IN entering upon a course of lectures on subjects, which have not hitherto been treated, as separate branches of instruction at this place, and which must in some sort bear the characters of novelty, it will be proper to take a general view of the nature and extent of the field before us. Although, until this time, no specific and peculiar establishment, confined to rhetoric and oratory, has existed, yet the pupils of this seminary have not been destitute of instruction upon its most essential parts, under the direction of teachers in the kindred arts of grammar, or language in general, and of logic. As these departments of study still remain, and the institution, under which I appear, has been superadded to them, by embracing a part of their duties, a preliminary consideration requires, that we should ascertain precisely what is the compass and extent of this art, and where are the lines, by which it is separated from the study of language in general, without which it cannot exist at all; and from the art of reasoning, without which that of oratory would be destitute of all solid foundation.
The subjects, upon which it is my province to discourse, are rhetoric and oratory; terms, which in ordinary language are often used, as synonymous in their meaning; but which are to be distinguished, as properly applying, the former to theory, and the latter to the practice of the art. This distinction will become the more obvious from the consideration, that the terms are, even in common understanding, no longer convertible, when modified to designate the persons, professing them; and the difference between the rhetorician and the orator, is instantly perceived and distinctly conveyed, by the mere use of these respective appellations. This distinction it will be proper constantly to bear mind. It is always useful to mark. the difference, as well as the relation between the cause and its effect; and in the progress of our discussion we shall have frequent occasion separately and distinctly to examine as well the principles of the rhetorician, as the performances of the orator.
The definitions of rhetoric, by the ancient writers upon the art, are so numerous and so various, not only in the selection of their terms, but in the ideas, which they embrace, that Quinctilian, after recapitulating and submitting to the test of critical examination a great number of them, declares, that every new author seemed possessed with the foolish ambition of discarding all definitions, before adopted by any other, and determined at all events to give one of his own. Among the many imperfect, redundant, and affected forms, which this rage for novelty of expression, and this studied indocility to the toils of preceding laborers, have occasioned, I shall present to your consideration only these of the three great masters, from whom every thing of real importance to the art has been derived, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quinctilian himself. Rhetoric, says Aristotle, is the power of inventing whatsoever is persuasive in discourse.
This is liable to two objections. First, as it includes only one part of the art, invention, omitting the essential requisites of disposition and elocution. And secondly, though persuasion be one of the principle ends of rhetoric, it is not exclusive1y so. Of a very important and extensive class of discourses, styled by Aristotle himself, and by all the other ancient rhetoricians, demonstrative orations, persuasion is not even the principal end; and, even in the fields of deliberative and judicial eloquence, all the arts of rhetoric have often been employed without producing persuasion.
This difficulty stands yet more conspicuously in the way of Cicero's definition, the art of persuasion; a definition, appearing indeed only in the rhetorical compilations of his youth, of which he himself afterwards entertained a very indifferent opinion. To say, that rhetoric is the art of persuasion, is to make success the only criterion of eloquence. Persuasion must in a great measure depend upon the will, the temper, and the disposition of the hearer. If the adder will turn away his ear, what persuasion is there in the voice of the charmer? Persuasion then is not the infallible test of the rhetorical art; neither is rhetoric exclusively in possession of persuasion. To enumerate all the instruments of persuasion, would be to give a catalogue of all the passions and motives, which can, without the exercise of force, be made to operate upon the human mind.
Persuasive speech, and more persuasive sighs,
Silence, that speaks, eloquence of eyes.
POPE’S ILIAD, XIV. 250.
To this it has been justly replied, that persuasion, being so nearly identified with the ultimate purpose of all oratorical art, may without danger be admitted, as the same in every case, where philosophical precision is unnecessary. Of deliberative and judicial eloquence persuasion is the great and fundamental object; and the public speaker, in composing or pronouncing his discourse, should never lose sight of this principle. There is no better test for the correctness of any precept in the science of rhetoric, nor for the excellence of any example in the practice of oratory, than its aptitude to persuasion. But as the object of a scientific definition is to comprise in the fewest words the whole substance of the term defined, and nothing more, it must be allowed, that those of Aristotle and Cicero are not absolutely unexceptionable.
The definition, adopted by Quinctilian from some former writer, whom he does not name, is more correct, more precise, and comprehensive. Rhetoric in his judgement [sic] is the science of speaking well. The principal reason, which he assigns for preferring this definition to all the rest, may perhaps be controverted, for he contends, that it includes the moral character of the speaker, as well as the excellence of speech; because none but an honest man can speak well. I shall on a future occasion examine impartially, and endeavor to ascertain precisely the true value of this opinion, which is so warmly advocated by all the great orators of antiquity. At present I shall only remark that admitting the maxim in its fullest latitude, it does not appear to me to be necessarily implied in this definition; nor can I admit the argument, as decisive for giving it the preference.
The reasons, which I deem far more conclusive for adopting it, are its comprehensive simplicity, and its remarkable coincidence with that virtual definition of the art, contained in the holy scriptures. The art of speaking well embraces in the fewest possible words the whole compass of the subject. You can imagine no species of rhetorical excellence, which would not be included in the idea, and the idea involves nothing beyond the boundaries of the art. It is full without redundance, and capacious without obscurity.
It has also the sanction of holy writ. Observe the force of the expressions, used in the solemn interview between the supreme Creator and
“ That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
“ In the beginning, how the heavens and earth
“ Rose out or chaos.”
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant. What is the eventual reply? Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. In the language of sacred inspiration itself, to speak well is precisely equivalent to the art of eloquence, and in this definition the words of Quinctilian are ratified by the voice of heaven.
His approbation of another definition,.which includes in the idea of rhetoric the art of thinking, together with that of speaking well, is not warranted by the same infallible authority. The connexion [sic] between genuine rhetoric and sound logic is indeed indissoluble. All good speaking must necessarily rest upon the basis of accurate thinking. But to form a precise idea of the two arts, we must carefully distinguish them from each other, and confine them to their respective peculiar departments; logic to the operations of the mind, within itself; rhetoric to the communication of their results to the minds of others. In this view logic is the store house, from which the of rhetoric are to be drawn. Logic is the arsenal, and rhetoric the artillery, which it preserves. Both have their utility; both contribute to the same purposes. But the arts themselves are as distinct, as those of the architect, who erects the building, and of the armorer [sic], who fabricates the weapons. Thus Aristotle who perceived as well the clear distinction, as the necessary relation between these faculties, has treated of them in two distinct works; and unfolded their mysteries with all the energies of his profound, comprehensive, and discriminating genius.
Equally proper and necessary will it be to separate in our minds the science of rhetoric, or of speaking well, from that of grammar, or the science of speaking correctly. Grammar stands in the same relation to rhetoric, that arithmetic bears to geometry. Rhetoric is not essential to grammar, but grammar is indispensable to rhetoric. The one teaches an art of mere necessity; the other, an art of superadded ornament. Without a system of grammatical construction, the power of speech itself would be of no avail,and language would be a mere intellectual chaos; a perpetual Babel of confusion. But the powers of grammar extend no farther, than to the communication of ideas. To delight the imagination, or to move the passions, you must have recourse to rhetoric. Grammar clothes the shadowy tribes of mind in the plain, substantial attire of a quaker; rhetoric arrays them in the glories of princely magnificence. Grammar is sufficient to conduct you over the boundless plains of thought; but rhetoric alone has access to the lofty regions of fancy. Rhetoric alone can penetrate to the secret chambers of the heart.
If then we adopt the definition of Quinctilian, that rhetoric is the science of speaking well, we may apply the same terms to define oratory, substituting only the word art, instead of science. In this respect our language offers a facility, which neither the Greek nor the Latin possessed. The Greeks had no term to designate the art, as distinguished from the theory. Their science was rhetoric, and their speaker was a rhetor. The Romans adopted the first of these words, as they received the science from Greece. To signify the speaker they used the word orator, derived from their own language. Some attempts were made to put in circulation the term oratoria, but they were resisted by their philological critics, and it is expressly censured and rejected by Quinctilian, as irreconcileable [sic] with their etymological analogies. The want of the proper word is most strikingly discovered in the titles of Cicero's rhetorical works. At one time it led him to the necessity of assuming a part for the whole, and of styling four books of rhetoric a treatise upon invention. At another it compelled him to embody the talent itself in the person of the speaker, and denominate his system of oratory, the orator. The English language however has been less scrupulous in its adherence to the niceties of etymology. It has admitted the term oratory, which the Romans so fastidiously excluded, and annexes to it a modification of idea, distinct from that of the Grecian term, which has also been made English by adoption. Thus accumulating our riches from the united funds of Grecian genius and of Roman industry, we call rhetoric the science, and oratory the art of speaking well.
But to avoid misapprehension, a further explanation of the sense, in which the words are to be understood, appears to be necessary. Speech is the most ordinary vehicle of communication between men, in all their relations with one another, whether of a public or private nature. By the art or science of speaking well, it is not intended to give rules for a system of private conversation in the domestic intercourse of a family, or in the ordinary associations of business or of friendship. There are doubtless frequent occasions, when the means of oratorical persuasion may be used, as seasonably and as usefully in private, as in public; between two individuals, as before a numerous audience.
Talk logic with acquaintance, that you have,
And practise [sic] rhetoric in your common talk,
says one of the characters in Shakspeare [sic] to his collegiate friend; and the advice is good. But it is not for this, that an artificial system of eloquence was ever constructed, or ought ever to be taught. A musician of taste and skill will habitually give to his voice, even in ordinary conversation, more melodious and variegated inflexions, than a person ignorant of his art; yet this is no reason for him to modulate his voice in conversation by the scale of his gamut. It is unquestionably true, that those move easiest, who have learnt to dance; but this is no reason for entering a room with the steps of a minuet, or walking the streets in a hornpipe. Equally absurd would it be to exercise in the familiar converse of life the practices of an orator by system; and we must be always understood, as having reference to public speaking, when we define oratory, as the art of speaking well.
Oratory then is an art. This point has not been seriously controverted in modem times; though among the ancients it was debated with great warmth and ingenuity. A more important question however, which has been agitated in all ages, and will perhaps never be placed altogether beyond the reach of controversy, is, whether oratory can be numbered among the useful arts? Whether its tendencies are not as strong to the perversion, as to the improvement of men ? Whether it has not more frequently been made an engine of evil, than of good to the world? Or whether at best it is not one of those frivolous arts, which consists more in arbitrary, multifarious subdivisions and hard words, than in any real, practical utility. The question is to you, my friends, of so much importance, that in justice to you, to myself, and to the institution, under which I address you, I think a more ample consideration of its merits proper and necessary. Your time and your talents are precious, not only to yourselves, but to your connexions [sic], and to your country. They ought therefore not to be wasted upon any trifling or unprofitable, and much less to be mispent [sic] upon any mischievous pursuit. In the observations, which I shall now submit to you, it is my intention to suggest the peculiar utility of the art, in the situation of this country, and adapted to the circumstances, which may probably call upon many of you for its exercise, in the progress of your future lives.
In the state of society, which exists among us, some professional occupation is, to almost every man in the community, the requisition of necessity, as well as of duty. None of us liveth [sic] to himself; and as we live to our families, by the several relations and employments of domestic life, to our friends, by the intercourse of more intimate society and mutual good offices, so we live to our country and to mankind in general, by the performance of those services, and by the discharge of those labors, which belong to the profession we have chosen, as the occupation of our lives. Whatsoever it is incumbent upon a man to do it is surely expedient to do well. Now of the three learned professions, which more especially demand the preparatory discipline of a learned education, there are two, whose most important occupations consist in the act of public speaking. And who can doubt, but that in the sacred desk, or at the bar, the man, who speaks well, will enjoy a larger share of reputation, and be more useful to his fellow creatures, than the divine or the lawyer of equal learning and integrity, but unblest [sic] with the talent of oratory?
But the pulpit is especially the throne of modern eloquence. There it is, that speech is summoned to realize the fabled wonders of the orphean lyre. The preacher has no control over the will of his audience, other than the influence of his discourse. Yet, as the ambassador of Christ, it is his great and awful duty to call sinners to repentance. His only weapon is the voice; and with this he is to appal [sic] the guilty, and to reclaim the infidel; to rouse the indifferent, and to shame the scorner. He is to inflame the lukewarm, to encourage the timid, and to cheer the desponding believer. He is to pour the healing balm of consolation into the bleeding heart of sorrow, and to sooth with celestial hope the very agonies of death. Now tell me who it is, that will best possess and most effectually exercise these more than magic powers? Who is it, that will most effectually stem the torrent of human passions, and calm the raging waves of human vice and folly? Who is it, that, with the voice of a Joshua, shall control the course of nature herself in the perverted heart, and arrest the luminaries of wisdom and virtue in their rapid revolutions round this little world of man? Is it the cold and languid speaker, whose words fall in, such sluggish and drowsy motion from his lips, that they can promote nothing but the slumbers of his auditory, and administer opiates to the body, rather than stimulants to the soul? Is it the unlettered fanatic, without method, without reason; with incoherent raving. and vociferous ignorance, calculated to fit his hearers, not for the kingdom of heaven, but for a hospital of lunatics? Is it even the learned, ingenious, and pious minister of Christ, who, by neglect or contempt of the oratorical art, has contracted a whining, monotonous sing-song of delivery to the patience of his flock, at the expense of their other Christian graces? Or is it the genuine orator of heaven, with a heart sincere, upright, and fervent; a mind stored with that universal knowledge, required as the foundation of the art; with a genius for the invention, a skill for the disposition, and a voice for the elocution of every argument to convince and of every sentiment to persuade? If then we admit, that the art of oratory qualifies the minister of the gospel to perform in higher perfection the duties of his station, we can no longer question, whether it be proper for his cultivation. It is more than proper; it is one of his most solemn and indispensable duties. If
Nature never lends
The smallest scruple of her excellence,
But like a thrifty goddess, she determines
Herself the glory of a creditor,
Both thanks and use,
more especially is the obligation of exerting every talent, of improving every faculty incumbent upon him, who undertakes the task of instructing, of reforming, and of guiding in the paths of virtue and religion, his fellow mortals.
The practitioner at the bar, having a just idea of his professional duties, will consider himself as the minister of justice among men, and feel it his obligation to maintain and protect the rights of those, who entrust their affairs to his charge, whether they are rights of person or of property; whether public or private; whether of civil or of criminal jurisdiction. The litigation of these rights in the courts of justice often requires the exertion of the most exalted intellectual powers; and it is by public speaking alone, that they can be exerted. For the knowledge of the law the learning of the closet may suffice; for its application to the circumstances of the individual case, correct reasoning and a sound judgment will be competent. But when an intricate controversy must be unfolded in a perspicuous manner to the mind of the judge, or a tangled tissue of blended facts and law must be familiarly unravelled [sic] to a jury; that is, at the very crisis, when the contest is to be decided by the authority of the land, learning and judgment are of no avail to the client or his counsel, without the assistance of an eloquent voice to make them known. Then it is, that all the arts of the orator are called into action, and that every part of a rhetorical discourse finds its place for the success of the cause. The diamond in the mine is no brighter, than the pebble upon the beach. From the hand of the lapidary must it learn to sparkle the solar beam, and to glitter in the imperial crown. The crowd of clients, the profits of practice, and the honors of reputation, will all inevitably fly to him, who is known to possess, not only the precious treasures of legal learning, but the keys, which alone can open them to the public eye. Hence if personal utility, the acquisition of wealth, of honor, and of fame, is the pursuit of the lawyer, the impulse of eloquence can alone speed him in his course. If relative utility, the faculty of discharging in the utmost perfection the duties of his station, and the means of being most serviceable to his fellow creatures, is the nobler object of his ambition, still he can soar to that elevated aim only upon the pinions of eloquence.
But besides these two professions, of which oratory may be called a vital principle, a free republic, like that, in which an indulgent providence has cast our lot, bestows importance upon the powers of eloquence, to every class and description of citizens. An estimate of this, and of some specific objections against the art will form the subject of my next lecture.