Perils of immoral theatre

Actresses Annie Blake and Emma Devox, Montreal, 1870, McCord Museum I-48408-11.

Good Christian Canadians were warned in 1829 to avoid the wicked theatre. Nothing but immorality and ruin comes from it, Rev. J. Bromley of Newcastle-Upon Tyne declared in a speech published in The Christian Guardian, Toronto, December 12, 1829. Excerpts:

That lewd insinuations, immodest words, and more immodest action, are admitted upon the stage;—that scenes are exhibited shocking to female delicacy, and pestiferous to the minds of youth; and that these things too often form the zest of entertainment, and the glory of the performance, is as notorious as that the sun shines at noon-day. And it is to be feared, that in this respect, the drama gets worse instead of better; for to see impiety in all its insolence and obscenity without a blush, we must not have recourse to the Grecian Euripides or the Roman Terence, but to the “Cain” of Lord Byron, to the “Tom and Jerry,” of our own times.

On the stage, crimes of the deepest dye, intrigue, seduction, adultery, &c. are exhibited with such circumstances of music, poesy, scenery and costume, as to administer pleasure instead of pain, delight instead of horror. It is to be feared that he who connects his pleasures with the exhibition of a crime, will too soon look upon the crime itself with indulgence and desire.

The immodesty, impurity, and profaneness of the modern drama, would never be endured, only that the auditors are kept in countenance by their numbers. A lady, who in a polite and well-bred company, should speak what the heroines of the stage pour forth in such abundance, would be avoided: I presume there is not a gentleman present, but what would call for his hat, and wish her a good evening. But because these nauseating exhibitions are beheld by the multitude, the shame of them is lost sight of; and every sentiment of propriety and accuracy is buried in the presence and applauses of a crowd.

It is not only by wasting time, and endangering the health, that the amusements of the theatre prevent the improvement of the mind; but more especially by a high and preternatural excitement of the passions. The author of our being has given to the passions and appetites of our nature, sufficient energy in themselves, without the excitement of those artificial and violent stimuli, which are furnished by the stage; and when once the mind resigns itself to the attractions and indulgences of the drama, study, diligence, and application are at an end; the sober pursuits of life become insipid, and the laborious paths of science uninteresting and dull. Is it to be borne, that they who one day, in commerce or in law, or in medicine, or in the pulpit, are to serve society, should waste the best of their time, and enervate the noblest of their powers, amidst that lewdness and profanity of the theatre. What slave of the playhouse ever became eminent in any honorable profession, mercantile, learned, or liberal?

Unfamiliar Canadian history stories 028

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