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"think Demosthenes superior to Cicero. I am per"suaded, no one can admire Cicero more than I do. "He adorns whatever he attempts. He does honour to "language. He disposes of words in a manner pecu. "liar to himself. His style has great variety of charac"ter. Whenever he pleases, he is even concise and "vehement; for instance, against Catiline, against "Verres, against Anthony. But ornament is too visi"ble in his writings. His art is wonderful, but it is "perceived. When the orator is providing for the
"safety of the republic, he forgets not himself, nor per"mits others to forget him. Demosthenes seems to "escape from himself, and to see nothing but his coun "try. He seeks not elegance of expression; unsought, "he possesses it. He is superior to admiration. He "makes use of language, as a modest man does of "dress, only to cover him. He thunders, he lightens. "He is a torrent which carries every thing before it. "We cannot criticise, because we are not ourselves. "His subject enchains our attention, and makes us for"get his language. We lose him from our sight; "Philip alone occupies our minds. I am delighted "with both these orators; but I confess that I am less "affected by the infinite art and magnificent eloquence of Cicero, than by the rapid simplicity of Demos.
The reign of eloquence among the Romans was very short. It expired with Cicero. Nor can we wonder
at this; for liberty was no more, and the government of Rome was delivered over to a succession of the most execrable tyrants that ever disgraced and scourged the human race.
In the decline of the Roman Empire the introduction of Christianity gave rise to a new kind of eloquence in the apologies, sermons, and pastors writings of the fathers. But none of them afforded very just models of eloquence. Their language as soon as we descend to the third or fourth century, becomes harsh; and they are generally infected with the taste of that age, a love of swollen and strained thoughts, and of the play of words.
As nothing in the middle ages deserves attention, we pass now to the state of eloquence in modern times. Here it must be confessed, that in no European nation public speaking has been valued so highly, or cultivated with so much care, as in Greece or Rome. The genius of the world appears in this respect to have undergone some alteration. The two countries, where we might expect to find most of the spirit of eloquence, are France and Great Britain; France on account of the distinguished turn of its inhabitants toward all the liberal arts, and of the encouragement which more than a century past these arts have received from the public; Great Britain on account of its free government, and the liberal spirit and genius of its people. Yet in nei
ther of these countries has oratory risen nearly to the degree of its ancient splendour.
Several reasons may be given, why modern eloquence has been so confined and humble in its efforts. In the first place, it seems, that this change must in part be ascribed to that accurate turn of thinking, which has been so much cultivated in modern times. Our public speakers are obliged to be more reserved than the ancients, in their attempts to elevate the imagination, and warm the passions; and by the influence of prevailing taste their own genius is chastened perhaps in too great a degree. It is probable also, that we ascribe to our correctness and good sense, what is chiefly owing to the phlegm and natural coldness of our disposition. For the vivacity and sensibility of the Greeks and Romans, especially of the former, seem to have been much superior to ours, and to have given them a higher relish for all the beauties of oratory.
Though the Parliament of Great Britain is the noblest field which Europe at present affords to a public speaker, yet eloquence has ever been there a more feeble instrument than in the popular assemblies of Greece and Rome. Under some foreign reigns the iron hand of arbitrary power checked its efforts; and in later times ministerial influence has generally rendered it of small importance. At the bar our disadvantage in comparison with the ancients is great. Among them
the judges were commonly numerous; the laws were few and simple; the decision of causes was left in a great measure to equity and the sense of mankind, Hence the field for judicial eloquence was ample. But at present the system of law is much more complicated. The knowledge of it is rendered so laborious, as to be the study of a man's life. Speaking is therefore only a secondary accomplishment, for which he has little leisure.
With respect to the pulpit it has been a great disadvantage, that the practice of reading sermons instead of repeating them has prevailed so universally in England. This indeed may have introduced accuracy; but eloquence has been much enfeebled. Another circumstance too has been prejudicial. The sectaries and fanatics before the restoration used a warm, zealous, and popular manner of preaching; and their adherents afterward continued to distinguish themselves by similar ardour. Hatred of these sects drove the established church into the opposite extreme of a studied coolness of expression. Hence from the art of persuasion, which preaching ought ever to be, it has passed in England into mere reasoning and instruction.
ELOQUENCE OF POPULAR ASSEMBLIES.
THE foundation of every species of eloquence, is good sense and solid thought. It should be the first' study of him, who means to address a popular assem
bly, to be previously master of the business on which he is to speak; to be well provided with matter and argument; and to rest upon these the chief stress. This will give to his discourse an air of manliness and strength, which is a powerful instrument of persuasion. Ornament, if he have genius for it, will succeed of course; at any rate it deserves only secondary regard.
To become a persuasive speaker in a popular assembly, it is a capital rule, that a man should always be persuaded of whatever he recommends to others. Ne ver, if it can be avoided, should he espouse that side of an argument, which he does not believe to be the right. All high eloquence must be the offspring of passion. This makes every man persuasive, and gives a force to his genius which it cannot otherwise possess.
Debate in popular assemblies seldom allows a speaker that previous preparation which the pulpit always, and the bar sometimes admits. A general prejudice prevails, and not an unjust one, against set speeches in public meetings. At the opening of a debate they may sometimes be introduced with propriety; but, as the debate advances, they become improper; they lose the. appearance of being suggested by the business that is going on. Study and ostentation are apt to be visible; and, consequently, though admired as elegant, they are seldom so persuasive as more free and unconstrained discourses.