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erasy, entity, and the like. I believe I may venture to insist further, that many terms used in holy writ, particularly by St. Paul, might with more discretion be changed into plainer speech, except when they are introduced as part of a quotation.
I am the more earnest in this matter, because it is a general complaint, and the justest in the world. For a divine hath nothing to say to the wisest congregation of any parish in this kingdom, which he may not express in a manner to be understood by the meanest among them. And this assertion must be true, or else God requires from us more than we are able to perform. However, not to contend whether a logician might possibly put a case that would serve for an exception, I will appeal to any man of letters, whether at least nineteen in twenty of those perplexing words might not be changed into easy ones, such as naturally first occur to ordinary men, and probably did so at first to those very gentlemen, who are so fond of the former.
We are often reproved by divines from the pulpits on account of our ignorance in things sacred, and perhaps with justice enough: however, it is not very reasonable for them to expect, that common men should understand expressions, which are never made use of in common life.
The fear of being thought pedants hath been of pernicious consequence to young divines. This hath wholly taken many of them off from their severer studies in the university; which they have exchanged for plays, poems, and pamphlets, in order to qualify them for tea-tables and coffee
houses. This they usually call polite conversation, knowing the world, and reading men instead of
It would be endless to run over the several defects of style among us: I shall therefore say nothing of the mean and the paltry, (which are usually attended by the fustian) much less of the slovenly or indecent. Two things I will just warn you against: the first is, the frequency of flat unnecessary epithets; and the other is, the folly of using old threadbare phrases, which will often make you go out of your way to find and apply them, are nauseous to rational hearers, and will seldom express your meaning as well as your own natural words.
Although, as I have already observed, our EngItsh tongue is too little cultivated in this kingdom, yet the faults are nine in ten owing to affectation, and not to the want of understanding. When a man's thoughts are clear, the properest words will generally offer themselves first, and his own judgment will direct him in what order to place them, so as they may be best understood. Where men err against this method, it is usually on purpose, and to show their learning, their oratory, their politeness, or their knowledge of the world. In short, that simplicity, without which no human performance can arrive to any great perfection, is no. where more eminently useful than in this.
I shall now mention a particular, wherein your whole body will be certainly against me, and the laity, almost to a man, on my side. However it came about, I cannot get over the prejudice of taking some little offence at the clergy for per
petually reading their sermons; perhaps my frequent hearing of foreigners, who never make use of notes, may have added to my disgust. And I cannot but think, that whatever is read, differs as much from what is repeated without book, as a copy does from an original. At the same time I am highly sensible, what an extreme difficulty it would be upon you to alter this method; and that, in such a case, your sermons would be much less valuable than they are, for want of time to improve and correct them. I would therefore gladly come to a compromise with you in this matter. I knew a clergyman of some distinction, who appeared to deliver his sermon without looking into his notes, which when I complimented him upon, he assured me, he could not repeat six lines; but his method was to write the whole sermon in a large plain hand, with all the forms of margin, paragraph, marked page, and the like; then, on Sunday morning, he took care to run it over five or six times, which he could do in an hour; and when he delivered it, by pretending to turn his face from one side to the other, he would (in his own expression) pick up the lines, and cheat his people by making them believe he had it all by heart. He further added, that, whenever he happened by neglect to omit any of these circumstances, the vogue of the parish was, 'Our doctor gave us but an indifferent sermon to-day.' Now among us many clergymen act so directly contrary to this method, that, from a habit of saving time and paper, which they acquired at the university, they write in so diminutive a manner, with such frequent blots and interlineations, that
they are hardly able to go on without perpetual hesitations or extemporary expletives: and I desire to know, what can be more inexcusable, than to see a divine and a scholar at a loss in reading his own compositions, which it is supposed he has been preparing with much pains and thought for the instruction of his people. The want of a little more care in this article is the cause of much ungraceful behaviour. You will observe some clergymen with their heads held down from the beginning to the end, within an inch of the cushion, to read what is hardly legible; which, besides the untoward manner, hinders them from making the best advantage of their voice: others again have a trick of popping up and down every moment from their paper to the audience, like an idle school-boy on a repetition-day.
Let me intreat you therefore to add one halfcrown a year to the article of paper; to transcribe your sermons in as large and plain a manner as you can; and either make no interlineations, or change the whole leaf; for we, your hearers, would rather you should be less correct, than perpetually stammering, which I take to be one of the worst solecisms in rhetoric. And lastly, read your sermon once or twice a day for a few days before you preach it: to which you will probably answer some years hence, that it was but just finished, when the last bell rang to church:' and I shall readily believe, but not excuse you.
I cannot forbear warning you in the most earnest manner, against endeavouring at wit in your sermons, because, by the strictest computation, it is very near a million to one that you have
none; and because too many of your calling have consequently made themselves everlastingly ridiculous by attempting it. I remember several young men who could never leave the pulpit under half a dozen conceits; and this faculty adhered to those gentlemen a longer or shorter time, exactly in proportion to their several degrees of dulness: accordingly, I am told that some of them retain it to this day. I heartily wish the brood were at an end. Swift.
ON PUBLIC PREACHING.
IN public addresses to an audience, the great end of reformation is most effectually promoted; because all the powers of voice and action, all the arts of eloquence, may be brought to give their assistance. But some of those arts depend on gifts of nature, and cannot be attained by any strength of genius or understanding: even where nature has been liberal of those necessary requisites, they must be cultivated by much practice, before the proper exercise of them can be acquired. Thus, a public speaker may have a voice that is musical and of great compass; but it requires much time and labour to attain its just modulation, and that variety of flexion and tone, which a pathetic discourse requires. The same difficulty attends the acquisition of that propriety of action, that power over the expressive features of the countenance, particularly of the eyes, so necessary to command the hearts and passions of an audience.