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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

The licentious court of Charles the second


Now

it is impossible, the Quakers contend, that these ingredients, which are the component parts of comic amusements, should not have an injurious influence upon the mind that is young and tender and susceptible of impressions. If the blush which first started upon the cheek of a young person on the first hearing of an indecorous or profane sentiment, and continued for some time to be excited at repetitions of the same, should at length be so effectually laid asleep, that the impudent language of ribaldry can awaken it no more, it is clear, that a victory will have been gained over his moral feelings: and if he should remember (and what is to hinder him, when the occurrences of the stage are marked with strong action, and accompanied with impressive scenery) the language, the sentiments, the incidents, the prospects, which dramatic pieces have brought before him, he may combine these, as they rise to memory, with his own feelings, and incorporate them imperceptibly into the habits and manners of his own life. Thus, if vice be not represented as odious, he may lose his love of virtue. If buffoonery should be made to please him, he may lose the dignity of his mind. Love-tales may produce in him a romantic imagination. Low characters may teach him low cunning. If the laws of honour strike him as the laws of refined life, he may become a fashionable moralist. If modes of dissipation strike him us modes of pleasure in the estimation of the world, he may abandon himself to these, and become
a rake. Thus may such representations, in a variety of ways, act upon the moral principle, and make an innovation there, detrimental to his moral character.

Lord Kaimes, in his elements of criticism, has the following observations.

"The licentious court of Charles the second, among its many disorders, engendered a pest, the virulence of which subsists to this day. The English comedy, copying the manners of the court, became abominably licentious; and continues so with very little softening. It is there an established rule to deck out the chief characters with every vice in fashion however gross; but as such characters, if viewed in a true light, would be disgustful, care is taken to disguise their deformity under the embellishments of wit, sprightliness and good humour, which, in mixed company makes a capital figure. It requires not much thought to discover the poisonous influence of such plays. A young man of figure, emancipated at last from the severity and restraint of a college education, repairs to the capital disposed to every sort of excess. The play-house becomes his favourite amusement, and he is enchanted with the gaiety and splendour of the chief personages. The disgust which vice gives him at first, soon wears off to make way for new notions, more liberal in his opinion, by which a sovereign contempt of religion, and a declared war upon the chastity of wives, maids and widows, are converted from being infamous vices to be fashionable virtues. The infection spreads gradually through all ranks and becomes universal. How gladly would I listen to any one, who should undertake to prove, that what I have been describing is chimerical! But the dissoluteness of our young men of birth will not suffer me to doubt its reality. Sir Harry Wildair has completed many a rake; and in the suspicious husband, Ranger, the humble imitator of Sir Harry, has had no slight influence in spreading that character. What woman, tinctured with the play-house morals, would not be the sprightly, the witty, though dissolute Lady Townley, rather than the cold, the sober, though virtuous Lady Grace? How odious ought writers to be who thus employ the talents they have from their maker most traitorously against himself, by endeavouring to corrupt and disfigure his creatures! If the comedies of Congreve did not rack him with remorse in his last moments, he must have been lost to all sense of virtue."


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