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Talmage The Turgid Post by :cf3909 Category :Essays Author :William Cowper Brann Date :July 2011 Read :3341

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Talmage The Turgid

That man who first coined the phrase, "Nothing succeeds like success," had a great head. Talmage is emphatically a success,--viewed from a worldly point of view. He attracts the largest audiences of any American preacher; his sermons are more extensively printed, more eagerly read than those of any other divine. He is regarded by the public as the greatest of modern preachers, and he evidently thinks this verdict a righteous one. Why this is so, I am at a loss to determine. I have read his sermons and writings with unusual care, hoping thereby to discover in what particular he towers like Saul above his brethren,-- wherein he is greater than the thousands of obscure pulpit- pounders who do battle with the devil for a few dollars and a destructive donation party per year; but so far I have signally failed. I have yet to see in print a single sermon by the so-called "great Talmage" remarkable for wit, wisdom or eloquence; or a single scrap from his pen that might not have been written by a sophomore or a young reporter.

I have before me, while I write, one of his latest oratorical efforts, entitled "Bricks Without Straw." It was delivered to one of the largest audiences that ever crowded into the great tabernacle, is considerably above the Talmagian average, was evidently regarded as one of his "ablest efforts," for the great daily in which I find it prefaces it with a "three-story head," a short biographical sketch and a portrait of the speaker making an evident effort to look wise. Yet such a sermon delivered before a Texas congregation by a fledgling D.D. seeking a "call" would provoke supercilious smiles on the part of those people who considered it their painful duty to remain awake. At the close of the services the good deacons would probably feel called upon to take the young man out behind the church and give him a little fatherly advice, the burthen of which would be to become an auctioneer or seek a situation as "spouter" for a snake side-show.

Had "Bricks Without Straw" been written as a "Sunday special" by a horse-editor of any daily paper in Texas, the managing editor would have chucked it into the waste- basket and advised the young man that journalism was not his forte. It is a rambling fragmentary piece of mental hodge-podge, in which scraps of school book Egyptology, garbled Bible stories, false political economy and fragments of misapplied history tumble over each other like specters in a delirium. It is just such a discourse as one might expect from the lips of a female lieutenant in the Salvation Army who possessed a vivid imagination, a smattering of learning and a voluble tongue, but little judgment. The only original information I can find in the discourse is to the effect that when Joseph was a bare-legged little Hebrew, making mud-pies in the land of his forefathers, his daddy called him "Joe"; that the Bible refers to Egypt and Egyptians just "two hundred and eighty-nine times," and that "Egypt is our great-grandmother."

He goes out of his way to denounce as "lunatics" those who would place the American railways and telegraphs under governmental control. He is quite sure that the logical effect of such a proceeding would be the revival in free America of the old Egyptian tyranny. The analogy between a tyrant enslaving his subjects by means of a monopoly of the food supply, and a free people managing a great property for their own advantage, could only be traced by a Talmagian head.

During the few months that Mr. Talmage was pottering about in the land of the erstwhile Pharaohs, examining mummified cats and drawing a fat salary for unrendered services, he evidently forgot that in his own, his native land, the people "rule the roost"; that the government is but their creature and has to dance to music of their making. If the distinguished gentleman had spent his vacation in the hayloft in close communion with a copy of the constitution of the United States and a primary work on political economy, instead of gadding from the pyramids to the Acropolis hunting for small pegs upon which to hang large theories, perhaps he would be able to occasionally say something sensible.

Of course, in sloshing around over so wide a field, Mr. Talmage gave his hearers his truly valuable opinion of Mohammedanism. He admitted that it is a religion of cleanliness, sobriety and devotion; but the fact that its founder had four wives caused him to sweat in agony. Polygamy, according to Mr. Talmage, "blights everything it touches." Those who practice it are, he is quite sure, the enemies of womankind. Is it not a trifle strange that from so foul a root should spring such a celestial plant as the Christian religion? that from the loins of a polygamous people should come an immaculate Christ? How can we mention Abraham, Isaac and Jacob without a curse, or think of a God whose teachings they followed, without horror--unless indeed we take issue with the public and vote Mr. Talmage an ass of the longest-eared variety.

Mr. Talmage is quite sure that God was on the side of the allies at the Battle of Waterloo; that he was on the side of the Russians during the French invasion. Mr. Talmage does not take it upon himself to explain, however, how the Deity chanced to be on the other side at Marengo and Austerlitz! No wonder that war is a risky business, if the God of battle changes his allegiance so erratically and without apparent provocation! Mr. Talmage should advise the government to cease expending money for ironclads and coast fortifications. In case of a foreign complication it were "all day with us" if the Autocrat of the Universe were swinging a battle-ax against us; while if we chanced to have him with us, we could send Baby McKee out with the jawbone of a hen, and put the armies of the world to shame!

Mr. Talmage should retire to some secluded spot and make a careful analysis of his sermons before firing them out to the press. They may sound all right in the big tabernacle, where a great volume of noise is the chief desideratum; but they make very poor reading. Like a flapjack, they may tickle the palate when served hot and with plenty of "sop"; but when allowed to grow cold are stale, flat and unprofitable.

Mr. Talmage is troubled with a diarrhoea of words and should take something for it. Perhaps the best possible prescription would be a long rest,--of a couple of centuries or so. How in God's name the American people ever became afflicted with the idea that he is a great man, is a riddle which might make Oedipus cudgel his wits in vain. He is not even a skillful pretender, shining like the moon, by borrowed light,--for he does not shine at all. His sentences are neither picturesque, dramatic nor wise. His so-called "sermons" are but fragmentary and usually ignorant allusions to things in general. He seldom or never encroaches upon the realms of science and philosophy, although he frequently attempts it, and evidently imagines that he is succeeding admirably, when he is but sloshing around, like a drunken comet that is chiefly tail, in inane limboes.

I can find no other explanation of Mr. Talmage's distinction than that, like Elliott F. Shepard, he can be more kinds of a fool in a given time than any other man in his profession. That were indeed distinction enough for one man, well calculated to cause the world to stand agaze! Notoriety and fame have, in this age, become synonymous if not exactly the same. The world gauges greatness by the volume of sound which the aspirant for immortal honors succeeds in setting afloat, little caring whether it be such celestial harp-music as caused Thebe's walls to rise, or the discordant bray of the ram's horn which made Jericho's to fall, and Mr. Talmage is emphatically a noise-producer. From the lecherous, but learned and logical Beecher to the gabbling inanity now doing the drum-major act, is a long stride.

(The end)
William Cowper Brann's essay: Talmage The Turgid

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