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This irksome restraint scarcely ever succeeds in moral discourses.
Massillon hath sketched out the division of his sermon on confession, where we find so many beauties in detail, upon a passage in the Gospel. He takes for his text that verse of St. John,
* There was a multitude of blind, halt, and withered. Massillon compares the sinners, who surround the confessionals to the sick people who were upon the side of the pool of Jerusalem : and he shews the analogy of those corporeal infirmities with the most usual abuse which renders confessions of no utility.
There were blind people; defect of knowledge in the examination. There were halt; insincerity in the confession. There were impotent folk, withered; want of sorrow in the repentance.
This application is doubtless ingenious; but it is too far fetched. The excellent taste of Massillon only yields this once to the temptation of drawing a very artificial plan from the analysis of his text I.
* John, ch. v. verse 3.
Methinks the censure of Doctor Blair applies to this quaint division of Massillon's Discourse, when he remarks, that the defects of most of the French sermons are these : . from a mode that prevails among them of taking their "texts from the lesson of the day, the connexion of the texts
He has made a happier use of the famous passage, it is finished, in his sermon on the Passion. But this interpretation is not his own, it having been previously unfolded in various monastic pieces.
It appears to me that the method of adapting the text to the plan can hardly ever be successfully made use of in instructions purely moral ; and that it succeeds much better in mysteries*, in funeral orations and panegyrics, where the text will not suit the discourse unless it makes known the subject, and, at least indirectly, comprehends the division.
It is easy to find in the holy Scripture verses consonant to the principal idea which we intend to express; and we are always pleased with the
* with the subject is often unnatural and forced ; and their
applications of scripture are fanciful rather than instructive.'-He farther remarks, that their method is stiff and cramped by their practice of dividing their subject always either into three, or two main points, and their composi
tion is in general too diffuse, and consists rather of a very * few thoughts spread out, and highly wrought up, than of
rich variety of sentiments. Admitting, however, all these • defects, it cannot be denied, that their sermons are form
ed upon the idea of a persuasive, popular Oration; and • therefore, (he adds), I am of opinion that they may be read * with benefit.'-BLAIR's Lectures, vol. ii. p. 119.
* Fr. dans les Mysteres. The Author probably means here, the solemn services of the church, such as feasts, fasts, communions, &c.
Orator for those successful applications which, in some measure, render sacred the plan he hath chosen.*
OF THE PROGRESSION OF THE PLAN.
WHETHER it be a moral subject that is discussed, or one's talent be exercised
upon panegyrics or mysteries, it is always necessary to observe a specified progression in the distribution of the plan, in order to impart an increasing force to the points adduced, to give weight to the argument, and energy to the rhetorical movements. It is as rare as it is difficult to render both parts of a sermon equally excellent, because the same resources seldom present themselves to the imagination of the Orator. The latter, however, ought to excel the former. Eloquence always declines when it ceases to rise. It is therefore to the second branch of the division that the most persuasive arguments and pathetic sentiments ought to be reserved.
* "I must confess I always disliked a forced text. Have * you not observed that a preacher draws from a text what' ever sermons he pleases ? He insensibly warps and bends his subject to make the text fit the sermon that he has oc6 casion to preach. This is frequently done, but I cannot approve of it.'-Dialogues concerning Eloquence, p. 146.
Cicero, whose plan is very distinct in all his Orations, although seldom announced in the exordium, adopts a method very favourable to the advancement of his proofs, which obliges him to be surpassing himself continually by fresh efforts, in proportion as he proceeds in the difficulties of his subject.
Open his Orations. He at once denies the fact which is opposed to him; and afterwards he proves, that, by taking its truth for granted, nothing could thereby be concluded against his cli
I shall only quote here two striking examples of this excellent method.
In defending Archias who had been his preceptor, and of whom he always speaks with the most lively gratitude, Cicero thus divides his Oration ; “I shall prove that Archias a Roman "citizen ; and that, if he were not, he would be very deserving to be one."
The plan of the Oration in favour of Milo is no less forcible. “ Milo,” says he, “ hath not “ slain Clodius ; if he had slain him, he would 66 have done well.” The mind of man cannot reason with more perspicuity and energy.
Nor are we to conclude that Cicero proceeds thus accidentally on some particular occasions.
In his Oratorial divisions,' in that charming dialogue where this great man submits to an examination upon this art, by answering all the questions which his son puts to him upon Eloquence, Cicero establishes, as a fixed rule, this manner of dividing the discourse. He says, “ It is thus
you ought to reason ; you must either deny the “ fact that meets you, or if you admit it, you must prove
your “opponent has drawn do not result from it*.' I am aware how seldom it is that we can follow this course in our pulpits, where the subjects discussed are not always doubtful ; but the more we imitate this method, the nearer we shall arrive at perfection.
OF THE INJURY WIT DOES TO ELOQUENCE.
To all those rules which art furnishes for con
10 all those rules which art furnishes for con
ducting the plan of a discourse, we proceed to subjoin a general rule from which Orators, and especially Christian Orators, ought never to swerve.
When such begin their career, the zeal for the salvation of souls which animates them, doth not
* Aut it a consistendum est ut quod objicatur factum neges aut illud quod factum fateare neges eam vim habere, atque id esse quod adversarius criminetur. Parag. 29, 101.