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Talmage The Turgid
by [?]

That man who first coined the phrase, “Nothing succeeds like success,” had a great head. Talmage is emphatically a success,–viewed from a worldly point of view. He attracts the largest audiences of any American preacher; his sermons are more extensively printed, more eagerly read than those of any other divine. He is regarded by the public as the greatest of modern preachers, and he evidently thinks this verdict a righteous one. Why this is so, I am at a loss to determine. I have read his sermons and writings with unusual care, hoping thereby to discover in what particular he towers like Saul above his brethren,– wherein he is greater than the thousands of obscure pulpit- pounders who do battle with the devil for a few dollars and a destructive donation party per year; but so far I have signally failed. I have yet to see in print a single sermon by the so-called “great Talmage” remarkable for wit, wisdom or eloquence; or a single scrap from his pen that might not have been written by a sophomore or a young reporter.

I have before me, while I write, one of his latest oratorical efforts, entitled “Bricks Without Straw.” It was delivered to one of the largest audiences that ever crowded into the great tabernacle, is considerably above the Talmagian average, was evidently regarded as one of his “ablest efforts,” for the great daily in which I find it prefaces it with a “three-story head,” a short biographical sketch and a portrait of the speaker making an evident effort to look wise. Yet such a sermon delivered before a Texas congregation by a fledgling D.D. seeking a “call” would provoke supercilious smiles on the part of those people who considered it their painful duty to remain awake. At the close of the services the good deacons would probably feel called upon to take the young man out behind the church and give him a little fatherly advice, the burthen of which would be to become an auctioneer or seek a situation as “spouter” for a snake side-show.

Had “Bricks Without Straw” been written as a “Sunday special” by a horse-editor of any daily paper in Texas, the managing editor would have chucked it into the waste- basket and advised the young man that journalism was not his forte. It is a rambling fragmentary piece of mental hodge-podge, in which scraps of school book Egyptology, garbled Bible stories, false political economy and fragments of misapplied history tumble over each other like specters in a delirium. It is just such a discourse as one might expect from the lips of a female lieutenant in the Salvation Army who possessed a vivid imagination, a smattering of learning and a voluble tongue, but little judgment. The only original information I can find in the discourse is to the effect that when Joseph was a bare-legged little Hebrew, making mud-pies in the land of his forefathers, his daddy called him “Joe”; that the Bible refers to Egypt and Egyptians just “two hundred and eighty-nine times,” and that “Egypt is our great-grandmother.”

He goes out of his way to denounce as “lunatics” those who would place the American railways and telegraphs under governmental control. He is quite sure that the logical effect of such a proceeding would be the revival in free America of the old Egyptian tyranny. The analogy between a tyrant enslaving his subjects by means of a monopoly of the food supply, and a free people managing a great property for their own advantage, could only be traced by a Talmagian head.

During the few months that Mr. Talmage was pottering about in the land of the erstwhile Pharaohs, examining mummified cats and drawing a fat salary for unrendered services, he evidently forgot that in his own, his native land, the people “rule the roost”; that the government is but their creature and has to dance to music of their making. If the distinguished gentleman had spent his vacation in the hayloft in close communion with a copy of the constitution of the United States and a primary work on political economy, instead of gadding from the pyramids to the Acropolis hunting for small pegs upon which to hang large theories, perhaps he would be able to occasionally say something sensible.