Page images

The different kinds of public speaking in use among the moderns, compared, &e.

glory, to be blindly followed by the multitude, commonly recur to defamation, especially of superiors and brethren, not so much for a subject on which they may display their eloquence, as for a succedaneum to supply their want of eloquence, a succedaneum which never yet was found to fail. I knew a preacher who, by this expedient alone, from being long the aversion of the populace, on account of his dullness, awkwardness, and coldness, all of a sudden became their idol. Little force is necessary to push down heavy bodies placed on the verge of a declivity, but much force is requisite, to stop them in their progress, and push them up.

If a man should say, that because the first is more frequently effected than the last, it is the best trial of strength, and the only suitable use to which it can be applied, we should at least not think him remarkable for distinctness in his ideas. Popularity alone, therefore, is no test at all of the eloquence of the speaker, no more than velocity alone would be, of the force of the exernal impulse originally given to the body moving. As in this, the direction of the body, and other circumstances, must be taken into the account; so in that, you must consider the tendency of the teaching, whether it favours or opposes the vices of the hearers. To head a sect, to infuse party-spirit, to make men arrogant, uncharitable, and malevolent, is the easiest task imaginable, and to which almost any blockhead is fully equal. But to produce the

Sect. V. In regard to the end in view.

contrary effect, to subdue the spirit of faction, and that monster spiritual pride, with which it is invariably accompanied, to inspire equity, moderation, and charity, into men's sentiments and conduct with regard to others, is the genuine test of eloquence. Here its triumph is truly glorious, and in its application to this end lies its great utility:

The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return and view the cheerful skies;
In this the task and mighty labour lies * DRYDEN.

Now in regard to the comparison, from which I fear I shall be thought to have digressed, between the for rensic and senatorian eloquence, and that of the pulpit, I must not omit to observe, that in what I say of the difference of the effect to be produced by the last mentioned species, I am to be understood as speaking of the effect intended by preaching in general, and even of that which, in whole or in part, is, or ought to be, either more immediately or more remotely, the scope of all discourses proceeding from the pulpit. I am, at the same time, sensible, that in some of these, besides the ultimate view, there is an immediate and outward effect which the sermon is * — Facilis descensus Averni : Noctes atque dies patet atri janua Ditis : Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras Hic labos, hoc opus est. Visc. Lib. 6.

[ocr errors]

The different kinds of public speaking in use among the moderns, compared, &c.

intended to produce. This is the case particularly in charity-sermons, and perhaps some other occasional discourses. Now of these few, in respect of such immediate purpose, we must admit, that they bear a pretty close analogy to the pleadings of the advocate, and the orations of the senator.

Upon the whole of the comparison I have stated, it appears manifest, that, in most of the particulars above enumerated, the preacher labours under a very great disadvantage. He hath himself a more delicate part to perform than either the pleader or the senator, and a character to maintain, which is much more easily injured. The auditors, though rarely so accomplished as to require the same accuracy of composition, or acuteness in reasoning, as may be expected in the other two, are more various in rank, age, taste, inclinations, sentiments, prejudices, to which he must accommodate himself. And if he derives some advantages from the richness, the variety, and the nobleness of the principles, motives, and arguments, with which his subject furnishes him, he derives also some inconveniencies from this circumstance, that almost the only engine by which he can operate on the passions of his hearers, is the exhibition of abstract qualities, virtues, and vices; whereas that chiefly employed by other orators, is the exhibition of real persons, the virtuous and the vicious. Nor are the occasions of his addresses to the people equally fitted with those of the senator and of the pleader, for exciting

Sect. V. In regard to the end in view.

their curiosity and rivetting their attention. And fimally, the task assigned him, the effect which he ought ever to have in view, is so great, so important, so durable, as seems to bid defiance to the strongest efforts of oratorical genius.

NoTHING is more common than for people, I suppose without reflecting, to express their wonder, that there is so little eloquence amongst our preachers, and that so little success attends their preaching. As to the last, their success, it is a matter not to be ascertained with so much precision, as some appear fondly to imagine. The evil prevented, as well as the good promoted, ought here, in all justice, to come into the reckoning. And what that may be, it is impossible in any supposed circumstances to determine. As to the first, their eloquence, I acknowledge, that, for my own part, considering how rare the talent is among men in general, considering all the disadvantages preachers labour under, not only those above enumerated, but others, arising from their different situations, particularly considering the frequency of this exercise, together with the other duties of their office, to which the fixed pastors are obliged, I have been of a long time more disposed to wonder, that we hear so many instructive and even eloquent sermons, than that we hear so few.


Of the cause of that pleasure which we receive from objects or representations that excite pity and other

[ocr errors]

FT hath been observed already *, that without some gratification in hearing, the attention must inevitably flag. And it is manifest from experience, that nothing tends more effectually to prevent this consequence, and keep our attention alive and vigorous, than the pathetic, which consists chiefly in exhibitions of human misery. Yet that such exhibitions should so highly gratify us, appears somewhat mysterious. Every body is sensible, that of all qualities in a work of genius, this is that which endears it most to the generality of ohr readers. One would imagine, on the first mention of this, that it were impossible to account for it otherwise than from an innate principle of malice, which teacheth us to extract delight to ourselves from the sufferings of others, and as it were to enjoy their calamities. A very little reflection, however, would suffice for correcting this error; nay, without any reflection, we may truly say, that the common sense of mankind prevents them effectually from falling into it. Bad as we are, and prone as we are, to be hurried into the worst of passions by self-love, par

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »