HC Deb 15 May 1900 vol 83 cc276-308


MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)

The House has for some time been considering a question affecting the sanitation of the country, and I am now about to ask the indulgence of the House while I call attention to a subject affecting the moral well-being of the Empire, and call attention to some of the grave blots connected with our theatres at the present time. I am well aware that I am attempting a difficult task in bringing the question of theatrical performances before the House; yet I believe that few subjects attract greater attention at the present time, and that a great body of opinion, both inside and outside this House, is in sympathy with the resolution which I now submit to the House, which runs as follows:— That this House regrets the growing tendency to put upon the stage plays of a demoralising character, and considers that a stricter supervision of theatrical performances in needed alike in the interests of the public and the theatrical profession. I found my views very much on the views of the best dramatic critics in this matter. Some of the first theatrical critics have been deploring for the past ten years the decadent character of the drama, and in the opinion of some, it has reached a lower stage than at any time since the Restoration. While in many departments of national life great progress has been registered during the Victorian era, it will not be denied that a class of plays is now acted which would have been prohibited fifty years ago as grossly immoral. I am sure that the House will agree with me that this is no light matter, because the moral standard of a country is largely affected by the drama, especially among the young. Multitudes of young men and young women form their ideas of what is right and wrong in no small degree from what they witness on the stage; and when they see the purest and holiest things of life turned into derision, and disgusting licentiousness treated as the normal rule of life, is it likely that their own moral standard will remain high? Is it not certain that the same effects will follow in London as in Paris: that a decadent drama, and, what always accompanies it, a decadent literature, will produce a decadent nation? Now, I do not ask the House to accept these statements from me, because it may be said that these are puritanical objections. I will confine myself almost entirely to the opinions of competent theatrical critics, so that no one may ride off on the plea that I am bringing merely puritanical objections against the stage. I do not attack the legitimate drama. I have never advocated the absurd view that the dramatic art should be wholly condemned. Like many others, I have studied with delight the Greek plays, and I freely acknowledge that the drama holds a great field in human education. The Attic stage was a great educator of an illustrious people, and the best plays of Shakespeare fathom the depths of the human soul. What I wish to bring before the House is not the legitimate drama, but those foul and corrupting plays that no good actor or actress should touch with a pitchfork, and which no youth can witness without taint. By permission of Mr. Clement Scott, one of the oldest and best theatrical critics, I quote from a recent utterance of his in New York. Speaking of these degrading plays, he said— Why should we not frankly call them heathen plays, or plays destitute of any moral sense; plays artfully contrived to attract sympathy for vice; plays that cover detestable selfishness with a glamour of romance and sickly sentiment; plays that bring the power and allurement of good acting, or show, or spectacle, or personal charm, to deaden our moral force and moral fibre? That is when the danger lies. Again, he tries to give an explanation of the reason why these objectionable plays have become so common, and he says— We may ascribe it to the change of tone and thought at our public schools and universities, to our godless method of education, to the comparative failure of religion as an influence—to this, that, or the other. But there it is. We cannot get away from it. Society has accepted the satire, and our dramatists of the first class have, one after the other, broken away from the beautiful, the helpful, and the ideal, and coquetted with the distorted, the tainted, and the poisonous in life. Any appeal to them in the name of Art is vain. According to their utilitarian creed all must be good that pays, and so for the moment our theatres are crowded to excess to see ' snap-shot society dramas,' with their pronounced vulgarity, their hideous presentments of men and women, and their cheap satire. I believe that nine-tenths of this House and the majority of the nation know that these words are true, and many of our best actors and actresses wish it were not so. But they cannot or dare not speak out, for to do so is to be boycotted by the profession. There is a false code of honour in all professions, which makes the honourable members hesitate to denounce the dishonourable. But I am certain the sympathy of many of them is with those who work to reform the stage. But let me give the House something a little more specific in the way of proof. The most popular and by far the ablest of these corrupting plays is "The Gay Lord Quex," by Mr. A. W. Pinero. I will ask the House to listen to two criticisms—one appearing in the Daily Telegraph, one of the chief admirers of Mr. Pinero; and the other in the Westminster Gazette. The Daily Telegraph said at the first appearance of the play— "Seldom has an act so bold in conception, so daring in execution, been presented as that which follows. That Mrs. Grundy will raise her voice against it may be expected; that the world of fashion will flock to see it is no less certain. In ' The Princess and the Butterfly' Mr. Pinero broke in upon the sanctity of a lady's afternoon toilet. in ' The Gay Lord Quex ' he goes a step further and introduces us to the duchess's boudoir, with bedroom attached, on the stroke of midnight. Here the farewell meeting between her and Quex is to take place. On a little table stand a box of Argyropulos cigarettes, a bottle of champagne, ' Felix Poubelle, Carte d'Or,' and a couple of glasses. It is hardly to be denied that in several passages of this brilliant and extraordinarily ingenious act the very brink of unnecessary riskiness is reached. Words and phrases fall from the mouths of the artists which make the listener catch his breath and move uneasily in his place. The Westminster Gazette said— A little while ago Mr. John Hare was championing bravely the cause of propriety on the English stage, and denouncing indignantly: the wickedness of Ibsen; and yet in ' The Gay Lord Quex' he presents a piece with a wealth of indelicate detail as great in quantity as could be collected from all the Ibsen plays offered to the British public. What becomes of poor Nora's remarks about her stockings when compared with these one where the beautiful duchess in her dressing-gown, at midnight, wonders, with Lord Quex, who is with her in her bedroom, at what moment in their guilty intrigue he acquired from her the blue silk garter with diamond buckle which she exhibits to the audience". I am told that the fine ladies of Belgravia, who wore horrified at the first night of this play, can now see nothing indelicate in it, and take their young daughters to initiate them into fast life. I can only say that if wealth and rank admire such scenes I would rather accept the moral standard of the average costermonger. I notice that the author of this play made a speech at Birmingham a fortnight ago, in which he ridiculed the Lord Chancellor and Sir Edward Clarke for having courageously attacked these corrupting plays. The Lord Chancellor used these words— On all sides intellectual development was visible, yet there were dark features in respect to our literary taste. Familiar public amusements, plays, and so on, were tainted with what, with all reverence, he might call the spirit of those who made a mock of sin. And to his mind it had become a serious question whether, seeing some of the plays now being | enacted, there was any great advantage in finding somebody to act as censor, and to prevent them from being played. If some of the plays now before the public might be played lie did not know what might not be played. The majority of this House will, I believe, agree with the Lord Chancellor, and I may add, with Sir Edward Clarke, who spoke to the same effect, and not with Mr. Pinero, who accused them of a prudish view of life and being unable to understand— That the real decadent drama and the real decadent literature were the drama and the literature which presented a flattering but false conception of human conduct. And (concluded Mr. Pinero) they must not accuse us of discourtesy if we make bold to warn them of the danger of evil association with those people who, under the pretence of being moralists, are nothing but moral-mongers." The success of "Lord Quex" has produced a crop of imitations even viler. I take from the Era, a leading theatrical paper, a critique of "Zaza," recently produced in London from America. It says— One of the most unpleasant plays that we have seen in London for some time past is ' Zaza.' …. It is a disgraceful libel on the dramatic profession, and the story is developed with so much base and sordid realism, the seamy side of an illicit connection is shown with such perverse and persistent grovelling in the mud, that the effect created is repellent and depressing. … Zaza gets Dufresne into her dressing-room.… and there plies him with all the brazen wiles of the pavement. The scene in which Zaza attempts to allure Dufresne is frankly and unblushingly animal and gross—indeed, the whole of. this first act reeks with the vile odours of cheap dissipation. No attempt is made to disguise the merely physical attraction which Dufresne possesses for Zaza, and her overtures to him are of the most unwomanly and immodest order. The scene in which … she edges up against him and places her face close up to his is one of the most audacious and startling exhibitions ever seen on any stage, and the exuberance of Mrs. Leslie Carter's huggings and kissings throughout the performance is repellent in its sensual exaggeration. As for the picture of life behind the scenes, it is simply disgusting, and the representation of such vulgar ribaldry and loose living is in itself an offence against good taste. Whatever value 'Zaza ' may possess as a drama is not in the least added to by these pictures of vile debauchery behind the scenes of a French variety theatre; and the English play going public must indeed have fallen low if the best passport to their approval be the presentation, in elaborate detail, of foreign vice and Continental lewdness. Mrs. Leslie Carter, the representative of Zaza, made the part even more displeasing than was absolutely necessary. Details which might have been toned down … were insisted upon with almost perverse tactlessness…. Crude and mean as the French authors and American adapter Have made the play, Mrs. Carter accentuates its crudeness and meanness by her reading of the principal part, …and Zaza only seems to us a sensual, irritable and vulgar creature, without the redeeming qualities of grace, charm, and sweetness. In another paragraph the same paper says— Playgoers who really love the dramatic profession will indeed feel sad after witnessing the first act of 'Zaza,' now being performed at the Garrick Theatre. We have never seen the profession dragged through the mud so shamelessly. It is a great grief to us to find American actors and actresses taking part in such a disgraceful libel of their own calling and trying to bring their class into contempt, giving enemies of the drama an opportunity of pointing to evidence of the stage itself as to its inner life. It must be a bad bird that fouls its own nest. The House, I think, will agree that that criticism is made by a theatrical paper, by critics not in the habit of speaking too strongly against the stage. I will ask the attention of the House while I give one criticism, from the pen of Mr. William Archer (Morning Leader, 9th April, 1900)— Take such a piece as ' The Belle of New York,' for example—probably the greatest success of recent years. What was it but one long glorification of the vulgarest order of debauchery? In so far as it meant anything at all, it meant approval and admiration for drunkenness and all the other diversions of a recklessly 'fast' life. But was it the vicious or even the congenitally, fundamentally vulgar section of society that kept it running to full houses for eighteen months? Not at all. This section, of course, contributed its full quota to the devotees of the ' Belle'; but she also attracted in their thousands people of education and breeding, of decent life and presentable manners. Some of them fully realised the clotted vulgarity of the entertainment, and revelled in the sense of superiority involved in that very realisation. Vulgar entertainments there will always be, so long as there are people of vulgar tastes to be catered for. But their popularity, in England at any rate, would be much less overwhelming if people of culture and refinement did not affect and even parade in regard to the theatre a vulgarity of taste which they would blush to own in regard to any other department of art or of life. Many Oxford and Cambridge men, for example—not merely irresponsible undergraduates, but dons and dignitaries—when they run up to town for a few days, rush eagerly to 'The Gaiety Girl,' or' The Circus Girl, 'or' The Belle of New York,' and can scarcely be dragged to any higher form of entertainment. I must apologise to the House for dragging it through these sickening details. My object is to show what a farce the present form of censorship is. The Lord Chamberlain is the Earl of Hopetoun, and his deputy is Mr. Spencer Ponsonby. Fane, and he has an examiner of plays, Mr. Redford, and on his advice the Lord Chamberlain gives his licence. These odious plays are now exempt from the common law of the country, which could put them down as indecent but for this licence. And now they go from London all through the provinces, tainting the atmosphere wherever they go. All the higher and nobler attributes of human nature wither and perish m such an atmosphere. But the public is helpless, and weak-minded people say it must be all right because the censor has allowed it. Is it any wonder that the Lord Chancellor asks for the abolition of the censorship? I am sure we should be far better off without it. Anyhow, it is an archaic survival of a time when only two patent theatres existed in London, and when the plays were performed by His Majesty's actors, and a Court official superintended them. It was altogether a Court affair.* Now there is free trade in theatres, and a far more dangerous trade than public-houses is without any control at all. I am a strong believer in local government. Wherever, municipal bodies have powers they use them for the good of the community. The Music Halls in London were once as bad as, or worse than, the theatres; since they were placed under the County Council they have wonderfully improved. Everyone tells me the change is astonishing. The same would happen if the theatres were placed under municipal bodies. Public opinion would steadily; act on the theatrical profession through these bodies. There would be kicking and restiveness for a time; but at last the theatres would fall into line and, after some of the worst had been refused their licences, the others would find it necessary to consult the moral sense of the community. There has been a marvellous change effected in the city of Liverpool in my lifetime through the action of the police directed against certain moral evils by a reforming Watch Committee and an intelligent bench of magistrates. The one Department which remains hopelessly bad is the theatre, because it is not subject to local control, except as regards structural arrangements and the sale of refreshments. I feel sure that if the licensing of plays was given either to the municipality or the bench of magistrates, the improvement that would take place would astonish everyone. I do not believe in the judgment of experts; but * In The Parliamentary History, Vol. x., page 321, will be found a report of "Proceedings relating to the Play-house Bill," introduced by Sir Robert Walpole in 1737. A long quotation from Coxe's Memoirs of Walpole gives a full account of the control exercised over the English stage, from the "Abbot of Misrule" of very early days, to the" Master of the Revels" of the time of Henry VIII., and so to the Lord Chamberlain. I do believe in the average common sense and the average morality of the ordinary householder. I have always found that his instincts are sounder than those of London Society, which is invariably on the wrong side whenever there is a battle between good and evil. I advocate this change not only in the public interest, but in the interest of the theatrical profession itself. The better portion of that profession are disgusted with the present state of things. I have letters urging mo to go on. These are from prominent men in the profession, but they do not wish their names given. They have a longing desire that something should be done to relieve them from this foul taint, which is degrading modern art. It is cruel to put modest women to play the part of harlots. It is very difficult to see how a woman can keep any refinement of soul when playing such disgraceful parts. What did Clement Scott say a year or two ago in a famous interview reported in Great Thoughts I He said— It is nearly impossible for a woman to remain pure who adopts the stage as a profession. Everything is against her. The freedom of life, of speech, of gesture, which is the rule behind the curtain, renders it almost impossible for a woman to preserve that simplicity of manner which is, after all, her greatest charm. The whole life is artificial and unnatural to the last degree, and, therefore, an unhealthy life to live. But there are far more serious evils to be encountered than these. These drawbacks are the things that render it impossible for a lady to remain a lady. But what is infinitely more to be deplored is that a woman who endeavours to keep her purity is almost of necessity foredoomed to failure in her career. It is an awful thing to say, and it is still more terrible that it is true, but no one who knows the life of the green-room will dare deny it. Nor do I see how a woman is to escape contamination in one form or another. Temptation surrounds her in every shape and on every side; her prospects frequently depend upon the nature and extent of her compliance, and, after all, human nature is very weak. I am glad to know that later on in the same interview he added— Two things I want to be made clear—(1) That it is quite possible to lead a good life on the stage. Thousands do. Miss—, for instance, is as good a woman as ever lived. But the fact that many do lead good lives does not remove the great temptations from the weaker brethren. I need say no more on this painful topic. The better part of the theatrical profession will be most thankful if some check can be put on the frightful temptations that surround the stage. I can point out to the House one reason for the failure of the censorship. The written words of a play do not really show its immoral tendency; that depends on indecent dress, gestures, innuendoes, and suggestive acting. It may be quite possible to pass a play so far as the written words are concerned, and yet it may be so acted as to be perfectly intolerable. It is for this reason that I believe no real control can be exercised over theatres except by the power of refusing licences on the ground that the management has been on the whole bad and depraving. I believe local bodies would exercise that power with a great deal of discretion and moderation. I have found by a long experience in Liverpool that this principle applied by an intelligent bench of magistrates to the licensing of public-houses has effected an astonishing revolution in the order and decency of those places. The same would hold good of theatres. A few examples made of notorious offenders would lift up the whole moral level of the stage. The bad theatres would kick against it, and two or three would lose their licences, but in a short time they would all conform to the law. I know that the Home Secretary sympathises with the proposal I make. I would recommend him to consider whether it is not possible to have some licensing authority that would have much more thorough control of the theatres than at the present time. Possibly the magistrates might be better than an elected body. I myself prefer a representative body. I think they can gauge the moral sense of the community, and if they do not act they can be turned out. But I don't care whether you take the one or the other. Let me add that there are many related evils which we cannot grapple with so long as extreme licence is allowed to the stage. One of the worst of these is that of disgusting pictures, drawn from the most indecent exhibitions in theatres, which are sold to young men and boys. The worst scenes are photographed and collected into books and sold to boys, or published in the low illustrated paper, which is one of the deadliest evils of the day. You cannot prosecute the vendors of these obscene pictures with any chance of success while you tolerate their presentation in theatres. It cannot be denied that the glorification of harlotry, which is thought by some to be a sign of high art, is undermining that wholesome repugnance to vice which used to be a mark of English society. Only on that ground can I explain the following quotation from Mr. Lecky's "Map of Life "— A more recognised, though probably not really more pernicious example of false ideals is to be found in the glorification of the demimonde, which is so conspicuous in some societies and literatures. In a healthy state of opinion the public ostentatious appearance of such persons, without any concealment of their character, in the great concourse of fashion and among the notabilities of the State, would appear an intolerable scandal, and it becomes much worse when they give the tone of fashion, and become the centres and models of large and by no means undistinguished sections of society. The evils springing from this public glorification of the class are immeasurably greater than the evils arising from its existence. The standard of popular morals is debased. Temptation in its most seductive form is forced upon inflammable natures, and the most pernicious of all lessons is taught to poor, honest, hardworking women. How has that come about? I say it has largely come about from those gross re-presentations in the theatre. They are connected very closely indeed. From the theatre has come those indelicate modes of female dress common in London society, I which scandalise our American and colonial friends. The people who gloat over "Lord Quex" and "Zaza" have already reached a level where mere accident alone keeps them from leading such lives themselves. I travelled in America for months, and I never saw a lady appear as they often do in London. The sex in America is much more stringent. I was grieved to receive a letter from South Africa not long ago from a colonist who had paid a first visit to London. He wrote to me that he went to a London theatre and he saw such orgies of vice that his loyalty to the mother country was greatly shaken. He expected to find the mother country the home of all that is good and pure, but he returned to South Africa disillusioned. If England is to uphold her position in the vast British Empire it must be by cultivating the respect of the multitudes who look up to the mother country. I cannot too strongly express my conviction that a decadent drama and a decadent literature mark a, stage in national decline. All the great empires of antiquity perished of internal corruption. The moral law of God is inexorable. "The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small." The congestion of idle, dissolute wealth we have in London is the great danger in this country. Let me appeal to the strong spirit of Imperialism that now exists and which has led to noble self-sacrifice. Would it not be the highest patriotism to keep the heart of this great Empire sound? Is it not lamentable to find that our colonial and Indian fellow-subjects when they visit the Metropolis of the Empire are often staggered at the orgies of vice they witness? If we wish to maintain the loyalty of this great Empire we must keep a standard at home which will command its respect. Is not this a favourable moment to attempt moral reforms? Many families are in mourning. London society has lost its usual gaiety. Many are saying; "Oh for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still! " Is this not the voice of God calling the nation to repentance? Let this House strike a true keynote to-night, and I believe it will vibrate through the Empire. I beg to move the resolution standing in my name.


I beg to second the motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House regrets the growing tendency to put upon the stage plays of a demoralising character, and considers that a stricter supervision of theatrical performances is needed alike in the interest of the public and the theatrical profession."—(Mr. Samuel Smith.)

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)

Everybody must admire the evident good intentions and the high purpose of my hon. friend who proposed the motion. I sympathise a good deal with what he said, and I feel bound to say that he rather justified his own statement that this is not a question on which expert opinion ought to be listened to. I understand that my hon. friend is not in the habit of visiting theatres himself; in fact, I do not know that he has ever been inside a theatre, and for him to come to this House to tell us what theatres are like seems to me rather a contradictory position. I think we can judge of his knowledge of the theatre when he refers to a play whose name he is not able to pronounce. My hon. friend has raised a question a good deal more serious than perhaps he supposes. He talks of the theatre leading to impropriety of dress— in the audience I suppose he means. Perhaps it will be more correct to say that impropriety of dress in the audience is the real reason of a good deal of the impropriety of dress on the stage. The real truth is that the stage is a fair representation of the current feeling and opinion, and even, I will say, of the standard of taste in the country. My hon. friend wishes to give the public redress against these plays. I will tell him what redress they have. They need not go to the plays. Does my hon. friend propose that we should establish in this country a censorship which shall tell the people the plays they ought and ought not to see? How are we going to establish a censorship of that kind? I am afraid that the very plays that my hon. friend would wish that the public ought not to see are the plays which I would consider most moral, elevating, and instructive. He would denounce them as demoralising. I will tell you the kind of play my hon. friend would like to see if he would like to see a play at all. He would like to see a melodrama in which there was a villain with all the vices, a baronet or a marquess—


A Tory.


Not necessarily a Tory, but a play in which there was a villain with all the vices, especially of the aristocracy, in which then; was a hero, of course of the humbler class, with all the virtues, in which, of course, there was an Irishman with all the humour, and in which it was conclusively' proved that virtue was always triumphant in the humbler class, and that vice, especially among the aristocracy, was always visited with the pains and penalties which ought to follow evildoing in this life. In other words, my hon. friend would desire a travesty of life—a melodrama, which has no more resemblance to the realities of human existence than the experience of my hon. friend has to the theatre. I, on the other hand, take a different view of the stage. I do not regard the theatre as a place that is necessarily bad, any more than I regard it as a place that is necessarily good. I regard the theatre as either good or bad according to the manner in which it is conducted. I regard it as good or bad in proportion to its resemblance to the realities of life, and not merely the figments and creations of either popular taste or lurid imaginations. My hon. friend quoted Mr. Clement Scott, a great personal friend of my own, whom I regard as one of the greatest authorities in the matter of dramatic criticism. But Mr. Scott has his prejudices. He belongs to the same school as my hon. friend. He belongs to the school of the Adelphi melodrama. I believe that the drama and the novel in order to do good to humanity must do good by being real, and true, and lifelike. I ask my hon. friend, can any drama or any novel be real or true or lifelike which does not take count of the evil of life as well as the good of life? I have a somewhat peculiar taste, perhaps, but my idea of a really happy afternoon is to listen to one of the gloomy plays of Ibsen, who represents on the stage dark, terrible, and even loathsome incidents of life. But do not these things exist, and if they do exist ought they not to be presented to the public mind to warn and instruct? What the hon. Member wants is a melodrama with a wicked baronet and a loyal hero—all the virtues on one side and all the vices on the other. He does not want the realities of life on the stage. I say the drama will never teach a lesson to humanity until it puts the dark as well as the bright side of life on the stage. I do not concur in the view that the stage or society has deteriorated My hon. friend draws a very dark picture of the present state of morals in this country. It is not my business or desire to say that everything is right in the morality of the country at the present day. On the contrary, I think that there is a great deal that is very sad and disheartening at the present day. But, is it as bad as the society of two generations ago? Is the Court as bad to-day as the Court of George IV. or of William IV., or is the morality even of this epoch, not that I defend it, as bad as the morality of the early years of the present reign? I think all these statements with regard to the deterioration of the morality of this country constitute far too dark a picture, although I admit there is much in the present age, as there will be for many ages to come, requiring reprobation and reform. My hon. friend answered his own case. He described the decadence of empires, and stated that if this empire became rotten at the heart it would go as others had gone before. In the face of all that, he observed that no age and no era had seen finer examples of the sacrifice of wealth and comfort and home, of love and affection, and all the other things that appeal to men. My hon. friend is not going the right way about it. He has first of all to correct public taste, and public taste will correct the theatre. I take another view. He asks that there should be local control of plays. I entirely dissent from my hon. friend as to the remedy. I say let the public decide this question. I have confidence in the public. Then he says, "Let us have a tribunal such as the County Council in London." I have great respect for the County Council, but I do not admire it as a judicial tribunal for dealing with amusements. I took part in the, discussion a few years ago in regard to the conduct of music-halls. It way referred to the County Council. That body was called together, and several speeches were made. Wore the speeches judicial in tone and character? The speeches, with all duo respect to the gentlemen who made them, were utterly irrelevant to the subject at issue. The result was that a number of regulations were made in regard to the music-halls, and what did they come to In one music-hall people were allowed to drink and smoke, in another they were allowed to smoke and not to drink, and in others they were allowed to drink and not to smoke. The result was that one of the music hall managers was rolling in money rapidly by selling drink and cigars which by virtue of the County Council regulations the others were prevented from selling. The regulations lasted, I think, twelve months or two years, and at the end of that time they ceased to exist. Boards were put up here and there, and there was all this faddy, irritating, and Haggling kind of interference with the interior arrangements of these halls. My strong conviction is that a municipal authority is the very worst body to decide those delicate questions of art which are far more difficult than my hon. friend in his philosophy supposes. My hon. friend has found fault with realism. I am an advocate of realism. I believe realism in the drama and in the novel has done more to teach lessons of morality, sympathy, justice, and peace than almost any other agency in the world. Look at what is taking place with regard to the question of war. A man who to-day would write a novel of the kind I used to read about the romance of war would be laughed at, or his work would be accepted by the journals that circulate either for hoys or for such innocent and ingenuous friends of the theatre as my hon. friend.: To-day nobody speaks of the romance or glory of war. [Cries of "Oh!"'] I don't know anybody who speaks of the glory of war to-day. They may speak of war as a melancholy and terrible necessity for the country, but nobody speaks of the glory of war. They speak of the sufferings, the sacrifices, and all those things with regard to war, but no man dares to speak of war in the way in which novelists spoke of it thirty or forty years ago. The hon. Member speaks of the stage drama as having gone down. I say it has gone up, because it has become more true to life than was the case forty or fifty years ago. If today war is looked upon in the world with the proper degree of horror, the men who have to be thanked for it are such as Tolstoi, Zola, Erckmann-Chatrian, Sudermann, and others, who have given true, real, and living pictures of war instead of those gilded, romantic, and false views which were given in years gone by. It is impossible to keep the stage in the lines suggested by my hon. friend. The stage ought to be the mirror of life, and the mirror of life must reflect other things than mere joys and virtues. Finally, I appeal to this House to stamp upon the idea that it is the duty of Government to dictate to the nation in regard to the tastes and amusements of the people.


I am almost as incompetent as the hon. Member for Flint to speak upon this subject, for he never goes, and I scarcely ever go, to the theatre. I therefore am almost as far removed as he is from being an expert, and must equally disclaim any intimate connection with the subject with which we are dealing to-night. In listening to the tirade which the hon. Member has given against the theatre, I thought I had gone back 200 years to the time of Dryden. The speech seemed to me to be a feeble and impotent paraphrase of that splendid passage in which Dryden speaks of the decadence of the stage in his time— O wretched we! why were we hurried down This lubric and adulterate age (Nay, added fat pollutions of our own), To encrease the steaming ordures of the stage? That is a little better than the language of the hon. Member for Flint, but it is no stronger; it is a little better expressed, but it suggests exactly the same sentiment. And if it were true in Dryden's time that the "steaming ordures of the stage " were being added to, so far as my know- ledge extends it is absolutely untrue, and the reverse of true, in these times. I observe that all those who, like the hon. Member for Flint, believe that there is only one form of immorality, and that sexual, are very close students of that particular form; they search for instances of sexual immorality. I presume, therefore, that the hon. Member is a close student of the drama of the Restoration. That being so, he must be aware that that drama teems with the most monstrous situations and the most indecent language, and that there has been nothing at all approaching it in the present century in this country. Plays that were produced upon the stage in the time of Charles II. would not now be looked at by any manager or suggested by any author. Therefore, I say the hon. Member is about 200 years behind the time in the speech he has delivered to-night. But my reason for not going to the play is that I find it intolerably dull. To my mind a stage-play is, or should be, a work of art, reproducing no doubt the real conditions of life, with a certain amount of point and finish, making it more or less true to nature, more or less interesting, more or less exciting, more or less a work of art. That sort of play I have never found in this country; I have found it abroad. With the exception of the works of Shakespeare, I have nowhere found it in the plays I have seen here. I have been banished from the playhouse because it seems to me that I can find not only the comedy of life, but the drama of life, so much more aptly and interestingly reproduced in life itself than ever upon the stage. If I want to find the play of passions, where should I look for it so much as in this House? The great virtues and some of the minor vices are to be found at play here in every debate we have. Where was there ever such a scene of— well, amity and concord and agreement as is to be found among the nineteen men of genius composing Her Majesty's Government? Where such unbroken fidelity as is to be found on these benches, where such confusion as on those? Oh, Sir! when I see such and such a Minister with such and such another Minister walking together arm-in-arm in the street, and when I remember what I know of the secret history of those Ministers, I pass them by and chuckle: I have a better play in my mind than any that the stage could ever produce. That is the reason I do not go to the play. Do let me address one word of admonition to the hon. Member for Flint. There are other forms of immorality than that particular form upon which he delights to dwell, and they are far worse forms—forms more injurious than the one to which he refers. There is want of charity—the charity that thinketh no evil. I wish I could find that virtue in him, but it seems to me to be most conspicuously absent. ["Oh, oh!"] I am judging from his speech. He did not bring us harrowing instances of these wicked plays from his own experience; he brings us the views of newspaper critics who may be play writers themselves, and who may be entirely prejudiced in their views of a play against which they have been unable to compete themselves; they themselves write plays, and they believe the plays they write are better that those they see on the stage. The hon. Gentleman's testimony is suspected testimony. Had he brought us his own experience and told us that he had seen these harrowing things, these low - necked dresses, these semi-nude females ["Oh, oh!"]—I am quoting the words of the hon. Member—had he told us he had seen these things, I should have attached some importance to the words, but he has not seen them. Is he sure that they exist? I have never seen a semi-nude female on the stage, nor a quarter-nude female. Does he believe that they exist? He appealed to the public virtues. I do not know about those, but really, let him be a little charitable, even to ladies in low-necked dresses. Surely he must have some conception of what a work of art is. There are statue galleries full of statues; there are academies full of pictures, and there is a varying quantity of dress upon some of the figures, male and female, represented in those pictures. Does the hon. Gentleman propose to go to all the statue and picture galleries in Europe with his pockets full of fig - leaves, and to place them where he thinks they should most appropriately be placed before anybody is allowed to visit these places? Surely not. A work of art claims a certain freedom of treatment, no doubt; but I do not believe that any such freedom is made in or is exercised upon the stage, and, as I have said before, I think the hon. Member is under an entire delusion when he says there is an absence of adequate clothing on the part of performers on the stage. I have no sympathy at all with the stage, I have no liking for it, but I do claim a fair understanding for it. Take, for instance, the play of "Othello." That play is generally supposed to represent the tragedy of a man torn by passion and jealousy. I do not think that is at all the real view of "Othello." I think the moral of "Othello" is that passion makes a man a fool, and that the only intelligent person in the play is Iago. That is my view of it, and that is a possible view—just as in the play of " The Merchant of Venice," I think the moral is that the only honest person in the whole play is the Jew, Shylock. He made a fair bargain, and insisted upon it being carried out. The others tried to "do" him; they were a bad lot of people. The only really decent person—I think that is what Shakespeare meant us to see—was Shylock. But we do not all see these particular things in the plays, and that is the mistake the hon. Gentleman makes. He sees in the play that which he was not intended to see; he sees in the semi-nude females that which he was not intended to see; and he mistakes the whole purpose and character of the thing. I am sure his intentions are good, but I am perfectly certain that that which he advocates is bad, and I hope the House will have no hesitation whatever in rejecting the motion he has brought forward.

MR. SOUTTAR (Dumfriesshire)

The speech to which we have just listened seems to me to have been very unhappy and very painful, and the most painful part of it was that in which the hon. Gentleman attacked the motives of my hon. friend the mover of the resolution.


Pardon me; I really must have explained myself very ill if I was understood to attack the motives of the hon. Gentleman. I did not intend to do anything of the sort.


I certainly do not for a single moment wish to be uncharitable towards the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite; it is in the recollection of the House. I am quite certain there is not a Member in this House— and in saying that I will include the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken— who has not the very highest esteem for the hon. Member for Flint, and there is not a Member of this House who does not know that whether he speaks upon this or any other subject his motives at any rate are far above suspicion. The two hon. Members who have spoken last have twitted my hon. friend with having no knowledge of the theatre. I think perhaps my hon. friend had more knowledge of the theatre in his early days than, at any rate, they gave him credit for. ["Oh, oh!'' and laughter.] As regards that I know nothing myself, and in that I see nothing to laugh at. I freely acknowledge that for a good many years of my life I did go to the theatre, and I will not say I did not enjoy it. For the last twenty years I have not been to the theatre, but my knowledge of it for all that is perhaps on a par with the knowledge possessed by some men who have been making more to-do about it. But although I do not attend performances at the theatre, I have amongst my warmest personal friends actors and actresses upon the stage, and from my knowledge of those actors and actresses, and because of the high respect I have for them, I am able to say that the words of my hon. friend are absolutely true. I have it from the actors and actresses themselves—men and women who are trying to keep themselves straight and to keep themselves pure, men and women working like slaves sometimes for a mere pittance, and yet, although they are thus toiling, they cannot toil without very often being insulted and put into positions which are degrading and, at any rate, exceedingly painful to right - minded people. I say these things because they have been said to me by men and women whom I very much honour and respect. I know perfectly well that there is a great deal that is exceedingly good on the stage; I do not think for a moment that there are not good men and women on the stage; I know there are, because I know actors and actresses who are good men and women. But whilst there is something that is good, there is also something very bad, and Members here, who have been enjoying and perhaps laughing at the speeches which have been made, know perfectly well in their hearts that there is a great deal upon the stage which is exceedingly bad. All that my hon. friend desires is that that which is bad should be made good, and that which is evil should be made right. He has made a simple suggestion, a suggestion which seems to me to be perfectly and entirely appropriate. He has pointed out that the present method of censorship is a foolish method, and nobody here can pretend that it is a good method. He has suggested a very much wiser method of censorship, a method which in Liverpool especially has been exceedingly beneficial with regard to other forms of evil, and I think that, whatever our private opinions may be, we ought to be exceedingly obliged to the hon. Member for having brought forward this motion.


I feel myself little more qualified than some of the hon. Members who have addressed the House to express an opinion upon the real merits of the case as regards the decadence or otherwise of the drama, but there are one or two points to which I should like to call the attention of the House. As the House knows, there is no censorship or check of the drama in the hands of any Government department, and I hope the day may be long distant when there will be any attempt on the part of the Government to | do anything of the kind. At the same time there is a censorship of plays and a licensing of theatres in the hands of the Lord Chamberlain. T have had some conversation with the Lord Chamberlain upon this subject, and I think his feeling is that a debate on the subject and an expression of opinion by the House generally that there were certain things that might be checked with advantage would strengthen his hands. At the same time I am not prepared to admit the words of the resolution. I do not think the House is in a position to state that there is a growing tendency to put a lower class of plays on the stage; and I think to pass a resolution stating that a stricter supervision is necessary is to cast a reflection on the exercise of his duties by the Lord Chamberlain. I do not think that any mention has been made in the course of this debate of the appointment in 1891 of a Committee which reported in 1892 on this very subject. The Committee, which was appointed in consequence of a somewhat wide Bill brought in by Lord Avebury (then Sir John Lubbock), went exhaustively into the subject of the control of theatres, and came to the conclusion (inter alia) that there was no sufficient reason why the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain—which has been so long exercised, without favour or miscarriage, to the advantage of the public and all interested—should now be transferred or interfered with. That being so, I think the House should not without further consideration pass a resolution to the contrary, if, indeed, that be the meaning of the hon. Gentleman opposite. The hon. Gentleman says there is no control over theatres. In the provinces the control over theatres is absolute, and I have yet to learn that there is any complaint of the way in which the theatres in the provinces are conducted. As regards theatres in London, it is within the province of the Lord Chamberlain not only to censor plays before they are acted, but also to refuse the renewal of a licence to a theatre if a play be not conducted satisfactorily; and it is within my own know-lodge that within very recent times warnings have been given to theatre managers that, if certain things were not altered, the licence would be withdrawn. It is perfectly true that censorship of a play before it is acted cannot be a sufficient check, but I venture to think that there is no evidence that the licensing of theatres within the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain is any worse than that within the jurisdiction of the Comity Council. Within the metropolis forty theatres or so are licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, and certain others by the County Council; and if hon. Members have the curiosity to look at the names of those theatres, and see whether they have in their opinion transgressed and performed plays to which objection might be taken, I think they will find that objections might be applied at least as much to the theatres licensed by the County Council as to those licensed by the Lord Chamberlain. I do not wish to argue the question, but I desire to remind the House that very recently they passed a resolution which affirmed that, while supervision was desirable by way of censorship of plays before they were acted, and by licensing, yet it was not desirable that there should be a transference of the duties from the office of the Lord Chamberlain. I think an expression of opinion by the House would strengthen the hands of the Lord Chamberlain, who, I know, desires to do his best in difficult circumstances; but the House will remember that there are two sides to this question, and that it is a very difficult thing to settle what is the kind of play which ought or ought not to be permitted, and that a play which in itself is inoffensive may be made most offensive by the manner in which it is presented, while on the other hand there may be plays which though both immoral and offensive in themselves, may if presented on the stage by clever actors and actresses be rendered by the exercise of art and by exhibition of good acting inoffensive. I am sure that we must all admire the earnestness of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint, but I cannot help thinking that the hon. Gentleman has been guilty of some exaggeration. We all admit that the hon. Gentleman is desirous of doing good in the direction he has indicated, and I trust that the bringing forward of the subject may do something. I cannot, however, assent to the resolution for the reasons I have given, but I heartily hope it may do some good in purifying the stage.

MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)

I desire to associate myself with the hon. Member for Flint, and I feel it really a duty to do so after the ungenerous manner which he was treated by the hon. Member for King's Lynn. Every man in this House hesitates to speak in a debate of this kind, because he subjects himself to the charge of being a mere Pharisee, and for that reason many men are deterred from taking any part either by vote or speech in the matter. But to-night I run that risk. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division ventured to state that the hon. Member who moved this resolution had never been in a theatre in his life, and as he was not contradicted I take it that that is so. The hon. Member for Dumfriesshire says that he used to go to the theatre, but that for twenty years he has not been; therefore his knowledge of theatres is not very up to date. I do not belong to either category. I go to theatres now, and probably some of the most enjoyable moments I have are —I honestly confess it—when witnessing a good stage play. Therefore, whatever may be my defects in this matter, I do not stand here as one who desires to prevent stage performances. On the contrary, it is because I have a real belief in the mission of the drama, because I believe it is not only right but it is a necessity—it is essential—that all civilised nations should have a well-informed and educational stage, that I support the motion of the hon. Member for Flint. I was rather surprised that the hon. Member for the Scotland Division—who, as I would be the first to admit, is a great authority upon this matter—did not qualify his proposition, which up to a certain point I fully accept —namely, that the drama should hold the mirror up to nature. Is he prepared to say completely that the mirror should be held up to nature? Is he prepared to say that all the abominations which we know unfortunately exist should be portrayed on the stage? If he is not prepared to go the whole length, the difference between the hon. Member for Flint and the hon. Member for the Scotland Division is one only of degree. If that is so, I submit to this House that the question of degree is of vital importance. I do not agree with several sentences which the hon. Member for Flint read from the writings of eminent dramatic critics. I think Mr. Clement Scott was too sweeping in his statement about the inability of actors and actresses to remain pure on the stage. If I really thought that no actor or actress could follow that profession and remain pure, I should consider it a solemn duty never to go to the theatre again, because by going I should be a party to that impurity. But I do not believe it, and whatever else I may say, I would emphasise my conviction that in the theatrical profession there are an abundance of pure men and pure women, while their generosity and chivalry and courtesy to each other stand beyond all doubt. I think my hon. friend will consider that his purpose has been served after the admissions made by the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that the Lord Chamberlain has been entering his protest against certain things of which the hon. Member who moved this motion has complained, and therefore this motion has served not only the cause of purity but also the cause of the drama in a particular way. It is all very well for hon. Members to laugh at what they consider prudish and puritanical narrowness, but I stand here as a working man, and I say that the working classes have a vital interest in a pure drama, because an impure drama means the sacrifice of the purest daughters of the people to the passion of the wealthy classes. As a. democrat, I say that this question has a real importance, and the hon. Member deserves the thanks of the people, many of whose sons and daughters will go into the theatrical profession without attaining to the higher steps of the ladder, but will remain in the position referred to by my hon. friend, susceptible to temptation and always liable to go astray. While not in any sort of way desiring that theatrical representations should be abolished, and also agreeing that a nagging, petty, meddling policy would be a great mistake, I do think that the hon. Member has made a case out for interference, not so much in the text of a play but in the way that play is presented. The hon. Member for King's Lynn, who I thought knew everything, said there were no semi-nude women on the stage, but I tell him there are, for I have seen them.




It is not my place to say a libellous word here which would be unfair to the theatre which may just at one particular time have put on a play to , which I am objecting. I have, however, seen what the hon. Member for King's Lynn denies exists at all, and if he went to certain theatres and plays he would see for himself what my hon. friend has described, and which nobody in this House can deny as actually existing, So far as any interference with plays upon certain grounds goes I should shrongly object—I mean plays which might promulgate doctrines opposed to the opinions of a section of the community. But my hon. friend is not seeking to-day anything of the sort. All he wants to do is to put a stop to that which any moral man would object to. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division said, "Let the public stay away, and then you have got a remedy." I notice that that remark was cheered rapturously by hon. Members opposite; but is the hon. Member prepared to carry his theory and his proposition to its logical conclusion? If he is, then his theory is a defence of those wretched lewd creatures who trade upon the depraved taste of men, and I am afraid of women, by selling lewd indecent pictures and books which are now illegal. But according to this doctrine, why make the sale of these books and pictures illegal? Why not leave it to the public taste? You do not need to go to these shops, and they do not drag you into them. Why not argue that instead of police officers running them down you ought to send out missionaries to educate public opinion, so that people will not go near these places? That is not practical, and I venture to say that all my hon. friend attempts to do—I admit the difficulty of doing it—is to enter a protest and an objection to certain scenes which occur in a certain type of play, and his protest goes no further. I venture to say that if my hon. friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool took his daughter to see this type of play he would put his hands before his daughter's face as the play went on.


I should not take her there.


But we are not all so well informed upon these matters as my hon. friend. There are a great many people go to these plays who know nothing about them. My hon. friend is simply giving us an instance of special pleading for the scum of the theatrical profession, who make the stage stink in the nostrils of all right-thinking people.

SIR MARK STEWART (Kircudbrightshire)

I can assure my hon. friend who introduced this question that I fully appreciate the motives with which he brought this subject before the House. There are points in his proposal with which we must all agree. There can be no doubt that there are scenes witnessed in our London theatres which it would not be right to specify here to-night. If something is not done or said, these scenes will go on increasing, and we do not want to pander to an evil which is growing in this country. There is a growing tendency to put on the stage plays of an immoral character. On the other hand sometimes we have plays put upon the stage of a highly moral character, which give excellent lessons to everyone who attend them. There are some plays of a character which are certainly not very moral, and which should debar most fathers from taking their daughters to see them. Those who desire to reform this state of things suggest that we should exercise a stricter supervision, but that has been answered in some measure by the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman made a gratifying speech, and showed, at all events, that he was at one with those who took a strong view upon this question. He agrees in principle with the object for which we are agitating to-night. Therefore, I think it would be well if my hon. friend the Member for Flint would withdraw his motion. We have had this exposition of the matter put before the House and the country, and we have drawn public attention to it. Therefore, in that respect we have done good, and although we do not censure the Government or the Lord Chamberlain, we simply ask that a stricter supervision will be exercised in the future. I trust my hon. friend will adopt my suggestion, but at the same time I shall vote for this motion if he goes to a division.

* MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)

I do not wish to intervene in this debate for more than a few moments. I heartily sympathise with the views of the hon. Member for Flint. While recognising the sympathetic and wise expression of opinion given by the Home Secretary, I must say that I do regret that Her Majesty's Government have not seen their way to accept the form of words which my hon. friend has placed upon the Paper. The motion only expresses a fact which every man who speaks honestly knows to be true. It regrets that there is a Growing tendency to put upon the stage plays of a demoralising character. There is no doubt about that, and nobody can deny it. The motion proceeds— And considers that a stricter supervision of theatrical performances is needed, alike in the interest of the public and the theatrical profession. The Home Secretary himself has said that the Lord Chamberlain has expressed a desire to have his hands strengthened by an expression of opinion in this House, and therefore my hon. friend is entitled on the merits of the case to ask Her Majesty's Government to accept the form of words he has proposed, so that the House of Commons may register its opinion, regretting the existence of an evil which every just-minded man admits to be true. I must express the strongest dissent from the doctrine expressed by my hon. friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool. He speaks of the only alternative to these grossly indecent plays as being something of the type of the Adelphi melodrama, with its villains discomfited and its virtues rewarded. Let the hon. Member go, as I have done, to plays like " A Pair of Spectacles," "Sweet Lavender," and many other such plays, which are full of true and wholesome human nature, or to many of the amusing farces, which are full of genuine fun and spirit, and entirely free from these wretched displays of indecency and immorality which are the natural resort of men whose minds are so dull and so incapable of appreciating the finer wit of a higher imagination that they have to resort to this miserable means of stimulating the attention of the public in order to find an audience at all for their productions. In the eloquent words of the Member for Sheffield, what we do wish to insist upon is that plays should be made instructive and tend to educate the people. The hon. Member for King's Lynn referred to the play of "Othello." That play deals, and deals plainly, with the passions and motives of human nature, but deals with them in a way which can do nothing but good, and we wish plays of that kind to be placed upon the stage, for we desire to encourage plays which will elevate the social tone. I hope the motion of my hon. friend will help the authorities to deal with this question, and do something to prevent the growing tendency to put plays of a demoralising character upon the stage.

* MR. GEDGE (Walsall)

I think we are very much indebted to my hon. friend the Member for Flintshire for placing this matter before us. Nearly everyone who has spoken has admitted the evil. I do not think anyone dare stand up here and advocate the continuance of this evil, for it incites to gross vice. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division has spoken in favour of realism. The realism of which we complain is of an alluring and attractive character, and it is just on that account that it is so much objected to. Many leading journals which do not profess to be religious papers have found fault with the existing state of things, and I was very glad indeed to hear the Home Secretary say that the Lord Chamberlain felt that it would strengthen his hands in his supervision as the censor of plays if we had an expression of opinion in this House in favour of a stricter censorship. My right hon. friend seems to think that the resolution is one to censure the Lord Chamberlain, but I do not take it in that way at all, for it is simply an expression of opinion by this House— That a stricter supervision of theatrical performances is needed alike in the interest of the public and the theatrical profession. I was very much disappointed when my right hon. friend said he could not accept the resolution. I thought he took that course because he seemed to think it would involve referring the matter to the London County Council or some other local authority, but the resolution does not do that at all, for it simply states — That this House regrets the growing tendency to put upon the stage plays of a demoralising character. The fact that these things have occurred shows that a stricter supervision is necessary, because the present supervision does not prevent them. We want not only the words of the play more strictly supervised, but also the way in which they are represented by the actors. If we go to a division I shall support this motion, and I sincerely hope the hon. Member for Flintshire will not accept the advice given by my hon. friend behind me to withdraw his motion. I hope he will go to a division, and I think we have a right to claim the votes of the Home Secretary and the members of the Government on their being assured by the mover of this resolution that he has no intention whatever to censure the Lord Chamberlain, but that he desires simply to strengthen his hands.

* MR. BIRRELL (Fifeshire, W.)

I quite agree with the hon. Baronet opposite in expressing the hope that my hon. friend the Member for Flint will be satisfied with the moral outburst to which he has listened, and which I am quite sure is perfectly sincere. I think the hon. Member will be mistaken if he imagines that the country looks to this House for an expression of opinion as to the character of theatrical performances, or that it will attach any importance whatever to this debate or scan the division list, or attach any serious meaning to whatever the House may do in this matter. As a matter of fact we have not had the materials put before us to express an opinion as to whether there is a growing tendency to put upon the stage plays of a demoralising character, which are more indecent and objectionable than our theatrical history shows has been the case in the past. We have been told that we must not refer to theatres where these objectionable things go on. The mere fact that we must not mention them, that our lips are so delicate and our sensibilities so keen, prevents us from forming an opinion on the subject. So far as I attend theatres I may say that I have seen things which I deplore, and I have heard jokes which made me very melancholy, but which made the audience laugh. Nothing that this House can say or do will prevent people laughing at a questionable joke. Our nature has fallen, and it so happens that people like these things. I regret it, but who can say, looking at the dramatic literature of this country and the books we keep upon our shelves, that public opinion would now tolerate things upon the stage which in our libraries we consider classical? The mere fact that this is so proves that public taste has, to some extent, advanced in this matter; but it has not advanced through resolutions in this House, and whatever estimation of this House may be formed in the country, no one attaches much importance or much value to its expression of opinion on literature or art. I do not think we are qualified to express that opinion—at all events, not in our representative capacity. Of course, nobody will deny that there are plays which would much better not be put upon the stage at all; but I think we had much better keep pounding away at our own moral sense. Let us reform ourselves; let us form the determination that the next time we are in a theatre and a joke is made of a doubtful character we will not laugh at it. This House is a moral assembly, and never laughs at anything that is improper; but there is something about the tradition of the theatre which prevents people from exercising that control over themselves which they do exercise in church and in other places, and there is great occasion for us to regret these things. But yet they have existed, and they will exist until we have altered our whole character, and unless this House is convinced that things are becoming every day worse—I contend that they are becoming a little better every day—I hope we shall leave this question alone. I am glad my hon. friend has introduced this question. The Home Secretary has said that the Lord Chamberlain is waiting for some expression of public opinion. I must confess that I think very little of public officials whose hands are strengthened by these sporadic expressions of opinion by public assemblies in this country. Let the Lord Chamberlain exercise the powers he has, and let him be satisfied that nobody will call those powers into question if they are honestly exercised. I am dead against a literary censor. When a literary censor does interfere it is usually with the play which has a distinctly moral tendency, while he often allows silly and frivolous plays, which are made worse in the acting than on paper, to pass through without alteration. All persons who are acquainted with the stage will affirm that the ablest censor sometimes refuses to sanction plays which are very much less objectionable than many of those which he passes. Let the Lord Chamberlain exercise the powers which belong to his great office, but for Heaven's sake do not make this House ridiculous by pretending that it is an authority upon a subject on which it knows next to nothing.

MR. BANBUEY (Camberwell, Peckham)

I desire to move an Amendment to leave out all the words after "that," and the motion will then read— To call attention to the low class of plays now exhibited in some of the theatres of this country. That would leave out altogether the question as to whether there is or is not a growing tendency to put upon the stage plays of a demoralising character.

MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

I cannot spend my leisure in the South of France or in any other part of the Continent, and the only recreation I do enjoy is going to a theatre. I have been a theatre-goer now for over thirty years, and I have spent many pleasant hours in a theatre. On Wednesday evening last I went to the Adelphi Theatre, and saw a drama which, from a religious point of view, gave me good moral instruction. Two plays have been referred to—"The Gay Lord Quex" and "The Belle of New York." I fail to see that there is anything immoral in the former play; and so far as "The Belle of New York" is concerned, I so enjoyed that comic opera that I went to see it three times.


In my opinion it is very undesirable that the House should divide upon this question. I find myself in rather a difficult position. I am very well satisfied with the resolution which has been submitted, but it is not a judiciously framed one, and it is not a resolution which I could support as a matter of fact. I do not think the statement of facts contained in it is accurate. At the same time I warmly admire the spirit which induced the hon. Member to make this motion, and—

It being Midnight, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded to interrupt the Business—

Whereupon Mr. SAMUEL SMITH rose in his place, and claimed to move " That the Question be now put"; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that question.

Debate adjourned.

Adjourned at Five minutes after Twelve of the clock.