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night publicly upon the Italian stage: to which the prince wittily answered, 'Tis true, Moliere, Harlequin ridicules Heaven, and exposes religion; but you have done much worse-you have ridiculed the first minister of religion.
I am as much for restraining the licentiousness of the stage, and every other sort of licentiousness, as any of your lordships can be ; but, my lords, I am, I shall always be extremely cautious and fearful of making the least encroachment upon liberty; and therefore, when a new law is proposed against licentiousness, I shall always be for considering it deliberately and maturely, before I venture to give my consent to its being passed. This is a sufficient reason for my being against passing this bill at so unseasonable a time, and in so extraordinary a manner; but I have many reasons for being against passing the bill itself, some of which I shall beg leave to explain to your lordships. The bill, my lords, at first view, may seem to be designed only against the stage; but to me it plainly appears to point somewhere else. It is an arrow that does but glance upon the stagethe mortal wound seems designed against the liberty of the press. By this bill you prevent a play's being acted, but you do not prevent its being printed; therefore, if a licence should be refused for its being acted, we may depend on it, the play will be printed. It will be printed and published, my lords, with the refusal in capital letters on the title page. People are always fond of what's forbidden. Libri prohibiti are in all countries diligently and generally sought after. It will be much easier to procure a refusal, than it ever was to procure a good house, or a good sale; therefore we may expect, that plays will be wrote on purpose to have a refusal : this will certainly procure a good house, or a good sale: thus will satires be spread and dispered through the whole nation, and thus every man in the kingdom may, and probably will, read for sixpence what a few only could have seen acted, and that not under the expence of half a crown. We shall then be told, What! will you allow an infamous libel
to be printed and dispersed, which you would not allow to be acted? You have agreed to a law for preventing its being acted, can you refuse your assent to a law for preventing its being printed and published? I should really, my lords, be glad to hear what excuse, what reason one could give for being against the latter, after having agreed to the former; for, I protest, I cannot suggest to myself the least shadow of an excuse. If we agree to the bill now before us, we must, perhaps next session, agree to a bill for preventing any play's being printed without a licence. Then satires will be wrote by way of novels, secret histories, dialogues, or under some such title; and thereupon we shall be told, What! will you allow an infamous libel to be printed and dispersed, only because it does not bear the title of a play? Thus, my lords, from the precedent now before us, we shall be induced, nay, we can find no reason for refusing, to lay the press under a general licence, and then we may bid adieu to the liber. ties of Great Britain.
But suppose, my lords, it were necessary to make a new law for restraining the licentiousness of the stage, which I am very far from granting, yet I shall never be for establishing such a power as is proposed by this bill. If poets and players are to be restrained, let them be restrained as other subjects are, by the known laws of their country if they offend, let them be tried as every Englishman ought to be, by God and their country. Do not let us subject them to the arbitrary will and pleasure of any one man. A power lodged in the hands of one single man, to judge and determine, without any limitation, without any control or appeal, is a sort of power unknown to our laws, inconsistent with our consti. tution. It is a higher, a more absolute power than we trust even to the king himself; and, therefore, I must think, we ought not to vest any such power in his majes ty's lord chamberlain. When I say this, I am sure I do not mean to give the least, the most distant offence to the noble duke who fills the post of lord chamberlain :
his natural candour and love of justice, would not, I know, permit him to exercise any power but with the strictest regard to the rules of justice and humanity, Were we sure his successors in that high office would always be persons of such distinguished merit, even the power to be established by this bill could give me no further alarm, than lest it should be made a precedent for introducing other new powers of the same nature. This, indeed, is an alarm which cannot be avoided, which cannot be prevented by any hope, by any consi deration. it is an alarm which, I think, every man must take, who has a due regard to the constitution and liberties of his country.
I shall admit, my lords, that the stage ought not, upon any occasion, to meddle with politics; and for this very reason, among the rest, I am against the bill now before us. This bill will be so far from preventing the stage's meddling with politics, that I fear it will be the occa sion of its meddling with nothing else but then it will be a political stage ex parte. It will be made subservient to the politics and the schemes of the court only. The licentiousness of the stage will be encouraged instead of being restrained; but like court journalists, it will be licentious only against the patrons of liberty, and the protectors of the people. Whatever man, whatever party opposes the court in any of their most destructive schemes, will, upon the stage, be represented in the most ridiculous light the hirelings of a court can contrive. True patriotism, and love of public good, will be repre sented as madness, or as a cloak for envy, disappointment and malice; whilst the most flagitious crimes, the most extravagant vices and follies, if they are fashionable at court, will be disguised and dressed up in the habit of the most amiable virtues. This has formerly been the case-in king Charles II's days, the play-house was under a licence. What was the consequence ?-The play-house retailed nothing but the politics, the vices, and the follies of the court; not to expose them; no-but to VOL. I. 54
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, and 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 will do-they sacrificed their honour, by making their wit and their humour sub'servient to the court only; and what made it still more dangerous, no man could appear upon the stage against them. We know that Dryden, the poet laureat 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.-When the court had a mind to fall out with the Dutch, he wrote his Amboyna, in which he represents the Dutch as a pack of avaricious, cruel, ungrateful rascals :-and when the exclusion-bill was moved in parliament, he wrote his Duke of Guise, in which those who were for preserving and securing the religion of their country, were exposed under the character of the Duke of Guise and his party, who leagued together for excluding Henry IV. of France from the throne, on account of his religion. The city of London, too, was made to feel the partial and mercenary licentiousness of the stage at that time; for the citizens having at that time, as well as now, a great deal of property, they had a mind to preserve that property, and therefore they opposed some of the arbitrary measures which were then begun, but pursued more openly in the following reign; for which reason they were then always represented upon the stage, as a parcel of designing knaves, dissembling hypocrites, griping usurers,—and cuckolds into the bargain.
My lords, the proper business of the stage, and that for which only it is useful, is to expose those vices and
follies which the laws cannot lay hold of, and to recommend those beauties and virtues, which ministers and courtiers seldom either imitate or reward; but by laying it under a licence, and under an arbitrary court-licence too, you will, in my opinion, entirely pervert its use; for though I have the greatest esteem for that noble duke into whose hands this power is at present designed to fall, though I have an entire confidence in his judgment and impartiality; yet I may suppose, that a leaning towards the fashions of a court is sometimes hard to be avoided. It may be very difficult to make one who is every day at court believe that to be a vice or folly, which he sees daily practised by those he loves and esteems.-By custom even deformity itself becomes familiar, and at last agreeable. To such a person, let his natural impartiality be never so great, that may appear to be a libel against the court, which is only a most just and a most necessary satire upon the fashionable vices and follies of the court. Courtiers, my lords, are too polite to reprove one another; the only place where they can meet with any just reproof, is a free, though not a licentious stage; and as every sort of vice and folly, generally in all countries, begins at court, and from thence spreads through the country, by laying the stage under an arbitrary courtlicence, instead of leaving it what it is, and always ought to be, a gentle scourge for the vices of great men and courtiers, you will make it a channel for propogating and conveying their vices and follies through the whole king. dom.
From hence, my lords, I think it must appear, that the bill now before us cannot so properly be called a bill for restraining the licentiousness, as it may be called a bill for restraining the liberty of the stage; and for restraining it too in that branch which in all countries has been the most useful; therefore I must look upon the bill as a most dangerous encroachment upon liberty in general. Nay farther, my lords, it is not only an encroachment upon liberty, but it is likewise, an encroachment upon