you through this garrulous preface that it may not be your lot, when
mirth is fastest and most furious, to feel the sharp pang, or the
deadly faintness, which heralds the final crisis–to see, with vague
wonder, anxious friends bending over you to hear their troubled
whispers perhaps yourself to shape the question, with trembling lips,
“Is it serious?”, and to be told “Yes: the end is near” (and oh, how
different all Life will look when those words are said!)–how do you
know, I say, that all this may not happen to you, this night?
And dare you, knowing this, say to yourself “Well, perhaps it is an
immoral play: perhaps the situations are a little too ‘risky’, the
dialogue a little too strong, the ‘business’ a little too suggestive.
I don’t say that conscience is quite easy: but the piece is so clever,
I must see it this once! I’ll begin a stricter life to-morrow.”
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and tomorrow!
“Who sins in hope, who, sinning, says,
‘Sorrow for sin God’s judgement stays!’
Against God’s Spirit he lies; quite stops
Mercy with insult; dares, and drops,
Like a scorch’d fly, that spins in vain
Upon the axis of its pain,
Then takes its doom, to limp and crawl,
Blind and forgot, from fall to fall.”
Let me pause for a moment to say that I believe this thought, of the
possibility of death–if calmly realised, and steadily faced would be
one of the best possible tests as to our going to any scene of
amusement being right or wrong. If the thought of sudden death
acquires, for you, a special horror when imagined as happening in a
theatre, then be very sure the theatre is harmful for you, however
harmless it may be for others; and that you are incurring a deadly
peril in going. Be sure the safest rule is that we should not dare to
live in any scene in which we dare not die.
But, once realise what the true object is in life–that it is not
pleasure, not knowledge, not even fame itself, ‘that last infirmity of
noble minds’–but that it is the development of character, the rising
to a higher, nobler, purer standard, the building-up of the perfect
Man–and then, so long as we feel that this is going on, and will
(we trust) go on for evermore, death has for us no terror; it is not a
shadow, but a light; not an end, but a beginning!
One other matter may perhaps seem to call for apology–that I should
have treated with such entire want of sympathy the British passion for
‘Sport’, which no doubt has been in by-gone days, and is still, in some
forms of it, an excellent school for hardihood and for coolness in
moments of danger. But I am not entirely without sympathy for genuine
‘Sport’: I can heartily admire the courage of the man who, with severe
bodily toil, and at the risk of his life, hunts down some ‘man-eating’
tiger: and I can heartily sympathize with him when he exults in the
glorious excitement of the chase and the hand-to-hand struggle with the
monster brought to bay. But I can but look with deep wonder and sorrow
on the hunter who, at his ease and in safety, can find pleasure in what
involves, for some defenceless creature, wild terror and a death of
agony: deeper, if the hunter be one who has pledged himself to preach
to men the Religion of universal Love: deepest of all, if it be one of
those ‘tender and delicate’ beings, whose very name serves as a symbol
of Love–‘thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women’–
whose mission here is surely to help and comfort all that are
in pain or sorrow!
‘Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.’