Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

commenced at the close of the Peloponnesian War. In fact, the steps by which Athenian oratory approached to its finished excellence seem to have been almost contemporaneous with those by which the Athenian character and the Athenian empire sunk to degradation. At the time when the little commonwealth achieved those victories which twenty-five eventful centuries have left unequaled, eloquence was in its infancy. The deliverers of Greece became its plunderers and oppressors. Unmeasured exaction, atrocious vengeance, the madness of the multitude, the tyranny of the great, filled the Cyclades with tears, and blood, and mourning. The sword unpeopled whole islands in a day. The plow passed over the ruins of famous cities. The imperial republic sent forth her children by thousands to pine in the quarries of Syracuse, or to feed the vultures of Egospotami. She was at length reduced by famine and slaughter to humble herself before her enemies, and to purchase existence by the sacrifice of her empire and her laws. During these disastrous and gloomy years oratory was advancing towards its highest excellence. And it was when the moral, the political, the military character of the people was most utterly degraded; it was when the viceroy of a Macedonian sovereign gave law to Greece, that the courts of Athens witnessed the most splendid contest of eloquence that the world has ever known.

The causes of this phenomenon it is not, I think, difficult to assign. The division of labor operates on the productions of the orator as it does on those of the mechanic. It was remarked by the Ancients that the Pentathlete who divided his attention between several exercises, though he could not vie with a boxer in the use of a cestus, or with one who had confined his attention to running in the contest of the stadium, yet enjoyed far greater general vigor and health than either. It is the same with the mind. The superiority in technical skill is often more than compensated by the inferiority in general intelligence. And this is peculiarly the case in politics. States have always been best governed by men who have taken a wide view of public affairs, and who have rather a general acquaintance with many sciences than a perfect mastery of one. The union of the political and military departments in Greece contributed not a little to the splendor of its early history. After their separation more skillful generals and greater speakers appeared, but the breed of statesmen dwindled and became almost extinct. Themistocles or Pericles would have been no match for Demosthenes in the assembly, or Iphicrates in the field. But surely they were incomparably better fitted than either for the supreme direction of affairs.

There is, indeed, a remarkable coincidence between the progress of the art of war and that of the art of oratory among the Greeks. They both advanced to perfection by contemporaneous steps and from similar causes. The early speakers, like the early warriors of Grecce, were merely a militia. It was found that in both employments practice and discipline gave superiority. Each pursuit, therefore, became first an art and then a trade. In proportion as the professors of each became more expert in their particular craft, they became less respectable in their general character. Their skill had been obtained at too great expense to be employed only from disinterested views. Thus, the soldiers forgot that they were citizens and the orators that they were statesmen. I know not to what Demosthenes and his famous contemporaries can be so justly compared as to those mercenary troops, who, in their time, overran Greece; or those who, from similar causes, were, some centuries ago, the scourge of the Italian republics,- perfectly acquainted with every part of their profession, irresistible in the field, powerful to defend or to destroy, but defending without love and destroying without hatred. We may despise the characters of these political Condottieri, but it is impossible to examine the system of their tactics without being amazed at its perfection. From his miscellaneous essays.

[ocr errors]

EPES SARGENT

(1812-1880)

PES SARGENT, author of "A Life on the Ocean Wave" and compiler of a series of "Speakers," which showed taste and judgment of a high order, was born at Gloucester, Massachusetts, September 27th, 1812. He was a journalist by profession and was for several years editor of the Boston Transcript. Retiring from it to devote himself to literature he published numerous works, original and compiled. Among his compilations his "Cyclopædia of English and American Poetry" shows the same admirable taste which he illustrated in compiling his "Speakers." His "ear" for melody and rhythm in language made his judgment of oratory invaluable, and his "Speakers," though now out of print, still command good prices. He died in Boston, December 31st, 1880.

ORATORY, ANCIENT AND MODERN

O

RATORY, which has its derivation from the Latin verb oro, signifying to plead, to beseech, may be defined as the art of producing persuasion or conviction by means of spoken discourse. The word eloquence, in its primary signification, as its etymology implies, had a single reference to public speaking; but it is applied by Aristotle, as well as by modern writers, to compositions not intended for public delivery. A similar extension of meaning has been given to the word rhetoric, which, in its etymological sense, means the art of the orator, but now comprehends the art of prose composition generally.

It is apparent, from the speeches attributed by Homer to the chiefs of the "Iliad," as well as by the commendations which he bestows on Nestor and Ulysses for their eloquence, that the art of oratory was early understood and honored in Greece. But it was not till Demosthenes appeared that Grecian eloquence reached its perfection. Demosthenes, who, by the consent of all antiquity, was the prince of orators, still maintains his pre-eminence. Of his style, Hume has happily said: "It is rapid harmony, exactly adjusted to the sense; it is vehement reasoning, without any appearance of art; it is disdain, anger, boldness, freedom, involved in a continued stream of argument; and of all human productions, the orations of Demosthenes present to us the models which approach the nearest to perfection." It is related of this great orator that, in his first address to the people, he was laughed at and interrupted by their clamors. He had a weakness of voice and a stammering propensity which rendered it difficult for him to be understood. By immense labor, and an undaunted perseverence, he overcame these defects; and subsequently, by the spell of his eloquence, exercised an unparalleled sway over that same people who had jeered at him when they first heard him speak in public. The speeches of Demosthenes were not extemporaneous. There were no writers of shorthand in his days, and what was written could only come from the author himself.

After the time of Demosthenes, Grecian eloquence, which was coeval with Grecian liberty, declined with the decay of the latter. In Rome, the military spirit, so incompatible with a high degree of civil freedom, long checked the growth of that popular intelligence which is the only element in which the noblest eloquence is nurtured. Rhetoricians were banished from the country as late as the year of the city 592. A few years subsequent to this period the study of oratory was introduced from Athens; and it at length found a zealous disciple and a consummate master in Cicero, whose fame is second only to that of his Athenian predecessor. The main causes to which the extraordinary perfection of ancient oratory is to be ascribed are the great pains bestowed on the education of the young in this most difficult art, and the practice among speakers of preparing nearly all their finest orations before delivery.

In modern times, oratory has not been cultivated with so much care as among the Ancients. The diffusion of opinions and arguments by means of the press has, perhaps, contributed in some degree to its neglect. A speaker is now mainly known to the public through the press, and it is often more important to him to be read than heard. Still, the power of oratory in republican countries must always be immense, and the importance of its cultivation must be proportionate. We see it flourish or decay according to the degree of freedom among the people, and it is a bad sign for a republic when oratory is slighted or undervalued. It was not till France began to throw off the trammels of her monarchical system that she produced a Mirabeau. Her parliamentary annals will show that the eloquence of her National Assembly has been in proportion to the predominance of the element of constitutional freedom in her government.

The struggle against incipient despotism in England, which resulted in the execution of King Charles I., was productive of some great bursts of eloquence from Vane, Pym, Eliot, and other champions of popular rights, whose speeches, however, have been strangely slighted by the majority of English critics. The latter part of the eighteenth century was illumined by the genius of Chatham, Pitt, Burke, Fox, Sheridan, and Grattan, all of whom were roused to some of their most brilliant efforts by the arbitrary course of government towards our ancestors of the American colonies. Ireland is well represented in this immortal list. Her sons have ever displayed a true genius for oratory.

The little opportunity afforded for the cultivation of forensic or senatorial eloquence by the different governments of Germany has almost entirely checked its growth in that country; and we may say the same of Italy, Spain, and Portugal, and most of the other countries of Europe. To the pulpit oratory of France the illustrious names of Bossuet, Bourdaloue, and Massillon have given enduring celebrity; and in forensic and senatorial eloquence France has not been surpassed by any modern nation. But it is only in her intervals of freedom that her senatorial eloquence reaches its high note.

The growth of eloquence in the United States has been such as to inspire the hope that the highest triumphs of oratory are here to be achieved. Already we have produced at least two orators, Patrick Henry and Daniel Webster, to whom none, since Demosthenes, in the authority, majesty, and amplitude of their eloquence can be pronounced superior. In proportion to the extent of our cultivation of oratory as an art worthy our entire devotion, must be our success in enriching it with new and precious contributions. And of the power of a noble oratory, beyond its immediate circle of hearers, who can doubt? "Who doubts?" asks Mr. Webster, "that in our own struggle for freedom and independence, the majestic eloquence of Chatham, the profound reasoning of Burke, the burning satire and irony of Barrè, had influence on our fortunes in America? They tended to diminish the

confidence of the British ministry in their hopes to subject us. There was not a reading man who did not struggle more boldly for his rights when those exhilarating sounds, uttered in the two houses of Parliament, reached him from across the seas.»

SUCCESS IN ORATORY

FOR

OR the attainment of the highest and most beneficent triumphs of the orator, no degree of labor can be regarded as idly bestowed. Attention, energy of will, daily practice, are indispensable to success in this high art. The author of "Self Formation» remarks: "Suppose a man, by dint of meditation on oratory, and by his consequent conviction of its importance, to have wrought himself up to an energy of will respecting it, this is the life and soul of his enterprise. To carry this energy into act, he should begin with a few sentences from any speech or sermon; he should commit them thoroughly, work their spirit into his mind, and then proceed to evolve that spirit by recitation. Let him assume the person of the original speaker, — put himself in his place, to all intents and purposes. Let him utter every sentence, and every considerable member of it—if it be a jointed one -distinctly, sustainedly, and unrespiringly; suiting, of course, everywhere his tone and emphasis to the spirit of the composition. Let him do this till the exercise shall have become a habit, as it were, a second nature, till it shall seem unnatural to him to do otherwise, and he will then have laid his corner stone."

Quintilian tells us that it is the good man only who can become a great orator. Eloquence, the selectest boon which Heaven has bestowed on man, can never ally itself, in its highest moods, with vice. The speaker must be himself thoroughly sincere, in order to produce a conviction of his sincerity in the minds of others. His own sympathies must be warm and genial, if he would reach and quicken those of his hearers. Would he denounce oppression? His own heart must be free from every quality that contributes to make a tyrant. Would he invoke mercy in behalf of a client? He must himself be humane, generous, and forgiving. Would he lash the guilty? His own life and character must present no weak points, to which the guilty may point in derision. And not only the great orator, but the pupil who would fittingly interpret the great orator, and declaim what has fallen from his lips, must aim at similar qualifications of mind and heart.

DIVISIONS OF ORATORY

TH

HE Greeks divided discourses according to their contents, as relating to precept, manners, and feelings; and as, therefore, intended to instruct, to please, and to move. But, as various styles may oftentimes be introduced into the same discourse, it is difficult to make a strictly accurate classification. The modern division,-into the eloquence of the pulpit, the bar, and the senate,—is hardly more convenient and comprehensive.

Oratory comprehends the four following divisions: invention, disposition, elocution, and delivery. The first has reference to the character of the sentiments employed; the second, to their arrangement, and the diction in which they are clothed; the third and fourth, to the utterance and action with which they are communicated to the hearer. It is the province of rhetoric to give rules for the invention and disposition of a discourse. It is with the latter two divisions of oratory that we have to deal in the present treatise.

ELOCUTION

E

LOCUTION is that pronunciation which is given to words when they are arranged into sentences, and form discourse. It includes the tones of voice, the utterance, and enunciation of the speaker, with the proper accompaniments of countenance and gesture. The art of elocution may, therefore, be defined to be that system of rules which teaches us to pronounce written or extemporaneous composition with justness, energy, variety and ease; and, agreeably to this definition, good reading or speaking may be considered as that species of delivery which not only expresses the sense of the words so as to be barely understood, but at the same time gives them all the force, beauty, and variety of which they are susceptible.

ELOCUTION AMONG THE ANCIENTS

HE Greeks and Romans paid great attention to the study of elocution. distinguished the different qualities of the voice by such terms as hard,

smooth, sharp, clear, hoarse, full, slender, flowing, flexible, shrill, and rigid. They were sensible to the alternations of heavy and light in syllabic utterance; they knew the time of the voice, and regarded its quantities in pronunciation; they gave to loud and soft appropriate places in speech; they perceived the existence of pitch, or variation of high and low; and noted further that the rise and fall in the pronunciation of individual syllables are made by a concrete or continuous slide of the voice, as distinguished from the discrete notes produced on musical instruments. They designated the pitch of vocal sounds by the term accent: making three kinds of accents, the acute ('), the grave (`), and the circumflex (^), which signified severally the rise, the fall, and the turn of the voice, or union of · acute and grave on the same syllable.

MODERN THEORIES OF ELOCUTION - THE MEASURE OF SPEECH

OR the modern additions to elocutionary analysis, we are indebted mainly to the labors of Steele, Walker, and Dr. James Rush, of Philadelphia.

The measure of speech is elaborately explained by Mr. Steele in his "Prosodia Rationalis." According to his analysis, measure, as applied to speech, consists of a heavy or accented portion of syllabic sound, and of a light or unaccented portion, produced by one effort of the human voice. In forming the heavy or accented syllable, the organs make a stroke or beat, and, however instantaneous, are placed in a certain position, from which they must be removed before they make another stroke. Thus, in the repetition of fast, fast, there must be two distinct pulsations; and a pause must occur betwixt the two, to enable the organs to recover their position. But the time of this pause may be filled up with a light syllable, or one under remission; thus, faster, faster, occupy the same time in the pronunciation as fast, fast. This remiss or light action of the voice may extend to two and three syllables, as in circumstance, infinitely, etc. The stroke or pulsative effort of the voice, then, can only be on one syllable; the remission of the voice can give several syllables after the pulsation. This pulsation and remission have been illustrated by the planting and raising of the foot in walking; hence the Thesis and Arsis of the Greeks. The first is the pulsative, the second

« EelmineJätka »