Abbildungen der Seite

We profess, however, no intention of indiscriminate condemnation. Wherever we see aught to commend, our praise shall be as cordial as at other times may be our censure. We mean, in one word, to speak the truth frankly and firmly, so far as we can discover it. Further than this we do not bind ourselves ; for we shall without scruple employ at all times whatever style or mode of composition our purpose or our humour may suggest to us.

Sketch 1.-The Rev. EDWARD IRVING.

Mr. Irving would not very readily pardon us if we should place any one else than himself at the head of our list. If notoriety be greatness, he is the greatest of all our modern Reformers. And it is impossible certainly to refuse conceding to him, that it is something, after all, to have a name as familiar to the ears of every scavenger and pot-boy about town, as that of Charing-cross or the pump at Aldgate.

Some years ago, Mr. Irving was one of the regular lions of the metropolis, and was resorted to as a matter of course, like St. Paul's and the Guildhall giants, by all sorts of people on their first visit to London. To attempt getting into the chapel at Hatton Garden in those days was really to set about taking the kingdom of Heaven by storm. From the decent and orderly style in which things seem to be managed at the National Caledonian Church, we should suppose the orator has by this time lost a good deal of his attraction for the lovers of the marvellous. Yet all the more distinguishing characteristics of his eloquence remain to this day much the same as they were at first. His contortions both of limb and countenance, if not quite so new, are at least as inimitable as ever, and his locks as terrifically shaggy, and the exposure of his wristbands as lavish, and the sleeves of his coat turned up in as workman-like a fashion for the business of thumping “ the drum ecclesiastic,” and throwing around him (the bolts and firebrands of orthodoxy. Nay, even the peculiarities, good and bad, that originally belonged to the style and matter of his discourses, are still upon the whole in pretty fair preservation; or, at all events, if any

of them have been lost, their place has been supplied by others at least equally well adapted ad captandum vulgus. But wonder is the most fickle of all the passions; and Mr. Irving miscalculated his own powers when he counted upon being able, by pandering to it alone, to fix and perpetuate even the mob's idolatry.

Nor did the reverend gentleman even do himself justice in thus setting out in his pursuit after fame in the character of a mere Katerfelto. A less noisy, perhaps, but far more solid and abiding reputation was at his command, if he had addressed himself to the public in a somewhat less equivocal capacity, and trusted simply to the natural effect of his talents and acquirements in procuring him influence and distinction. Nor, in eschewing quackery, need he have debarred himself from any legitimate application of even his corporeal gifts. His lofty figure and deep-toned voice might still have played their parts in his pulpit exhibitions, and not only procured him favour in the eyes of the female part of his audience, but given his eloquence to find its way with additional persuasion to the hearts of all. In that case, however, he would have seemed to the world merely an able, instead of an extraordinary man. The stir and uproar which for a time attended his movements never would have fed his vanity with its intoxicating incense, and make him take himself, while he looked down upon the gazing and gaping multitudes that thronged around him, for another Jupiter Tonans, whose very nod ought to frighten the earth “ from her propriety.” As the adventure has turned out, however, the memory of the “ pride, pomp, and circumstance" with which it commenced may possibly by this time be felt by Mr. Irving himself to be a consolation that might be dispensed with.

We must not, however, be understood to say or insinuate, that the mere rabble ever formed the mass of Mr. Irving's admirers. The crowds, who for so many months gathered, Sunday after Sunday, to look at him, used, on the contrary, to consist in a great measure of detachments from the West end, who brought not a little of both fashion and high rank to grace the motley assemblage. The world of literature, too, sent its representatives occasionally to swell the throng; and some of the most distinguished of our authors, as well as of our statesmen, were not unfrequently to be seen struggling for a sitting or standing place within the walls of that humble temple, whose floor, till now, nothing but the footsteps of plebeian simplicity had ever trodden. The Hatton Garden Chapel was, in fact, the Sunday theatre, which was open when the others were shut, and formed, therefore, just the most convenient resort that could be desired for enabling a large portion of the community to fill up the circle of the week's amusements. And Mr. Irving's performances, if not quite so well fitted to gratify, on repeated exhibition, as those of Matthews or Liston, were generally found to be, at least, as exciting on a first visit, as the cleverest efforts of either. The very notoriety of the man was of itself attraction enough for all to whom the spectacle was new, even if there had been nothing to stimulate or sustain their attention in the manner or matter of his addresses.

But there was a great deal in both. Mr. Irving had, at all events, the merit of introducing a new style of pulpit oratory, and one, too, greatly more arousing and power ul than that which had so long prevailed in this country among the more regular practitioners of the art. The churches of the establishment had, in fact, become little better than so many dormitories. Most certainly, at least, they presented and do still present, in general, less to occupy or interest either the understanding or the affections, than any other places of common resort which it would be easy to name

This is a lamentable truth; but, being one, there is no reason why it should not be told. We know not a more perilous experiment for a man of sense to make, whose Christianity is not very firmly established, indeed, than an exposure of himself to the noxious infinences of an ordinary church service. Infidelity, with all its reasoning and all its raillery, never has done a tithe of the mischief to the cause of genuine religioil, which has been perpetrated by the mere dulness and imbecility of its professed and licensed defenders. Now Mr. Irving's preaching was evidently not that of a weak, and still less of a dull man. In those days especially, it was almost always, on the contrary, studiously modelled and AUGUST, 1828.


fashioned after the most stimulating species of the popular harangue. You might object to its eccentricity, its coarseness, its virulence, its base accommodation to the worst passions of the most vulgar minds ; but it was impossible to allege that it was not a sufficiently awakening and stirring peal for any man's ear. No demagogue, mounted on cart or cask, ever dealt round him his anathemas on all and sundry with more zeal and energy than this clerical reformer, from whose lips a damnatory critique on Byron, or Southey, or Moore, or a declamation against that “imp of Satan," the Pope, and the conductors of the daily press, and the advocates of Catholic emancipation, would not unfrequently come tumbling in company with the names of St. Paul and the Holy Evangelists. This picturesque confusion of the sacred and the profane could not fail, from its singularity alone, to produce a powerful effeet-to say nothing of the advantage which the preacher thus secured to himself over the attention of his auditors, by the heating nature of many of the topics which his favourite style of eloquence enabled him to introduce and expatiate upon, as compared with those to which his more sober-minded brethren confined themselves. To go to hear Mr. Irving was certainly a very different affair from what going to church had heretofore been. It was not to soar out of sight and hearing of the dust and the din of earth, which is true devotion ; but neither was it merely to step aside for a little from actual participation in the drama of life, and sleeping, or affecting to sleep, away the memory of it, at certain periods appointed by custom or authority, which is the ceremonious and sham devotion of your ordinary Christian. You felt yourself, while listening to him, and surrounded by that crowded auditory, to be, in fact, in the very focus of the world's interests and passions, and borne upon by the concentrated power and excitement of all its hottest and most inflammatory influ

There stood before you, in the first place, one of the most striking figures your eye had ever rested on-an extraordinary combination of the impressive and the grotesque, which both nature and art had evidently done their utmost to render a picture for the imagination, which it should not be able to look upon unmoved. The voice of melody and power, which then lent its music to the simple poetry of the Psalms of the Scottish Kirk, by far the best metrical version we have, by the bye, of the strains of the royal Hebrew bard, was admirably calculated to aid the effect produced by the mere appearance of the orator, and to sustain the expectation of something novel and worth waiting for. When some time after, accordingly, the sermon commenced, every ear was alive to catch the accents of the preacher, upon whom, too, all eyes were fixed. It was the attention, however, rather of curiosity to be gratified, than of that rapt and perfect sympathy, which will sometimes make an audience hang on the lips of a speaker in utter forgetfulness of all else but his present voice, and neither breathe, nor almost feel themselves to be, while held by the spell of

is miraculous eloquence. This entire subjugation of the listening spirit, which we have known to mark the triumphs of other orators, is an effect' we never saw achieved by Mr. Irving. But although it is not the

Audience and attention, still as night,
Or Summer's noon-tide air,


which it is his to command, his sermons were nevertheless wont to compel you to yield to him no languid or uninterested ear. Think of a torrent of scorn, sarcasm, denunciation, and invective poured forth on all sorts of topics, with apparently the most cordial gusto, and certainly the most indescribable oddity of gesticulation; and it will not be difficult to conceive, how an hour and a half, or even a longer space, should sometimes seem but short to the spectator of a pulpit exhibition of such unusual animation, how little inclined soever most of them might be on other occasions to listen to long-winded harangues, either at church or elsewhere. The most indifferent felt themselves kindled, the most impatient arrested, by this new and vigorous mode of preaching the gospel, which became now, for the first time, as interesting even to the most worldly-minded, as any other theme on which human passion had been wont to expend itself, or which wit had ever turned into a merry jest. Not that we would seriously charge Mr. Irving with either wit or mockery in treating of the solemnities of his subject. We only affirm, that for all the purposes of entertainment, his quaint phraseologies, and novel illustrations, and daring personalities, and all the other elaborate singularities both of his matter and his delivery, were as good as any wit, and had nearly as much effect, on a first hearing at least, in keeping awake the attention of a considerable portion of his congregation, as if he had had the wit of Falstaff himself.

It is time, however, that we should state our opinion as to the real merits of Mr. Irving's eloquence. He is a man of considerable talents, undoubtedly, and, we believe, of extensive and diversified acquirementi As such, therefore, he has to thank nothing but his own imprudence if he is still an object of ridicule to any one. Had he but presented himself to the world as what he really is, its respect was all his own. But his whole conduct ever since he made his appearance in London that is, ever since he became known to the world at all-has been merely a piece of laborious and systematic acting, a striving to seem that which he is not, an overstretching of himself, as it were, and walking upon tiptoe, in order that the world might take him for some inches taller than nature made him. Intellectually, (for we are not now speaking of his bodily man) he is a goodly and personable enough figure of five feet ten, or thereabout; but not satisfied with this reasonable altitude, to which the only objection is, that he shares it in common with five hundred, or perhaps five thousand other liege subjects of his majesty, does he actually put himself to the pain of moving about everywhere, with every joint and muscle às stiff as a bolt, and the most ludicrous extension of neck imaginable, in order that he may, if possible, elong te himself in people's eyes, to the dimensions of the few giants of six feet three or four, whom one occasionally sees looking down, as if from a world of their own, upon the rest of the species. It is this foolish, and may we not say almost profane ambition, since the scriptures themselves tell us that no one of us can add a cubit to this stature, that communicates to everything he does a character of artifice and trick, than which nothing can be more irreconcileably opposed to both moral and intellectual greatness. It is quite true, that for a time the extravagances of this miserable

[ocr errors]

affectation may dazzle . the unreflecting mob, and elicit from them perhaps a much more boisterous tribute of applause than they would have rendered to the simplicity of truth and nature ; but the huzzas of that sudden and passing popularity are not the voice of Fame, whose music, eternal as that of the spheres, is, like that too, unheard by the busy world, and audible only in all its sublimity and sweetness in that upper region to which the deafening echoes of human folly and contention may not reach. Hither, however, Mr. Irving's spirit is not, we suspect, much given to soar. To him the stare of a wondering congregation, the panegyric of a hireling paragraph-monger in a Sunday newspaper, the buz of an epidemic

curiosity, the mere Monstrarier digito et dicier hic est, are all in all; and of this equivocal adulation he has had, it must be allowed, his share; but it has been purchased chiefly by stratagems and compliances, his adoption of which is of itself demonstration strong' of his unworthiness of any higher reward. We will say no more of the mere juggleries of his elocution-those literally slight-ofhand tricks which form so large a part of his masquerade, and are so ostentatiously displayed on all occasions, for the purpose of impressing us with the notion, that there must be something extraordinary, and surpassing common humanity, about a person whose very dress and muscular movements are so different from those of everybody else. It is the same impotent ambition of originality, or the reputation of originality, that actuates everything else about his public demeanour and conduct. Hence, especially his attempt to disguise the radically common-place character of his mind, and his inadequacy to the elaboration of anything new and really his own, by his studious imitation, in respect of both the subject and the style of his pulpit oratory, of that of a by-gone and forgotten age-an imitation directed by a principle of almost Chinese subserviency to all the peculiarities of his model, and nearly unenlivened by any inspiration whatever from his own faculties, or his own feelings. Mr. Irving loves the writings of our old divines; and we are not less passionate admirers than he is of that majestic and often splendidly irradiated eloquence of theirs, which, among all the treasures of our rich and noble language, holds perhaps the next place in preciousness to the poetry of our Miltons and our Shakspeares. But would we for that devote ourselves to the indiscriminate abstraction or pilfering of all its quaint peculiarities of phrase and cadence, most of which it took simply from the tone of the times, in order to transplant them into our own style, which should derive both its life and its form chiefly from our own hearts and our own living age; and otherwise, indeed, is no style, but a mere mechanical parroting of another's voice? Or are we to account him a great and original writer, whose happiest pages are but transcripts, necessarily to a certain degree stiff and unnatural, of that which had been previously written by another mind and for another generation, and the beauties of which, even now, cannot be studied or enjoyed aright without a sympathising recollection of the circumstances amid which they were at first produced ? The lucky copyist may be a clever rhetorician, a dexterous player at the game of words; but we repeat, he is not an original thinker, nor a man of genius, It

« ZurückWeiter »