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The author of Paradise Lost' had little occasion to complain of being frozen with age while depicting the love of Adam and Eve. The Bishop of Meaux pronounced the funeral oration of the Queen of England in 1669, the same year that the persecuted bard gave
his receipt for the second five pounds paid for his poem. Yet Milton was young to his latest breath; and Bossuet, with what youthful fire does he speak of his gray
hair! The powers of Dr. Sharp as a preacher have for a long time been of a very high order. Many congregations, like students at a public school, are induced to listen to religious instruction as if it were only a part of the mere routine of their ordinary occupations. But not so with those who have worshipped in the Charles-street Church for the last thirty-five years. When their pastor ascends the pulpit he is wont to fix every eye and ear in earnest attention. His command of clear and lofty diction; his chaste but forcible delivery; the noble port he instinctively assumes, as the herald of intelligence from Heaven; and more than any thing else, the profound conviction which he manifestly entertains of the truth of the doctrines which he interprets, and the respectful strenuousness of his adjuration in calling men's hearts to God, together with the latent consciousness in every hearer of the personal worth and professional integrity of the speaker, give him every title to be regarded as an orator of the first class. He unites in himself an uncommon measure of independence and courtesy, rugged power and calm serenity :
•WHILE Genius, Practice, Contemplation join,
In the structure of his discourses Dr. Sharp is neither profound beyond human comprehension, nor prolix beyond reasonable endu
He does not emulate those who are described by an old preacher in the following words : “ As some mathematicians deal so much in Jacob's staff that they forget Jacob's ladder, so some physicians (God decrease the number !) are so deep naturalists that they are very shallow Christians. With us, Grace waits at the heels of Nature, and they dive so deep into the secrets of philosophy that they never look up to the mysteries of Divinity. Avoiding this fault, he as little deserves to have it said of him that he draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument.' He does not set out at the beginning of each sermon as if he had a journey to perform from Dan to Beersheba, halting occasionally to expatiate on the same points in every doctrine of his creed, tracing minutely the progress of Noah's ark, and all the well-known circumstances of the downfall of the tower of Babel, together with an apt exemplification of the confusion of tongues consequent thereon. Evidently, the thin integument that divides great wits from another class is not wanting in his brain. A very great scholar,' is quoted by Dr. Eachard as saying, that such preaching as is usual is a hindrance of salvation rather than the means of it. It is certain he did not refer to this distinguished American divine, who himself says, , with Luther, ‘I would not have preachers torment their hearers and
detain them with long and tedious preaching.' A man may possess great learning, doctrines the most orthodox,
and a large measure of sense the most sound, and yet be without the talent of arranging clearly and expressing forcibly his thoughts in a written or extemporaneous discourse ; in that case his preaching, as an old writer has said in serious jest, which was designed for edification, turns to tedification. Such persons are not harmless, while they are tedious; since though they elicit no life, they unfortunately torpify the understanding with a fatal chill, which is sure to descend to more vital regions. The great and good Jeremy Taylor felt compelled to say of some devotional books, that they are in a large degree the occasion of so great indevotion as prevails among the generality of nominal Christians, being,' he continues, represented naked in the conclusions of spiritual life, without or art or learning; and made apt for persons who can do nothing but believe and love, not for them that can consider and love. This applies much more forcibly to stupid, boisterous declamation in the pulpit than to vapid manuals of devotion; the book may be thrown aside if it is uncongenial to the taste, and offensive to the judgment of the reader, but the tasteless and thoughtless sermon is a positive infliction upon the helpless hearer which he cannot politely escape.
Oratory in its truest and greatest power has its foundations in our common nature. The father of our race and judge of our souls designed not only that ideas should be conveyed through the ear to the mind, but that deep and lasting impressions should be produced on the affections by appropriate terms and agreeable tones. All nations, savage as well as civilized, are subjected to the powers of sagacious eloquence, and joyfully confess its influence, not only as the chief vehicle of instruction, but as a means of salvation. • Manner is, so to speak, the harbinger and herald of matter, summoning the faculties of the soul to give audience to the truth to be communicated, and holding the mind in a state of abstraction from all other subjects that would divert the thoughts and prevent impression. It is not only the more illiterate and feeble-minded, not only the multitude, who are led by feeling more than by reason, that are influenced by good oratory, but men of the sturdiest intellect and the most philosophic cast of mind. The soul of the sage as well as of the savage is formed with a susceptibility to the power and influence of music, and therefore also to the power and influence of elocution. The importance of manner is consequently great, yea, far greater than either tutors or preachers have been disposed to admit. I am aware that a good voice is necessary to good speaking, but not always to earnest speaking Nature must do much to make a graceful and finished orator; but still, in the absence of this, an ardent mind, burning for the salvation of immortal souls, can, by an impressive earnestness of manner, be a more intense and effective speaker, notwithstanding naturally weak and unimpressive organs of speech, than the possessor of the finest voice who is destitute of a vivacious and ardent enunciation; just as an exquisite performer can bring better music out of a bad instrument than a bad musician can out of a good one. What
may be done, where the mind is resolutely bent on accomplishing it, for supplylng deficiencies and correcting faults in elocution, Demosthenes has taught us; and were half or a tenth part of the pains taken by us to obtain a powerful and effective method of pulpit address, which were submitted to by this prince of orators to become an effective speaker; were we as much set upon it as he was, and were we to give ourselves to the same means, by declaiming to the waves of the sea, or to the winds of heaven, determining to overcome every obstacle, we too should be orators, and that too in a still better cause than his.'
John Angell James, from whom the above extract is taken, is a fine critic on pulpit eloquence; and so was his renowned countryman, the great Robert Hall., The latter, speaking of the late truly inte. resting and much lamented Mr. Spencer, of Liverpool, remarks:
The writer of this deeply regrets his never having had an opportunity of witnessing his extraordinary powers; but from all he has heard from the best judges, he can entertain no doubt that his talents in the pulpit were unrivalled, and that had his life been spared, he would, in all probability have carried the art of preaching to a greater perfection than it ever getained, at least in this kingdom. His eloquence appears to have been of the purest stamp, effective not astentatious ; consisting less in the preponderance of any one quality requisite to form a public speaker, than in an exquisite combination of them all; whence resulted an extraordinary power of impression, which was greatly aided by a natural and majestic elocution. In this last expression Mr. Hall has disclosed much of the secret of Mr. Spencer's popularity and usefulness : 'a natural and majestic elocution,' accompanied with a most engaging countenance and form, setting forth with simple and unaffected earnestness of manner, the grand doctrines of evangelical truth, constituted the charm, and led to the success of this most captivating preacher of modern times.'
Dr. Sharp's elocution is, like every thing else about his character, dignified and impressive; a happy medium between frigid sloth and violent extravagance. In gesticulation he is not an instance of moderation, like the one celebrated by Giraldus, a native of Wales, who relates in his topography of Ireland, that St. Kewen, being at prayer with outstretched hands, a swallow entered at the window of his cell and laid an egg in one of his hands ! The saint did not drop his hand, nor did he close it, till the swallow had laid all her eggs and batched her brood! In memory of this act of kindness and patience, continues the annalist, the statue of the hermit in Ireland is holding a swallow in one hand. Persons who have been accustomed to watch Dr. Sharp as having announced his theme and unfolded its inherent individuality and nobleness of doctrinal truth, he deliberately lays off his glasses, while premeditated argument swells on his view, and spontaneous emotion fires substantial thought, winging it with all the freedom and force of extemporaneous conception; have seen him turn from his manuscript, first to one side of the pulpit, then to another, revealing to all, eloquence kindling in his eye, flushing on his cheek, burning through every vein, vitalizing every muscle, enlarging and beautifying his noble and graceful form with preternatural splendor, while his long speaking arms, obedient to his intense conviction and harmonious with the mellow thunder of his tones, waved an awful majesty of thought into his spell-bound audience; know, better, deeper, more thrilling, than this poor dull pen can describe, that his action is not of the kind that
• Which sheds o'er all the sleeping scene
Whenever we visit Boston, we manage, if possible, to steal in and listen to this, from our boyhood, favorite preacher; and often, having witnessed and felt more of oratorical and ministerial excellence than is indicated above, we have come away strongly inclined to adopt the resolution of Iago : •From this time forth I never will speak more !
The form of Dr. Sharp's composition exactly comports with his manner, and cannot be separated from it. There is the least possible artificialness in its structure and language. His main positions stand out with a lucid and palpable significance, while even the most subdued narrative portions are in a degree luminous, ' like the white nebulous matter between stars.' By this we do not mean that he deals in a profusion of arbitrary numerical divisions, which have as little to do with true eloquence as the illegitimate children of an abbot of Noveïs were decorative of his sacred profession, concerning whom Chateaubriand testifies that he had exactly eighteen. Neither would we convey the impression that our preacher's rhetoric is vivid in spots, not by virtue of the increased brilliancy of general excellence therein, but in contrast with surrounding opaqueness;
like a stray gleam of thought in an idiot's brain. On the contrary, while in his manner we are not oppressed by the wild and whirlwind touch of passion, but exhilarated by flexile strength and translucent majesty, so his language is throughout softly sublime, like lightnings in repose,' and with a pure elegance is moulded into sentences full of rich dark ivy thoughts, sunned o'er with love.' With all his vigor, he has no violent attitudes, no paradoxical enigmas, and no inflated expressions : the forcible naturalness of his style is equalled only by its graceful propriety and manifest purpose of achieving the greatest amount of enduring good.
All persons, in a specific measure harmonious with the temperament of each, seek entertainment and amusement. Both of these are essential to effective speaking in every sphere; but between them there is a generic difference of the broadest kind. Amusement signifies the excitement, especially the comic excitement, of our su. perficial powers. Entertainment signifies the delighted, the somewhat tragical exhilaration, but not too absorbing, attention of all our higher capacities. Neither the one nor the other can with impunity be indulged in long. Even the most frivolous feels that he was made for something higher than mere transient enjoyment. All men have a perception, however dim, that enterprise and thought are the destiny and peculiarity of their race. Aware of these facts, and also impelled by appropriate religious motives, the object of every pulpit orator should always be to instruct by seeking to improve, and to entertain by seeking to instruct. Many preachers seem to be monotonous, because they recur perpetually to some central subject, while others seem to be diversified by the unceasing novelty of their subjects ; whereas, as is strikingly exemplified in Dr. Sharp, it is the former who are really varied through the diversity of their ideas, and the latter who are really monotonous from the mental poverty and meagreness they exhibit amid the multiplicity of the topics they treat. It is manifestly the object of the preacher in question to instruct, to reveal to the mind of his audience the grandeurs of the universe, in illustration of the grandeurs of revealed religion. He does not aim to encumber and confuse their faculties with the paltry facts of a shallow information, but to pervade and quicken them with the loftiest knowledge; to show them the divine and blissful laws by which the kingdom of God is governed, and the plans of mercy to his creatures therein realized ; to point out and explain, in modes diversified to meet the tastes and apprehension of each, the relation which man sustains to Christ as the Redeemer, the SPIRIT as Sanctifier, and to all the dominions of Nature and Grace through which the individual soul, upheld and perfected by divine agencies, is destined to work out its interminable and gloriously sublime career. Executing this grand embassage in the presence of the thoughtful and alarmed inquirer, his sympathetic instruction will fall gently and with soothing effect, 'like a snow-flake on a fevered lip.' It has been well said, that he is not the greatest man who, with a giant intellect, startles the multitude as with sudden thunder. The impression left behind is not agreeable and lasting. He who would stir up the soul must have a calm, sympathizing heart. It is this which vibrates through the human breast, leaps in the warm pulses, and urges us to deeds of mercy. The man whose sympathies are with common humanity, whose heart is moved by pure benevolence, breathes thoughts that will never die. Like the silent dews, they descend in the bosom to cheer, to bless and to save. The breath of true life is thus felt in the heart. Such a writer blends genius with humanity, and is destined to sway the multitude and urge them on to deeds of mercy and unending glory.'
This may be most appropriately applied to the divine before us. In the calm joys of domestic life and the more gentle duties of the pastorate, his spirit is cheerful and placid, ' like a white dove, wingsunned through the blue sky.' Nevertheless, he sometimes shows that he is made of sterner stuff. Whenever individual arrogance or consolidated tyranny attempts to check his free thought or control his conscientious action, then how the lion rouses within him! It is very likely that the offending party will be told : •Ye hate the truth as snails salt; it dissolves ye; but such repugnance, in whatever quarter it abounds, will not cripple the action of a clear-seeing and well-intentioned man. He scorns to forge the fetters he would scorn to wear;' and any persons who should attempt to make him either a captive or a dupe would be quite likely to have their labor