Page images

reason and gentle feelings, instead of to the passions and the imagination. Beware of too much talk, O parsons! If a man is to give an account of every idle word he utters, for what a number of loud nothings, windy, emphatic tropes and metaphors, spoken not for God's glory, but the preacher's, will many a cushion-thumper have to answer."

We need not deny that hearers like Mr. Thackeray will derive more information from many a written, than from many an unwritten discourse; but some hearers do not worship in the same house with Mr. Thackeray. The multitude of thoughts which edify him would only confuse them. There is another reason why they are not edified by the reader of a thoughtful sermon. They will not listen to him. In order to indoctrinate men, a teacher must induce them to hear what he says. The instructiveness of his services depends not merely on what is given out, but also on what is taken in. While he uniformly reads his discourses, he may be uniformly trying to fill a cracked bottle or a bottomless tub. It is said by John Mason: "The inaccuracy of diction, the inelegance, poverty, and lowness of expression which is commonly observed in extemporaneous discourses will not fail to offend every hearer of good taste." "The extemporizer will run into trite, commonplace topics; his compositions will be loose and unconnected, his language often coarse and confused," says Dr. Gerard.2 There is weight in the objection; but, as all men have not faith, so all men have not culture. There are thousands, as, for example, among the negro slaves or freedmen, to whom we would give their "portion in due season," whom we would "save with fear, pulling them out of the fire," and who would obtain more knowledge of the truth from a talker uttering only three ideas than from a Mason or a Gerard uttering three times three. The ideas of the extemporaneous talker would be expressed in an unclassical idiom. This is an evil, but not so dire an evil as would be the uttering of them in classical phrases, to which the hearers would not attend. The ideas of Mason and Gerard would be ex

1 Mason's Student and Pastor, chap. ii. VOL. XXIX. No. 116.

2 Treatise on the Pastoral Charge.


pressed in untainted English. This is an advantage, but not so great an advantage as the uttering of them in a diction which would be at once intelligible and impressive. Modern apostles would rather have an unlearned man speak his ten thousand words with the understanding, than a learned man speak his five words in a tongue which the hearers would not listen to. Dr. Charles Backus, of Somers, visiting his parishioners from house to house, was astonished at the discovery that so many of them had not received the carefully-written instructions which he had offered to their ears. Equally astonished have been inquiring tourists at the discovery that unlettered negroes, who had been listening to the "crude vagaries" of an extemporizer, had really learned the way of salvation. Their consciences had filled out the lacunae of the preachment. A word of the sermonicator had been a symbol, suggesting more than he himself could explain. As in heaven there are various orders of hierarchies, one rising above another, so on earth there are varying orders of preachers, one falling below another; and as some congregations demand sermons more distinctively instructive, so other congregations demand sermons more exhilarating and impulsive. They will have either extemporaneous commonplaces in the pulpit or baudy songs in the tavern. The alternative is a sad one, but the latter branch of it more sad than the former. It is the duty of all men to "covet earnestly the best gifts"; but we should be thankful if we could induce some men to accept any gift which is good. "What then? Notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth," whether with scholastic lore or with grammatical solecisms, "Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."

"These are extreme cases." So much the better for illustrating the fact that there are intermediate cases, in which a learned man may extemporize in order to gain hearers whom he can interest in no other way. "We desire a learned ministry." By all means; but some men are so fond of letters that they will not accommodate themselves to

their hearers; they have more literature than common sense; their affluent learning ought to flow forth in such forms of address as their people need. The Greeks and Romans suspected an orator of dishonest artifice when he read his oration to them; therefore he laid aside his manuscript. Shall not a Christian orator become "all things to all men," if by this adaptation he may gain some?

In certain States of New England there was formerly a standing order" of clergymen supported by law. They were educated men; they generally read their discourses. They were annoyed by preachers whom they termed "sectarians." These preachers were often uneducated; in the main they spoke without notes. They were ridiculed for their "nonsense," "platitudes," "crudities," "vagaries." But they filled the barns and tavern-halls and groves in which they discoursed. Their congregations were multiplied and enlarged. They became powers too mighty to be treated with sarcasm. One of the reasons for their triumph was their extemporary form of address. It met the wants of their hearers. Their style was open to criticism; but it exactly suited the men who came to hear, and not to criticise. "Our minister does not read; he preaches. He does not stare at his paper; but he communes with us face to face, heart to heart." This was the common feeling. The sailors in our sea-ports, when they hear any preaching, choose to have it come to them fresh as a west wind. During the last forty years there has been in Massachusetts a seaman's minister whom Edward Everett characterized as "an Institution, a walking Bethel "1; whom Daniel Webster, in the Senate of the United States, extolled as a phenomenon ; and who was admired as an orator for seamen by Methodist bishops, Unitarian divines, authors like Charles Dickens, Harriet Martineau, Frederika Bremer, Anna Jameson, Catherine Sedgwick. This minister "never wrote a sermon, not a skeleton, hardly a text." When he entered the ministerial office he was obliged to depend on others for reading to him 1 Everett's Orations, Vol. iv. p. 733.


his text and hymns. Mrs. Jameson writes: "Until he was five and twenty he had never learned to read; and his reading afterwards was confined to such books [very few] as aided him in the ministry. He remained an illiterate man to the last."1 Miss Martineau says of his preaching: It "exerts a prodigious power over an occasional hearer, and it is an exquisite pleasure to listen to it; but it does not for a continuance meet the religious wants of any but those to whom it is expressly addressed." The peculiarities both of the audience and the speaker demanded the extemporary style.

It was interesting to compare his manner of presenting an idea with the manner of an Edwardean divine. That divine might read a sermon at a funeral, and prove that every man is bound to love his neighbor as himself; that all men who love "being in proportion to its amount of being ""are the body of Christ and members in particular," and "the members should have the same care one for another," and if "one member suffer, all the members suffer with it," for "they are all included in being, as such." But this preacher for sailor-boys is described in the following manner by Miss Frederika Bremer, in her " Homes of the New World":

Father Taylor, who usually entered the church looking to the right hand and the left, bowing kindly to his friends, entered, on the occasion described here, without any such kindly greetings. All wondered what could be the cause of the sorrow depicted on his face. "He mounted the pulpit, and then, bowing down as if in the deepest affliction, exclaimed: Lord, have mercy upon us, because we are a widow!' And so saying, he pointed down to a coffin which he had had placed in the aisle below the pulpit. One of the sailors belonging to the congregation had just died, leaving a widow and many small children without any means of support. Father Taylor now placed himself and the congregation in the position of the widow, and described so forcibly their grief, their mournful countenances, and their desolate condition, that at the close of the sermon the congregation rose as one man; and so considerable was the contribution which was made for the widow that she was raised at once above want. In fact, our coldly moralizing clergy, who read their

[ocr errors]

1 Common-place Book of Thought, Memories, and Fancies. By Mrs. Jameson, p. 169.

written sermons, ought to come hither, and learn how they may touch and win souls."1

5. Many objections arise from overlooking the fact that some of the preachers who are exposed to criticism for their faults in speaking extempore would be equally exposed if they should read or recite their sermons. The fault is in the men, not in their method. A French critic thus describes a class of preachers speaking impromptu :

"They give utterance to all which comes into their minds. They altogether omit, or only half present, their proofs. They lose themselves in detail. Their manner is injured by the conflict in the mind seeking that which is wanting to complete a sentence already begun; they repeat themselves, wander into digressions, without action, without movement; or, if they have a lively temperament, their action is turbulent, their eyes and their hands fly about here and there, and they contradict themselves. I have seen men who, as if drowning, throw out their hands and their feet to catch hold where they can and save themselves. To what ridicule do not those expose themselves, who, under the poorly-conceived pretext of apostolic simplicity, appear in the pulpit without having studied their discourse, imagine that they preach naturally because they shout with all their strength, perspire a great deal, speak often of the devil and hell, bewilder their hearers by all the devices that their imagination can suggest, and pretend they are converting all the people. I wonder equally at the patience of the hearers who listen in silence to these ranting preachers, and at the insufficiency and coarseness of these pretended orators, who give forth with boldness and a pretended apostolic manner all that a fiery zeal excited by a pious frenzy can dictate."

Among the freedmen of our Southern States there are preachers whose eloquence is marvellous, and still their faults are ridiculous. Would not these men sink into worse faults if they should commit their sermons to memory? Would any one advise them to read their discourses? We admit that an extemporizer often disgusts his hearers with a sing-song or hesitating or drawling or boisterous or blatant delivery; but are there not well-educated preachers who murder in their reading what they have enlivened in their writing? Are there not many persons who can talk well but cannot read well?

1 Incidents, etc., of Rev. Edward T. Taylor, pp. 354, 355.

2 Dinouart sur L'Eloquence, pp. 60, 61.

« PreviousContinue »