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The Theatre

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The following synopsis of Rev. Oi Cobern's sermón upon 'The Theatre' dellvered last Suuday evening, ap peared in yesterday's Daily Times: Some 1,500 people must have bee crowded into the Methodist church Sun day evenins to listen t.o Mr. Cobern' lecture on "The Theater Weighed i Silver Balances." The lecturer bega by giving a short history of the theater showing that "even in Greece whe such grreat plays as those Of Aeschylu and Sophocles were presen ted; whe actors were paid by the state; when ad mission was free or the proceeds given to the poor; when the plays were hele in the day time, rfever in the night when the theater was a religious in stitution and every play professed t teach a moral and religious lesson even there in ancient Greece I hea her greatest law givers protestec against it. Lycurgus did that in Sparla, Solon did that at Athens, Plato did that in his Ideal Republic claiming' that even there it 'represented passion in its unbridled temptations displayed as beautiful and worthy of imitation.' " The speaker also showed that as soon as Christianity began to influence the laws of the Roman Empire the theaters were legislated against and that the same thing happened at the time of the Lutheran and English Iteformations. So also the Reformations under Calvin and John Knox and John Wesley marked eras of objection to ihe theater. The conclusión drawn was that of Polluck: "The Theater was from the very first The favourite haunt of sin, though henest men Some very honest. wise and worthy men Maintained it might be turned io good account: And so perhaps it might, but never was; From first to last, it was an evil place." But how about the theater of today? Is it not now the school of the finest art, the most delightful music, the most refined elevating oratory? The speaker said "Because Mr. Wesley condemned the theater of the 18th century is r.o good reason why I should condemn the theater of the 19th century. There has no doubt been a gi-eat change in the character of this institution in the last 100 years; it is no doubt ïnuch ter now than then. Certainly the most bigoted person would acknowledge Ihat there ought to be great mental and esthetic benefit from theatrical representations. It ought to be a teacher of art, archaeology, of elocution and oratory and a cultivator of taste. Therefore the theater is to be condemned, not simply tolerated, but condemned by the pulpit on this ground- if there re no sufflcient counterbalancing objections to it. Are there such objections? The usual objection made to it, Js fhat it is immonil in its tendency. Is that objection sound? If it is ought to keep away from it. First - Do you think that the actors and actresses, as a rule, are real good people? Saeondly - How about the people represented in the plays? Are they such vs vould be proper associates for your family? Are the views of family lite to be seen on the stage such as you wonld like to see imitated in your own home? Are the virtues of truth. honesty, temperance, industry, frugality and religión- virtues so essential in good citiztms - are these encouraged by the actions of the stage nero and heroine? Do the liberties in dress and conversation.vhich would not be tolerated in the parlor, the description, the allusion, the disguised insinuation make purer niïn of those who sit and listen and laugh? There is but one answer. Perhaps some one will say this is a misrepresentation of the stage of today. Let me cali some unprejudiced witnesses. Mr. John Gilbert, the dramatic critic, has been for many years connected with the New York stage. Not long ago in the New York Herald in reply to the question whether ]t was any worse now than it used to be. he said: "Why, certainly, I remamber when French dancing was ürst introduced here, there was such an outcry that the ballet had to lengthen their skirts and wear loose Turkish trousers that were tied around the ankle. From the days of the Black Crook it has steadily been getting worse ;md worse until a noble profession is now shamed by being a panderer to the lowest passions of men. The stage today in general offers but little of pure drama, but many beautiful pictures and indscent pietures, many plays that rre vicious and many that are rubbish. The general result must be evil." Mr. Gilbert is but uttering the sentiments of all those who best know what the modern stage is. Within the last year both Salvini and Mod.ieska have publioly lamented the bad influence of the modern stage. Modjeska writes: 'The influence of the stage grows, but not tor good. Instead of trying to improve the public taste it panders to the tastes of the majority. 'Is there anything r.iore noticeable than the increasing vulgarity. fasely called realism, of the plays that nowadays achieve the greatest suecess." Edwin Booth tried for flve years to give New York a pure drama- and sunk $200,000 in the attempt! Yet se me people are so foolish as to think that the church ought to try and reform the stage. The mission of the i huren is to increase in this world the imitation of Christ and the power of true ■■eligion, it has not time to try the hopeless experiment of reforming the theater. The church of the middle age tried it and failed. Edwin Booth tried it and failed. The English government has tried it and failed. Wm. Archer, who htmself is a friend to the theater and opposed to the censorship, in his latest work ridicules the government for attempting to revise and purify the comic plays popular on the London stage. He says: "To purify it of all profanity and impropriety would demand a whole college of inquisitors." He says: "It is not neeessary now to translate Freiioh fllth into English ribaldry; our native plays being 'pungent enough to maintain the requisite aroma of nastiness." He speaks of the plays which had passed the censor - plays attended Dy the Prince of Wales and young Prince George - as "gratuitously gross and full of vulgar sensualism." He gives pamples of them which I would not dare to read here - you would need more fans. Yet he is not speaking of some low Casino, nor of Paris; but of the best theaters of London, which no nne denies will compare favorably with any we have in the United States. "What shall we say to these things? We have seen the theater in history, we have seen the theater of today and have heard the testimony of actors and stage critics to its immorul tendency. Will any possible advantage which you can imagine might be obtained there counterbalance this? No. A good man s not made vile by looking at Sooth play Hamlet or Jefferson play Rip "Van Winkle. If that were the kind of plays ou young people were seeing I would not lift my voice to warn you. but there are few plays of this charicter. In general, as we have proved, it is bad in its moráis and bad in its tendencies. The handsome actress in full bathing costume exposed to the orlare of the footliehts or scurrying across the stage' is not a sight calcuated to benefit the social nature of the audience." Hear me, as a man speaking lo men, there are enough temptations coming upon us; it is hard enough at the best to be noble and pure - and I appeal to you whether such appearancjs assist he effort; while all the fascination of poetry, art and music only increase he danger. Is this puritanical? Then isten to Wm. C. McReady, whom Mr. Frothingham thinks the greatest of all the great Shakespearean actors. Mr. McCready says: "None of my children with my consent under any pretense shall every enter the theater." Do 'ou know more about the influenee of the theater than he did? What was bad for his children is bad for your children and bad for you. Only look at the assaults on decency with which our streets are almost weekly placarded and every pure eye must denounce the whole thing as unolean. But some one says: "There ;.re some unobjectionable plays. The dramatic nstinct is as worthy and innocent as he musical. It is no more sensible lo condemn all plays because some are bad, than to condemn all son.s because some are bad." Certainly the dramatic instinct is worthy and innocent, anj a really pure play is not to be condemned. t;ut I ell you it is hard to piek your unobjectionable play. How wouíd ' you know unless you sent some one. on ahead of you to see? Even In "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde"- a play which eaches a curious psychological truth- here were ludierous words set to a acred tune which made a, friend of mine in Detroit sorry he went. Even n Booth's "Hamlet," as given on the Detroit stage, there were sorae things vhich would have shocked the delicacy of a Turk or a Chinaman. In China and Turkey to this day no woman is llowed to exposé herself on the ttage 'as a spectacle to men and angels." But now and here, we are so scarce of men hat even in Booth's "Hamlet" they must take a woman and dress her in men's clothes to be the page! Whatver others may say, I cannot gommend hat sort of dress on the stage, which would cause the arrest of the woman f she were seen on the street. Yet that was not the reason I itayed way from the play. I did not dream hat Booth would insult the artistic ublic by supposing that such a page ould be an attraction to such an audence. Yes, it was "my influenee" that tept me at home. Little as it was, it was all I had and I was responsible for very bit of it. Whether right or wrong, he unconverted masses do lose tfcelr aith in such professors of religión as ttend the theater. An actress cenessed not long ago to Dr. Cuyler that whenever she saw a church member in he audience she despised that person as a hypoerite. I think that was a violent judgment, but it is the iudgment of very many outside of the church. No man ever increased his influence for good by going; many a une lias harmed it. Therefore I say in the words of John Wesley, "I confess that somelhing can be said in defense of seeing a seriou tragedy, though f could not do it with a clear conttcleuce; at kast not in 'an Knglish (American) theatfr, but perhaps others can.'' Booth, Irving and Jefferson are excepMons to the rule. It would be absurd to elass t.ioir dramatic representaiá'.ms with tba p'UTs given weekly in the Aun r '■re house; yet personally, r woulJ act think there was enough possible good ic. be gained even in nearing I3rcth to risk the possible evil to and ethers. I should fear that some W'.uld not discrimínate but class me with ordir.ary theater goers. Tertullion says the devil was once asked when he seized a Christlan woman while she was attend ing the theater, how he durst presume I to possess such a good Christian; and he confldently replied, "I had a right to her, for I found her upon niy own ground." Mr. Spurgeon gave as his reason for not tfoing to the theater, "I don't need it and it Hartas some." I myself have personally knovvn several young Christians spoiled by giving way to this taste. It certainly does not make a man more spiritual and more useful as a Christian. It does detract from his influence for good. "Now young men I have given you my reasons for not being able to approve the theater. I have tried to do it clearly and thoroughly and candidly. I have done it for your sakes. O, I covet you, young men, for Christ's work. Life is not a mimic drama. It is a real one and we are the actors who have become a spectacle to rnen and angels. We have no time to spend in mimic heroisms. Life is too grand. May we so act our part in this heaven-high drama of lite that when the last scène is ended and the curtain Is drawn, the audience may applaud, and he- the nero of héroes say 'Well done.' " The topic next Sunday evening will be "The Dance Weighed in Silver Balances."


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