« السابقةمتابعة »
AN IMPARTIAL HAND.
LICENSERS OF THE STAGF,
FROM THE MALICIOUS AND SCANDALOUS ASPERSIONS OF MR. BROOKE, AUTHOR OF GUSTAVUS VASA, WITH A PROPOSAL FOR MAKING THE OFFICE OF LICENSER MORE EXTENSIVE and effecTUAL.
Ir is generally agreed by the writers of all parties, that few crimes are equal, in their degree of guilt, to that of calumniating a good and gentle, or defending a wicked and oppressive, administration.
For this reason I attempted to cultivate a nearer acquaintance with some of the chiefs of that party, and imagined that it would be necessary for some time to dissemble my sentiments, that I might learn theirs.
It is therefore with the utmost satisfaction of mind, that I reflect how often I have employed my pen in vindication of the present ministry, and their dependents and adherents, how often I have detected the specious fallacies of the advocates for independence, how often I have softened the obstinacy of patriotism, and how often triumphed over the clamour of opposition.
I have, indeed, observed but one set of men, upon whom all my arguments have been thrown away; which neither flattery can draw to compliance, nor threats reduce to submission; and who have, notwithstanding all expedients that either invention or experience could suggest, continued to exert their abilities in a vigorous and constant opposition of all our measures.
The unaccountable behaviour of these men, the enthusiastic resolution with which, after a hundred successive defeats, they still renewed their attacks: the spirit with which they continued to repeat their arguments in the senate, though they found a majority determined to condemn them; and the inflexibility with which they rejected all offers of places and preferments, at last excited my curiosity so far, that I applied myself to inquire with great diligence in-bered and overthrown them, they will say with to the real motives of their conduct, and to dis- an air of revenge, and a kind of gloomy triumph, cover what principle it was that had force to in- Posterity will curse you for this. spire such unextinguishable zeal, and to animate such unwearied efforts.
This passion seems to predominate in all their conduct, to regulate every action of their lives, and sentiment of their minds; I have heard L and P-, when they have made a vigorous opposition, or blasted the blossom of some ministerial scheme, cry out, in the height of their exultations, This will deserve the thanks of posterity! And when their adversaries, as it much more frequently falls out, have out-num
It is common among men under the influence of any kind of phrenzy, to believe that all the
Dissimulation to a true politician is not difficult, and therefore I readily assumed the character of a proselyte; but found, that their principle of action was no other, than that which they make no scruple of avowing in the most public manner, notwithstanding the contempt and ridicule to which it every day exposes them, and the loss of those honours and profits from which it excludes them.
This wild passion, or principle, is a kind of fanaticism by which they distinguish those of their own party, and which they look upon as a certain indication of a great mind. We have no name for it at court; but among themselves they term it by a kind of cant-phrase, a regard for posterity.
world has the same odd notions that disorder their own imaginations. Did these unhappy men, these deluded patriots, know how little we are concerned about posterity, they would never attempt to fright us with their curses, or tempt us to a neglect of our own interest by a prospect of their gratitude.
But so strong is their infatuation, that they seem to have forgotten even the primary law of self-preservation; for they sacrifice without scruple every flattering hope, every darling enjoyment, and every satisfaction of life, to this ruling passion, and appear in every step to consult not so much their own advantage, as that of posterity.
Strange delusion! that can confine all their thoughts to a race of men whom they neither know, nor can know; from whom nothing is to be feared, nor any thing expected; who cannot even bribe a special jury, nor have so much as a single riband to bestow.
This fondness for posterity is a kind of madness which at Rome was once almost epidemical, and infected even the women and the children. It reigned there till the entire destruction of Carthage; after which it began to be less general, and in a few years afterwards a remedy was discovered, by which it was almost entirely extinguished.
In England it never prevailed in any such degree some few of the ancient Barons seem indeed to have been disordered by it; but the contagion has been for the most part timely checked, and our ladies have been generally free.
But there has been in every age a set of men much admired and reverenced, who have affected to be always talking of posterity, and have laid out their lives upon the composition of poems, for the sake of being applauded by this imaginary generation.
The present poets I reckon amongst the most inexorable enemies of our most excellent ministry, and much doubt whether any method will effect the cure of a distemper, which in this class of men may be termed not an accidental disease, but a defect in their original frame and
compose a play which he could license without manifest hazard of his office, a hazard which no man would incur untainted with the love of posterity.
We cannot therefore wonder that an author, wholly possessed by this passion, should vent his resentment for licenser's just refusal, in virulent advertisements, insolent complaints, and scurrilous assertions of his rights and privileges, and proceed in defiance of authority to solicit a subscription.
This temper, which I have been describing, is almost complicated with ideas of the high prerogatives of human nature, of a sacred unalienable birthright, which no man has conferred upon us, and which neither kings can take, nor senates give away: which we may justly assert whenever and by whomsoever it is attacked, and which, if ever it should happen to be lost, we may take the first opportunity to recover it.
The natural consequence of these chimeras is contempt of authority, and an irreverence for any superiority but what is founded upon merit; and their notions of merit are very peculiar, for it is among them no great proof of merit to be wealthy and powerful, to wear a garter or a star, to command a regiment or a senate, to have the ear of the minister or of the king, or to possess any of those virtues and excellences, which among us entitle a man to little less than worship and prostration.
We may therefore easily conceive that Mr. Brooke thought himself entitled to be importunate for a license, because, in his own opinion, he deserved one, and to complain thus loudly at the repulse he met with.
His complaints will have, I hope, but little weight with the public; since the opinions of the sect in which he is enlisted are exposed, and shown to be evidently and demonstrably opposite to that system of subordination and dependence, to which we are indebted for the present tranquillity of the nation, and that cheerfulness and readiness with which the two houses concur in all our designs.
Mr. Brooke, a name I mention with all the detestation suitable to my character, could not forbear discovering this depravity of his mind in his very prologue, which is filled with sentiments so wild, and so much unheard of among those who frequent levees and courts, that I much doubt, whether the zealous licenser proceeded any further in his examination of his performance.
I shall, however, to silence him entirely, or at least to show those of our party that he ought to be silent, consider singly every instance of hardship and oppression which he has dared to publish in the papers, and to publish in such a manner, that I hope no man will condemn me for want of candour in becoming an advocate for the ministry, if I can consider his advertisements as nothing less than an appeal to his country.
He might easily perceive that a man,
Let me be forgiven if I cannot speak with temper of such insolence as this: is a man without title, pension, or place, to suspect the impartiality or the judgment of those who are intrusted with the administration of public affairs? Is he, when the law is not strictly observed in
Who bade his moral heam through every age,
was too much a bigot to exploded notions, to regard to him, to think himself aggrieved, to tell
bis sentiments in print, assert his claim to better usage, and fly for redress to another tribunal?
If such practices be permitted, I will not venture to foretell the effects of them; the ministry may soon be convinced, that such sufferers will find compassion, and that it is safer not to bear hard upon them, than to allow them to complain.
The power of licensing in general being firmly established by an Act of Parliament, our poet has not attempted to call in question, but contents himself with censuring the manner in which it has been executed; so that I am not now engaged to assert the licenser's authority, but to defend his conduct.
The poet seems to think himself aggrieved, because the licenser kept his tragedy in his hands one and twenty days, whereas the law allows him to detain it only fourteen.
Where will the insolence of the malecontents end? Or how are such unreasonable expectations possibly to be satisfied? Was it ever known that a man exalted into a high station, dismissed a suppliant in the time limited by law? Ought not Mr. Brooke to think himself happy that his play was not detained longer? If he had been kept a year in suspense, what redress could he have obtained? Let the poets remember, when they appear before the licenser, or his deputy, that they stand at the tribunal from which there is no appeal permitted, and where nothing will so well become them as reverence and submission.
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 privi
Mr. Brooke mentions in his preface his know-leges, and to empower him to do that without
reason, which with reason he could do before.
ledge of the laws of his own country: had he extended his inquiries to the civil law, he could have found a full justification of the licenser's conduct, Boni judicis est ampliare suam auctoritatem.
We have found by long experience, that to lic under a necessity of assigning reasons, is very troublesome, and that many an excellent desigr has miscarried by the loss of time spent unnecessarily in examining reasons.
If then it be the business of a good judge to enlarge his authority, was it not in the licenser the utmost clemency and forbearance, to extend fourteen days only to twenty one?
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.
I suppose this great man's inclination to perform at least this duty of a good judge, is not questioned by any, either of his friends or enemies. I may therefore venture to hope, that he will extend his power by proper degrees, and that I shall live to see a malecontent writer earnestly soliciting for the copy of a play, which he had delivered to the licenser twenty years before.
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.
"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 This reason finding no better reception than more decent it had been to have waited the lei- the other, we had recourse to our apprehensions sure of a great man, than to have pressed upon of an invasion from the Pretender, of an insur. him with repeated petitions, and to have intrud-rection in favour of gin, and of a general disafed upon those precious moments which he has fection among the people. dedicated to the service of his country
But as they continue still impenetrable, and
oblige us still to assign our annual reasons, we | By which he evidently intends to insinuate a shall spare no endeavour to procure such as may be more satisfactory than any of the former.
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 have hitherto acted upon different principles. We have always regarded letters 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
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, public 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 public happiness and national security, has endeavoured with subtlety, 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; a 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 himself, and public 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 the unletter'd mind
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 dependance 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 watch-word for the opposing faction, who, when they meet in their seditious assem
blies, have been observed to lay their hands upon | whenever he can with security, speak contemptheir breasts, and cry out with great vehemence of accent,
tuously of his head.
These are the most glaring passages which have occurred, in the perusal of the first pages; my indignation will not suffer me to proceed farepi-ther, and I think much better of the licenser, than to believe he went so far.
In the few remarks which I have set down, the reader will easily observe, that I have strained no expression beyond its natural import, and have divested myself of all heat, partiality, and prejudice.
So far therefore is Mr. Brooke from having received any hard or unwarrantable treatment, that the licenser has only acted in pursuance of that law to which he owes his power, a law which every admirer of the administration must own to be very necessary, and to have produced very salutary effects.
I am indeed surprised, that this great office is not drawn out into a longer series of deputations, since it might afford a gainful and reputable employment to a great number of the friends of the government; and I should think, instead of having immediate recourse to the deputylicenser himself, it might be sufficient honour for any poet, except the laureat, to stand bareheaded in the presence of the deputy of the deputy's deputy in the nineteenth subordination.
OB O my country, yet I'll save thee. In the second scene he endeavours to fix thets 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,
Secure and scepter'd in the soul's servility.
Thus is that decent submission to our superiors, and that proper awe of authority which we are taught in courts, termed base fear and the servility of the soul. Thus are those gayeties 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
It is observable, that when this hateful writer has conceived any thought of an uncommon malignity, a thought which tends in a more particular manner to excite the love of liberty, animate the heat of patriotism, or degrade the majesty of kings, he takes care to put it in the mouth of his hero, that it may be more forcibly impressed upon his reader. Thus Gustavus, speaking of his tatters, cries out,
The productions of our old poets are crowded with passages very unfit for the ears of an English audience, and which cannot be pronounced without irritating the minds of the people.
This censure I do not confine to those lines in which liberty, natural equality, wicked ministers, deluded kings, mean arts of negotiation, venal senates, me. cenary troops, oppressive officers, servile and exorbitant taxes, universal corruption, the luxuries of a court, the miseries of
-Yes, my Arvida,
Beyond the sweeping of the proudest train
That shades a monarch's heel, I prize these weeds, the people, the decline of trade, or the happiness
For they are sacred to my country's freedom.
of independency are directly mentioned. These are such glaring passages as cannot be suffered to pass without the most supine and criminal negligence. I hope the vigilance of the licensers will extend to all such speeches and soliloquies as tend to recommend the pleasures of virtue, the tranquillity of an uncorrupted head, and the satisfactions of conscious innocence; for though such strokes as these do not appear to a common eye to threaten any danger to the government, yet it is well known to more penetrating observers, that they have such consequences as cannot be too diligently obviated, or too cautiously avoided.
Here this abandoned son of liberty makes a full discovery of his execrable principles: the tatters of Gustavus, the usual dress of the assertors of these doctrines, are of more divinity, because they are sacred to freedom, than the sumptuous and magnificent robes of regality itself. Such sentiments are truly detestable, nor could any thing be an aggravation of the author's guilt, except his ludicrous manner of mentioning a monarch.
Such a number cannot but be thought necessary, if we take into consideration the great work of drawing up an index expurgatorius to all the old plays; which is, I hope, already undertaken, or if it has been hitherto unhappily neglected, I take this opportunity to recommend.
The heel of a monarch, or even the print of his heel, is a thing too venerable and sacred to be treated with such levity, and placed in contrast with rags and poverty. He, that will speak contemptuously of the heel of a monarch, will,
A man, who becomes once enamoured of the charms of virtue, is apt to be very little concerned