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Portico, or the Lyceum, than to the Gospelpulpit ;--those subjects, in a word, which, though they may have the appearance of being novel and animating, are really far-fetched and affected, and, in which, a discovery is made, not so much of genius, as of the want of it.
Many good subjects still remain for Christian Orators to inyent or revive. But there is no need to search for them, when they do not happen to present themselves naturally to the mind, as by an involuntary inspiration.
Begin with studying the prevailing bent of your genius ; and, after having tried your strength On dinerent subiects of argument, imagination, or sentiment, constantly follow that sort, which is most peculiarly your own, and which nature itself hath destined for you.
Be not afraid of going in beaten tracks. fertile Orator always discovers new treasures in old mines. Wherefore should we hesitate to enter afresh upon those subjects which have been already successfully handled? Is it because our great masters have laid hold of all their most striking beauties, and that in draining those fields, formerly so fruitful, they have changed them into barren deserts ?
Let us here be candid. If we were unacquainted with those lucid plans, those original ideas.
which we so justly admire in their writings, should we have conceived them of ourselves? The superiority of the models ought to enkindle our emulation, instead of damping our courage.
If Bossuet, Bourdaloue, Massillon, were to return upon earth, think we, that their genius would be so fettered by their former masterly performances, as to be incapable of fresh productions? or that these immortal Orators would not, even at this day, have been equal to themselves ?--Exert your talents and zeal! The subjects, which seem to be exhausted, will immediately receive new life: and the Orator, who can even now acquire originality, after these primitive men, shall participate their renown through
HEREFORE should we suppose that
could succeed better in Eloquence by making choice of subjects less known, when we so seldom observe distinguished success in the species of Panegyric, although the masters of the art have not hitherto travelled this road with that eclat which they have acquired in delivering doctrinal and moral discourses? The new subjects
in this branch of Eloquence, which remain for Christian Orators to handle, do not infallibly suggest to their minds the most eloquent Orations, This remark proves that not new subjects, but new ideas, are wanting, in order to excel in the art of Oratory.
Nothing, however, is more adapted to inflame the imagination, than the praise bestowed by the sacred ministry on those Christian heroes, whose examples do credit to our religion, while they condemn our behaviour.
If it be an excellent and pleasing sight to behold persons assembled in a Church, in order to their being instructed in all the duties of religion, it is also, without doubt, a very noble institution to have altars erected to virtue, and public eulogiums decreed to the most reverend saints, whom religion holds up to the imitation of her children. But men, whose lives, although in other respects unblemished, have been, notwithstanding, not much known, do not furnish sufficient materials for Eloquence.
To acquire and maintain the honour of such solemn homage, it is necessary to possess celebrity proceeding from superior genius, or brilliant actions; to have obtained a distinguished influence over the age, or, at least, over the country in which one has lived; to have formed an epoch in the history of religion; to be exalted above the common virtues; to have outlived one's self by illustrious monuments; and to appear before posterity with a reputation commanding respect : for, in spite of all the pomp of declaimers, a saint unknown will only obtain eulogiums unnoticed like himself.
The most common fault, attending this species of discourse, is, a failure in giving a just description of the character of the man who is praised.
Panegyrists more or less dwell
upon face, instead of penetrating to the bottom, of the subject.
Most Panegyrics, distinguished from one another merely by the title, are equally applicable to all saints in similar circumstances, and consequently do not characterize any one.
It is on this account that we have not, as yet, any collection of the kind, which could be quoted for a model.
The Panegyrics of Flechier, so long extolled as master-pieces in the rhetoric. of colleges, are, in the present day, extremely fallen from their ancient glory.
Those of Massillon are universally considered as the least valuable of his productions. We are continually losing sight of the saint, whom the Orator is praising, to pursue long digressions of morality, generally foreign to the subject, and, of which, not one passage is remembered.
The inattention of Preachers has occasioned the disgust of the public. This species of composition is now pretty generally abandoned. Excepting a very small number of privileged subjects, which should never be given up. Panegyrics are very rarely pronounced in the pulpits of Paris.
It is when composing these sacred eulogies that we ought especially to keep in view this distinguished maxim of Boileau, “Nothing is beautiful but truth."
It is allowable to embellish facts by comparisons, or by contrasts, provided that we confine ourselves to those innocent artifices of Eloquence; but it is ridiculous to pretend a false admiration, which every one sees through, and in which no one participates.
Indeterminate commendations, common places, accumulated epithets, deceitful adulations, disgustful exaggerations, discover ignorance or knavery, and at once destroy the confidence of the auditory.