The Pulpit

Critic: George Philip Krapp
Source: The Rise of English Literary Prose, Oxford University Press, 1915, pp. 153-217. Reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 5

[Krapp was a distinguished American scholar of the English language and of Old English poetry. He wrote and edited many books and articles on subjects in his field, most notably The English Language in America (1925) and four volumes of the six-volume Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (1931-53). In the following excerpt from his study of the rise of English literary prose, Krapp discusses Andrewes's place in the evolution of English oratory.]

As one might expect, [Andrewes's sermons show that their author] has little sympathy with that genial inspiration of the natural man, powerful but ill-regulated, upon which the advocates of a naive religion placed so great dependence, and in general he made little effort to appeal to the simpler emotions of his auditors. His themes are usually somewhat remote. If he alludes to contemporary events, he does not do so explicitly, but merely remarks that his hearers know what he has in mind. It may be that in sermons which have not been preserved, he preached more personally and directly, but it was the temper of his mind to dwell upon intellectual refinements and principles rather than on immediate, concrete details. He trusted to the discretion of his hearers to make the applications, which indeed, for one who takes the trouble to follow his exposition, are never left in doubt.

Eloquence in the sense of impassioned oratory is entirely foreign to Andrewes's nature. He writes at times with a refined and delicate fancy which approaches poetic imagination of a rarefied kind. Nashe describes him as "the absolutest Oracle of all sound Devinitie heere amongst us," and declares that he mixes the "two severall properties of an Orator and a Poet, both in one, which is not only to perswade but to win admiration." But Andrewes's poetry was not the poetry of strong and simple feeling. He never thunders from the pulpit, but as his destructive weapon, employs occasionally a gentle scholarly irony. Limitations as they may seem from one point of view, these traits were indeed Andrewes's gifts. Vague enthusiasm, often growing into passion and violence, were frequent enough in English religious life during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as was also the arid disputatiousness which spent itself in the discussion of mere subtleties of practice and doctrine. The finer balance of Andrewes was more difficult to maintain. He was not a theorist or system builder, nor did he belong to that class of rhapsodists who often degraded religious feeling by not setting to it proper metes and bounds. He preached to seiect audiences, not to those who flock to hear sermons as they would to an entertainment, but to people capable of appreciating nice distinctions of thought and feeling.

The published sermons of Andrewes all show evidence of careful preparation. He himself expresses his scorn both for the facile listener and facile preacher. In the funeral sermon preached by the bishop of Ely at his death, he is described as "a diligent and painful preacher." He is said to have been exacting in the preparation of his sermons. "I dare say few of them but they passed his hand, and were thrice revised, before they were preached; and he ever misliked often and loose preaching without study of antiquity, and he would be bold with himself and say, when he preached twice a day at St. Giles', he prated once." His study of antiquity indeed begets wonder. He was at ease in the theological literature of his own day, in the church fathers, in the schoolmen, and in classical literature. He knew the Old Testament at first hand in the Hebrew, and his command of details was such as to enable him to draw upon the most obscure characters or incidents for analysis or illustration. He had little need to go to the world immediately about him for the material of life when he had the whole world of the Bible at his fingers' ends. His scholarship is to be sure often obtruded in a way long since gone out of fashion. He not only quotes Latin and Greek freely, but he often uses Latin words or phrases in English context and co-ordinate in syntax with English words. This is not always mere pedantry. The Latin words often serve as a kind of abbreviation, repeating and summing up a general idea which appears again and again and which can thus be conveniently and briefly indicated. (pp. 201-03)

His method of treating the text [of passages from the Bible] was minutely and rigorously logical. No one could have been more exhaustive than he in dividing the text. The very words are analyzed, often one by one, their meanings are determined by careful study of the language in which they were originally written or into which they have been translated, their cases, moods, tenses are often specifically dwelt upon, and the possible logical connotations of the words in their context are all fully developed. The sermons usually begin with a formal statement of the "points" to be considered in the text, and from this preliminary outline, no excursions are made.

In the details of Andrewes's style, the same scholarly refinement is exhibited as appears in his thought. His vocabulary is on the whole extremely simple, though it is also carefully selected. None realized more clearly than the preachers how fantastic were the fashionable mannerisms of the fine literary styles of the day. Extravagances of expression which might be written were immediately felt to be false coin as soon as the touch of public delivery was applied to them. Yet Andrewes's style is very far from being colorless. Minor ornaments of style he uses sparingly; alliteration, verbal antithesis, balance, ingenious metaphor, all these are entirely wanting. The universal Elizabethan infection of punning, however, both in Latin and in English, he suffers from; but obviously these puns were not intended to be flippant or amusing. They are either mere verbal echoes, and as such not reprehensible according to the standards of taste of the time, or they suggest a collocation of ideas which are really related to each other. But the most characteristic element in Andrewes's style is the rhythm or cadence of his phrasing. The sentences are often extremely compact and even elliptical. "These words then," to choose a passage from a sermon delivered before Queen Elizabeth in 1598 [and preserved in XCVI Sermons], "are a report. A report; but such an one as when St. Paul heard of the Corinthians, he could not commend it. `What shall I say? Shall I praise you in this? No; I praise you not.' Neither he them for that, nor I these for this." Even when the expression is most free, it never develops into a flowing oratorical style. The rhythm is always somewhat angular, not harsh, but clipped and restrained. Occasional passages of colloquial case, popular proverbs, and bits of sententious wisdom stand out in contrast to the generally formal tone of the expression. The style is restrained, even when it is most popular.... (pp. 204-05)

The preaching of Bishop Andrewes was distinctly of his day and generation. His scholarship, his fancy, his minute analyses of texts, even his thought on broader themes, now all have the flavor of antiquity. He seems indeed much less modern than a popular and simpler preacher like his contemporary, Henry Smith, a man of far less intellectual power. Modernity, however, is not necessarily a test of ability. Preaching with Andrewes became a finer art than it had ever before been in England. He raised it to a new level, in harmony with the dignified services and aristocratic tendencies of the newly established church. One cannot but admire the fine sense for form in Andrewes which saves ease from descending to vulgarity, the learning which is vast but not often labored or wearisome, the subtle irony of the scholar which enables him without rant or bluster to prick many a bubble of vain belief in his day. Yet the sermons of Bishop Andrewes already give some hint that the church of Elizabeth and James had its limitations as truly as that of Calvin. The sermons were intended for a class, and they have remained permanently interesting only to a class. The church of the Establishment was not a church for all time, and it was perhaps Andrewes's misfortune that his sermons satisfied so perfectly the conditions under which they were preached. (pp. 206-07)

Source: George Philip Krapp, "The Pulpit," in his The Rise of English Literary Prose, Oxford University Press, 1915, pp. 153-217. Reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 5.