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EV. DR. GEORGE CAMPBELL, principal of Marischal College and author of "The Philosophy of Rhetoric," was born at Aberdeen, Scotland, December 25th, 1719. Educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and at the University of Edinburgh, he became principal of Marischal College in 1759, and four years later published his celebrated "Dissertation on Miracles" in reply to Hume. His "Philosophy of Rhetoric" appeared in 1776, and in 1778 he published a new translation of the Gospels, with critical and explanatory notes, which is said by critics to be in many respects his greatest work. He died March 31st, 1796. His writings on oratory, though they are no longer in general circulation in America, abound in good sense and sound learning.
HOW TO BE INTELLIGIBLE IN SPEAKING OR PREACHING
OTHING is more natural than for a man to imagine that what is intelligible to him is so to everybody, or at least that he speaks with sufficient clearness, when he uses the same language and in equal plainness with that in which he hath studied the subject and been accustomed to read. But however safe this rule of judging may be in the barrister and the senator, who generally address their discourses to men of similar education with themselves, and of equal or nearly equal abilities and learning, it is by no means a proper rule for the preacher, one destined to be in spiritual matters a guide to the blind, a light to them who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of babes. Therefore, besides the ordinary rules of perspicuity in respect of diction, which, in common with every other public speaker, he ought to attend to, he must advert to this in particular, that the terms and phrases he employs in his discourse be not beyond the reach of the inferior ranks of people. Otherwise his preaching is, to the bulk of his audience. but beating the air; whatever the discourse may be in itself, the speaker is to them no better than a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. It is reported of Archbishop Tillotson, that he was wont, before preaching his sermons, to read them privately to an illiterate old woman of plain sense, who lived in the house with him, and wherever he found he had employed any word or expression that she did not understand, he instantly erased it, and substituted a plainer in its place, till he brought the style down to her level. The story is much to the prelate's honor; for however incompetent such judges might be of the composition, the doctrine, or the argument, they are certainly the most competent judges of what terms and phrases fall within the apprehension of the vulgar,-the class to which they belong. But though such an expedient would not answer in every situation, we ought at least to supply the want of it by making it more an object of attention than is commonly done, to dis
cover what in point of language falls within, and what without, the sphere of the common people.
Before I dismiss this article of perspicuity, I shall mention briefly a few of those faults by which it is most commonly transgressed.
The first is pedantry, or an ostentation of learning, by frequent recourse to those words and phrases which are called technical, and which are in use only among the learned. This may justly be denominated the worst kind of obscurity, because it is always an intentional obscurity. In other cases a man may speak obscurely, without knowing it; he may on some subjects speak obscurely, and though he suspects it, may not have it in his power to remedy it; but the pedant affects obscurity. He is dark of purpose, that you may think him deep. The character of a profound scholar is his primary object. Commonly, indeed, he overshoots the mark and with all persons of discernment loses this character by his excessive solicitude to acquire it. The pedant in literature is perfectly analogous to the hypocrite in religion. As appearance and not reality is the great study of each, both in mere exteriors far outdo the truly learned and the pious, with whom the reputation of learning and piety is but a secondary object at the most. The shallowness, however, of such pretenders rarely escapes the discovery of the judicious. But if falsehood and vanity are justly accounted mean and despicable, wherever they are found, when they dare to show themselves in the pulpit, a place consecrated to truth and purity, they must appear to every ingenuous mind perfectly detestable. It must be owned, however, that the pedantic style is not now so prevalent in preaching as it hath been in former times, and therefore needs not to be further enlarged on. There is, indeed, a sort of literary diction, which sometimes the inexperienced are ready to fall into insensibly, from their having been much more accustomed to the school and to the closet, to the works of some particular schemer in philosophy, than to the scenes of real life and conversation. This fault, though akin to the former, is not so bad, as it may exist without affectation, and when there is no special design of catching applause. It is, indeed, most commonly the consequence of an immoderate attachment to some one or other of the various systems of ethics or theology that have in modern times been published, and obtained a vogue among their respective partisans.
Thus the zealous disciple of Shaftesbury, Akenside, and Hutcheson, is no sooner licensed to preach the Gospel than with the best intentions in the world he harangues the people from the pulpit on the moral sense and universal benevolence, he sets them to inquire whether there be a perfect conformity in their affections to the supreme symmetry established in the universe,- he is full of the sublime and beautiful in things, the moral objects of right and wrong, and the proportionable affection of a rational creature towards them. He speaks much of the inward music of the mind, the harmony and dissonance of the passions, and seems, by his way of talking, to imagine that if a man have this same moral sense, which he considers as the mental ear, in due perfection, he may tune his soul with as much ease as a musician tunes a musical instrument. The disciple of Doctor Clarke, on the contrary, talks to us in somewhat of a soberer strain and less pompous phrase, but not a jot more edifying, about unalterable reason and the eternal fitness of things,-about the conformity of our actions to their immutable relations and essential differences. All the various sects or parties in religion have been often accused of using a peculiar dialect of their own when speaking on religious subjects, which, though familiar to the votaries of the party, appears extremely uncouth to others. The charge, I am sensible, is not without foundation, though all parties are not in this respect equally guilty. We see, however, that the different systems of philosophy, especially that branch which comes
under the denomination of pneumatology, are equally liable to this imputation with systems of theology. I would not be understood, from anything I have said, to condemn in the gross either the books or systems alluded to. They have their excellencies as well as their blemishes; and as to many of the points in which they seem to differ from one another, I am satisfied that the difference is, like some of our theological disputes, more verbal than real. Let us read even on opposite sides, but still so as to preserve the freedom of our judgment in comparing, weighing, and deciding, so that we can with justice apply to ourselves, in regard to all human teachers, the declaration of the poet,
"Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri.»
And even in some cases, wherein we approve the thought in any of those authors, it may not be proper to adopt the language. The adage, which enjoins us to think with the learned, but speak with the vulgar, is not to be understood as enjoining us to dissemble; but not to make a useless parade of learning, particularly to avoid everything in point of language which would put the sentiments we mean to convey beyond the reach of those with whom we converse. It was but just now admitted that the different sects or denominations of Christians had their several and peculiar dialects. I would advise the young divine, in forming his style in sacred matters, to avoid as much as possible the peculiarities of each. The language of Holy Scripture and of common sense affords him a sufficient standard. And with regard to the distinguishing phrases, which our factions in religion have introduced, though these sometimes may appear to superficial people and half thinkers sufficiently perspicuous, the appearance is a mere illusion. The generality of men, little accustomed to reflection, are so constituted that what their ears have been long familiarized to, however obscure in itself, or unmeaning it be, seems perfectly plain to them. They are well acquainted with the terms, expressions, and customary application, and they look no further. A great deal of the learning in divinity of such of our common people as think themselves, and are sometimes thought by others, wonderful scholars, is of this sort. It is generally the fruit of much application, strong memory and weak judgment, and, consisting mostly of mere words and phrases, is of that kind of knowledge which puffeth up, gendereth self-conceit,- that species of it in particular known by the name of spiritual pride, captiousness, censoriousness, jealousy, malignity,— but by no means ministereth to the edifying of the hearers in love. This sort of knowledge I denominate learned ignorance,-of all sorts of ignorance the most difficult to be surmounted, agreeably to the observation of Solomon, "Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit, there is more hope of a fool than of him." Would you avoid, then, feeding the vanity of your hearers, supplying them with words instead of sense, amusing them with curious questions and verbal controversies, instead of furnishing them with useful and practical instruction, detach yourselves from the artificial, ostentatious phraseology of every scholastic, or system builder in theology, and keep as close as possible to the pure style of Holy Writ, which the Apostle calls "the sincere or unadulterated milk of the word.» The things which the Holy Spirit hath taught by the prophets and Apostles give not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but in the words which the Holy Spirit teacheth,-a much more natural and suitable language. But be particularly attentive that the Scripture expressions employed be both plain and apposite. The word of God itself may be, and often is, handled unskillfully. Would the preacher carefully avoid this charge, let him first be sure that he hath himself a distinct meaning to everything he advanceth, and next examine whether the expression he intends to use be a clear and adequate enunciation
of that meaning. For if it is true that a speaker is sometimes not understood because he doth not express his meaning with sufficient clearness, it is also true that sometimes he is not understood because he hath no meaning to express.
The last advice I would give on the head of perspicuity is, in composing, to aim at a certain simplicity in the structure of your sentences, avoiding long, intricate, and complex periods. Remember always that the bulk of the people are unused to reading and study. They lose sight of the connection in very long sentences, and they are quite bewildered, when, for the sake of rounding a period, and suspending the sense till the concluding clause, you transgress the customary arrangement of the words. The nearer, therefore, your diction comes to the language of conversation, the more familiar to them it will be, and so the more easily apprehended. In this, too, the style of Scripture is an excellent model. So much for perspicuity.
The next quality I mentioned in the style, was, that it be affecting. Though this has more particularly a place in those discourses which admit and even require a good deal of the pathetic, yet, in a certain degree, it ought to accompany everything that comes from the pulpit. All from that quarter is conceived to be, mediately or immediately, connected with the most important interests of mankind. This gives a propriety to the affecting manner in a certain degree, whatever be the particular subject. It is this quality in preaching, to which the French critics have given the name of onction, and which they explain to be an affecting sweetness of manner which engages the heart. It is, indeed, that warmth and gentle emotion in the address and language, which serves to show that the speaker is much in earnest in what he says, and is actuated to say it from the tenderest concern for the welfare of his hearers. As this character, however, can be considered only as a degree of that which comes under the general denomination of pathetic, we shall have occasion to consider it more fully afterwards. It is enough here to observe, that as the general strain of pulpit expression ought to be seasoned with this quality, this doth necessarily imply that the language be ever grave and serious. The necessity of this results from the consideration of the very momentous effect which preaching was intended to produce, as the necessity of perspicuity, the first quality mentioned, results from the consideration of the character sustained by the hearers. That the effect designed by this institution, namely, the reformation of mankind, requires a certain seriousness, which, though occasionally requisite in other public speakers, ought uniformly to be preserved by the preacher, is a truth that will scarcely be doubted by any person who reflects. This may be said in some respect to narrow his compass in persuasion, as it will not permit the same free recourse to humor, wit, and ridicule, which often prove powerful auxiliaries to other orators at the bar and in the senate, agreeably to the observation of the poet,
Fortius et melius magnas plerumque secat res.»
Ridicule often decides important matters more readily than acute reasoning.
At the same time, I am very sensible that an air of ridicule in disproving or dissuading, by rendering opinions or practices contemptible, hath been attempted with approbation by preachers of great name. I can only say that when the contemptuous manner is employed (which ought to be very seldom) it requires to be managed with the greatest delicacy. For time and place and occupation seem all incompatible with the levity of ridicule; they render jesting impertinence, and laughter madness. Therefore anything from the pulpit which might provoke this
emotion would now be justly deemed an unpardonable offense against both piety and decorum. In order, however, to prevent mistakes, permit me here, in passing, to make a remark that may be called a digression, as it immediately concerns my own province only. The remark is, that in these prelections, I do not consider myself as limited by the laws of preaching. There is a difference between a school, even a theological school, and a church, a professor's chair and a pulpit; there is a difference between graduates in philosophy and the arts, and a common congregation. And though in some things, not in all, there be a coincidence in the subject, yet the object is different. In the former, it is purely the information of the hearers; in the latter, it is ultimately their reformation. I shall not, therefore, hesitate, in this place, to borrow aid from whatever may serve innocently to illustrate, enliven, or enforce any part of my subject, and keep awake the attention of my hearers, which is but too apt to flag at hearing the most rational discourse, if there be nothing in it which can either move the passions or please the imagination. The nature of my department excludes almost everything of the former kind, or what may be called pathetic. A little of the onction above explained is the utmost that here ought to be aspired to. There is the less need to dispense with what of the latter kind may be helpful for rousing attention. I hope, therefore, to be indulged the liberty, a liberty which I shall use very sparingly, of availing myself of the plea of the satirist,—
"Ridentem dicere verum Quid vetat?»
So much for the perspicuous and the affecting manner, qualities in the style which ought particularly to predominate in all discourses from the pulpit. There are other graces of elocution which may occasionally find a place there, such as the nervous, the elegant, and some others; but the former ought never to be wanting. The former, therefore, are characteristic qualities. The latter are so far from being such, that sometimes they are rather of an opposite tendency. The nervous style requires a conciseness that is often unfriendly to that perfect perspicuity which ought to predominate in all that is addressed to Christian people, and which leads a speaker rather to be diffuse in his expression, that he may the better adapt himself to ordinary capacities. Elegance, too, demands a certain polish that is not always entirely compatible with that artless simplicity with which, when the great truths of religion are adorned, they appear always to the most advantage, and in the truest majesty. They are "when unadorn'd, adorn'd the most.”