« PreviousContinue »
He aims not merely to gain, but to move the hearer; he seeks not big applause, but his assent; in this especially lies his greatness. That the Athenians not only endured him, but declared him the first of orators, shows that they even in an age of decline, were superior to the most cultivated nations of modern times, by their correct estimation of things. If Demosthenes confined himself to his subject, he also completely fathomed it; he considered it from all sides and in all relations, and penetrated into all its depths. Of all which he could use, not the least thing escaped him. The treasures which he thus gained, and which he brought out from the object itself, placed him in a condition to despise everything foreign to the subject. We must be astonished at the copiousness of the ideas and means which were at his command. Still greater and more glorious treasures than Demosthenes found in the subjects treated by him, are to be found in those which belong to the province of sacred eloquence ; but to be sure, just as great fidelity of investigation is requisite to bring them out from their depths.
But this wealth of ideas must be wrought into shape; every thought must receive that position, where it is sustained by that which precedes, and itself, in turn, may sustain that which follows; where it does not stop, but continue the movement; where it may not only be heard by the hearer without offence, but may strengthen his conviction and increase his emotion. The thoughts of the orator must be waves, of which the one is driven on by the other. In this quality also which lies so deep, Demosthenes surpasses all other orators. His thoughts form a linked series, of which no part can change its place without injury to the whole. The bearer, at the outset, is, seized by a salutary power, to which, without resistance, he surrenders the best powers of his inner being; and as he is led upon a path, where there is no hindrance or interruption, he follows step by step to the end; not only because he must, but because he also follows gladly and with joy.
In Demosthenes, this firmly linked chain of thought glows with the most living fire of emotion. In modern times there is an inclination to deny him this excellence; he is accused of addressing only the understanding and not the heart; that his whole problem is placed in convincing, by arguments, of the justice of his cause, and the utility of his proposals. Were this the case, he would be deficient in the most essential quality of an orator. But is thought incompatible with feeling? Is not rather the connection of thought a chain, along which the fire of feeling may the more easily pass ? Is not feeling so much the nobler, and hence so much the more powerful in noble natures, 1849.]
Early Life of Massillon.
the more it is sustained by thought ? We must not indeed seek the more tender feelings in Demosthenes; for developing these, his struggle with Philip offered little occasion. But if we seek the stronger, manly feelings, love of country, enthusiasm for the glory of noble actions, hatred against everything base, indignation against selfishness and faithlessness, the words of Demosthenes, more than of any other man, are penetrated with the fire of these emotions; and it glows in them still, after so many centuries have passed over them.
To this perfection of material corresponds, in Demosthenes, the finished form. Froin the critics of antiquity, especially Dionysius, he received the highest praise in this respect. His style, says this critic, is not the rough and hard style of Thucydides, nor the soft and polished of Isocrates, but he has taken a happy middle way between them.
His prose is, in its kind, something quite as finished as metrical composition; he bestowed great attention, for example, upon the sequence of long and short syllables; not to produce a symmetrically recurring metre, but to express the most various emotions of the mind by a suitable and ever changing rhythm. In general, by the study of Demosthenes and the ancient critics, we are introduced to mysteries of prose composition, which must awaken our astonishment. It is the opinion of the modern world, that he, who is full with his thoughts, cannot possibly bestow so much care upon the form. But it may be asked, whether it is not necessary, precisely on account of the substance, in order to present it undimmed to the intuition of the hearer, to bestow attention upon the form. But the example of Demosthenes shows us, that, in cultivating the form, we need not separate it from the substance; a fault to be ascribed not to art but to a want of art, since for true art, the most perfect form is nothing else, than the clearest and most transparent appearance of the substance.
At the close of this representation, I give it for consideration, whether these qualities, praised in Demosthenes, may not be transferred to the field of sacred eloquence, and whether it is not the duty of every pulpit orator, to strive to acquire them.
We pass now from Greece to France ;l from Athens 10 Paris ; from Demosthenes, the first political orator of all times, to Massillon, who, among the pulpit orators of the Catholic church in the age of Louis XIV, appears to me to merit the first place. Demosthenes and Massillon both flourished at the close of the age in which they lived. Demosthenes is one of the last from the period of Attic splendor; Massillon stands on the decline of the age of Louis XIV, an age which has been not unjustly praised; and he lived to see the beginning of the following century, and of the new period which began with it. The second half of the seventeenth century was, in many countries, rich in highly gifted and pious men. In the evangelical church in Germany were Gerhard, Spener and Franke; and France possessed such men as Pascal, Fenelon and Bossuet, to the number of whom Massillon may be worthily added. He was born in 1663 at Hyères, and in his youth attended the school in his native town, established and directed by the priests of the Oratorium. He afterwards, in his eighteenth year, became a member of that congregation, and was animated by its spirit, and became himself its ornament. This was a religious society, which had its establishments in various parts of France, and sustained a high religious character. Somewhat resembling this was the congregation of Saint Lazare, founded by Vincent de Paul. When we consider these and other institutions in their activity, we may form a favorable picture of the condition of the Catholic church at that time in France. About this time also arose the struggle between the Jesuits and the Port-Royal. Massillon, shortly after entering the Oratorium, resolved to leave, and devote bimself to the life of the cloister. Accordingly he entered as novice the abbey of Septfons ; but by means of a letter, which he wrote for the abbot, he attracted the notice of the bishop, who said, that a talent, like his, must not bury itself in a cloister ; Massillon returned to the Oratorium.
| We have occupied so much space with Demosthenes, that we shall be obliged to omit very much in the second part, which occupies over 200 pages, more than half the work; and shall contine ourselves chietly to those parts which relate to the oratorical character of Massillon.—TR.
Demosthenes felt himself, in his earliest years, called to be an orator; in Massillon this consciousness slumbered during his youth; be thought himself fitted for every other work, more than proclaiming the word of God. At the urgent request of bis superiors, however, he made some essays in preaching, and immediately gained uncommon applause; which they merited, perhaps, on account of what they promised for the future; but by no means for what he then performed. He seems to have had no presentiment at all of the great resources, which he discovered, indeed, only in the progress of his own inner life, and through which he afterwards succeeded in producing so great effects. But in these first attempts, is not to be mistaken an earnest and strict religious sentiment.
In his thirty-third year he was called to Paris, as superintendent of the seminary of Saint Magloire, which was under the direction of the Oratorium, and in this capacity delivered several sermons, In these
Character of the Age of Massillon.
he shows himself a mature orator ; insight and experience are combined with enthusiasm for his profession, which is never wanting to him. The style freed from the burdensome play of rhetorical forms, with all youthful life and freshness, may be called appropriate, noble, and simple.
Soon after Massillon arrived in Paris, he was asked his opinion concerning the most celebrated pulpit orators of that period. He replied that he acknowledged and esteemed the excellences of each, but did not wish to take any of them as a pattern for himself. This expression seems to show, that Massillon, even at that time, was satisfied as to the direction to be pursued by him in proclaiming the Divine word. Public speaking stands in the closest connection with the entire personality; where this has something decided, it not only rejects conscious imitation, but seeks to break new paths for itself, in order to unfold itself the more fully. The most distinguished orators of France, at that time, were Mascaron, Fléchier, Bossuet and Bourdaloue. Massillon may not have heard them all, as they were advanced in life when he went to Paris. The province of feeling was at that time little appropriated for sacred eloquence; and if Massillon was led to this, almost involuntarily, by his personal endowments, he may also have recognized it as the province in which the sacred orator must be especially at home. By this is not to be understood, that he aimed to call forth idle emotions, that move and affect us uselessly, but serve no higher aim; the French character, indeed, is not inclined to such tones of mind; and, with his high idea of the dignity of the preacher's office, Massillon could not possibly have assigned to it so low a mission. It is his design, to awaken the tenderest and most powerful feelings of the heart, on the side of faith and Christian piety; to draw' the whole world of feeling into the struggle for holiness, to convert it from a hostile to an auxiliary power. Connected with this, is the fact, that, at least in his best sermons, he does not aim so much to develop doctrines and exhibit commands, as to contend against the prejudices and passions, which hinder the reception of truth and obedience to commands. All this appears to have hovered, though dimly, before his mind, in that answer which he gave.
If the personality, disposition and the principles of an orator point out to him the direction which he is to take, it is still the surrounding world which furnishes the material of his discourses; and from the position which he takes, in the century in which he lives, will the predominent tone and coloring of his addresses, in many respects, be explained. But the period in which Massillon lived, may be called, in respect to the political, literary, religious, and moral life in France, a time in which decline was commencing. The unjust and ambitious wars of Louis XIV. had exhausted the resources of the country, and alienated the hearts of his subjects, and the French army had suffered many great defeats in the war of the Spanish succession, although the king attained his purpose. The splendid epoch of French literature, which began about the middle of the seventeenth century, was already approaching its end. Massillon lived at a time when he could make use, for his culture, of all the great works of this period, and in bim, as in one of the last representatives of this epoch, that which is excellent in them appears to have united in a last glance of light. But he outlived this period, and witnessed the decline of French literature, that afterwards appeared. Towards the close of this century that man was born, who, in the next, became the most noted instrument of the universal decline,--Voltaire.
Moral life had sunk deeply in France, which must probably, among other reasons, be ascribed to the influence of Louis XIV; of the spirit, in which, guided by fanatical and intriguing priests and statesmen, he managed the affairs of the church, we have an example in his persecution of the protestants. He also delivered up the Port-Royal to the hatred of the Jesuits; and procured from the pope the condemnation of a religious work of Fenelon. It marks the court of Louis XIV, that a man like Fenelon found no place there, was thrust from it, and must close his days in honorable exile, as archbishop of Cambray. But this incredibly rapid decline of religion and morality in the French people, cannot be explained, unless we add the corrupt influence of an immoral court.
It seemed necessary to refer to this general decline, especially in .morals and religion, in the age of Massillon; since his eloquence can appear in its true light, only when seen upon this dark background. In periods of great corruption, men are accustomed to take a twofold position in relation to their age. Some, without exactly participating in the corruption, in its whole extent, yet swim along with the stream, unconcerned wbere it may take them. Others, perceiving the danger, escape the whirlpool, and with the power of a morally good will, set themselves against the general movement; such was the position of Demosthenes and Massillon; a position, perhaps, not unfavorable to eloquence. By the greatness and general spread of the evil he contends against, the orator feels bimself summoned to the most extraordinary efforts. It was such a violent contest as this, that Massillon carried on; and if his sermons, on this account, are less adapted to the edification of the closet, they are so much the more important as examples of exalted eloquence. From this may be explained that coloring of