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A Letter to A.H. Esq.; Concerning the Stage (1698)

Note: H. T. Swedenberg, Jr. (1906-1978) was a professor at the University of California (Los Angeles). In 1946 he, Edward N. Hooker, and Richard C. Boys founded the Augustan Reprint Society, with Swedenberg as general editor. The Society reprinted many rare works, drawn largely from the collections of the University of California's library. The two anonymous essays here were part of a series of essays on the stage.

Series Three: Essays on the Stage

No. 1




With an Introduction by H. T. Swedenberg, Jr.

The Augustan Reprint Society September, 1946

Price: 75c

Membership in the Augustan Reprint Society entitles the subscriber to six publications issued each year. The annual membership fee is $2.50. Address subscriptions and communications to The Augustan Reprint Society in care of the General Editors: Richard C. Boys, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan; or Edward N. Hooker or H.T. Swedenberg, Jr., University of California, Los Angeles 24, California. Editorial Advisors: Louis I. Bredvold, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and James L. Clifford, Columbia University, New York.


In the spring of 1698 the rumblings against the excesses of the English stage broke into a roar with the publication of Jeremy Collier's _Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage_. A wild joyousness marked Collier's attack, and at times it seemed as though the zeal of the Lord had eaten him up. But he was no enthusiast without plan or reason. A man of some learning, he used it for all it was worth to confound the playwrights and the critics.

Collier was careful to make good use of accepted and honored critical principles. He contended that the purpose of the stage is to instruct; he argued for poetic justice; he discussed the unities; he spoke of propriety of manners and language; and he warned of the danger of fancy's overriding judgment--"the Fancy may be gain'd, and the Guards corrupted, and Reason suborn'd against itself." Unfortunately for Collier, however, such argument from reason and critical theory was only part of his book. He pretended to be attacking the current excesses, but a reading of his entire book gives the definite impression that he was really opposing the stage as an institution. His enemies were quick to point this out. He also weakened his argument by finding bawdry where there was none, overlooking the many unquestionably off-color passages in the Restoration plays. Furthermore he was extremely touchy about the clergy, arguing violently that no priest should ever be satirized. In short, Collier weakened a strong position by immoderate demands and contentions.

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