POSTURE, ACTION, GESTURE, ETC. [SECOND LECTURE.]
THIS lecture begins at thirdly. If you remember, we have said that gesture should not be excessive, and secondly that it should be appropriate: now comes the third canon, action and gesture should never be grotesque. This is plain enough, and I shall not enforce it except by giving specimens of the grotesque, that you may not only avoid the identical instances, but all of a similar character. In all ages absurd gestures would appear to have been very numerous, for in an old author I find a long list of oddities, some of which it is to be hoped have taken their leave of this world, while others are described in language so forcible that it probably’ caricatures the actual facts. This writer says: “Some hold their heads immovable, and turned to one side, as if they were made of’ horn; others stare with their eyes as horribly as if they’ intended to frighten every one; some are continually twisting their mouths and working their chins while they are speaking, as if, all the time, they were cracking nuts; some like the apostate Julian, breathe insult, and express contempt and impudence in their countenances.. Others, as if they personated the fictitious heroes in tragedy, gape enormously, and extend their jaws as widely as if they were going to swallow up everybody: above all, when they bellow with fury, they scatter their foam about, and threaten with contracted brow, and eyes like Saturn. These, as if they were playing some game, are continually making motions with their fingers, and, by the extraordinary working of their hands, endeavor to form in the air, I may almost say, all the figures of the mathematicians: those, on the contrary, have hands so ponderous, and so fastened down by terror, that they could more easily move beams of timber. Many labor so with their elbows, that it is evident, either that they had been formerly shoemakers themselves, or had lived in no other society than that of cobblers. Some are so unsteady in the motions of their bodies, that they seem to be speaking out of a cock-boat; others again are so unwieldy’ and uncouth in their motions, that you would think them to be sacks of tow painted to look like men. I have seen some who jumped on the platform and capered nearly in measure; men that exhibited the fuller’s dance, and, as the old poet says, expressed their wit, with their feet. But who in a short compass is able to enumerate all the faults of gesture, and all the absurdities of bad delivery?”
This catalogue might surely content the most voracious collector for the chamber of horrors, but it does not include the half of what may be seen in our own times by anyone who is able to ramble from one assembly to another. As children seem never to have exhausted their mischievous tricks, so speakers appear never to be at the end of their singular gestures.
Even the best fall into them occasionally.
The first species of grotesque action may be named the stiff; and this is very common. Men who exhibit this horror appear to have no bend in their bodies and to be rigid about the joints. The arms and legs are moved as if they were upon iron hinges, and were made of exceedingly hard metal. A wooden anatomical doll, such as artists use, might well represent their limbs so straight and stiff, but it would fail to show the jerks with which those limbs are thrown up and down. There is nothing round in the action of these brethren; everything is angular, sharp, mechanical. If I were to set forth what I mean by putting myself into their rectangular attitudes I might be supposed to caricature more than one exceedingly able northern divine, and having the fear of this before my eyes, and, moreover, holding these brethren in supreme respect:. I dare not go into very minute particulars.
Yet it is supposable that these good men are themselves aware that their legs should not be set down as if they belonged to a linen-horse, or a huge pair of tongs, and that their arms should not be absolutely rigid like pokers.
Oil for the joints has been suggested, but there appears to be a want of oil in the limbs themselves, which move up and down as if they belonged to a machine rather than to a living organism.. Surely any sort of physical exercise might help to cure this mischief, which in some living preachers almost amounts to a deformity. On the platform of Exeter Hall, gentlemen afflicted with unnatural stiffness not only furnish matter for the skillful caricaturist, but unfortunately call off the attention of their auditors from their admirable speeches by their execrable action. On a certain occasion we heard five or six remarks upon the awkwardness of the doctor’s posturing, and only one or two encomiums upon his excellent speech. “People should not notice such trifles,” remarks our friend Philo; but people do notice such trifles whether they ought to do so or not, and therefore it is well not to display them. It is probable that the whole of this lecture will be regarded by some very excellent people as beneath their notice, and savoring of questionable humor, but that I cannot help; for although I do not set so much value upon action as Demosthenes did when he made it the first the second, and the third point in oratory, yet it is certain that much good speech is bereft, of power through the awkward deportment of the speaker; ant! therefore if I may in any measure redress the evil I will cheerfully bear the criticism of my more somber brethren. I am deeply in earnest, however playful my’ remarks may seem to be. These follies may be best shot at by the light arrows of ridicule, anti therefore I! employ them, not being of the same mind as those “Who think all virtue lies in gravity, And smiles are symptoms of depravity.” The second form of the grotesque is not unlike the first, and may be best distinguished as the regular and mechanical. Men in this case move as if they were not living beings possessed of will and intellect, but as if they were automatons formed to go through prescribed movements at precise intervals. At the back of the Tabernacle. a cottager has placed over his house a kind of vane, in the form of a little soldier, which ]tilts first one arm and then the other with rather an important air. It has made me smile many a time by irresistibly reminding me of — , who alternately jerks each arm, or if he allows one arm to lie still, chops the other up and down as persistently as if he; were moved by wind or by clock-work. Up and down, up and flown the hand goes, turning neither to the right nor to the left, every other movement being utterly abjured, except this one monotonous ascent and descent. It matters little how unobjectionable a movement may be in itself, it will become intolerable if it be continued without variation.
Ludovicus Cresollius, of Brittany, (1620) in his treatise upon the action and pronunciation of an orator, speaks somewhat strongly of a learned and polished Parisian preacher, who had aroused his ire by the wearisome monotony of his action. “When he turned himself to the left he spoke a few words accompanied by a moderate gesture of the hand, then bending to the right he acted the same part over again; then back again to the left, and presently to the right again: almost at an equal and measured interval of time he worked himself u][:, to his usual gesture, and went through his one kind of movement. You could compare him only to the blindfolded Babylonian oxen going forward and turning back by the same path.. I was so disgusted that I shut my eyes, but even so I could not get over the disagreeable impression of the speaker’s manner.”
The prevailing House of Commons’ style, so far as I have seen it in public meetings, consists of an up and down movement of the back and the hand; one seems to see the M.P. bowing to Mr. Speaker and the honorable house much as a waiter will do at an eating-house when he is receiving an order for an elaborate dinner. “Yes sir,” “Yes sir,” “Yes sir,” with a jerk between each exclamation. The amusing rhyme with its short lines brings many a parliamentary speaker before my mind’s eye : — “Mr. Tattat You must not pat Your arguments flat On to the crown of’ another man’s hat.” This is near akin to what has been accurately described as the pump-handle style. This is to be witnessed very frequently, and consists of a long series of jerkings of the arm, meant, perhaps, to increase emphasis, but really doing nothing whatever. Speakers of this sort; remind us of Moore’s conundrum, “Why is a pump like Lord. Castlereagh?” “Because it is a slender thing of wood, That up and down its awkward arm doth sway, And coolly spout, and spout, and spout away In one weak, washy, everlasting flood.” Occasionally one meets with a saw-like action, in which the arm seems lengthened and contracted alternately. This motion is carried out to perfection when the orator leans over the rail, or over the front of the pulpit, and cuts downward at the people, like the top sawyer operating upon a piece of timber. One wonders how many planks a man would cut in the time if he were really working upon wood instead of sawing the air. We are all grateful for converted sawyers, but we trust they will feel at liberty to leave their saws behind them.
Much the same may be said for the numerous hammer-men who are at work among us, who pound and smite at a great rate, to the ruining of Bibles and the (lusting of pulpit cushions. The predecessors, of these gentlemen were celebrated by Hudibras in the oft-quoted lines — “And pulpit drum ecclesiastic, Was beat with fist instead of a stick.” Their one and only action is to hammer, hammer, hammer, without sense or reason, whether the theme, be pleasing or pathetic. They preach with demonstration and power, but evermore the manifestation: is the same. We dare not say that they smite with the fist of wickedness, but certainly they do smite, and that most vigorously. They set forth the sweet influences of the Pleiades and the gentle wooings of love with blows of the fist; and they endeavor to make you feel the beauty and the tenderness of their theme by strokes from their never-ceasing hammer.
Some of them are dull enough in all .conscience, and do not even hammer with a hearty good will, and then the business becomes intolerable. One likes to hear a good noise, and see a man go in for hammering vehemently, if the thing must be done at all; but the gentleman We have in our mind seldom or never warms to his work, and merely smites because it is the way of him. “You can hear him swing his heavy sledge, With measured beat anti slow.” If a man must! strike, let him do it in earnest; but there is no need for perpetual pounding. There are better ways of becoming striking preachers than by imitating the divine of whom his precentor said that he had dashed the inwards out of one Bible and was far gone with another. In certain old Latin MSS. sermons, with notes in the margin, the preacher is recommended to shake the crucifix, and to hammer upon the pulpit like Satan himself! By this means he was to collect his thoughts; but one would not give much for thoughts thus collected. Have any of our friends seen these manuscripts and fallen in love with the directions? It would seen, so.
Now, the jerking, sawing, pumping, and pounding might all be endurable and even appropriate if they were blended; but the perpetual iteration of any one becomes wearisome and unmeaning. The figures of Mandarins in a tea-shop, continually nodding their heads, and the ladies in wax which revolve with uniform motions in the hair-dresser’s window, are not fit models for men who have before them the earnest work of winning men to grace and virtue. You ought to be so true, so real, so deeply in earnest, that mere mechanical movements will be impossible to you, and everything about you will betoken life, energy, concentrated faculty, and intense zeal.
Another method of the grotesque may be correctly called the laborious.
Certain brethren will never fail in their ministry from want of physical exertion: when they mount the rostrum they mean hard work, and before long they puff and blow at it as if they were laborers working by the piece.
They enter upon a sermon with the resolve to storm their way through it, and carry all before them: the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence with them in another sense besides that which is intended in Scripture. “How is your new minister getting on?” said an enquiring friend to a rustic hearer. “Oh,” said the man, “he’s sure to get on, for he drives at sin as i£ he were knocking down an ox.” An excellent thing to do in spirit, but not to be performed literally. When I have occasionally heard of a wild brother taking off his collar and cravat, upon a very hot day, and even of his going so far as to divest himself of his coat, I have thought that lie was only putting himself into a condition which the physical-force orator might desire, for he evidently regards a sermon as a battle or a wrestling match.
An Irish thunderer of my acquaintance broke a chair during a declamation against Popery, and I trembled for the table also. A distinguished actor, who became a convert and a preacher late in life, would repeatedly strike the table or floor with his staff when he grew warm in a speech, tie has, made me wish to close my ears when the smart raps of his carte have succeeded each other with great rapidity and growing force. What was the peculiar use of the noise I could not tell, for we were all awake, and his ‘voice was sufficiently powerful. One did not mind it, however, from the grand old man, for it suited the “fine frenzy” of his whole-hearted enthusiasm, but the noise was not so desirable as to be largely called for from any of us.
Laborious action is frequently a relic of the preacher’s trade in former days as an old hunter cannot quite forget the hounds, so the good man. cannot shake off the habits of the shop. One brother who has been a wheelwright always preaches as if he were making wheels. If you understand the art of wheelwrighting, you can see most; of the! processes illustrated during one of his liveliest discourses. ‘You Can detect the engineer in another friend, the cooper in a third, and the grocer with his scales in a fourth. A brother who has been a butcher is pretty sure, to show us how to knock down a bullock when he gets at all argumentative. As I have watched the discourse proceed from strength to strength, and the preacher has warmed to his work, I have thought to myself, “Here comes the pole-ax, there goes the fat ox, down falls the prize bullock..” Now, these reminiscences of former occupations are never very. blameworthy, and are at all times less obnoxious than the altogether inexcusable awkwardnesses of gentlemen who from their youth up have dwelt in the halls of learning. These will sometimes labor quite as much, but with far less likeness to useful occupations; they beat, the air and work hard at doing nothing. Gentlemen from the universities are frequently more hideous in their action than commonplace people; perhaps their education may have deprived them of confidence, and. made them all the more fidgety and awkward.
It has occurred to me that some ‘speakers fancy that they are beating carpets, or chopping; sticks, or mincing sausage-meat, or patting butter, or poking their fingers into people’s eyes. Oh, could they see themselves as others see them, they might cease thus to perform before the ]public, and save their bodily exercise for other occasions.. After all, I prefer the vigorous, laborious displays to the more easy and even stately airs of certain self-possessed talkers. One rubs his hands together with abounding self-satisfaction, “Washing his hands with invisible soap In imperceptible water,” and meanwhile Utters the veriest platitudes with the air of a man who is outdoing Robert Hall or Chalmers. Another pauses and looks round with a dignified air, as if he had communicated inestimable information to a highly favored body of individuals who might reasonably be expected to rise in a state of intense excitement and express their overwhelming sense of obligation. Nothing: has been said beyond the merest schoolboy talk; but the air’ of dignity, the attitude of authority, the very tone of the man, all show how thoroughly satisfied he is. This is not laborious. preaching, but it occurs to me to mention it because it is the very reverse, trod is so much more to be condemned. A few simpleton, are, no doubt, imposed upon, and fancy that a man must be saying something great when he delivers himself in a pompous manner ;. but sensible persons are at first amused and afterwards disgusted with the big manner, “a la grand seigneur.” One of the great; advantages of our College training is the certainty that an inflated mannerism is sure to be abated by the amiable eagerness with, which all our students delight in rescuing a brother from this peril. Many wind-bags have collapsed in this room beneath your tender handling, never, I hope, to be puffed out to their former dimensions. There are some in the ministry of all the churches who would be marvellously benefited by a little of the very candid if not savage criticisms which have been endured by budding orators at your hands. I would that every minister who has missed such art instructive martyrdom could find a friend sufficiently honest to point out to him any oddities of manner into which he may insensibly have fallen.
But, here we must not overlook another laborious orator who is in our mind’s eye. We will name him. the perpetual motion preacher, who is all action, and lifts his finger, or waves his hand, or strikes his palm at every word. He is never at rest for a moment. So eager is he to be emphatic that he effectually defeats his object, for where every word is emphasized by a gesture nothing whatever is emphatic. This brother takes off men’s minds from. his words to his movements: the eye actually carries the thoughts away from the ear, and so a second time the preacher’s end is. missed. This continual motion greatly agitates some hearers, and gives them the fidgets, and no wonder, for who can endure to see such incessant patting, and pointing, and waving? In action, as well as everything else, “let your moderation be known unto all men.”
Thus I have mentioned three species of the grotesque — the stiff, the mechanical, and the laborious — and I have also glanced at the lazily dignified. I will close the list by mentioning two others. There is the martial, which also sufficiently borders on the grotesque to be placed in this category. Some preachers appear to be fighting the good fight of faith every time they stand before a congregation. They put themselves into a fencing attitude, and either stand on guard against an imaginary foe, or else assault the unseen adversary with stern determination. They could not look more fierce if they were at the head of a regiment of cavalry, nor seem more satisfied at the end of each division of discourse if they had fought a series of Waterloos. They turn their heads on one .side with a triumphant air, as if about to say — “I have routed that enemy, and we shall hear no more of him.” The last singularity of action which I shall place under this head is the illtimed.
In this case the hands do not keep time with the lips. The good brother is a little behindhand with his action, and therefore the whole operation is out; of order. You cannot at first make the man out at all: he appears to chop and thump without rhyme or reason, but at last you perceive that his present action is quite appropriate to what he said a few seconds before. ‘The effect is strange to the last degree. It puzzles those who do not possess the key to it, and when fully understood it loses none of its oddness.
Besides these oddities, there is a class of action which must, to use the mildest term, be described as altogether ugly. For these a platform is “generally necessary,” for a man cannot make himself so thoroughly ridiculous when concealed in a pulpit. To grasp a rail, and to drop down lower and lower till you almost touch the ground is supremely absurd. It may be a proper position as a prelude to an agile gymnastic feat, but as an accompaniment to eloquence it is monstrous; yet have I seen it more than once. I have found it difficult to convey to my artist the extraordinary position, but the woodblock may help to show what is meant, and also to render the attitude obsolete. One or two brethren have disported themselves upon my platform in this queer manner, and they are quite welcome to do the same again, if upon seeing themselves thus roughly sketched they consider the posture to be commanding and impressive. It would be far better for such remarkable performers if it were reported of them as of that great Wesleyan, Richard Watson :: “He stood perfectly erect, and nearly all the action that he used was a slight motion of the right hand, with occasionally a significant shake of the head.’“ The habit of shrugging the shoulders has been allowed to tyrannize over some preachers. A number of men are round-shouldered by nature, and many more seem determined to appear SO, for when they have anything weighty to deliver they back themselves up by elevating their backs. An excellent preacher at Bristol, lately deceased, would hunch first one shoulder and then another as his great thoughts struggled forth, and when they Obtained utterance he looked like a hunchback till the effort was over.
What a pity that suck a habit had become inveterate! How desirable to avoid its formation! Quinctilian says: “Some people raise up their shoulders in speaking, but this is a fault in gesture. Demosthenes, in order to cure himself of it, used to stand in a narrow pulpit, and practice speaking with a spear hanging over his shoulder, in such a manner that if in the heat of delivery he failed to avoid this fault, he would be corrected by hurting himself against the point.” This is a sharp remedy, but the gain would be worth an occasional wound if men who distort the human form could thus be cured of the fault.
At a public meeting upon one occasion a gentleman who appeared to be very much at home and to speak with a great deal of familiar superiority, placed his hands behind him under his coat tails:, and thus produced a very singular figure, especially to those who took a side view from the platform.
As the speaker became more animated, he moved his tails with greater frequency, reminding the observer of a water-wagtail. It must be seen to be appreciated, but one exhibition will be enough to convince any sensible man that however graceful a dress coat may be, it by no means ministers to the solemnity of the occasion to see the tails of that garment projecting from the orator’s rear. You may also have seen at meetings the .gentleman who places his hands on his hips, and either looks as if he defied all the world, or as if he endured considerable pain. ‘This position savors of Billingsgate and its fish-women far more than of sacred eloquence. The arms “akimbo,” I think they call it, and the very sound of the word suggests the ridiculous rather than the sublime. We may drop into it for the moment rightly enough, but to deliver a speech in that posture is preposterous. It is even worse to stand with your hands in your trousers like the people one sees at French railway stations, who probably thrust their hands into their pockets because there is nothing else there, and nature abhors a vacuum. For a finger in the waistcoat, pocket for a moment no one will be blamed, but to thrust the hands into the trousers is outrageous. An utter contempt for audience and subject must have been felt before a man could .come to this. Gentlemen, because you are gentlemen, you will never need to be warned of this practice, for you will not descend to it. Once in a while before a superfinely genteel and affected audience a man may be tempted to shock their foolish gentility by a freedom and easiness which is merest to be the protest of a brusque manliness; but to see a man preach the gospel with his hands in his pockets does not remind you of either a prophet or an apostle. There are brethren who do this ever and anon who can afford to do it from their general force of character: these are the very men who should do nothing of the kind, because their example is powerful, and they are somewhat responsible for the weaklings who copy them.
Another unseemly style is nearly allied to the last, though it is not quite so objectionable. It may be seen at public dinners of the common order, where white waistcoats need a little extra display, and at gatherings of artisans where an employer has given his men a treat, and is responding to the toast of “the firm.” Occasionally it is exhibited at. religious meetings, where the speaker is a man of local importance, and feels that he is monarch of all he surveys. In this case the thumbs are inserted in the armholes of the waistcoat, and the speaker throws back his coat and reveals the lower part of the vest. I have called this the penguin style, and I am. unable to find. a, better comparison. For a footman or a coachman at a soiree, or for a member of the United Order of Queer Fellows, this attitude may be suitable and dignified, and a venerable sire at a family gathering may talk to his boys and girls in that position; but for a public speaker, and much more for a minister, as a general habit, it is as much out of character as a posture can be.
First cousin to this fashion is that; of holding on to the coat near the collar, as if the speaker considered it necessary to hold himself well in hand. Some grasp firmly, and then run the hands up and ,down as if they meant to double the coat in a new place, or to lengthen the collar. They appear to hang upon their coat-fronts like a, man clutching at two ropes: one wonders the garment does not split at the back of the neck. This practice adds nothing to the force or perspicuity of a speaker’s style, and its probable signification is, “I am quite at ease, and greatly enjoy hearing my own voice..”’ As it would be well to stamp out as many uglinesses as possible, I shall mention oven those which are somewhat rare. I remember an able minister who was accustomed to look into the palm of his left hand while with his right he appeared to pick out his ideas therefrom,. Divisions, illustrations, dud telling points all seemed to be growing in his palm like so many flowers; and these he seemed carefully to take up by the roots one by one and exhibit to the people. It mattered little, for his thought was of a high order of excellence, but yet the action was ‘by no means graceful.
A preacher of no mean order was wont to lift his fist to his brow and to tap his forehead gently, as if he must needs knock at the mind’s door to wake up his; thoughts: this also was more peculiar than forcible.
To point into the left hand with the first finger of the right as if boring small holes into it, or to use the aforesaid pointed finger as if you were stabbing the air, is another freak of action which has its amusing side.
Passing the hand over tile brow when the thought is deep, and the exact word is not easy to find, is a very natural motion, but scratching the head is by no means equally advisable, though perhaps quite as natural. I have seen this last piece of action carried to considerable lengths, but I was never enamored of it.
I cannot avoid mentioning an accidental grotesqueness which is exceedingly common. Some brethren always lay down the law with an outspread hand, which they continue to move up and down with the rhythm of every sentence. Now this action is excellent in its way if not ,carried on tot, monotonously, but unfortunately it is liable to accidents. If the earnest orator continues to lift his hand upward and downward he is in great danger of frequently presenting the aspect which my artist has depicted. The action verges upon the symbolic, but unhappily the symbol has been somewhat vulgarized, and has been. described as “putting the thumb of scorn to the nose of contempt.” ‘Some men unwittingly perpetrate this a score times. during a discourse.
You have laughed at these portraits which I have drawn for your edification — take care that no one has to laugh at you because; you fall into these or similar absurdities of action.
I must confess, however, that I do not think so badly of any of these, or all of them put together, as I do of the superfine style, which is utterly despicable and abominable. It is worse than the commonly vulgar, for it is the very essence of vulgarity, flavored with affectations and airs of gentility. Rowland Hill sketched the thing which I condemn in his portrait of Mr. Taplash; of course it was a more correct representation as to detail fifty years ago than it is now, but in the main features it is still sufficiently accurate: “The orator, when he first made his appearance, would be primmed and dressed up in the most finished style; not a hair would, be found out of place on his empty pate, on which the barber had been exercising his occupation all the Sunday morning, and powdered till as white as the driven snow. Thus elegantly decorated, and smelling like a civet-cat, through an abundance of’ perfumery, he would scent the air as he passed. Then, with a most conceited skip, he would step into the pulpit, as though stepping out of a band-box; and here he had not only to display his elegant production, but his elegant self also: his delicate white hand, exhibiting his diamond ring, while his richly-scented white handkerchief was unfurled, and managed with remarkable dexterity and art. His smelling-bottle was next occasionally presented to his nose, giving different opportunities to display his sparkling ring. Thus having adjusted the im- 2optant business of the handkerchief and the smelling-bottle, he had next to take out his glass, that he might reconnoiter the fair part of his auditory, with whom he might have been gallanting and entertaining them with his cheap talk the day before: and these, as soon as he could catch their eye, he would favor with a simpering look, and a graceful nod.” This is a pungent prose version of Cowper’s review of certain “messengers of grace” who “relapsed into themselves” when the sermon was ended: very little selves they must have been. “Forth comes the pocket mirror. First we stroke An eyebrow; next; compose a straggling lock; Then with an air, most gracefully performed, fall back into our seat, extend an arm And lay it at its ease with gentle care, With handkerchief in hand depending low.
The better hand more busy gives the nose Its bergamot, or aids the indebted eye, With opera glass, to watch the moving scene, And recognize the slow retiring fair. — Now this is fulsome, and offends me more Than in a churchman slovenly neglect And rustic coarseness would.” “Rustic coarseness” is quite refreshing after one has been wearied with inane primness. Well did Cicero exhort orators to adopt their gestures rather from the camp or the wrestling ring than from the dancers with their effeminate niceties. Manliness must never be sacrificed to elegance. Our working classes will never be brought even to consider the truth of Christianity by teachers who are starched and fine. The British artisan admires manliness, and prefers to lend his ear to one who speaks in a hearty and natural style: indeed, working men of all nations are more likely to be struck by a brave negligence than by a foppish attention to personal appearances. The story told by the Abbe Mullois is, we suspect, only one of a numerous class. F6 “A converted Parisian operative, a man of a willful but frank disposition, full of energy and spirit, who had often spoken with great success at the clubs composed of men of his own class, was asked by the preacher who had led him to God, to inform him by what instrumentality he, who had once been so far estranged from religion, had eventually been restored to the faith. “Your doing so,” said Iris interrogator, “may be useful to me in my efforts to reclaim others.” “I would rather not,” replied he, “for I must candidly tell you that you do not figure very conspicuously in the case.” “No matter,” said the other, “it will not be the first time that I have heard ‘the same remark.” “Well, if you must hear it, I can tell you in a few words how it took place.
A good woman had pestered me to read your little book — pardon the expression, I used to speak in that style in those days. On reading a few pages, I was so impressed that I felt; a strong desire to see you. “I was told that you preached in a certain church, and I went to hear you.
Your sermon had some further effect upon me; but, to speak frankly, very little; comparatively, indeed, none at all. What did much more for me was your open, and simple, and good-natured manner, and, above all, your illcombed hair; for I have always detested those priests whose heads remind one of a hairdresser’s assistant; and I said to myself, ‘ That man forgets himself on our behalf, we ,ought, therefore, to do something for his sake.’
Thereupon I determined to pay you a visit, and you bagged me. Such wets the beginning and end of the affair.”
There are silly young ladies who are in raptures with a dear young man whose main thought is his precious person; these, it is to be hoped are becoming fewer every day: but as for sensible men, and especially the sturdy workmen of our great cities, they utterly abhor foppery in a minister. Wherever you see affectation you find at once a barrier between that man and the commonsense multitude. Few ears are delighted with the voices of peacocks.
It is a pity that we cannot persuade all ministers to be men, for it is hard to see how otherwise they will be truly men of God. It is equally to be deplored that we cannot induce preachers to speak and gesticulate like other sensible persons, for it is impossible that they should grasp the masses till they do. All foreign matters of attitude, tone, or dress are barricades between us and the people: we must talk like men if we would win men. The late revival of millinery in the Anglican Church is for this reason, as well as; for far graver ones, a step in the wrong direction. A hundred years ago the dressiness of the clergy was about as conspicuous as it is now, but it had no doctrinal meaning, and was mere foppery, if Lloyd is to be believed in his “Metrical Plea for Curates.”’ He abuses rectors very heartily, and among the rest describes a canonical beau : — “Behold Nugoso! wriggling, shuffling on, A. mere church-puppet, an automaton In orders: note its tripping, mincing pace, Religion creams and mantles in its face!
It’s all religion from the top to toe!
But milliners and barbers made it so.
It wears religion in the modish way, It; brushes, starches, combs it every day:
Its orthodoxy lies in outward things, In beavers, cassocks, gowns, bands, gloves, and rings: It shows its learning by its doctor’s hood, And proves its goodness, — ‘cause its clothes are good.” This fondness for comely array led to a stiff propriety in the pulpit: they called it “dignity,” and prided themselves upon it. Propriety and decorum were their chief concern, and these were mingled with pomposity or foolish simpering according to the creature’s peculiarities, until honest men grew weary of their hollow performances and turned away from such stilted ministrations. The preachers were too much concerned to be proper to have any con-tern to be useful. The gestures which would have made their words a little more intelligible they would not condescend to use, for what cared they for the vulgar? If persons of taste were satisfied, they had all the reward they desired, and meanwhile the multitudes were perishing for lack of knowledge. God save us from fine deportment and genteel propriety if these are to keep the masses in alienation from the public worship of God.
In our own day this sickening affectation is, we hope, far more rare, but it still survives. We had the honor of knowing a minister who could not preach without his black kid gloves, and when he upon one occasion found himself in a certain pulpit without them, he Came down into the vestry for them. Unfortunately one of the deacons had carried into his pew, not his own hat, as he intended, but the preacher’s, and while this discovery was being made, the divine was in terrible trepidation, exclaiming, “I never do preach without gloves. I cannot do it. I cannot go into the pulpit till you find them.” I wish he never had found them, for he was more fitted to stand behind a draper’s counter than to occupy the sacred desk. Slovenliness of any sort is to be avoided in a minister, but manliness more often falls into this fault than into the other effeminate vice; therefore shun most heartily this worst error. Cowper says, “In my soul I loathe all affectation,” and so does every sensible man. All tricks and stage effects are unbearable when the message of the Lord is to be delivered. Better a ragged dress and rugged speech, with artless, honest manner, than clerical foppery. Better far to violate every canon of gracefulness than to be a mere performer, a consummate actor, a player upon a religious stage. The caricaturist of twenty years ago favored me with the name of Brimstone, and placed side by side with me a simpering elocutionist whom he named Treacle. I was thoroughly satisfied with my lot, but I could not have said as much if I had been represented by the companion portrait. Molasses and other sugary matters are sickening to me. Jack-a-dandy in the pulpit makes me feel as Jehu did when he saw Jezebel’s decorated head and painted face, and cried in indignation, “Fling her down” It would greatly trouble me if any of my remarks upon grotesque action should lead even one of you to commence posturing and performing; this would be to fly from bad to worse. We mentioned that Dr. Hamilton took lessons from a master, in order to escape from his infirmity, but the result was manifestly not very encouraging, and I gravely fear that more faults are created than cured by professional teachers: perhaps the same result may follow front my own amateur attempt, but I would at least prevent that misfortune as far as possible by earnest warnings. Do not think of how you will gesticulate when you preach, but learn the art of doing the right thing without giving it any thought at all.
Our last rule is one which sums up all the others; be natural in your action.
Shun the very appearance of studied gesture. Art is cold, only nature is warm; let grace keep you clear of all seeming,, and in every action, and in every place, be truthful, even if you should be considered rough and uncultivated. Your mannerism must always be your own, it must never be a polished lie, and what is the aping of gentility, the simulation of passion, the feigning of emotion, or the mimicry of another man’s mode of delivery’ but a practical lie. “Therefore, avaunt all attitude and stare, And start theatric, practiced at the glass!” Our object is ‘to remove the excrescences of uncouth nature, not to produce artificiality and affectation; we would prune the tree and by no means clip it into a set form. We would have our students think: of’ action while they are with us at college, that they may never have need to think of it in after days. The matter is too inconsiderable to be made a part of your weekly study when you get into the actual battle of ministerial life; you must attend to the subject now, and have done with it. You are not sent of God to court smiles but to win souls; your teacher is not the dancingmaster, but the Holy Spirit, and your pulpit manner is only worth a moment’s thought because it may hinder your success by causing people to make remarks about the preacher when you want all their thought’3 for the subject. If the best action had this effect I would urge you to forswear it, and if the worst gestures would prevent such a result I would advise you to practice them. All that I aim at is to advocate quiet, graceful, natural movements, because they are the least likely to be observed. The whole business of delivery should be one; everything should harmonize; the thought, the spirit, the language, the tone, and the action should be all of a piece, and the whole should be, not for the winning of honor to ourselves, but for the glory of God and the good of men; if it be so there is no fear of your violating the rule as to being natural, for it will not occur to you to be otherwise. Yet have I one fear, and it is this: you may fall into a foolish imitation of some admired minister, and this will to some extent put you off from the right track. Each man’s action should suit himself and grow out of his own personality. The style of Dr. Goliath, who is six feet high, will not fit the stature and person of our friend Short who is a Zaccheus among preachers; neither will the respectable mannerism of an aged and honored divine at all befit the youthful Apollos who is barely out of his teens. I have heard that for a season quite a number of young Congregational ministers imitated the pastor of the Weigh House, and So there were little Binneys everywhere copying the great Thomas in everything except his thoughtful preaching. A rumor is current that there are one or two young Spurgeons about, but if so I hope that the reference is to my own sons, who have a right to the name by birth. If any of you become mere copyists of me I shall regard you as thorns in the flesh, and rank you among those whom Paul says “we suffer gladly.” Yet it has been wisely said that every beginner must of necessity be for a time a copyist; the artist follows his master while as yet he has barely acquired the elements of the art, and perhaps for life he remains a painter of the school to which he at first, attached himself; but as he becomes Proficient he develops his own individuality, grows into a painter witch a style of his own, and is all the better and none the worse for having been in his earliest days content to sit at a master’s feet. It is of necessity the same in oratory, and therefore it may be too much to say never copy anyone, but it may be better to exhort you to imitate the best action you can. find, in order that your own style during its formation may be rightly moulded. Correct ‘the. influence of any one man by what you see of excellence in others; but still create a manner of your’ own. Slavish imitation is the practice of an ape, but to follow another where, he leads aright, and there only, is the wisdom of a, prudent man. Still never let a natural originality be missed by your imitating the best models of antiquity, or the most esteemed among the moderns.
In conclusion, do not allow’ my criticisms upon various grotesque postures and movements to haunt you in the pulpit; better perpetrate them all than be in fear, for this would make you cramped and awkward. Dash at. it whether you blunder or no. A few mistakes in this matter will not be half so bad as being nervous. It may be that what would be eccentric in another may be most proper in you; therefore take no man’s dictum as applicable to every case, or to your own. See how John Knox is pictured in the well known engraving. Is his posture graceful? Perhaps not. Yet is it not exactly what it should be? Can you find any fault with it? Is it not Knox-like, and full of power? It would not suit one man in fifty; in most preachers it would seem Strained, but in the great Reformer it is characteristic, and accords with his life-work. You must remember the person, the times and his surroundings, and then the mannerism is seen to be well becoming a heropreacher sent, to do an Elijah’s work, and to utter his rebukes in the presence of a Popish court which hated the reforms which he demanded.
Be yourself as lie was himself; even if you should be ungainly and awkward, be yourself. Your own clothes, though they be homespun, will fit you better than another man’s, though made of the best broadcloth; you may follow your tutor’s style of dress if you like, but do not borrow his coat, be content to wear one of your own. Above all, be so full of matter, so fervent, and so gracious that the people will little care how you hand out the word; for if they perceive that it is fresh from heaven, and find it sweet and abundant, they will pay little regard to the basket in which you bring it to them. Let them, if they please, say that your bodily presence is weak, but pray that they may confess that your testimony is weighty and powerful.
Commend yourself to every’ man’s conscience in’ the sight of God, and then the mere mint and anise Of posture will seldom be taken into account.
While; preparing this lecture it occurred to me to copy a plate which I found in Austin’s Chironomia, in the hope that it may afford, some direction to young speakers. As my lecture mainly shows how not, to do it, this may be a little help in the positive direction.. Of course I do not recommend that so much action should be used in reciting this one piece, or any other; but I would suggest that each posture should be considered apart. Most of the attitudes are natural, striking, and instructive. I do not admire them all, for they are here and there a little forced, but as a whole I know of no better’ lesson in so short a compass, and being in verse the words will be the more easily remembered.
Considerable expense has been incurred in producing these plates and the wood-engravings of the, previous lectures, and therefore the present volume of lectures is a few pages shorter than its predecessor; but anxiety to do the thing thoroughly for the good of my younger brethren has led me to insert what I earnestly hope will be of some slight service to them. Often a mere hint is sufficient. Wise men from one example learn all, and I trust that the following illustrations may suffice to give to many beginners the clue o proper and expressive attitude and gesture.