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The more we read foreign Orators, the more we perceive the pre-eminence of the French preachers.
The Spaniards and Germans are yet in the rudiments of Christian Eloquence. Father Seignery has been for some time extolled as the Bourdaloue of Italy. He hath been translated. His most zealous partisans have given him up. How indeed, can we admire ridiculous passages and popular fables, which we should scarcely tolerate in instructions to country villagers ?
OF M. THOMAS, AND THE REVOLUTION WHICH HE EFFECTED IN THE STYLE OF RHETORI
the models, which the age of Louis XIV. hath furnished, as well as the distinguished talents of many writers, who devoted themselves to the ministry of the gospel, Eloquence seemed to be buried in the tomb with Massillon.
Most of the preachers, who succeeded him, were desirous of opening to themselves a new road, where they had at first, brilliant success, for which they have since severely suffered. They invented an affected and effeminate jargon, and, by dint of labour, they rendered themselves unintelligible. Ah ! wherefore did they wish to banish simplicity? Was it because they were ignorant that one of the secrets of rhetorical composition consists in making use of those lively, natural, and varied modes of expression, which are adopted in conversation, in addition to such a selection of words as may be always excellent, without ever being far-fetched ?*
* The rhetoricians, here spoken of, wrote with the most tedious prolixity, and were equally strangers to the precision of thought and diction. We perceive in their discourses pompous expressions, vulgar ideas, and that affectation of wit, which is incompatible with Eloquence.
• Words are like leaves ; and where they most abound, • Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. • False Eloquence, like the prismatic glass, • Its gaudy colours spreads on evry place; • The face of Nature we no more survey, *All glares alike, without distinction gay : • But true expression, like th' unchanging sun, • Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon, • It gilds all objects, but it alters none.
Expression is the dress of thought, and still * Appears more decent as more suitable ; • A vile conceit in pompous words express'd, • Is like a clown in regal purple dress'd : • For diff'rent styles with diff'rent subjects sort, • As sevral garbs with country, town and court.
Pope's Essay on Criticism, V. $12..
A want of genius, however, is not what we can charge upon these-corrupters of Christian Eloquence, unless we should be of opinion, that owing to their deficiency in this respect, they discovered too strong an affectation of it. They wrote without animation or fire; they confounded the gift of persuasion with the art of dazzling; and after having perverted the taste of the public, they have succeeded in exciting an admiration of their faults.
Eloquence, become a stranger to the works of learned men, was still cultivated by a small number of real Orators, whom popular opinion placed far below all those fashionable declaimers. But, in the history of the arts there are remarkable epochs, when a superior writer recalls the public attention towards those methods which have been abandoned, and draws along with him a number, who follow him in the course in which he himself has excelled.
Such is the glory, which M. Thomas hath had among us.
He contributed to the fortunate revolution, which has renewed the taste in Oratory for panegyrics: in these, he hath displayed as much Eloquence, as Fontenelle had discovered of penetration.* He inspired the most lively en
* FoxTENELLE was a celebrated French author, and pronounced by Voltaire the most universal genius of the age of Louis XIV. He wrote on a variety of subjects, particularly a number of panegyrics on the deceased members of the Academy of Sciences, to which he had been appointed perpetual secretary. See New and General Biographical Dict.
thusiasm for great men. He improved the mind by the excellence of his sentiments. He directed his discourses to an useful object. He, in a particular manner, promoted the utility of his writings by collecting them together, and enriching them with his · Essay on Panegyrics.' The works of the eulogist of Marcus Aurelius ought to be ever dear to us by so interesting and unusual a conjunction of erudition, genius and virtue.
OF THE USE OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.
HE style, that M. Thomas cultivated, pos
sesses much of that manner, so well adapted for the pulpit, by the elevation of the ideas, and the moral strain, which is generally to be found in them.—Do we wish to see the example of this writer become serviceable to preachers ? Let us recollect, that, in the corruption of Eloquence, the language of Religion was forgotten; and that, in order to impart to our ministry its former lustre, we must, at once, become Orators, and Christian Orators.
It is by incessantly reading the Holy Scriptures that we learn to speak that spiritual language, which diffuses through a sermon, representations alternately affecting, majestic or terrible.
Let us never consider it as a painful restraint, that we are happily bound to incorporate the saered writings into our compositions. The Bible is for the style of preachers, that which mytholosy is for the Elocution of poets. In the sacred volumes, there are to be found thoughts so sublime, expressions so energetic, descriptions so eloquent, allegories so well chosen, sentences so profound, ejaculations so pathetic, sentiments so tender that we should adopt them from taste; if we were so unhappy as not to search after them from a principle of zeal and piety*.
* "Without doubt a preacher ought to affect people by strong, and sometimes even by terrible images : but it is from the scriptures that he should learn to make powerful impressions. There he may clearly discover the way to make sermons plain and popular, without losing the force and dignity they ought always to have.'- The study of • the sacred writings was, in the first ages of the church, "reckoned to be sufficient. Hence came that passage in the • apostolical constitutions, which says, . If you want histo
ry, or laws, or moral precepts, or eloquence, or poetry, you will find them all. in the scriptures. In effect, it is needless to seek elsewhere for any thing that is necessary « to form our taste and judgment of true Eloquence. St. « Austin says, we ought to exalt and improve our knowledge, • by the authority of scripture ; and our language, by the dignity of its expressions.'