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repeat it; yet, though all allow the justice of the remark, how few do we find put it in practice! Our orators, with the most faulty bashfulness, seem impressed rather with an awe of their audience, than with a just respect for the truths they are about to deliver; they, of all professions, seem the most bashful, who have the greatest right to glory in their commission.
The French preachers generally assume all that dignity which becomes men who are ambassadors from Christ: the English divines, like erroneous envoys, seem more solicitous not to offend the court to which they are sent, than to drive home the interests of their employer. Massillon, bishop of Clermont, in the first sermon he ever preached, found the whole audience, upon his getting into the pulpit, in a disposition no way favourable to his intentions; their nods, whispers, or drowsy behaviour, showed him that there was no great profit to be expected from his sowing in a soil so improper ; however, he soon changed the disposition of his audience by his manner of beginning: « If,» says he, « a cause, the most important that could be conceived, were to be tried at the bar before qualified judges ; if this cause interested ourselves in particular; if the eyes
of the whole kingdom were fixed upon the event; if the most eminent counsel were employed on both sides ; and if we had heard from our infancy of this yet undetermined trial ; would you not all sit with due attention, and warm expectation, to the pleadings on each side? Would not all your hopes and fears be hinged upon the final decision? And yet, let tell you, you
have this moment a cause of much greater importance before you ; a cause where not one nation, but all the world are spectators; tried not before a fallible tribunal, but the awful throne of Heaven; where not your temporal and transitory interests are the
subject of debate, but your eternal happiness or misery, where the cause is still undetermined; but perhaps the very moment I am speaking may fix the irrevocable decree that shall last for ever; and yet, notwithstanding all this, you can hardly sit with patience to hear the tidings of your own salvation: I plead the cause of Heaven, and yet I am scarcely attended to,» etc.
The style, the abruptness of a beginning like this, in the closet would appear absurd; but in the pulpit it is attended with the most lasting impressions: that style, which in the closet might justly be called flimsy, seems the true mode of eloquence here. I never read a fine composition, under the title of a sermon, that I do not think the author has miscalled his piece; for the talents to be used in writing well, entirely differ from those of speaking well. The qualifications for speaking, as has been already observed, are easily acquired; they are accomplishments which may be taken up by every candidate who will be at the pains of stooping. Impressed with a sense of the truths he is about to deliver, a preacher disregards the applause or the contempt of his audience, and he insensibly assumes a just and manly sincerity. With this talent alone, we see what crowds are drawn around enthusiasts, even destitute of common sense; what numbers converted to Christianity. Folly may sometimes set an example for wisdom to practise; and our regular divines may borrow instruction from even methodists, who go their circuits and preach prizes among the populace. Even Whitfield may be placed as a model to some of our young divines; let them join to their own good sense his earnest manner of delivery.
It will be perhaps objected, that by confining the excellencies of a preacher to proper assurance, earnestness,
openness of style, I make the qualifications too trifling for estimation : there will be something called oratory brought up on this occasion ; action, attitude, grace, elocution, may be repeated as absolutely necessary to complete the character: but let us not be deceived; common sense is seldom swayed by fine tones, musical periods, just attitudes, or the display of a white handkerchief; oratorial behaviour, except in very able hands indeed, generally sinks into awkward and paltry affectation.
It must be observed, however, that these rules are calculated only for him who would instruct the vulgar, who stand in most need of instruction; to address philosophers, and to obtain the character of a polite preacher among the polite-a much more useless, though more sought for character-requires a different method of proceeding. All I shall observe on this head is, to entreat the polemic divine, in his controversy with the Deists, to act rather offensively than to defend; to push home the grounds of his belief, and the impracticability of theirs, rather than to spend time in solving the objections of every opponent. one,» says a late writer on the art of war, « but that the assailant who attacks the enemy in his trenches is always victorious.»
Yet, upon the whole, our clergy might employ themselves more to the benefit of society, by declining all controversy, than by exhibiting even the profoundest skill in polemic disputes : their contests with each other often turn on speculative trifles; and their disputes with the Deists are almost at an end, since they can have no more than victory, and that they are already possessed of, as their antagonists have been driven into a confession of the necessity of revelation, or an open avowal of atheism. To continue the dispute longer would only endanger it;
the sceptic is ever expert at puzzling a debate which he finds himself unable to continue, «and, like an Olympic boxer, generally fights best when undermost.»
The improvements we make in mental acquirements only render us each day more sensible of the defects of our constitution: with this in view, therefore, let us often recur to the amusements of youth, endeavour to forget age and wisdom, and, as far as innocence goes, be as much a boy as the best of them:
Let idle declaimers mourn over the degeneracy of the age; but in my opinion every age is the same. This I am sure of, that man in every season is a poor fretful being, with no other means to escape
the calamities of the times but by endeavouring to forget them; for if he attempts to resist, he is certainly undone. If I feel poverty and pain, I am not so hardy as to quarrel with the executioner, even while under correction: I find myself no way disposed to make fine speeches while I am making wry faces. word, let me drink when the fit is on, to make me insensible; and drink when it is over, for joy that I feel pain no longer.
The character of old Falstaff, even with all his faults, gives me more consolation than the most studied efforts of wisdom: I here behold an agreeable old fellow, forgetting age, and showing me the way to be young at sixty-five. Sure I am well able to be as merry, though not so comical as he—Is it not in my power to have, though not so much
wit, at least as much vivacity?-Age, care, wisdom, reflection, begone—I give you to the winds. Let's have t'other bottle: here's to the memory of Shakspeare, Falstaff, and all the merry men of Eastcheap.
Such were the reflections that naturally arose while I sat at the Boar's-Head Tavern, still kept at Eastcheap. Here by a pleasant fire, in the very room where old Sir John Falstaff cracked his jokes, in the very chair which was sometimes honoured by Prince Henry, and sometimes polluted by his immoral merry companions, I sat and ruminated on the follies of youth; wished to be young again, but was resolved to make the best of life while it lasted; and now and then compared past and present times together. I considered myself as the only living representative of the old knight, and transported my imagination back to the times when the prince and he gave life to the revel, and made even debauchery not disgusting. The room also conspired to throw my reflections back into antiquity: the oak floor, the Gothic windows, and the ponderous chimney-piece, had long withstood the tooth of time; the watchman had gone twelve; my companions had all stolen off; and none now remained with me but the landlord. From him I could have wished to know the history of a tavern, that had such a long succession of custoiners: I could not help thinking that an account of this kind would be a pleasing contrast of the manners of different
my landlord could give me no information. He continued to doze and sot, and tell a tedious story, as most other landlords usually do, and, though he said nothing, yet was never silent; one good joke followed another good joke; and the best joke of all was generally begun towards the end of a bottle. I found at last, however, his wine and his conversation operate by degrees: