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considerable share of enthusiasm. The opposition between them caused those of the establishment to run into the other extreme, and the majority of them became mere moral and insipid preachers.
There is however a great number of excellent sermons in our language. Among the old authors I prefer Jeremy Taylor. He is classical, pathetic, and, for the time he lived in, elegant in his style. English preaching was, however, but in its infancy at that period: he admits, therefore, many thoughts and allusions into his discourses, which would excite a stare, if not a smile, in a modern audience; and if any divine should wish to adopt them, he must have some confidence in his own taste, and some expertness in the art of abridging. Dr. Barrow possessed a more varied stock of learning than perhaps any divine of our church. He has written on almost every subject of divinity or ethics; and I know few books to which I would rather choose to refer the student of theology, than to his sermons on the Christian Faith. Though his genius was mathematical, I confess there appears rather a want of method in some of his discourses. His style is in general plain and chaste. His periods are not full, but run smoothly from the tongue; and his language, for the most part, preserves one even tenor. He is a great magazine of sentiment and information, and may be resorted to by young preachers, with great advantage.
Dr. Tillotson's sermons have been admired. They are however, in general, too polemical, and the language is too loose and unharmonious. It has few well-turned periods, and is sometimes as slovenly as common conversation. The sermons of this good and learned man contain, however, some passages exquisitely beautiful.
I can, I confess, read South with more pleasure than the last mentioned author, though I do not pretend to apologize for his buffoonery. He is keen, pointed, sarcastic. He is a great judge of human nature, which he does not always view in the most favourable light. He is always animated, keeps alive our attention by the energy of his arguments, the acuteness of his wit, and the terse
ness and compression of his style. He seldom affects the pathetic, and never succeeds in it.
Bishop Atterbury is perhaps the most elegant and classical writer among our divines. His discourses have all the flow and elegance of Cicero, with the chasteness and purity of Demosthenes. His style is animated, yet not too highly ornamented; and his allusions are original, classical, and splendid. The sermon on the character of the Scorner is as animated a philippic as any in the compass of the whole of the Roman oratory; that on Paul before Felix is admirably pathetic.
Some of Bishop Sherlock's are, in my opinion, among the very best and most interesting sermons in the English language. His knowledge of human nature is perhaps superior to that of all the preceding writers. His arrangement is correct and striking; his subjects wellchosen, his arguments forcible and ingenious. In general I think his doctrinal are inferior to his moral discourses.
Dr. Clarke's are curious and critical, and ought to be read by every divine; he is one of the best expositors of Scripture that I know. Dr. Jortin's are nearly of the same kind. They contain a fund of excellent matter, of keen remarks, and original thought. Both these writers are, however, rather curious than popular; and are rather to be considered as repositories of matter, which may be occasionally resorted to, than as affording any discourses for immediate use.
The sermons of Seed, and those of Dr. Ogden, are both highly ornamented; and yet the ornament is of a quite different kind. The style of the former is diffuse; that of the latter is the most condensed I have ever examined. With respect to the time which these sermons would require in delivering, the former ought to be abridged, and the latter perhaps dilated; but what modern architect dare lift up a trowel against the work of a Jones or a Palladio?
The present age has produced some excellent sermons. The principal are Dr. Blair's, Mr. Hewlett's, and the present Bishop of London. Some of the first are better adapted to the closet than the pulpit; but many of
them contain admirable delineations of human character. The two last authors are too well known to be affected either by my commendation or dispraise, if indeed the latter could with any propriety be applied to them. I have heard it remarked that Dr. Blair's seem calculated for any time, and for almost any religion; those of Bishop Porteus are adapted exactly to the present time, and the present state of religion.
Should you wish for more information on this subject, you will find it in an Essay on the Composition and Delivery of a sermon, prefixed to a volume of Sermons which I published some years ago; which you will conclude has furnished many of the hints for this letter; and in that you will find all the authorities for what I have advanced on the origin and progress of pulpit eloquence.
MY DEAR JOHN,
THOUGH oratory seems to require more genius, for if the orator would touch the heart, he must call fancy to his aid, yet it is an extraordinary fact, that taking oratory in an extensive view, as including all addresses to the passions, whether in the shape of letters, pamphlets, or speeches, almost every period of literature has produced more good orators than good narra
The number of good historians in any language is very limited. There are but few books of travels which are so interesting that we would wish to read them a second time; and even the fictitious narratives which issue daily in swarms from the press, are seldom well written though for reasons, which I shall afterwards assign, this is by far the easiest form of narrative composition.
Let any man of letters try to compose an argumentative, or even an oratorical discourse, and let him afterwards attempt a narrative, and he will soon find the latter by far the more difficult task. It is difficult to form and pursue a lucid order and arrangement; it is difficult, out of the number of circumstances which will crowd upon him, to select those only which are important and striking; to know where to be brief and where to be minute; to distinguish the lights and the shades; to see on what he ought to enlarge, and what he should cursorily pass over. It is exceedingly difficult to avoid a flat and monotonous tone; to give spirit, animation, and interest to a mere recital of facts; and that, when the writer com
poses not under the influence of passion, or the ardour of controversy, which in narrative is seldom the case.
I know not whether I shall express myself clearly or not; but I feel that, in didactic or argumentative discourses, the words arrange themselves more easily in sentences, more in the manner of colloquial discussion. In narrative the writer scarcely knows where to stop, or how to round a sentence, which may perhaps be in part the reason for the long periods of Clarendon, and some other historians. It is difficult too to draw the picture; for narrative is a picture in words, so that it shall be full, clear, and impressive, and keep awake the reader's attention through the whole.
The difficulties which I have now enumerated will in some measure anticipate the rules for narrative composition; if indeed any rules can be laid down for governing the fancy, and directing the taste. Perspicuity, it will be easily seen, is the first excellence of narrative. The impression must be clear and vivid. Whether the subject will admit of ornament or not is a remote consideration compared with this indispensable quality. On this account, the writer of even an extended history should take care to have a clear and comprehensive view of the subject in his mind, at least to a given period. He should see it as a picture or a drama before his eyes, previous to his beginning to compose. If he has this view of the subject before him, he will easily, if he has judgment and taste, distinguish the parts or circumstances which should be treated in detail, from those which should be transiently glanced at, or perhaps wholly omitted.
To have a just and comprehensive view of his subject previously forined, (at least to a certain extent as to the order of time) will enable an author to write with vivacity, and to interest his readers, for he will describe within a shorter compass, and in a manner less dull and tedious than the person who transcribes every circumstance from a note book; and the fancy will have a more unbounded range, and be able to throw in more of ornament and eloquence.