Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Trevor A. Owen, Lancelot Andrewes

Trevor A. Owen, Lancelot Andrewes, Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1981.

Although Hooker and Andrewew were in complete harmony in the principles which they proclaimed, their prose styles were markedly different; and Eliot’s reference to their “prose style” (not styles) is puzzling in its implied implication. Hooker’s typical prose unit is the long, frequently periodic, Ciceronian sentence, while Andrewes favors the brief paragraph composed of short sentences and phrases. Andrewes’s prose is, in fact, much closer to that of Donne’s whose sermons Eliot contrasts somewhat unfavorably with Andrewes’s. (139)

How many of Andrewes’s and Donne’s sermons Eliot had actually read when he wrote this essay is uncertain. His references to Andrewes’s sermons are limited to the Nativity group, and it is quite possible that his reading from both preachers was mostly confined to the two editions of selected sermons which he mentions. [Andrewes: Seventeen Sermons on the Nativity (London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden and Welsh, n.d.0; and John Donne: Sermons, Selected Passages, ed. Logan Pearsall Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1919).] (140)

Eliot says nothing at all about Donne’s prose, presenting instead only vague generalities about the quality of his religious experience. Something about Donne’s sermons is “incommunicable” (a word Eliot borrows from Logan Pearsall Smith); about him “there hangs the shadow of the impure motive,” his “experience was not perfectly controlled,” and “he lacked spiritual discipline.” (140)

Eliot’s lack of emphasis on prose style is understandable, since the essential difference between Andrewes’s and Donne’s sermons lies not so much in their prose styles as in their homiletic methods. And it is on this subject that Eliot makes his most valuable distinction. He declares that “Andrewes’s emotion is purely contemplative… wholly evoked by the object of contemplation” and that Donne, in contrast, is “a personality…constantly finding an object which shall be adequate to his feelings.” (140)

Although Lancelot Andrewes was Stella Praedicantium in his own age, his star has never shown so brightly in succeeding generations. One of the first to express enthusiasm for Andrewes’s preaching was the Elizabethan writer Thomas Nashe, who relates in his Have With You to Saffron Walden (1596) how his friend John Lyle had recommended Andrewes to him, probably when Andrewes was vicar of Saint Giles: “By Doctor Androwes his own desert and Master Lillies immoderate commending him, by little and little I was drawne on to bee an Auditor of his: since when, whensoever I heard him, I thought it was but hard and scant allowance that was giv’n him, in comparison of the incomparable gifts that were in him.” [The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow (Oxford, 1904, rpt. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), III, 107] Early in Andrewes’s career, then, there were some who gave him “hard and scant allowance.” / At the court of King James, where Andrewes won his greatest fame… in Andrewes’s age his distinctive style of preaching soon found followers in such preachers as William Laud, Ralph Brownrig, John Hacket, John Cosin, and Mark Frank. (145)

By the end of the century, Andrewes and his school were already regarded as old-fashioned. John Aubrey declares of Andrewes that “had had not that smooth way of Oratory, as now.” [pg. 7 Brief Lives, ed. Oliver Lawson Dick (London: Secker and Warburg, 1949)] John Evelyn, in an entry in his diary for July 15, 1683, reports that he had heard an old man preach “much after Bp. Andrews’s method, full of logical divisions, in short and broken periods, and Latin sentences, now quite out of fashion, in the pulpit, which is grown into a far more profitably way of plain and practical discourses.” [Cited by Charles Smyth in The Art of Preaching (London: SPCK, 1940,) p. 122] This newer style of preaching is exemplified by the sermons of Robert South and John Tillotson, the most popular preachers of the Restoration. (145)


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