Mitchell on Adams 05

This is the last section from W Fraser Mitchell.
A careful consideration of such of his sermons as are dated unfortunately demolishes Professor Croll’s contention that Adams began in imitation of Latimer and the medieval preachers, as did Jewel and Lever before him, but that he gradually shook himself free from the fascination of their gay ornaments and rhetorical schemata. Taken, so far as is possible, in chronological order, Adams’ work reveals no sign of such development, but all through his life he continued to employ the favourite schemata of preachers in all ages from the time of Cyprian onwards - particularly paramoion - with greater or less elaborateness in proportion as he was striving after rhetorical effects. It is true that Adams seems to us to achieve his happiest effects when he leaves the schemata alone and takes flight on the gauzy wings which were afterwards to bear Jeremy Taylor into the blue of heaven in pursuit of his lark (see note), or reminds us, reminiscently it is true, but with something of Fuller’s wit, of our natural swarthiness and the repeated tanning of our sins. (Englands Sicknesse, ed cit, p 306). But this is only to acknowledge that we prefer Taylor’s poetical fancy or Fuller’s wit to Lyly’s parallelism, and consequently are more ready to appreciate Adams where he most resembles the later writers. The men of his own day no doubt thought otherwise, and were ready to applaud his balanced clauses, where adjective corresponded to adjective, noun to noun, and a similarity of ending or resemblance in sound was sedulously cultivated. Professor Croll’s assertion that such figures — the last faint echo of classical rhetorical training enjoyed a florescence in England among the celebrated of the older preachers at the opening of the seventeenth century is amply justified; but that florescence enjoyed a sudden metamorphosis under the influence of Bacon and Donne in the actual sermons of Adams seems hardly tenable. Adams is rather to be regarded as a fellow-worker with these greater writers, breaking down the tyranny of the schematic patterns in the interests of a less pointed, more sonorous style. As early as 1614 we find him able to dispense with the wearisome second half of his antitheses, and close like Bacon with a statement, giving a quiet ending without the customary reverberation. Space alone precludes quotation of some of the longer and more matured passages which obviously what attracted Southey’s admiration; yet the fact remains that in sermons of a late date the older, cruder use of the schemata recurs, which is to be explained neither as a reversion on the part of Adams, nor, as with Williams' ‘Six Sermons,’ preached in the 1640s, in terms of Dryden’s gibe about stylistic abuses finding benefit of clergy, but simply points to the extraordinary experimentation that was then taking place among English writers — an experimentation in which the pulpit, as represented by Adams and men of his type, took a prominent part. The preacher, like the poet, is both moulded by his age and exerts an influence upon it, and the sermons of Adams present us with the case of a man catering at times for popular vogue, but who in his published work was undoubtedly preparing the way among his readers for other and less jejune stylistic effects.
‘The Fatall Banket,’ ed cit, p 220: the passage opening: "As inafaire Summers morning when the Larke bath called up the Sunne, and the Sunne the Husbandman: when the earth bath opened her Shop of perfumes, and a pleasant wind fannes coolenesse through the ayre; when every creature is reioyced at the heart; On a suddaine, &c" is one of the finest in the whole range of Adams’ writings.


Spurgeon quoting Adams

In his Lectures to My Students Spurgeon has a chapter of Anecdotes from the pulpit (Chapter 25). Here is his section on Adams:
Thomas Adams the Conforming Puritan whose sermons are full of rugged force and profound meaning, never hesitated to insert a story when be felt that it would enforce his teaching. His starting-point is ever some Biblical sentence or scriptural history; and this he works out with much much elaboration bringing to it all the treasures of his mind. As Stowe says, ‘Fables, anecdotes, classical poetry, gems from the fathers and other old writers are scattered over almost every page”. His anecdotes are usually rough-and-ready ones, and might be compared to those of Latimer, only they are not so genial; their humour is generally grim and caustic. The following may serve as fair specimens:

The husband told his wife that he had one ill quality, he was given to be angry without cause. She replied, she would keep him from that fault, for she would give him cause enough. It is the folly of some that they will be offended without cause, to whom the world promises that they shall have cause enough. “In the world ye shall have tribulation.”

It is ordinary with many to commend the lecture to others’ ears, but few commend it to their own hearts. It is morally true what the Christian Tell-truth relates: A servant coming from church, praiseth the sermon to his master. He asks him what was the text. Nay, quoth the servant, it was begun before I came in. What then was his conclusion? He answered, I came out before it was done. But what said he in the midst? Indeed I was asleep in the midst. Many crowd to get into the church, but make no room for the sermon to get into them.

One charged a painter to draw him equum volitantem, a trotting or prancing horse; and he (mistaking the word) drew him equum volutantem, a wallowing or tumbling horse, with his heels upward. Being brought home, and the bespeaker blaming his error; I would have him prancing and you have made him tumbling. If that be all, quoth the painter, it is but turning the picture wrong side uppermost, and you have your desire. Thus in their quodlibetical discounts they can but turn the lineaments, and the matter is as they would have it. I speak not this to disgrace all their learning, but their fruitless, needless disputes and arguments, who find themselves a tongue, where the Scripture allows them none.

As when the desperate pirate, ransacking and rifling a bottom, was told by the master that though no law could touch him for the present he should answer it at the day of judgement; replied, Nay, if I may stay so long ere I come to it, I will take thee and thy vessel too. A conceit wherewith too many land-thieves, oppressors, flatter themselves in their hearts, though they dare not utter it with their lips.


Mitchell on Adams 04

More from W F Mitchell
... In the same year as he published The Sovles Sicknesse, five other sermons appeared from his hand under the general title of A Divine Herball. In the third of these, ‘The Contemplation of the Herbes,’ he enumerates various herbs and compares them to corresponding virtues, very much as he had previously compared diseases and vices. But, like so many who have tried to portray both virtues and vices, Adams was unable to give to his virtues the life and attractiveness of his vices. Besides, he may have wished to persuade the devout, who, it seems, looked askance at his free use of wit and fancy, that he had not really found pleasure in the lively depicting of sinners apart from his desire to warn men from sin, and have thought that a restrained and modified use of the character manner of writing would best effect the transition back from the purely entertaining to the definitely edifying. The Contemplation of the Herbes may therefore be regarded as Adams’ ‘Characters of Vertues.’ His effort, however, is dull after the parade of the Bedlamites or the ‘witty’ diagnoses of the spiritually diseased, and would not in itself have marked out Adams for mention from a number of earlier divines who essayed this kind of writing.
Apart from his characters Adams’ prose is interesting for its variety - the blending of old and new, the conceited and the rhetorical, with the freer, grander, more poetical, and, ultimately, more beautifully handled style of Bacon and Donne and Taylor. While himself playing no definite part in discarding the old and adopting the newer manner, Adams was keenly alive to the effect to be produced by reverting from time to time to the archaic manner or experimenting with the new. His sermons, in consequence, are a kind of literary workshop of the early seventeenth century, where we may see English prose in the making. Or, perhaps, a slipway might afford the better metaphor. Now and then we see the old rhetorical supports removed and the newly-built vessel ready to take the water; but just then Adams remembers that he is not there to follow the completion and subsequent adventures of his ship, but to turn out as many others as possible; and once again we are aware of the old beams - the age-old rhetorical devices - being called upon to perform their old service and support a fresh message. It was for others to choose the manner English prose should adopt; but it remains to Adams’ credit, as it gives to his work an additional importance, that he should have seen its possibilities, and amid the demands of a spiritual cure in a distracted time have experimented so interestingly with the materials he found to his hand.
All the main rhetorical forms which went to the making of the Euphuistic style, and which Professor Croll has shown in his study of that vogue to represent an attenuated but persistent survival of the Gorgianic or Isocratean figures, which descended to the Elizabethans by way of mediaevaI ecclesiastical prose, are profusely illustrated in Adams’ work. In it it is possible to study the antitheses familiar to students of Lyly in their traditional setting of the sermon, and to note the subtle transition from the old schematic prose to the more direct style of the Jacobeans. Many passages in Adams bristle with such rhetorical comparisons as the following
“... when the Sunne is hottest, the springs are coldest: and the more feruent the loue of God is to vs, the more cold is our charitie to him, and to others for him” [see note 1 below]
“It is written of the Thracian flint, that it burnes with water and is quenched with oyle: fit Embleme of those wicked soules that are the worse for God’s endeauour to better them. But such contrary effects hath the Gospel in contrary natures. As by the heat of the Sun waxe is softned, and yet clay is hardned : so by the preaching of the word the hearts of such as shall be saued are mollified; but the hearts of the lost are further obdurate.” [see note 2 below]
Much in the same way the openings of some of Adams’ sermons consist of a set of Lylyan antitheses used as a kind of definition, in the manner of Bacon in his Essays, each of which sets out with a kind of general statement developed in a series of brief rhetorical parallels. Thus the commencement of Eirenopolis: The Citie of Peace reads
“Peace is the Daughter of Righteousnesse; and the mother of knowledge, the nurse of Arts, and the improuement of all blessings. It is delectable to all that taste it, profitable to them that practise it; to them that look vpon it, amiable; to them that enioy it, a benefit inualuable. The building of Christianity knowes no other materials.” ...
1. Adams’ sermons are exceptionally rich in examples of paromoion; the following are some of the many examples to be met with in his works: ed. cit., p. 473 "His brain is full of humour, his heart of tumour, his tongue of romour [= rumour]"; ibid., p. 925: “Schola crucis, Schola lucis : there is no such Schoole instructing as the cross inflicting”; ibid., p. 921: “And indeed, if wee consider what Master we have seined, and what wages deserued, we haue just cause to abhorre our selves”; ibid., p. 1002 : “ There is the Diligite of the Heart, Loue your enemies. The Benedicite of the Tongue, Blesse them that curse you. The Benefacite of the Hand, Doe good to them that hate you. Loue your enemies, there is Affectus cordis ; Doe them good, there is Effectus operis; . . .“ The readiness with which this trait follows similar expressions in Latin points back to its origin, or rather the immediate spring of its influence in that language.
2. ‘The Fatall Banket,’ ed. cit., p. 220: the passage opening: “As in a faire Summers morning when the Larke hath called up the Sunne, and the Sunne the Husbandman: when the earth bath opened her Shop of perfumes, and a pleasant wind fannes coolenesse through the ayre; when every creature is reioyced at the heart; On a suddaine, &c’ is one of the finest in the whole range of Adams’ writings.


Mitchell on Adams 03

See pp 218ff of W Fraser Mitchell on English Pulpit Oratory
The Epicure
“I would faine speake (not only of him, but) with him. Can you tend it, Belly-god? The first question of my Catechism shall be, What is your name? Epicure. Epicure? What’s that? speake not so philosophically; but tell vs in plaine dealing what are you? A louer of pleasure, more than of God. One that makes much of my selfe; borne to hue, and lining to take mine ease. ... I beleeue that delicacies, junkets, quotidian feasts, suckets and marmulads are very delectable. I beleeue that sweet wine and strong drinkes; the best blood of the grape, or sweate of the come is fittest for the belly. I beleeue that midnight reuels, perfumed chambers, soft beds, close curtaines, and a Dalilah in mine armes, are very comfortable. I beleeue that glistring silkes, and sparkling Iewels, a purse full of golden charmes, a house neatly decked, Gardens, Orchards, Fish ponds, Parkes, Warrens, and whatsouer may yeeld pleasurable stuffing to the corpse, is a very heauen upon earth. I beleeue that to sleepe till dinner, and play till supper, and quaffe till midnight, and to daily till morning; except there be some intermission to toss some paynted papers, or to whine about squared bones ... this is the most absolute and perfect end of man’s life... (The 'Workes’ 1630, pp 498-9).

The Epicure dismissed (after a decidedly fine passage on the insecurity of all human tenures), the Proud is led in. First the proud man and then the proud woman is passed in review, and once more the passage is brought to an end by a reflection on human folly in the face of death. Here,as is also the case with Smith, we find the Puritan preacher joining hands with the Elizabethan pamphleteer in a highly-coloured portrayal of sin consumed by a loathsome and vividly realised mortality. Adams’ words might come straight from ‘Christs Tears Ouer Ierusalem’ and Nashe might be the writer:

“There is mortality in the flesh, thou so deckest: and that skin which is so bepainted with artificial complexion, shall lose the beauty and it selfe. Detrahetur novissimum velamentum cutis. You that sayle betwixt heauen and earth in your foure-sail'd vessels, as if the ground were not good enough to be pavements to the soles of your feet: know that the earth shall shall one day set her foote on your neckes, and the slime of it shall defile your sulphured beauties: dust shall fill up the wrinckled furrowes, which age makes, and paint supplies. Your bodies were not made of the substance whereof the Angels; nor of the nature of the starres, nor of the matter, wherof the fire, ayre, water, and inferiour creatures. Remember your Tribe, and your fathers poore house, and the pit whereout you were hewen: Hannibal is at the gates, death stands at your dores: be not proud, be not madde: you must die.” (The 'Workes’ 1630, p 500).

Sufficient has been quoted to show that Adams’ characters shared the tendency of all English characters to be “wits descant on any plaine song,” which is precisely Overbury’s definition of this kind of writing. In 1616 Adams again produced a gallery of characters, this time following a traditional framework for such sermons, and choosing a succession of diseases paralleled by moral distempers. Each form of illness is dealt with under ‘Cause,’ ‘Signes and Symptoms,’ and ‘Curation,’ and as many ‘witty’ parallels as possible are drawn between the physical and the spiritual complaint. This series, entitled The Soules Sicknesse: A Discovrse Divine, Morall, and Physicall, closely resembled in plan ‘A Christian Heavenly Treatise, containing Physic for the Soul,’ published just then by John Abernethy, minister at Jedburgh (and afterwards Bishop of Caithness), that Adams was at pains in his Epistle to the Reader to protest that his production had been “committed to the stationers hands, passed and allowed by authority; yea ... and, perhaps, an impression sold, before that of Mr John Abernethy’s came out.” This time nineteen characters appeared - some of them the same types treated afresh - and a considerable advance is perceptible in the power of ‘witty’ delineation. Of the vain-glorious man, whose condition is compared to ‘windinesse in the stomacke’ (disease 16), we are told
“... When he rides his masters great horse out of ken, he vaunts of him as his owne, and brags how much he cost him. He feeds vpon others curtesie, others meat: and (whether more?) either fats him. At his Inne he cals for chickens at spring, and such things as cannot be had whereat angry, he sups according to his purse with a red Herring. Farre enough from knowledge, he talkes of his castle, (which is either in the ayre or inchanted). .... In his hail, you shall see an old rusty sword hung vp, which he sweares killed Glendower in the hands of his Grandsire. He fathers vpon himselfe some villanies because they are in fashion; and so vilifies his credit to aduance it. ... He is indeed admirations creature, and a circumstantiall Mountebank.” (The 'Workes’ 1630, pp 470, 471).

The other characters are drawn with equal liveliness, and it is evident that the preacher, whatever the ostensible object of his portraits, has been carried away by his own device and become the character-writer. Perhaps Adams became conscious of this, or, what is more likely, he had exhausted the range of characters which he felt equal to presenting. ...


This quotation from Adams is found in Spurgeon's Treasury of David where he deals with Psalm 80:4 ("O Lord God of Hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?" ).
There may be infirmities enough in our very prayers to make them unacceptable. As if they be Exanimes, without life and soul; when the heart knows not what the tongue utters.
Or Perfunctoriae, for God will have none of those prayers that come out of feigned lips.
Or Tentativae, for they that will petere tentando, tempt God in prayer, shall go without.
Or Fluctuantes, of a wild and wandering discourse, ranging up and down, which the Apostle calls "beating the air, "as huntsmen beat the bushes, and as Saul sought his father's asses. Such prayers will not stumble upon the kingdom of heaven.
Or if they be Preproperae, run over in haste, as some use to chop up their prayers, and think long till they have done. But they that pray in such haste shall be heard at leisure.
Or sine fiducia; the faithless man had as good hold his peace as pray; he may babble, but prays not; he prays ineffectually, and receives not. He may lift up his hands, but he does not lift up his heart. Only the prayer of the righteous availeth, and only the believer is righteous. But the formal devotion of a faithless man is not worth the crust of bread which he asks.
Or sine humilitate, so the Pharisee's prayer was not truly supplicatio, but superlatio. A presumptuous prayer profanes the name of God instead of adoring it. All, or any, of these defects may mar the success of our prayers.