Page images
PDF
EPUB

funeral Orations, and more than thirty other discourses, which were preached by the Bishops, by the Doctors of the Faculty of Paris, or by the Monks. That of the Bishop of Bitonto is the only one which hath retained some celebrity; and as it is evidently the best of all, it is by this piece that we are enabled to judge of the Eloquence of the sixteenth century.

This sermon contains some beauties of Oratory; but it is written without method, or taste, and sometimes presents an indecent mixture of sacred scripture and heathen mythology.

The Bishop of Bitonto says, That nature hath given us two hands, two eyes, and two feet, in order that man may be a council in epitome

whilst making use of all his members together; ? for one hand washes the other, and one foot

sustains the other.'*+

* Quemadmodum et ipsa natura, manus nobis geminas, geminosque oculos, pedes item geminos ideò dedisse videtur, ut quasi collecto Concilio homo semper agat, nam et manus manum lavat, pes pedem sustentat.-Oratio Eb. Bitont.

[ocr errors]

† The name of this famed Bishop was Cornelio Mus

He was reckoned one of the greatest preachers of his age. Drelincourt mentions that he is called the Chrysostom of the Italians.—Bayle's Dictionary.

See some account of his curious sermont in Father Paul's history of the Council of Trent, B. ii. p. 124, 125. Also in JURIEU's history.

H

We might repeat twenty examples of this sort from the same discourse. But there is need of one quotation only, in order to appreciate the merit of an Orator, when we make it from Bossuet.

The ever memorable sermon of the Bishop of Meaux upon the unity of the church,' is not thus written.

SECTION XVII.

OF INTERROGATION.

TIME, that destroyer of ill-founded reputa

tion, adds, every day, fresh lustre to the glory of Bossuet. I observe, with pleasure, that this great Orator, whose merit hath been for some time attacked among us, is more warmly and universally admired since there has been a renunciation of the depraved taste of the Eloquence of words. The vehemence which distinguishes him, as it does Demosthenes, appears to me frequently derived from accumulated interrogations which are equally familiar to each of them.

Indeed, of all the figures of Oratory, Interrogation is the most overwhelming and rapid. If

it be employed in unfolding the principles on which the discourse is established, it spreads over it an inevitable obscurity, and a species of declamation, which disgusts persons of good taste. It is after a clear explanation of the obligations of the Christian Religion, that particular details of its moral injunctions, enlivened by this impetuous movement, forcibly strike the hearers, add remorse to conviction, and, if I may so speak, arm law against conscience. It is by earnest and repeated interrogations, that the Orator proves and attacks, accuses and answers, doubts and affirms, affects and instructs. Is there, in Eloquence, a surer way to agitate the human heart, than by such questions following one another in rapid succession, to which there is no need of waiting for an answer, because that is unavoidable and uniform ? Can we better manage the pride of the guilty, than by sparing him the disgrace of a direct reproach, at the very time we are informing him of his foibles or his vices ? Or say; how can we impart more force to truth, more weight to reason, than by confining ourselves to the simple privilege of interrogating the wicked ?-By what means can such an one elude the Orator, who shuts

up

all the avenues by which he endeavours to escape from himself? An Orator, who makes choice of him as judge, as sole judge, as the private judge, of the recesses of his own heart only, which he cannot mis. take? What answer will he return, if the general

questions, which he himself converts into so many personal accusations, rush upon him, and gather strength ? If, to these evidences overwhelming to the sinner, there follows a sublime and striking representation, which terrifies his imagination, and causes his thoughts to be greatly confused? Thus resembling a solemn sentence, which the judge proceeds to pronounce upon

the guilty, after having first confounded him.

Such is that sublime and famous Apostrophe, which Massillon addresses to the Supreme Being, in his sermon, 'on the small number of the elect.' "O God! where are thine elect?' These words, so plain, spread consternation. Each hearer places himself in that list of reprobates which had preceded this passage.

He dares no more reply to the Orator, who had, again and again, demanded of him, if he were of the number of the righteous, whose names alone shall be written in the book of life; but, entering with consternation into his own heart, which speaks sufficiently plain by its compunctions, he then imagines that he hears the irrevocable decree of his reprobation.

The eloquent Racine almost always proceeds by interrogations, in impassioned scenes ; and this figure, which gives such an ardent rapidity to his style, animates and warms all his arguments, none of which are ever cold, flat, or abstracted.

The success of this oratorical figure is infallible in Eloquence, when it is properly employed. It is the natural language of a soul deeply affected. If you wish to see an example of it, a famous one now occurs to me.

Every one knows that fine introduction of Cicero, who, unable to express the lively indignation of his patriotic zeal, rushes abruptly upon Catiline, and instantly overwhelms him by the vehemence of his interrogations. How long, • O Catiline, wilt thou abuse our patience? How long shall we continue to be the objects of thy fury? Whither will thy headstrong audacity "impel thee? Perceivest thou not the constant watch in the city, the apprehensions of the people, the enraged countenances of the Senators, who have discovered thy pernicious designs ? • Thinkest thou that I know not what passed the • last night in the house of Lecca ? Hast thou not 'made a distribution of employments, and parcel' led out all Italy with thy accomplices?'*+

Quousque tandem abutere, Catalina, patientiâ nostrâ ? quamdiù etiam, furor iste tuus nos eludet ? quem ed finem sese effrenata jactabit audacia? nihil-ne te nocturnum præsi. diùm palatü, nihil urbis vigiliæ, nihil timor populi, nihil concur sus honorum omnium, nihil hic muntissimus habendi

« PreviousContinue »