Abbildungen der Seite

be ascertained of the truth of this, allow the assembly to disperse immediately after hearing you ; give them time to cool, and then collect their votes, and it is a thousand to one you shall find that the charm is dissolved. But very different is the purpose of the Christian orator. It is not a momentary, but a permanent effect at which he aims. It is not an immediate and favourable suffrage, but a thorough change of heart and disposition that will satisfy his view. That man would need to be possessed of oratory superior to human who would effectually persuade him that stole to steal no more, the sensualist to forego his pleasures, and the miser his hoards, the insolent and haughty to become meek and humble, the vindictive forgiving, the cruel and unfeeling merciful and humane." · I may add to these considerations, that the difficulty lies not only in the permanency, but in the very nature of the change to be effected. It is wonderful, but is too well vouched to admit a doubt, that by the powers of rhetoric you may produce in mankind almost any change more easily than this. It is not unprecedented, that one should persuade a multitude, from mistaken motives of religion, to act the part of ruffians, fools, or madmen; to perpetuate the most extravagant, nay, the most flagitious actions; to steel their hearts against humanity, and the loudest calls of natural affection; but where is the eloquence that will gain such an ascendant over a multitude as to persuade them, for the love of God, to be wise, and just, and good ? Happy the preacher who sermons, by the blessing of Heaven, have been instrumental in producing even a few such instances! Do but look into the annals of Church History, and you will soon be convinced of the surprising difference there is in the two cases mentioned, the amazing facility of the one, and the almost impossibility of the other.

As to the foolish or mad extravagances, hurtful only to themselves, to which numbers may be excited by the powers of persuasion, the history of the Flagellants, and even the history of Monachism, afford many unquestionable examples. But, what is much worse, at one time you see Europe nearly depopulated at the persuasion of a fanatical monk, its inhabitants rushing armed into Asia, in order to fight for Jesus Christ, as they termed it, but as it proved, in fact, to disgrace, as far as lay in them, the name of Christ and of Christian among infidels ; to butcher those who never injured them, and to whose lands they had at least no better title than those whom they intended, by all possible means, to dispossess; and to give the world a melancholy proof that there is no pitch of brutality and rapacity to which the passions of avarice and ambition, consecrated and inflamed by religious enthusiasm, will not drive mankind. At another time you see

multitudes, by the like methods, worked up into a sury against their innocent countrymen, neighbours, friends, and kinsmen, glorying in being the most active in cutting the throats of those who were formerly held de to them.

Such were the Crusades, preached up but too effectually, first against the Mohammedans in the East, and next against Christians, whom they called heretics, in the heart of Europe. And even in our own time, have we not seen new factions raised by popular declaimers, whose only merit was impudence, whose only engine of influence was calumny and self-praise, whose only moral lesson was malevolence? As to the dogmas whereby such have at any time affected to discriminate themselves, these are commonly no other than the shibboleth, the watchword of the party, worn, for distinction's sake, as a badge, a jargon unintelligible alike to the teacher and to the learner. Such apostles never failed to make proselytes. For who would not purchase heaven at so cheap a rate ? There is nothing that people can more easily afford. It is only to think very well of their leader and of themselves, to think very ill of their neighbour, to calumniate him freely, and to hate him heartily.

I am sensible that some will imagine that this account it self throws an insuperable obstacle in our way, as from it one will naturally infer that oratory must be one of the most dangerous things in the world, and much more capable of doing ill than good. It needs but some reflection to make this mighty obstacle entirely vanish. Very little eloquence is necessary for persuading people to a conduct to which their own depravity hath previously given them a bias. How soothing is it to them not only to have their minds made easy under the indulged malignity of their disposition, but to have that very malignity sanctified with a good name. So little of the oratorical talent is required here, that those who court popular applause, and look upon it as the pinnacle of human 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 dulness, 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 ihe 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 external 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 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 forensic and senatorian eloquence and that of the pulpit, I must not ornit to ob serve, 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, eithér 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 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 in ured. The auditors, though rarely so accomplished as to require the same accuracy of composition

“ Facilis descensus Averni:
Noctes atque dies patet atri janua Ditis :
Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras
Hic labor, hoc opus est."-VIRG., lib. vi.


or acuteness in reasoning as may be expected in the other two, are more various in age, rank, 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 inconveniences 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 their curiosity and riveting their attention. And, finally, 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 among 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 for a long time more disposed to wonder that we hear so many instructive and even eloquent sermons, than that we hear so few.




It hath been observed already,* that without some gratification in hearing, the attention must inevitably flag; and it

# Chapter iv.

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 ex. hibitions of human misery. Yet that such exhibitions should so highly gratify us, appears somewhat mysterious. Everybody is sensible that, of all qualities in a work of genius, this is that which endears it most to the generality of 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 en. joy 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, partiality, and pride, malice is a disposition which, either in the abstract, or as it discovers itself in the actions of an indifferent person, we never contemplate without feeling a just detestation and abhorrence, being ready to pronounce it the ugliest of objects. Yet this sentiment is not more universal than is the approbation and even love that we bestow on the tender-hearted, or those who are most exquisitely susceptible of all the influence of the pathetic. Nor are there any two dispositions of which human nature is capable, that have ever been considered as farther removed from each other than the malicious and the compassionate are. The fact itself, that the mind derives pleasure from representations of anguish, is undeniable; the question about the cause is curious, and hath a manifest relation to my subject.

I purposed, indeed, at first, to discuss this point in that part of the sixth chapter which relates to the means of operating on the passions, with which the present inquiry is intimately connected. Finding afterward that the discussion would prove rather too long an interruption, and that the other points which came naturally to be treated in that place could be explained with sufficient clearness independently of this, I judged it better to reserve this question for a separate chapter. Various hypotheses have been devised by the ingenious in order to solve the difficulty. These I shall first briefly examine, and then lay before the reader what appears to me to be the true solution. Of all that have entered into the subject, those who seem most to merit our regard are two French critics, and one of our own country.

« ZurückWeiter »