The rhetoric of George Whitefield

Downey, James (1963) The rhetoric of George Whitefield. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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George Whitefield is still an anomaly in literary as well as religious circles. Many have stated, quite categorically, that he has no place in literature. Even those who regard him as a figure of considerable importance in English church history and the development of preaching, experience difficulty in determining his place as a writer. -- The reason for this is twofold: First, many now regard the sermon as a religious exercise and nothing more. They have forgotten the prominence it once enjoyed in the social, intellectual, literary, as well as religious life of our forbears. Second, some, while recognizing the sermon as a legitimate literary form, find Whitefield's extant sermons devoid of grace or merit. It must be confessed that these sermons now appear rather lifeless, pedestrian, and needlessly repetitive. Someone has said, 'the bows of eloquence are buried with the archers'. Whitefield is proof of the truth of that statement. In reading his sermons we are conscious that something has been lost between the pulpit and the press. That something is the preacher's oratorical prowess which for thirty-five years made him the undisputed regent of the rostrum in England, Scotland, and America. -- In an age of great prose writers, the age of Swift, Sterne, Addison, Richardson and Fielding, Whitefield is a peripheral figure. His claim to a place in literature must rest upon his gifts as a rhetorician and his contribution to English oratorical prose and not as a conscious prose stylist nor even as a theologian. As an orator, he was a consummate artist. His fluent delivery enlivened even the most threadbare homilies and doctrines. The aridity of theology was transfigured by his rhetoric. -- There were few in church or state who remained indifferent to the itinerant evangelist; the dynamic and imposing personality that he was forced men to make a decision about him. Among the secular literati, he was variously regarded. Some, like Dr. Johnson, Richard Graves, and Tobias Smollett summarily dismissed him as a clerical oddity. Others, like Samuel Foote, Alexander Pope, and Hogarth parodied him. Still others, like David Garrick, Lord Bolingbroke, and Benjamin Franklin praised him as the greatest orator of the age.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 7131
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 90-93.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1963
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Whitefield, George, 1714-1770--Sermons--Criticism and interpretation; Preaching--18th Century

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