Page images

profitable and good. These make the three great subjects of discussion among mankind; truth, duty, and interest. But the arguments directed towards either of them are generically distinct; and he who blends them under one topic, which he calls his argument, as in sermons, especially, is too often done, will render his reasoning indistinct, and inelegant. Suppose, for instance, that I am recommending to an audience benevolence, or the love of our neighbour, and that I take my first argument, from the inward satisfaction which a benevolent temper affords; my second, from the obligation which the example of Christ lays upon us to this duty; and my third, from its tendency to procure us the good will of all around us ; my arguments are good, but I have arranged them wrong: for my first and third arguments are taken from considerations of interest, internal peace, and external advantages; and between these, I have introduced one which rests wholly upon duty. I should have kept those classes of argument, which are addressed to different principles in human nature, separate and distinct.

In the second place, with regard to the different degrees of strength in arguments, the general rule is, to advance in the way of climax, "ut augeatur semper, et increscat oratio." This especially is to be the course, when the speaker has a clear cause, and is confident that he can prove it fully. He may then adventure to begin with feebler arguments; rising gradually, and not putting forth his whole strength till the last, when he can trust to his making a successful impression on the minds of hearers, prepared by what has gone before. But this rule is not to be always followed. For, if he distrusts his cause, and has but one material argument on which to lay the stress, putting less confidence in the rest, in this case, it is often proper for him to place this material argument in the front; to pre-occupy the hearers early, and make the strongest effort at first; that, having removed prejudices, and disposed them to be favourable, the rest of his reasoning may be listened to with more candour. When it happens, that amidst a variety of arguments, there are one or two which we are sensible are more inconclusive than the rest, and yet proper to be used, Cicero advises to place these in the middle, as a station less conspicuous than either the beginning, or the end, of the train of reasoning.


[ocr errors]

In the third place, When our arguments are strong and sat isfactory, the more they are distinguished and treated apart from each other, the better. Each can then bear to be brought out by itself, placed in its full light, amplified and rested upon. But when our arguments are doubtful, and only of the presumptive kind, it is safer to throw them together in a crowd, and to run them into one another: "ut quæ sunt naturà imbecilla,' as Quintilian speaks, "mutuo auxilio sustineantur;" that though infirm of themselves, they may serve mutually to prop each other. He gives a good example, in the case of one who was accused of murdering a relation, to whom he was heir. Direct proof was wanting; but, " you expected a succession, and a great succession; you were in distrest circumstances; you were pushed to the utmost by your creditors; you had offended your relation, who had made you his heir; you knew that he was just then intending to alter his will; no time was to be lost. Each of these particulars, by itself," says the author," is inconclusive; but when they are assembled in one group, they have effect,"

Of the distinct amplification of one persuasive argument; we have a most beautiful example, in Cicero's oration for Milo. The argument is taken, from a circumstance of time. Milo was candidate for the Consulship; and Clodius was killed a few days before the election. He asks, if any one could believe that Milo would be mad enough, at such a critical time, by a most odious assassination, to alienate from himself the favour of people, whose suffrages he was so anxiously courting? This argument, the moment it is suggested, appears to have considerable weight. But it was not enough, simply to suggest it; it could bear to be dwelt upon, and brought out into full light. The orator, therefore, draws a just and striking picture of that solicitous attention with which candidates, at such a season, always found it necessary to cultivate the good opinion of the people. Quo tempore," says he, "(Sio enim quam timida sit ambitio, quantaque et quam solicita, cupiditas consulatûs) omnia, non modo quæ reprehendi palam, sed etiam quæ obscuré cogitari possunt, timemus. Rumorem, fabulam fictam et falsam, perhorrescimus; ora omnium atque oculos intuemur. Nihil enim est tam tenerum, tam aut fragile

aut flexibile, quam voluntas erga nos sensusque civium, qui non modo improbitati irascuntur candidatorum, sed etiam in recte factis sæpe fastidiunt." From all which he most justly concludes, " Hunc tiem igitur Campi, speratum atque exoptatum, sibi propones Milo, cruentis manibus, scelus atque facinus præ se ferens, ad illa centuriarum auspicia véniebat? Quam hoc in illo minimum credibile !"* But thougha such amplifications as this be extremely beautiful, I must add a caution,

In the fourth place, against extending arguments too far, and multiplying them too much. This serves rather to render a cause suspected, than to give it weight. An unnecessary multiplicity of arguments, both burdens the memory, and detracts from the weight of that conviction, which a few well chosen arguments carry. It is to be observed too, that in the amplification of arguments, a diffuse and spreading method, beyond the bounds of reasonable illustration, is always enfeebling. It takes off greatly from that "vis et acumen," which should be the distinguishing character of the argumentative part of a discourse. When a speaker dwells long on a favourite argument, and seeks to turn it into every possible light, it almost always happens, that, fatigued with the effort, he loses the spirit with which he set out; and concludes with feebleness what he began with force. There is a proper temperance in reasoning, as there is in other parts of a discourse.

After due attention given to the proper arrangement of arguments, what is next requisite for their success, is to express them in such a style, and to deliver them in such a manner, as

* Well do I know to what length the timidity goes of such as are candidates for public offices, and how many anxious cares and attentions, a canvass for the consulship necessarily carries along with it. On such an occasion, we are afraid not only of what we may openly be reproached with, but of what others may think of us in secret. The slightest rumour, the most improbable tale that can be devised to our prejudice, alarms and disconcerts us. We study the countenance, and the looks, of all around us. For nothing is so delicate, so frail, and uncertain, as the public favour. Our fellow-citizens not only are justly offended with the vices of candidates, but even on occasion of meritorious actions, are apt to conceive capricious disgusts. Is there then the least credibility, that Milo, after having so long fixed his attention on the important and wished for day of election, would dare to have any thoughts of presenting himself before the august assembly of the people, as a murderer and assassin, with his hands imbrued in blood?"

shall give them full force. On these heads I must refer the reader to the directions I have given in treating of style, in former lectures; and to the directions I am afterwards to give concerning pronunciation and delivery.

I proceed, therefore, next, to another essential part of discourse which I mentioned as the fifth in order, that is, the pa thetic; in which, if any where, eloquence reigns, and exerts its power. I shall not, in beginning this head, take up time in combating the scruples of those who have moved a question, whether it be consistent with fairness and candour in a public speaker, to address the passions of his audience? This is a question about words alone, and which common sense easily determines. In inquiries after mere truth, in matters of simple information and instruction, there is no question that the passions have no concern, and that all attempts to move them are absurd. Wherever conviction is the object, it is the understanding alone that is to be applied to. It is by argument and reasoning, that one man attempts to satisfy another of what is true, or right, or just; but if persuasion be the object, the case is changed. In all that relates to practice, there is no man who seriously means to persuade another, but addresses himself to his passions more or less; for this plain reason, that passions are the great springs of human action. The most virtuous man, in treating of the most virtuous subject, seeks to touch the heart of him to whom he speaks; and makes no scruple to raise his indignation at injustice, or his pity to the distressed, though pity and indignation be passions.

In treating of this part of eloquence, the antients made the same sort of attempt as they employed with respect to the argumentative part, in order to bring rhetoric into a more perfect system. They inquired metaphysically into the nature of every passion; they gave a definition, and a description of it; they treated of its causes, its effects, and its concomitants; and thence deduced rules for working upon it. Aristotle in particular has, in his Treatise upon Rhetoric, discussed the nature of the passions with much profoundness and subtility; and what he has written on that head, may be read with no small profit, as a valuable piece of moral philosophy; but whether it will have any effect in rendering an orator more pathetic, is to me

doubtful. It is not, I am afraid, any philosophical knowledge of the passions, that can confer this talent. We must be indebted for it to nature, to a certain strong and happy sensibility of mind; and one may be a most thorough adept in all the speculative knowledge that can be acquired concerning the passions, and remain at the same time a cold and dry speaker. The use of rules and instructions on this, or any other part of oratory, is not to supply the want of genius, but to direct it where it is found into its proper channel; to assist it in exerting itself with most advantage, and to prevent the errors and extravagancies into which it is sometimes apt to run. On the head of the pathetic, the following directions appear to me to be useful.

The first is to consider carefully, whether the subject admit the pathetic, and render it proper: and if it does, what part of the discourse is the most proper for attempting it. To determine these points belongs to good sense; for it is evident, that there are many subjects which admit not the pathetic at all, and that even in those that are susceptible of it, an attempt to excite the passions in the wrong place, may expose an orator to ridicule. All that can be said in general is, that if we expect any emotion which we raise to have a lasting effect, we must be careful to bring over to our side, in the first place, the understanding and judgment. The hearers must be convinced that there are good and sufficient grounds, for their entering with warmth into the cause. They must be able to justify to themselves the passion which they feel; and remain satisfied that they are not carried away by mere delusion. Unless their minds be brought into this state, although they may have been heated by the orator's discourse, yet, as soon as he ceases to speak, they will resume their ordinary tone of thought; and the emotion which he has raised will die entirely away. Hence most writers assign the pathetic to the peroration or conclusion, as its natural place; and, no doubt, all other things being equal, this is the impression that one would choose to make last, leaving the minds of the hearers warmed with the subject, after argument and reasoning had produced their full effect; but wherever it is introduced, I must advise,

« PreviousContinue »