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The different kinds of public speaking in use amon g the moderns, compared, &c.
BUT beyond all question, the preacher's subject of argument, considered in itself, is infinitely more lofty and more affecting. The doctrines of religion are such as relate to God, the adorable Creator and Ruler of the world, his attributes, government, and laws. What science to be compared with it in sublimity It teaches also the origin of man, his primitive dignity, the source of his degeneracy, the means of his recovery, the eternal happiness that awaits the good, and the future misery of the impenitent. Is there any kind of knowledge, in which human creatures are so deeply interested . In a word, whether we consider the doctrines of religion or its documents, the examples it holds forth to our imitation, or its motives, promises, and threatenings, we see on every hand a subject that gives scope for the exertion of all the highest powers of rhetoric. What are the sanctions of any human laws, compared with the sanctions of the divine law, with which we are brought acquainted by the gospel? Or, where shall we find instructions, similitudes, and examples, that speak so directly to the heart, as the parables and other divine lessons of our blessed Lord *
IN regard to the second thing which I took notice of as included under the general term subject, namely, the persons or things in whose favour, or to whose prejudice the speaker intends to excite the passions of the audience, and thereby to influence their determinations, the other two have commonly the advan
Sect. III. In regard to the subject. -
tage of the preacher. The reason is, that his subject is generally things; theirs, on the contrary, is persons. In what regards the painful passions, indignation, hatred, contempt, abhorrence, this difference invariably obtains. The preacher's business is solely to excite your detestation of the crime, the pleader's business is principally to make you detest the criminal. The former paints vice to you in all its odious colours, the latter paints the vicious. There is a degree of abstraction, and consequently a much greater degree of attention requisite, to enable us to form just conceptions of the ideas and sentiments of the former; whereas, those of the latter, referring to an actual, perhaps a living, present, and well-known subject, are much more level to common capacity, and therefore not only are more easily apprehended by the understanding, but take a stronger hold of the imagination. It would have been impossible even for Cicero, to inflame the minds of the people to so high a pitch against oppression considered in the abstract, as he actually did inflame them against Verres the oppressor. Nor could he have incensed them so much against treason and conspiracy, as he did incense them against Catiline the traitor and conspirator. The like may be observed of the effects of his orations against Antony, and in a thousand other instances.
THOUGH the occasions in this way are more frequent at the bar, yet, as the deliberations in the senate of. ten proceed on the reputation and past conduct of in.
The different kinds of public séeaking in use among the moderns, compared, &c.
dividuals, there is commonly here a much better handie for rousing the passions, than that enjoyed by the preacher. How much advantage Demosthenes drew from the known character and insidious arts of Philip king of Macedon, for influencing the resolves of the Athenians, and other Grecian states, those who are acquainted with the Philippics of the orator, and the history of that period, will be very sensible. In what concerns the pleasing affections, the preacher may sometimes, not often, avail himself of real human characters, as in funeral sermons, and in discourses on the patterns of virtue given us by our Saviour, and by those saints of whom we have the history in the sacred code. But such examples are comparatively few,
SECT. IP'....In regard to the occasion.
THE fourth;icumstance mentioned as a ground of comparison, in the particular occasion of speaking. And in this I think it evident, that both the pleader and the senator have the advantage of the preacher. When any important cause comes to be tried before a civil judicatory, or when any important question comes to be agitated in either house of parliament, as the point to be discussed hath generally, for some time before, been a topic of conversation in most companies, perhaps throughout the kingdom, (which of itself is sufficient to give consequence to any thing)
Sect IV. In regard to the occasion,
people are apprized before-hand of the particular day fixed for the discussion. Accordingly, they come prepared with some knowledge of the case, a persuasion of its importance, and a curiosity which sharpens their attention, and assists both their understanding and their memory.
MEN go to church without any of these advantages. The subject of the sermon is not known to the congregation, till the minister announce it just as he begins, by reading the text. Now, from our experience of human nature, we may be sensible, that whatever be the comparative importance of the things themselves, the generality of men cannot here be wrought up in an instant, to the like anxious curiosity about what is to be said, nor can they be so well prepared for hearing it. It may indeed be urged, in regard to those subjects which come regularly to be discussed at Stated times, as on public festivals, as well as in regard to assize-sermons, charity-sermons, and other occasional discourses, that these must be admitted as exceptions. Perhaps in Some degree they are, but not altogether; for, first, the precise point to be ar. gued, or proposition to be evinced, is very rarely known. The most that we can say is, that the subject will have relation (sometimes remote enough) to such an article of faith, or to the obligations we lie under to the practice of such a duty. But further, if the topic were ever so well known, the frequent re. currence of such occasions, once a-year at least, hati,
The different kinds of public speaking in use among the moder s, compared, &c.
long familiarized us to them, and, by destroying their novelty, hath abated exceedingly of the ardour which ariseth in the mind for hearing a discussion, conceived to be of importance, which one never heard before, and probably never will have access to hear again.
I SHALL here take notice of another circumstance, which, without great stretch, may be classed under this article, and which likewise gives some advantage to the counsellor and the Senator. It is the opposition and contradiction which they expect to meet with. Opponents sharpen one another, as iron sharpeneth iron. There is not the same spur either to exertion in the speaker, or to attention in the hearer, where there is no conflict, where you have no adversary to encounter on equal terms. Mr Bickerstaff would have made but small progress in the science of defence, by pushing at the human figure which he had chalked upon the wall ”, in comparison of what he might have made by the help of a fellow-combatant of flesh and blood. I do not, however, pretend, that these cases are entirely parallel. The whole of an adversary's plea may be perfectly known, and may, to the satisfaction of every reasonable person, be perfectly confuted, though he hath not been heard by counsel at the bar.