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A PREACHER who writes a new sermon every week, produces a thousand in twenty years, and we have no doubt that many a minister might boast an unpublished authorship, quite as extensive as the hundred printed octavos of Sir Walter Scott. Nor are the instances few where all this elaborate preparation has been gone through for the sake of a very limited auditory. The inhabitants of a rural hamlet, the frequenters of a village chapel, have monopolised the whole of it. Could we conceive a poet or a pamphleteer issuing a weekly publication to the inhabitants of a Pitcairn's Island or an Iona, we should have a case somewhat equivalent to the conscientious and unambitious pastor, who spends the best part of his time preparing for his scanty audience the weekly quota of exhortation and instruction, and who feels it "an over-payment of delight," if now and then a sinner is converted from the error of his ways, or if a parishioner shews symptoms of incipient amendment.
What becomes of all the sermons ? We do not mean, What becomes of all the manuscripts ? for many sermons were never written ; but, What is the result or product from all this preaching? In our melancholy moods, we are apt to fear that it is very small. Is it not a rare thing to hear of a district solemnised, and devoting even temporary attention to the concerns of eternity? Is it not rare to find so much as an individual, on whom a change so conspicuous has taken place, as to deserve the name of conversion ? How many ministers can point to infidels whom their preaching has convinced, or drunkards whom it has sobered? How often is a sermon followed by the healing of a family feud, or the setting up of family worship,-by the restitution of stolen property, or by
the discontinuance in a locality of some cruel or demoralising amusement ?
Yet, occasionally such effects do follow, and assuredly they would not be rare were they sought more habitually and more hopefully. But after their first efforts, it would almost appear as if many ministers ceased to realise their mission, and no longer looked for the help of the Holy Spirit. They and their audience take up a relative position, which is henceforth never more to alter-a professional solemnity on the one side, a respectful non-attention on the other. Year after year steals on, during which the ecclesiastical sing-song or orthodox common-places are drawled forth in hepdomadal instalments to drowsy church-wardens, or less comatose deacons; and, unless it emerge from some funeral occasion, there does not swell
up from the flat dry surface a single impressive idea, a single burst of urgent appeal or genuine emotion. In as far as abid. ing impression or moral result is concerned, the effect is much the same when that voice in the pulpit is hushed, and when that bell in the steeple is broken : a sacred and familiar sound has passed away, but it will soon be replaced by another, of different pitch and tone perhaps, but destined in its turn to diffuse, through half-shut ears, the same Sabbatic lullaby.
During the eighteenth century, at the rate of ten thousand every Sunday, fifty millions of sermons must have proceeded from the pulpits of England. Of these we may assume that the best are still extant; and if we set aside those discourses which were preached by the evangelists of the Great Revival, and which we shall have occasion to notice in a subsequent section, they give us, on the whole, a dreary sense of impotence and poverty; and as we turn over the broad-margined volumes, so jejune and vapid, our first wonder is how men could have the patience to consign such inanities to paper; our next wonder is how people could be found to listen to such effusions when preached, to buy and peruse them when printed.
Our British literature presents no other expanse so dull and desolate; and to compile the beauties of Smalridge and Moss, Stennett and Guyse, would be a task as agreeable and as remunerative, as the virtuoso's who should try to gather gems in a bricklayer's yard, or who would fill his portfolio with mountain sketches from a rolling prairie. We shall do the best that we can for our readers; but even amongst the most admired preachers of Queen Anne's, and the earlier Georgian eras, they must not expect much fertility of thought, or fervour of spirit.
FRANCIS ATTERBURY was born at Middleton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, March 6, 1663. At Christ Church, Oxford, he early obtained the reputation of a first-rate classical scholar; and in editing an Anthology of Latin Poems by Italian Bards, and in aiding his pupil Boyle, afterwards Earl of Orrery, in his famous controversy with Bentley, he found some employment for his vigorous mind, and an outlet for his multifarious acquisitions. But his turn was active, and his tastes were rhetorical, and the Lower House of Convocation, as well as the pulpit, furnished an arena more congenial than the cloisters of a college. At an early period appointed chaplain to King William and Queen Mary, he rose to the highest place among the preachers of the day; and as the champion of the rights of Convocation, his zealous churchmanship gave him a position by which he profited in the subsequent reign. In 1712, he was made Dean of Christ Church, and in the year following his promotion culminated in the mitre and the episcopal throne of Rochester. This last he had occupied for ten years, when, by a startling disclosure, he was hurled from his high estate. A correspondence was brought to light implicating him in efforts to restore the Pretender, and notwithstanding his own ingenious and eloquent defence, a bill of pains and penalties was carried through both Houses of Parliament, and in June 1723 he left his native land an exile. He died at Paris, February 15, 1732.
One of the few books, the shortness of which is really to be regretted, is Dr William King's “ Anecdotes of his Own Times.” He mentions that in 1715 he dined with the Duke of Ormond, when Atterbury was one of a party of fourteen. “During the dinner there was a jocular dispute (I forget how it was introduced) concerning short prayers. Sir William Wyndham told us, that the shortest prayer he had ever heard was the prayer of a common soldier just before the battle of Blenheim :- - 0 God, if there be a God, save my soul, if I have a soul.' This was followed by a general laugh. I immediately reflected that such a treatment of the subject was too ludicrous, at least very improper, where a learned and religious prelate was one of the company. But I had soon an opportunity of making a different reflection. Atterbury, seeming to join in the conversation, and applying himself to Sir W. Wyndham, said — Your prayer, Sir William, is indeed very short; but I remember another as short, but a much better, offered up likewise by a poor soldier in the same circumstances :"O God, if in the day of battle I forget Thee, do Thou not forget me. This, as Atterbury pronounced it with his usual grace and dignity, was a very gentle and polite reproof, and was immediately felt by the whole company; and the Duke of Ormond, who was the best bred man of his age, suddenly turned the discourse to another subject."
Dr King's other anecdote is equally characteristic of the bishop's tact and promptitude, and its wit has seldom been surpassed in the annals of parliamentary debate. On occasion of some bill being introduced into the House of Lords, Atterbury took occasion to remark that “he had prophesied last winter that this bill would be attempted in the present session, and he was sorry to find that he had proved a true prophet.” Lord Coningsby replied, and, as usual, speaking in a passion,
he desired the House to remark “that one of the right reverend had set himself forth as a prophet; but for his part he did not know what prophet to liken him to, unless to that furious prophet Balaam, who was reproved by his own ass.” In his reply, the bishop met the rude attack with much spirit and calmness, concluding, “Since the noble lord hath discovered in our manners such a similitude, I am well content to be compared to the prophet Balaam: but, my lords, I am at a loss how to make out the other part of the parallel. I am sure that I have been reproved by nobody but his lordship.”
Much of Atterbury's charm was personal. A contemporary critic, complaining how entirely the art of speaking, “with the proper ornaments of voice and gesture,” is neglected amongst the clergy of Britain, makes an exception in favour of Atterbury. "He has so much regard to his congregation, that he commits to his memory what he is to say to them; and has so soft and graceful a behaviour, that it must attract your attention. His person, it is to be confessed, is no small recommendation; but he is to be highly commended for not losing that advantage, and adding to the propriety of speech, which might pass the criticism of Longinus, an action which would have been approved by Demosthenes. He has a peculiar force in his way, and has many of his audience, who could not be intelligent hearers of his discourse, were there not explanation as well as grace in his action. This art of his is used with the most exact and honest skill. He never attempts your passions until he has convinced your reason. All the objections which he can form are laid open and dispersed before he uses the least vehemence in his sermon; but when he thinks he has your head, he very soon wins your heart, and never pretends to shew the beauty of holiness until he hath convinced you of the truth of it."
In the second of the following extracts the conceit in which the rainbow is spoken of as “a bow without an arrow," is what
* The Tatler, No. 66. The date is 1709.