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wretch ; it writhes with his agony: it faints with his hunger; it weeps with his tears; it bleeds with his blood; till, blind with the wise and heavenly delusion, it ministers to its own fancied sorrows, and labours for another self”—“ the eternal frailty of sin at length degrades a man in his own eyes,”—“ bring it home to the chambers of your hearts”—“this spirit will bear of no backsliding, no wavering”—“ it has ever been the memorable privilege of this island, to stand forward as the early, and eager champion of all the miseries of man”. “all feel the vanity of human wishes, and human designs, when they behold the arts, the arms, the industry of nations, overwhelmed by an Omnipotent destroyer, and their heritage tost to the children of blood
repentance fertilized into Christian righteousness”.
parent, and husband, and child, and friend, may all perish away,
and leave us a wreck of time in the feeble solitude of age”—“he whom the dread of universal infamy, the horror of being degraded from his rank in society, the thought of an hereafter will not inspire with the love of truth, who prefers any temporary convenience of a lie to a broad, safe, and refulgent veracity, that man is too far sunk in the depths of depravity for any religious instruction he can receive in this place; the canker of disease is gone down to the fountains of his blood, and the days of his life are told”_"thus live the souls of the just in the dungeons of the flesh”—“a mind beautifully inlaid with the thoughts of angels” “engrave upon his (an infant's) printless heart, the feelings of pain”—“ the words ... are irreligious, blasphemous, and bad”—“his stony rock”-"you are either sacramented for life to the first crude system you
have adopted, or, &c.”—“ it shall be better even for the fool that says in his heart, there is no God, than for him who looks up to a heaven that disgraces him, and pins his soul upon a faith which he smothers as a crime”-“the most beautiful feelings of the heart”—“ that breath still hangs in his nostrils”—“our Saviour, ... while he endeavours to throw open every compassionate heart as an asylum for the afflicted, and to make the good an altar for the miserable, &c.”_" repays them (parents) all that fine care which has averted the perils of infant life”-“it is fine to observe, that reason, &c.”—“the sounds which are sung out before the throne of God.”
If this is really come to be the proper diction, our Taylors and Barrows, our Drydens and Addisons, have had their day: and the gravest subjects are now held forth in a slang, compounded of all the motley whimsicalities which conceited ingenuity can fabricate in imitation of the scriptural, the classical, the poetical, the commercial, the fashionable, and the vulgar, dialects, and from its own sheer perversity and extravagance. This fantastic style is probably attributable in part, as we have already hinted, to the preacher's mind being too careless about his subject; in which state its inventive activity is sufficiently exempt from the absorption of feeling, to be desirous of amusing itself by flourishing all sorts of vanities along the composition. And it is partly the result of a systematic endeavour to maintain a constant appearance of thinking originally. We have repeatedly observed the fact, that there is no expedient by which a writer or speaker may so effectually persuade himself that he always thinks originally, as to get a habit of expressing himself strangely. We would therefore entreat our divine to rid himself of this monstrous dialect, if it were only to preserve to himself the power of discriminating the comparative qualities of his own ideas and compositions, and even if his present mode of expression were not so offensive to correct taste. He does think originally sometimes; but what is likely to be the consequence of an author's taking up a notion that he always does so ?
It needs not be remarked, that, in some of the sentences we have transcribed, the affected cast is fully as much in the form of the conception as in the mode of expression.
Our literary dissatisfaction reaches its greatest height, at those parts of these sermons which are intended to be pathetic and sublime. It is not that the writer does not often make a judicious selection of the topics, scenes, and circumstances, adapted to touch the heart; nor that he does not sometimes attain considerable elevation of thought. But there is an utter want of that element of sentiment, or passion, which is essential to pathetic and sublime eloquence. An energetic, simple feeling must prevail through every sentence, to the exclusion of every appearance of managing ingenuity or ostentation. The effect of such compositions is just the reverse of that produced by those before us, which quell, and prostrate, and freeze our feelings, exactly in proportion to the measure of pathos or grandeur exhibited. We have an unaccountable impression, as if the author would laugh at us if we were affected by the pictures he is displaying: We reproach ourselves for the feeling; but with our best efforts we still fail to divest ourselves of a feeling, that the orator, while addressing the passions, is himself in a state of the utmost composure ; and our minds perversel , or perhaps complacently, prefer maintaining their tranquillity too, in gentle accordance with his, to the emotions which should seem to be demanded by those splendid or those pitiable objects which he places before us. But still we cannot like ourselves, while the most melancholy visions are opened before us of destroying armies, desolated countries, burning cities, murdered families, without moving us to terror or compassion ; while valorous and magnificent sentiments of patriotism excite in us such a very moderate degree of impatience to die for our country; or while the more tender images of maternal and infantine distress, or female penitence, leave us capable of diverting so soon to indifferent objects. Nor can we like the oratory, which, in displaying these objects and scenes, continually reminds us, and keeps us perfectly cool by reminding us, of rhetorical artifice and stage effect.
To regain their own good opinion, our minds will have it that almost all the fault is in the exhibitor; and that if he had been any thing more than a mere actor, or rhetorician, there would have been no possibility of avoiding to melt or burn while beholding him make such representations. There is hardly one moment of true sympathetic beguilement; when there seems to be the most impassioned vehemence, the very rapture of eloquence, it is all seen through with perfect ease. The following rhapsody on veracity, for instance, seems to dash off much in the style and manner of an impetuous torrent of passion ; and really it indicates much force of conception ; but the quaintly expressed conceit of the “ heart bursting in twain,” the affected cast of several other expressions, and the artificial hurrying rapidity, all concur—we should not say, to prove the writer,—but certainly to preserve the reader, as free from real passion, as in constructing or perusing one of the diurnal pieces of rhetoric on the wheel of fortune.
We have only one more remark on the composition. The thoughts and sentences are not formed into a proper series and sequence. Instead of the sense being carried on in a train of finished sentences, each advancing it one distinct step straight forwards, it is dispersed out into a multitude of small pieces on either hand. Instead of advancing, if we may so express it, in a strong narrow column, one thought treading firmly and closely after another, the composition presents a number of thoughts, collateral and related, rather than consequentially dependent, hurrying irregularly forwards almost parallel to one another.
Four Discourses on Subjects relating to the Amusement of the Stage.
Preached at Great St. Mary's Church, Cambridge, on Sunday, September 25, and Sunday, October 2, 1808 ; with copious Supplementary Notes. By JAMES PLUMPTRE, B.D., Fellow of Clare-Hall. 8vo.
It is not expressed in the title page, that these discourses were preached, and are published, with an intention hostile to the stage; but the reader can have no doubt as to this point, we presume, when informed that they are dedicated to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge after having received his approbation, that the author is an admirer of some of our most serious and orthodox divines, that he appears to be actuated by a sincere wish to do good, and that the discourses are founded on no other than the following texts ;—“ Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”—“ Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners.” —“Let not foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient, be once named among you, as becometh saints.” “ To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” A selection of texts so pointedly applicable, will appear to indicate the preacher's correct view of his subject; and shall we not incur the suspicion of wantonly offending against the third injunction, when we state, that, notwithstanding all these reasons for a contrary presumption, Mr. Plumptre's discourses are meant as a formal defence of the stage ?
Merely that a minister of the Christian religion should have considered it as within the scope and duty of his sacred function to undertake such a defence, will not be a fact of sufficient novelty, in our times, to excite surprise ; for it would be ungrateful to charge it on defect of reverend instruction, if we do not know that the play-house is one of our best Christian