Imatges de pÓgina
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on the whole, greater than ever it was. While we have such men as Lords Derby, Macaulay, Lyndhurst, Brougham, Ellenborough, and the Bishop of Oxford in the Upper House; and in the Lower House such men as Gladstone, Bright, Disraeli, Graham, Bulwer, Palmerston, when he is on his mettle, and to speak retrospectively, Cobden, when discussing subjects within his grasp, we need not be much afraid of comparing our living eloquence with the eloquence that has passed away. It is true that the style of speaking is different from what it used to be; but it is not therefore worse. It is, indeed, infinitely better, as anybody who will take the trouble of reading the senatorial effusions of last century must know. In proof of this, let it be remembered that Sheridan's great Begum speech in Westminster Hall was pronounced the most wonderful oration ever delivered, or second only to his previous speech in the House of Commons. Of the House of Commons speech we have unfortunately no report. Of the second Begum speech, however, which Burke honoured with even higher laudations than he bestowed on the other, asserting it to be quite unparalleled in oratory, and an example of every possible excellence in the highest perfection, we can form a very fair opinion. Now, of this wonderful speech confessedly the most wonderful part was the peroration, after the delivery of which Sheridan accomplished the grand stage effect of throwing himself exhausted into the arms of Burke. This peroration had reference to an unfortunate phrase of Warren Hastings, that "the majesty of justice ought not to be approached without solicitation." Sheridan overwhelmed his audience with a description of justice, and it may help to place on its proper footing the much-vaunted eloquence of the past if we quote this astonishing description. But justice," said the great orator, "is not this halt and miserable object! It is not the ineffective bauble of an Indian pagod! It is not the portentous phantom of despair! It is not like any fabled monster formed in the eclipse of reason, and found in some unhal

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lowed grove of superstitious_darkness and political dismay! No, my lords! In the happy reverse of all these I turn from this disgusting caricature to the real image! Justice I have now before me august and pure; the abstract idea of all that would be perfect in the spirits and aspirings of men! Where the mind rises!-where the heart expands !— where the countenance is ever placid and benign!-where her favourite attitude is to stoop to the unfortunate, to hear their cry, and to help them, to rescue and relieve, to succour and save; majestic from its mercy, venerable from its utility, uplifted without pride, firm without obduracy, beneficent in each preference, lovely though in her frown!" Such is the tawdry magnificence which was said to surpass all the oratory of which there is any record or tradition. Such is the dazzling claptrap which pales the ineffectual fires of modern eloquence. It is true that Moore's version of the same peroration is somewhat better; but much of this improvement is due to the fact of its being more condensed; and we must not forget Moore's own opinion that many passages of the speech, when in print, appeared so little worthy of Sheridan's reputation as to require suppression-"I thought it would be, on the whole, more prudent to omit them "-a decision which he supports with the authority of Fox, who had propounded the most fallacious maxim that a good speech must read badly, and that a speech which reads well must have been a failure in delivery. Taking all the facts together, it is impossible to believe in the decadence of oratory. It is forgotten, we repeat, that, in forming a comparative opinion of past and present eloquence, the action of the press has revolutionised every public audience; that it has rendered us more fastidious in our admiration of first-rate oratory; that it has rendered us utterly intolerant of mediocre speaking; and that it has this particular effect on parliamentary debate-it takes the wind out of the sails of most members, anticipating all that they intended to say. It is to be regretted that members in the House forget this quite as much

as the public out of doors. What has Mr Cox to say on any one subject that has not been already said in print, and said much better? If Box gets up immediately afterwards, will he not say the same thing as Cox? So these brilliant_metropolitan members, Box and Cox, go on night after night, until one cannot help thinking that it would be much more pleasant, and not less edifying, if Mr Buckstone were to take the part of Box and Mr Compton were to take the part of Cox. In point of fact, however, the daily papers must take a certain amount of blame to themselves for encouraging this sort of speaking. So long as the newspapers report their speeches, Box and Cox will speak for ever, since they speak not to their colleagues in Parliament, but to their constituents to Bunkum, as the Americans phrase it, Buncombe being the name of a district which a member of Congress used to address by inflicting long harangues on his fellow legislators. We are aware that the morning papers try hard to put a stop to the evil by abridging as much as possible these unnecessary speeches; but the task is an invidious one, and, after all, we have to acknowledge the inadequacy of these praiseworthy efforts. Perhaps when the relations of public speaking and public writing are properly adjusted and better understood, the evil may gradually cure itself. A highly educated constituency will know how to take the measure of a representative who consumes the time of the legislature by prosy twaddle, and will not think the less of an honest and active member who holds his tongue, content to vote in silence.

In a subsequent article on the tract literature of the country we shall have more to say with regard to this most interesting subject-the influence of the press on political oratory, and indeed, on all political action. Meantime we recur to the broader statement from which we started, that the action of the press has altered the character of every public audience throughout the kingdom. If it is felt in Parliament, it is also felt in every church and in every theatre. Its effect in the

churches must be evident if we combine the two facts that never has the British pulpit been so efficient as it is now, and that, on the other hand, preaching has never been held in such contempt as at the present day. Compare the Church now with what it was at the commencement of the century, in the age of beer-drinking and fox-hunting parsons; or compare it with its condition a full century back, when it was frost-bound in Socinian error, and the great majority of clergymen preached Socrates and Seneca instead of Christ, the Stoical philosophy for the glad tidings of salvation; or go still farther back to what we have been in the habit of regarding as the golden age of the English pulpit,the days of Barrow, and Taylor, and South, and Fuller, when the great mass of the clergy were mean in their manners as well as weak in their letters; or once more recede to that strange period in the history of the Scottish Church, when some of the members were so poor that they had to make a living by keeping publichouses, and in 1576 the General Assembly was asked "Whether a minister or reader may tap ale and keep an open tavern?" the answer being, "A minister that taps ale and keeps an open tavern should keep decorum." The comparison is in favour of the Church as we see it now. The clergy are better as a whole; the sermons are infinitely better. We point with confidence to the published discourses of such men as Arnold, Whately, and Hare, Croly, Pusey, Newman, Butler, and Manning, Maurice and Kingsley, Guthrie and Caird; and these men, be it remembered, more truly represent the common run of clergymen nowadays than Barrow and Taylor-who are above comparison with the preachers of almost any age-represented the clergy of the seventeenth century. Yet in spite of this progress, which, whatever be the defects of our ecclesiastics, it would be unjust to deny, it is also the fact that the pulpit, as an institution, has visibly sunk in our time. Not that there is any diminution in the attendance at churches; on the contrary, innumerable new churches have been built, they are well filled

-they are better filled than ever, and the cry is still for more and more accommodation; all this being due to the spread of religious feeling in the community. The fact to which we refer is the sort of respect in which the ordinary run of sermons is held, the stern patience rather than interest with which good people listen to the dull drone of their minister, the contempt which men of the world express for the pulpit, the repugnance which many highly cultivated men feel against spending a couple of hours in the sanctuary. To a very large class of personsand these men of mark and influence the church is as much an object of aversion, frank outspoken aversion, as, on other grounds, the theatre is to another very large class of persons whose opinion is entitled to not a little consideration. What is the secret of all this? The secret lies in the fact that, contemporaneously with the renewed life which has visited the Church, a new life has also visited the press, and through the press has so told upon the country that the progress of the Church has been as nothing in comparison with the progress of the people. To the Tractarian party we may fairly give the honour of showing to Churchmen the senseless ness of the cry that the Church is in danger, and of proving that the real danger lay, not in the hostility of Dissenters, but in the deficiencies of the clergy themselves. Now, it was just about the time when this influence began to work that the country began to bestir itself in the matter of education, that cheap literature came into vogue, and that, by the reduction of the newspaper stamp, the first step was taken towards the abolition of the taxes on knowledge. There has accordingly been a sort of race between the press and the pulpit, in which the latter has lost so much ground that certain literary men have not scrupled to assert that the true working clergy of the British Isles are the authors and journalists. The comparison between press and pulpit, however, is run too close. The ministers of religion might with some justice complain that the full extent of their mission is not recognised in

this statement of the case; and Maga likewise, on the part of the press, can say unaffectedly-Nolumus episcopari. But in the point where the comparison holds, the point of instruction, there is no doubt that the press must very much supersede the pulpit, that reading must have the advantage of listening. Not that preaching will ever fall into disuse, nor that any amount of reading will diminish the effect of the living voice and the flashing eye. But the sphere of the sermon must be circumscribed. It will be seen that preaching is not the most important duty of the regular clergy; it will be felt that more may be had from a first-rate book than from a second or third rate preacher; it will not be expected that the third and fourth rate preacher should statedly hold forth. If there is any principle of development in the Church of England, which we believe there is, then what in matters theatrical is called the starring system-the identical system, in fact, of which we see the germ in the Westminster Abbey services of last winter, and in the bill permitting a bishop, irrespective of the parish incumbent, to appoint a special service in any district of his diocese-may gradually spring up; and it is not impossible that thus, borrowing a system in full force in the Church of Rome, but hitherto only tolerated in this country among the Dissenters (as witness the history of Whitfield and Wesley), an order of apostles may arise, men who, having the gift of utterance, will devote themselves wholly to preaching, who will pass from town to town, and from village to village, and who will once again make the calling of the preacher glorious as his theme, and his theme fresh as a marvel of which we never tire.

The process which is thus evident in senate-hall and church is somewhat different in our theatres, while the result is still the same. The decline of the drama is a byword, but the most erroneous ideas prevail as to the manner and the cause of this decline. What is it that has declined in the drama? The number of theatres is rather on the increase, and the profits of the managers have by no means been diminished. The decline

is not an affair of quantity, but of quality. The higher sort of literary power has almost entirely left the theatres; plays are written solely for the actor, not at all for the reader. Nothing has been able to stay this process. Authors blame the actors, and actors blame the managers, and managers blame the public, and the public blame the authors; and we believe that theatrical critics, too, get a good share of blame for not being able to bolster the classical drama into health. There is a round of fault-finding, and the stage declines lower and lower. The decline which we deplore is the inevitable result of civilisation. For observe the process. We have heard some of the best authorities attribute the decline of the drama to the abolition of the monopoly enjoyed by the Covent-Garden and Drury-Lane theatres; and in favour of this idea there is the fact, that since the removal of the patents the decline of the drama has become more apparent than ever. In urging this explanation, however, it is forgotten that the drama was in a state of decline long before the abolition of theatrical monopoly; and that, in truth, the abolition was proposed as a cure for the mischief which was already at work. The real explanation is the same here as in the case of the Church. Just about the time when the theatrical monopoly was abolished, educational efforts began to take effect, and more than neutralised whatever benefit might have accrued from the stoppage of the patents. At first sight this explanation looks very like a paradox. It seems very strange that the march of intellect and the diffusion of literature should tend to lower the character of the drama. But whatever be the philosophy of it, there is the fact, and it concerns not only the theatres, but all our public amusements. In our enlightened age the really successful amusements are not of the intellectual sort. On the stage it is the pantomime and extravaganza, the farce and the ballet, that succeed. Great actor as he is, Mr Charles Kean could not keep his theatre open if he did not call in the assistance of elaborate stage-appointments. In the same manner music succeeds,

picture galleries succeed, Cremorne succeeds, the Casino succeeds, Evans's succeeds, the riot of a Derby day is the most successful of all amusements. This may be all very delightful, but it is not intellectual. Your lecturers don't succeed, even if they are men of mark-at least, they do not keep up their success. Shakesperian readings were a rage for some years, but they also have gone down. There are a couple of facts, explain them how men will, that concurrently with the spread of education, the character of public amusements has been lowered; and when we come to examine them it will seem not in the least unnatural that the two facts should stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect. People expect too much from education: it was expected to diminish crime; it is found, on the contrary, that it creates as much crime as it prevents; that it mars as much as it makes. In the same way it is imagined that education must so etherealise our minds as to render us independent of sublunary joys. How exalted we are to become! How sublime in our tastes ! How angelic in our desires! Alas for poor human nature, we are mortal still; we cannot shake off the animal. The animal asserts itself; and we find that as civilisation increases the tension of the mind in business, so it requires, to redress the balance, an increased relaxation in pleasure. In bygone days our minds were not so highly strung; we were not so reflective; we were not so horridly in earnest ; we were not so wonderfully enlightened; and when we sought our pleasure we could afford to indulge in amusement requiring some intellectual effort. But now, when even our novels are full of reflection, when the greatest sin which has been laid to the charge of our Thackeray and our Dickens is that they write with a purpose, we are in our moments of leisure compelled to seek refuge from thought in sensation, to pass from one extreme to the other. We cannot help also feeling that on the same principle the relation of the Sabbath to life has been in some respects altered in this age of study and calculation. Precious as the day of rest

must always be, we ask regular church-goers to think charitably of those who do not find a perfect Sabbath in doctrinal meditations, who feel that a long service requires a mental effort which they can ill afford, and who pant for the calm and pure, even if it be sensuous, enjoyment of fields and flowers, bands of music and palaces of art. But whether the principle applies to the Church or not, it certainly applies to the theatre. Let us have no more reflection, is the cry of the weary brain; let us gratify sense. Give us, for the eye, the race, the regatta, and the review-flower shows and fountain displays-fireworks and illuminations the fantasies of pantomime and the pageantry of a Shakesperian revival. Give us, for the ear, the music of thousands of choristers, the roar of innumerable batteries, the huzzas of congregated myriads. Give us the pleasure of the banquet and the excitement of the dance; let us smoke the pipe of peace, and let us lie on beds of fragrant roses. We have had

enough of reading, writing, and thinking. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we calculate again; to-morrow comes black care; to-morrow comes inky thought; tomorrow we are the slaves of awful wisdom. Thus it is that the drama declines. At Shoreditch the legitimate drama is a success, because the audience are not so habituated to intellectual pursuits as to consider intellectual amusement a weariness. Just as in the old time our countrymen could stand the interminable prosiness of the old mysteries and moralities, few plays are more popular at the Standard Theatre than the "Ion" of Talfourd, which so abounds in long speeches and fine sentiment that no West-End audience could sit it out. At the West-End theatres we want farce and frivolity, bubble and ballet, not because we are less intellectual, but because it is a necessity of our existence that, in the hour of play, we should fly thought, and cultivate sensation. (To be continued.)

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