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water in a child's face, which they call baptizing, and would engross it all to themselves.
Besides, the priests engage all the rogues, villains, and fools in their party, in order to make it as large as they can; by this means they seduced Constantine the Great over to their religion, who was the first Christian emperor, and so horrible a villain that the heathen priests told him they could not expiate his crimes in their church; so he was at a loss to know what to do, till an Egyptian bishop assured him that there was no villany so great but was to be expiated by the sacraments of the Christian religion; upon which he became a Christian, and to him that religion owes its first settlement.
It is objected that freethinkers themselves are the most infamous, wicked, and senseless of all mankind. I answer, first, we say the same of priests and other believers. But the truth is, men of all sects are equally good and bad; for no religion whatsoever contributes in the least to mend men's lives.
I answer, secondly, that freethinkers use their understanding; but those who have religion do not: therefore the first have more understanding than the others; witness Toland, Tindal, Gildon, Clendon, Coward, and myself. For, use legs, and have legs.
I answer, thirdly, that freethinkers are the most virtuous persons in the world; for all freethinkers must certainly differ from the priests, and from nine hundred ninety-nine of a thousand of those among whom they live; and are therefore virtuous of course because everybody hates them.
I answer, fourthly, that the most virtuous people in all ages have been freethinkers; of which I shall produce several instances.
Socrates was a freethinker; for he disbelieved the gods of his country and the common creeds about them, and declared his dislike when he heard men attribute "repentance, anger, and other passions to the gods, and talk of wars and battles in heaven, and of the gods getting women with child," and such like fabulous and blasphemous stories. I pick out these particulars, because they are the very same with what the priests have in their Bibles, where repentance and anger are attributed to God; where it is said, there was heaven;" and that "the Virgin Mary was with child by the Holy Ghost," whom the priests call God; all fabulous and blasphemous stories. Now, I affirm Socrates to have been a true Christian. You will ask, perhaps, how that can be, since he lived three or four hundred years before Christ? I answer, with Justin Martyr, that Christ is nothing else but reason; and I hope you do not think Socrates lived before reason. Now, this true Christian Socrates never made notions, speculations, or mysteries any part of his religion; but demonstrated all men to be fools who troubled themselves with inquiries into heavenly things. Lastly, it is plain that Socrates was a freethinker, because he was calumniated for an atheist, as freethinkers generally are, only because he was an enemy to all speculations and inquiries into heavenly things. For I argue thus, that if I never trouble myself to think whether there be a God or not, and forbid others to do it, I am a freethinker, but not an atheist.
Plato was a freethinker; and his notions are so like some in the gospel, that a heathen charged Christ with borrowing his doctrine from Plato. But Origen defends Christ very well against this charge by saying he did not understand Greek, and therefore could not borrow his doctrines from Plato. However, their two religions agreed so well that it was common for Christians to turn Platonists, and Platonists Christians. When the Christians found out this, one of their zealous priests (worse than any atheist) forged several things under Plato's name, but conformable to Christianity, by which the heathens were fraudulently converted.
Epicurus was the greatest of all freethinkers, and consequently the most virtuous man in the world. His opinions in religion were the most complete system of atheism that ever appeared. Christians ought to have the greatest veneration for him because he taught a higher point of virtue than Christ; I mean the virtue of friendship, which, in the sense we usually understand it, is not so much as named in the New Testament.
Plutarch was a freethinker, notwithstanding his being a priest; but indeed he was a heathen priest. His freethinking appears by showing the innocence of atheism (which at worst is only false reasoning) and the mischiefs of superstition; and he explains what superstition is by calling it a conceit of immortal ills after death, the opinion of hell torments, dreadful aspects, doleful groans, and the like. He is likewise very satirical upon the public forms of devotion in his own country, a qualification absolutely necessary to a freethinker; yet those forms which he ridicules are the very same that now pass for true worship in almost all countries. I am sure some of them do so in ours; such as abject looks, distortions, wry faces, beggarly tones, humiliation, and contrition.
Varro, the most learned among the Romans, was a freethinker; for he said the heathen divinity contained many fables below the dignity of immortal beings; such, for instance, as Gods begotten and proceeding from other Gods. These two words I desire you will particularly remark, because they are the very terms made us of by our priests in their doctrine of the Trinity. He says likewise that there are many things false in religion, and so say all freethinkers; but then he adds, "which the vulgar ought not to know, but it is expedient they should believe." In this last he indeed discovers the whole secret of a statesman and politician, by denying the vulgar the privilege of freethinking; and here I differ from him. However, it is manifest from hence that the Trinity was an invention of statesmen and politicians.
The grave and wise Cato, the censor, will for ever live in that noble freethinking saying "I wonder," said he, "how one of our priests can forbear laughing when he sees another!" For contempt of priests is another grand characteristic of a freethinker. shows that Cato understood the whole mystery of the Roman "religion as by law established." I beg you, sir, not to overlook these last words, "religion as by law established." I translate harusper into the general word priest. Thus I apply the sentence to the priests in England; and when Dr. Smallridge sees Dr. Atterbury, I wonder how either of them can forbear laughing at the cheat they put upon the people by making them believe their "religion as by law established."
Cicero, that consummate philosopher and noble patriot, though he was a priest, and consequently more likely to be a knave, gave the greatest proofs of his freethinking. First, he professed the sceptic philosophy, which doubts of everything: then he wrote two treatises; in the first he shows the weakness of the stoics' arguments for the being of the gods; in the latter, he has destroyed the whole revealed religion of the Greeks and Romans; for why should not theirs be a revealed religion as well as that of Christ? Cicero likewise tells us, as his own opinion, that they who study philosophy do not believe there are any gods: he denies the immortality of the soul, and says there can be nothing after death.
And because the priests have the impudence to quote Cicero in their pulpits and pamphlets against freethinking, I am resolved to disarm them of his authority. You must know his philosophical works are generally in dialogues, where people are brought in disputing
against one another. Now the priests, when they see an argument to prove a god, offered perhaps by a stoic, are such knaves or blockheads to quote it as if it were Cicero's own; whereas Cicero was so noble a freethinker that he believed nothing at all of the matter, nor ever shows the least inclination to favour superstition, or the belief of God and the immortality of the soul, unless what he throws out sometimes to save himself from danger, in his speeches to the Roman mob, whose religion was however much more innocent and less absurd than that of Popery at least: and I could say more-but you understand me.
Seneca was a great freethinker, and had a noble notion of the worship of the gods, for which our priests would call any man an atheist: he laughs at morning devotions, or worshipping upon Sabbath-days; he says, God has no need of ministers and servants, because he himself serves mankind. This religious man, like his religious brethren the stoics, denies the immortality of the soul; and says all that is feigned to be so terrible in hell is but a fable: death puts an end to all our misery, &c. Yet the priests were anciently so fond of Seneca, that they forged a correspondence of letters between him and St. Paul.
Solomon himself, whose writings are called "the word of God," was such a freethinker, that if he were now alive, nothing but his building of churches could have kept our priests from calling him an atheist. He affirms the eternity of the world almost in the same manner with Manilius, the heathen philosophical poet, which opinion entirely overthrows the history of the creation by Moses and all the New Testament: he denies the immortality of the soul, assures us" that men die like beasts," and "that both go to one place." The prophets of the Old Testament were generally freethinkers. You must understand that their way of learning to prophesy was by music and drinking. These prophets wrote against the established religion of the Jews, (which those people looked upon as the institution of God himself,) as if they believed it was all a cheat that is to say, with as great liberty against the priests and prophets of Israel, as Dr. Tindal did lately against the priests and prophets of our Israel, who has clearly shown them and their religion to be cheats. To prove this, you may read several passages in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Jeremiah, &c., wherein you will find such instances of freethinking, that if any Englishman had talked so in our days, their opinions would have been registered in Dr. Sacheverell's trial, and in the representation of the lower house of convocation, and produced as so many proofs of the profaneness, blasphemy, and atheism of the nation; there being nothing more profane, blasphemous, or atheistical in those representations than what these prophets have spoken, whose writings are yet called by our priests "the word of God." And therefore these prophets are as much atheists as myself, or as any of my freethinking brethren whom I lately named to you.
Josephus was a great freethinker. I wish he had chosen a better subject to write on than those ignorant, barbarous, ridiculous scoundrels, the Jews, whom God (if we may believe the priests) thought fit to choose for his own people. I will give you some instances of his freethinking. He says Cain travelled through several countries and kept company with rakes and profligate fellows; he corrupted the simplicities of former times, &c., which plainly supposes men before Adam, and consequently that the priests history of the creation by Moses is an imposture. He says the Israelites passing through the Red Sea was no more than Alexander's passing at the Pamphilian sea that as for the appearance of God at Mount Sinai, the reader may believe it as he pleases, that Moses persuaded the Jews he had God for his guide, just as the
Greeks pretended they had their laws from Apollo. These are noble strains of freethinking, which the priests know not how to solve but by thinking as freely; for one of them says that Josephus wrote this to make his work acceptable to the heathens by striking out every thing that was incredible.
Origen, who was the first Christian that had any learning, has left a noble testimony of his freethinking; for a general council has determined him to be damned, which plainly shows he was a freethinker and was no saint; for people were only sainted because of their want of learning and excess of zeal; so that all the fathers who are called saints by the priests were worse than atheists.
Minutius Felix seems to be a true modern latitudinarian freethinking Christian; for he is against altars, churches, public preaching, and public assemblies; and likewise against priests; for he says there were several great flourishing empires before there were any orders of priests in the world.
Synesius, who had too much learning and too little zeal for a saint, was for some time a great freethinker; he could not believe the resurrection till he was made a bishop, and then pretended to be convinced by a lying miracle.
To come to our own country my lord Bacon was a great freethinker, when he tells us "that whatever has the least relation to religion is particularly liable to suspicion;" by which he seems to suspect all the facts whereon most of the superstitions (that is to say, what the priests call the religions) of the world are grounded. He also prefers atheism before superstition.
Mr. Hobbes was a person of great learning, virtue, and freethinking, except in his high-church politics.
But archbishop Tillotson is the person whom all English freethinkers own as their head; and his virtue is indisputable for this manifest reason, that Dr. Hickes, a priest, calls him an atheist; says he caused several to turn atheists, and to ridicule the priesthood and religion. These must be allowed to be noble effects of freethinking. This great prelate assures us that all the duties of the Christian religion with respect to God are no other but what natural light prompts men to, except the two sacraments, and praying to God in the name and mediation of Christ. As a priest and prelate, he was obliged to say something of Christianity; but pray observe, sir, how he brings himself off. He justly affirms that even these things are of less moment than natural duties; and, because mothers nursing their children is a natural duty, it is of more moment than the two sacraments, or than praying to God in the name and by the mediation of Christ. This freethinking archbishop could not allow a miracle sufficient to give credit to a prophet who taught anything contrary to our natural notions; by which it is plain he rejected at once all the mysteries of Christianity.
I could name one-and-twenty more great men, who were all freethinkers, but that I fear to be tedious; for it is certain that all men of sense depart from the opinions commonly received, and are consequently more or less men of sense according as they depart more or less from the opinions commonly received; neither can you name an enemy to freethinking, however he be dignified or distinguished, whether archbishop, bishop, priest, or deacon, who has not been either a crackbrained enthusiast, a diabolical villain, or a most profound ignorant brute."
Thus, sir, I have endeavoured to execute your commands, and you may print this letter if you please; but I would have you conceal my name. For my opinion of virtue is, that we ought not to venture doing ourselves harm by endeavouring to do good. I am yours, &c.
I HAVE here given the public a brief but faithful abstract of this most excellent essay; wherein I have all along religiously adhered to our author's notions, and generally to his words, without any other addition than that of explaining a few necessary consequences for the sake of ignorant readers; for to those who have the least degree of learning I own they will be wholly useless. I hope I have not in any single instance misrepresented the thoughts of this admirable writer. If I have happened to mistake through inadvertency, I entreat he will condescend to inform me and point out the place; upon which I will immediately beg pardon both of him and the world. The design of his piece is to recommend freethinking; and one chief motive is the example of many excellent men who were of that sect. He produces, as the principal points of their freethinking, that they denied the being of a God, the torments of hell, the immortality of the soul, the Trinity, incarnation, the history of the creation by Moses, with many other such "fabulous and blasphemous stories," as he judiciously calls them: and he asserts that whoever denies the most of these is the completest freethinker, and consequently the wisest and most virtuous man.
The author, sensible of the prejudices of the age, does not directly affirm himself an atheist; he further than to pronounce that atheism is the most perfect degree of freethinking, and leaves the reader to form the conclusion. However, he seems to allow that a man may be a tolerable freethinker, though he does believe a God, provided he utterly rejects "providence, revelation, the Old and New Testament, future rewards and punishments, the immortality of the soul," and other the like impossible absurdities. Which mark of superabundant caution, sacrificing truth to the superstition of priests, may perhaps be forgiven, but ought not to be imitated by any who would arrive (even in this author's judgment) at the true perfection of freethinking.
SOME THOUGHTS ON FREE
WRITTEN IN ENGLAND, BUT LEFT UNFINISHED.
DISCOURSING one day with a prelate of the kingdom of Ireland, who is a person of excellent wit and learning, he offered a notion applicable to the subject we were then upon, which I took to be altogether new and right. He said that the difference betwixt a madman and one in his wits in what related to speech, consisted in this; that the former spoke out whatever came into his mind, and just in the confused manner as his imagination presented the ideas: the latter only expressed such thoughts as his judgment directed him to choose, leaving the rest to die away in his memory; and that if the wisest man would at any time utter his thoughts in the crude indigested manner as they come into his head, he would be looked upon as raving mad. And, indeed when we consider our thoughts, as they are the seeds of words and actions, we cannot but agree that they ought to be kept under the strictest regulation; and that in the great multiplicity of ideas which one's mind is apt to form, there is nothing more difficult than to select those which are most proper for the conduct of life. So that I cannot imagine what is meant by the mighty zeal in some people for asserting the freedom of thinking; because if such thinkers keep their thoughts within their own breasts, they can be of no consequence further than to themselves. If they publish them to the world, they ought to be answerable for the effects their thoughts produce upon others. There are thousands in this kingdom who in their
thoughts prefer a republic or absolute power of a prince before a limited monarchy; yet if any of these should publish their opinions, and go about by writing or discourse to persuade the people to innovations in government, they would be liable to the severest punishments the law can inflict; and therefore they are usually so wise as to keep their sentiments to themselves. But with respect to religion, the matter is quite otherwise; and the public, at least here in England, seems to be of opinion with Tiberius that Deorum injuriæ dus cura. They leave it to God Almighty to vindicate the injuries done to himself, who is no doubt sufficiently able, by perpetual miracles, to revenge the affronts of impious men. And it should seem that is what princes expect from him, though I cannot readily conceive the grounds they go upon; nor why, since they are God's vicegerents, they do not think themselves at least equally obliged to preserve their master's honour as their own; since this is what they expect from those they depute, and since they never fail to represent the disobedience of their subjects as offences against God. It is true, the visible reason of this neglect is obvious enough: the consequences of atheistical opinions published to the world are not so immediate, or so sensible as doctrines of rebellion and sedition spread in a proper season. However, I cannot but think the same consequences are as natural and probable from the former, though more remote: and whether these have not been in view among our great planters of infidelity in England, I shall hereafter examine.
ALTHOUGH it was against my knowledge or advice that you entered into holy orders, under the present dispositions of mankind toward the church, yet since it is now supposed too late to recede (at least according to the general practice and opinion), I cannot forbear offering my thoughts to you upon this new condition of life you are engaged in.
I could heartily wish that the circumstances of your fortune had enabled you to have continued some years longer in the university, at least till you were ten years, standing; to have laid in a competent stock of human learning, and some knowledge in divinity, before you attempted to appear in the world; for I cannot but lament the common course which at least nine in ten of those who enter into the ministry are obliged to run. When they have taken a degree, and are consequently grown a burden to their friends, who now think themselves fully discharged, they get into orders as soon as they can, (upon which I shall make no remarks,) first solicit a readership, and if they be very fortunate, arrive in time to a curacy here in town, or else are sent to be assistants in the country, where they probably continue several years, (many of them their whole lives,) with 301. or 401. a-year for their support; till some bishop, who happens to be not overstocked with relations, or attached to favourites, or is content to supply his diocese without colonies from England, bestows upon them some inconsiderable benefice, when it is odds they are already encumbered with a numerous family. I should be glad to know, what intervals of life such persons can possibly set apart for the improvement of their minds; or which way they could be furnished with books, the library they brought with them from their college being usually not the most numerous, or judiciously chosen. If such gentlemen arrive to be great scholars, it must, I think, be
either by means supernatural, or by a method altogether out of any road yet known to the learned. But I conceive the fact directly otherwise, and that many of them lose the greatest part of the small pittance they receive at the university.
I take it for granted that you intend to pursue the beaten tract, and are already desirous to be seen in a pulpit only I hope you will think it proper to pass your quarantine among some of the desolate churches five miles round this town, where you may at least learn to read and to speak before you venture to expose your parts in a city congregation: not that these are better judges, but because, if a man must needs expose his folly, it is more safe and discreet to do so before few witnesses, and in a scattered neighbourhood. And you will do well if you can prevail upon some intimate and judicious friend to be your constant hearer, and allow him with the utmost freedom to give you notice of whatever he shall find amiss, either in your voice or gesture; for want of which early warning, many clergymen continue defective, and sometimes ridiculous, to the end of their lives. Neither is it rare to observe among excellent and learned divines, a certain ungracious manner, or an unhappy tone of voice, which they never have been able to shake off.
I should likewise have been glad, if you had applied yourself a little more to the study of the English language than I fear you have done; the neglect whereof is one of the most general defects among the scholars of this kingdom, who seem not to have the least conception of a style, but run on in a flat kind of phraseology, often mingled with barbarous terms and expressions, peculiar to the nation; neither do I perceive that any person either finds or acknowledges his wants upon this head, or in the least desires to have them supplied. Proper words in proper places make the true definition of a style. But this would require too ample a disquisition to be now dwelt on: however, I shall venture to name one or two faults, which are easy to be remedied with a very small portion of
The first is the frequent use of obscure terms, which by the women are called hard words, and, by the better sort of vulgar, fine language; than which I do not know a more universal, inexcusable, and unnecessary mistake, among the clergy of all distinctions, but especially the younger practitioners. I have been curious enough to take a list of several hundred words in a sermon of a new beginner, which not one of his hearers among a hundred could possibly understand; neither can I easily call to mind any clergyman of my own acquaintance who is wholly exempt from this error, although many of them agree with me in the dislike of the thing. But I am apt to put myself in the place of the vulgar, and think many words difficult or obscure, which the preacher will not allow to be so because those words are obvious to scholars. I believe the method observed by the famous lord Falkland, in some of his writings, would not be an ill one for young divines: I was assured by an old person of quality, who knew him well, that when he doubted whether a word was perfectly intelligible or not, he used to consult one of his lady's chambermaids (not the waiting-woman, because it was possible she might be conversant in romances), and by her judgment was guided whether to receive or reject it. And if that great person thought such a caution necessary in treatises offered to the learned world, it will be sure at least as proper in sermons, where the meanest hearer is supposed to be concerned, and where very often a lady's chambermaid may be allowed to equal half the
a Lucius Cary, viscount Falkland, who fell in the great civil war, now better known by the character drawn by lord Clarendon, than by his own compositions.
congregation, both as to quality and understanding. But I know not how it comes to pass, that professors in most arts and sciences are generally the worst qualified to explain their meanings to those who are not of their tribe: a common farmer shall make you understand in three words that his foot is out of joint, or his collar-bone broken; wherein a surgeon, after a hundred terms of art, if you are not a scholar, shall leave you to seek. It is frequently the same case in law, physic, and even many of the meaner arts.
And upon this account it is, that among hard words I number likewise those which are peculiar to divinity, as it is a science, because I have observed several clergymen, otherwise little fond of obscure terms, yet in their sermons very liberal of those which they find in ecclesiastical writers, as if it were our duty to understand them-which I am sure it is not. And I defy the greatest divine to produce any law, either of God or man, which obliges me to comprehend the meaning of omniscience, omnipresence, ubiquity, attribute, beatific vision, with a thousand others so frequent in pulpits, any more than that of eccentric, idiosyncracy, 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 has 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 should understand expressions which are never made use of in common life. No gentleman thinks it safe or prudent to send a servant with a message, without repeating it more than once, and endeavouring to put it into terms brought down to the capacity of the bearer; yet, after all this care, it is frequent for servants to mistake, and sometimes occasion misunderstandings among friends. Although the common domestics in some gentlemen's families have more opportunities of improving their minds than the ordinary sort of
It is usual for clergymen, who are taxed with this learned defect, to quote Dr. Tillotson, and other famous divines, in their defence, without considering the difference between elaborate discourses upon important occasions, delivered to princes or parliaments, written with a view of being made public, and a plain sermon intended for the middle or lower size of people. Neither do they seem to remember the many alterations, additions, and expungings, made by great authors in those treatises, which they prepare for the public. Besides, that excellent prelate above mentioned was known to preach after a much more popular manner in the city congregations; and if in those parts of his works he be anywhere too obscure for the understandings of many, who may be supposed to have been his hearers, it ought to be numbered among his omissions.
The fear of being thought pedants, has been of pernicious consequence to young divines. This has 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 books." These accomplishments, when applied to the pulpit, appear by a quaint, terse, florid style, rounded into periods and cadences commonly without either propriety or meaning. I have listened with my utmost attention for half an hour to an orator of this species, without being able to understand, much less to carry away, one single sentence out of a whole sermon. Others, to show that their studies have not been confined to sciences or ancient authors, will talk in the style of a gaming ordinary, and White Friars, when I suppose the hearers can be little edified by the terms of "palming, shuffling, biting, bamboozling," and the like, if they have not been sometimes conversant among pickpockets and sharpers. And truly, as they say a man is known by his company, so it should seem that a man's company may be known by his manner of expressing himself, either in public assemblies or private conversation. It would be endless to run over the several defects of style among us: I shall therefore say nothing of the mean and 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 English 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 knowledge of the world. In short, that simplicity, without which no human performance can arrive to any great perfection, is nowhere more eminently useful than in this.
I have been considering that part of oratory which relates to the moving of the passions; this I observe is in esteem and practice among some church divines as well as among all the preachers and hearers of the fanatic or enthusiastic strain. I will here deliver to you (perhaps with more freedom than prudence) my opinion upon the point :-
The two great orators of Greece and Rome, Demosthenes and Cicero, though each of them a leader (or, as the Greeks called it, a demagogue) in a popular state, yet seem to differ in their practice upon this branch of their art: the former, who had to deal with a people of much more politeness, learning, and wit, laid the greatest weight of his oratory upon the strength of his arguments, offered to their understanding and reason: whereas Tully considered the dispositions of a sincere, more ignorant, and less mercurial nation, by dwelling almost entirely on the pathetic part.
But the principal thing to be remembered is, that the constant design of both these orators, in all their speeches, was, to drive some one particular point; either the condemnation or acquittal of an accused person, a persuasive to war, the enforcing of a law, and the like: which was determined upon the spot, according as the
A place of asylum for debtors, frequented by sharpers and debauchees.
orators on either side prevailed. And here it was often
Nor is it a wonder that this expedient should so often miscarry, which requires so much art and genius to arrive at any perfection in it; as every man will find, much sooner than learn, by consulting Cicero himself.
I therefore entreat you to make use of this faculty (if you ever be so unfortunate as to think you have it) as seldom and with as much caution as you can, else I may probably have occasion to say of you, as a great person said of another upon this very subject: a lady asked him, coming out of church, whether it were not a very moving discourse? Yes," says he, "I was extremely sorry, for the man is my friend."
If in company you offer something for a jest, and nobody seconds you in your own laughter, or seems to relish what you said, you may condemn their taste, if you please, and appeal to better judgments; but, in the mean time, it must be agreed, you make a very indifferent figure. and it is at least equally ridiculous to be disappointed in endeavouring to make other folks grieve, as to make them laugh.
A plain convincing reason may possibly operate upon the mind, both of a learned and ignorant hearer, as long as they live, and will edify a thousand times more than the art of wetting the handkerchiefs of a whole congregation, if you were sure to attain it.
If your arguments be strong, in God's name offer them in as moving a manner as the nature of the subject will properly admit, wherein reason and good advice will be your safest guides; but beware of letting the pathetic part swallow up the rational: for I suppose philosophers have long agreed, that passion should never prevail over reason.
As I take it, the two principal branches of preaching are, first, to tell the people what is their duty, and then to convince them that it is so. The topics for both these, we know, are brought from Scripture and reason. Upon the former, I wish it were often practised to instruct the hearers in the limits, extent, and compass of every duty, which requires a good deal of skill and judgment; the other branch is, I think, not so difficult. But what I would offer upon both is this, that it seems to be in the power of a reasonable clergyman, if he will be at the pains, to make the most iguorant man comprehend what is his duty, and to convince him by arguments drawn to the level of his understanding, that he ought to perform it.
But I must remember that my design in this paper was not so much to instruct you in your business,