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HE reader of history cannot fail to have
observed the many remarkable instances
of extraordinary influence acquired and retained by individuals over nations and communities.
That men distinguished for their achievements in war should have attained this pre-eminence is perfectly reasonable; they will be naturally selected as leaders—amongst peaceable nations, for the purpose of protecting their territories, and with warlike populations, to extend their dominions. Furthermore, men of tried wisdom and practical experience will be sought for; and their worth being proved, they will be retained in authority, as a course the most advantageous to the nation with whose interests they have associated themselves. The selection of kings and generals mentioned by Tacitus is in accordance with the dispositions and interests both of nations and individuals. “They select their kings for their nobility, their generals for their valour"_“Reges ex nobilitate, duces ex virtute sumunt.” But when we find nations governed in their public conduct by men who, apart from their eloquence, don't appear gifted with the particular practical qualifications that usually command esteem and respect; who are neither remarkable for physical courage in war, nor for the successful management of their domestic affairs ; when we find Demosthenes successfully exciting the Athenians to engage in new wars, though it was well known that he had run away from the battle-field; when we find William Pitt entrusted with the fate and destiny of an empire, though unequal to the management of his domestic affairs—we are led to consider to what we are to attribute the peculiar influences that orators have ever exercised over human society. This extraordinary power has been in existence before history; it is coeval with the use of language ; it has existed before the rules of rhetoric, just as various dialects have been formed before grammar was known; it has exercised its influence in every clime and in every age.
It is not peculiar to any institutions or any government; its cause and origin must be traced to the human heart, to the peculiar susceptibilities of mankind, and to the mode in which these susceptibilities are operated on and influenced.
Most men, and nations in proportion to their civilization, derive pleasure from a combination of agreeable sounds; and the soft cadences of the human voice, when tuned to harmony, are unsurpassed in their effect, whether to soothe or to excite.
Music is peculiarly attractive; it exercises a very considerable influence, particularly over large assemblies, and has been adopted as an important element in modern education. Amongst the ancients, its importance was much more felt than in these days of rigid practical utilitarianism. Music may be said to have been the basis of Greek education. The term “Mousike" occasionally comprehended everything connected with the expansion of the mind; but music itself, including poetry, held the first place in the system of juvenile instruction. It is remarkable, that next to music came “ Arithmetic;" a strange combination of the coldest and driest with the most passionate and imaginative of human studies.
The pursuit and study of kindred arts led to the appreciation of oratory. With such a system of national education, Eloquence, the sister of Poetry, was sure to be held in high estimation; and the institutions of ancient Greece were in themselves highly favourable to the cultivation of oratory. The study of Eloquence was adopted as a profession in itself, not, as in the present day, as ancillary to some other profession; not merely to ensure success at the Bar, or in the Senate, or to add to the influence of the Pulpit. Oratory was adopted as an independent pursuit, and the men who were successful in the practice of it were not only remarkable in their own time, but have transmitted their fame to
The several states of Greece—the independent monarchs who had occasion to enter into
treaties with them, had their staff of paid orators, who were deputed, as occasion might require, to represent as ambassadors the monarch or the particular state that had retained for the time the benefit of their professional services, and by their eloquence to sustain the particular interests that they were paid to support. As the constitution of the States of Greece generally entitled the population at large to decide on public affairs, ambassadors were not deputed to the head of the state, but to the people ; and the duties of these ambassadors were, ostensibly at least, of a much more active kind than falls to the lot of those who discharge the important functions of the office in the present day. I may instance Pithon, the Bysantian, who was in the pay of Philip of Macedon, and who was constantly employed as one of his ambassadors, and on one memorable occasion was deputed to the Council of Beotia to oppose the eloquence of Demosthenes, who attended there as one of the representatives of Athens.
These orators were recognised as advocates, and were not personally bound to continue to sustain the particular views which they were employed to support after that employment had ceased; consistency in political views was not expected from them, neither did these oratorical ambassadors always find their eloquence successful. At the siege of Athens by Sylla, (B.C. 87,) a deputation from the besieged waited on the Roman general
. They did not make any distinct proposition, but they were loud in the praises of Theseus and other of their heroes, and