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with which the bill had been hurried through parliament, and having emphatically denied the necessity for its introduction at all, his lordship thus noticed the (alleged) objectionable license which had been taken by Fielding and others, and the means which existed for the prevention and punishment of such abuses :
"I do not, my lords, pretend to be a lawyer; I do not pretend to know perfectly the power and extent of our laws; but I have conversed with those that do, and by them I have been told that our laws are sufficient for punishing any person that shall dare to represent upon the stage what may appear, either by the words or the representation, to be blasphemous, seditious, or immoral. I must own, indeed, I have observed of late a remarkable licentiousness in the stage. There have but very lately been two plays acted, which one would have thought should have given the greatest offence, and yet both were suffered to be represented without disturbance, without censure. In one, the author thought fit to represent the three great professions-religion, physic, and law-as inconsistent with common sense; in the other, a most tragical story was brought upon the stage-a catastrophe too recent, too melancholy, and of too solemn a nature to be heard of anywhere but from the pulpit. How these pieces came to pass unpunished I do not know; if I am rightly informed, it was not for want of laws, but for want of prosecution, without which no law can be made effectual. But if there was any neglect in this case, I am convinced it was not
against it I ever heard in parliament, full of wit, of the genteelest satire, and in the most polished, classical style that the Petronius of any time ever wrote; it was extremely studied, seemingly easy, well delivered, and universally admired. On such occasions nobody spoke better than Lord Chesterfield; but as he never could, or at least never did, speak but prepared, and from dissertations he had written down in his closet and got by heart, he never made any figure in a reply, nor was his manner of speaking like debating, but declaiming."-Memoirs of the Reign of George II. By John Lord Hervey. London, 1848.
(2) Charles I. a Tragedy.
with a design to prepare the minds of the people, and to make them think a new law necessary.'
The tragedy of "King Charles I.," alluded to by Chesterfield, was from the pen of Mr. Havard,1 the comedian,— an excellent man, but an indifferent actor and author. was produced at the theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, in 1737, and met with considerable success. In the censure passed by the orator on this play and on "Pasquin," there is undoubtedly a tone of grave irony. Fielding's attack upon the learned professions could not by any candid construction be held to exceed the bounds of legitimate satire; and even if it had done so, Chesterfield was not the man to rebuke the impropriety. As regards the first and most important of those professional bodies-the clergy of the Church of England-the opinions entertained and expressed by his lordship are well known; and with respect to the decapitated monarch, Charles I., it will be found that he has spoken of him quite as irreverently as of the clergy themselves.2
(1) The following curious professional epitaph on this gentleman (who died in 1778) was written by Garrick :
"AN HONEST MAN'S THE NOBLEST WORK OF GOD.'
An honest man-beloved as soon as known;
Howe'er defective in the mimic art,
In real life he justly played his part!
The noblest character he acted well,
And Heaven applauded when the curtain fell."
(2) See Lord Chesterfield's remarks on the clergy of his time, in Lord Mahon's recent edition of his works. The character of Charles I. is thus portrayed by his lordship, when speaking of Archbishop Laud :-" He (Laud) met with a prince who seemed to be made for him. Weak, warm, and superstitious, he was convinced of his own divine right, as well as of his archbishop's, and they joined to establish absolute hierarchy in the Church, and despotic power in the State (two most gross impositions, which, to the shame and disgrace of human understandings, had been reared, believed, and submitted to, as divine institutions, for twelve or thirteen centuries), but were such arrant bunglers in the prosecution of their design that they both lost their heads for it. The punishment, perhaps, was too rigorous, but the example was certainly of great use to succeeding kings and priests."-Lord Chesterfield's Works. Edited by Lord Mahon.
"Every unnecessary restraint upon licentiousness,"Chesterfield went on to say,-" is a fetter upon the legs, a shackle on the hands of liberty. One of the greatest blessings we enjoy, one of the greatest blessings, my lords, a people can enjoy, is liberty;-but every good in this life. has its alloy of evil-licentiousness is the alloy of liberty; it is an ebullition-an excrescence,-it is a speck upon the eye of the political body, which I can never touch but with a gentle-with a trembling hand, lest I destroy the body, lest I injure the eye on which it is apt to appear." "There is such a connexion," he observed again, "between licentiousness and liberty, that it is not easy to correct the one without dangerously wounding the other. It is extremely hard to distinguish the true limit between them. Like a changeable silk, we can easily see there are two different colours, but we cannot easily discover where the one ends, or where the other begins."
As to the ridicule of public men and measures, the fault might be (the orator remarked) in the men and measures themselves; if the latter deserved ridicule, what was to prevent an audience from seizing on some casual expression in order to point the shaft of satire at the object of their scorn? "The great Pompey," he said, "after the many victories he had obtained, and the great conquests he had made, had certainly a good title to the estcem of the people of Rome yet that great man, by some error in his conduct, became an object of general dislike; and, therefore, in the representation of an old play, when Diphilus, the actor, came to repeat these words, Nostra miseria tu es Magnus, the audience immediately applied them to Pompey, who at that time was as well known by the name Magnus as by the name Pompey, and were so highly pleased with the satire, that, as Cicero says, they made the actor repeat the words a hundred times over. An account of this was immediately sent to Pompey, who, instead of resenting it as an injury, was so wise as to take it for a just reproof.
He examined his conduct, he altered his measures, he regained by degrees the esteem of the people, and then he neither feared the wit, nor felt the satire of the stage.
"In the case I have mentioned, my lords," continued Chesterfield, "it was not the poet who wrote, for it was an old play; nor the players that acted, for they only repeated the words of the play: it was the people who pointed the satire; and the case will always be the same. When a man has the misfortune to incur the hatred or contempt of the people, when public measures are despised, the audience will apply what never was, what could not be, designed as a satire on the present times. Nay, even though the people should not apply, those who are conscious of guilt, those who are conscious of the wickedness or weakness of their conduct, will take to themselves what the author never designed. A public thief is as apt to take the satire, as he is apt to take the money, which was never designed for him. We have an instance of this, in the case of a famous comedian of the last age; a comedian who was not only a good poet but an honest man, and a quiet and good subject. The famous Molière, when he wrote his "Tartuffe," which is certainly an excellent and a good moral comedy, did not design to satirize any great man of that age; yet a great man in France at that time took it to himself, and fancied the author had taken him as a model for one of the principal, and one of the worst characters in that comedy: by good luck he was not the licenser, otherwise the kingdom of France had never had the pleasure, the happiness I may say, of seeing that play acted; but when the players first proposed to act it at Paris, he had interest enough to get it forbid. Molière, who knew himself innocent of what was laid to his charge, complained to his patron, the Prince of Conti, that, as his play was designed only to expose hypocrisy, and a false pretence to religion, 'twas very hard it should be forbid being acted; when, at the same time, they were suffered to expose religion itself every night
publicly on the Italian stage: to which the prince wittily answered, 'Tis true, Molière, harlequin ridicules heaven and exposes religion; but you have done much worse, you have ridiculed the first minister of religion.''
The history of the English stage itself-the orator contended-furnished an example of the inconvenience and impropriety of the licensing system. "In King Charles the Second's days, the playhouse was under a license. What was the consequence?-The playhouse retailed nothing but the politics, the vices, and the follies of the Court. Not to expose them-no, but to recommend them; though it must be granted their politics were often as bad as their vices, and much more pernicious than their other follies. "Tis true, the Court had at that time a great deal of wit; it was then, indeed, full of men of true wit and great humour; but it was the more dangerous; for the courtiers did then, as thorough-paced courtiers always do, they sacrificed their honour, by making their wit and their humour subservient. to the Court alone; and what made it still more dangerous, no man could appear on the stage against them. We know that Dryden, the Poet-Laureate of that reign, always represents the Cavaliers as honest, brave, merry fellows, and fine gentlemen. Indeed, his fine gentleman, as he generally draws him, is an atheistical, lewd, abandoned fellow, which was at that time, it seems, the fashionable character at Court. On the other hand, he always represents the Dissenters as hypocritical, dissembling rogues, or stupid, senseless boobies."
With characteristic acuteness, Chesterfield stigmatised the measure, not merely as an encroachment on liberty, but also as an attack on property. "Wit, my lords," he said, "is a sort of property. It is the property of those that have it, and too often the only property they have to depend on. It is, indeed, but a precarious dependence. Thank God! we, my lords, have a dependence of another kind; we have a much less precarious support, and there