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ON PULPIT ORATORY.
WITH REMARKS ON THE REW, ROBERT HALL.
The decline of eloquence in the Senate and at the Bar is no matter of surprise. In the freshness of its youth, it was the only medium by which the knowledge and energy of a single heart could be communicated to thousands. It supplied the place, not only of the press, but of that general communication between the different classes of the state, which the intercourses of modern society supply. Then the passions of men, unchilled by the frigid customs of later days, left them open to be inflamed or enraptured by the bursts of enthusiasm, which would now be met only with scorn. In our courts of law occasions rarely arise for animated addresses to the heart; and even when these occur, the barrister is fettered by technical rules, and yet more by the technical habits and feelings, of those by whom he is encircled. A comparatively small degree of fancy, and a glow of social feeling, directed by a tact which will enable a man to proceed with a constant appearance of directing his course within legal confines, are now the best qualifications of a forensic orator. They were exhibited by Lord Erskine in the highest perfection, and attended with the most splendid success. Had he been greater than he was, he had been nothing. He ever, seemed to cherish an affection for the technicalities of his art, which won the confidence of his duller associates. He appeared to lean on these as his stays and resting-places, even when he ventured to look into the depth of human nature, or to catch a momentary glimpse of the regions of fantasy. When these were taken from him, his powers fascinated no longer. He was exactly adapted to the sphere of a court of law—above his fellows, but not beyond their gage—and giving to the forms which he could not forsake, an air of venerableness and grandeur. Any thing more full of beauty and wisdom than his speeches, would be heard only with cold and bitter scorn in an English court of justice. In the houses of parliament, mightier questions are debated; but no speaker hopes to influence the decision. Indeed the members of opposition scarcely pretend to struggle against the “dead eloquence of votes,” but speak with a view to an influence on the public mind, which is a remote and chilling aim. Were it otherwise, the academic education of the members—the prevalent disposition to ridicule, rather than to admire—and the sensitiveness which resents a burst of enthusiasm as an offence against the decorum of polished society—would effectually repress any attempt to display an eloquence in which intense passion should impel the imagination, and noble sentiment should be steeped in fancy. The orations delivered on charitable occasions,—consisting, with few exceptions,
of poor conceits, miserable compliments, and hackneyed metaphors, are scarcely worthy of a transient allusion. But the causes which have opposed the excellence of pulpit oratory in modern times are not so obvious. Its subjects have never varied, from the day when the Holy Spirit visibly descended on the first advocates of the gospel, in tongues of fire. They are in no danger of being exhausted by frequency, or changed with the vicissitudes of mortal fortune. They have immediate relation to that eternity, the idea of which is the living soul of all poetry and art. It is the province of the preachers of Christianity to develope the connection between this world and the next—to watch over the beginnings of a course which will endure for ever—and to trace the broad shadows cast from imperishable realities on the shifting scenery of earth. This sublunary sphere does not seem to them as trifling or mean, in proportion as they extend their views onward; but assumes a new grandeur and sanctity, as the vestibule of a statelier and an eternal region. The mysteries of our being— life and death—both in their strange essences, and in their sublimer relations, are topics of their ministry. There is nothing affecting in the human condition, nothing majestic in the affections, nothing touching in the instability of human dignities, the fragility of loveliness, or the heroism of self-sacrifice—which is not a theme suited to their high purposes. It is theirs to dwell on the eldest history of the world—on the beautiful simplicities of the patriarchal age—on the stern and awful religion, and marvellous story of the Hebrews—on the glorious visions of the prophets, and their fulfilment—on the character, miracles, and death of the Saviour—on all the wonders, and all the beauty of the Scriptures. It is theirs to trace the spirit of the boundless and the eternal, faintly breathing in every part of the mystic circle of superstition, unquenched even amidst the most barbarous rites of savage tribes, and all the cold and beautiful shapes of Grecian mould. The inward soul of every religious system—the philosophical spirit of all history— the deep secrets of the human heart, when grandest or most wayward—are theirs to search and to develope. Even those speculations which do not immediately affect man's conduct and his hopes are theirs, with all their high casuistry; for in these, at least, they dis. cern the beatings of the soul against the bar: of its earthly tabernacle, which prove the immortality of its essence, and its destiny to move in freedom through the vast ethereal circle to which it thus vainly aspires. In all the intensities of feeling, and all the regalities of imagination, they may find fitting materials for
their passionate expostulations with their fellow men to turn their hearts to those objects which will endure for ever. It appears, therefore, at first observation, strange, that in this country, where an irreligious spirit has never become general, the oratory of the pulpit has made so little progress. The ministers of the Established Church have not, on the whole, fulfilled the promise given in the days of its early zeal. The noble enthusiasm of Hooker—the pregnant wit of South—the genial and tolerant warmth of Tillotson—the vast power of reasoning and observation of Barrow—have rarely been copied, even feebly, by their successors. Jeremy Taylor stands altogether alone among churchmen. Who has ever manifested any portion of that exquisite intermixture of a yearning love with a heavenly fancy, which enabled him to embody and render palpable the holy charities of his religion in the loveliest and most delicate images? Who has ever so encrusted his subjects with candied words; or has seemed, like him, to take away the sting of death with “rich conceit;” or has, like him, half persuaded his hearers to believe that they heard the voice of pitying angels! Few, indeed, of the ministers of the church have been endued with the divine imagination which might combine, enlarge, and vivify the objects of sense, so as, by stately pictures, to present us with symbols of that uncreated beauty and grandeur in which hereafter we shall expatiate. The most celebrated of them have been little more than students of vast learning and research, unless, with Warburton and Horseley, they have aspired at once boldly to speculate, and imperiously to dogmatize. It cannot be doubted, that the species of patronage, by which the honours and emoluments of the establishment are distributed, has tended to prevent the development of genius within its pale. But, perhaps, we may find a more adequate cause for the low state of its preaching in the very beauty and impressiveness of its rites and appointed services. The tendency of religious ceremonies, of the recurrence of old festivals, and of a solemn and dignified form of worship, is, doubtless, to keep alive tender associations in the heart, and to preserve the flame of devotion steady and pure, but not to incite men to look abroad into their nature, or to prompt any lofty excursions of religious fancy. There have, doubtless, been eloquent preachers in the church of Rome, because in her communion the ceremonies themselves are august and fearful, and because her proselyting zeal inspired her sons with peculiar energy. But episcopacy in England is by far the most tolerant of systems ever associated with worldly power. Its ministers, until the claim of some of them, to the exclusive title of evangelical, created dissensions, breathed almost uniformly a spirit of mildness and peace. Within its sacred boundaries, all was order, repose, and charity. Its rights and observances were the helps and leaning-places of the soul, on which it delighted to rest amidst the vicissitudes of the world, and in its approach to its final change. The fulness, the majesty, and the dignified benignities of the
Liturgy sunk deep into the heart, and prevented the devout worshipper from feeling the want of strength or variety in the discourses of the preacher. The church-yard, with its gentle risings, and pensive memorials of affection, was a silent teacher, both of vigilance and love. And the village spire, whose “silent finger points to heaven,” has supplied the place of loftiest imaginings of celestial glory. Obstacles of a far different kind long prevented the advancement of pulpit eloquence among the Protestant Dissenters. The ministers first ejected for non-conformity were men of rigid honesty and virtue, but their intellectual sphere was little extended beyond that of their fellows. There cannot be a greater mistake than to suppose that they sacrificed their worldly interest from any regard to the principles of free inquiry, which have since almost become axioms. They believed that their compliance with the requisitions of the monarch would be offensive to God, and that in refusing to yield it they were doing his will; but they were prepared in their turn to assume the right of interpreting the Bible for others, and of condemning them for a more extended application of their example. Harassed, ridiculed, and afflicted, they naturally contracted an air of rigidity, and refused, in their turn, with horror, an extensive sympathy with the world. The controversies in which the learned men among the Dissenters were long occupied, having respect, not to grand and universal principles, but to petty questions of ceremony and minor points of faith, tended yet farther to confine and depress their genius. Their families were not the less scenes of love, because they preserved parental authority.in its state; but the austerity of their manner tended to repress the imaginative faculties of the young. If they indulged themselves in any relaxation of manner, it was not with flowing eloquence, but with the quaint conceit and grave jest that they garnished their conversation or their discourses. Their religion wore a dark and uncouth garb ; but to this we are indebted, in no small degree, for its preservation through times of demoralizing luxury. A great change has taken place, of late years, in the literature and eloquence of Protestant Dissenters. As they ceased to be objects of persecution or of scorn, they insensibly lost the austerity and exclusiveness of their character. They descended from their dusty retirements to share in the pursuits and innocent enjoyments of “this bright and breathing world.” Their honest bigotries gave way at the warm touch of social intercourse with those from whom they dissented. Meanwhile, the exertions of Whitefield,—his glowing, passionate, and awful eloquence;—his daring and quenchless enthusiasm, and the deep and extensive impression which he made throughout the kingdom, necessarily aroused those who received his essential doctrines, into new zeal. The impulse thus given was happily refined by a taste for classical learning, and for the arts and embellishments of life, which was then gradually insinuating itself into their churches. Some of the new converts who forsook the establishment, not from repugnance to its constitution, but to its preachers, maintained, in the first eagerness of their faith, the barbarous notion that human knowledge was useless, and even dangerous, to the Christian minister. The absurdity of this position, however strikingly exemplified in the advantages gained by the enemies of those who acted on it, served only to increase the desire of the more enlightened and liberal among the non-conformists, to emulate the church in the intellectual qualification of their preachers. They speedily enlarged the means of education among them for the sacred office, and encouraged those habits of study, which promote a refinement and delicacy of feeling in the minds which they enlighten. Meanwhile, their active participation in the noblest schemes of benevolence, tended yet farther to expand their moral horizon. Youths were found among them prepared to sacrifice all the enjoyments of civilized life, and at the peril of their lives to traverse the remotest and the wildest regions, that they might diffuse that religion which is everywhere the parent of arts, charities, and peace. It is not the least benefit of their Missionary exertions, that they have given a romantic tinge to the feelings of men “in populous city pent,” and engrossed with the petty and distracting cares of commerce. These form the true Evangelical chivalry, supplying to their promoters no small measure of that mental refinement and elevation, which the far less noble endeavours to recover the Holy Sepulchre shed on Europe in the middle ages. It is not easy to estimate the advantages which spring from the extension of the imagination into the grandest regions of the earth,
and from the excitement of sympathies for the
condition of the most distant and degraded of the species. The merchant, whose thoughts would else rarely travel beyond his desk and his fire-side, is thus busied with high musings on the progress of the Gospel in the deserts of Africa—skims with the lonely bark over tropical seas—and sends his wishes and his prayers over deserts which human footstep has rarely trodden. Missionary zeal, thus disfused among the people, has necessarily operated yet more strongly on the minds of the ministers, who have leisure to indulge in these delicious dreamings which such a cause may sanction. These excellent men are now, for the most part, not only the instructors, but the ornaments of the circles in which they move. The time which they are able to give to literature is well employed for the benefit of their flocks. In the country, more especially, their gentle manners, their extended information, and their pure and blameless lives, do incalculable good to the hearts of their ruder hearers, independent of their public services. Not only in the more solemn of their duties, in admonishing the guilty, comforting the afflicted, and cheering the dying—do they bless those around them; but by their demeanour, usually dignified, yet cheerful, and their conversation decorous, yet lively; they raise incalculably the tone of social intercourse, and heighten the innocent enjoyment of their friends. Some of them are, at the present day, exhibiting no ordinary gists and energies;–and to the most
distinguished of these, we propose to direct the attention of our readers. Mn. HALL, though perhaps the most distinguished ornament of the Calvinistic" Dissenters, does not afford the best opportunity for criticism. His excellence does not consist in the predominance of one of his powers, but in the exquisite proportion and harmony of all. The richness, variety, and extent of his knowledge, are not so remarkable as his absolute mastery over it. He moves about in the lof. tiest sphere of contemplation, as though he were “native and endued to its element.” He uses the finest classical allusions, the noblest images, and the most exquisite words, as though they were those which came first to his mind, and which formed his natural dialect. There is not the least appearance of straining after greatness in his most magnificent excursions, but he rises to the loftiest heights with a childlike ease. His style is one of the clearest and simplest—the least encumbered with its own beauty—of any which ever has been written. It is bright and lucid as a mirror, and its most highly-wrought and sparkling embellishments are like ornaments of crystal, which, even in their brilliant inequalities of surface, give back to the eye little pieces of true imagery set before them. The works of this great preacher are, in the highest sense of the term, imaginative, as distinguished not only from the didactic, but from the fanciful. He possesses “the vision and the faculty divine,” in as high a degree as any of our writers in prose. His noblest passages do but make truth visible in the form of beauty, and “clothe upon” abstract ideas, till they become palpable in exquisite shapes. The dullest writer would not convey the same meaning in so few words, as he has done in the most sublime of his illustrations. Imagination, when like his of the purest water, is so far from being improperly employed on divine subjects, that it only finds its real objects in the true and the eternal. This power it is which disdains the scattered elements of beauty, as they appear distinctly in an imperfect world, and strives by accumulation, and by rejecting the alloy cast on all things, to imbody to the mind that ideal beauty which shall be realized hereafter. This, by shedding a consecrating light on all it touches, and “bringing them into one,” anticipates the future harmony of creation. This already sees the “soul of goodness in things evil,” which shall one day change the evil into its likeness. This already begins the triumph over the separating powers of death and time, and renders their victory doubtful, by making us feel the immortality of the affections. Such is the faculty which is employed by Mr. Hall to its noblest uses. There is no rhetorical flourish—no mere pomp of words— in his most eloquent discourses. With vast excursive power, indeed, he can range through all the glories of the Pagan world, and seizing those traits of beauty which they derived from primeval revelation, restore them to the system of truth. But he is ever best when he is intensest—when he unveils the mighty foundations of the rock of ages—or makes the hearts of his hearers vibrate with a strange joy which they will recognise in more exalted stages of their being. Mr. Hall has, unfortunately, committed but few of his discourses to the press. His Sermon on the tendencies of Modern Infidelity is one of the noblest specimens of his genius. Nothing can be more fearfully sublime, than the picture which he gives of the desolate state to which Atheism would reduce the world; or more beautiful and triumphant, than his vindication of the social affections. His Sermon on the Death of Princess Charlotte contains a philosophical and eloquent development of the causes which make the sorrows of those who are encircled by the brightest appearances of happiness, peculiarly affecting; and gives an exquisite picture of the gentle victim adorned with sacrificial glories. His discourses on War—on the Discouragements and supports of the Christian Ministry— and on the Work of the Holy Spirit—are of great and various excellence. But, as our limits will allow only a single extract, we prefer giving the close of a Sermon preached in the prospect of the invasion of England by Napoleon, in which he blends the finest remembrance of the antique world—the dearest associations of British patriotism—and the pure spirit of the gospel—in a strain as noble as could have been poured out by Tyrtaeus. “To form an adequate idea of the duties of this crisis, it will be necessary to raise your minds to a level with your station, to extend your views to a distant suturity, and to consequences the most certain, though most remote. By a series of criminal enterprises, by the successes of guilty ambition, the liberties of Europe have been gradually extinguished: the subjugation of Holland, Switzerland, and the free towns of Germany, has completed that catastrophe; and we are the only people in the eastern hemisphere who are in possession of equal laws, and a free constitution. Freedom, driven from every spot on the continent, has sought an asylum in a country which she always chose for her favourite abode: but she is pursued even here, and threatened with destruction. The inundation of lawless power, after covering the whole earth, threatens to follow us here; and we are most exactly, most critically placed in the only aperture where it can be successfully repelled, in the Thermopylae of the universe. As far as the interests of freedom are concerned, the most important by far of sublunary interests, you, my countrymen, stand in the capacity of the federal representatives of the human race; for with you it is to determine (under God) in what condition the latest posterity shall be born; their fortunes are intrusted to your care, and on your conduct at this moment depends the colour and complexion of their destiny. If liberty, after being extinguished on the continent, is suffered to expire here, whence is it ever to emerge in the midst of that thick night that will invest it? It remains with you then to
* We use this epithet merely as that which will most distinctively characterize the extensive class to which it is applied—well aware that there are shades of difference among them—and that many of them would decline to call themselves after any name but that of Christ.
decide whether that freedom, at whose voice the kingdoms of Europe awoke from the sleep of ages, to run a career of virtuous emulation in every thing great and good; the freedom which dispelled the mists of superstition, and invited the nations to behold their God; whose magic touch kindled the rays of genius, the enthusiasm of poetry, and the flame of eloquence; the freedom which poured into our lap opulence and arts, and embellished life with innumerable institutions and improvements, till it became a theatre of wonders; it is for you to decide whether this freedom shall yet survive, or be covered with a funeral pall, and wrapped in eternal gloom. It is not necessary to await your determination. In the solicitude you feel to approve yourselves worthy of such a trust, every thought of what is afflicting in warfare, every apprehension of danger must vanish, and you are impatient to mingle in the battle of the civilized world. Go then, ye defenders of your country, accompanied with every auspicious omen; advance with alacrity into the field, where God himself musters the hosts to war. Religion is too much interested in your success, not to lend you her aid; she will shed over this enterprise her selectest influence. While you are engaged in the field many will repair to the closet, many to the sanctuary; the faithful of every name will employ that prayer which has power with God; the feeble hands which are unequal to any other weapon, will grasp the sword of the Spirit; and from myriads of humble, contrite hearts, the voice of intercession, supplication, and weeping, will mingle in its ascent to heaven with the shout of battle and the shock of arms. “While you have every thing to fear from the success of the enemy, you have every means of preventing that success, so that it is next to impossible for victory not to crown your exertions. The extent of your resources, under God, is equal to the justice of our cause. But should Providence determine otherwise, should you fall in this struggle, should the nation fall, you will have the satisfaction (the purest allotted to man) of having performed your part; your names will be enrolled with the most illustrious dead, while posterity to the end of time, as often as they revolve the events of this period, (and they will incessantly revolve them,) will turn to you a reverential eye, while they mourn over the freedom which is entombed in your sepulchre. I cannot but imagine the virtuous heroes, legislators, and patriots, of every age and country, are bending from their elevated seats to witness this contest, as if they were incapable, till it be brought to a favourable issue, of enjoying their eternal repose. Enjoy that repose, illustrious immortals? Your mantle fell when you ascended, and thousands, inflamed with your spirit, and impatient to tread in your steps, are ready to swear by Him that sitteth upon the throne, and liveth for ever and ever, they will protect freedom in her last asylum, and never desert that cause which you sustained by your labours, and cemented with your blood. And thou, sole Ruler among the children of men, to whom the shields of the earth belong, gird on thy sword, thou Most Mighty: go forth with our hosts in the day of battle! Impart, in addition to their hereditary valour, that confidence of success which springs from thy presence 1 Pour into their hearts the spirit of departed heroes' Inspire them with thine own; and, while led by thine hand, and fighting under thy banners, open thou their eyes to behold in every valley and in every plain, what the prophet beheld by the same illumination—chariots of fire, and horses of fire: Then shall the strong man be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark; and they shall burn together, and none shall quench them.” There is nothing very remarkable in Mr. Hall's manner of delivering his sermons. His simplicity, yet solemnity of deportment, engage the attention, but do not promise any of his most rapturous effusions. His voice is feeble, but distinct, and, as he proceeds, trembles beneath his images, and conveys the idea, that the spring of sublimity and beauty in his mind is exhaustless, and would pour forth a more copious stream, if it had a wider
channel than can be supplied by the bodily organs. The plainest, and least inspired of his discourses, are not without delicate gleams of imagery and felicitous turns of expression. He expatiates on the prophecies with a kindred spirit, and affords awful glimpses into the valley of vision. He often seems to conduct his hearers to the top of the “Delectable Mountains,” whence they can see from afar the glorious gates of the eternal city. He seems at home among the marvellous Revelations of St. John; and, while he expatiates on them, leads his hearers breathless through ever-varying scenes of mystery, far more glorious and surprising than the wildest of oriental fables. He stops when they most desire that he should proceed —when he has just disclosed the dawnings of the inmost glory to their enraptured minds— and leaves them full of imaginations of “things not made with hands,”—of joys too ravishing for smiles—and of impulses which wing their hearts, “along the line of limitless desires.”
RECOLLECTIONS OF LISBON.
[New MonTHLY MAGAZINE.]
On the first of May, 1818, I sailed in one of the government packets, from the beautiful harbour of Falmouth, for Lisbon. The voyage, though it only lasted eight days, was sufficiently long to excite an earnest desire for our arrival at the port of our destiny. The water which so majestically stretches before us, when seen from a promontory or headland, loses much of its interest and its grandeur when it actually circles round us and shuts us in from the world. The part which we are able to discern from the deck of a vessel, appears of very small diameter, and its aspect in fine weather is so uniform as to weary the eye, which seems to sicken with following the dance of the sunbeams, which alone diversify its surface. There is something painfully restless and shadowy in all around us, which forces on our hearts that feeling of the instability and transitoriness of our nature, which we lose among the moveless grandeurs of the universe. On the sea, all without, instead of affording a resting-place for the soul, is emblematic of the fluctuation of our mortal being. Those who have long been accustomed to it seem accommodated to their lot in feeling and in character; snatch a hasty joy with eagerness wherever it can be found, careless of the future, and borne lightly on the wave of life without forethought or struggle. To a landsman there is something inexpressibly sad in the want of material objects which endure. The eye turns disappointed from the glorious panoply of clouds which attend the setting sun, where it has fancied thrones, and golden cities, and temples with their holy shrines far sunken within
outer courts of splendour, while it feels that they are but for a moment, gay mockeries of the state of man on earth. Often, during my little voyage, did I, while looking over the side of the vessel on the dark water, think of the beautiful delineation by the most profound of living poets, of the tender imaginations of a mariner who had been reared among the mountains, and in his heart was “half a shepherd on the stormy seas,” who was wont to hear in the piping shrouds “the tones of waterfalls and inland sounds of caves and trees,” and
“When the regular wind Between the tropics fill'd the steady sail, And blew with the same breath through days and weeks, Lengthening invisibly its weary line Along the cloudless main, who in those hours Of tiresome indolence, would often hang Over the vessel's side, and gaze and gaze: And while the broad green wave and sparkling foam Flashed round him images and hues that wrought In union with the employment of his heart, He, thus by feverish passion overcome, Even with the organs of his bodily eye, Below him, in the bosom of the deep, Saw mountains—saw the forms of sheep that grazed On verdant hills—with dwellings among trees, And shepherds clad in the same country gray Which he himself had worn.”
I remember, however, with gratitude two evenings, just after the renewal of the moon, which were rendered singularly lovely by a soft, tender, and penetrating light which seemed
*See Wordsworth's most affecting pastoral of “The Brothers.”