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PART 1.-DERIVATIVE POWERS.
XIX. CRITICISM .
It is a question of the first importance to all public speakers, especially ministers of the Gospel, how their utterances can be rendered the most effectual. Whatever promises aid in this direction will be seized with earnestness and appropriated with
It has become obvious to careful observers that the modern pulpit is more distinguished for strong ability, sound learning, and deep piety than for its eloquence. Since it is true of the. thousands now annually entering the ministry, so few are remarkable for their power and success as speakers who are distinguished scholars and writers, their study and training for speaking are either greatly neglected or fearfully misdirected. The numerous text-books on rhetoric, in every liberal course of study, with the corresponding professorships and hebdomadal declamations, do not indicate a neglect of this branch of education. We therefore conclude, that by some means its cultivation has become sadly defective.
Public speaking, and even rhetoric, as taught and practiced of late among students and young speakers, have fallen into great abuses. They are exceedingly superficial. The very name of rhetoric strikes one now as implying little or nothing more than a painting, or outside adorning of discourse, adding a little flippancy to please the unthoughtful. It is supposed to imply something shovy and trifling, rather than substantial and excellent. In a thorough course of study, and with good scholars, it does not seem to be generally regarded as an element of power like that of logic and philosophy, but a kind of educațional plaything. Hence no moral quality is attached to its
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study or practice, nor is it coveted as among " the best gifts” so much for what it has power to accomplish, as for what it appears to be.
Because rhetorie deals so much in forms, it does not follow that it is destitute of principles, and that its foundations do not lie deeper than the drapery of spoken or written discourse. If novices and sophomores treat the powers of oratory as a toy, upright and conscientious speakers should regard it as involving & moral responsibility, such as always accompanies all great powers.
Sacred. eloquence especially should be studied and practiced from another standpoint, high, pure, and commanding, like itself, or it will never occupy its true relative position in a course of education. If eloquence in its true character and purposes does not originate in moral emotions, if it does not deal with the moral element of humanity, if it does not propose moral achievements, we cannot affirm what other branch of science or education does. By what authority then has it been brought down, shorn of its inherent merit, and degraded in scholastic estimation? If it has sometimes been used improperly, to influence men against their judgments and interests, that does not show its nature and designs are such, any more than the perversion of any other science shows it useless or vicious. But, on the other hand, we claim that there is not in all the wide range of education any other department that leads us so directly into, and takes such a firm hold upon, the highest elements of our nature, and influences so powerfully the great interests of humanity, as this. Benevolence and religion covet power to do good; and with men possessed of these qualities, all power will be used exclusively for that purpose, and with this view will be earnestly sought.
We are confirmed in the opinion that the essential qualities of good speaking are not correctly taught generally in modern training for that purpose, from the fact that of those who have studied the most carefully, written the most extensively, and taught the longest, there are found scarcely more really eloquent speakers, in proportion to their number, than of the uneducated. This, however, by no means indicates that this branch of education is not to be elaborately studied, provided it is under the right masters, and in a successful manner. Cudworth says: “Knowledge is not to be poured into the soul like liquor, but rather to be invited and gently drawn forth from it; nor the mind so much to be filled therewith from without like a vessel, as to be kindled and awakened." The application of this fine thought to our modern teaching of oratory would be of decided advantage.
Let us inquire if there are not in operation several causes, forestalling or undermining to a great extent everything that is now done to improve our public speaking. One formidable obstacle in the way of general success in improving pulpit oratory is the force of precedent, and the fear of breaking away from established style. In the ministry of every Christian Church there is a way, or manner, which, if it does not amount to a tone, does to a style, and this must more or less fashion every man's mode of speaking in the ministry. If the individual speaker does not wish it should be so, his associations, with the power of habit, will make it so, unconsciously it may be to himself. Provided he does not feel that his denominational reputation depends on his following the beaten track of style and mannerisms, he will not be above the fear of being thought odd or singular in breaking away from usage. The result is, no matter what a man's natural utterance, he will be to some extent squared to these lines, which so far makes him unnatural. Who ever was or ever can be eloquent who is not natural ? The least constraint is perceptible to an audience and crippling to a speaker. The bar and the stage are comparatively free from this incubus which weighs upon the pulpit. Speakers must be natural or they are repulsive. The naturalness comprehends alike tone, or modulation of voice, position of the body, and gesticulation. A practical observer will detect the least affectation in any one of these particulars. Here lies the danger in all anxious and critical study of eloquence—its continual tendency to interfere with nature, except when taught by masters of the subject. When this occurs, it is mainly to be attributed to the direction of the speaker's attention to wrong points. The young orator resolves to excel, so he speaks and acts as much like an eloquent man as possible, drops everything natural, puts on airs, assumes the gestures and tones of voice which he has observed as pleasing in others, and calls it a success ! A burlesque of eloquence. His efforts should be first to ascertain his own faults as a speaker. Is he too fast, too slow, too calm, too excited, too loud, too low, too argumentative, too superficial ? Having learned by some means what his faults are, he should remove them, no matter what the cost, or despair of success. This was the great effort of Demosthenes, and other great masters of the art, who succeeded by study. A short breath, a stammering tongue, or indistinct articulation were impediments to his eloquent nature, such as could be overcome only by the greatest painstaking. This is the point to which all public speakers can direct their attention safely and continually. But, alas! almost any and everything else will be studied before this, which accounts largely for the surprising non-improvement in modern oratory.
When from any cause ministers of the Gospel cease to feel a deep and thrilling interest in their own utterances, they are no longer eloquent. Then the most profound logic and finished rhetoric, though applied to the vital truths of Christianity, will fall dead upon an audience, for in hearing hearts answer only to hearts in speaking. Without a vital interest of the speaker in what he says, his melodious voice will be like a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, and the people will sleep on. minister of Christ does not “grow in grace,” and make continual progress in personal and experimental religion; if he studies but superficially the great truths of Christianity; if his discourses are, with himself, old and stale; if his illustrations