Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Jonathan Swift > Text of Pulpit Eloquence ["The Tatler," No. 66]

An essay by Jonathan Swift

Pulpit Eloquence ["The Tatler," No. 66]

Title:     Pulpit Eloquence ["The Tatler," No. 66]
Author: Jonathan Swift [More Titles by Swift]

The subject of the discourse this evening was eloquence and graceful action. Lysander, who is something particular in his way of thinking and speaking, told us, "a man could not be eloquent without action; for the deportment of the body, the turn of the eye, and an apt sound to every word that is uttered, must all conspire to make an accomplished speaker. Action in one that speaks in public is the same thing as a good mien in ordinary life. Thus, as a certain insensibility in the countenance recommends a sentence of humour and jest, so it must be a very lively consciousness that gives grace to great sentiments. The jest is to be a thing unexpected; therefore your undesigning manner is a beauty in expressions of mirth; but when you are to talk on a set subject, the more you are moved yourself, the more you will move others.

"There is," said he, "a remarkable example of that kind. Aeschines, a famous orator of antiquity, had pleaded at Athens in a great cause against Demosthenes; but having lost it, retired to Rhodes. Eloquence was then the quality most admired among men, and the magistrates of that place, having heard he had a copy of the speech of Demosthenes, desired him to repeat both their pleadings. After his own he recited also the oration of his antagonist. The people expressed their admiration of both, but more of that of Demosthenes. 'If you are,' said he, 'thus touched with hearing only what that great orator said, how much would you have been affected had you seen him speak? for he who hears Demosthenes only, loses much the better part of the oration.' Certain it is that they who speak gracefully are very lamely represented in having their speeches read or repeated by unskilful people; for there is something native to each man, so inherent to his thoughts and sentiments, which it is hardly possible for another to give a true idea of. You may observe in common talk, when a sentence of any man's is repeated, an acquaintance of his shall immediately observe, 'That is so like him, methinks I see how he looked when he said it.'

"But of all the people on the earth, there are none who puzzle me so much as the clergy of Great Britain, who are, I believe, the most learned body of men now in the world: and yet this art of speaking, with the proper ornaments of voice and gesture, is wholly neglected among them; and I will engage, were a deaf man to behold the greater part of them preach, he would rather think they were reading the contents only of some discourse they intended to make, than actually in the body of an oration, even when they were upon matters of such a nature as one would believe it were impossible to think of without emotion.

"I own there are exceptions to this general observation, and that the dean we heard the other day together is an orator[1]. He has so much regard to his congregation, that he commits to his memory what he is to say to them; and has so soft and graceful a behaviour, that it must attract your attention. His person, it is to be confessed, is no small recommendation; but he is to be highly commended for not losing that advantage; and adding to the propriety of speech, which might pass the criticism of Longinus, an action which would have been approved by Demosthenes. He has a peculiar force in his way, and has charmed many of his audience, who could not be intelligent hearers of his discourse were there not explanation as well as grace in his action. This art of his is useful with the most exact and honest skill: he never attempts your passions until he has convinced your reason. All the objections which he can form are laid open and dispersed before he uses the least vehemence in his sermon; but when he thinks he has your head, he very soon wins your heart; and never pretends to show the beauty of holiness until he has convinced you of the truth of it.

[Footnote 1: Steele says that this amiable character of the dean was drawn for Dr. Atterbury, and mentions it as an argument of his impartiality in his Preface to the "Tatler," vol. iv.]

"Would every one of our clergymen be thus careful to recommend truth and virtue in their proper figures, and show so much concern for them as to give them all the additional force they were able, it is not possible that nonsense should have so many hearers as you find it has in dissenting congregations, for no reason in the world but because it is spoken extempore; for ordinary minds are wholly governed by their eyes and ears; and there is no way to come at their hearts but by power over their imaginations.

"There is my friend and merry companion Daniel;[2] he knows a great deal better than he speaks, and can form a proper discourse as well as any orthodox neighbour. But he knows very well that to bawl out, 'My beloved!' and the words 'grace! regeneration! sanctification! a new light! the day! the day! ay, my beloved, the day! or rather the night! the night is coming!' and 'judgment will come when we least think of it!' and so forth. He knows, to be vehement is the only way to come at his audience. Daniel, when he sees my friend Greenhat come in, can give a good hint, and cry out, 'This is only for the saints! the regenerated!' By this force of action, though mixed with all the incoherence and ribaldry imaginable, Daniel can laugh at his diocesan, and grow fat by voluntary subscription, while the parson of the parish goes to law for half his dues. Daniel will tell you, it is not the shepherd, but the sheep with the bell, which the flock follows.

[Footnote 2: The celebrated Daniel Burgess, whose meeting-house near Lincoln's Inn was destroyed by the high-church mob upon occasion of Sacheverell's trial.]

"Another thing, very wonderful this learned body should omit, is learning to read; which is a most necessary part of eloquence in one who is to serve at the altar; for there is no man but must be sensible that the lazy tone and inarticulate sound of our common readers depreciates the most proper form of words that were ever extant in any nation or language, to speak their own wants, or his power from whom we ask relief.

"There cannot be a greater instance of the power of action than in little parson Dapper, who is the common relief to all the lazy pulpits in town. This smart youth has a very good memory, a quick eye, and a clean handkerchief. Thus equipped, he opens his text, shuts his book fairly, shows he has no notes in his Bible, opens both palms, and shows all is fair there too. Thus, with a decisive air, my young man goes on without hesitation; and though from the beginning to the end of his pretty discourse, he has not used one proper gesture, yet, at the conclusion, the churchwarden pulls his gloves from off his hands; 'Pray, who is this extraordinary young man?' Thus the force of action is such, that it is more prevalent, even when improper, than all the reason and argument in the world without it." This gentleman concluded his discourse by saying, "I do not doubt but if our preachers would learn to speak, and our readers to read, within six months' time we should not have a dissenter within a mile of a church in Great Britain."

[The end]
Jonathan Swift's essay: Pulpit Eloquence ["The Tatler," No. 66]