ON THE ABSURDITIES OF THE MODERN STAGE (1800)
The subject of the following, needs no preface. It will be sufficient to observe, that its object is, like Prospero’s wand, to cause the ghostly spirits of dramatic poesy, the terrific, wild, and numerous apparitions that haunt Old Drury and Covent Garden, ‘to vanish into thin air, and, like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wreck behind.’ Happy shall I be, and I shall have gained the object I had in view, if I can but dissolve the spell, and convince my readers, that the fairy tales; the Cock Lane Ghost; Mother Bunch’s romances; or even the mighty magician of Udolpho, Aladin [sic] and the Wonderful Lamp, or the Castle Spectre, are very well in the nursery, will please children, when the coral will not, but are not to be endured by men of sense and judgment, or who have ceased to think or act like children. Cannot these inspired writers, ‘these fickle pensioners of Morpheus’ train,’ cannot they let the dead be at peace? Must they be ever raking their ashes to conjure up ‘shadowy forms’ and ideal mockeries, and horrible spectres? And cannot they indulge fancy’s fire, without diving into mysteries more sacred than the Eleusinian, or pretending to search beyond the grave? They are the offspring, the undoubted progeny of Cerberus and Midnight; nay more, instead of shooting folly as it flies, they are the warmest patrons and guardians of it; they are either fools, or think every one of their countrymen so.
Are we to have prodigies and monstrous omens, horrid shapes, and the fruits of brooding darkness forced on us at a place to which we resort to be instructed and amused? Are we to expect to meet fiction instead of reality, on the stage? Cannot sober melancholy be pourtrayed without the aid of turrets and gloomy Gothic corridors haunted by ghosts? Better, should honest John Bull, from the one shilling gallery, call out for Rule Britannia, in the heart of the representation Atque ursum et pugiles media inter carmina noscat. [‘Like calling for bears and boxers in the middle of the song’; Horace, Epistle 2.] I would rather the gods, noisy and vociferous as they are in their mirth, would put to flight the souls of the departed, than that they should make their appearance to the disgrace of the good sense of a British audience. . . .
[SOURCE: Academicus, ‘On the Absurdities of the Modern Stage’, Monthly Mirror, 10 (September 1800), pp. 1802]
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