Page images

Means of improving in Eloquence.

nected with the profession, or sort of public speaking to which persons devote themselves. This they should ever keep in view, and gradually Inure themselves to it. At the same time they should be cautious not to allow themselves to compose negligently on any occasion. He who wishes to write or speak correctly, should in the most trivial kind of composition, in writing a letter, or even in common conversation, study to express himself with propriety. By this we do not mean that he is never 10 write or speak, but in claborate and artificial language. This would introduce stiffness and affectation, infinitely worse than the greatest negligence. But we must observe that there is in every thing a proper and becoming manner; and on the contrary, there is also an awkward performance of the same thing. The becoming manner is often the most light, and seemingly most careless; but taste and attention are requisite to seize the just idea of it. That idea, when acquired, should be kept in view, and upon it should be formed, whatever we write or speak.

Exercises in speaking have always been recommended to students; and when under proper regulation, must be of great use. Those publie and promiscuous societies in which numbers are brought together who are frequently of low stations and occupations; who are connected by no common bond of union, except a ridiculous rage for public speaking, and have no other object in view than to exhibit their supposed talents, are institutions not only useless, but injurious. They are calculated to become seminaries of licentiousness, petulance, and faction. Even the al

Means of improving in Eloquence.

lowable meetings into which students of oratory may form themselves, need direction in order to render them useful. If their subjects of discourse be improperly chosen ; if they support extravagant or indecent topics; if they indulge themselves in loose and flimsy declamation; or accustom themselves without preparation to speak pertly on all subjects; they will unavoidably acquire a very faulty and vicious taste in speaking. It should therefore be recommended to all those who are members of such societies to attend to the choice of their subjects ; to take care that they be useful and manly, either connected with the course of their studies, or related to morals and taste, to action and life. They should also be temperate in the practice of speaking; not speak too often, nor on subjects of which they are ignorant; but only when they have proper materials for a discourse, and have previously considered and digested the subject. In speaking, they should be cautious always to keep good sense and persuasion in view, rather than a show of eloquence. By these means they will gradually form themselves to a manly, correct, and persuasive manner of speaking.

It may now be asked, of what use will the study of critical and rhetorical writers be to those who wish to excel in eloquence? They certainly ought not to be neglected ; and yet perhaps very much cannot be expected from them. It is how. ever from the original ancient writers that the greatest advantage may be derived ; and it is a disgrace to any one whose profession calls him to speak in public, to be unacquainted with them. In all the ancient rhetorical writers there is in

Means of improving in Eloquence.

deed one defect; they are too systematical. They aim at doing too much ; at reducing rhetoric to a perfect art, which may even supply invention with materials on every subject; so that one would suppose they expected to form an orator by rule, as they would form a carpenter. But in reality all that can be done, is to assist and enlighten taste, and to point out to genius the course it ought to hold.

Aristotle was the first who took rhetoric out of the hands of the sophists, and founded it on reason and solid sense. Some of the profoundest observations, which have been made on the passions and manners of men, are to be found in his Treatise on Rhetoric; though in this, as in all his writing, his great conciseness often renders him obscure. The Greek rhetoricians who succeeded him, most of whom are now lost, improved on his foundation. Two of them still remain, Demetreus Phalererus, and Donysius of Halicarnassus. Both wrote on the construction of sentences, and deserve to be consulted; particularly Dionysius, who is a very accurate and judicious critic.

To recommend the rhetorical writings of Cicero is superfluous. Whatever on the subject of eloquence, is suggested by so great an orator, must be worthy of attention. His most extensive work on this subject is that De Oratore. None of his writings are more highly finished than this treatise. The dialogue is polite; the characters are well supported, and the management of the whole is beautiful and pleasing. The Orator ad M. Brutum is also a valuable treatise ; and indeed through all Cicero's rhetorical



Comparison of the Ancients and Moderns.

works are displayed those sublime ideas of eloquence which are calculated to form a just taste, and to inspire that enthusiasm for the art which is highly conducive to excellence.

But of all ancient writers on the subject of oratory, the most instructive and most useful is Quintilian. His institutions abound with good sense, and discover a taste in the highest degree just and accurate. Almost all the principles of good criticism are found in them. He has well digested the ancient ideas concerning rhetorie, and has delivered his instructions in elegant and polished language.



A VERY curious question has been agitated with regard to the comparative merit of the ancients and moderns. In France, this dispute was carried on with great heat between Boileau and Madame Dacier for the ancients, and Perrault and La Motte for the moderns. Even at this day, men of letters are divided on the subject. A few reflections upon it may be useful.

To decry the ancient classics is a vain attempt. Their reputation is established upon too solid a foundation to be shaken. Imperfections may be traced in their writings; but to discredit their works in general can belong only to peevishness or prejudice. The approbation of the public

Comparison of the Ancients and Moderns.

through so many centuries establishes a verdict in their favour, from which there is no appeal.

In matters of mere reasoning, the world may be long in error ; and systems of philosophy often lave a currency for a time, and then die. But in objects of taste there is no such fallibility; as they depend not on knowledge and science, but upon sentiment and feeling. Now the universal feeling of mankind must be right; Ilomer and Virgil therefore inust continue to stand upon the same ground which they have so long occupied.

Let us guard however against blind veneration for the ancients, and institute a fair comparison between them and the moderns. If the ancients had the pre-eminence in genius, yet the moderns must have some advantage in all arts which are improved by the natural progress of knowledge.

Hence in natural philosophy, astronomy, chemistry, and other sciences, which rest upon observation of facts, the moderns have a decided superiority over the ancients. Perhaps too in precise reasoning, philosophers of modern ages are superior to those of ancient times ; as a more extensive literary intercourse has contributed to sharpen the faculties of men. The moderns have also the superiority in history and in political knowledge ; owing to the extension of commerce, the discovery of different countries, the superior facility of intercourse, and the multiplicity of events and revolutions which have taken place in the world. In poetry likewise some advantages have been gained in point of regularity and accuracy. In dramatic performances, improvements

« EelmineJätka »