Слике страница
PDF
ePub

PECULIAR EXCELLENCE OF THE SPEECHES OF

THE GREEKS AND ROMANS.

BESIDES the other advantages of studying the elassical historians, there is one, which gentlemen of birth and fortune, qualified to manage public business, and sit as members in the most august assemblies, have a more considerable share in, than people of meaner condition. The speeches of the great men among the Greeks and Romans deserve their peculiar study and imitation, as being master-pieces of clear reasoning and genuine eloquence : the orators in the classics fairly state their case, and strongly argue it: their remarks are surprising and pertinent, their repartees quick, and their raillery clear and diverting. They are bold, without rashness or insolence; and severe, with good manners and decency. They do justice to their subject, and speak agreeably to the nature of things, and characters of persons. Their sentences are sprightly, and their morals sound. In short, no part of the compositions of the ancients is more finished, more instructive and pleasing, than their orations. Here they seem to exert their choicest abilities, and collect the utmost force of their genius. Their whole histories may be compared to a noble and delicious country, that lies under the favourable eye and perpetual smiles of the heavens, and is every where crowned with pleasure and plenty: but their choice descriptions and speeches seem like some peculiarly fertile and happy spots of ground in that country, on which Nature has poured out her riches with a more liberal band, and Art has made the utmost

improvements of her bounty. They have taken so much pains, and used such accuracy in the speeches, that the greater pleasure they have given the reader, the more they have exposed themselves to the censure of the critic. The orations are too sublime and elaborate; and those persons to whom they are ascribed, could not at those times compose or speak them. It is allowed, that they might not deliver themselves in that exact number and collection of words, which the historians have so curiously laid together; but it scarce can be denied, but the great men in history had frequent occasions of speaking in public; and it is probable, that many times they did actually speak to the same purpose. Fabius Maximus and Scipio, Cesar and Cato, were capable of making as good speeches as Livy or Sallust; and Pericles was an orator no ways inferior to Thucydides. When the reason of the thing will allow that there was time and room for premeditation, there is no question but many of those admirable men in history spoke as well as they are represented by those able and eloquent writers.

Blackwall.

ON THE ART OF ELOQUENCE.

ELOQUENCE is no other than a species of poetry, applied to the particular end of persuasion. For persuasion can only be effected by rouzing the passions of the soul; and these are only to be moved by a force impressed on the imagination, assuming the appearance of truth, which is the essential nature of poetical compositions. Thus

the lord Verulam : 'In all persuasions that are wrought by eloquence, and other impressions of a like nature, which paint and disguise the true appearance of things, the chief recommendation unto reason is from imagination. And the judicious Strabo, consistently with this theory, tells us that, in fact, the oratorical elocution was but an imitation of the poetical. "This appeared first, and was approved: they who imitated, took off the measures, but still preserved all the other parts of poetry in their writings. Such were Cad. mus the Milesian, Pherecydes and Hecatæus. Their followers then took something more from what was left, and at length elocution descended into the prose which is now among us.

Thus as the passions must have an apparent object of good or evil offered by the imagination in order to excite them ; so eloquence must offer apparent evidence ere it can be received and acquiesced in; for the mind cannot embrace known falshood : so that every opinion which eloquence instils, should be the pure result of rational conviction, and received by the mind as truth.

As eloquence is of a vague, unsteady nature, merely relative to the imaginations and passions of mankind; so there must be several orders or degrees of it, subordinate to each other in dignity, yet each perfect in their kind. The common end of each is persuasion : the means are different, according to the various capacities, fancies, and affections of those whom the artist attempts to persuade. The pathetic orator, who throws a congregation of enthusiasts into tears and greanings, would raise affections of a very different nature, should he attempt to proselyte an English parliament. As, on the other hand, the finest speaker that ever commanded the house, would in vain point the thunder of his eloquence on a Quaker-meeting. So again with regard to the oratory (it may be called so) of the bar, at a country assize (for the higher courts of justice admit not eloquence) it is easy to observe, what a different turn the learned connsel takes, in addressing himself to the the judge or jury. He is well aware, that what passes with the one for argument of proof, would be derided by the other as pasteboard declamation. This difference in the kind, with respect to the eloquence of the pulpit, is no less remarkable in different countries. Thus the very agreeable and sensible Voltaire observes, that in France (where reasoning hath little connection with religion) a sermon is a long declamation, spoken with rapture and enthusiasm. That in Italy (where taste and vertù give a tincture to superstition itself) a sermon is a kind of devotional comedy. That in England (where religion submits to reason) it is a solid dissertation, sometimes a dry one, which is read to the congregation without action or elocution. And he justly concludes, that the discourse which raiseth a French audience to the highest pitch of devotion, would throw an English one into a fit of laughter.

Browne.

[graphic]

THE ART OF ELOQUENCE RARELY ATTAINED. In ancient times, no work of genius was thought to require so great parts and capacity, as the speaking in public; and some eminent writers have pronounced the talents even of a great poet or philosopher, to be of an inferior nature to those requisite for such an undertaking. Greece and Rome produced, each of them, but one accomplished orator; and whatever praises the other celebrated speakers might merit, they were still esteemed much inferior to these great models of eloquence. It is observed, that the ancient critics could scarce find two orators, in any age, who deserved to be placed precisely in the same rank, and possessed the same degree of merit. Calvus, Cælius, Curio, Hortensius, Cesar, rose one above another; but the greatest of that age was inferior to Cicero, the most eloquent speaker who had ever appeared in Rome. Those of fine taste, however, pronounced this judgment of the Roman orator, as well as of the Grecian, that both of them surpassed in eloquence all that had ever appeared; but that they were far from reaching the perfection of their art, which was infinite, and not only exceeded human force to attain, but human imagination to conceive. Cicero declares himself dissatisfied with his own performances; nay even with those of Demosthenes : Ita sunt avidæ et capaces meæ aures, says he, et semper aliquid immensum, infinitumque desiderant.

This single circumstance is sufficient to make us apprehend the wide difference betwixt ancient and modern eloquence, and let us see how much

« ПретходнаНастави »