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Jocular Preachers
by [?]

Even in more modern times have Menot and Maillard found an imitator in little Father Andre, as well as others. His character has been variously drawn. He is by some represented as a kind of buffoon in the pulpit; but others more judiciously observe, that he only indulged his natural genius, and uttered humorous and lively things, as the good Father observes himself, to keep the attention of his audience awake. He was not always laughing. “He told many a bold truth,” says the author of Guerre des Auteurs anciens et modernes, “that sent bishops to their dioceses, and made many a coquette blush. He possessed the art of biting when he smiled; and more ably combated vice by his ingenious satire than by those vague apostrophes which no one takes to himself. While others were straining their minds to catch at sublime thoughts which no one understood, he lowered his talents to the most humble situations, and to the minutest things. From them he drew his examples and his comparisons; and the one and the other never failed of success.” Marville says, that “his expressions were full of shrewd simplicity. He made very free use of the most popular proverbs. His comparisons and figures were always borrowed from the most familiar and lowest things.” To ridicule effectually the reigning vices, he would prefer quirks or puns to sublime thoughts; and he was little solicitous of his choice of expression, so the things came home. Gozzi, in Italy, had the same power in drawing unexpected inferences from vulgar and familiar occurrences. It was by this art Whitfield obtained so many followers. In Piozzi’s British Synonymes, vol. ii. p. 205, we have an instance of Gozzi’s manner. In the time of Charles II. it became fashionable to introduce humour into sermons. Sterne seems to have revived it in his: South’s sparkle perpetually with wit and pun.

Far different, however, are the characters of the sublime preachers, of whom the French have preserved the following descriptions.

We have not any more Bourdaloue, La Rue, and Massillon; but the idea which still exists of their manner of addressing their auditors may serve instead of lessons. Each had his own peculiar mode, always adapted to place, time, circumstance; to their auditors, their style, and their subject.

Bourdaloue, with a collected air, had little action; with eyes generally half closed he penetrated the hearts of the people by the sound of a voice uniform and solemn. The tone with which a sacred orator pronounced the words, Tu est ille vir! “Thou art the man!” in suddenly addressing them to one of the kings of France, struck more forcibly than their application. Madame de Sevigne describes our preacher, by saying, “Father Bourdaloue thunders at Notre Dame.”

La Rue appeared with the air of a prophet. His manner was irresistible, full of fire, intelligence, and force. He had strokes perfectly original. Several old men, his contemporaries, still shuddered at the recollection of the expression which he employed in an apostrophe to the God of vengeance, Evaginare gladium tuum!

The person of Massillon affected his admirers. He was seen in the pulpit with that air of simplicity, that modest demeanour, those eyes humbly declining, those unstudied gestures, that passionate tone, that mild countenance of a man penetrated with his subject, conveying to the mind the most luminous ideas, and to the heart the most tender emotions. Baron, the tragedian, coming out from one of his sermons, truth forced from his lips a confession humiliating to his profession; “My friend,” said he to one of his companions, “this is an orator! and we are only actors!”


[Footnote 1: In it he likens Christianity to a game at cards.]

[Footnote 2: In his “Sermon of the Plough,” preached at Paul’s Cross, 1548, we meet the same quaint imagery. “Preaching of the Gospel is one of God’s plough works, and the preacher is one of God’s ploughmen–and well may the preacher and the ploughman be likened together: first, for their labour at all seasons of the year; for there is no time of the year in which the ploughman hath not some special work to do.” He says that Satan “is ever busy in following his plough;” and he winds up his peroration by the somewhat startling words, “the devil shall go for my money, for he applieth to his business. Therefore, ye unpreaching prelates, learn of the devil: to be diligent in doing your office learn of the devil: and if you will not learn of God, nor good men, for shame learn of the devil.”]