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A Monthly Journal,
CHIEFLY DEVOTED TO THE INTERESTS
SOCIETY OF FRIENDS.
"Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein."-JER. vi. 16.
VOL. VIII.-Nos. I. To XII.
WILLIAM AND ROBERT SMEAL.
GLASGOW, 1ST MONTH, 31ST, 1850.
THEIR ORIGIN, DISTINGUISHING PRINCIPLES,
of the ceremonies to disturb the tranquillity of the room, animosities have sometimes sprung up between them which have not been healed in a little time. I am aware that in some large towns of the kingdom regulations are made with a view to the prevention of these evils, but it is in some only; and even where they are made, though they prevent outward rude behaviour, they do not prevent inward dissatisfaction. Moneyed influence still feels itself often debased by a lower place.
XXVI.-MORAL EDUCATION-AMUSEMENTS, &C. (Continued from page 240, Vol. VII.) DANCING CONTINUED.-I am afraid that I shall be thought more cynical than just, more prejudiced than impartial, more given to censure than to praise, if, in temples apparently dedicated to good humour, cheerfulness, and mirth, I should say that sources were to If we were to examine the ball-room further, we be found from whence we could trace the rise of should find new circumstances arising to call out new immoral passions. But human nature is alike in all and degrading passions. We should find disappointplaces; and if circumstances should arise in the ball-ment and discontent often throwing the seeds of irritaroom which touch, as it were, the strings of the passions, they will as naturally throw out their tone as in other places. Why should envy, jealousy, pride, malice, anger, or revenge, shut themselves out exclusively from these resorts, as if these were more than ordinarily sacred, or more than ordinary repositories of human worth?
In examining the interior of the ball-room, it must be confessed that we shall certainly find circumstances occasionally arising, that give birth to feelings neither of a pleasant nor of a moral nature. It is not unusual, for instance, to discover among the females one that excels in the beauty of her person, and another that excels in the elegance of her dress. The eyes of all are more than proportionally turned upon these for the whole night. This little circumstance soon generates a variety of improper passions. It calls up vanity and conceit in the breasts of these objects of admiration. It raises envy and jealousy, and even anger, in some of the rest. These become envious of the beauty of the former, envious of their taste, envious of their clothing, and, above all, jealous of the admiration bestowed upon them. In this evil state of mind one passion begets another; and instances have occurred, where some of these have felt displeased at the apparent coldness and indifference of their own partners, because they have appeared to turn their eyes more upon the favourites of the night than upon themselves. In the same room, when the parties begin to take their places to dance, other little circumstances not unfrequently occur, which give rise to other passions. Many, aiming to be as near to the top of the dance as possible, are disappointed of their places by others who have just stept into them. Dissatisfaction, and sometimes murmurs, follow. Each, in his own mind, supposes his claims and pretensions to the higher place to be stronger, on account of his money, his connections, his profession, or his rank. Thus, his own dispositions to pride are only the more nursed and fostered. Malice, too, is often engendered on the occasion: and though the parties would not be allowed by the master
bility on the mind. Men, fond of dancing, frequently find an over-proportion of men, and but few females, in the room. And women, wishing to dance, sometimes find an over-proportion of women, and but few men; so that partners are not to be had for all, and a number of each class must make up their minds to sit quietly, and to lose their diversion for the night. Partners, too, are frequently dissatisfied with each other. One thinks his partner too old; another too plain; another below him. Matched often in this unequal manner, they go down the dance in a sort of dudgeon, having no cordial disposition towards each other, and having persons before their eyes in the same room with whom they could have cordially danced. Nor are instances wanting where the pride of some has fixed upon the mediocrity of others, as a reason why they should reluctantly lend them their hauds when falling in with them in the dance. The slight is soon perceived, and disgust arises in both parties.
Various other instances might be mentioned where very improper passions are excited. I shall only observe, however, that these passions are generally stronger, and give more uneasiness, and are called up to a greater height than might generally be imagined from such apparently slight causes. In many instances, indeed, they have led to such serious misunderstandings that they were only terminated by the duel.
From this statement I may remark here, though my observation may not be immediately to the point, that there is not, probably, that portion of entertainment, or that substantial pleasure, which people expected to find at these monthly meetings. The little jealousies arising about precedency, or about the admiration of one more than of another; the falling in occasionally with disagreeable partners; the slights and omissions that are often thought to be purposely made; the headaches, colds, sicknesses, and lassitude afterwards, must all of them operate as so many drawbacks from this pleasure: and it is not unusual to hear persons, fond of such amusements, complaining afterwards that they
had not answered. There is, therefore, probably, have had recourse to different modes of writing for the more pleasure in the preparations for such amuse-promotion of virtue. Some have had recourse to allements, and in the previous talk about them, than in gories, others to fables. The fables of Esop, though the amusements themselves. a fiction from beginning to end, have been useful to many. But we have a peculiar instance of the use and innocence of fictitious descriptions in the sacred writings-the Author of the Christian religion having made use of parables on many and weighty occasions. We cannot, therefore, condemn fictitious biography, unless it condemn itself by becoming a destroyer of morals.
It is also probable that the greatest pleasure felt in a ball-room is felt by those who go into it as spectators only. These receive pleasure from the music, from the beat of the steps in unison with it, but particularly from the idea that all who join in the dance are happy. These considerations produce in the spectator cheerfulness and mirth; and these are continued to him more pure and unalloyed than in the former case, because he can have no drawbacks from the admission into his own breast of any of those uneasy and immoral passions above described.
But to return to the point in question:-The reader has now had the different cases laid before him, as determined by the moral philosopher. He has been conducted also through the interior of the ball-room. He will have perceived, therefore, that the arguments of Friends have gradually unfolded themselves, and that they are more or less conspicuous, or more or less true, as dancing is viewed abstractedly, or in connection with the preparations and accompaniments that may be interwoven with it. If it be viewed in connection with these preparations and accompaniments, and if these should be found to be so inseparably connected with it that they must invariably go together, (which is supposed to be the case where it is introduced into the ball-room,) he will have no difficulty in pronouneing that in this case it is objectionable as a Christian recreation. For it cannot be doubted that it has an immediate tendency in this case to produce a frivolous levity, to generate vanity and pride, and to call up passions of the malevolent kind. Now in this point of view it is that Friends generally consider dancing. They never view it, as I observed before, abstractedly, or solely by itself. They have therefore forbidden it to their Society, believing it to be the duty of a Christian to be serious in his conversation and deportment, to afford an example of humility, and to be watchful and diligent in the subjugation of his evil passions.
The arguments against novels, in which Friends agree as a body, are taken from the pernicious influence that they have upon the minds of those who read them.
Friends do not say that all novels have this influence, but that they have it generally. The great demand for novels, in consequence of the taste which the world has shown for this species of writing, has induced persons of all descriptions, and of course many who have been but ill qualified, to write them. Hence, though some novels have appeared of considerable merit, the worthless have been greatly preponderant. The demand also has occasioned foreign novels, of a complexion by no means suited to the good sense and character of our country, to be translated into our language. Hence a fresh weight has been thrown into the preponderating scale. From these two causes, it has happened, that the contents of a great majority of our novels have been unfavourable to the improvement of the moral character. Now, when we consider this circumstance, and when we consider likewise that professed novel-readers generally read all the compositions of this sort that come into their way; that they wait for no selection, but that they devour the good, the bad, and the indifferent, alike; we shall see the reasons which have induced Friends to believe that the effect of this species of writing upon the mind has been generally pernicious.
One of the effects, which the members of this Society consider to be produced by novels upon those who read them, is an affectation of knowledge, which leads them to become forward and presumptuous. This effect is highly injurious; for, while it raises them unduly in their own estimation, it lowers them in that of the world. Nothing can be more disgusting, in the opinion of Friends, than to see persons assuming the authoritative appearance of men and women, before their age or their talents can have given them any pretensions to do it.
Another effect is the following:-They conceive that there is among professed novel-readers, a peculiar cast of mind. They observe in them a romantic spirit, a sort of wonder-loving imagination, and a disposition towards enthusiastic flights of the fancy, which, to sober persons, have the appearance of a temporary derangement. As the former effect must become injurious by producing forwardness, so this must become so by producing unsteadiness of character.
NOVELS. Among the prohibitions which Friends have adopted in their moral education, as barriers against vice, or as preservatives of virtue, I shall consider that next, which relates to the perusal of improper books. George Fox seems to have forgotten nothing that was connected with the morals of the Society. He was anxious for the purity of its character. He seemed afraid of every wind that blew, lest it should bring some noxious vapour to defile it. And as those things which were spoken or represented might corrupt the mind, so those which were written and printed might corrupt it also. He recommended, therefore, that the youth of his newly-formed society should abstain from the reading of romances. William Penn, and others, expressed the same sentiments on this subject. And the same opinion has been held by Friends, as a body of Christians, down to the present A third effect, which they find to be produced among day. Hence novels, as a particular species of romance, this description of readers, is conspicuous in a perand as that which is considered as of the worst ten-verted morality. Readers of this cast place almost dency, have been particularly marked for prohibition. Some among Friends have been inclined to think, that novels ought to be rejected on account of the fictitious nature of their contents. But this consideration is by no means generally adopted by the Society, as an argument against them. Nor would it be a sound argument if it were. If novels contain no evil within themselves, or have no evil tendency, the mere circumstance of the subject, names, or characters, being feigned, will not stamp them as censurable. Such fiction will not be like the fiction of the drama, where men act and personate characters that are not their own. Different men, in different ages of the world,
every virtue in fe ling, and in the affectation of benevolence. They consider these as the true and only sources of good. They make these equivalent to moral principle. And actions flowing from feeling, though feeling itself is not always well founded, and sometimes runs into compassion even against justice, they class as moral duties arising from moral principle. They consider also too frequently the laws of religion as barbarous restraints, and which their new notions of civilized refinement may relax at will; and they do not hesitate, in consequence, to give a colour to some fashionable vices, which no Christian painter would admit into any composition which was his own.