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Art. I.— 1. Essai sur FEloquence tie la Chaire. Par S. Em. le Cardinal Maury. Paris. Nouvelle Edition. 2 Vols. Svo.
2. For the Oracles of God, Four Orations; For Judgment to Come, an Argument in Nine Parts. By the Rev. Edward Irving, M.A. Svo. pp. 560. London. 1823.
HPHE subject of pulpit eloquence has been frequently discussed;
the preachers of different countries, of France and England, have been arrayed against each other; and a comparison instituted, not without invidiousness, between the effect produced by men, like Wesley and Whitfield, and the more stationary and temperate ministers of the established church. We cannot however consider the subject as exhausted, nor can its importance be lightly estimated, when we take into the account its extensive influence in governing the minds, and forming the characters of so many among our vast population; and the peculiar interest which, at this period, it appears to command. The fame of a popular preacher, independently of the peculiar doctrines which he may happen to advocate, draws an assemblage of many, who are evidently attracted by the oratory, not by any predilection either for the truths of Christianity, or for the system of exposition. Whether this is a healthful system of the religion of the country may perhaps be questioned; the fact is beyond all doubt. Some evils will doubtless result from this, which we hope that we may call without offence a prevailing fashion; a spirit of wandering abroad in search of what may be better learnt at home; an appetite, too frequently morbid, for excitation of the feelings rather than the improvement of the morals and the heart, and an impatient discontent at the less effective exertions of those moderate talents and respectable acquirements, which must fall to the lot of the majority in so extensive an establishment as the church. Still, on the other hand, much good may unquestionably ensue; not only 'may many who came to scoff, remain to pray,' but the devotion of great talents of any description to the service of religion must add to its weight and hold upon society; and the vulgar but prevailing prejudice, that great genius and originality invariably take the other side, and cannot condescend to the control of religious duty, may be counteracted. The man of unquestionable abilities contributes vol.. xxix. No. Lviii. u not not only the influence of his words and writings to the cause, but that of his character also; and he can have little knowledge how far the magic of great names operates upon the ardent and imitative minds of the young and enthusiastic, who would undervalue or depreciate such assistance to the advancement of religion.
It appears to us then that the difference between the nature of that eloquence, which belongs to the pulpit, and that which is appropriate to the hustings, the bar, or the senate, is too often lost sight of. Neither is the distinction of the systems adopted in Roman Catholic countries on one hand, and by the dissenters on the other, carefully attended to, when the result of their labours is balanced against that of our church ministers.
The orator in Palace Yard, or Westminster Hall, or in St. Stephen's, addresses in a great degree passions which are forbidden ground to the Christian preacher; and if at any time the latter makes an incursion into those regions, he is in danger of assuming a tone inconsistent with the dignity and the charity of his calling. What are the passages in ancient and modern eloquence to which the audience must have listened with awful and appalling interest, and which we even now read with a sensation approaching to terror; those which secure and retain our admiration, adhere to the memory, and recur whenever we hear the names of Demosthenes, of Cicero, and of Burke?—are not many among them, the fierce invective, the terrible crimination, the bold and unexpected retort, the cutting sarcasm, the cool and dignified irony on one hand; or, on the other, the skilful flattery, the exquisite artifice with which the baser as well as the nobler passions of the audience are wrought into a subservience to the orator's purpose, the fine and scarcely perceptible adulation by which ' he wields at will the fierce democracy?' It is the torrent of fiery indignation with which the Athenian overwhelmed the encroaching Philip, the full cup of bitterness which is discharged on the head of his rival iEschines; it is the virulent declamation which appalled Catiline, or Antony, the felicitous art by which Caesar is flattered out of a pardon for Marcellus; it is the sarcasm against the effeminate Clodius, where the orator applies to him the word sororem, fratrem volui dicere, semper in hujus viri nomine erro;—lastly, it is the solemn and terrible denunciation of Hastings before the bar of the House of Lords, in the name of all that is sacred, moving, dignified in the nature of mankind. All these modes of exciting emotion are clearly beyond the limits of pulpit eloquence, which, if genuine, is too mild and charitable to depend for its success on such violent and inflammatory means. Indeed, in ordinary situations, it would want the power as well as the desire of employing such instruments; but where it overstepped its own peculiar limits, and made an inroad into the province of
political political oratory, it immediately ensured the same visible and extensive influence. When was it that pulpit eloquence governed with unquestioned dominion the public mind? When it addressed itself indiscriminately to every passion; when it nourished the bitter feelings of discontent and faction, personal or party antipathies; when, in an equally unchristian spirit, though with language on both sides deeply imbued with scriptural fervour, the Puritan inveighed against the loyalist, the loyalist recriminated on the Puritan; when one, in his fierce invective, denounced, even by name, God's vengeance on the oppressor, the other on the rebel; when each presumptuously and unwarrantably assumed the tone and language of the inspired prophets, on one hand pouring forth fearful and accumulated malediction on its enemies, on the other exciting its own party to wild, fervid, extravagant exultation;—then it was that it hurried men to battle; enured them to the most heroic suffering; consoled them in the hour of the deepest calamity; in some producing that honest zeal, which, whether misguided or not, pursues the end which the conscience approves, in singleness and uprightness of heart; in others, that frenzy of fanaticism, which, full of the leaven of every evil passion, considers them sanctified by the cause to which it is wedded, from worldly rather than religious motives: this has been the case in every period of religious strife, and that party has in general triumphed which has appealed to the most dominant and universal passions. It is far from our present purpose to decide, or even to inquire, whether circumstances may or may not justify this extension of authority on the part of the preacher; still less whether, at any peculiar periods of our history, persecution, for conscience sake, was lawfully or wisely resisted by the collective energies of the preacher and his congregation. All, however, must allow, that the circumstances are not common, which will warrant this union of the minister of Christ and the demagogue in the same character; and that, even in the extreme cases which may vindicate this line of conduct, he appears in a forced, unusual, and unnatural situation. When he reverts to the reason and the affections, the preacher appears to return to his home; he exercises there his quiet domestic office, and secures that universal respect, admiration and approval which he could scarcely claim or preserve in the turbulence and distraction of his former occupation.
But with regard to those passions which are clearly within the sphere of the preacher, the fears and the compassion of his audience, much more is required of him than of other orators; his task is more delicate and must be administered with greater discretion, in proportion as its effects aim at being more lasting. He must not
u 2 be be content with mere temporary emotion. Provided in other cases the orator retain his magic mastery over the minds of his hearers, till he has obtained their vote or their verdict, his end is answered. But the assertions and the proofs of the preacher must bear the severe test of subsequent examination: he will have obtained a poor triumph, if, after having created a most powerful immediate sensation, his audience, when they have departed, find they have been imposed upon by illogical arguments, by mere theatric energy, and by hardy assumptions. Even when we read the compositions of ancient or modern eloquence, we are satisfied if they appear admirably adapted to gain their object; we admire the skill which has made so much of a bad or an unpromising cause, and submit willingly to the delusion which has before been so successful, with those to whom the speech was originally addressed. But in religious eloquence nothing is beautiful but what is true; and the slightest dishonesty in ihe conduct of the argument invalidates the whole impression, and we are impatient even of the most remote suspicion of artifice or concealment of weakness.
But besides all this, the form of debate and discussion which the other forms of oratory usually assume, is greatly calculated to fascinate the attention, and create a deeper impression. The preacher frequently refers to the supposed reasonings of his adversary, the infidel or the heretic, but he states their arguments in his own words; and though he may, in fact, give them even more weight and strength than they deserve, still we like to see the intellectual gladiators on the arena before us: this struggle and conflict of the noblest energies of man has something irresistibly exciting. What can compensate for the subtle detection of the latent sophism, the unravelling of the false argument, the retorted sarcasm, the recriminated invective, the seizing of the arms of the apparently triumphant antagonist and plunging them into his own bosom? Read the de Corona of Demosthenes alone, and it is doubtless splendid oratory; read it, after having gone through the previous oration of iEschines, and it appears in all its marvellous power and felicity of reply, and of retort. Pitt, in his lucid statements of some points which admitted of no discussion, was doubtless an admirable orator; but who listened to him or to his great rival with such absorbed attention, as when they were either anticipating the argument of each other, or thundering forth the ardent and indignant refutation? Nor is it of slight importance that in common cases the subject is of immediate, pressing and imperious interest. It is before our eyes, it has probably already enlisted our passions on one side or the other. Philip is at the gates of Athens; Catiline in the centre of Rome, almost having begun the work of slaughter; Milo awaiting his sentence,
reeking reeking as it were with the blood of Clodius, and uncertain whether his doom will be exile, death, or the gratitude and admiration of his country; or Strafford himself pleading in his own defence, and in the defence of the strained and violated laws of his country. We shall not be suspected of depreciating the eternal importance of the appalling and awful topics of Christian preaching; but there is this difference, that they are precisely the same which either the individual preacher or others before him have been for ages reiterating: they were among the rudiments of our early education; they are of all times and seasons, and consequently peculiar to none. With regard to them novelty is, in general, dangerous; and even if great genius should triumph, as it occasionally does, over this difficulty, this strongest incitement is often counteracted by its collision with other prejudices. We are weary and unmoved by the style in which we are usually addressed, and yet are inveterately attached to some of its peculiarities. Thus originality creates as it were a strong reaction, and that very dissimilarity to the prevalent system, on which it prides itself, impedes its influence; and lastly even he, who shall, in spite of all these obstacles, have obtained the greatest success, must at last be controlled by the nature of his subjects. The striking truths of religion are few and simple, and though they admit of great copiousness of illustration, even that is circumscribed, and he who disdains to imitate others, must at last imitate himself; repetition is unavoidable ; nor can he take advantage of that interminable variation of circumstances, which gives its particular character and interest to every trial at the bar, and every debate in the senate. Enough however on this part of our subject.
It was most fortunate for the character of French pulpit eloquence that the great orators of that country, Bossuet, Bourdaloue and Massillon, lived -at the precise period when their language had obtained its utmost purity and perfection. We apprehend that at no time, either previous or subsequent, the masculine strength of the Bishop of Meaux, or the fluent and harmonious elegance of Massillon, has been surpassed or even rivalled. The faults of their age adhere to our most celebrated preachers. We cannot with justice deny the pedantic ostentation of learning, the more than poetic exuberance, the occasional whimsicality of illustration in Taylor; the interminable sentences and the countless subdivisions of Barrow; the languid diffuseness of Tillotson, and the meagre conciseness of Clark; the want of warmth in Sherlock, and of strength in Atterbury; the absence of every beauty, as well as of most faults, in Blair. With regard to the respective merits of the different orators of the French school, we can have no higher authority than
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