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continually sublime, but at proper intervals to give rest both to his own and the passions of his audience. In these periods of relaxation, or of preparation rather, rules may teach him to avoid any thing low, trivial, or disgusting. Thus criticism, properly speaking, is intended not to assist those parts which are sublime, but those which are naturally mean and humble, which are composed with coolness and caution, and where the orator rather endeavours not to offend, than attempts to please.
I have hitherto insisted more strenuously on that eloquence which speaks to the passions, as it is a species of oratory almost unknown in England. At the bar it is quite discontinued, and I think with justice. In the senate it is used but sparingly, as the orator speaks to enlightened judges. But in the pulpit, in which the orator should chiefly address the vulgar, it seems strange that it should be entirely laid aside.
The vulgar of England are, without exception, the most barbarous and the most unknowing of any in Europe. A great part of their ignorance may be chiefly ascribed to their teachers, who, with the most pretty gentleman-like serenity, deliver their cool discourses, and address the reason of men who have never reasoned in all their lives. They are told of cause and effect, of beings self-existent, and the universal scale of beings. They are informed of the excellence of the Bangorian controversy, and the absurdity of an intermediate state. The spruce preacher reads his lucubration without lifting his nose from the text, and never ventures to earn the shame of an enthusiast.
By this means, though his audience feel not one word of all he says, he earns, however, among his acquaintance, the character of a man of sense; among his acquaintance only did I say? nay, even with his bishop.
The polite of every country have several motives to induce them to a rectitude of action; the love of virtue for its own sake, the shame of offending, and the desire of pleasing. The vulgar have but one, the enforcements of religion; and yet those who should push this motive home to their hearts, are basely found to desert their post. They speak to the 'squire, the philosopher, and the pedant; but the poor, those who really want instruction, are left uninstructed
I have attended most of our pulpit orators, who, it must be owned, write extremely well upon the text they assume. To give them their due also, they read their sermons with elegance and propriety; but this goes but a very short way in true eloquence. The speaker must be moved. In this, in this alone, our English divines are deficient. Were they to speak to a few calm dispassionate hearers, they certainly use the properest methods of address; but their audience is chiefly composed of the poor, who must be influenced by motives of reward and punishment, and whose only virtues lie in self-interest, or fear.
How then are such to be addressed? not by studied periods or cold disquisitions; not by the labours of the head, but the honest spontaneous dictates of the heart. Neither writing a sermon with regular periods and all the harmony of elegant expression; neither reading it with emphasis, propriety, and deliberation; neither pleasing with metaphor, simile, or rhetorical fustian; neither arguing coolly, and untying consequences united in a priori, nor bundling up inductions a posteriori; neither pedantic jargon, nor academical trifling, can persuade the poor: writing a discourse coolly in the closet, then getting it by memory, and delivering it on Sundays, even that will not do. What then is to be done? I know of no expedient to speak, to speak at once intelligibly, and feelingly except to understand the language. To be convinced of the truth of the object, to be perfectly acquainted with the subject in view, to prepossess yourself with a low opinion of your audience, and to do the rest extempore: by this means strong expressions, new thoughts, rising passions, and the true declamatory style, will naturally ensue.
Fine declamation does not consist in flowery periods, delicate allusions, or musical cadences; but in a plain, open, loose style, where the periods are long and obvious ; where the same thought is often exhibited in several points of view; all this strong sense, a good memory, and a small share of experience, will furnish to every orator; and without these a clergyman may be called a fine preacher, a judicious preacher, and a man of good sense; he may make his hearers admire his understanding — but will seldom enlighten theirs.
When I think of the Methodist preachers among us, how seldom they are endued with common sense, and yet how often and how justly they affect their hearers, I cannot avoid saying within myself, had these been bred gentlemen, and been endued with even the meanest share of understanding, what might they not effect! Did our bishops, who can add dignity to their expostulations, testify the same fervour, and entreat their hearers, as well
by which I mean the bulk of mankind, would then have a double motive to love religion, first from seeing its professors honoured here, and next from the consequences hereafter. At present the enthusiasms of the poor are opposed to law; did law conspire with their enthusiasms,
we should not only be the happiest nation upon earth, but the wisest also.
Enthusiasm in religion, which prevails only among the vulgar, should be the chief object of politics. A society of enthusiasts, governed by reason among the great, is the most indissoluble, the most virtuous, and the most efficient of its own decrees that can be imagined. Every country, possessed of any degree of strength, have had their enthusiasms, which ever serve as laws among the people. The Greeks had their Kalokagathia, the Romans their Amor Patriæ, and we the truer and firmer bond of the Protestant Religion. The principle is the same in all; how much then is it the duty of those whom the law has appointed teachers of this religion, to enforce its obligations, and to raise those enthusiasms among people, by which alone political society can subsist.
From eloquence, therefore, the morals of our people are to expect emendation; but how little can they be improved by men, who get into the pulpit rather to show their parts than convince us of the truth of what they deliver; who are painfully correct in their style, musical in their tones; where every sentiment, every expression seems the result of meditation and deep study?
Tillotson has been commended as the model of pulpit eloquence;, thus far he should be imitated, where he generally strives to convince rather than to please; but to adopt his long, dry, and sometimes tedious discussions, which serve to amuse only divines, and are utterly neg. lected by the generality of mankind; to praise the intricacy of his periods, which are too long to be spoken; to continue his cool phlegmatic manner of enforcing every truth, is certainly erroneous. As I said before, the good preacher should adopt no model, write no sermons, study no periods; let him but understand his subject, the language he speaks, and be convinced of the truths he delivers. It is amazing to what heights eloquence of this kind may reach! This is that eloquence the ancients represented as lightning, bearing down every opposer; this the power which has turned whole assemblies into astonishment, admiration, and awe; that is described by the torrent, the flame, and every other instance of irresistible impetuosity:
But to attempt such noble heights belongs only to the truly great, or the truly good. To discard the lazy manner of reading sermons, or speaking sermons by rote; to set up singly against the opposition of men who are attached to their own errors, and to endeavour to be great, instead of being prudent, are qualities we seldom see united. A minister of the Church of England, who may be possessed of good serse, and some hopes of preferment, will seldom give up such substantial advantages for the empty pleasure of improving society. By his present method, he is liked by his friends, admired by his dependants, not displeasing to his bishop; he lives as well, eats and sleeps as well, as if a real orator, and an eager assertor of his mission: he will hardly, therefore, venture all this to be called perhaps an enthusiast; nor will he depart from customs established by the brotherhood, when, by such a conduct, he only singles himself out for their contempt.
CUSTOM AND LAWS COMPARED.
What, say some, can give us a more contemptible idea of a large state than to find it mostly governed by custom;