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quently 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 thirty or forty pounds 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 cona ceive 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 track, 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
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
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 abilities.
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 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.
* Lucius Cary, viscount Falkland, slain at the battle of Newbury, in the great civil war, and now better known by the splendid character drawn by Lord Clarendon than by his own compositions, “ A person of such prodigious parts of learning and knowledge, of that inimitable sweetness and delight in conversation, of so flowing and obliging an humanity and goodness to mankind, that, if there were no other brand upon this odious and accursed civil war thau that single loss, it must be infamous and execrable to all posterity."--History of the Rebellion, Book VII.
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 farther, 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.t
* The greater part of these examples of obscure terms are now naturalized, and generally understood. The late Dr Johnson's writings had a great effect in familiarizing the public to words derived from the dead languages.
† In his Thoughts on Religion, Swift regrets that points of doce
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 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 men 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 tradesmen.
It is usual for clergymen, who are taxed with
trine have been founded upon the terms of eastern elocution employed by St Paul.