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Th' enthusiastic Muse believes are true,
"O, were I equal to the bold design,
No. 633. WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15, 1714.
Omnia profecto cum se a cœlestibus rebus referet ad humanas excelsius magnificentiusque et dicet et sentiet. CICERO.
The contemplation of celestial things, will make a man both speak and think more sublimely and magnificently, when he descends to human affairs.
THE following discourse is printed as it came to my hands, without variation.
Cambridge, Dec. 11.
It was a very common inquiry among the ancients, why the number of excellent orators, under all the encouragements the most flourishing states could give them, fell so far short of the number of those who excelled in all other sciences. A friend of mine used merrily to apply to this case an observation of Herodotus, who says, that the most useful animals are the most fruitful in their generation; whereas the species of those beasts that are
fierce and mischievous to mankind are but scarcely continued. The historian instances in a hare, which always either breeds or brings forth; and a lioness, which brings forth but once, and then loses all power of conception. But leaving my friend to his mirth, I am of opinion that in these latter ages we have greater cause of complaint than the ancients had. And since that solemn festival is approaching, which calls for all the power of oratory, and which affords as noble a subject for the pulpit as any revelation has taught us, the design of this paper shall be to shew that our moderns have greater advantages towards true and solid eloquence, than any which the celebrated speakers of antiquity enjoyed.
The first great and substantial difference is, that their common-places, in which almost the whole force of amplification consists, were drawn from the profit or honesty of the action, as they regarded only this present state of duration. But Christianity, as it exalts morality to a greater perfection, as it brings the consideration of another life into the question, as it proposes rewards and punishments of a higher nature and a longer continuance, is more adapted to affect the minds of the audience, naturally inclined to pursue. what it imagines its greatest interest and concern. If Pericles, as historians report, could shake the firmest resolutions of his hearers, and set the passions of all Greece in a ferment, when the present welfare of his country, or the fear of hostile invasions, was the subject; what may be expected from that orator who warns his audience against those evils which have no remedy, when once undergone, either from prudence or time? As much greater as the evils in a future state are than these at present, so much are the motives to persuasion, under Christianity, greater than those which mere moral considerations could supply us with. But what I now mention relates only to the power of moving the affections. There is another part of eloquence which is indeed its master-piece; I mean the marvellous, or sublime. In this the Christian orator has the advantage beyond contradiction. Our ideas are so infinitely enlarged by revelation, the eye of reason has so wide a prospect into eternity, the notions of a Deity are so worthy
and refined, and the accounts we have of a state of happiness or misery so clear and evident, that the contemplation of such objects will give our discourse a noble vigour, an invincible force, beyond the power of any human consideration. Tully requires in his perfect orator some skill in the nature of heavenly bodies; because, says he, his mind will become more extensive and unconfined; and when he descends to treat of human affairs, he will both think and write in a more exalted and magnificent manner. For the same reason that excellent master would have recommended the study of those great and glorious mysteries which revelation has discovered to us; to which the noblest parts of this system of the world are as much inferior as the creature is less excellent than its Creator. The wisest and most knowing among the heathens had very poor and imperfect notions of a future state. They had indeed some uncertain hopes, either received by tradition, or gathered by reason, that the existence of virtuous men would not be determined by the separation of the soul and body: but they either disbelieved a future state of punishment and misery; or, upon the same account that Apelles painted Antigonus with one side only towards the spectator, that the, loss of his eye might not cast a blemish upon the whole piece: so these represented the condition of man in its fairest view, and endeavoured to conceal what they thought was a deformity to human nature. I have often observed, that whenever the above-mentioned orator in his philosophical discourses is led by his argument to the mention of immortality, he seems like one awaked out of sleep; roused and alarmed with the dignity of the subject, he stretches his imagination to conceive something uncommon, and, with the greatness of his thoughts, casts, as it were, a glory round the sentence. Uncertain and unsettled as he was, he seems fixed with the contemplation of it. And nothing but such a glorious prospect could have forced so great a lover of truth as he was, to declare his resolution never to part with his persuasion of immortality, though it should be proved to be an erroneous one. But had he lived to see all that Christianity has brought to light, how would he have lavished out all the force of eloquence in those noblest contemplations which human nature is capable of, the resurrection and the judgment that follows
it! How had his breast glowed with pleasure, when the whole compass of futurity lay open and exposed to his view! How would his imagination have hurried him on in the pursuit of the mysteries of the incarnation! How would he have entered, with the force of lightning, into the affections of his hearers, and fixed their attention, in spite of all the opposition of corrupt nature, upon those glorious themes which his eloquence hath painted in such lively and lasting colours!
This advantage Christians have; and it was with no small pleasure I lately met with a fragment of Longinus, which is preserved as a testimony of that critic's judgment, at the beginning of a manuscript of the New Tes tament, in the Vatican library. After that author has numbered up the most celebrated orators among the Grecians, he says, "Add to these Paul of Tarsus, the. patron of an opinion not yet fully proved." As a hea then, he condemns the Christian religion; and, as an impartial critic, he judges in favour of the promoter and preacher of it. To me it seems that the latter part of his judgment adds great weight to his opinion of St. Paul's abilities, since, under all the prejudice of opinions directly opposite, he is constrained to acknowledge the merit of that apostle. And no doubt such as Longinus describes St. Paul, such he appeared to the inhabitants of those countries which he visited and blessed with those doctrines he was divinely commissioned to preach. Sacred story gives us, in one circumstance, a convincing proof of his eloquence, when the men of Lystra called him Mercury, "because he was the chief speaker," and would have paid divine worship to him, as to the god who invented and presided over eloquence. This one account of our apostle sets his character, considered as an orator only, above all the celebrated relations of the skill and influence of Demosthenes and his contemporaries. Their power in speaking was admired, but still it was thought human; there eloquence warmed and ravished the hearers, but still it was thought the voice of man, not the voice of God. What advantage then had St. Paul above those of Greece or Rome? I confess I can ascribe this excellence to nothing but the power of the doctrines he delivered, which may have still the same influence on the hearers; which have still the same power,
when preached by a skilful orator, to make us break out in the same expressions as the disciples, who met our Saviour in their way to Emmaus, made use of, "Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?" I may be thought bold in my judgment by some, but I must affirm, that no one orator has left us so visible marks and footsteps of his eloquence as our apostle. It may perhaps be wondered at that, in his reasonings upon idolatry at Athens, where eloquence was born and flourished, he confines himself to strict argument only; but my reader may remember, what many authors of the best credit have assured us, that all attempts upon the affections and strokes of oratory were expressly forbidden by the laws of that country in courts of judicature. His want of eloquence therefore here, was the effect of his exact conformity to the laws; but his discourse on the resurrection to the Corinthians, his harangue before Agrippa upon his own conversion, and the necessity of that of others, are truly great, and may serve as full examples to those excellent rules for the sublime, which the best of critics has left us. The sum of all this discourse is, that our clergy have no farther to look for an example of the perfection they may arrive at, than to St. Paul's harangues; that when he, under the want of several advantages of nature, as he himself tells us, was heard, admired, and made a standard to succeeding ages by the best judges of a dif ferent persuasion in religion; I say, our clergy may learn that, however instructive their sermons are, they are capable of receiving a great addition; which St. Paul has given them a noble example of, and the Christian religion has furnished them with certain means of attaining to' [DE. PEARCE, afterwards Bp. of Rochester.]