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- The Recreations of A Country Parson - 55/63 -


and sweeps away. And from the impression made on individuals so competent to judge as those already mentioned, it would certainly seem that, whether suited to the dignity of the pulpit or not, the deepest oratorical effect is made by the latter, even on cultivated minds. Some of the most popular preachers in England have formed themselves on the Scotch model. Melvill and M'Neile are examples: so, in a different walk, is Ryle, so well known by his tracts. We believe that Melvill in his early days delivered his sermons from memory, and of late years only has taken to reading, to the considerable diminution of the effect he produces. We may here remark, that in some country districts the prejudice of the people against clergymen reading their sermons is excessive. It is indeed to be admitted that it is a more natural thing that a speaker should look at the audience he is addressing, and appear to speak from the feeling of the moment, than that he should read to them what he has to say; but it is hard to impose upon a parish minister, burdened with pastoral duty, the irksome school-boy task of committing to memory a long sermon, and perhaps two, every week. The system of reading is spreading rapidly in the Scotch Church, and seems likely in a few years to become all but universal. Caird reads his sermons closely on ordinary Sundays, but delivers entirely from memory in preaching on any particular occasion.

It may easily be imagined that when every one of fourteen or fifteen hundred preachers understands on entering the church that his manner must be animated if he looks for preferment, very many will have a very bad manner. It is wonderful, indeed, when we look to the average run of respectable Scotch preachers, to find how many take kindly to the emotional style. Often, of course, such a style is thoroughly contrary to the man's idiosyncracy. Still, he must seem warm and animated; and the consequence is frequently loud speaking without a vestige of feeling, and much roaring when there is nothing whatever in what is said to demand it. Noise is mistaken for animation. We have been startled on going into a little country kirk, in which any speaking above a whisper would have been audible, to find the minister from the very beginning of the service, roaring as if speaking to people a quarter of a mile off. Yet the rustics were still, and appeared attentive. They regarded their clergyman as 'a powerfu' preacher;' while the most nervous thought, uttered in more civilized tones, would have been esteemed 'unco weak.' We are speaking, of course, of very plain congregations; but among such 'a powerful preacher' means a preacher with a powerful voice and great physical energy.

Let not English readers imagine, when we speak of the vehemence of the Scotch pulpit, that we mean only a gentlemanly degree of warmth and energy. It often amounts to the most violent melo-dramatic acting. Sheil's Irish speeches would have been immensely popular Scotch sermons, so far as their style and delivery are concerned. The physical energy is tremendous. It is said that when Chalmers preached in St. George's, Edinburgh, the massive chandeliers, many feet off, were all vibrating. He had often to stop, exhausted, in the midst of his sermon, and have a psalm sung till he recovered breath. Caird begins quietly, but frequently works himself up to a frantic excitement, in which his gestulation is of the wildest, and his voice an absolute howl. One feels afraid that he may burst a bloodvessel. Were his hearers cool enough to criticise him, the impression would be at an end; but he has wound them up to such a pitch that criticism is impossible. They must sit absolutely passive, with nerves tingling and blood pausing: frequently many of the congregation have started to their feet. It may be imagined how heavily the physical energies of the preacher are drawn upon by this mode of speaking. Dr. Bennie, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, and one of the most eloquent and effective of Scotch pulpit orators, is said to have died at an age much short of fifty, worn out by the enthusiastic animation of his style. There are some little accessories of the Scotch pulpit, which in England are unknown: such as thrashing the large Bible which lies before the minister--long pauses to recover breath--much wiping of the face--sodorific results to an unpleasant degree, necessitating an entire change of apparel after preaching.

The secret of the superior power over a mixed congregation of the best Scotch, as compared with most English preachers, is that the former are not deterred by any considerations of the dignity of the pulpit, from any oratorical art which is likely to produce an effect. Some times indeed, where better things might be expected, the most reprehensible clap-trap is resorted to. An English preacher is fettered and trammelled by fear of being thought fanatical and methodistical,--and still worse, ungentlemanlike. He knows, too, that a reputation as a 'popular preacher' is not the thing which will conduce much to his preferment in his profession. The Scotch preacher, on the other hand, throws himself heart and soul into his subject. Chalmers overcame the notion that vehemence in the pulpit was indicative of either fanaticism or weakness of intellect: he made ultra-animation respectable: and earnestness, even in an excessive degree, is all in favour of a young preacher's popularity; while a man's chance of the most valuable preferments (in the way of parochial livings) of the Scotch church, is in exact proportion to his popularity as a preacher. The spell of the greatest preachers is in their capacity of intense feeling. This is reflected on the congregation. A congregation will in most cases feel but a very inferior degree of the emotion which the preacher feels. But intense feeling is contagious. There is much in common between the tragic actor and the popular preacher; but while the actor's power is generally the result of a studied elocution, the preacher's is almost always native. A teacher of elocution would probably say that the manner of Chalmers, Guthrie, or Caird was a very bad one; but it suits the man, and no other would produce a like impression. In reading the most effective discourses of the greatest preachers, we are invariably disappointed. We can see nothing very particular in those quotations from Chalmers which are recorded as having so overwhelmingly impressed those who heard them. It was manner that did it all. In short, an accessory which in England is almost entirely neglected, is the secret of Scotch effect. Nor is it any derogation from an orator's genius to say that his power lies much less in what he says than in how he says it. It is but saying that his weapon can be wielded by no other hand than his own. Manner makes the entire difference between Macready and the poorest stroller that murders Shakspeare. The matter is the Baine in the case of each. Each has the same thing to say; the enormous difference lies in the manner in which each says it. The greatest effects recorded to have been produced by human language, have been produced by things which, in merely reading them, would not have appeared so very remarkable. Hazlitt tells us that nothing so lingered on his ear as a line from Home's Douglas, as spoken by young Betty:--

And happy, in my mind, was he that died.

We have heard it said that Macready never produced a greater effect than by the very simple words 'Who said that?' It is perhaps a burlesque of an acknowledged fact, to record that Whitfield could thrill an audience by saying 'Mesopotamia!' Hugh Miller tells us that he heard Chahners read a piece which he (Miller) had himself written. It produced the effect of the most telling acting; and its author never knew how fine it was till then. We remember well the feeling which ran through us when we heard Caird say, 'As we bend over the grave, where the dying are burying the dead.' All this is the result of that gift of genius; to feel with the whole soul and utter with the whole soul. The case of Gavazzi shows that tremendous energy can carry an audience away, without its understanding a syllable of what is said. Inferior men think by loud roaring and frantic gesticulation to produce that impression which genius alone can produce. But the counterfeit is wretched; and with all intelligent people the result is derision and disgust.

Many of our readers, we daresay, have never witnessed the service of the Scotch Church. Its order is the simplest possible. A psalm is sung, the congregation sitting. A prayer of about a quarter of an hour in length is offered, the congregation standing. A chapter of the Bible is read; another psalm sung; then comes the sermon. A short prayer and a psalm follow; and the service is terminated by the benediction. The entire service lasts about an hour and a half. It is almost invariably conducted by a single clergyman. In towns, the churches now approximate pretty much to the English, as regards architecture. It is only in country places that one finds the true bareness of Presbytery. The main difference is that there is no altar; the communion table being placed in the body of the church. The pulpit occupies the altar end, and forms the most prominent object; symbolizing very accurately the relative estimation of the sermon in the Scotch service. Whenever a new church is built, the recurrence to a true ecclesiastical style is marked; and vaulted roofs, stained glass, and dark oak, have, in large towns, in a great degree, supplanted the flat-roofed meetinghouses which were the Presbyterian ideal. The preacher generally wears the English preaching gown. The old Geneva gown covered with frogs is hardly ever seen; but the surplice would still stir up a revolution. The service is performed with much propriety of demeanour; the singing is often so well done by a good choir, that the absence of the organ is hardly felt. Educated Scotchmen have come to lament the intolerant zeal which led the first Reformers in their country to such extremes. But in the country we still see the true genius of the Presbytery. The rustics walk into church with their hats on; and replace them and hurry out the instant the service is over. The decorous prayer before and after worship is unknown. The minister, in many churches wears no gown. The stupid bigotry of the people in some of the most covenanting districts is almost incredible. There are parishes in which the people boast that they have never suffered so Romish a thing as a gown to appear in their pulpit; and the country people of Scotland generally regard Episcopacy as not a whit better than Popery. It has sometimes struck us as curious, that the Scotch have always made such endeavours to have a voice in the selection of their clergy. Almost all the dissenters from the Church of Scotland hold precisely the same views both of doctrine and church government as the Church, and have seceded on points connected with the existence of lay patronage. In England much discontent may sometimes be excited by an arbitrary appointment to a living; but it would be vain to endeavour to excite a movement throughout the whole country to prevent the recurrence of such appointments. Yet upon precisely this point did some three or four hundred ministers secede from the Scotch Church in 1843; and to maintain the abstract right of congregations to a share in the appointment of their minister, has the 'Free Church' drawn from the humbler classes of a poor country many hundred thousand pounds. No doubt all this results in some measure from the self-sufficiency of the Scotch character; but besides this, it should be remembered that to a Scotchman it is a matter of much graver importance who shall be his clergyman than it is to an Englishman. In England, if the clergyman can but read decently, the congregation may find edification in listening to and joining in the beautiful prayers provided by the Church, even though the sermon should be poor enough. But in Scotland everything depends on the minister. If he be a fool, he can make the entire service as foolish as himself. For prayers, sermon, choice of passages of Scripture which are read, everything, the congregation is dependent on the preacher. The question, whether the worship to which the people of a parish are invited weekly shall be interesting and improving, or shall be absurd and revolting, is decided by the piety, good sense, and ability of the parish priest. Coleridge said he never knew the value of the Liturgy till he had heard the prayers which were offered in


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