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While wit has often been effective in secular oratory, it violates the law of harmony if much introduced into the pulpit. God does not call jesters to entertain his courts. The good taste displayed by Dr. Guthrie is commendable. He was "a genial and victorious wit," but his rule was, never to excite a smile while in the pulpit. Lord Bacon in his Essays (xxxii.) says that "wit should be exempt from religion and all grave subjects." Thoughtful people commend the remarks of Phillips Brooks in his Yale Lectures:
"There is a creature who ought to share with the clerical cheat the abhorrence of the people. I mean the clerical jester. He lays his hands upon all sacred things. He is full of Bible jests, and he talks about the Bible with jests that have come down from generation to generation. The principles, which, if they mean anything, mean life and death to the soul, he turns into material for jest."
The wit of the Bible is rarely such as to make the reader smile, and never makes him laugh. This for the clergyman is a fundamental hint.
We would allow, however, that a certain dry humor, such as is found especially in the writings of Solomon, Prov. xix. 13; xxvi. 17; xxviii. 22, under wise and skilful handling, may not be out of place in the pulpit. There is, too, a dry, witty common sense, which under peculiar circumstances may be used as a weapon against false and arrogant reasoning. But the pulpit orator should err upon the side of a rigid exclusion of all this class of materials. The rule is, that only that degree of wit can be introduced by the pulpit orator which is per
fectly consistent with profound reverence and an intense desire to make men better. Preachers who succeed with wit can better succeed without it.
Even in secular oratory an excess of wit is harmful. The late Senator Morton, who in his early efforts was excessively witty, came to a conclusion that shows much wisdom. At Terre Haute he once delivered a speech so popular and of such irresistible wit that he was invited to repeat it in all parts of the state. He, however, recognized "the danger of becoming a humorist and passing all his life for a 'light-weight' politician, and resolutely refused ever afterwards to assume the rôle of a buffoon."
A vein of sadness, rather than mirthfulness, befits oratory. "The solitude and sadness of genius," as elsewhere, so in the field of eloquence, are impressive and seem demanded, or, in the nature of things, necessary. Plutarch, enumerating the characteristics of Pericles, says that he had not only "an elevation of sentiment and style, but likewise a gravity of countenance which never relaxed into laughter."
Of Demosthenes this same biographer speaks thus: "His temper, without any embellishments of wit and humor, is always grave and serious." "All the chief orators of the world," says Emerson, have been grave men." M. Bautain likens the delivery of an oration "to child-bearing; frivolity and mirthfulness are at such times indecent.".
Again, it should be noted that this sadness of genius, united with keen sensibilities and deep emo
tions, results in what is known as the pathetic element in oratory. It is true that the present age is not a pathetic but a practical one. Literature constantly aims at the brilliant and startling, rather than the tender and pathetic. Pathos is also at discount, and even in disrepute, because often unnaturally forced and unskilfully used. This disreputable type is not true pathos, however, it is a counterfeit, properly called “bathos.”
And, further, pathetic emotion is, in many quarters, not commended because of so little permanent benefit. Dr. Pond, extending his observation over a ministry of eighty years, has said: "I have seen many shed tears at funerals, but have never known a conversion." "You will find two men," says Professor Monroe, "who can make you cry, to one who will make you lead a better life." If one is looking for tears, let him go to theatres, not to lecture-halls or churches, is an elocutionary suggestion. Hence the use of the pathetic for its own sake is properly looked upon as an oratorical vice. If in pulpit oratory the preacher merely excites pathetic emotions, even though the eyes of all his auditors are bathed in tears, his sermon is a failure. The excitement of the emotions, when legitimate, will lead not so much to either laughter or grief as to a better life.
Still, it cannot be denied that deep emotion, taking the form of pathetic speech, has its place. Emblems of the pathetic — tears are far too natural and common to receive elocutionary rebuke. "The
speaker who cherishes or illustrates a cold, unsympathetic nature, or whose ideas of propriety would repress every pathetic emotion that does not freeze in its utterance, is a poor representative of Him who shed tears over Jerusalem and who wept at the grave of Lazarus." The pulpit orator has abundant scriptural warrant for pathetic expression. 13
In secular oratory a touch of genuine pathos is often very effective in fixing the flagging attention of the people, and also in softening antagonisms existing between the speaker and hearer.
There are certain themes, too, upon which a speaker cannot properly touch unless in the pathetic vein. References to the past, with its clouded hopes, its broken homes, its pleasant dreams and remembrances, belong usually to the realm of the pathetic. Tennyson speaks of the tears that
"Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
"I once asked John Randolph," says John Quincy Adams, "who was the greatest orator he had ever heard. The reply was startling, from its unexpectedness. The greatest orator I ever heard,' said Randolph, 'was a woman. She was a slave. She was a mother, and her rostrum was the auctionblock.' He then rose and imitated with thrilling pathos the tones with which this woman had appealed to the sympathy and justice of the bystanders. 'There was eloquence!' he said. 'I have heard no
man speak like that. It was overpowering!
In this and in all similar instances, the realm of the pathetic is of all others the most fitting and effective.
Whitefield was a master in the use of pathos, and so, likewise, at times is Bishop Simpson. Webster's plea in the Dartmouth College Case shows that the great orator, though not much given to tears, was not destitute of the highest type of true oratoric pathos.
But the speaker needs skill in the use of this kind of expression. After crying for a while, an audience will laugh, laugh at grief, even. "Nothing," says Quintilian, quoting from Cicero, "dries sooner than tears. The auditor shortly becomes weary of weeping and relapses into tranquillity. We must not let this work grow cold upon our hands; but, having wrought up the passions, leave them."
It should also be borne in mind that oratoric pathos cannot be put on; if put on, it is soon perceived to be a tricky deceit. Like any other true expression, it must spring from within. It comes, if at all, from a soul alive with emotions of compassion, sympathy, and pity. As Cicero remarks: "The orator requires not a feigned compassion, nor incentives to sorrow, but that which is real, flowing from the sighs of a wounded heart.”
IV. The ideal orator has great earnestness, together with strong and healthy passions.
The impression is quite general among those who have given attention to these subjects that no one