Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

the sentence had been delayed but a single day after hearing the cause, he would perhaps have given a very different award.

Is it to be wondered at, that when the passions of the people were agitated by the persuasive powers of a Demosthenes, whilft the thunder of his eloquence was yet founding in their ears, the orator should be absolute master of their resolves? But an apostle or evangelist, (for there is no anachronism in a bare supposition) might have thus addressed the celebrated Athenian, - You • do, indeed, succeed to admiration, and the ad• dress and genius which you display in speak•ing, justly entitle you to our praise. But,

however great the consequences may be of the • measures to which, by your eloquence, they

are determined, the change produced in the • people is nothing, or next to nothing. If you ' would be ascertained of the truth of this, allow • the assembly to disperse immediately after • hearing you; give them time to cool, and then

collect their votes, and it is a thousand to one, • you shall find that the charm is dissolved. But - very different is the purpose of the Christian

orator. It is not a momentary, but a perma! nent effect at which he ains. It is not an im

« mediate

• mediate and favourable suffrage, but a tho: 'rough change of heart and disposition, that • will satisfy his view. That man would need to • be possessed of oratory superior to human, who

would effectually perfuade him that stole, to 5 steal no more, the sensualift to forego his plea• fures, and the miser his hoards, the infolent and • haughty to become meek and humble, the vin• dictive forgiving, the cruel and unfeeling mer• ciful and humane.

I MAY add to these confiderations, that the difficulty lies not only in the permanency, but in the very nature of the change to be effected. It is wonderful, but is too well vouched to admit a doubt, that by the powers of rhetoric you may produce in mankind, almost any change more easily than this. It is not unprecedented, that one should persuade a multitude, from mistaken motives of religion, to act the part of ruffians, fools, or madmen; to perpetrate the most extravagant, nay, the most flagitious actions; to steel their hearts against humanity, and the loudest calls of natural affection : but where is the elóquence that will gain such an ascendant over a multitude, as to persuade them, for the love of God, to be wise, and just, and good ? Happy

the

the preacher, whose sermons, by the blessing of Heaven, have been instrumental in producing even a few such instances ! Do but look into the annals of church-history, and you will soon be convinced of the surprising difference there is in the two cases mentioned, the amazing facility of the one, and the almost impossibility of the other.

As to the foolish or mad extravagancies hurtful only to themselves, to which numbers may be excited by the powers of persuasion, the history of the flagellants, and even the history of monachism, afford many unquestionable examples. But what is much worse, at one time you see Europe nearly depopulated, at the persuafion of a fanatical monk, its inhabitants rushing .armed into Afia, in order to fight for Jesus Chrift, as they termed it, but as it proved in fact, to difgrace, as far as lay in them, the name of Christ and of Christian amongft infidels; to butcher those who never injured them, and to whose lands they had at least no better title, than those whom they intended, by all possible means, to difpoffefs; and to give the world a melancholy proof, that there is no pitch of brutality and rąpacity, to which the passions of avarice and ambition, consecrated and inflamed by religious enthufiafm, will pot drive mankind. At another time you see multitudes, by the like methods, worked up into a fury against their innocent countrymen, neighbours, friends, and kinsmen, glorying in being the most active in cutting the throats of those who were formerly held dear to them.

enthu

Such were the crusades preached up but too effe&tually, first against the Mahometans in the Eaft, and next against Christians whom they called heretics, in the heart of Europe. And even in our own time, have we not seen new fadions raised by popular declaimers, whose only merit was impudince, whose only engine of influence was calumny and self-praise, whose only moral lesson was malevolence? As to the dogmas whereby such have at any time affected to discriminate themselves, these are commonly no other than the Mibboleth, the watch-word of the party, worn, for distinction's fake, as a badge, a jargon unintelligible alike to the teacher and to the learner. Such apostles never fail to make pro. selytes. For who would not purchase heaven at so cheap a rate? There is nothing that people

can more easily afford. It is only to think very . well of their leader and of themselves, to think very ill of their neighbour, to calumniate him freely, and to hate him heartily,

I AM

I AM sensible that some will imagine, that this account itself throws an insuperable obstacle in our way, as from it one will naturally infer; that oratory must be one of the most dangerous things in the world, and much more capable of doing ill than good. It needs but some reflection to make this mighty obstacle entirely vanish. Very little eloquence is necessary for persuading people to a conduct, to which their own depravity hath previoufly given them a bias. How foothing is it to them not only to have their minds made easy under the indulged malignity of their disposition, but to have that very malignity fanctified with a good name. So little of the oratorical talents is required here, that those who court popular applause, and look upon it as the pinnacle of human glory to be blindly followed by the multitude, commonly recur to defamation, especially of superiors and brethren, not so much for a subject on which they may display their eloquence, as for a fuccedaneum to supply their want of eloquence, a succedaneum which never yet was found to fail. I knew a preacher who, by this expedient alone, from being long the averfion of the populace, on account of his dulness, awkwardness, and coldness, all of a sudden became their idol. Little force is necessary

[ocr errors]
« EdellinenJatka »