Henry Ward Beecher, 1849
I am to venture the delicate task of reprehension, always unwelcome, but peculiarly offensive upon topics of popular amusement. I am anxious, in the beginning, to put myself right with the young. If I satisfy myself, Christian men, and the sober community, and do not satisfy the young people — then my success will be like a physician's, whose prescriptions please himself, but do good to everybody except the patient — he dies.
Allow me, first of all, to satisfy you that I am not meddling with matters which do not concern me. When we speak a word against sinful amusements, we are met with the surly answer, "Why do you meddle with things which don't concern you? If you do not enjoy these pleasures, why do you discourage those who do? May not men do as they please in a free country, without being hung up in a gibbet of public remark?"
It is conveniently forgotten, I suppose, that in a free country we have the same right to criticize sinful amusements, which others have to enjoy it. Indeed, you and I both know, young gentlemen, that in ale-house circles, and in nocturnal convivial feasts, the Church is regarded as little better than a spectacled old bedlam, whose impertinent eyes are spying everybody's business but her own; and who, too old or too homely to be tempted herself, with compulsory virtue, pouts at the joyous dalliances of the young and mirthful. Religion is called a nun, sable with gloomy vestments; and the Church a cloister, where ignorance is deemed innocence, and which sends out querulous reprehensions of a world, which it knows nothing about, and has professedly abandoned. This is pretty; and is only defective, in not being true. The Church is not a cloister, nor her members recluses, nor are our censures of vice intermeddling. Not to dwell in generalities, let us take a plain and common case:
A company offer to educate our youth; and to show the community the road of morality, which, probably they have not seen themselves for twenty years. We cannot help laughing at a generosity so much above one's means: and when they proceed to hew and hack each other with rusty iron, to teach our boys valor; and dress up charlatans, to teach theoretical virtue; if we laugh somewhat more, they turn upon us testily: "Mind your own business, and leave us with ours. We do not interfere with your preaching."
But may not Christian people amuse themselves with very diverting men from destruction? I hope it is not bigotry to have eyes and ears: I hope it is not fanaticism, in the use of these excellent senses, for us to judge that throwing one's heels higher than their head a-dancing, is not exactly the way to teach virtue to our daughters; and that unchaste women, are not the people to teach virtue, at any rate. Oh! no; we are told, Christians must not know that all this is very singular. Christians ought to think that men who are actors on the stage, are virtuous men, even if they gamble at night, and are drunk all day; and if men are so used to comedy, that their life becomes a perpetual farce on morality, we have no right to laugh at this extra professional acting!
Are we meddlers, who only seek the good of our own families, and of our own community where we live and expect to die?
I am anxious to put all Christian men in their right position before you; and in this controversy between them and the mirthful world, to show you the facts upon both sides. A floating population, in pairs or companies, without permission asked — blow the trumpet for all our youth to flock to their banners! Are they related to them? — are they concerned in the welfare of our town? — do they live among us? — do they bear any part of our burdens? — do they care for our substantial citizens? We grade our streets, build our schools, support all our municipal laws, and the young men are ours; our sons, our brothers, our wards, clerks, or apprentices; they are living in our houses, work in our stores and our shops, and we are their guardians, and take care of them in health, and watch them in sickness. Yet every vagabond who floats in hither, swears and swaggers, as if they were all his: and when they offer to corrupt all these youth, we paying them round sums of money for it, and we get courage finally to say that we had rather not; that industry and honesty are better than expert knavery — they turn upon us in great indignation with, "Why don't you mind your own business — what are you meddling with our affairs for?"
I will suppose a case. With much painstaking, I have saved enough money to buy a little garden-spot. I put all around it a good fence — I put the spade into it and mellow the soil full deep; I go to the nursery and pick out choice fruit trees — I select the best seeds of the rarest vegetables; and so my garden thrives. I know every inch of it, for I have watered every inch with sweat.
One morning I am awakened by a mixed sound of sawing, digging, and delving; and looking out, I see a dozen men at work in my garden. I run down and find one man sawing out a huge hole in the fence. "My dear sir, what are you doing?" "Oh, this high fence is very troublesome to climb over; I am fixing an easier way for folks to get in."
Another man has cut branches off several choice trees, and is putting in new grafts. "Sir, what are you changing the kind for?" "Oh, this kind don't suit me; I like a new kind."
One man is digging up my beans, to plant cockles; another is rooting up my strawberries, to put in parsley; and another is destroying my blueberries, and gooseberries, and raspberries, to plant mustard and weeds. At last, I lose all patience, and cry out, "Well, gentlemen, this will never do. I will never tolerate this abominable imposition; you are ruining my garden." One of them says, "You old hypocritical bigot! mind your business, and let us enjoy ourselves. Take care of your house, and do not pry into cur pleasures."
Fellow-citizens! I own that no man could so invade your garden; but men are allowed thus to invade our town, and destroy our children! You will let them evade your laws, to fleece and demoralize you; and you sit down under their railing, as though you were the intruders! — just as if the man, who drives a thief out of his house, ought to ask the rascal's pardon for interfering with his little plans of pleasure and profit!
Every parent has a right — every citizen and every minister has the same right, to expose evil traps, which men have set; the same right to prevent mischief, which men have plotted; the same right to attack vice, which vice has to attack virtue; a better right to save our sons and brothers, and companions, than artful men have to destroy them.
The necessity of amusement, is admitted on all hands. There is an appetite of the eye, of the ear, and of every sense, for which God has provided the material. Gaiety of every degree, this side of puerile levity, is wholesome to the body, to the mind, and to the morals.
Nature is a vast repository of manly enjoyments. The magnitude of God's works is not less admirable than its exhilarating beauty. The crudest forms have something of beauty; the ruggedest strength is graced with some charm; the very pins, and rivets, and clasps of nature, are attractive by qualities of beauty more than is necessary for mere utility. The sun could go down without gorgeous clouds; evening could advance without its evanescent brilliance; trees might have flourished without symmetry; flowers have existed without fragrance, and fruit without flavor.
When I have journeyed through forests, where ten thousand shrubs and vines exist without apparent use; through prairies, whose undulations exhibit sheets of flowers innumerable, and absolutely dazzling the eye with their prodigality of beauty — beauty, not a fraction of which is ever seen by man — it is plain that God is himself passionately fond of beauty, and the earth is his garden, as an acre is man's.
God has made us like Himself, to be pleased by the universal beauty of the world. He has made provision in nature, in society, and in the family — for amusement and exhilaration enough to fill the heart with the perpetual sunshine of delight.
Upon this broad earth, purpled with flowers, scented with fragrances, brilliant in colors, vocal with echoing and re-echoing melody — I take my stand against all demoralizing pleasures. Is it not enough that our Father's house is so full of dear delights, that we must wander prodigal to the swine-herd for husks, and to the slough for drink? — when the trees of God's heritage bend over our head, and solicit our hand to pluck the golden fruitage, must we still go in search of the apples of Sodom — outside fair, and inside ashes?
Men shall crowd to the Circus to hear clowns, and see rare feats of horsemanship; but a bird may poise beneath the very sun, or flying downward, swoop from the high Heaven; then flit with graceful ease hither and there, pouring liquid song as if it were a perennial fountain of sound — no man cares for that.
Upon the stage of life, the vastest tragedies are performing in every act; nations pitching headlong to their final catastrophe; others, raising their youthful forms to begin the drama of their existence.
The world of society is as full of exciting interest, as nature is full of beauty. The great dramatic throng of life is hustling along — the wise, the fool, the clown, the miser, the bereaved, the broken-hearted. Life mingles before us smiles and tears, sighs and laughter, joy and gloom — as the spring mingles the winter-storm and summer-sunshine.
To this vast Theater which God has built, where stranger plays are seen than ever any author wrote — man seldom cares to come. When God dramatizes, when nations act, or all the human kind conspire to educe the vast catastrophe — men sleep and snore, and let the busy scene go on, unlooked, unthought upon; and turn from all its varied magnificence to hunt out some candle-lighted hole and gaze at drunken ranters, or cry at the piteous virtue of harlots in distress.
It is my object then, not to withdraw the young from pleasure, but from unworthy pleasures; not to lessen their enjoyments, but to increase them by rejecting the counterfeit and the vile.
Of gambling, I have already sufficiently spoken. Of cock-fighting, dog-fighting, and pugilistic contests, I need to speak but little. These are the desperate excitements of debauched men; but no man becomes desperately criminal, until he has been genteelly criminal. No one spreads his sail upon such waters, at first; these brutal amusements are but the gulf into which flow all the streams of criminal pleasures; and they who embark upon the river, are sailing toward the gulf. Wretches who have waded all the depths of iniquity, and burned every passion to the socket, find in rage and blows and blood — the only stimulus of which they are susceptible. You are training yourselves to be just such wretches, if you are exhausting your passions in such illicit indulgences.
As it is impossible to analyze, separately, each wicked amusement offered to the young, I am compelled to select two, each the representative of a clan. Thus, the reasonings applied to the amusement of Racing, apply equally well to all violent amusements which congregate indolent and dissipated men, by ministering intense excitement. The reasonings applied to the Theater, with some modifications, apply to the Circus, to promiscuous balls, to night-reveling, bacchanalian feasts, and to other similar indulgences.
Many, who are not in danger, may incline to turn from these pages; they live in rural districts, in villages, or towns, and are out of the reach of fighters, and actors, and gamblers. This is the very reason why you should read.
We are such a migratory, restless people, that our home is usually everywhere but at home; and almost every young man makes annual, or biennial visits to famous cities; conveying produce to market, or purchasing wares and goods. It is at such times that the young are in extreme danger; for they are particularly anxious, at such times, to appear at their full age. A young man is ashamed, in a great hotel, to seem raw and not to know the mysteries of the bar and of the town. They put on a very remarkable air, which is meant for ease; they affect profusion of expense; they think it fit for a gentleman to know all that certain other city gentlemen seem proud of knowing.
As sober citizens are not found lounging at taverns; and the gentlemanly part of the traveling community are usually retiring, modest, and unnoticeable — the young are left to come in contact chiefly with a very flashy class of men who swarm about city restaurateurs and taverns — drunken clerks, crack sportsmen, epicures, and rich, green youth, seasoning. These are the most numerous class which engage the attention of the young. They bustle in the sitting room, or crowd the bar, assume the chief seats at the table, and play the petty lord in a manner so brilliant, as altogether to dazzle our poor country boy, who mourns at his deficient education, at the poverty of his rural entertainments, and the meagerness of those illicit pleasures, which he formerly nibbled at with mouselike stealth; and he sighs for these riper entertainments.
Besides, it is well known, that large commercial establishments have, residing at such hotels, well appointed clerks to draw customers to their counter. It is their business to make your acquaintance, to fish out the probable condition of your funds, to sweeten your temper with delicate tit-bits of pleasure; to take you to the Theater, and a little further on, if need be; to draw you in to a generous supper, and initiate you to the high life of men whose whole life is only the varied phases of lust, gastronomical or amorous.
Besides these, there lurk in such places lynx-eyed procurers; men who have an interest in your appetites; who look upon a young man, with some money, just as a butcher looks upon a bullock — a thing of so many pounds fatness, of so much beef, so much tallow, and a hide. If you have nothing, they will have nothing to do with you; if you have means, they undertake to supply you with the disposition to use them. They know the city, they know its haunts, they know its secret doors, its blind passages, its spicy pleasures, its racy vices, clear down to the mud-slime of the very bottom!
Meanwhile, the accustomed restraint of home cast off, the youth feels that he is unknown, and may do what he chooses, unexposed. There is, moreover, an intense curiosity to see many things of which he has long ago heard and wondered; and it is the very art and education of vice, to make itself attractive. It comes with garlands of roses about its brow, with nectar in its goblet, and love upon its tongue.
If you have, beforehand, no settled opinions as to what is right and what is wrong; if your judgment, for the first time, is to be formed upon the propriety of your actions; if you are not controlled by settled moral principles — there is scarcely a chance for your purity!
For this purpose, then, I desire to discuss these things, that you may settle your opinions and principles before temptation
assails you. As a ship is built upon the dry shore, which afterwards is to dare the storm and brave the sea — so would I build you staunch and strong, before you be launched abroad upon life!
I. Horse Racing.This amusement justifies its existence by the plea of Utility. We will examine it upon its own ground. Who are the patrons of the race-course? — farmers? — laborers? — men who are practically the most interested in the improvement of livestock? The unerring instinct of self-interest would lead these men to patronize the race-course, if its utility were real. It is notorious that these are not the patrons of racing.
It is sustained by two classes of men — gambling jockeys and jaded rich men. In England, and in our own country, where the races are freshest, they owe their existence entirely to the extraordinary excitement which they afford to dissipation, or to cloyed appetites. For those industrial purposes for which the horse is chiefly valuable, for transportation and work, what do the patrons of the race-care? Their whole anxiety is centered upon winning and stakes; and that is incomparably the best horse which will run the longest space in the shortest time. The points required for this are not, and never will be, the points for substantial service.
And it is notorious, that racing in England has deteriorated the horse stock in such important respects, that the cavalry and police service suffered severely. New England, where racing is almost unknown, is to this day the place where the horse exists in the finest qualities; and for all economical purposes, Virginia and Kentucky must yield to New England. Except for the sole purpose of racing, an Eastern horse brings a higher price than any other.
The other class of patrons who sustain a race-course are mere gambling jockeys. As crows to a corn-field, or vultures to their prey; as flies to summer-sweet — so to the annual races, flow the whole tribe of gamblers and pleasure-lovers. It is the Jerusalem of wicked men; and there the tribes go up, like Israel of old, but for a far different sacrifice.
No form of social abomination is unknown or unpracticed; and if all the good that is claimed, and a hundred times more, were done to horses, it would be a dear bargain. To ruin men for the sake of improving horses; to sacrifice conscience and purity for the sake of good bones and muscles in a beast — this is paying a little too much for good brutes. Indeed, the shameless immorality, the perpetual and growing dishonesty, the almost immeasurable secret villainy of the horse race, has alarmed and disgusted many stalwart racers, who, having no objection to some evil, are appalled at the very ocean of depravity which rolls before them. I extract the words of one of the leading sportsmen of England: "How many fine domains have been shared among these hosts of rapacious sharks, during the last two hundred years; and, unless the system is altered, how many more are doomed to fall into the same gulf! For, we lament to say, the evil has increased: all heretofore has been 'Tarts And Cheese-Cakes' compared to the villainous proceedings of the last twenty years at the English races."
I will drop this barbarous amusement, with a few questions.
What have you, young men, to do with the race-course, admitting it to be what it claims, a school for horses? Are you particularly interested in that branch of learning?
Is it safe to accustom yourselves to such tremendous excitement as that of racing?
Is the invariable company of such places of a kind which you ought to be found in? — will races make you more moral? — more industrious? — more careful? — more economical? — more trustworthy?
You who have attended them, what advice would you give a young man, a younger brother for instance, who should seriously ask if he had better attend?
I digress to say one word to women. When a race-course was opened at Cincinnati, ladies would not attend it; when one was opened here, ladies would not attend it — and for very good reasons — they were Ladies. If it be said that they attend the Races in the South and in England, I reply, that they do a great many other things which you would not choose to do.
Roman ladies could see hundreds of gladiators stab and hack each other — could you? Spanish ladies can see savage bull-fights — would you? It is possible for a modest woman to countenance very questionable practices, where the customs of society and the universal public opinion approve them. But no woman can set herself against public opinion, in favor of an immoral sport, without being herself immoral; for, if worse be wanting, it is immorality enough for a woman to put herself where her reputation will lose its suspiciousless luster.
II. The Theater.
reasons which should incline every young man to forswear such immoral amusements.
Desperate efforts are made, year by year, to increase this corrupting evil. Its claims are put forth with vehemence. Let us examine them.
1. They claim that the theater cultivates the taste. Let the appeal be to facts. Let the roll of English literature be explored — our Poets, Romancers, Historians, Essayists, Critics, and Divines — and for what part of their memorable writings are we indebted to the theater? If we except one period of our literature, the claim is wholly groundless; and at this day, the truth is so opposite to the claim, that extravagance, affectation, and rant, are proverbially denominated theatrical.
If agriculture should attempt to supersede the admirable implements of husbandry, now in use, by the primitive plough or sharpened sticks — it would not be more absurd than to advocate that clumsy machine of literature, the Theater — by the side of the popular lecture, the pulpit, and the press. It is not congenial to our age or necessities. Its day is gone by — it is in its senility, as might be suspected, from the weakness of the garrulous apologies which it puts forth.
2. They claim that the theater is a school of morals. Yes, doubtless! So the guillotine is defended on the plea of humanity. Inquisitors declare their racks and torture-beds to be the instruments of love, affectionately admonishing the fallen of the error of their ways. The slave-trade has been defended on the plea of humanity, and slavery is now defended for its mercies. Were it necessary for any school or party, doubtless we should hear arguments to prove the Devil's grace, and the utility of his agency among men.
But, let me settle these impudent pretensions to Theater-virtue, by the home thrust of a few plain questions.
Will any of you who have been to Theaters, please to tell me whether virtue ever received important accessions from the gallery of Theaters?
Will you tell me whether the Theater is a place where an ordinarily virtuous man would love to seat his children?
Was ever a Theater known where a prayer at the opening, and a prayer at the close, would not be tormentingly discordant?
How does it happen, that in a school for morals — the teachers never learn their own lessons?
Would you allow a son or daughter to associate alone with actors or actresses?
Do these men who promote virtue so zealously when acting, take any part in public moral enterprises, when their stage dresses are off?
Which would surprise you most, to see actors steadily at Church, or to see Christians steadily at a Theater? Would not both strike you as singular incongruities?
What is the reason that loose and abandoned men abhor religion in a Church — and love it so much in a Theater?
Since the Theater is the handmaid of virtue, why are drinking houses so necessary to its neighborhood, yet so offensive to Churches? The trustees of the Tremont Theater in Boston, publicly protested against an order of council forbidding liquor to be sold on the premises, on the ground that it was impossible to support the Theater without it.
3. I am told that Christians attend the Theaters. Then I will tell them the story of the Ancients. A holy monk reproached the devil for stealing a young man who was found at the Theater. He promptly replied, "I found him on my premises, and took him."
But, it is said, if Christians would take Theaters in hand, instead of abandoning them to loose men — they might become the handmaids of religion.
The Church has had an intimate acquaintance with the Theater for eighteen hundred years. During that period, every available agent for the diffusion of morality into it has been earnestly tried. The result is, that familiarity has bred contempt and abhorrence. If, after so long and thorough an acquaintance, the Church stands the mortal enemy of Theaters, the testimony is conclusive. It is the evidence of generations speaking by the most sober, thinking, and honest men.
Let not this vagabond prostitute pollute any longer the precincts of the Church, with impudent proposals of alliance. When the Church needs an alliance, it will not look for it in the kennel. Ah! what a blissful scene would that be — the Church and Theater imparadised in each other's arms! What a sweet conjunction would be made, could we build our Churches so as to preach in the morning, and play in the theaters by night! And how melting it would be, beyond the love of David and Jonathan, to see minister and actor in loving embrace; one slaying Satan by direct thrusts of plain preaching — and the other sucking his very life out by the enchantment of the Drama!
To this millennial scene of Church and Theater, I only suggest a single improvement: that the church building be enlarged to a ring for a Circus, when not needed for prayer-meetings; that the Sabbath-school room should be furnished with dice and card-tables, and useful texts of scripture might be printed on the cards, for the pious meditations of gamblers during the intervals of play and worship.
4. But if theaters are put down, men will go to worse vices. Where will they find worse ones? Are those who go to the Theater, the Circus, the Race-course, the men who abstain from worse places? It is notorious that the crowd of theater-goers are vomited up from these worse places. It is notorious that the Theater is the door to all the sinks of iniquity. It is through this infamous place that the young learn to love those wicked associates and practices to which, else, they would have been strangers. Half the victims of the gallows and of the Penitentiary will tell you, that these schools for morals were to them the gate of debauchery, the porch of pollution, the vestibule of the very house of Death!
5. The theater makes one acquainted with human life, and with human nature. It is too true. There is scarcely an evil incident to human life, which may not be fully learned at the Theater. Here flourishes every variety of wit — ridicule of sacred things, burlesques of religion, and licentious double-entendres. Nowhere can so much of this lore be learned, in so short a time, as at the Theater! There one learns how pleasant a thing is vice; immorality prospers; and the young come away alive to the glorious liberty of conquest and lust.
But the stage is not the only place about the Drama where human nature is learned. In the Boxes the young may make the acquaintance of those who abhor home and domestic quiet; of those who glory in profusion and obtrusive display; of those who expend all, and more than their earnings, upon mirthful clothes and jewelry; of those who think it no harm to borrow their money without permission from their employer's til; of those who despise vulgar appetite, but affect polished and genteel licentiousness.
Or, he may go to the Theater, and learn the whole round of villain-life from masters in the art. He may sit down among thieves, blood-loving scoundrels, swindlers, broken-down men of pleasure — the coarse, the vulgar, the debauched, the inhuman, the infernal.
Or, if still more of human nature is wished, he can learn yet more; for the Theater epitomizes every degree of corruption. Let the virtuous young scholar go to the Theater, and learn there, decency, modesty, and refinement, among the quarreling, drunken, ogling, mincing, brutal women of the brothel!
Ah! there is no place like the Theater for learning human nature! A young man can gather up more experimental knowledge here in a week, than elsewhere in a year.
But I wonder that the Theater should ever confess the fact; and yet more, that it should lustily plead in self-defense, that Theaters teach men so much of human nature! Here are brilliant bars, to teach the young to drink; here are mirthful companions, to undo in half an hour, the scruples formed by an education of years; here are pimps of pleasure, to delude the brain with bewildering sophisms of immorality; here is pleasure, all flushed in its gayest, boldest, most fascinating forms! Few there be who can resist its wiles, and fewer yet who can yield to them and escape ruin.
If you would pervert the taste — then go to the Theater.
If you would imbibe false views of life — then go to the Theater.
If you would efface as speedily as possible all qualms of conscience — then go to the Theater.
If you would put yourself irreconcilably against the spirit of virtue and religion — then go to the Theater.
If you would be infected with each particular vice in the catalogue of Depravity — then go to the Theater.
Let parents, who wish to make their children weary of home and quiet domestic enjoyments — take them to the Theater. If it be desirable for the young to loathe industry and education, and burn for fierce excitements, and seek them by stealth or through pilferings, if need be — then send them to the Theater!
It is notorious that the bill of fare at these temples of pleasure is made up to the taste of the baser appetites; that base comedy, and baser farce, running into absolute obscenity — are the only means of filling a house. Theaters must be corrupt, to live; and those who attend them will be corrupted!
Let me turn your attention to several
1. The first reason is, their waste of TIME.I do not mean that they waste only the time consumed while you are within them; but they make you waste your time afterwards. You will go once — and wish to go again; you will go twice, and seek it a third time; you will go a third time — a fourth; and whenever the Theater opens, you will be seized with a restlessness and craving to go, until the appetite will become a passion. You will then waste your nights: your mornings being heavy, melancholy, and dull — you will waste them. Your day will next be confused and crowded; your duties poorly executed or deferred; habits of arrant slothfulness will ensue; and day by day, industry will grow tiresome, and leisure sweeter, until you are a waster of time — an idle man; and if not a rogue, you will be a fortunate exception.
2. You ought not to countenance these things because they will waste your MONEY.Young gentlemen! Wasting and squandering is as shameful as hoarding. A fool can throw away — and a fool can lock up; but it is a wise man, who, neither stingy nor profuse, steers the middle course of generous economy and frugal liberality. A young man, at first, thinks that all he spends at such places, is the ticket-price of the Theater, or the small bet on the races; and this he knows is not much. But this is certainly not the whole bill — nor half.
First, you pay your entrance fee. But there are a thousand petty luxuries which one must not neglect, or custom will call him niggard. You must buy your cigars, and your friend's. You must buy your juleps, and treat in your turn. You must occasionally wait on your lady, and she must be comforted with divers confections. You cannot go to such places in homely working dress — new and costlier clothes must be bought. All your companions have jewelry — you will need a ring, or a gold watch, or an ebony cane, or some other luxury. Thus, item presses upon item, and in the year a long bill runs up of money spent for little trifles.
But if all this money could buy you off from the yet
worse effects, the bargain would not be so dear. But compare, if you please,
this mode of expenditure with the principle of your ordinary expense. In all
ordinary and business-transactions you get an equivalent for your money —
either food for nourishment, or clothes for comfort, or permanent property.
But when a young man has spent one or two hundred dollars for the Theater,
Circus, Races, Balls, and reveling — what has he to show for it at the end
of the year? Nothing at all good — and much that is bad! You sink your money
as really as if you threw it into the sea; and you do it in such a way that
you form habits of careless expense. You lose all sense of the value
of property; and when a man sees no value in property, he will see no
necessity for labor; and when he is both lazy and careless of property, he
will become dishonest. Thus, a habit which seems innocent — the habit of
trifling with money — often degenerates to slothfulness, indolence,
3. Such pleasures are incompatible with your ordinary pursuits.The very way to ruin an honest business is to be ashamed of it, or to put alongside of it, something which a man loves better. There can be no industrial calling so exciting as the Theater, the Circus, and the Races. If you wish to make your real employment very dull and hateful, visit such places. After the glare of the Theater has dazzled your eyes — your blacksmith-shop will look smuttier than ever it did before. After you have seen stalwart heroes pounding their antagonists — you will find it a dull business to pound iron. And a faithful apprentice who has seen such gracious glances of love and such rapturous kissing of hands — will hate to dirty his heroic fingers with mortar, or by rolling felt on the hatter's board.
If a man had a plain, but most useful wife — patient,
kind, intelligent, hopeful in sorrow, and cheerful in prosperity, but yet
very plain — would he be wise to bring under his roof a fascinating and
seductive beauty? Would the contrast, and her fascinations, make him love
his own wife better? Young gentlemen, your wives are your industrial
calling! These theater beauties are artful jades, dressed up on purpose to
purloin your affections. Let no man be led to commit adultery with a
Theater, against the rights of his own trade.
4. Another reason why you should let alone these deceitful pleasures is, that they will engage you in BAD COMPANY.To the Theater, the Ball, the Circus, the Race-course, the gambling-table — resort all the idle, the dissipated, the rogues, the licentious, the epicures, the gluttons, the artful jades, the immoral, the worthless, the refuse. When you go, you will not, at first, take introduction to them all, but to those nearest like yourself; by them the way will be open to others.
A very great evil has befallen a young virtuous man, when wicked men feel that they have a right to his acquaintance. When I see a gambler slapping a young mechanic on the back; or a lecherous scoundrel suffusing a young man's cheek by a story at which, despite his blushes, he yet laughs — I know the youth has been guilty of criminal indiscretion, or these men could not approach him thus. That is a brave and strong heart that can stand up pure in a company of seductive wretches.
When wicked men mean to seduce a young man, so tremendous are the odds in favor of practiced experience against innocence, that there is not one chance in a thousand — if the young man lets them approach him. Let every young man remember that he carries, by nature, a heart full of passions, just such as bad men have. With youth these passions slumber; but temptation can wake them, bad men can influence them — they know the road, they know how to serenade the heart; how to raise the sash, and elope with each passion.
There is but one resource for innocence among men or women; and that is, an embargo upon all commerce of bad men. Bar the window! — bolt the door! — nor answer their seductions, even if they charm ever so wisely! In no other way can you be safe. So well am I assured of the power of bad men to seduce the erring purity of man, that I pronounce it next to impossible for man or woman to escape, if they permit bad men to approach and dally with them.
Oh! there is more than magic in temptation, when it beams
down upon the heart of man, like the sun upon a morass! At the noontide-hour
of purity, the mists shall rise and wreathe a thousand fantastic forms of
delusion; and a sudden outbreak of passion, a single gleam of the
imagination, one sudden rush of the capricious heart — and the resistance of
years may be prostrated in a moment, the heart entered by the besieging
enemy, its rooms sought out, and every lovely affection rudely seized by the
invader's lust, and given to ravishment and to ruin!
5. Putting together in one class, all gamblers, circus-people, actors and racing-jockeys — I pronounce them to be men who live off of society without returning any useful equivalent.At the most lenient sentence, they are a band of mirthful idlers. They do not throw one cent into the stock of public good. They do not make shoes, or hats, or houses, or harness, or anything else that is useful. A stableboy is useful; he performs a necessary office. A street-sweeper, a chimney-sweep, the seller of old clothes, a tinker — all these men are respectable; for though their callings are very humble, they are founded on the real needs of society. The bread which such men eat, is the representation of what they have done for society; not the bread of idleness, but of usefulness.
But what do pleasure-mongers do for a living? — what useful service do they do? — what do they make? — what do they repair? — what do they for the mind, for the body, for man, or child, or beast? The dog that gnaws a refuse bone, pays for it in barking at a thief. The cat that purrs its gratitude for a morsel of meat, will clear our house of rats. But what do we get in return for supporting whole loads of play-actors, and circus-clowns? They eat, they drink, they giggle, they grimace, they strut in garish clothes — and what else? They have not afforded even useful amusement; they are professional laugh-makers; their trade is comic or tragic buffoonery — the trade of tickling men. We do not feel any need of them, before they come; and when they leave, the only effects resulting from their visits are, unruly boys, aping apprentices, and unsteady workmen.
Now, upon principles of mere political economy, is it wise to support a growing class of wasteful idlers? If at the top
of society, the government should erect a class of
favored citizens, and pamper their idleness with fat pensions — the
indignation of the whole community would break out against such privileged
aristocrats. But we have, at the bottom of society, a set of wandering,
jesting, dancing, fiddling aristocrats, whom we support for the sake of
their capers, grins, and caricatures upon life — and no one seems to think
this an evil!
6.But even this is cheap, compared with the evil which I shall mention. If these morality-teachers could guarantee us against all evil from their doings, we might pay their support and think it a cheap bargain. But the direct and necessary effect of their pursuit, however, is to debauch and corrupt others!
Those who defend Theaters would scorn to admit actors into their home society. It is within the knowledge of all, that men, who thus cater for public pleasure, are excluded from respectable society. The general fact is not altered by the exceptions — and honorable exceptions there are.
In the support of gamblers, circus-riders, actors, and racing-jockeys, a Christian and industrious people are guilty of supporting mere mischief-makers — men whose very heart is diseased, and whose sores exhale contagion to all around them! We pay moral assassins to stab the purity of our children. We warn our sons of temptation, and yet plant the seeds which shall bristle with all the spikes and thorns of the worst temptation.
If to this strong language, you answer, that these men are generous and jovial, that their very business is to please, that they do not mean to do harm — I reply, that I do not charge them with knowingly trying to produce immorality — but with pursuing a course which produces it, whether they want to or not.
Moral disease, like the plague, is contagious, whether the patient wishes it or not. A vile man infects his children in spite of himself. Criminals make criminals, just as taint makes taint, disease makes disease, and plagues make plagues. Those who run the mirthful round of pleasure cannot help dazzling the young, confounding their industrious habits, and perverting their morals — it is the very nature of their employment.
These debauching and corrupting professions could not be sustained but by the patronage of moral men. Where do the clerks, the apprentices, the dissipated, get their money which buys an entrance? From whom is that money drained, always, in every land, which supports vice? Unquestionably from the good, the laborious, the careful. The skill, the enterprise, the labor, the good morals of every nation — are always taxed for the expenses of vice. Jails are built out of honest men's earnings. Courts are supported from peaceful men's property. Penitentiaries are built by the toil of virtuous people. Crime never pays its own way. Vice has no hands to work, no head to calculate. Its whole faculty is to corrupt and to waste; and good men, directly or indirectly, foot the bill.
At this time, when we are waiting in vain for the return of that bread which we wastefully cast upon the waters; when, all over the sea, men are fishing up the wrecks of those sunken ships, and full freighted fortunes, which foundered in the sad storm of recent times — some question might be asked about the economy of vice; the economy of paying for our sons' idleness; the economy of maintaining a whole lazy profession of gamblers, racers, actresses, and actors — human, equine and beastly — whose errand is mischief, and luxury, and license, and giggling folly. It ought to be asked of men who groan at a tax, to pay their honest foreign debts — whether they can be taxed to pay the bills of charlatans?
It is astonishing how little the wicked influence of those professions has been considered, which exert themselves mainly to delight the sensual feelings of men. That whole race of men, whose camp is the Theater, the Circus, the Gambling-table, is a race whose instinct is destruction, who live to corrupt, and live off of the corruption which they make. For their support, we sacrifice annual hoards of youthful victims. Even sober Christian men, look smilingly upon the garish outside of these bands of destruction; and while we see the results to be, slothfulness, dissipation, idleness, dishonesty, vice and crime — still they lull us with the lying lyric of "classic drama" and "human life" "morality" "poetry" and "comedy"?
Disguise it as you will, these men of sinful pleasure are, the world over, Corrupters of Youth. Upon no principle of kindness can we tolerate them; no excuse is bold enough; we can take bail from none of their weaknesses — it is not safe to have them abroad even upon excessive bail. You might as well take bail for lions, or allow scorpions to breed in our streets for a suitable license; or raise a tax to fund assassins.
Men whose life is given to evil pleasures are, to ordinary criminals — what a universal pestilence is to a local disease. They fill the air, pervade the community, and bring around every youth an atmosphere of death. Corrupters of youth have no mitigation of their baseness. Their generosity avails nothing, their knowledge nothing, their varied accomplishments nothing. These are only so many facilities for greater evil.
Is a serpent less deadly, because his burnished scales shine? Shall a dove praise and court the vulture, because he has such glossy plumage?
The more talents a bad man has, the more dangerous is he — they are the garlands which cover up the knife with which he will stab. There is no such a thing as good corrupters. You might as well talk of a mild and pleasant murder, a very lenient assassination, or a pious devil. We denounce them; for it is our nature to loathe treacherous corruption.
We mourn over a torn and bleeding lamb — but who mourns the wolf which rent it? We weep for despoiled innocence — but who sheds a tear for the savage fiend who plucks away the flower of virtue?
Even thus, we palliate the sins of generous youth; and their downfall is our sorrow. But for their destroyers, for the corrupters of youth, who practice the infernal chemistry of ruin, and dissolve the young heart in vice — we have neither tears, nor pleas, nor patience. We lift our heart to Him who bears the iron rod of vengeance, and pray for the appointed time of judgment.
You miscreants! You think that you are growing tall, and walking safely, because God has forgotten? The bolt of judgment shall yet smite you! You shall be heard as the falling of an oak in the silent forest — the vaster its growth, the more terrible its resounding downfall!
Oh! you corrupter of youth! I would not have your death, for all the pleasure of your guilty life, a thousand fold. You shall draw near to the shadow of death. To the Christian, these shades are the golden haze which Heaven's light makes, when it meets the earth and mingles with its shadows. But to you, these shall be shadows full of phantom-shapes. Images of terror in the Future shall dimly rise and beckon — the ghastly deeds of the Past shall stretch out their skinny hands to push you forward! You shall not die unattended. Despair shall mock you. Agony shall offer her fiery cup, to your parched lips. Remorse shall feel for your heart, and rend it open.
Godly men shall breathe freer at your death, and utter thanksgiving when you are gone! Men shall place your grave-stone as a monument and testimony that a plague is stayed; no tear shall wet it, no mourner linger there! And, as borne on the blast, your guilty spirit whistles toward the gate of Hell, the hideous shrieks of those whom your hand has destroyed, shall pierce you — Hell's first welcome! In the bosom of that everlasting storm which rains perpetual misery in Hell, shall you, corrupter of youth — be forever hidden from our view! And may God wipe out the very thoughts of you from our memory!