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Nor can I think Quintilian a great critic in his own province. Just as are
many of his remarks, beautiful as are many of his illustrations, we
petually detect in his thoughts that flavor which the soil of despotism generally
communicates to all the fruits of genius. Eloquence was, in his time, little
more than a condiment which served to stimulate in a despot the jaded appetite
for panegyric, an amusement for the traveled nobles and the bluestocking
matrons of Rome. It is, therefore, with him rather a sport than a war; it is a
contest of foils, not of swords. He appears to think more of the grace of the
attitude than of the direction and vigor of the thrust. It must be acknowledged
in justice to Quintilian, that this is an error to which Cicero has too often
given the sanction both of his precept and his example.

Longinus seems to have had great sensibility but little discrimination. He gives us eloquent sentences, but no principles. It was happily said that Montesquieu ought to have changed the name of his book from «L'esprit de Lois » to “L'esprit sur les Lois. » In the same manner the philosopher of Palmyra ought to have entitled his famous work, not «Longinus on the Sublime,” but “The Sublimities of Longinus.” The origin of the sublime is one of the most curious and interesting subjects of inquiry that can occupy the attention of a critic. In our own country it has been discussed with great ability, and, I think, with very little success, by Burke and Dugald Stewart. Longinus dispenses himself from all investigations of this nature by telling his friend Terentianus that he already knows everything that can be said upon the question. It is to be regretted that Terentianus did not impart some of his knowledge to his instructor, for from Longinus we learn only that sublimity means height, or elevation. This pame, so commodiously vague, is applied indifferently to the noble prayer of Ajax in the « Iliad, and to a passage of Plato about the human body, as full of conceits as an ode of Cowley. Having no fixed standard, Longinus is right only by accident. He is rather a fancier than a critic.

Modern writers have been prevented by many causes from supplying the deficiencies of their classical predecessors. At the time of the revival of literature no man could, without great and painful labor, acquire an accurate and elegant knowledge of the ancient languages. And, unfortunately, those grammatical and philological studies, without which it was impossible to understand the great works of Athenian and Roman genius, have a tendency to contract the views and deaden the sensibility of those who follow them with extreme assiduity. A powerful mind which has been long employed in such studies, may be compared to the gigantic spirit in the Arabian tale, who was persuaded to contract himself to small dimensions in order to enter within the enchanted vessel, and, when his prison had been closed upon him, found himself unable to escape from the narrow boundaries to the measure of which he had reduced his stature. When the means have long been the objects of application, they are naturally substituted for the end. It was said by Eugene of Savoy, that the greatest generals have commonly been those who have been at once raised to command and introduced to the great operations of war without being employed in the petty calculations and maneuvres which employ the time of an inferior officer. In literature the principle is equally sound. The great tactics of criticism will, in general, be best understood by those who have not had much practice in drilling syllables and particles.

I remember to have observed among the French Anas a ludicrous instance of this. A scholar, doubtless of great learning, recommends the study of some long Latin treatise, -of which I now forget the name,- on the religion, manners, government, and language of the early Greeks. “For there,” says he, you will learn

everything of importance that is contained in the (Iliad) and (Odyssey,' without the trouble of reading two such tedious books. » Alas! it had not occurred to the poor gentleman that all the knowledge to which he had attached so much value was useful only as it illustrated the great poems which he despised, and would be as worthless for any other purpose as the mythology of Caffraria or the vocabulary of Otaheite.

Of those scholars who have disdained to confine themselves to verbal criticism, few have been successful. The ancient languages have, generally, a magical influence on their faculties. They were «fools called into a circle by Greek invoca. tions.) The Iliad ) and (Æneid ” were to them not books, but curiosities, or rather relics. They no more admired those works for their merits than a good Catholic venerates the house of the virgin at Loretto for its architecture. Whatever was classical was good. Homer was a great poet, and so was Callimachus. The espis. tles of Cicero were fine, and so were those of Phalaris. Even with respect to questions of evidence they fell into the same error. The authority of all narrations, written in Greek or Latin, was the same with them. It never crossed their minds that the lapse of five hundred years, or the distance of five hundred leagues, could affect the accuracy of a narration; that Livy could be a less veracious historian than Polybius; or that Plutarch could know less about the friends of Xenophon than Xenophon himself. Deceived by the distance of time, they seem to consider all the classics as contemporaries; just as I have known people in England, deceived by the distance of place, take it for granted that all persons who live in India are neighbors, and ask an inhabitant of Bombay about the health of an acquaintance at Calcutta. It is to be hoped that no barbarian deluge will ever again pass over Europe. But should such a calamity, happen, it seems not improbable that some future Rollin or Gillies will compile a history of England from Miss Porter's “Scottish Chiefs,» Miss Lee's «Recess, and Sir Nathaniel Wraxall's “Memoirs.”

It is surely time that ancient literature should be examined in a different manner, without pedantical prepossessions, but with a just allowance, at the same time, for the difference of circumstances and manners. I am far from pretending to the knowledge or ability which such a task would require. All that I mean to offer is a collection of desultory remarks upon a most interesting portion of Greek literature.

It may be doubted whether any compositions which have ever been produced in the world are equally perfect in their kind with the great Athenian orations. Genius is subject to the same laws which regulate the production of cotton and molasses. The supply adjusts itself to the demand. The quantity may be diminished by restrictions and multiplied by bounties. The singular excellence to which eloquence attained at Athens is to be mainly attributed to the influence which it exerted there. In turbulent times, under a constitution purely democratic, among a people educated exactly to that point at which men are most susceptible of strong and sudden impressions, acute, but not sound reasoners, warm in their feelings, unfixed in their principles, and passionate admirers of fine composition, oratory received such encouragement as it has never since obtained.

The taste and knowledge of the Athenian people was a favorite object of the contemptuous derision of Samuel Johnson,- a man who knew nothing of Greek literature beyond the common schoolbooks, and who seems to have brought to what he had read scarcely more than the discernment of a common schoolboy. He used to assert, with that arrogant absurdity which, in spite of his great abilities and virtues, renders him, perhaps, the most ridiculous character in literary history, that Demosthenes spoke to a people of brutes,- to a barbarous people, – that there could

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have been no civilization before the invention of printing. Johnson was a keen but a very narrow-minded observer of mankind. He perpetually confounded their general nature with their particular circumstances. He knew London intimately. The sagacity of his remarks on its society is perfectly astonishing. But Fleet Street was the world to him. He saw that Londoners who did not read were profoundly ignorant, and he inferred that a Greek who had few or no books must have been as uninformed as one of Mr. Thrale's draymen.

There seems to be, on the contrary, every reason to believe that in general intelligence the Athenian populace far surpassed the lower orders of any community that has ever existed. It must be considered that to be a citizen was to be a legislator, a soldier, a judge,-one upon whose voice might depend the fate of the wealthiest tributary state, of the most eminent public man. The lowest offices, both of agriculture and of trade, were in common performed by slaves. The commonwealth supplied its meanest members with the support of life, the opportunity of leisure, and the means of amusement. Books were, indeed, few, but they were excellent, and they were accurately known. It is not by turning over libraries, but by repeatedly perusing and intently contemplating a few great models, that the mind is best disciplined. A man of letters must now read much that he soon forgets, and much from which he learns nothing worthy to be remembered. The best works employ, in general, but a small portion of his time. Demosthenes is said to have transcribed, six times, the « History of Thucydides. If he had been a young politician of the present age, he might in the same space of time bave skimmed innumerable newspapers and pamphlets. I do not condemn that desultory mode of study which the state of things in our day renders a matter of necessity. But I may be allowed to doubt whether the changes on which the admirers of modern institutions delight to dwell have improved our condition as much in reality as in appearance. Rumford, it is said, proposed to the Elector of Bavaria a scheme for feeding his soldiers at a much cheaper rate than formerly. His plan was simply to compel them to masticate their food thoroughly. A small quantity thus eaten would, according to that famous projector, afford more sustenance than a large meal hastily devoured. I do not know how Rumford's proposition was received; but to the mind, I believe, it will be found more nutritious to digest a page than to devour a volume.

Books, however, were the least part of the education of an Athenian citizen, Let us, for a moment, transport ourselves in thought to that glorious city. Let us imagine that we are entering its gates, in the time of its power and glory. A crowd is assembled round a portico. All are gazing with delight at the entablature, for Phidias is putting up the frieze. We turn into another street; a rhapsodist is reciting there ; men, women, children, are thronging round him ; the tears are running down their cheeks; their eyes are fixed; their very breath is still; for he is telling how Priam fell at the feet of Achilles, and kissed those hands,- the terri. ble, the murderous, - which had slain so many of his sons. We enter the public place; there is a ring of youths, all leaning forward, with sparkling eyes, and gestures of expectation. Socrates is pitted against the famous atheist from Ionia, and has just brought him to a contradiction in terms. But we are interrupted. The herald is crying, “Room for the Prytanes.” The general assembly is to meet. The people are swarming in on every side. Proclamation is made,- (Who wishes to speak ?» There is a shout, and a clapping of hands; Pericles is mounting the stand. Then for a play of Sophocles; and away to sup with Aspasia. I know of no modern university which has so excellent a system of education.

Knowledge thus acquired, and opinions thus formed, were, indeed, likely to be, in some respects, defective. Propositions which are advanced in discourse gen

erally result from a partial view of the question, and cannot be kept under examination long enough to be corrected. Men of great conversational powers almost universally practice a sort of lively sophistry and exaggeration, which deceives, for the moment, both themselves and their auditors. Thus we see doctrines, which cannot bear a close inspection, triumph perpetually in drawing-rooms, in debating societies, and even in legislative or judicial assemblies. To the conversational education of the Athenians, I am inclined to attribute the great looseness of reasoning which is remarkable in most of their scientific writings. Even the most illogi. cal of modern writers would stand perfectly aghast at the puerile fallacies which seem to bave deluded some of the greatest men of antiquity. Sir Thomas Lethbridge would stare at the political economy of Xenophon, and the author of «Soirées de Petersbourg) would be ashamed of some of the metaphysical arguments of Plato. But the very circumstances which retarded the growth of science, were peculiarly favorable to the cultivation of eloquence. From the early habit of taking a share in animated discussion, the intelligent student would derive that readiness of resource, that copiousness of language, and that knowledge of the temper and understanding of an audience, which are far more valuable to an orator than the greatest logical powers.

Horace has prettily compared poems to those paintings of which the effect varies as the spectator changes his stand. The same remark applies with at least equal justice to speeches. They must be read with the temper of those to whom they were addressed, or they must necessarily appear to offend against the laws of taste and reason, as the finest picture, seen in a light different from that for which it was designed, will appear fit only for a sign. This is perpetually forgotten by those who criticise oratory. Because they are reading at leisure, pausing at every line, reconsidering every argument, they forget that the hearers were hurried from point to point too rapidly to detect the fallacies through which they were conducted ; that they had no time to disentangle sophisms, or to notice slight inaccuracies of expression; that elaborate excellence, either of reasoning or of language, would have been absolutely thrown away. To recur to the analogy of the sister art, these connoisseurs examine a panorama through a microscope, and quarrel with a scene painter because he does not give to his work the exquisite finish of Gérard Dow.

Oratory is to be estimated on principles different from those which are applied to other productions. Truth is the object of philosophy and history. Truth is the object even of those works which are peculiarly called works of fiction, but which, in fact, bear the same relation to history which algebra bears to arithmetic. The merit of poetry, in its wildest forms, still consists in its truth, -- truth conveyed to the understanding, not directly by the words, but circuitously by means of imaginative associations, which serve as its conductors. The object of oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion. The admiration of the multitude does not make Moore a greater poet than Coleridge, or Beattie a greater philosopher than Berkeley. But the criterion of eloquence is different. A speaker who exhausts the whole philosophy of a question, who displays every grace of style, yet produces no effect on his audience, may be a great essayist, a great statesman, a great master of composition, but he is not an orator. If he miss the mark, it makes no difference whether he have taken aim too high or too low.

The effect of the great freedom of the press in England has been, in a great measure, to destroy this distinction, and to leave among us little of what I call oratory proper. Our legislators, our candidates, on great occasions even our advocates, address themselves less to the audience than to the reporters. They think less of the few hearers than of the innumerable readers. At Athens, the case was different; there the only object of the speaker was immediate conviction and persuasion. He, therefore, who would justly appreciate the merit of the Grecian orators, should place himself, as nearly as possible, in the situation of their auditors; he should divest himself of his modern feelings and acquirements, and make the prejudices and interests of the Athenian citizens his own. He who studies their works in this spirit will find that many of those things which, to an English reader, appear to be blemishes, - the frequent violation of those excellent rules of evidence, by which our courts of law are regulated; the introduction of extraneous matter; the reference to considerations of political expediency in judicial investigations; the assertions, without proof, the passionate entreaties, the furious invectives,—are really proofs of the prudence and address of the speakers. He must not dwell maliciously on arguments or phrases, but acquiesce in his first impressions. It requires repeated perusal and reflection to decide rightly on any other portion of literature. But with respect to works of which the merit depends on their instantaneous effect, the most hasty judgment is likely to be best.

The history of eloquence at Athens is remarkable. From a very early period great speakers had flourished there. Pisistratus and Themistocles are said to have owed much of their influence to their talents for debate. We learn, with more certainty, that Pericles was distinguished by extraordinary oratorical powers. The substance of some of his speeches is transmitted to us by Thucydides, and that excellent writer has doubtless faithfully reported the general line of his arguments. But the manner, which in oratory is of at least as much consequence as the matter, was of no importance to his narration. It is evident that he has not attempted to preserve it. Throughout his work, every speech on every subject, whatever may have been the character or the dialect of the speaker, is in exactly the same form. The grave King of Sparta, the furious demagogue of Athens, the general encouraging his army, the captive supplicating for his life, all are represented as speakers in one unvaried style,-a style, moreover, wholly unfit for oratorical purposes. His mode of reasoning is singularly elliptical,- in reality most consecutive, yet in appearance often incoherent. His meaning, in itself sufficiently perplexing, is compressed into the fewest possible words. His great fondness for antithetical expression has not a little conduced to this effect. Everyone must have observed how much more the sense is condensed in the verses of Pope and his imitators, who never ventured to continue the same clause from couplet to couplet, than in those of poets who allow themselves that license. Every artificial division which is strongly marked, and which frequently recurs, has the same tendency. The natural and perspicuous expression which spontaneously rises to the mind, will often refuse to accommodate itself to such a form. It is necessary either to expand it into weakness, or to compress it into almost impenetrable density. The latter is generally the choice of an able man, and was assuredly the choice of Thucydides.

It is scarcely necessary to say that such speeches could never have been delivered. They are, perhaps, among the most difficult passages in the Greek language, and would, probably, have been scarcely more intelligible to an Athenian auditor than to a modern reader. Their obscurity was acknowledged by Cicero, who was as intimate with the literature and language of Greece as the most accomplished of its natives, and who seems to have held a respectable rank among the Greek authors. The difficulty to a modern reader lies, not in the words, but in the reasoning. A dictionary is of far less use in studying them than a clear head and a close attention to the context. They are valuable to the scholar, as displaying, beyond almost any other compositions, the powers of the finest languages; they are valuable to the philosopher, as illustrating the morals and manners of a most interesting age; they abound in just thought and energetic expression; but they do not enable us to form any accurate opinion on the merits of the early Greek authors.

Though it cannot be doubted that, before the Persian wars, Athens had produced eminent speakers, yet the period during which eloquence most flourished among her citizens was by no means that of her greatest power and glory. It

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