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We were very sorry, in reading Dr. Parr's note on the Universities, to meet with the following passage :
“Ill would it become me tamely and silently to acquiesce in the strictures of this for. midable accuser upon a seminary to which I owe many obligations, though I left it, as must not be dissembled, before the usual time, and, in truth, had been almost compelled to leave it, not by the want of a proper education, for I had arrived at the first place in the first form of Harrow School, when I was not quite fourteen-not by the want of useful tutors, for mine were eminently able, and to me had been uniformly kind- not by the want of ambition, for I had begun to look up ardently and anxiously to academical distinctionsnot by the want of attachment to the place, for I regarded it then, as I continue to regard it now. with the fondest and most unfeigned affection-but by another want, which it were necessary to pame, and for the supply of which, after some hesitation, I determined to provide by patient toil and resolute self-denial, when I had not completed my twentieth year. I ceased, therefore, to reside, with an aching heart: I looked back with mingled feelings of regret and humiliation to advantages of which I could no longer partake, and honours to which I could no longer aspire.”
To those who know the truly honourable and respectable character of Dr. Parr, the vast extent of his learning, and the unadulterated benevolence of his nature, such an account cannot but be very affecting, in spite of the bad taste in which it is communicated. How painful to reflect, that a truly devout and attentive minister, a strenuous defender of the church establishment, and by far the most learned man of his day, should be permitted to languish on a little paltry curacy in Warwickshire ?
Dii meliora, &c., &c.
RENNEL'S SERMONS. (E. REVIEW, October, 1802.) Discourses on Various Subjects. By. Thomas Rennel, D.D., Master of the Temple.
Rivington, London. We have no modern sermons in the English language that can be considered as very eloquent. The merits of Blair (by far the most popular writer of sermons within the last century) are plain good sense, a happy application of scriptural quotation, and a clear harmonious style, richly tinged with scriptural language. He generally leaves his readers pleased with his judg. ment, and his just observations on human conduct, without ever rising so high as to touch the great passions, or kindle any enthusiasm in favour of virtue. For eloquence we must ascend as high as the days of Barrow and Jeremy Taylor : and even there, while we are delighted with their energy, their copiousness, and their fancy, we are in danger of being suffocated by a redundance which abhors all discrimination: which compares till it perplexes, and illustrates till it confounds.
To the Oases of Tillotson, Sherlock, and Atterbury, we must wade through many a barren page, in which the weary Christian can descry nothing all around him but a dreary expanse of trite sentiments and languid words.
The great object of modern sermons is to hazard nothing : Their charac. teristic is, decent ability; which alike guards their authors froin ludicrous errors, and precludes them from striking beauties. Every man of sense, in taking up an English sermon, expects to find it a tedious essay, full of commonplace morality; and if the fulfilment of such expectations be meri. torious, the clergy have certainly the merit of not disappointing their readers. Yet it is curious to consider how a body of men so well educated, and so magnificently endowed as the English clergy, should distinguish themselves so little in a species of composition to which it is their peculiar duty, as well as their ordinary habit, to aitend. To solve this difficulty, it should be remembered that the eloquence of the Bar and of the Senate force themselves into notice, power, and wealth-that the penalty which an individual client
pays for choosing a bad advocate, is the loss of his cause that a prime minister must infallibly suffer in the estimation of the public, who neglects to conciliate eloquent men, and trusts the defence of his measures to those who have not adequate talents for that purpose; whereas, the only evil which accrues from the promotion of a clergyman to the pulpit, which he has no ability to fill as he ought, is the fatigue of the audience, and the discredit of that species of public instruction; an evil so general, that no individual patron would dream of sacrificing to it his particular interest. The clergy are generally appointed to their situations by those who have no interest that they should please the audience before whom they speak; while the very reverse is the case in the eloquence of the Bar, and of Parliament. We by no means would be understood to say that the clergy should owe their promotion principally to their eloquence, or that eloquence ever could, consistently with the constitution of the English Church, be made a common cause of preferment. In pointing out the total want of contention between the privilege of preaching, and the power of preaching well, we are giving no opinion as to whether it might, or might not, be remedied; but merely stating a fact. Pulpit discourses have insensibly dwindled from speaking to reading; a practice, of itself, sufficient to stifle every germ of eloquence. It is only by the fresh feelings of the heart that mankind can be very power. fully affected. What can be more ludicrous than an orator delivering stale indignation, and fervour of a week old ; turning over whole pages of violent passions, written out in German text; reading the tropes and apostrophes into which he is hurried by the ardour of his mind; and so affected at a preconcerted line and page, that he is unable to procced any further!
The prejudices of the English nation have proceeded a good deal from their hatred to the French ; and, because that country is the native soil of elegance, animation, and grace, a certain patriotic solidity, and loyal awkwardness, have become the characteristics of this; so that an adventurous preacher is afraid of violating the ancient tranquillity of the pulpit; and the audience are commonly apt to consider the man who tires them less than usual, as a trifler, or a charlatan.
Of British education, the study of eloquence makes little or no part. The exterior graces of a speaker are despised; and debating societies (admirable institutions, under proper regulations) would hardly be tolerated either at Oxford or Cambridge. It is commonly answered to any animadversions upon the English pulpit, that a clergyman is to recommend himself, not by his eloquence, but by the purity of his life and the soundness of his doctrine; an objection good enough, if any connection could be pointed out between eloquence, heresy, and dissipation. But if it is possible for a man to live well, preach well, and teach well, at the same time, such objections, resting only upon a supposed incompatibilty of these good qualities, are duller than the dulness they defend.
The clergy are apt to shelter themselves under the plea, that subjects so exhausted are utterly incapable of novelty; and, in the very strictest sense of the word novelty, meaning that which was never said before, at any time, or in any place, this may be true enough of the first principles of morals; but the modes of expanding, illustrating, and enforcing a particular theme are capable of infinite variety; and, if they were not, this-might be a very good reason for preaching commonplace sermons, but is a very bad one for pub. lishing them.
We had great hopes that Dr. Rennel's Sermons would have proved an exception to the character we have given of sermons in general; and we have read through his present volume with a conviction rather that he has misap.
plied, than that he wants, talents for pulpit eloquence. The subjects of his sermons, fourteen in number, are, i. The consequences of the vice of gaming: 2. On old age : 3. Benevolence exclusively an evangelical virtue : 4. The services rendered to the English nation by the Church of England, a motive for liberality to the orphan children of indigent ministers: 5. On the grounds and regulation of national joy : 6. On the connection of the duties of loving the brotherhood, fearing God, and honouring the King: 7. On the guilt of blood-thirstiness: 8. On atonement: 9. A visitation sermon : 10. Great Britain's naval strength and insular situation, a cause of gratitude to Almighty God: II. Ignorance productive of atheism, anarchy, and superstition : 12, 13, 14. On the sting of death, the strength of sin, and the victory over them both by Jesus Christ.
Dr. Rennel's first sermon, upon the consequences of gaming, is admirable for its strength of language, its sound good sense, and the vigour with which it combats that detestable vice. From this sermon we shall, with great pleasure, make an extract of some length.
“Further, to this sordid habit the gamester joins a disposition to FRAUD, and that of the meanest cast. To those who soberly and fairly appreciate the real nature of human actions, nothing appears more inconsistent than that societies of men, who have incorporated themselves for the express purpose of gambling, should disclaim fraud or indirection, or affect to drive from their assemblies those among their associates whose crimes would reflect disgrace on them. Surely this, to a considerate mind, is as solemn and refined a banter as can well be exhibited. For when we take into view the vast latitude allowed by the most upright gamesters, when we reflect that, according to their precious casuistry, every advantage may be legitimately taken of the young, the unwary, and the inebriated, which superior coolness, skill, address, and activity can supply, we must look upon pretences to honesty as a most shameless aggravation of their crimes. Even if it were possible that, in his own practices, a man might be a FAIR GAMESTER, yet, for the result of the extended frauds committed by his fellows, he stands deeply accountable to God, his country, and his conscience. To a system necessarily implicated with fraud; to associations of men, a large majority of whom subsist by fraud ; to habits calculated to poison the source and principle of all integrity, he gives efficacy, countenance, and concurrence. Even his virtues he suffers to be subsidiary to the cause of vice. He sees with calmness, depredation com company, perhaps under his very roof. Yet men of this description declaim (so desperately deceitful is the heart of man) against the very knaves they cherish and protect, and whom,
phistical refuge for a worn out conscience, they even imitate. To such, let the Scripture speak with emphatical decision-When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him.”
The reader will easily observe, in this quotation, a command of language, and a power of style, very superior to what is met with in the great mass of sermons. We shall make one more extract :
“But in addition to fraud, and all its train of crimes, propensities and habits of a very different complexion enter into the composition of a gamester: a most ungovernable FEROCITY OF DISPOSITION, however for a time disguised and latent, is invariably the result of his system of conduct. Jealousy, rage, and revenge, exist among gamesters in their worst and most frantic excesses, and end frequently in consequences of the most atrocious violence and outrage. By perpetual agitation the malignant passions spurn and overwhelm every boundary which discretion and conscience can oppose. From what source are we to trace a very large number of those murders, sanctioned or palliated indeed by custom, but which stand at the tribunal of God precisely upon the same grounds with every other species of murder - From the gaming-table, from the nocturnal receptacles of distraction and frenzy, the Duel. list rushes with his hand lifted up against his brother's life Those who are as yet on the threshold of these habits should be warned, that however calm their natural temperament, however meek and placable their disposition, yet that, by the events which every moment arise, they stand exposed to the ungovernable fury of themselves and others. In the midst of fraud, protected by menace on the one hand, and on the other, of despair; irritated by a recollection of the meanness of the artifices and the baseness of the hands by which utter and remediless ruin has been inflicted; in the midst of these feelings of horror and distrac. tion it is that the voice of brethren's blood 'crieth unto God from the ground'-'and now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand.' Not only THOU who actually sheddest that blood, but THOU who art tho artificer of death-thou who administerest incentives to these habits who disseminatest the practice of them-improvest the skill in them-sharpenest the propensity to them-at THY hands will it be required, surely, at the tribunal of God in the next world, and perhaps, in most instances, in his distributive and awful dispensations towards thee and thine here on
Having paid this tribute of praise to Dr. Rennel's first sermon, we are sorry so soon to change our eulogium into censure, and to blame him for having selected for publication so many sermons touching directly and indirectly upon the French Revolution. We confess ourselves long since wearied with this kind of discourses, bespattered with blood and brains, and ringing eternal changes upon atheism, cannibalism, and apostasy. Upon the enormities of the French Revolution there can be but one opinion ; but the subject is not fit for the pulpit. The public are disgusted with it to satiety; and we can never help remembering that this politico-orthodox rage, in the mouth of a preacher, may be profitable as well as sincere. Upon such subjects as the murder of the Queen of France, and the great events of these days, it is not possible to endure the draggling and daubing of such a ponderous limner as Dr. Rennel, after the ethereal touches of Mr. Burke." In events so truly horrid in themselves, the field is so easy for a declaimer, that we set little value upon the declamation; and the mind, on such occasions, so easily outruns ordinary description, that we are apt to feel more, before a mediocre oration begins, than it even aims at inspiring.
We are surprised that Dr. Rennel, from among the great number of subjects which he must have discussed in the pulpit (the interest in which must be permanent and universal) should have published such an empty and frivolous sermon as that upon the victory of Lord Nelson ; a sermon good enough for the garrulity of joy, when the phrases, and the exultation of the Porcupine, or the True Briton, may pass for eloquence and sense; but utterly unworthy of the works of a man who aims at a place among the great teachers of morality and religion.
Dr. Rennel is apt to put on the appearance of a holy bully, an evangelical swaggerer, as if he could carry his point against infidelity by big words and strong abuse, and kick and cuff men into Christians. It is a very easy thing to talk about the shallow impostures, and the silly ignorant sophisms of Voltaire, Rousseau, Condorcet, D'Alembert, and Volney, and to say that Hume is not worth answering. This affectation of contempt will not do. While these pernicious writers have power to allure from the Church great numbers of proselytes, it is better to study them diligently, and reply to them satisfactorily, than to veil insolence, want of power, or want of industry, by a pretended contempt; which may leave infidels and wavering Christians to suppose that such writers are abused, because they are feared ; and not answered, because they are unanswerable. While every body was abusing and despising Mr. Godwin, and while Mr. Godwin was, among a certain description of understandings, increasing every day in popularity, Mr. Malthus took the trouble of refuting him; and we hear no more of Mr. Godwin. We recommend this example to the consideration of Dr. Rennel, who seems to think it more useful, and more pleasant, to rail than to fight.
After the world had returned to its sober senses upon the merits of the ancient philosophy, it is amusing enough to see a few bad heads bawling for the restorations of exploded errors and past infatuation. We have some dozen of plethoric phrases about Aristotle, who is, in the estimation of the Doctor, et rex et sutor bonus, and every thing else ; and to the neglect of whose works he seems to attribute every moral and physical evil under which the world has groaned for the last century. Dr. Rennel's admiration of the ancients is so great, that he considers the works of Homer to be the region
and depository of natural law and natural religion.* Now, if, by natural religion, is meant the will of God collected from his works, and the necessity man is under in obeying it; it is rather extraordinary that Homer should be so good a natural theologian, when the divinities he has painted are certainly a more drunken, quarrelsome, adulterous, intriguing, lascivious set of beings than are to be met with in the most profligate court in Europe. There is, every now and then, some plain coarse morality in Homer ; but the most bloody revenge, and the most savage cruelty in warfare, the ravishing of women, and the sale of men, &c., &c., &c., are circumstances which the old bard seems to relate as the ordinary events of his times, without ever dreaming that there could be much harm in them; and if it be urged that Homer took his ideas of right and wrong from a barbarous age, that is just saying, in other words, that Homer had very imperfect ideas of natural law.
Having exhausted all his powers of eulogium upon the times that are gone, Dr. Rennel indemnifies himself by the very novel practice of declaiming against the present age. It is an evil age—an adulterous age-an ignorant age
-an apostate age and a foppish age. Of the propriety of the last epithet, our readers may perhaps be more convinced, by calling to mind a class of fops not usually designated by that epithet-men clothed in profound black, with large canes, and strange amorphous hats-of big speech and imperative presence talkers about Plato-great affecters of senility-despisers of women, and all the graces of life-fierce foes to common sense-abusive of the living, and approving no one who has not been dead for at least a century. Such fops, as vain and as shallow as their fraternity in Bond Street, differ from these only as Gorgonius differed from Rufillus.
In the ninth Discourse (p. 226), we read of St. Paul, that he had “ an heroic zeal, directed, rather than bounded, by the nicest discretion—a con. scious and commanding dignity, softened by the meekest and most profound humility." This is intended for a fine piece of writing ; but it is without meaning : for, if words have any limits, it is a contradiction in terms to say of the same person, at the same time, that he is nicely discreet and heroically zealous; or that he is profoundly humble and imperatively dignified : and if Dr. Rennel means that St. Paul displayed these qualities at different times, then could not any one of them direct or soften the other.
Sermons are so seldom examined with any considerable degree of critical vigilance, that we are apt to discover in them sometimes a great laxity of assertion ; such as the following :
“ Labour to be undergone, afflictions to be borne, contradictions to be endured, danger to be braved, interests to be despised in the best and most flourishing ages of the Church, are the perpetual badges of far the greater part of those who take up their cross and follow Christ.
This passage, at first, struck us to be untrue; and we could not immediately recollect the afflictions Dr. Rennel alluded to, till it occurred to us that he must undoubtedly mean the eight hundred and fifty actions which, in the course of eighteen months, have been brought against the clergy for nonresidence.
Upon the danger to be apprehended from Roman Catholics in this country, Dr. Rennel is laughable. We should as soon dream that the wars of York and Lancaster would break out afresh, as that the Protestant religion in England has anything to apprehend from the machinations of Catholics. To such a scheme as that of Catholic emancipation, which has for its object to restore their natural rights to three or four millions of men, and to allay the