actors, the stirring utterances, and the exciting applause, come to him as from a paradise. When all is over — what wonder that the bar-room and the brothel, the debauchery and the misery ensue! These are not necessarily or universally the concomitants of the theater; but they are so much craved by many after the theatrical fever, fitful and ephemeral, is over, that it is almost impossible to banish them from the precincts of the stage."
3. "Young men," says the Central Christian Advocate, "who habitually attend the theater are not to be trusted — they are generally neither virtuous nor honest. No young man can go to the theater three or four nights in the week — and keep a pure mind one month. It is the halfway house between the honest family — and the brothel. Girls who habitually go to the theater will most likely go to the city and sell themselves. These things are so palpable, that no one half aware, will venture a denial."
4. To patronize the theater involves a foolish expenditure of money; and a foolish expenditure of money in a young man is an extravagance which tends to one of these results — either to poverty, or to dishonesty, or to crime, and very often to all three! Aside, therefore, from all moral considerations, what broker, or banker, or insurance company, or merchant — wishes to employ a young man who is in the habit of attending a theater once or twice a week? Even with Deists or Atheists, if such are to be found — it would be no objection that a young man attends church or labors in a Sabbath-school. But the most loose and irreligious business firms regard it as an objection to any young man, that he is a votary of the theater. This fact at once suggests more beyond — brothels, gambling-hells, lying, money purloined, etc. How conclusive this undeniable fact, as to the moral influence of the theater!
If, therefore, a young man wishes to keep his influence and standing, and rise in the world, it does not become him to waste his money in supporting the dancing Jezebels and riff-raff who live by pandering to the pleasures and ministering to the vices of society.
5. Theatricals — such, at least, as are now most popular — of the French and Italian school, must and do create a disrelish for domestic life. They make home-joys less attractive, and home-duties more irksome. They blunt the natural sensibilities by a false excitement of them, in view of imaginary suffering. The heart then becomes hardened towards actual woe. Whatever thus diverts the mind and perverts the heart from the true ends of social life, must have an immoral influence.
XI. The theater never has been, and never can be, reformed or made better.
1. The whole history of the past, and the experience of ages, are summed up in these few lines of Polloh:
"The theater was, from the very first,
The favorite haunt of sin, though honest men —
Some very honest, wise, and worthy men —
Maintained it might be turned to good account;
And so perhaps it might — but never was!"
2. "The theater," says the Central Christian Advocate, "has always been hopelessly vile. It has nothing to redeem it from utter wickedness. Its literature for the most part is the shameless travesties of some plays — and the imbecile driveling of obscure witlings. Its actors, with few exceptions, are the very vilest men and the most abandoned characters. Its plays are generally vulgar and immoral. Its paraphernalia are wanton and impure. Its surroundings are as bad as possible."
3. To reform the theater — that is, to make it virtuous, in its matter, acting, and influence — would be to destroy it. It is chiefly supported by those who are attracted by its vileness — men of a low order of intellect, without mental resources upon which they can draw for entertainment, who need somebody to amuse them, and are willing to pay to be amused. These men, who are in quest of impure excitements, and who love to have their ears tickled with profane and impure jests — are, to a large extent, the patrons of the theater — so large that if their patronage could be withdrawn, the play-house would die.
The theater, purged of its wicked features, would be as dull and uninteresting to these men as a Methodist class-meeting. Theatrical managers, therefore, who would live by their business, must cater to the depraved appetites of this class. It is for this, among other reasons, that the reform of the theater is impossible.
4. Another insurmountable obstacle to the "reform" of which we have heard so much, is found in the fact already stated, that Christians cannot be induced, in any considerable numbers, either to patronize the theater or waste time in vain efforts for its reformation. They know too well the folly of all such endeavors. They know too well that the object is to induce them to patronize the theater, not to lift it up to morality and virtue — but to break down the public conscience, induce others to follow their bad example, and thus debauch both them and the general public at the same time!
Such is our general indictment against the theater. During all its history, it has ever been an evil institution. The ancient Pagan moralists condemned it — the early Christian writers condemned it — modern Christian writers and ministers almost invariably condemn it! It is evil in its matter, and evil in its manner! It is a school of profanity and irreligion! It is a moral and social blight wherever located. Its actors are generally people of bad reputation, dissolute and immoral — and its affinities are all for corruption. Its supporters are to a large extent tipplers, gamblers, debauchees, and prostitutes. It has never been known to do any good, while it has ruined tens of thousands. It is utterly incapable of being reformed or becoming anything better than a moral pest-house in every community in which its loathsome existence is tolerated.
And yet (enough to make angels weep if they had tears to shed) there are found professed Christians who patronize, and thus sanction and approve by their presence and financial support, this God-dishonoring and soul-destroying curse!