Billeder på siden

quis de Condorcet, in a posthumous work, affects to speak lightly of the writings of the Fathers. His remarks, however, only prove his ignorance, and shew that, like the rest of his superficial and contemptible sect, he had the effrontery to censure writings that he never read. They shew that he has never perused the sweet and flowing orations of Chrysostom ;* the animated addresses of Gregory Nazianzen; the unequal, but sometimes sublime compositions of St. Augustine; the strong and nervous periods of Tertullian; and of Lactantius, who abounds in all the learning of the times, and in every beauty of composition. The criticisms even of Dr. Blair, on these writers, prove that he was not much more conversant with them than Condorcet himself. It is, perhaps, sufficient to say, that the most eloquent preacher of the present times confessedly formed his style altogether on that of the antient Fathers.

The only countries in modern Europe where we can expect to find eloquence cultivated are France and England. The French have naturally a sprightly genius, and a taste, though not a correct one, for the polite arts. The Eng

* The golden-mouthed.

lish have had a great advantage, both from their genius and the nature of their government; they have both however produced very great men in many different professions, and some orators who might justly contend with either Demosthenes or Cicero.

In England, however, as well as in Greece and Rome, the highest efforts of eloquence seem confined to the great assembly of the nation. There are, no doubt, some good speakers who plead at the bar, but none of their orations are transmitted to posterity, while we read those of the antients with pleasure. The sermons of the English writers are inferior to none in good sense and reasoning, but they appear in general, deficient in spirit and animation.

[ocr errors]

In the writings of Bossuet, Bourdaloue, and Masillon, we see a much higher kind of eloquence aimed at than by any English preacher ; but these are as lamentably deficient in matter as the English are in style; and, if we except a few sermons of Masillon, there are not many of them of much value.

I shall conclude this letter with a short comparison between two of the most finished orators that ever graced the British or any other senate.

It was written several years ago, when I was in the habit of attending the debates of the house of commons, and was originally published in a periodical publication, in the conducting of which I had some share.

"Both Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox are strictly what may be termed business speakers. They argue like men of business, rather with a view of influencing their hearers, than of conciliating applause to themselves. They vary less from the question, and indulge their imaginations less than Mr. Burke or Mr. Sheridan; and the superior force of their eloquence is the best panegyric on this species of oratory. Though agreeing in this one essential, the oratory of these great men is however in a variety of circumstances materially different. A brief comparison, therefore, of their excellencies and defects, whether instructive or not, cannot, I think, fail to prove entertaining, at least to country readers.

"The first obvious difference which excited my attention was, that the one is the most elegant, the other the most impassioned speaker I have ever heard. The one carries the understanding along with him, and while we are the

captives of his ingenuity, we imagine we are following the light of our own reason; the other leads us no less forcibly by our passions; and if Mr. Pitt addresses the head, every sentence of Mr. Fox demonstrates his influence over the heart. The one interests, the other convinces. The one conducts you over a pleasant champaign and luxuriant meadow; the other forces you along with him, be the ground ever so uneven, be the path ever so rough and interrupted. It is something extraordinary that the younger man should be distinguished by the greater extent and variety of his knowledgebut such undoubtedly appears to be the fact; and to account for it, we perhaps must have recourse to the different education and habits of the two orators. Thus Mr. Pitt is diffuse, and surprises by the multitude of his ideas, and by the variety of lights in which he exhibits the subject. Mr. Fox, on the other hand, is concise and energetic; his proofs are arranged to the utmost advantage, and all of them tend immediately to the very point: he introduces but few arguments, few ideas, but these are generally the very strongest, and placed in the strongest light. In short, it is impossible to

hear the two speakers without recollecting the observation of Quinctilian in his celebrated parallel between Cicero and Demosthenes: "To the one, nothing can be added; from the other, nothing can be taken away." But if it be granted, that from indolence, from the variety of his avocations, or perhaps from not possessing the means, Mr. Fox appears deficient of information on any occasion, what he wants in knowledge, he amply compensates for in ingenuity. He catches almost instantaneously the slightest hint, and an argument which appears of no force when treated by a minor speaker, in his hands appears both interesting and important. Mr. Pitt generally comes well prepared to speak upon the business of the day: to Mr. Fox, preparation seems unnecessary, since even from the casual intimation of his adversaries, he is able to produce matter sufficient, either for attack or defence.

"I have intimated that neither of them are very florid speakers; and I cannot help thinking it rather an extraordinary circumstance, in Mr. Pitt particularly, that though fresh from the schools, we find in his speeches no classical allusions, no embellishments from antient li

« ForrigeFortsæt »