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HINTS ON THE ELOCUTION ADAPTED TO THE PULPIT.
He who supposes that Elocution is to be studied for the express purpose of producing a variety in the vocal movements, and an amount of action in speaking, proportioned to the profusion with which nature has furnished the elements of expression, has mistaken its object. The study of Elocution has for its object to improve the taste and correct the judgment as regards the extent to which intonation and gesture shall be carried, and also as to the kind to be employed, as well as to furnish the materials from which to make the selection. The principles of Elocution are as necessary to teach one when to abstain from the vocal expression of excited feeling and from action, as when to use them; and as necessary to direct him who uses the least of oratorical expression, as him who uses the most. This art,” says some one, speaking particularly of gesture, 6 may serve the same excellent purpose to the awkward gesticulator, for which the father sent his clownish son to the dancing school, that he might learn to stand still.”
The just elocution of the pulpit, however, is as far removed from a state of perfect inaction, as from the passionate and diversified action of the theatre. The latter, all unite in condemning as unsuited to the true dignity of the pulpit; while the former also is equally condemned by all
Addison deemed it a just cause of complaint, that the preachers of his time “stood stock still in the pulpit, and would not so much as move a finger to set off the best sermon in the world;" at the same time that he remarks on the “ smooth continued stream” in which their words flowed, and the cinsipid serenity” of countenance of their orators generally. Sheridan repeats the same charge against the pulpit in particular; and says that on this account, “the greater part of the members of the English church are either banished from their places of worship through disgust, or reluctantly attend the service as a disagreeable duty.” There must be an Elocution, then, which is adapted to the pulpit,—which so harmonizes with the place and with the subjects usually treated there, as to please and gratify the eye, at the same time that the ear is delighted with the melody of a well-trained voice. To adopt the language of an old English divine,—“I imagine, that through the regulations of taste, the improvements of experience, the corrections of friendship, the feelings of piety, and the gradual mellowings of time, such an elocution may be acquired as is above delineated; and such as when acquired will make its way to the hearts of the hearers, through their ears and eyes, with a delight to both that is seldom felt; whilst, contrary to what is commonly practiced, it will appear to the former the very language of nature, and present to the latter the lively image of the preacher's soul.” And with this same writer I will add, "Were a taste for this kind of elocution to take place, it is difficult to say how much the preaching art would gain
The PULPIT furnishes the best field for a powerful oratory, that the world has ever seen. The themes it presents for discussion are sufficiently various, and all of them involving
interests of the very highest moment—the interests not of small portions of the audiences addressed, but the universal and most important interests of mankind! far beyond those for which the thunder of Demosthenes rolled in Athens-far beyond those for which Cicero shook the senate-house in Rome.” The pulpit orator also enjoys a freedom of selecting and adapting his subjects to the case in hand, and to his own taste and powers, which is scarcely found elsewhere ; and these are such as to raise him above the charge either of weakness or affectation, however warm and ardent may be his appeals. Every one knows that for him not to feel—would of itself prove him unfit for the place he occupies. In proof of the inspiration connected with the pulpit, many of the sermons which have been preserved, in Latin, in English, and in French, are enriched with all the taste of classic elegance; and as specimens of written eloquence, have scarcely been surpassed or even equaled. It is fortunate for the church and the world, as well as for the cause we advocate, that there have also been in the church those who were masters of all the arts of oral eloquence, from the Patriarch of Constantinople," who was himself the pupil of the most celebrated rhetorician of his time, down through every age of prosperity in the church, even to the present day. The perfect union of the chaste style of many of the English divines with an action which shall give to him who effects it a distinction equaled only by his usefulness, is an object which may well excite the emulation of some of the many young men of our country, who, called by God to the sacred
* He has been called the Homer of orators, and was surnamed Chrysostom, which signifies golden mouth, on account of his eloquence.
office, are preparing themselves for the responsibilities of their high calling.
But what are the peculiar elements that belong to the Elocution of the Pulpit?--As regards the voice, very little remains to be said here. The principles of vocal expression have been pretty fully discussed ; and nothing can be more obvious, than that the preacher should have the perfect command of every pitch of his voice, of every degree of force, and of all the elements of expression. Still the elements of dignity and energy should greatly predominate in most of the exercises of the pulpit. Portions of almost every sermon, however, should be pronounced with the natural voice, and in the diatonic melody; while there are occasions of frequent occurrence, on which the success of the preacher's appeal depends entirely on the employment of the elements of Plaintiveness. Without these, he can neither make others feel, nor make them believe that he has feeling himself.-—With only some further incidental allusions to the voice, we shall devote the section to an enumeration of a few of the principles by which the action of the pulpit should be regulated.
In general it may be remarked, as regards the sermon merely, that just as far as it partakes of the character of an oration, or ordinary discourse, so far are all the suggestions of the last chapter applicable to it. I choose, however, for the
purpose of making this subject strictly practical, to extend my remarks so as to cover all the action of the Christian minister, while in the house of God; and shall reduce all I deem it important here to say, to a very few general principles.
First. — The preacher should studiously avoid every thing in his manner, which can have a tendency to divert the attention of his hearers either from the sacredness of the occasion, or the matter of the subjects discussed. The most objectionable manner which he can assume, is that by which he seems to make an effort to show off himself to advantage. Thus if he enters the church, or ascends the pulpit, or rises in it to address the assembly, with the air of a fine gentleman, “as if he were practicing the lessons of an assembly-room,” his audience cannot but perceive the incongruity, and lose their confidence in him as a divinely inspired teacher.* For the same reason, any attempt to adjust the hair or any part of the clothing is particularly objectionable in the Christian minister.
It suggests the idea, that his thoughts are concerned about his personal appearance. Nearly the same objection lies to the reading of the hymn, or the performing of any of the other preliminary or closing exercises in a rhetorical manner, or with any gesticulation; or to the employment, at any time, in the pulpit, of theatrical action, such as folding the arms, and the like. This appears like an attempt to display his oratorical powers; and is entirely at variance with the air of modest dignity which should chiefly characterize these exercises.f
* What!—will a man play tricks—will he indulge
A silly fond conceit of his fair form,
How a body so fantastic, trim,
Can lodge a heavenly mind-demands a doubt. Task. + Fenelon says,—“Sometime ago, I happened to fall asleep at a sermon; and when I awaked, the preacher was in a very violent