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Reactions to Popular Amusements, by J. T. Crane (1869)

Popular Amusements wasn’t so much reviewed as it was reacted to—positively. Crane’s work appears not to have been generally noticed; most of the pieces here are from two religious publications. The Methodist Quarterly Review is probably the quotable, slyly bewailing the sin that was “the unpardonable neglect of taking and reading our Quarterly” and describing a former pastor as making “corporeally, facially, and locomotively … a very corpse-like impress upon a spectator’s retina”, all while giving a theoretical slant to Crane’s arguments. That the Christian Advocate admired the book isn’t a surprise; however, that it suggested that Crane’s work should be read by those who “want healthful amusement” and found it “suffused with humor” is a little startling.

Christian Advocate. 9 December 1869

The Ladies’ Repository. January 1870

The Methodist Quarterly Review. January 1870

Christian Advocate. 24 March 1870

George T. Jackson. “Dr. Crane’s ‘Popular Amusements.’ ” Christian Advocate 44 (9 December 1869): 387.

I have just finished reading a most excellent book, published by Carlton & Lanahan, New York, and written by Rev. J. T. Crane, D. D., of the Newark Conference. Its title is “Popular Amusements.” At this particular time, when so many of our people are led away by the follies of the dance, theater, billiards, and novel reading, it is a most seasonable and timely production. The writer is evidently master of the subject, and has treated it in a clear and convincing manner. The chapters upon “True Recreation” and “Appeal to Young Members” are masterpieces of cogent reasoning.

The circulation and reading of the book will do good. It should be in all our Sunday-school libraries, and a copy of it in every family.

Geo. T. Jackson

Franklin, N. J., Nov. 27, 1869.

“Contemporary Literature.” The Ladies’ Repository 30 (January 1870): p. 76.

From the Western Book concern we have—

Rivers and Lakes of Scripture. By Rev. W. K. Tweedie, D. D., Author of “Life and Work of Earnest Men,” “The Early Choice,” etc. 16 mo. Pp. 181. Seventeen Illustrations.

Popular Amusements. By Rev. J. T. Crane, D. D. With an Introduction by Bishop James. 16 mo. Pp. 209.

Fault-Finding, and Madeline Hascall’s Letters. By Mrs. H. C. Gardner. 16mo. Pp. 249.

These are three beautiful and interesting volumes, uniform in size and appearance, that we can heartily commend to our readers. The first is, we think, the neatest small volume ever issued by the Concern. It is in old-style type, printed on fine toned paper, and the numerous illustrations are finely executed and beautifully printed. The sacred rivers and lakes of which it treats are always full of interest to the Christian reader, and the author dwells upon them like a lover, and throws around them a new charm and never-flagging interest. We wish this beautiful book could find its way into multitudes of Christian families.

The work of Dr. Crane on Popular Amusements is timely, and in this day ought to have a large number of readers. The question of amusement or recreation is a serious one to every honest Christian, and every true disciple of Christ will be anxious to know what is right and what is wrong in this matter, and dare not shrink from a fair, full, and honest discussion of the question. The Christian who is willing to leap to hasty conclusions, and is unwilling to stop and hear instruction from the candid and honest teacher on these questions of doubtful propriety, has reason to fear that his heart is not right. The author of this little volume is not a cynic; he has a large, generous, cheerful heart; he can himself enjoy as richly as any man we have ever known, innocent amusement, harmless recreation, and happy society. His first chapter is entitled, “Recreation a Good Thing.” From this point he proceeds to study what is good in recreating and what recreations are good. The theater, horse-racing, base-ball, dancing, cards, chess, and billiards, novels and novel reading, social gatherings, are the chief subjects of investigation. They are treated fairly, thoughtfully, in the fear of God and the light of his Word, and the conclusions can not fail to impress themselves on the judgment and conscience of every reader who really wishes to know his duty in this matter. We commend this volume to the perusal of our ministers, and then urge them to see to its free circulation among their people.

In Fault-Finding, and Madeline Hascall’s Letters, Mrs. Gardner, a favorite we know with all our readers, has given us two of her best stories. In the first she shows the sad consequences of fault-finding on a household, the bitter repentance, the complete reformation, and the happy result. The second illustrates in a lively and humorous manner the evils of tattling, the effects of a gossiping and meddlesome disposition, and the blessedness of free and innocent social intercourse.

Review. The Methodist Quarterly Review 22 (January 1870): pp. 152-154.

Popular Amusements. By J. T. Crane, D. D., of the Newark Conference. With an Introduction, by Bishop E. S. Janes. Large 16mo., pp. 209. Cincinnati: Hitchcock & Walden. New York: Carlton & Lanahan. 1869.

We remember hearing Jacob Gruber say, in a sermon at a Maryland camp-meeting, that “when Father Asbury saw the first piano in a Methodist family he cried like a child; next,” he said, “would be dancing, and then the world and the devil and all.” A curious comment on this speech met us a year or two ago in a picture of Harper’s Weekly, exhibiting the usual blessed contrast between the young man in the parlor with the young ladies at the piano, and the young man lounging in the liquor and billiard saloon. How truly and rightly to make the home attractive without its including those exhilarations which become the avenue and stepping-stones to extravagances and dissipations, is a serious problem. We doubt if the line can be more wisely drawn than is here done both by Bishop Janes and Dr. Crane. Dr. Crane’s work is done in his best style. There are logic, rhetoric, philosophy, and now and then some lively “amusement” in it. It is written in no ascetic style.

Against the theater, the horse-race, and the base-ball, and against cards, chess, and billiards, for good grounds, as assigned by Dr. Crane, the Church has taken a very unanimous position. Very rightly and forcibly he subjoins against novel-reading a vigorous protest, of which a share of our ministry, we fear, has need. And to this might be added, so far as too many of our young ministry are concerned, an enfeebling amount of mental dissipation and a waste of valuable time in pouring [sic] over the trashy periodical literature of the day, to the neglect of standard biblical and theological acquirements, and especially to the unpardonable neglect of taking and reading our Quarterly.

p. 153

There are two classes for whom active recreations—we might say vacation and play—are needed, but who have in earlier days been the most specially excluded classes, namely, ministers and students. We doubt whether the inventory of recreations laid down by Bishop Janes is quite sufficient for the drudged pastor. We remember Brother Janes himself in the days of his routine pastorship, and while we remember that, mentally and spiritually, he was a very “live man,” yet corporeally, facially, and locomotively, he made a very corpse-like impress upon a spectator’s retina. The episcopate has broken the routine, and given him, by sea and land, a broad variety and a healthy physique. But numbers of us will not be successful as candidates for the episcopate; and some, perchance, may even not be candidates at all! If any body has a right to the ball and the bowl and the bat, it is not the fast young gentry who monopolize them, but those who preach and resolve themselves, and are bishoped and conferenced, into exclusion from them.

Very properly, Dr. Crane’s book is esoteric; that is, addressed to the Church solely, and stating the case on religious and ecclesiastical grounds. To the class of pure ethicists, who are earnestly elaborating a universal and fundamental morale, based on eternal principles, he addresses no argument. To them much of the argument would possess no validity. Especially the common argument, drawn from what the world thinks, is held to be a vicious circle; inasmuch as the world thinks just what the Church has taught it, and it is only holding the Church to its own standard. Had Asbury succeeded in banning the piano, Dr. C. might have said, “You see what the world thinks of a piano-playing Christian.” And, in fact, there is a class of moral thinkers who decline the Church’s teaching, and assert that “a minister ought to play croquet,” and who maintain that the antagonism put by the Church between amusement and spiritual-mindedness is a factitious one. They charge the Church with a made morality, and a manufactured sin. They believe that there is not the slightest incongruity in a family dance before evening prayers. We have seen a Methodist prayer-meeting held regularly in a bowling-room; and, singular to say, not the slightest incongruity was felt in passing from one exercise to the other! Into this extra-religious and ethical department of the subject Dr. Crane, wisely, does not enter. It needs no controversy. If the Church has hereafter occasion to change her position it will be by imperceptible degrees. One century hence a Methodist Bishop may be as far from Bishop Janes as he from Bishop Asbury. For the

p. 154

present she has enough to do in resisting the incoming and almost overwhelming tide of frivolity that threatens to submerge the age.

And, with Coleridge, we may rightly say that there is not only an absolute but a prudential morality. Practical prudence may require us to draw the prohibitory line not at the precise boundary between right and wrong, but just where the line which excludes the wrong (and perhaps a little more) may be most clearly drawn, and, in practice, most successfully maintained. Total abstinence may not be in itself absolutely obligatory; but it is the clearest, most incisive, and most maintainable excluder of intemperance attainable. What better ground the future may attain we know not.

Dr. Crane jealously conditions and barely allows “social gatherings;” we should recommend them. We think that a Church should provide for them and control them. We know few better safeguards for our young men than social recreation established by the Church and kept within bounds. Little improprieties, doubtless, may occur at them; but nothing in comparison with the ruin that ensues by driving our young men for recreation to questionable resorts.

“Dr. Crane on Popular Amusements.” Christian Advocate 45 (24 March 1870): 90.

The law of demand and supply is not exclusively a law of commerce, but also of the moral government of God; and he who best falls in with its operation will be the most useful and successful religious teacher.

Now there was never a time in the history of our Church when a work on this subject was so important or timely as it is now. It is for just cause that so much attention has been given to it of late years. In our earlier history our members were more generally of a class in society who were predisposed or necessitated to favor and follow the less pleasurable and ornamental paths of life. They were also in an incandescent glow of youthful feeling, and the subjects of comparatively new ideas and expectations, on which their earnest minds operated like the prism on light, refracting and beautifying them; so that they were emphatically a peculiar people, and whoever joined them shared their inspiration, and the temptation to a gay conformity to the world was relatively small.

Now all this is changed. We no longer occupy the same position in society, and our increased and growing numbers, wealth, and culture have brought new and dangerous temptations. Nor are we any longer so peculiar in our theological and religious conceptions, though here we are unchanged. Our little leaven has leavened the Christian world. It has modified its theologies, and changed the tone of religious thought and feeling, as well as the style of the pulpit. Without the Methodists our generation would have had neither a Spurgeon nor a Beecher. The difference between “the people called Methodists” and other Christian people has ceased to be so very conspicuous and striking. They have come half way to meet us; and there is a temptation and a plausible inducement for us to go the remaining distance toward them. They have approached our good; and we are in danger of going toward their evil, in which case we shall be worse than they.

Now, therefore, is the time for every true Methodist prophet to lift up his voice like a trumpet, and show the people their sins, their dangers, and duties on popular amusements. Lift it up! be not afraid! Whatever we lose by it we had better lose, for it will be a great gain. The aim of this book, therefore, is good, and the effort timely.

The matter and spirit of the book are unexceptionably good, neither too lax nor too severe. It is throughout sensible, sober, and scriptural. Of course, secular journals, whose standard is the opinion of the majority, will consider it radical. So it is, because it goes to the root of the matter, which it should do, as God lays the ax at the root of the tree. The root-and-branch men of the old English Puritan army were right in their main conception, and lacked wisdom only in the application of the principle. but this book resembles them only as June resembles March.

Admitting the need of recreation for the over-taxed mind and heart and body, not for idlers and loungers of any species, it expounds clearly, briefly, and justly the principles which should govern its selection and indulgence; and in the light of these principles, not tediously or ostentatiously applied, it considers the amusements which are generally standard with the world and forbidden by the Church—the theater, horse-racing, base-ball as now generally practiced, dancing and balls, cards, chess, billiards and novel-reading. In an appeal to members of the Church, six reasons are added why we should abstain from all questionable diversions.

On all these points there is considerable strength exerted in a gentle and easy way, so that the impression will be strong without being painful or repulsive even to the mind of a dissident. Some may think the author severe on base-ball, which has heretofore received little condemnation, and on novel-reading, which is so common; but on both we think him just, and on the latter suggestive, and eminently judicious.

The style of the book is appropriate to the subject. If any want healthful amusement let them read it. It is suffused with humor, and the discussion proceeds with a light and airy movement, presenting to the reader a vision of truth in a robe of beauty. The publishers have given to the work a becoming form. Thousands should be sold this winter to be distributed in presents to the green in years and in wisdom. It ought to be in the library of all our Sabbath-schools, and in every batch of books which they buy for gifts and prizes.

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