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Volume 14, No. 2 Autumn, 1925 Bulletin of Friends' Historical Association FRIENDLY TESTIMONY REGARDING STAGE-PLAYS. By Ezra Kempton Maxfield, Ph.D., Professor of English Literature, Washington and Jefferson College, Washington, Pennsylvania. (Concluded.) By !793 the theatre was too firmly entrenched in the American cities for any hope of its eradication by its Friendly foes. In Philadelphia there were now several permanent structures devoted to the theatrical profession, and the city was forging ahead to become the theatrical center of America for a time at least. In 1793 a beautiful new structure was waiting for the yellow fever epidemic to subside to be opened. Perhaps the imminence of this opening was responsible for the publication by the Society in 1793 of a four-page tract, entitled "An Affectionate Caution Addressed to the Members of our religious Society in this City." I cite the following as reflective of the spirit with which the Friends, now resigned to accept the theatre as a necessary evil, seek to keep their sheep within the fold : Impressed with a weighty Sense of the Nature of our Christian Profession, and the Manner of Life enjoined by the Example and Precepts of our blessed Lord and his Apostles, and the Light of Christ manifested in the conscience of all Mankind—we judge it seasonable, in the Love of the Gospel, to renew an exhortation and Warning to those in religious community with us, who stand exposed to the Temptation and Dangers of being Captivated by the abounding Inticements of Folly and Licentiousness, which lamentably prevail in and near this city, and particularly the Continuance and intended increase of the Stage Plays, which not only our worthy Predecessors, but Men of Piety of different Countries and Ages, have condemned as destructive to Virtue and Morality, and evidently inconsistent with the Nature and Design of Christianity. Next comes a liberal quotation from William Penn's " No Cross, No Crown," already referred to in this paper, followed by four paragraphs of exposition and exhortation. Then: 53 54 BULLETIN OF FRIENDS' HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION. We are solidly and clearly convinced that the Stage Plays, and many other corrupting entertainments now practised in this city (which were almost unknown to our Ancestors in this Land) are a daring affront to the Whole Tenor of the Gospel Doctrine, and Precepts of our Testimony remains decidedly valid against them, etc. In view of a recognized antipathy of the Society of Friends for the theatre, there have been remarkably few publications by it or by individual members devoted to actual propaganda against it. Yet we know that under proper conditions Friends can be quite aggressive. Most of the influence Friends have seen fit to exert has been in the form of counsel to its own membership. Twice in the seventeenth century there were positive Puritan attacks upon the stage : the first was instrumental in nailing up the doors of the playhouses, destroying the galleries, and putting severe penalties upon actors ; which legislation was in force throughout the time that the Puritans were in power in England. In 1698 the second attack was launched by the publication of Jeremy Collier's famous "Short View of the Immorality, and Profaneness of the English Stage," following which was a pamphlet war which stirred the echoes. In this, opponents of the theatre widely joined and were answered by upholders of the stage. Friends could easily have taken part in this war of words, but apparently they refrained. Joseph Smith records three anonymous pamphlets published between 1718 and 1746, which may be a somewhat belated contribution to this affair. Note, however, that the writer, or writers, used no names. We have to assume that Joseph Smith had some evidence of their Quaker authorship. The only other strictly aggressive book, that has come to my hand written by a Friend, is entitled The Theatre, and was published in 1884 by Josiah Leeds.14 Its greatest weakness seems to lie in a typically Quaker remoteness from a first-hand knowledge of the evil that is attacked.15 One cannot really condemn something that one has slight personal knowledge of, and Josiah Leeds 14Lindley Murray published in 1789 a little book of Extracts from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 53-62
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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