Слике страница

descanted on the exploits of the Athenians over the Medes, until they were interrupted by Sylla, who took a practical view of the position, and said “Gentlemen orators, you may go back, and keep your rhetorical flourishes for another occasion ; for my part I was not sent to Athens to be made acquainted with your ancient prowess, but to chastise your modern revolt.”

Though I have referred to Greece only as a school of eloquence, I should not omit the fact, that amongst all nations having any pretension to civilization or literature, oratory was highly esteemed. The Arabs valued themselves on eloquence as the highest of their accomplishments, and the title of “ Kliâteb,” or orator, was one of the greatest marks of distinction amongst them. And so persuaded were they of their superiority in eloquence, that they would not admit that any nation understood the art of speaking in public except themselves and the Persians; the latter, however, being in their estimation far inferior to themselves. To illustrate the appreciation of eloquence and purity of language amongst the Arabs, I may mention that the Koran is said to be a specimen of the utmost elegance of language; it is written in the dialect of the tribe of Koreish, the most accomplished amongst the Arabs, with some mixtures, though rare, of other dialects. It is confessedly the standard of the Arabic tongue, the most ancient language in the world ; and, as orthodox Mahometans believe, and are taught by the book itself, inimitable by any human pen, and therefore supposed to be alone sufficient to convince the world of its divine origin. And in several passages of the Koran, Mahomet challenges the most eloquent men in Arabia to produce a single chapter to be compared with it. Chap. 2. Chap. 17. Not being acquainted with Arabic, I have failed to appreciate the beauties of the Koran; for Slade's translation, though possibly very accurate, has no pretensions to any superiority in eloquence.

It is not within the design of this lecture to occupy you with any comments on the qualities that tend to form perfect orators. The treatises on this subject are numerous and varied, and the question has been exhausted ; yet the whole matter may be comprised in one sentence of Plato's Gorgias, who says, “that an orator should have the subtlety of a logician, the science of a philosopher, the diction of a poet, and the voice and gesture of an accomplished actor.” These are combinations very rarely to be met with in any single individual.

In considering the peculiar art by which orators have from time to time succeeded in arresting the attention and engaging the sympathies of their audiences, we must feel that the topics have been as varied as the occasions that elicited them, and as different as the audiences to which they were addressed. The language that is attractive to one nation is unfitted for another; the expressions that will elicit applause from a popular meeting, will probably produce a feeling of repugnance and disgust in a more educated assembly. As instances of the difference of language employed with different nation's, I may refer to the following illustrations. Napoleon the First roused the enthusiasm of his soldiers, at one of his most celebrated battles in Egypt, by showing them the Pyramids, and saying— “Soldats, quarante siècles vous regardent.” Now, if an English general were to attempt to stimulate his men by telling them that forty centuries were looking down on them, he would simply fail to make himself understood. At the siege of Ismael, when the Russian army were dismayed at the height of the ramparts, Suwarrow exclaimed to those near him—“You see those walls, they are very high ; but the Empress commands us to take possession of them !” In the early days of the caliphs a Mussul. man general, seeing his men flying, cried out“Whither are you running? the enemy is not in that direction. You have been told that the caliph is dead, but what matter if he be living or dead; God is living, and is looking at you. Forward ! March !”

Contrasted with these exciting appeals we have Nelson's famous signal at the great battle that closed his brilliant career—“England expects that every man will do his duty.” Thus we have the Frenchman stimulated by love of glory, the Englishman by a sense of duty, the Russian by attachment to his sovereign, and the Mussulman by devotion to his God!

A very singular mode of influencing an audience was adopted by Cato, the Censor, whose hostility to

the Carthagenians was so intense, that he concluded all his speeches in the Roman senate with these words—“Carthage must be destroyed.” On one occasion, at the termination of an address to the senate, he let fall from his robe, as if by accident, some Lybian figs; and when the senators expressed their admiration of the size and appearance of the fruit, he said—“The country where this fruit grows is only three days' sail from Rome.” A suggestion well understood by the audience to which it was addressed.

But notwithstanding this difference in national feelings and sentiments, and the diversity in the education and opinions of assemblies, there are some principles that public speakers have always kept in view as the foundation of all successful oratory, some arts that have been almost universally resorted to, in various shapes, to carry conviction and ensure success. The first and principal object of a public speaker is to impress his audience with a conviction of his sincerity. This is generally effected, whenever the occasion permits it, by showing that the interests of his hearers are identical with his own; by associating himself as far as possible with their sentiments and opinions, and by impressing them with the conviction that they are likely to derive a personal benefit by adopting his views.

I cannot better illustrate these observations than by referring to the opening sentence of the celebrated speech of Demosthenes “on the Crown.” The occasion on which it was delivered was the following.

Demosthenes, whose opposition to Philip of Macedon had excited the hostility of the partisans of that monarch, had impeached Aeschines; and the latter, who was supported by all the interest of the king of Macedon, resolved to retaliate on the first opportunity. This was afforded him by Ctesiphon, who was a personal friend of Demosthenes, having proposed that he should be presented with a golden crown as an acknowledgment of his services to the state in spending a considerable sum of his own private money in the repairs of the walls of Athens. The impeachment of Ctesiphon was a direct attack on Demosthenes, and the very eloquent oration of Aeschines delivered on that occasion was entirely directed against him. When Demosthenes came to defend himself before the assembly of the people, of whom about five hundred had the privilege of voting on the occasion, he commenced thus—“In the first place, ye men of Athens, I make my prayer to all the powers of heaven that the same amount of kindly feeling which I entertain towards the state, and to each of you individually, may be extended to me in this important trial.”

Nothing could be better adapted to a popular audience, nothing more calculated to secure the attention and enlist the sympathies of his countrymen.

The Athenians must have observed to each other on hearing this opening sentence—“How perfectly fair this is. How very reasonable! How conscious he must be of his own honesty.” This opening

« ПретходнаНастави »