« PreviousContinue »
'The great essential requisite to effective preaching in this method, or indeed in any method,' says our author, ' is a devoted heart. A strong religious sentiment, leading to a fervent zeal for the good of other men, is better than all rules of art; it will give the preacher courage, which no science or practice could impart, and open his lips boldly, when the fear of man would keep them closed. Art may fail him, and all his treasures of knowledge desert him; but if his heart be warm with love, he will "speak right on," aiming at the heart and reaching the heart, and satisfied to accomplish the great purpose, whether he be thought to do it tastefully or
In preaching, as in almost everything else, labor and perseverance are necessary to success, and furthermore, the best models are to be studied. We may venture to say, that genius in a public speaker never has, and probably never will, supply the place of intellectual toil; and what greater impulse can be given to genius, what greater excitement to submit to this toil, than the contemplation of the excellencies of the illustrious dead?
In connexion with Mr Ware's valuable treatise, we recommend to those, who are preparing themselves for the public ministry, Fenelon's Dialogues on Eloquence. It is remarked in a preface to this work, by the Chevalier Ramsay, that the ancients had treated the subject of eloquence in various ways, as logicians, as grammarians, and as critics; but the Archbishop of Cambray had gone farther, and treated it as a philosopher and a Christian. Probably no man understood the principles of eloquence better than Fenelon. His taste was formed on the purest models, the study of the Greeks and Romans, and of that book, which affords more instances of genuine simplicity and the true sublime than any other, the Holy Scriptures. No mistake is more common among young preachers, than an unworthy affectation of a sparkling brilliancy. They seem to think the genuine spirit of eloquence consists in decorating common and ordinary thoughts in a rich and imaginative dress, no matter how fantastic, and how little in harmony with the conception. Uncommon expressions,' says Hume, strong flashes of wit, pointed similes, and epigrammatic turns, especially when they recur too frequently, often disfigure rather than embellish a discourse. It commonly happens, in such cases, that twenty insipid conceits are found for one thought, which is really
beautiful.' We know of no production better fitted to correct this mistake, than the Dialogues, which we have mentioned. The author is an advocate for simplicity, though he shows no hostility to subdued ornament, and those occasional metaphors, which, in the excitement of description and argument, are thrown out burning from the heart.
If simplicity and a natural manner of expression are requisite to eloquence in general, how necessary is it to that species termed the eloquence of the pulpit. The truths of religion cannot be said to come 'mended' from the preacher's tongue, unless they are pronounced with plainness of speech, and are attended with an earnestness, resulting from a conviction of their importance. The subjects introduced in pulpit discussions are of too high and holy a nature to admit of the tawdry decorations, which an untutored imagination, especially when joined to a heart unmoved, would be inclined to communicate to them. This point deserves the more consideration, when it is felt, that without a chastened imagination and a correct taste, all attempts at extemporaneous eloquence will be likely to prove utterly unsuccessful. But a cultivated taste is not all, nor will freedom from puerilities and improprieties of expression alone make one eloquent; there are also required the earnestness of conviction, the genuine pathos of nature and truth, the flame of a heavenly animation kindling in the soul. It is the best policy for a public speaker to dispense with all tricks of rhetoric, which are fitted merely to amuse, and that profusion of ornament, which is the mark of a weak, and always of an undisciplined mind, and, whether his language be premeditated or extemporaneous, to have his own heart full of the subject, and to aim directly at the hearts. of his hearers by the shortest avenues, and with the greatest possible power.
ART. III.-Goethe's Werke, &c.
The Works of Goethe. Published by J. G. Cotta. 20 vols.
THE most eminent German writers have often been misunderstood, and their claims to admiration unjustly represented. The time is yet remembered, when German sentiment
and German metaphysics were common expressions of a disdainful criticism, and when the German poetry, though allowed to be original and various, was also proscribed as unnatural and exaggerated. If the principles of reciprocity and mutual justice are to be applied in the world of letters, there is no nation, which so signally merits a fair and impartial judgment from foreigners. In poetry, no less than in matters of science, they have been careful to become familiar with the best productions of the human mind, whatever may have been their origin, and by means of excellent translations they have incorporated them into their own literature. Shakspeare and Calderon are acted in German theatres; the novels of Scott are found in every literary circle; Tasso reaps new laurels in the disguise of the northern dialect; and Franklin teaches practical wisdom in the heart of Europe no less than in America.
The literature of a great nation must be approached with respect. If a good book contains the best thoughts and sentiments of a fine mind, the life blood of a master spirit,' the literature of a nation contains all the noble feelings, the creed, the morals, and the aspiration of a people. To condemn it in a mass, is to pronounce the sentence of worthlessness against a large part of the whole sum of human existence. Respect for human nature, therefore, allows no hasty judgments against a national literature, that is, against the wisdom of a whole nation, as collected and preserved by itself in written monuments.
The literature of a people, if it be good, will be peculiar; it will contain a description of emotions belonging to itself, of sensations which have not been aroused or indulged by others, of thoughts and sentiments new in themselves, or at least in the forms under which they are represented. For the perfect culture of the moral man it is necessary to become acquainted with all the operations of the heart and the mind; and since the experience of an individual is never sufficient to accomplish this end, and private examples seldom exhibit distinctly the character of the inward emotions, it is necessary to observe them as they appear in masses, to review the history of other times, to watch the nature of the affections as they are seen in the monuments of various nations, and so to become instructed in all the forms under which the passions have appeared.
A foreign literature will seldom be in strict harmony with the taste and associations acquired at home; but this, far from being any objection to its excellence, confers on it an additional claim to attention. New views of man and of life are to be drawn from unexplored sources; the great spectacle of the world is exhibited under a novel form. Yet the studious observer must be on his guard while forming his opinion, lest that which has remained unknown be pronounced unnatural, the sensibilities, which have not been cherished, be ridiculed as insincere, and any unusual delineation of the affections be regarded as an indication of bad taste and of a fondness for exaggeration. The literature of each nation is national, and the true critic must endeavor to regard it from the same point of view with the nation, on which it was designed to produce an effect. The whole sphere of the fine arts becomes changed by differences of climate, of situation, of national character. It is the same as to each particular effort; its purpose must be known before its merit can be estimated. A painting, intended for a ceiling, would appear absurdly on the wall; a beautiful ballad, which has its justification in a national superstition, may have no direct support in cool reason; a play, of which the object is only to give a calth delineation of a state of mind, must not be judged by its effect on the stage; the poetry of the oriental nations can hardly be found tolerable, except by those who read till they catch the spirit of the East; nay, the Grecian drama itself, the most perfect monument of the union of genius and taste, does not seem impassioned and powerful except to the
Let these remarks be applied to the literature of Germany. If on first acquaintance it offend, or seem strange and unnatural, this is nothing more than might have been expected; for the culture, and consequently the productions of the Germans, have much that is original and peculiar; and every peculiarity, both in the forms and in the subjects of their works, only makes them more worthy of respect, just as reverence is especially due to any one, who can teach new lessons on life and the mode of regulating the passions.
Goethe is the most national poet of the Germans, the most fit representative of their literature, and, more nearly than any other, the universal favorite of his countrymen. Here
are reasons enough for examining his works with a willingness to discover beauties, and for condemning any of them, if any are to be condemned, with hesitation. There is still another reason for speaking of him with respect. He was born in the same year with Alfieri, and is consequently now more than seventy six years of age. And can reverence be denied to the old age of an industrious and popular writer, whose life may be traced in the monuments of his mind?
Of the value of Goethe's poetry different opinions may exist; but it is too late to dispute his genius. To direct the taste and govern the thoughts of the many, is one of the clearest indications of intellectual power. It is now more than fifty years since Goethe entered the lists of literary competition, and during the whole of that period he has held possession of public admiration. Pericles is acknowledged to have been a consummate statesman, because he for forty years preserved his supremacy in the councils of one city; in the German republic of letters, opinions are as free and as fickle, as was the popular voice at Athens; and he, who has had them in his favor for more than half a century, and has all that time been hazarding his reputation by new efforts, must certainly have a powerful, a rich, and an inventive mind.
Popularity, extensive and lasting popularity, is the least questionable testimony to poetic excellence. If the multitude and the critic are at variance, the latter is in the wrong. The poet reflects the passions and sentiments of men; he connot please long and widely, unless he reflects them with truth. If his pictures are universally recognised, they cannot but be executed with fidelity. All the reasonings of cavillers cannot weaken Homer's claim to veneration; human nature itself rises up and declares him to be her greatest bard; and she expresses her judgment in the collected voices of ages and nations.
The literary history of Goethe is most intimately connected with that of his private life. The place of his birth and early residence facilitated the acquisition of his native language in all its extent. The dialects of the Rhine lands are unsettled, and he, who is accustomed to them from his infancy, finds it easy to adopt all the words, which are elsewhere in currency. A native of Holstein, or the remoter Prussia, could hardly have acquired the same copiousness and versa