« FöregåendeFortsätt »
If a multitude of rules could quicken the progress of the mind in any useful or elegant pursuit, there is no talent which would have been sooner carried to perfection than that of Eloquence, because there is none for the improvement of which Art has furnished us with so great a variety, or rather with so endless a detail of instructions. But we find, on the contrary, that the continually increasing number of rhetorical systems, and of critical observations, has a greater tendency to retard than to accelerate the career of genius; and that, even in the present boasted age
of reason and refinement, the accomplished orator is as uncommon and extraordinary a character as in the days of PERICLES and DEMOSTHENES, when
_" rezistless Eloquence
“ To Macedon and Artaxerxes' throne.” At the close of that brilliant period, which produced so many illustrious candidates for the palm of excellence in every species of composition, the decline of oratory was first owing to pedantry, affectation, and false taste ;-to the subtilties of Aristotle and his microscopic views of language ;--to the profusion of artificial ornaments, which
DEMETRIUS PHALEREUS introduced in the room of beau. tiful simplicity and natural grandeur ;-to the critic who chained down to earth the soaring pinion of genius, and to the popular speaker, who gave a wrong bias to public opinion in favour of the dazzling allurements of novelty.
Let it not be supposed that I am insensible of the merit of ARISTOTLE, whose acuteness, solidity, and accuracy have seldom been equalled, and never surpassed by any other writer. I view with peculiar admiration his grand outline of Natural History, as well as the immense materials which he collected with unwearied industry, and which he arranged with exquisite judgment, in the execution of his plan. Had he only reduced into proper order all the scattered knowledge of his time on such a variety of subjects, we should feel ourselves under very great obligations to him; but the richness of his own fund far surpassed all that he could borrow from others; and though, in the amazing number of his original experiments and practical observations, we find some which have not been confirmed in later ages, yet it must be acknowledged that they served as useful guides to succeeding inquirers into the animal and vegetable kingdoms.
But the information and assistance which Students in Natural History derived from the researches of ARISTOTLE, have been more than counterbalanced by the pernicibus effects of his other writings on the Art of Poetry, on Rhetoric, on Logic, and Metaphysics, which have puzzled the world ever since, and have really done far greater injury to polite literature, to philosophy, and eloquence, than all the dreadful ravages of the Goths and Vandals. These could only destroy some of the noblest incentives to emulation, the books, the records, the precious monuments of antiquity; but were unable to cramp and fetter the powers of the mind which produced such works. The 7
darkness spread by the barbarians, was temporary ;
but the twilight of false learning, or rather the spirit of subtile disquisition, which found its way into the schools with the works of ARISTOTLE, gave rise to a more lasting and more incurable evil than ignorance—the silly conceit of pedantry. I am sorry to add, that too many relics of this absurd system are still preserved, though experience has fully demonstrated, that youthful genius, if confined for a series of years to the go-cart of old academical institutions, will scarcely ever be able to walk alone with manly grace and dignity.
As I ventured to ascribe the first corruptions of genuine eloquence, even in the golden age of Grecian literature, to DEMETRIUS PHALEREUS, as well as to ARISTOTLE, I must now endeavour to do the same strict justice to the Orator, which I hope I have already done to the Critic, not suffering my admiration of the talents of either to make me overlook the baneful influence of their example. I am ready to confess that Demetrius was eminently qualified to rival the most applauded orators who had gone before him. Cicero describes him as a man of greater learning than any of them, but as fitter to appear on the parade than in the field : he marched forth into the dust and heat of the forum, not from a weather-beaten tent, but from the shady recess of erudition : he was the first who relaxed the force of eloquence, and gave her a soft and tender air, choosing rather to be agreeable than to be great or striking—to amuse his hearers rather than to warm their minds, or to inflame their passions--to impress them with a high opinion of his elegance, not, as was said of PERICLES, to sting, as well as to please.
Such is the character given of DEMETRIUS by Cia CERO * : QUINTILIAN speaks of him nearly in the same * De claris Oratoribus,
terms*; and DENINA, the ingenious Essayist on the Revolutions of Literature, comes still nearer to the point which I wish to inculcate, in his remark, “ that DemeTrius, though no wise inferior to any of his predecessors, yet perceiving that the proper path of oratory was become trite, resolved to be the first or only follower of a new species of rhetoric, rather than by imitating others to remain undistinguished: he therefore addicted himself to a figurative, flowery, polished, but soft and effeminate style, which universally pleased by its novelty, and in him, indeed, animated by the force and vivacity of uncommon genius, had some merit; but the herd of imitators quickly sunk into the utmost languor, and extinguished every spark of true eloquence.” Thus affectation completed what pedantry had begun; and Greece, alternately torn by intestine divisions, and enslaved by foreign tyrants, never after exhibited, but at very short intervals, even a transient gleam of its former glory.
Eloquence was not so rapid in her advances to perfection at Rome as she had been at Greece; but she retained somewhat longer her native charms and unimpaired energy. Could we suppose that the Speech over the dead body of LUCRETIA, ascribed to JUNIUS BRUTUS by Livy, had been Teally the composition of the Orator, and not of the His. torian, we should be surprised at the little progress which Eloquence made from that splendid beginning of the Roman republic till the termination of the Punic wars. But Livy, a writer of the most lively fancy and vigorous genius, never let slip an opportunity of making a masterly harangue, suited to the importance of the occasion, and to the character of the supposed speaker, thus animating the narrative, without doing any material injury to truth. We may however observe, in Cicero's sketch of illustri
* DEMETRIUS primus inclinasse eloquentiam dicitur.
ous orators, how thinly they were scattered through the long period here alluded to. He accounts for it on this principle, that an emulation to shine in all the splendors of language is not usually found among a people who are either employed in settling the form of their government, or engaged in war, or struggling with difficulties, or subjected to arbitrary power*. The Romans, indeed, had soon shaken off this last restraint; but they were afterwards involved in contests with their neighbours, in the still worse convulsions of domestic faction, and in those dreadful wars with the Carthaginians, the longest in their duration, and the least interrupted in their continuance, of any
that are recorded in ancient history. It is therefore from the destruction of Carthage, and from the consequent security and independence of Rome, that we must date the first grand effulgence of her ge. nius, which continued to beam forth with increasing lustre from that era till the united extinction of eloquence and liberty under the CÆSARS. How just is the observation of Cicero, who cannot be too often quoted upon this subject, that Eloquence is the attendant of peace, the companion of ease and prosperity, and the tender offspring of a free and well-established constitution +! We may add, that she cannot long survive the loss of any of these blessings, but least of all that of perfect freedom, which is fo essential to her existence. She felt, however, the enervating effects of pedantic instruction and of false refinements, before she sunk under the deadly influence of despotism. Among the number of Greek emigrants, who had fled to Rome for security and support, a great many taught Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, and all those perplexing systems, which never fail to destroy or enfeeble originality, by attempting to reduce into an art what had before
* De claris Oratoribus.