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(suppose English, that in which every preacher in this country is chiefly interested) requires a careful observance of these three things; first, that the words employed be English words; secondly, that they be construed in the English idiom ; thirdly, that they be made to present to the reader or hearer the precise meaning, which good use hath affixed to them. A trespass against the first, when the word is not English, is called a barbarism; a trespass against the second, when the fault lies in the construction, is termed a solecism; a trespass against the third, when the word, though English, is not used in its true meaning, is denominated an impropriety. As the foundation is necessary to the superstructure, so an attention to grammatical purity is previously necessary to one who would attain the elegant, affecting, and energetic expression of the orator. There is the greater need of attending to this particular here, as we, in this country, labour under special disadvantages in this respect. therefore, to take this opportunity of recommending to you, to bestow some time and attention on the perusal of our best English grammars, and to familiarize yourselves to the idiom of our best and purest writers. It is, I think, a matter of some consequence, and therefore ought not to be altogether neglected by the student.
I know it will be said, that when all a man's labour is employed in instructing the people of a country parish, to which there is little or no resort of strangers, propriety of expression is not a matter of mighty moment, provided he speak in such a manner as to be intelligible to his parishioners. I admit the truth of what is advanced in this objection, but by no means the consequence which the objectors seem disposed
to draw from it. I must therefore entreat that a few things may be considered on the other hand. And first, you cannot know for certain, where it may please Providence that your lot should be. If you acquire the knowledge of the language in the proper acceptation of the word, you acquire a dialect which will make you understood over all the British empire ; for as the English translation of the Bible, which is universally used in these dominions, and as all our best writings, are in what I may call the general and pure idiom of the tongue, that idiom is perfectly well understood even by those, who cannot speak it with propriety themselves. Whereas if you attach yourself to a provincial dialect, it is a hundred to one, that many
of your words and phrases will be misunderstood in the very neighbouring province, district or county. And even though they should be intelligible enough, they have a coarseness and vulgarity in them, that cannot fail to make them appear to men of knowledge and taste ridiculous : and this doth inexpressible injury to the thought conveyed under them, how just and important soever it be. You will say, that this is all the effect of mere prejudice in the hearers, consequently unreasonable and not to be regarded. Be it, that this is prejudice in the hearers, and therefore unreasonable. It doth not follow, that the speaker ought to pay no regard to it. It is the business of the orator to accommodate himself to men, such as he sees they are, and not such as he imagines they should be. A certain pliancy of disposition in regard to innocent prejudices and defects, is what in our intercourse with the world, good sense necessarily requires of us, candour requires of us, our religion itself requires of us. It is this very
disposition, which our great apostle recommends by his own example, where he tells us that he “became all things to all men, that he might by all means save some.” But upon impartial examination, the thing perhaps will be found not so unreasonable, as at first sight it may appear. A man of merit and breeding you may disguise by putting him in the apparel of a clown, but you cannot justly find fault, that in that garb he meets not with the same reception in good company, that he would meet with if more suitably habited. The outward appearance is the first thing that strikes us in a person, the expression is the first thing that strikes us in a discourse. Take care at least, that in neither, there be any thing to make an unfavourable impression, which may preclude all further inquiry and regard. It was extremely well said by a very popular preacher in our own days, who when consulted by a friend that had a mind to publish, whether he thought it befitting a writer on religion to attend to such little matters as grammatical correctness; answered, “By all means. It is much better to write so as to make a critic turn Christian, than so as to make a Christian turn critic." The answer was judicious and well expressed. That the thought may enter deeply into the mind of the reader or hearer, there is need of all the assistance possible from the expression. Little progress can it be expected then, that the former shall make, if there be any thing in the latter, which serves to divert the attention from it. And this effect at least of diverting the attention, even mere grammatic blunders, with those who are capable of discerning them, are but too apt to produce. Be. sides, from the greater intercourse we have now with England, it is manifest, that their idiom and pronuncia
tion are daily gaining ground amongst us. quence of this, more will be expected than formerly from a public speaker, who in every improvement in regard to language, which so nearly concerns his own department, ought to be among the first, rather than among the last. But this only by the way.
The more immediate object with us is rhetorical not grammatical elocution, and only that kind of the former which is specially adapted to the christian oratory. For though there be not perhaps any qualities requisite here, which may not with good effect be employed by those whose province it is to harangue from the bar or in the senate, and though there be very few of the qualities of elocution, which may not on some occasions, with great propriety, be employed from the pulpit; yet some of them, without all question, are more essential to one species of oratory than to another, and it is such as are most adapted to the discourses with which we are here concerned, that I propose now particularly to consider. Before all things then, in my judgment, the preacher ought to make it his study | that the style of his discourses be both perspicuous, and affecting. I shall make a few observations to illustrate each of these particulars, and then conclude this lecture.
First, I say, his style ought to be perspicuous. Though it is indeed a most certain fact, that perspicuity is of the utmost consequence to every orator (for what valuable end can any oration answer, which is not understood ?) this quality doubtless ought to be more a study to the christian orator than to any other whatever. The reason is obvious. The more we are in danger of violating any rule, (especially if it be a rule of the last importance,) the more circumspection we ought to employ in order to avoid that danger. Now that the preacher must be in much greater danger in this respect than any other public speaker, is manifest from the mixed character at best, often from the very low character in respect of acquired knowledge, of the audience to whom his speech is addressed. Perspicuity is in a great measure a relative quality. A speech may be perspicuous to one, which to another is unintelligible. It is possible indeed to be obscure in pleading before the most learned and discerning judges, because the pleader's style may be remarkably perplexed and intricate ; but without any perplexity or intricacy of style, it is even more than possible, that a man of reading and education shall speak obscurely when he addresses himself in a set discourse to simple and illiterate people. There is a cause of darkness in this case, totally independant of the grammatical structure of the sentences, and the general character of the style. It is, besides, of all causes of obscurity, that which is most apt to escape the notice of a speaker. Nothing is more natural than for a man to imagine, that what is intelligible to him is so to every body, or at least that he speaks with sufficient clearness, when he uses the same language and in equal plainness, with that in which he hath studied the subject, and been accustomed to read. But however safe this rule of judging may be in the barrister and the senator, who generally address their discourses to men of similar education with themselves, and of equal or nearly equal abilities and learning, it is by no means a proper rule for the preacher, one destined to be in spiritual matters, a guide to the blind, a light to them who are in dark