« AnteriorContinuar »
indeed, in some degree deviated from this unimpassioned and didactic style. With an elegance sometimes bordering on prettiness; with tenderness of feeling rarely if ever indulged beyond its proper limits; had his life been cast in a different sphere, if, instead of addressing an highly cultivated congregation in the university, he had undertaken the charge of a populous parish, it is probable that he would have felt the imperious necessity of increasing the power and energy without detracting from the grace of his language; that he would not have subdued himself to his uniform gentleness of manner, but taken a bolder flight; that, in short, his discourses might have ranked not only among the more elegant and attractive, but the more solid, and eloquent in the language. But not only were these men eminently useful in their own day, and those who, at a more recent period, adorned and supported the church: Horsley, who, where he is not plunged deep in theological controversy, and does not put forth his gigantic power merely to dash an antagonist to the earth before him, rises to such a height of eloquence, that we only regret he so rarely employed himself on the common and general doctrines of Christianity; Paley, whose volume contains by far the best specimen of what are called plain sermons, strong, somewhat homely, and full of that vigorous common sense which is his characteristic; and Porteus, who, with the voice of an angel, and in. language which could scarcely gain additional sweetness even from that voice, enforced upon others those pure, gentle, and charitable doctrines, of which he exhibited so amiable an illustration in his own character:—But even Blair, in our opinion for a preacher of eminence the farthest removed from real excellence, must be judged with the same charitable and impartial reservation. The question is, not whether the sermons of Blair produced all the effect to be desired from pulpit eloquence, but whether the effect which they produced was not better than perfect apathy. His frigid and artificial elegance obtained, without question, most extensive popularity, but it is very doubtful whether his hearers would have been attracted by any other writer, whether they would not have rejected a more energetic and impressive style as irregular and enthusiastic. Still, we cannot but think that his success contributed as much as any other cause to the complaint advanced against the church, among whose members his discourses met with a flattering reception, of lowering the lofty tone of Christianity, of debasing it to a mere system of morality, the religion of a purer Socrates, of a wiser Confucius.
For obvious reasons we shall not carry our inquiry farther into the present generation of preachers. Suffice it to say, that we know no one, who, in our opinion, can be held up as a model for general imitation, that is to say, no volume of sermons in which the
x 3 great great and eternal truths of Christianity are unfolded, and enforced with that imaginary combination of excellence, of which we cannot even yet despair, and adapted for the large and mingled congregations, in which the middling and lower classes of society predominate, which frequent the churches of the metropolis and our large towns. We are aware how many we offend by such an assertion; that every neighbourhood, every sect, every individual will rise in devout indignation, to put us to shame and silence by the
our dragon's teeth, we shall look on, like Cadmus, and allow these armed combatants to indulge in the work of mutual slaughter, secure, that no one will survive the promiscuous destruction. In fact, this discrepancy in opinion is conclusive in our favour. Let us not however be misunderstood as depreciating the labours of many excellent men, nor as joining in the absurd clamour against the number of volumes of sermons with which the press teems. We would not have the least restraint either of ridicule or critical severity placed upon those, who think, that the advice of a pastor, beloved and respected by his people, may produce a more lasting and permanent effect, when imparted not merely from the pulpit, but, as a memorial of his zeal and affection, from the press also; we do not disdain the more narrow sphere of utility of such writers; we only lament that they have been unable to fill so extensive a province as that which we described, and to spread their influence through the whole circle of English literature.
We will not enter into the question, whether the general style of preaching among the orthodox clergy ought to be insisted upon, amidst the great changes which have taken place in the tone of society, or whether it might not be advantageously altered to meet the -demands of the age. We will only add n word of caution. The spirit of our times affects what is vague, vast, indefinite; exaggerated passion, vehement emotion, wild flights of the imagination, a language of perpetual tropes and figures, regardless of their congruity or relation to the subject, or to each other. The public mind is loose and incoherent, its element is restlessness and agitation. Feeling and genius are the catchwords of the day; but the idea of feeling is mere excitation, without regard to any end of purification, or of improvement: genius, the running riot and creating a multitude of images, beautiful in themselves, but without order, object, or meaning. This is the tone of much of our popular poetry,— dreamy, mystical, with neither plan nor system; and criticism, the vassal slave of our poetry, has as noble a disdain of being intelligible, as that which it pampers with unceasing adulation. The same spirit has invaded the fine arts; and even our acting is on the same model, is all in sudden starts and momentary effects, with no unity,
Having, however, sowed
gradation gradation Or completeness. With such a taste it would be a base dereliction of their duty, and a compromising of their character for sound learning and classical education, in our clergy to comply. Having said thus much by way of prevention, we should not object to the adoption of a manner somewhat less dry and didactic, somewhat more warm, earnest and devotional, than usually prevails. If to convince the intellect and force the unwilling homage of the reason are, indeed, the sole objects of preaching, we are doubtless right; but if to awaken the conscience, to recal the scattered senses of the dissipated, to move the palled and deadened hearts of the worldly, to appal the wicked, to comfort the distressed, to search into the hidden vices or the afflictions of the soul, are also within the preacher's province, our tone may be too low, calm, and dispassionate. Either heaven and hell and redemption and eternity, are subjects awful, appalling, and splendid, or they are without meaning; and the preacher must not speak of these solemn and tremendous truths as if he were collecting the result of a mathematical problem, or labouring out a point in political economy. Still this is dangerous ground; and if young men are taught or even permitted to appeal to the vague and more easily excited faculties, the imagination and the feelings, they will be apt to enter into a rivalry of tumour and inflation, or degenerate into puling and whining. We are strongly opposed to the nonsense of Methodistic experience, which makes the effect of obstructed bile, and the state of the animal spirits, the test of religion; we protest against the exclusive and sectarian spirit of what are called Evangelical clergy; and we will, to the utmost of our power, resist the divorce between common sense and Christianity, which is so earnestly pressed, and from so many quarters. No, the substratum of the whole must be sound, solid, substantial logical reasoning; but when the groundwork is thus secured, the heart and the imagination may be called into their share of the council. Destroy the balance, assign to,the latter more than their just proportion, and you soon soar into the rant of Harvey, or melt into the sentimental Christianity of Mrs. Rowe. If too much is addressed to the imagination, all is vague and extravagant; if to the affections, a most unsafe criterion for truth is adopted, its accordance with our feelings; if to the reason, we assent, it is true, but it is to be feared that the operative principle of religion remains as quiescent as ever. The first will make us Quietists, men of visions and extasies; the second, fanatics; the last, acute polemics; but nothing less than the whole, practical, zealous, charitable, judicious Christians.
With the question of style, some curious points are connected, to which our limits, perhaps our abilities, prevent us from doing justice. The utmost limit of the reason is to prove, from the word of reve
x 4 lation, lation, from analogy, or from any other topics, that these things may or must be. But to form a conception, however inadequate, of that to which it is the preacher's great object to elevate our minds; to bring ourselves even to attempt the comprehension through the medium of sensible types and figures, is the office of the more free and creative faculty. Hence the scriptures are, independent of their oriental cast, essentially poetical; and as the pulpit orator, both from choice and from necessity, must speak of subjects so far from prosaic, and adopt a scriptural form of expression, we apprehend that some elevation of style may well be admitted. In this respect our old divines seem to have caught the true tone; but nothing is more difficult, or requires a nicer tact than to imitate the style of an elder period. The archaisms, the obsolete idioms, the affected phrases, the antiquated words, the marked and peculiar rhythm, are easily caught; but to write with their spirit in the dialect of our own day, to reject the peculiarities, yet imbibe their general character, is a trial and a test of the highest genius. The language of our orator must be strong, vernacular, idiomatic, may we add, Saxon English. Johnsonian Latinisms, the most unintelligible part of our vocabulary to the common people, must be carefully avoided; and even the artificial manner of Bolingbroke and Middleton, the great masters of English writing, as far as it can be admitted of being formed on a foreign or classical model, will be too elaborate, and incur a suspicion of being forced and artificial. The Bampton Lectures of White, (aut quocunque nomine gaudent,) as far as models for common use, must be placed under the same proscription. The language must not only in itself be perspicuous, but flow in a natural, easy, and unconstrained manner.
But if to all these varied excellencies the preacher shall add that, without which all the rest are vain, which Aristotle rightly estimates the primary quality of eloquence, that derived from the high character of the orator; if his life and his preaching are in strict unison; if he be above all affectation, disdain the shibboleth of party, the jargon, the demeanour, the tone of cant and preciseness; if he be as simple and natural as he is highly gifted, he will live in the love and respect of all the good; and leave a lasting memorial in the literature of his country, for which unborn ages shall bless him, having at length effected the harmonious union of taste, good sense and sound theology, in powerful, pure, and natural English, the model and standard of future preachers, who, without abandoning their own claim to originality, may study, admire, and imbibe the great principles of oratorical composition; not in the didactic pages of the philosopher, but in the living and animated example,
which which shall at once regulate their exertions, and excite them to a generous and enthusiastic rivalry.
Our article was nearly concluded, when we received the 'Orations of Mr. Irving.' That in him we have discovered our imaginary preacher, we can by no means admit; we have read his volume with bitter and painful disappointment: bitter, because the work falls so far short of the expectation which his fame had excited; painful, because it is an ungracious and unwelcome office to depreciate, in the least, the labours of a zealous man, which appear to have produced so striking an effect on so great a concourse of hearers; to have startled so many of the thoughtless and dissipated; and captivated so many undisciplined, but ardent and enthusiastic minds. But Mr. Irving would despise us if we were not as fearless in performing our duty, as he is in his. We consider popularity, in London especially, so uncertain a criterion of excellence, that its verdict can neither awe nor control our opinions. From the tone of our former observations, the author will perceive that we are not blindly wedded to our own system of preaching; and as to the charitable insinuation of'illiberal jealousy,' with which we find that Mr. Irving's admirers attempt to beat down every one who will not bow to their idol, that we can only treat with disregard,—as we do the wanton falsehood, so industriously circulated, that our ministers, in whom the inseparable interests of the church and state are vested by the crown, have followed the prevailing fashion of deserting their parish churches, and hurried, day after day, to what, by the law of England, (we speak without intended, and, we hope, without suspected disparagement to the Scottish church,) is no more than a licensed conventicle. Had the orator attained or approximated to the lofty station assigned to him by popular report, we might have felt a blameless regret that our own church had not produced the consummate preacher; that the crowds which flowed to Hatton Garden had not rather thronged to one of our splendid new churches, at Marylebone, Pancras, or Chelsea; but still, we should have hailed the eloquent advocate of Christianity with pride and satisfaction, as an ornament to our common literature, and a support, to be valued as much as it is wanted in our capricious and uncertain days, to our common religion. But we cannot recognise as the champion of our faith, a reasoner so vague and inconsistent, a declaimer so turgid and unintelligible, a writer so coarse and incorrect. We deprecate the introduction of a system of preaching which must eventually be dangerous to the interests of Christianity, and which is equally objectionable in its design and execution. However imperfect our rules of pulpit eloquence may be, we are convinced of their substantial truth; against all and each of those Mr. Irving offends;