Images de page
PDF
ePub

tion, easy motion and graceful action, compared with virtue? Those accomplishments are merely superfi. cial, an external polish; this is internal and essential. But at the same time that we acknowledge, that the manner and pronunciation of the orator may be improved by that of the actor, we must also admit on the other side, that by the same means it may be injured. And I have known it, in fact, injured in consequence of too servile an imitation of the stage. I allow, that what hath been advanced regards only the modern English comedy, for, though some of our tragedies are also exceptionable in point of morals, yet they are comparatively but a few, and those by no means faulty in the same way and much less to the same degree. And as I would with equal freedom approve, and even recommend what I think laudable and useful, as I would censure what I think blameable and hurtful, I cannot deny, but that both in regard to the sentiments, and in the wonderful talent of operating on the passions, the tragic poet will often give important lessons to the preacher. I would be far then from dissuading you from consulting occasionally whatever may contribute to your improvement. Our great apostle, as we learn from his history and epistles, did not scruple to read the dramatic pieces of heathen poets; nay he has even thought fit sometimes to quote their sentiments with approbation, and to give their very words the sanction of sacred writ. Where debates arise on any subject, it is almost invariably the case, that both sides run to extremes, alike deserting truth and moderation. It is the part of a wise man, like the bee, to extract from every thing what is good and salutary; and to guard against whatever is of a contrary quality. But I am aware, that the most of what I have said on this subject may be looked on as a digression. I acknowledge, it in a great measure is so; but as the mention of it was perfectly apposite, and as few topics have occasioned warmer disputes among christians, I did not think it suited that decorum of character, which I would wish always to preserve, to appear artfully, when a fair opportunity offers, to avoid telling freely my opinion.

LECTURE VI.

On the Composition of Lectures.

IN my

last lecture on the subject of pulpit eloquence I told you, that every discourse was addressed either to the understanding of the hearers, to their imagination, to their passions, or to their will. As those addressed to the understanding, may be intended either for explaining something unknown to them, or for proving something disbelieved or doubted by them, sermons in the largest acceptation of the word may be distributed into five classes, the explanatory, the argu- . mentative or controversial, the demonstrative or commendatory, the pathetic, and the persuasive. It will not be amiss here, in order to prevent mistakes, to take notice of the particular import which I mean to give to some terms, as often as I employ them on this subject. The first I shall mention is the term demonstrative, which in the application usual with rhetoricians, hath no relation to the sense of the word as used by mathematicians. Here it hath no concern with proof or argument of any kind, but relates solely to the strength and distinctness with which an object is exhibited, so as to render the conceptions of the imagination almost equal in vivacity and vigour with the perceptions of sense. This is entirely agreeable to the

use, both of the Latin word demonstrativus, and of the Greek anodelXTIXOS among critics, orators and poets. Another difference I beg you will remark, is between conviction and persuasion, which, in common language, are frequently confounded. To speculative truth, the term, conviction, only with its conjugates, ought to be applied. Thus we say properly, I am convinced of the being of a God. In popular language, we should some. times in this case say persuaded, but this application of the term is evidently inaccurate. He hath proved the truth of revelation to my full conviction. I attempted to convince him of his error. And even in regard to moral truth, when no more is denoted but the assent of the understanding, the proper term is to convince. I am convinced it is my duty, yet I cannot prevail on myself to do it. This is well illustrated by that of the poet,

Video meliora proboque,

Deteriora sequor. I am convinced, but not persuaded ; My understand. ing is subdued but not my will : the first term always and solely relates to opinion, the second to practice. The operation of conviction is merely on the under: standing, that of persuasion, is on the will and resolution. Indeed the Latin word persuadeo, is susceptible of precisely the same ambiguity with the English. It is this double meaning, which gave occasion to that play upon the word used by Augustine, when he said, “Non persuadebis, etiamsi persuaseris.” The import of which in plain English manifestly is, Though your arguments may convince my reason, they shall not determine my resolution : Or, you may convince, but shall not persuade me.

The first of the distinctions

now mentioned will serve to discriminate the argumentative or controversial, from the demonstrative or commendatory, the other distinguishes the controversial from the persuasive.

I would further observe, that though any one discourse admits only one of the ends above enumerated as the principal, nevertheless in the progress of a discourse, many things may be advanced, which are more immediately and apparently directed to some of the other ends of speaking. But then it ought always to appear, that such ends are introduced as means, and rendered conducive to that which is the primary intention. Accordingly, the propriety of these secondary ends, will always be inferred from their subserviency to the principal design. For example, a sermon of the first or second kinds, the explanatory or the controver. sial, addressed to the understanding and calculated to illustrate or evince some point of doctrine, may borrow aid from the imagination, and admit metaphor and comparison. But not the bolder and more striking figures, as that called phantasia, prosopopeia and the like, which are not so much intended to throw light on a subject as to excite admiration ; much less will it admit an address to the passions, which never fails to disturb the operation of the intellectual faculty. Either of these, it is obvious, far from being subservient to the main design, simple explanation or proof, would distract the attention from it. Such arts, however, I cannot call them legitimate, have sometimes been successfully used, but in such cases, if impartially examined, the scope of the speaker will be found to have been more to cloud than to enlighten the understandings of his hearers, and to deceive rather than to edify. They

« PrécédentContinuer »