POSTURE, ACTION, GESTURE, ETC.
THE subjects of this lecture are to be “Posture, Gesture, and Action in the Delivery of a Sermon.” I shall not attempt to draw any hard and fast line of division between the one and the other; for it would need a very highly discriminating mind to keep them separate; indeed, it could not be done at all, for they naturally merge into each other. As I have, after a fair trial, found it; impossible to keep even “posture” and “gesture” in an absolutely unmingled state in my own mind, I have allowed them to run together; but I hope that no confusion will appear in the result.
The sermon itself is the main thing: its matter, its aim, and the spirit in ‘which it is brought before the people, the sacred anointing upon the preacher, and the divine power applying the truth to the hearer : — these are infinitely more important than any details of manner. Posture and action are comparatively small and inconsiderable matters; but still even the sandal in the statue of Minerva should be correctly carved, and in the service of God even the smallest things should be regarded with holy care. Life is made up of little incidents, and success in it often depends upon attention to minor details. Small flies make the apothecary’s ointment to stink, and little foxes spoil the vines, and therefore small flies red little foxes should be kept out of our ministry. Doubtless, faults in even so secondary a matter as posture have prejudiced’ men’s minds, and so injured the success of what would otherwise have been most acceptable ministries. A man of more than average abilities may, by ridiculous action, be thrown into the rear rank and kept there. This is a great pity, even if there were only one such case, but it is to be feared that many are injured by the same cause.
Little oddities and absurdities o[ mode and gesture which wise men would endeavor not to notice are not overlooked by the general public; in fact, the majority of hearers fix their eyes mainly upon those very things, while those who come to scoff observe nothing else. Persons are either disgusted or .diverted by the oddities of certain preachers, or else they want an excuse for inattention, and jump at this convenient one: there can be n6 reason why we should help men to resist our own endeavors for their good. No minister would willingly cultivate a habit which would blunt his arrows, or drift them aside from the mark; and, therefore, since these minor matters of movement:, posture, and gesture may have that effect, you will give them your immediate attention.
We very readily admit that action in preaching is an affair of minor consequence; for some who have succeeded in the highest sense have been ‘exceedingly faulty from the rhetorician’s point of view. At the present moment there is in Boston, U.S. A., a preacher of the Very highest order of power, of whom a friendly critic writes: “in the opening sentences one or the other of his arms shakes at his side in a helpless fashion, as if it were made of caudal vertebrae loosely jointed. He soon exhibits a most engaging awkwardness, waddling about in a way to suggest that each leg is shorter than the other, and shaking his head and shoulders in ungainly emphasis.
He raises one eyebrow in a quite impossible fashion, No one else can squint so.” This is an instance of mind overcoming matter, and the excellence of the teaching condoning defects in utterance; but it would be better if no such drawbacks existed. Are not apples of gold all the more attractive for being placed in baskets of silver? Why should powerful teaching be associated with waddling and squinting? Still it is evident that proper action is, to say the least, not essential to success. Homer would appear to have considered the entire absence of gesture to be no detriment to eminent power in speech, for he pictures one of his greatest heroes as entirely abjuring it, though not without some sense of censure from his audience. But When Ulysses rose, in thought profound, His modest eyes he fixed upon the ground; As one unskilled or dumb, he seemed to stand, Nor rais’d his head, nor stretched his sceptred hand.
But When he speaks, what elocution flows!
Soft; as the fleeces of descending snows, The Copious accents fall, with easy art; Melting they fall, and sink into the heart!
Wondering we hear, and, fixed in deep surprise, Our ears refute the censures of our eyes.” Nor need! we go back to the ancients for proof that an exceedingly quiet action may be connected with the highest power of eloquence, for several instances occur to us among the moderns. One may suffice: our own supremely gifted Robert Hall had no oratorical action, and scarcely any motion in the pulpit, except an occasional lifting or waving of the right hand, and in his most impassioned moments an alternate retreat and advance.
It is not so much incumbent upon you to acquire right pulpit action as it is to get rid of that which is wrong. If you could be reduced to motionless dummies, it would be better than being active and. even vigorous incarnations of the grotesque, as some of our brethren have been. Some men by degrees fall into a suicidal style of preaching, and it is a very rare thing indeed to see a man escape when once he has entangled himself in the meshes of an evil mannerism. No one likes to tell them of their queer antics, and so they are unaware of them; but it is surprising that their wives do not mimic them in private and laugh them. out of their awkwardness. I have heard of a brother who in his earlier days was most acceptable, but who afterwards dropped far behind in the race because he by degrees fell into bad habits: he spoke with a discordant whine, assumed most singular attitudes, and used such extraordinary mouthings that people could not hear him with pleasure. He developed into a man to be esteemed and honored, but not to be listened to. Excellent Christian men have said that they (lid not know whether to laugh or to cry when they were hearing him preach: they felt as if they must laugh at the bidding of nature, and then they felt that they ought to cry from the impulse of grace when they saw so good a preacher utterly ruined by absurd affectations. If you do not care to cultivate proper action, at least be wise enough to steer clear of that which is grotesque or affected. There; is a wide range between the fop, curling and perfuming his locks, and permitting one’s hair to hang in matted masses like the mane of a wild beast. We should never advise you to practice postures before a glass, nor to imitate great divines, nor to ape the fine gentleman.; but there is no need, on the other hand, to be vulgar or absurd. Postures and attitudes are merely a small part of the dress of a discourse, and it is not in dress that the substance of the matter lies: a man in fustian is “a man for a’ that,” and so a sermon which is oddly delivered may be a good sermon for all that; but still, as none of you would care to wear a pauper’s suit if you could procure better raiment, so you should not be so slovenly as to clothe truth like a mendicant when you might array her as a prince’s daughter. Some men are naturally very awkward in their persons and movements. I suppose we must blame what the countryman called their “broughtens up.”
The rustic’s gait is heavy, and his walk is slouching. You can see that his natural habitat is a ploughed field. On the pavement or the carpet he is suspicious of his footing, but down a muddy lane, with a mule’s burden of earth on each boot, he progresses with ease, if not with elegance. There is a lumpishness and lubberliness innate in the elements of some men’s constitutions. You could not make them elegant if you brayed[ them in a mortar among wheat with a pestle. The drill-sergeant is of the · utmost use in our schools, and those parents who think that drill exercise is a waste of time are very much mistaken. There is a shape and handiness, a general propriety of form, which the ]human body acquires under proper drill which seldom comes in any other manner.!)rill brings a man’s shoulders down, keeps his arms from excessive swinging, expands the chest, shows him what to do with his hands, and, in a word, teaches a man how to walk uprightly, and to bring himself into something like ship-shape, without any conscious effort to do so, which effort would be a sure betrayal of his awkwardness. Very spiritual people will think me trifling, but indeed I am not. I hope the day will come when it will be looked upon as an essential part of education to teach a young man how to carry himself, and move without clumsiness. It may happen that awkward gestures arise from feeble utterance, and a nervous consciousness of lack of power in that direction. Certain splendid men of our acquaintance are so modest as to be diffident, and hence ‘they become hesitating in speech, and disarranged in manner. Perhaps no more notable instance of this can be mentioned than the late beloved Dr. James Hamilton. He was the most beautiful and chaste of speakers, with an action painful to the last degree. His biographer says: — ”In mental resources and acquirements he was possessed of great wealth; but in the capacity to utter his thoughts, with all the variation of tone and key which their nature, required, yet so as to be thoroughly heard in a great edifice, he was far less gifted. In this department accordingly, he was always pained by a conscious shortcoming from his own ideal. It is certain that lack of vocal force, and ready control over his intonations, largely detracted from the power and popularity of his preaching. In delicacy of conception, in the happy choice of idioms, in the command of striking and original imagery, and in the glow of evangelical fervor that pervaded all, he had few equals.
These rare qualities, however, were shorn of half their strength, in as far as his public preaching was concerned, by the necessity under which he constantly lay of straining to make himself audible, by standing on his tiptoes, and throwing out his words in handfuls, if so be they might reach the far-distant aisles. If the muscles of his chest had been such as to enable him to stand solidly at ease, while his lips performed the task of articulation without the aid of auxiliary blasts from over-inflated lungs, James Hamilton would certainly have been followed by greater crowds, and obtained access for his message to a wider and more varied circle.. But we do not know what counterbalancing evil might have come in along with such external success. Although with all his prayers and pains this thorn was still left in the flesh, the grand compensation remained: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is perfect in thy weakness.’ What talents the ;Lord saw meet to bestow, he laid out with marvelous skill and diligence in the giver’s service, and if some of the talents were withheld, the Withholder knows why. He hath done all things well.” In this sentiment we heartily concur, but we should be sorry for any young man to submit at discretion to a similar defect, and ascribe it to the hand of the Lord. Dr. Hamilton did not so. He earnestly endeavored to overcome his natural disadvantage, and to our knowledge took lessons of more than one professor of elocution, lie did not take refuge in the sluggard’s plea, but labored hard to master the difficulty., and only failed because it was a physical defect beyond all remedy. Let us wherever we see awkwardness, which is evidently unavoidable, take little or no notice of it, and take care to commend the brother that he does so well under the circumstances; counting it no small achievement for a divine to cover by richness of thought and fitness of language the ungainliness of his outer man, thus making the soul triumph over the body. Yet should we ourselves be afflicted with any fault of manner, let us resolve to overcome it, for it is not an impossible task.
Edward Irving was a striking instance of a man’s power to improve himself in this respect. At first his manner was awkward, constrained, and unnatural; but by diligent culture his attitude and action were made to be striking aids to his eloquence. - Pulpits have much to answer for in having made men awkward. What horrible inventions they are! If we could once abolish them we might say concerning them as Joshua did concerning Jericho .... “Cursed be he that buildeth this Jericho,” for the old-fashioned pulpit has been a greater curse to the churches than is at first; sight evident. ]No barrister would ever enter a pulpit to plead a case at the bar. How could he hope to succeed while ‘buried alive almost up to his shoulders? The client would be ruined if the advocate were thus imprisoned. How manly, how commanding is the attitude in which Chrysostom is usually represented! Forgetting his robes for the moment one cannot but feel that such a natural posture is far more worthy of sublime truth than that of a person crouching over a sheet of paper, looking up very occasionally, and then revealing no more than his head and shoulders. Austin in his Chiro-nomia very pro perly says. “Freedom is also necessary ‘to gracefulness of action. ]No, gestures can be graceful which are either confined by external circumstances, or restrained by file mind. If a man were obliged to address an assembly from a narrow window, through, which he could not extend ]his arms; and Iris ]head, it would ]be in vain for him ,to attempt graceful gesture. Confinement in every lesser degree must be proportionally injurious to grace; thus the crowded bar is injurious to the action of the advocate, and the enclosed” and bolstered pulpit,’ which often cuts off more than half of his figure, is equally injurious to the graceful action of the preacher.”
The late Thomas Binney was unable to endure a platform, and was known to fetch gowns and other materials to hang over the rails of an open rostrum, if he found himself placed in one: this must have arisen solely from the force of habit, for there can be no real advantage in being enclosed in a wooden pen. This feeling will no doubt retain the close pulpit in its place for awhile longer, but in ages to come men will find an argument for the divinity of our holy faith in the fact that it survived pulpits.
Ministers cannot be blamed for ungainly postures and attitudes when only a very small part of their bodies can be seen during a discourse. If it was the custom to preach as Paul did at Athens public speakers would become models of propriety, but when the usual method is modeled upon our woodcut of “The Reverend Dr. Paul preaching in London” we cannot marvel if the ungainly and the grotesque abound. By the way, it is interesting to note that Raphael in his representation of Paul at Athens evidently had in his mind the apostle’s utterance, “God dwelleth not in temples made with hands, neither is worshipped with man’s hands”: hence he delineates him as lifting his hands. I am indebted for this hint to G. W.
Hervey, M.A., who has written a very able and comprehensive “System of Rhetoric.” F4 Remarkable are the forms which pulpits have assumed according to the freaks of human fancy and folly. Twenty years ago they had probably reached their very’ worst. What could have been their design and intent it would be hard to conjecture. A deep wooden pulpit of the old soft; might well remind a minister of his mortality, for it is nothing but a coffin set on end: but on what rational ground do we bury our pastors alive? Many of these erections resemble barrels, others are of the fashion of egg cups and wine glasses; a third Class were evidently modeled after corn bins upon four legs; and yet a fourth variety can only be likened to swallows’ nests stuck upon the wall. Some of them are so high as to turn the heads of the occupants when they dare to peer into the awful depths below them, and they give those who look up to the elevated preacher for an:/length of time a crick in the neck. I have felt like a man at the mast-head while perched aloft in these “towers of the flock.” These abominations are in themselves evils, and create evils.
While I am upon pulpits I will make a digression, and remark for the benefit of deacons and churchwardens that I frequently notice in pulpits a most: abominable savor of gas, which evidently arises from leakage in the gas-pipes, and is very apt to make a preacher feel half intoxicated, or to sicken him. We ought to be spared this infliction. Frequently, also, a large lamp is placed dose to each side of the minister’s head, thus cramping all his movements and placing him between two fires. If any complaints, are made of the hot-headedness, of our ministers, it is readily to be accounted for, since the apparatus for’ the purpose is arranged, with great care. Only the other night I had the privilege, when I sat down in the pulpit, to feel as if some one had smitten me on the top of my head, and as I looked up there was an enormous argand burner with a reflector placed immediately above me, in order to throw a light on my Bible: a yet7 considerate contrivance no doubt, only the inventor had forgotten that his burners were pouring down a terrible heat upon a sensitive brain. One has no desire to experience an artificial coup de soleil while preaching; if we must suffer from such[ a calamity let it come upon us during our holidays, and let it befall us from the sun himself. No one in erecting a pulpit seems to think of the preacher as a man of like feelings and senses with other people; the seat upon which you are to rest at intervals is often a mere ledge, and the door handle runs into the small of your back, while when you standup and would come to the front there is often a curious gutta-percha bag interposed between you and your pulpit. This gummy depository is charitably intended for the assistance of certain deaf people, who are I hope benefited; they ought to be, for every evil should have a compensating influence. You cannot bend forward without forcing this contrivance to close up, and I for my own part usually deposit my pocket-handkerchief in it, which causes the deaf people to take the ends of the tubes out of their ears and to discover that they hear me well enough without them.
No one knows the discomfort of pulpits except the man who has been in very many, and found each one worse than the last. They are generally so deep that a short person like myself can scarcely see over the top of them, and when I ask for something to stand upon they bring me a hassock.
Think of a minister of the gospel poising himself upon a hassock while he is preaching: a Boanerges and a Blondin in one person. It is too much to expect us to keep the balance of our minds and the equilibrium of our bodies at the same time. The tippings up, and overturnings of stools and hassocks which I have had to suffer while preaching rush on my memory now, and revive the most painful sensations. Surely we ought to be saved such petty annoyances, for their evil is by no means limited by our discomfort; if it were so, it would be of no consequence; but, alas! these little things often throw the mind out of gear, disconnect our thoughts, and trouble our spirit. We ought to rise superior to such trifles, but though the spirit truly is willing the flesh is weak. It is marvelous how the mind is affected by the most trifling matters: there can be no need to perpetuate needless causes of discomfort. Sydney Smith’s story shows that we have not been alone in our tribulation. “I can’t bear,” said he, “to be imprisoned in the true orthodox way in my pulpit, with my head just peeping above the desk. I like to look down upon my congregation — to fire into them. The common people say I am a bold preacher, for I like to have my arms free, and to thump the pulpit. A singular contretemps happened to me once, when, to effect this, I had ordered the clerk to pile up some hassocks for me to stand on. My text was,’ We are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.’ I had scarcely uttered these words, and was preparing to illustrate them, when I did so practically, and in a way I had not at all anticipated. My fabric of hassocks suddenly gave way; down I fell, and with difficulty prevented myself front being precipitated into the arms of my congregation, who, I must say, behaved very well, and recovered their gravity sooner than I could have expected.”
But I must return to my subject, and I do so by repeating the belief that boxed-up pulpits are largely accountable for the ungainly postures which some of our preachers assume when they are out of their cages and are loose upon a platform. They do not know What to do with their legs and arms, and feel awkward and exposed, arid hence drop into ridiculous attitudes. When a man has been accustomed to regard himself as an “animated bust” he feels as if he had become too long when he is made to appear at full length.
There can be no doubt that many men are made awkward through .tear. It is not the man’s nature, nor his pulpit, but his nervousness which makes a guy of him. To some it is a display of great courage even to stand before an audience, and to speak is an ordeal indeed: no wonder that their attitude is constrained, for they are twitching and trembling all over. Every nerve is in a state of excitement, and their whole body is tremulous with fear.
Especially are they perplexed what to do with their hands, and they move them about in a restless, irregular, meaningless manner; if ‘they could have them strapped down to their sides they might rejoice in the deliverance.
One of the clergy of the Church of England, in pleading for the use of the manuscript, makes use of the remarkable argument that a nervous man by having to turn over the leaves Of his discourse thus keeps his hands occupied; whereas, if he had no paper before him, he would not know what to do with them. It is an ill wind that blows no one any good, and it must be a very bad practice indeed which has not some remote and occasional advantages. For nervousness, however, there must be a [more effectual treatment; the preacher should try to conquer the evil rather than look for a mode of concealing its outward manifestations. Practice is a great remedy, and faith in God is a still more potent cure. When the minister becomes accustomed to the people he stands at ease because he is at ease, he feels at home, and as to his hands or legs, or any other part of his person, he has no thought: he goes to work with all his heart, and drops into the positions most natural to an earnest man, and these are the most appropriate.
Unstudied gestures, to which you never turned your thoughts for a moment, are the very best, and the highest result of art is to banish art, and leave the man as free to be graceful as the gazelle among the mountains. Occasional oddities of posture and gesture may arise from the difficulty of finding the next word. An American observer some years ago said,” It is interesting, sometimes, to see the different ways in which ,different individuals get out of the same dilemma. Mr. Calhoun is not often at a loss for a word, but occasionally one sticks in his throat, in the pronunciation, like Macbeth’s ‘ Amen.’ In such a case he gives a petulant twitch or two at his shirt collar, and runs his bony fingers through his long gray hair, till it fairly bristles again. Webster, when bothered for a word, or snarled up-in a sentence, almost invariably scratches the inner corner of his left eye carefully with the third finger of his right hand. Failing in this, he rubs his nose quite fiercely with the bent knuckle of his thumb. As a dernier ressort, he springs his knees apart until his legs resemble an ellipsis, then plunging his hands deep into his pockets, he throws the upper section of his body smartly forward, and the word is ‘ bound to come.’“ A man ought to be forgiven for what he does when he is in an agony, but it would be a great gain if he never suffered from such embarrassments, and so escaped from the consequent contortions. Habit also frequently leads speakers into very singular move-merits, and to these they become so wedded that they cannot speak without them.
Tugging at a button at the back of the coat, or twiddling the fingers, will be often seen, not as a part of the preacher’s oratory, but as a sort of free accompaniment to it. Addison, in the Spectator, relates an amusing incident of this kind. “I remember, when I was a young man, and used to frequent Westminster Hall, there was a counselor who never pleaded without a piece of packthread in his hand, which he used to twist about a thumb or a finger all the while he was speaking: the wags of’ those days used to call it the thread of his discourse, for he was not able to utter a word without it.
One of his clients, who was more merry that wise, stole it from him one day in the midst of his pleading, but he had better have let it alone, for he lost hi, cause by his jest.” Gentlemen who are as yet free from such little peculiarities should be upon their guard lest they should gradually yield to them; but, so long as they are mere trifles, observed only by the few, and not injurious to the preacher’, efforts, no great stress needs to be laid upon them.
The posture of the minister should be natural, but his nature must not be of a coarse type; it should be graceful, educated nature. He should avoid especially those positions which are unnatural to, a speaker, because they hamper the organs of utterance, or cramp his lungs. He should use his common sense, and not make it difficult for him to speak by leaning forward over the Bible or book-board. Bending over as if you were speaking confidentially to the persons immediately below may be tolerated occasionally, but as a customary position it is as injurious as it is ungraceful. Who thinks of stooping when he speaks in the parlor? What killing work it would be to conduct a long conversation while pressing the ‘breathing apparatus against the edge of a table! Stand upright, get a firm position, an,] then speak like a man. A few orators even err in the other direction, and throw their heads far back: as though they were addressing the angels, or saw a handwriting Upon the ceiling. This also cometh of evil, and unless the occasional sublime apostrophe requires it, is by no means to be practiced. John Wesley well says, “The head ought not to be held up too high, nor clownishly thrust too forward, neither to be cast down and hang, as it were, on the breast; nor to lean always on one or the other side; but to be kept modestly and decently upright, in its natural state and position.
Further, it ought neither to be kept immovable, as a statue, nor to be continually moving and throwing itself about. To avoid both extremes, it should be turned gently, as occasion is, sometimes one way, sometimes/he other; and at other times remain, looking straight forward, to the middle of the auditory.”
Too many’ men assume a slouching attitude, lolling and sprawling as if they were lounging on the parapet of a bridge and chatting with somebody down in a boat on the river. We do not go into the pulpit to slouch about, and to look free and easy, but we go there upon very solemn business, and our posture should be such as becomes our mission. A reverent and earnest spirit will not be indicated by a sluggish lounge or a careless slouch. It is said that among the Greeks even the ploughmen and herdsmen take up graceful attitudes without any idea that they are doing so. I think it is also true of the Italians, for wherever I have seen a Roman man or woman — no matter whether they are sleeping upon the Spagna steps, or sitting upon a fragment of the baths of Caracalla, or carrying a bundle on their heads, or riding a mule, they always look like studies; for an artist; yet this is the last thing which ever crosses their minds. Those picturesque peasants have never taken lessons in calisthenics, nor do they trouble their heads as to how they appear to the foreigner; pure nature, delivered from mannerism, primness, and affectation, molds their habits into gracefulness. We should be foolish to imitate Greeks or Italians, except in their freedom from all imitation, but it were well if we could copy their unconstrained and natural action. There is no reason why a Christian should be a clown, and there are a great many reasons why a minister should not be a boor. As Rowland Hill said that he could not see why Satan should have the best tunes, so neither can I see why he should have the most graceful speakers!
Now, leaving posture, let us more distinctly notice action in preaching; this also is a secondary and yet an important item. Our first: observation shall be, it should never be excessive. In this matter bodily exercise profiteth little. We cannot readily judge when action is excessive, for what; would be excessive in one man may be most fitting and proper in another. Different races employ different action in speaking. Two Englishmen will talk very quietly and soberly to one another compared with a couple of Frenchmen.
Notice our Gallic neighbors: they talk all over, and shrug their shoulders, and move their fingers, and gesticulate most vehemently. Very well, then, we may allow a French preacher to be more demonstrative in preaching than an Englishman, because he is so in ordinary speech. I am not sure that a French divine is so as a matter of fact, but if he were so it could be accounted for by the national habit. If you and I were to converse in the Parisian fashion we should excite ridicule, and, in the same way, if we were to become violent and vehement in the pulpit we might run the same risk; for if Addison be an authority, English orators use less gestures than those of other countries. As it is with races so is it with men: some naturally gesticulate more than others, and if it be really natural, we have little fault to find. ]For instance, we cannot censure John Gough’s marvelous gesticulation and perambulation, for he would not have been Gough without them. I wonder how many miles he walks in the course of one of his lectures! Did we not see him climb the sides of a volcano in pursuit of a bubble? How we pitied him as we saw him ankle deep in the hot ashes!
Then he was away, away at the other end of the platform at Exeter Hall, apostrophising a glass of water; but he only stopped there a moment, and anon made another rush over the corns of the temperance brethren in the front row. Now, this was right, enough for John Gough; but if you, John Smith. or John Brown, commence these perambulations you will soon be likened to the wandering Jew, or to the polar bear, at the Zoological Gardens, which for ever goes backwards and forwards in its den. Martin Luther was wont to smite with his fist at such a rate that they show, at Eisenach, a board — I think a three-inch board — which he broke while hammering at a text. The truth of the legend has been doubted, for it has been asserted that those delicate hands, which could play so charmingly upon the guitar, could hardly have been treated so roughly; but if the hand be an index of its owner’s character, we can well believe it, for strength and tenderness were marvellously combined in Luther. There ‘was much delicacy and sensitiveness about Luther’s mind, yet these never diminished, but rather increased, its tremendous energy.. It is by no means difficult to believe that he could smash up a plank, from the style in which he struck out at the Pope; and yet we can well imagine that he would touch the strings of his guitar with a maiden’s hand; even as David could play skillfully upon the harp, and yet a bow of steel was broken by his arms..
John Knox is said at one time to have been so feeble that, before he entered the pulpit, you would expect to see him drop down in a fainting fit; but once before the audience he seemed as though he would “ding the pulpit in blads,” which, being interpreted, means in English that he would knock it into shivers. That was evidently the style of the period when Protestants were fighting; for their very existence, and the Pope and his priests and the de, vii and his angels were aroused to special fury: yet I do not suppose that Melancthon thought it needful to be quite so tremendous, nor did Calvin hammer and slash in a like manner. At any rate, you need not try to break three-inch boards, for there might be a nail in one of them; neither need you ding a pulpit into “blads,” for you might find yourself without a pulpit if you did., Come upon consciences with a crash, and aim at breaking hard hearts by the power of the Spirit, but these require spiritual power; physical energy is not the power of God unto salvation.
It is. very easy to overdo the thing so much as to make yourself appear ridiculous. Perhaps it was a keen perception of this danger which led Dr.
Johnson to forbid action altogether, and to commend Dr. Watts very highly because “he did not endeavor to assist his eloquence by any gesticulations; for as no corporeal actions have any correspondence with theological truth, he did not see how they could enforce it.” The great lexicographer’s remark is nonsense, but if it should be thought weighty enough to reduce a preacher to absolute inaction, it will be better than overwrought posturing.
When Nathan addressed David, I suppose that he delivered his parable very quietly, and that when the time came to say, “Thou art the man,” he gave the king a deeply earnest look; but younger ministers imagine that the prophet strode into the middle of the room and, setting his right foot forward, pointed his finger like a pistol between the royal eyes, and giving a loud stamp of the foot, shouted,. “THOU ART THE MAN.” Had it been so done it is to be feared that the royal culprit would have had his thoughts turned from himself to the insane prophet, and would have called for his guard to clear the hall. Nathan was too solemnly in earnest to be indecently violent; and as a general rule we may here note that it is the tendency of deep feeling rather to subdue the manner than to render it too energetic, He who beats the air, and bawls, and raves, and stamps, means nothing; and the more a man really means what he says the less of vulgar vehemence will there be. John Wesley in his “Directions concerning Pronunciation and Gesture” cramps the preacher too much when he says, “ He must never clap his hands, nor thump the pulpit. The hands should seldom be raised higher than the eyes “but he probably had his eye upon some glaring case of extravagance. He is right, however, when he warns his preachers that “the hands should not be in perpetual motion, for this the ancients called the babbling of the hands.”
Russell very wisely says: “True vehemence never degenerates into violence and vociferation. It is the force of inspiration, — not of frenzy. It is not manifested in the screaming and foaming, the stamping and the contortions, of vulgar excess. It is ever manly and noble, in its intensest excitement: it elevates, — it’ does not degrade. It never descends to the bawling voice, the guttural coarseness, the shrieking emphasis, the hysteric ecstasy of tone, the bullying attitude, and the clinched fist of extravagant passion.” F5 When your sermon seems to demand of you a little imitative action, be peculiarly watchful lest you go too far, for this you may do before you are aware of it. I have heard of a young divine who in expostulation witch the unconverted, exclaimed, “Alas, you shut your eyes to the light (here he closed both eyes, you stop your ears to the truth (here he put a finger into each ear); and you turn your backs upon salvation” (here; he turned his back on the people). Do you wonder that when the people saw a man standing with his back to them and his fingers in his ears they all fell to laughing? The action might be appropriate, but it was overdone, and had better have been left undone.. Violent gesture, even when commended by some, will be sure to strike others from its comic side. When Burke in the House of Commons flung down the dagger to show that Englishmen were making weapons to be used against their own .countrymen, his action seems to me to have been striking and much to the purpose, and yet ,.Sheridan said, “The gentleman has brought us the knife, where is the fork?” and Gilray wickedly caricatured him. The risks of too little action are by no means great, but you can plainly see that there are great perils in the other direction, Therefore, do not carry action too far, and if you feel that you are naturally very energetic in your delivery, repress your energies a little. Wave your hands a little less, smite the Bible somewhat more mercifully, and in general take matters rather more calmly.
Perhaps a man is nearest to the golden mean in action when his manner excites no remark either of praise or censure, because it is so completely of a piece with the discourse that it is not regarded as a separate item at all.
That action which gains conspicuous notice is probably out of proportion, and excessive. Mr. Hall once spent; an evening with Mrs. Hannah More, and his judgment upon her manners might well serve as a criticism upon the mannerisms of ministers. “Nothing striking, madam, certainly not. Her manners are too perfectly proper to be striking. Striking manners are bad manners, you know, madam. Site is a perfect lady, and studiously avoids those eccentricities which constitute striking manners.”
In the second place, action should be expressive and appropriate. We cannot express so much by action as by language, but one may express a few things with even greater force. Indignantly to open a door am! point to it is quite as emphatic as the words, “Leave the room!” To refuse the hand when another offers his own is a very marked declaration of ill-will, and will probably create a more enduring bitterness than the severest words.’ A request to remain silent upon a certain subject could be well conveyed by laying the finger across the lips. A shake of the head indicates disapprobation in a very marked manner. The lifted eyebrows express surprise in a forcible style; and every part of the face has its own eloquence of pleasure and of grief. What volumes can be condensed into a shrug of the shoulders, and what mournful mischief that same shrug has wrought!
Since, then, gesture and posture can speak powerfully’, we must take care to let them speak correctly. It will never do to imitate the famous Grecian who cried, “O heaven!” with his finger pointing to the earth; nor to describe dying weakness by thumping upon the book-board. Nervous speakers appear to fire at random with their gestures, and you may see them wringing their hands while they are dilating upon the joys of faith, or grasping the side of the pulpit, convulsively when they are bidding the believer hold all earthly things with a loose hand. Even when no longer timorous, brethren do not always manage their gestures so as to make them run parallel with their words. Men may be seen denouncing with descending fist the very persons whom they are endeavoring to comfort.
No brother among you would, I hope, be so stupid as to clasp his hands while saying — ” the gospel is not meant to be confined to a few. Its spirit is generous and expansive. It opens its arms to men of all ranks and nations.” It would be an equal solecism if you were to spread forth your arms and cry, “Brethren, concentrate your energies! Gather them up, as a commander gathers his troops to the royal standard in the day of battle.”
Now, put the gestures into their proper places and see how diffusion may be expressed by the opened arms, and concentration by the united hands.
Action and tone together may absolutely contradict the meaning of the, words. The Abbe Mullois tells us of a malicious wag who on hearing a preacher pronounce those terrible words, “Depart, ye cursed,” in the blandest manner, turned to his companion and said, “Come here, my lad, and let me embrace you; that is what the parson has just expressed.” This is a sad business, but by no means an uncommon one. What force may the language of Scripture lose through the preacher’s ill-delivery! Those words which the French preacher pronounced in so ill a manner are very terrible, and I felt them to be: so when a short while ago I heard them hissed forth in awful earnest, by an insane person who thought himself a prophet sent to curse myself and my congregation.. “Depart, ye cursed” came forth from his lips like the mutterings ,of thunder, and the last word seemed to bite into the very soul, as with flaming eye and outstretched hand the fanatic flashed it upon the assembly.
Too many speakers appear to have taken lessons from Bendigo, or some other professor of the noble art of self-defense, for they hold their fists as if they were ready for a round. It is not pleasant to watch brethren preaching the gospel of peace in that pugnacious style; yet it is by no means rare to hear of an evangelist preaching a free Christ with a clinched fist. It is amusing to see them putting themselves into an attitude and saying, “Come unto me,” and then, with a revolution of both fists, “and I will give you — rest.” Better not suggest such ridiculous ideas, but they have been suggested more than once by men who earnestly desired above all things to make their hearers think of better things. Gentlemen, I am not at all surprised at year laughing, but it is infinitely better that you should have a hearty laugh at these absurdities here than that your people should laugh at you in the future. I am giving you no imaginary sketch, but one which I have seen myself and fear I may yet see again.. Those awkward hands, if once brought into subjection, become our best allies. We can talk with them almost as well as with our tongues, and make a sort of silent music with them which will add to the charm of our words. If you have never read Sir Charles Bell on “The Hand,” be sure to do so, and note well the following passage : — ” We must not omit to speak of the hand as an instrument of expression. Formal dissertations have been written on this.
But were we constrained to seek authorities, we might take the great painters in evidence, since by the position of the hands, in conformity with the figure, they have expressed every sentiment. Who, for example, can deny the eloquence of the hands in the Magdalens of Guido; their expression, in the cartoons of Raphael., or in the last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci? We see there expressed all that Quinc-tilian says the hand is capable of expressing. ‘ For other parts of the body says he, ‘ assist the speaker, but these, I may say, speak themselves. By them we ask, we promise, we invoke, we dismiss, we threaten, we intreat,, we deprecate we express fear, joy, grief, our doubts, our assent, our penitence: we show moderation, or profusion; we mark number and time.’“ The face, and especially the eyes, will play a very important part in all appropriate action. It is very unfortunate when ministers cannot look at their people. It is singular to hear them pleading with persons whom they do not see. They are entreating them to look to Jesus upon the cross! You wonder where the sinners are. The preacher’s eyes are turned upon his book, or up to the ceiling, or into empty space. It seems to me that you must fix your eyes upon the people when you come to exhortation. There are parts of a sermon in which the sublimity of the doctrine may call for the uplifted gaze, and there are other portions Which may allow the eyes to wander as you will; but when pleading time has come, it will be inappropriate to look anywhere but to the persons addressed. Brethren who never do this at all lose a great power. When Dr. Wayland was ill, he wrote, Whether I am to recover my former health I know not. If, however, I should be permitted to preach again, I will certainly do what is in my power to learn to preach directly to men, looking them in their faces, and not looking at the paper on the desk.”
The mere who would be perfect in posture and gesture must regulate his whole frame, for in one case a man’s most suitable action will be that of his head, and in another that of his hands, and in a third that of his trunk alone.
Quinctilian says — ” The sides should, bear their part in the gesture. The motion, also, of the whole ‘body’ contributes much to the effect in delivery: so much so that Cicero is of opinion that more can be done by its gesture than even by the hands themselves. Thus he says in his work De Otto’,ore — ‘There will be no affected motions of the fingers, no fall of the fingers to suit the measured cadence of the language; but he will produce gestures by the movements of his whole body and by the manly inflection of his side.’” I might multiply illustrations of what I mean by appropriate action, but these must suffice. Let the gesture tally with the words, and be a sort of running commentator and practical exegesis upon what you are saying.
Here I must make a pause, hoping to continue the subject in my next lecture. But so conscious am I that many may think my subject so secondary as to be of no importance whatever, that I close by giving an instance of the careful manner in which great painters take heed to minute details, only drawing this inference, that; if they are thus attentive to little things, much more ought we to be. Vigneul Marville says: — ” When I was at Rome I frequently saw Claude, who was then patronized by the most eminent persons in that city; I frequently met him on the banks of the Tiber, or wandering in the neighborhood of Rome, amidst the venerable remains of antiquity. He was then an old man, yet I have seen him returning from his walk with his handkerchief filled with mosses, flowers, stones, etc., that he might consider them at home with that indefatigable attention which rendered him so exact a copier of nature. I asked him one day by what means he arrived at such an excellency of character among painters, even in Italy. ‘ I spare no pains whatever, even in the minutest trifles,’ was the modest reply of this venerable genius.”