Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
By Owen Felltham (1602?1668)
From Resolves, Divine, Moral, and Political
THE DEFECT of preaching has made the pulpit slighted; I mean the much bad oratory we find come from it. It is a wonder to me how men can preach so little, and so long: so long a time, and so little matter; as if they thought to please by the inculcation of their vain tautologies. I see no reason why so high a princess as divinity is should be presented to the people in the sordid rags of the tongue; nor that he who speaks from the Father of Languages should deliver his embassage in an ill one. A man can never speak too well while he speaks not obscurely. Long and diffusive sentences are both tedious to the ear and difficult to retain. A sentence well couched takes both the senses and the understanding. I love not those cart-rope speeches, which are longer than the memory of man can fathom. I see not but that divinity, put into apt significants, might ravish as well as poetry. They are sermons but of baser metal, which lead the eyes to slumber. He answered well that, after often asking, said still, that action was the chief part of an orator. Surely that oration is most powerful where the tongue is eloquent, and speaks in a native decency, even in every limb. A good orator should pierce the ear, allure the eye, and invade the mind of his hearer. And this is Senecas opinion: fit words are better than fine ones: I like not those which are injudiciously employed; but such as are expressively pertinent, which lead the mind to something beside the naked term. And he that speaks thus must not look to speak thus every day. A kembed oration will cost both labour and the rubbing of the brain. And kembed I wish it, not frizzled nor curled. Divinity should not be wanton. Harmless jests I like well; but they are fitter for the tavern than the majesty of the temple. Christ taught the people with authority. Gravity becomes the pulpit. I admire the valour of some men who, before their studies, dare ascend the pulpit; and do there take more pains than they have done in their library. But having done this, I wonder not that they there spend sometimes three hours, only to weary the people into sleep. And this makes some such fugitive divines that, like cowards, they run away from their text. Words are not all, nor is matter all, nor gesture; yet, together they are. It is very moving in an orator when the soul seems to speak as well as the tongue. St. Augustin says, Tully was admired more for his tongue than his mind; Aristotle more for his mind than his tongue: but Plato for both. And surely nothing is more necessary in an oration, than a judgment able well to conceive and utter. I know God hath chosen by weak things to confound the wise: yet I see not but, in all times, attention has been paid to language. And even the Scriptures (though not the Hebrew) I believe are penned in a tongue of deep expression, wherein almost every word has a metaphorical sense, which illustrates by some allusion. How political is Moses in his Pentateuch! How philosophical Job! How massy and sententious is Solomon in his proverbs! how grave and solemn in his Ecclesiastes; that in the world, there is not such another dissection of the world as it! How were the Jews astonished at Christs doctrine! How eloquent a pleader is Paul at the bar; in disputation how subtle! And he who reads the Fathers shall find them as if written with a fine pen . I wish no man to be too dark and full of shadow. There is a way to be pleasingly plain; and some have found it. Mercury himself may move his tongue in vain if he has none to hear him but a non-intelligent. They that speak to children assume a pretty lisping. Birds are caught by the counterfeit of their own shrill notes. There is a magic in the tongue which can charm even the rude and untaught. Eloquence is a bridle, wherewith a wise man rides the monster of the world, the people. The affections of the hearer depend upon the tongue of the speaker.
Flet, si flere jubes; gaudet, gaudere coactus;
Et te dante, capit Judex quum non habet iram.LUCAN.
Thou mayst give smiles, or tears which joys do blot;
I grieve that any thing so excellent as divinity should fall into a sluttish handling. Surely, though other obstructions do eclipse her, yet this is a principal one. I never yet knew a good tongue that wanted ears to hear it. I will honour her in her plain trim; but I would desire her in her graceful jewels; not that they give addition to her goodness, but that she is thereby rendered more persuasive in working on the soul she meets with. When I meet with worth which I cannot overlove, I can well endure that art which is a means to heighten liking.