Page images
PDF
EPUB

is humanity, stainless indeed, refined, exalted, refulgent with the incarnate Divinity,--but still humanity, with its smiles and tears; our nature, with its quick strong impulses of affection, of sorrow, and of joy.

Would you be eloquent, as a preacher ? Be a man—not a monk, but a man-not an ascetic, or a cynic, or a pedant, or anówl; but a man, with all the thoughts, associations, interests, relations, affections, sympathies, of perfect manhood. Be able to say, and every body will feel that you are able to say with

the poet,

“ Homo sum, et nihil humani à me alienum puto."

In addition to these elements of power, the eloquent man must have the power of illustration, which is nothing else than the ready perception of analogies, with an abundant store of various and familiar information ; in other words, the ready perception of analogies and the possession of analogies to be perceived. How often will a man thus furnished accomplish more with one well chosen word, that goes like a live arrow to its mark, than another man will accomplish with hours of flowing and flowery declamation.

What more is necessary to eloquence? Words, you will tell me,—the command of language. True, without words there can be no eloquence ; for eloquence is not wisdom laid up in the mind, but wisdom in the act of utterance; it is power, not in repose, but in action. But how are words to be had. Not surely by committing a dictionary to memory. Not by being conversant with wordy people, whose flow of language without thought, is a disease, instead of an accomplishment. But by having thoughts. The living thought will seize for itself the winged word. “ Thoughts that breathe" will find, or will create " words that burn."

If now, this is the true idea of eloquence, and of the way in which the power of eloquence is to be cultivated, there is danger in our day of a vitiated and inefficient sort of pulpit eloquence. It seems to be supposed in some quarters that eloquence, for which the highest honors are claimed of course, is concerned only with words, and figures, and style, and gesticulation ; and that the matter of a discourse has very little to do with its merits considered as eloquence. Such a man is said to be eloquent. Why? Why, what a beautiful speaker he is !

how graceful !-what a sweet voice !—what elegant figures ! what a command of language !-how beautifully he brought out that quotation from Lord Byron !

There is more favor shown toward that sort of inane and puerile rhetoric in the pulpit, than anywhere else. The advocate at the bar, who should indulge himself in such an exhibition, would see the jury looking vacant and puzzled; he would see the judges scowling at him from the bench; and he would catch some glimpses of the faces of his brethren of the bar grinning with contemptuous merriment. Every advocate knows that if he is to get fees, it must be not by rhetoric and poetry, but by a knowledge of whatever a lawyer ought to know, and by the thorough study and perfect comprehension of his cases. So in the senate, a man may sometimes rise for the purpose of making a rhetorical display ; but he talks to the galleries, and meanwhile the conscript fathers are sleeping, or filing their papers and putting their desks in order, or writing letters to their constituents. But in the pulpit how often are such rhetorical exbibitions considered as eloquence. And how often do we see the effect of such an idea upon the studies of young men preparing for the ministry. Such an expectant of the great office of interpreting the recorded teachings of the Holy Spirit, and of justifying the ways of God to men, omits, or passes over slightly, the hard and heavy learning of Hebrew and Greek ; for what connection is there between the Greek grammar, or the Hebrew lexicon, and eloquence? He has no taste for metaphysics and systems, or the distinctions and questions of Didactic Theology; for he can find in these subtleties and dry chips of logic no savor of eloquence. The history of doctrines and opinions, of persecutions and martyrdons, of controversies, corruptions, and reformations, is to him an arid waste ; for he sees there no flowers of eloquence. To bim all these departments of study are barren; and if he does not absolutely turn away from them, he only aims to give them so much attention as will enable him to pass through some Seminary, and get an introduction to the pulpit. His favorite study is fine writing; and you will find him great in belles lettres, well read in Bulwer and Cooper, profoundly familiar with Childe Harold and Lalla Rookh, and always among the first to try the merits of the last new novel. He is for eloquence; and when he pronounces his orations, let Baxter and Edwards, Dwight and Hall, hide their diminished heads ; for here is a preacher-pardon me--a pulpit orator, whose eloquence has been formed by means and processes which they never dreamed of.

No; the eloquence of the pulpit is not a parade eloquence, but a business eloquence. It is not at all kindred to the rhapsodies of the stage, which have no other end than to delight the imagination, or to excite the passive emotions. It aims not to amuse, nor merely to excite, but to instruct, to persuade and to control. The eloquence of the senate, when the grandest interests of an empire are in debate,-the eloquence of the bar, when the whole living, the character, the liberty, or the life of a client, is depending on a certain conviction to be produced in the minds of the hearers,—the eloquence of the popular assembly, when prejudice is to be made docile, when passion is to be subdued, when the reluctant will of the multitude is to be swayed and determined by argument,-is not more a business eloquence than the eloquence of the pulpit ought ever to be. But this lisping poetry, this mincing elegance of diction, this trumpery and moonshine of superficial rhetoric, this would-be eloquence, which is uttered only to be admired-how impious the impertinence !

III. Another danger to the eloquence of the pulpit is the danger of cutting off sympathy and mutual confidence between the pulpit and the people. I can describe this danger in no way so well as by referring to some two or three sorts of preachers, who more or less effectually isolate themselves from the people at large, and live and think and move in some peculiar and narrow world of their own.

The first specimen then of those preachers who lack sympathy with the common mind, may be the preacher who is smitten with the love of factitious and fashionable life. He sighs for elegant society ; he' is shocked with the coarseness and clownishness of plain people who wear homespun, and whose hands are hard with labor, and their faces bronzed with exposure to the sun. To be the pastor of a country parish, to be doomed to perpetual association with men and women who are always at least a year behind the fashion, and who go neither to Washington in the winter nor to Saratoga in the summer, would be putting his light under a bushel, he might as well go to the heathen, as to spend his life among such christianized barbarians. He must be settled in a city, where he can have a genteel congregation, that shall appreciate his polish and refinement. Can this man be the master of a living and persuasive eloquence? This man !—let me rather say, this compound of buckram and broadcloth,—can he preach effectively ? No. Wherever he may undertake to preach, there is no sympathy between him and the people. His sympathies are not with man as God made him, but with man as the tailor made him. He judges of people, not by their human minds and hearts, but by their clothes and their cards. And therefore if he attains the very place of bis poor ambition, and preaches from a mahogany pulpit to a city congregation, his preaching will be good for nothing; for the human nature of the city is after all the same with the human nature of the country, and, if touched to any salutary purpose, must be touched by the same appeals and arguments. He who does not respect the people, even in the rude rough mass, cannot be respected, or trusted, by the people, anywhere.

Next, we have the scholastic preacher, who knows nothing but what he finds in books, set down under the forms of science, and who therefore knows nothing in common with the people in their most familiar ideas and associations. The man whose propositions, and arguments, and language, all savor of the technicalities of the schools, cannot have the full confidence of the people at large ; for though he may mean something very true, and very simple, they know not what he would be at. Nor can the people have his confidence; for after he has tried them a while, he cannot but esteem them too ignorant to be taught, and too dull to be moved by anything which he has to say to them. He whose talk is of major and minor propositions, of subjects and predicates, of entities and quiddities, of substratum and accidents, and who cannot translate into the language of common life, that philosophy of the human mind which he has learned from books and professors, will find, or at least will show, that there is no conducting medium between bis mind and the minds of the people at large. And if all

the preachers in the land were of such a sort, the perfect inefficiency of the pulpit would soon expose it to universal and unbounded contempt.

I confess, however, that I see no particular occasion, just now, to fear the growth of scholasticism in the pulpit, except among those who are led to affect the doctrines and the language of a mystical or transcendental philosophy. There is something in that pbilosophy, especially as recommended by the poetic genius of Coleridge, and by the enthusiasm and learning of some who in this country have undertaken to be his expounders; there is something in its air of profundity, in its appeals to the imagination, in its very obscurity and incomprehensibleness; there is something too in its lofty contempt of Edwards, and Locke, and the great morning star of modern science,—which strangely and strongly fascinates the minds of young men of a scholastic turn, and of an inactive imaginative temperament. But nothing is more fatal to an effective eloquence in the pulpit, than the fascination of such a philosophy; for nothing more effectually cuts off the communion of sympathy and of mutual confidence between the preacher and the people. The preacher exalted above common sense by transcendentalism, will be likely to shoot above the heads, not only of ignorant men, but of all men, and even to project his arrows into some infinite vacancy, “the reign of chaos and old night.” He may write well, in his way, be may write (some of the class do write) much better than Coleridge ; he may write as well as Plato himself; and if he could afford to say,

“Fit audience let me find, though few," — if he could have a congregation of mystical philosophers, perhaps be might be eloquent. But a congregation of mystics is not to be found this side of the moon; and therefore be who has been engrossed with the things of the inner and higher consciousness, till he has pretty much forgotten the things of that outer and lower consciousness which belongs to other men,cannot preach with anything like effective eloquence. Between the man transcendent in the pulpit, and the men transcended in the pews, there is “a great gull,” over which there can be no communication of sympathy, or of conviction and persuasion. Vain are the preacher's sonorous periods, vain his vast obscurities :

“ The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.” Beside these, there is the conservative preacher, equally cut off from healthful sympathy with the people. I call him conservative, not because he has any particular right to be so called, but because he chooses that name as a name of honor. Need I describe him to you ? He is the man who has found out that whatever looks like progress, in these days, is, on the whole, only a progress from bad to worse. He sees only the dark side of everything that is, and the bright side of everything that was. He refers all things to the standard of the good old times, before the beginning of this disastrous nineteenth century.

He

« PreviousContinue »