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OBSERVATIONS

ON

MR. HALL'S CHARACTER AS A PREACHER.

BY JOHN FOSTER.

OBSERVATIONS

ON

MR. HALL'S CHARACTER AS A PREACHER.

The biographical and literary illustrations of Mr. Hall's character and performances, expected from the highly qualified Editor of his works, and from the eminent person who has engaged for a part of that tribute to his memory,* may render any formal attempt in addition liable to be regarded as both superfluous and intrusive; the public, besides, have been extensively and very long in possession of their own means of forming that judgement which has pronounced him the first preacher of the age : and again, so soon after the removal of such a man, while the sentiments of friendship and admiration are finding their natural expression in the language of unrestrained eulogy, it is hardly permitted to assume a judicial impartiality. From these considerations it has been with very great reluctance that I have consented, in compliance with the wishes of some of Mr. Hall's friends, to attempt a short description of what he was in the special capacity of a preacher; a subject which must indeed be of chief account in any memorial of him; but may also admit of being taken in some degree separately from the general view of his life, character, and writings.

For more reasons than that it must be one cause, added to others, of an imperfect competence to describe him in that capacity, I have to regret the disadvantage of not having been, more than very occasionally, perhaps hardly ten times in all, a hearer of Mr. Hall till within the last few years of his life. It appears to be the opinion of all those attendants on his late ministrations, who had also been his hearers in former times, (and from recollection of the few sermons which I heard many years since my own impression would be the same), that advancing age, together with the severe and almost continual pressure of pain, had produced a sensible effect on his preaching, perceptible in an abatement of the energy and splendour of his eloquence. He was less apt to be excited to that intense ardour of emotion and utterance which so often, animating to the extreme emphasis a train of sentiments impressive by their intrinsic force, had held dominion over every faculty of thought and feeling in a large assembly. It is not meant, however, that a considerable degree of this ancient fire did not frequently appear glowing and shining again. Within the course of a moderate number of sermons there would be one or more which brought back the preacher of the times long past, to the view of those who had heard him in those times.

These observations were written, and transmitted to the publishers, a considerable time before the lamented and unexpected decease of Sir J. Mackintosh.

A very few slight notes have been added in the last revisal

for the press.

I have reason to believe, that this representation of his diminished energy should be nearly limited to a very late period, the period when an increased, but reluctant, use of opiates became absolutely necessary, to enable him to endure the pain which he had suffered throughout his life, and when another obscure malady was gradually working towards a fatal termination. For at a time not more than seven or eight years since, I heard in close succession several sermons delivered in so ardent an excitement of sentiment and manner as I could not conceive it possible for himself, or any other orator to have surpassed. Even so lately as within the last four or five years of his life, the recurrence of something approaching to this was not so infrequent as to leave any apprehension that it might not soon be displayed again.

There was some compensation for the abatement of this character of force and vehemence, supplied by a certain tone of kindness, a milder pathos, more sensibly expressive of benevolence toward his hearers, than the impetuous, the almost imperious energy, so often predominant when an undepressed vitality of the physical system was auxiliary to the utmost excitement of his mind.

There seems to be a perfect agreement of opinion that a considerable decline of the power or the activity of his imagination was evident in the latter part of his life. The felicities of figure and allusion of all kinds, sometimes illustrative by close analogy, often gay and humorous, sometimes splendid, less abounded in his conversation. And in his public discourses there appeared to be a much rarer occurrence of those striking images in which a series of thoughts seemed to take fire in passing on, to end in a still more striking figure, with the effect of an explosion. So that, from persons who would occasionally go to hear him with much the same taste and notions as they would carry to a theatrical or mere oratorical exhibition, and caring little about religious truth and instruction, there might be heard complaints of disappointment, expressed in terms of more than hinted depreciation. They had hardly any other idea of eloquence, even that of the pulpit, than that it must be brilliant ; and they certainly might happen to hear (at the late period in question) several of his sermons which had not more than a very moderate share of this attraction. But even such persons, if disposed to attend his preaching regularly for a few weeks; might have been sure to hear some sermons in which the solidity of thought was finely inspirited with the sparkling quality they were requiring.

But whatever reduction his imagination may have suffered from age, and the oppression of disease and pain, it is on all hands admitted that there was no decline in what he valued far more in both himself and others, and what all, except very young or defectively cultivated persons, and inferior poets, must regard as the highest of mental endowments--the intellectual power. His wonderful ability for comprehending and reasoning; his quickness of apprehension, his faculty for analyzing a subject to its elements, for seizing on the essential points, for going back to principles and forward to consequences, and for bringing out into an intelligible and sometimes very obvious form, what appeared obscure or perplexed, remained unaltered to the last. This noble intellect, thus seen with a diminished lustre of imagination, suggested the idea of a lofty eminence raising its form and summit clear and bare toward the sky, losing nothing of its imposing aspect by absence of the wreaths of tinctured clouds which may have invested it at another season.

It is to be observed, that imagination had always been a subordinate faculty in his mental constitution. It was never of that prolific power which threw so vast a profusion over the oratory of Jeremy Taylor or of Burke; or which could tempt him to revel, for the pure luxury of the indulgence, as they

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