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PASSING from the biographers of divines to the divines
themselves, we observe that, with the signal The Pulpit in exception of Pilgrim's Progress, nearly all the Restoration
the writers in this department whose proepoch.
ductions have established a claim to rank among English classics belong to the company of the preachers. This is not in itself surprising; preaching stimulates eloquence, and the homilist enjoys a much greater freedom of range, and a fuller exemption from restraint, than the writer upon strictly technical or professional subjects. It does, however, at first sight seem remarkable, that an age so generally decried for immorality as the Restoration should, with the decade immediately preceding, have been the golden age of the English pulpit. In fact, as we have implied when treating of the drama, the apparent licence of the age did not really extend much beyond gay and fashionable circles, which could not greatly affect the pulpit except to its advantage, by furnishing it with impressive topics. Even in these circles immorality was far from necessarily implying irreligion; and the sober citizens who crowded churches and meeting-houses, and the universities, whose routine afforded so many opportunities for the delivery of discourses from the pulpit, were much as heretofore. In the rudimentary condition of the press as an organ of public information and education, and when the meeting was hardly an institution as yet, the spoken word possessed a power of which the newspaper has since gone far to deprive it. In times of public disquiet, such as the days of the Exclusion Bill or those which preceded the Revolution, churches and chapels were crowded with people seeking guidance, popular sermons went through edition after edition, and popular divines were almost tribunes of the people. Theological considerations moulded political opinion to a degree now hardly conceivable; the storm of pamphlets on both sides called forth by the resipiscence or tergiversation of a leading divine like Sherlock shows what importance attached to his conduct upon either view of it. The age, moreover, was in the stage of literary development most favourable for pulpit eloquence. As a huge glacier takes longer to melt than a small one, the quaint and involved periods of the Elizabethan pulpit stood out longer than ordinary prose against the disintegrating influence of seventeenth century taste, and while the new movement was triumphant in most branches of literature, it in general only affected the style of the sermon so far as to chasten and mellow it, leaving it still that sonorous dignity and that flavour of the antique with which stately and impressive eloquence can rarely dispense. The two greatest preachers, Barrow and South, stand just upon this culminating point of excellence, uniting the majesty of the old style to the ease and clearness of the new. Tillotson, going a step further, and bringing the pulpit down to the level of ordinary educated society, performed indeed a most useful work, but inevitably prepared the way for the sensible but unimpressive preaching of the next century.
Isaac Barrow, Master of Trinity College, was the son of a respectable tradesman, linendraper to Charles I.
His royalist and Arminian opinions kept him back
under the Commonwealth, but after the Isaac Barrow
Restoration he was acknowledged as the (1630-1677).
first mathematician of his country, except, as he was the first to allow, another Isaac whose sur
was Newton. Newton, who had been Barrow's pupil, revised his lectures on optics (1669), an epochmaking work, but composed in Latin, as were his scarcely less celebrated lectures on geometry. His reputation as an English classic rests upon two great theological works, his Treatise on the Pope's Supremacy (edited, after his death, by Tillotson) and his Exposition of the Creed, and upon his sermons, which do not seem to have been extremely popular in his own day, though gaining the suffrage of such dissimilar men as Locke and Charles II., who called Barrow
an unfair preacher, because he exhausted every topic, and left no room for anything to be said by anyone who came after him.' It may be reasonably conjectured that when Barrow preached before Charles he did not indulge in the inordinate expansiveness, it was not prolixity, that sometimes drove away his congregation. It is to the king's honour that his bestowal of the mastership of Trinity upon Barrow was entirely his own act. Robert South, on the whole perhaps the greatest preacher
of his age, was born in 1633, and educated Robert South
at Westminster and Christ Church. He is (1633-1716).
accused by Antony Wood, the principal authority for his life, of having been a timeserver, who sided successively with the Independents, the Presbyterians, and the Church of England in the days of their power. Wood seems, however, to have had some private grievance against him ; and if South was really at the same time so
n pliant and so able, it seems strange that he should have attained no higher preferment than stalls at Christ Church and Westminster. Quarrelsome he certainly was, and he entered into a most acrimonious controversy with Sherlock, which it required a royal proclamation to compose. He died in 1716. Unlike South's, the character of John Tillotson is no
matter for controversy. With the possible John Tillotson (1630-1694).
exception of Archbishop Herring,' he was
the most amiable man that ever filled the see of Canterbury, and was pronounced by the discerning and experienced William III. the best friend he had ever had and the best man he had ever known. To the meekness of the pastor Tillotson added the qualities of the statesman, and happy was it for the Church of England that such a man could be found to fill the primacy at such a time. As a master of oratory he is greatly inferior in eloquence to both Barrow and South, but historically is more important than either, for Addison was influenced by him, and his discourses long gave the tone to the English pulpit, affording the almost universally accepted model throughout the greater part of the eighteenth century.
Of these three great preachers South is certainly the greatest as respects eloquence and energy of diction. Almost every sentence is striking, and at the same time in
1 On the flyleaf of a copy of Birch’s Life of Tillotson in the British Museum is a transcript of a letter from Archbishop Herring to the author, in which, acknowledging his dedication, he says: “I think myself extremely honoured in having my in. considerable name connected with that of the best of my prede.
I feel the disparity of the characters, and must submit to the censure which will arise from a comparison so infinitely to my disadvantage. But, as posterity, when the real object is out of sight, may imagine from your picture that there might be some distant shadow of a resemblance, I think I may, I think I ought to enjoy the contemplation.” The resemblance was closer than the good archbishop's modesty would admit.
perfect good taste. By so much, however, as he surpasses his rivals in purely literary qualities, does he fall below them in others even more essential to the preacher. His judgment is often greatly at fault, he commits himself to plainly untenable propositions, and enforces them with the confidence of one displaying self-evident truths. After a few experiences of this kind the reader begins to look upon him as a rhetorician, and to prefer the more cautious, but still vivid and vigorous ratiocination of Barrow; or the 'sweet reasonableness' of Tillotson, inferior to Barrow, as he to South, in the gifts of the consummate orator, but more truly persuasive in the gentleness of his expostulation and his transparent candour.
Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester (1635-1699), though a fine preacher, is less remembered in this capacity than for his unsuccessful controversy with Locke and his Origines Sacrae, a work of great learning in defence of the Church of England, which Coleridge in his Notes on Books emphatically prefers to the corresponding labours of Chillingworth. Coleridge was naturally prejudiced in favour of the antagonist of Locke, whose graces of mind and person, however, are attested by a dispassionate witness, Pepys.
Theology, apart from eloquence, is hardly entitled to a place in literary history; yet some of the theologians of the period were too illustrious to be passed over without mention. John Pearson, Bishop of Chester (1612-1686), ranks among the Fathers of the Church of England by his standard work on the Creed. “Pearson's very dust,' says Bentley, “is gold.' Barrow's great controversial treatise has been mentioned. George Bull, Bishop of St. David's (1634-1710), achieved even more, for he extorted the thanks of the clergy of France by his Nicaenae Fidei Defensio (1685), written in Latin, but afterwards translated