HAVING endeavoured [sic] in my former lectures to define with precision the objects, upon which I am in future to discourse, and attempted to vindicate their utility, I shall now proceed to give you some account of their history; in doing which I shall, for the sake of perspicuity, continue to preserve the distinction, which I first laid down, between the science of rhetoric and the art of oratory.
The origin of oratory has undoubtedly the priority in point of time. Such must obviously be the case with all the arts. Many a house must have been built, before a system of architecture could be formed; many a poem composed, before an art of poetry could be written. The practice must in the nature of things precede the theory. All didactic treatises must consist of roles, resulting from experience; and that experience can have no foundation, other than previous practice. Now the practice of oratory must in all probability be coeval with the faculty of speech. Philosophical inquirers into the origin of language have, with some appearance of reason, affirmed that the first sounds, which men uttered, must have been exclamations, prompted by some pressing want or vehement passion. These, by the constitution of human nature, would be best calculated to excite the first sympathies of the fellow-savage, and thus afford the first instance of an influence, exercised by man over man, through the medium of speech. The character, derived from this original, it has preserved through all its progress, and to certain degree must forever retain; so that even at this day eloquence and the language of passion are sometimes used, as synonymous terms. But however the practice of oratory may have existed in the early ages of the world, and among those civilized nations, whose career of splendor preceded that of the Grecian states, we have no monuments, either written or traditionary [sic], from which we can infer, that the art of speaking was ever reduced into a system, or used for the purposes, to which eloquence has since been employed. In the sacred scriptures indeed we have numerous examples of occasions, upon which the powers of oratory were exercised, and many specimens of the sublimest [sic] eloquence. But these were of a peculiar nature, arising from the interpositions of providence in the history and affairs of the Jewish people. There we learn, that the faculty of speech was among the special powers, bestowed by immediate communication of the Creator to our first parents. Thus if the first cries of passion were instigated by physical nature,the first accents of reason were suggested by the father of spirits. But of the history of profane eloquence there is no trace or record remaining earlier, than the flourishing periods of the Grecian states.
There were three circumstances in their constitution, which concurred to produce their extraordinary attachment to this art, and with it to so many others, which have immortalized their fame. Their origin is involved in such a tissue of fables, that it is impossible to rely upon any particulars of their early history. Thus much however may be considered as certain, that the Assyrian, Persian, and Egyptian states, whose national existence was earlier than theirs, were all single governments, and all unlimited monarchies; while from the remotest ages Greece was divided into a number of separate sovereignties, each independent of all the others, but all occasionally connected together upon certain objects and enterprizes [sic], which concerned their common interests. Such were the expedition of the Argonauts under the conduct of Jason; the war of Thebes by the confederacy of seven princes against Eteocles; and finally the Trojan war; that war, the memory of which the energies of one poor, blind, vagrant poet have rendered as imperishable, as the human mind.
With all their great and shining qualities, the Greeks were ever notorious for a propensity to the marvellous [sic]; and a Roman poet has applied to the whole nation an epithet, which St. Paul tells us had been justly appropriated to the Cretans. Thus, of these three great expeditions, the causes, and almost all the story, as related by the Greeks, were undoubtedly fabulous. Some ingenious modern writers have taken occasion from these manifest falsehoods of detail, to raise doubts concerning the reality of the whole history, and even to contend, that no such city as Troy ever existed. But the great outlines of the narrative are so connected with unquestionable events, that it requires at least as large a share of credulity to believe in the accuracy of the modern systems, as in the fidelity of the ancient tales. For my own part I find it as hard to credit, that there never was such a city as Troy, as that it was built by the hands of Neptune and Apollo, or destroyed by the resentments of Juno. The link in the chain between real and fabulous history is so indistinct, that we cannot precisely ascertain where it lies; but in general we must admit some foundation for events, which have left indelible traces behind them, though we know the particulars of the narrative to be fictitious. Long after we have lost sight of land, a bottom may still be found by the plummet.
The original separation of the Greeks into a number of independent states, their associations for certain national purposes, and the spirit of liberty, which pervaded them, are circumstances as firmly established, as any part of the history of mankind. And each of these circumstances essentially contributed, first, to produce, and then to promote that extraordinary attachment to the art of speech, for which they have ever been famed. The narrow bounds, within which the territories of many states were circumscribed, made it practicable for the whole people to assemble within the compass of a single voice. Their independence of each other, and the common objects, which concerned them all, rendered a frequent intercourse of embassies and negotiations among them necessary; and above all their liberty, which made their public actions dependent upon their own will, and their will susceptible of influence by the power of reason, could not fail to create the art of oratory, and to prepare the triumph of eloquence.
From a passage in the Corinthiacs of Pausanias, which I have noticed, it appears that Pittheus, the uncle of Theseus, about half a century before the Trojan war, opened a school·of rhetoric at the city of Troezene; and wrote a book upon the subject, which Pausanias declares be had read. Some doubts have indeed been started, whether Pausanias had not been deceived by an Epidaurian, from whom he procured the manuscript; and there is no other evidence extant, confirming the existence of such a treatise, or leading to a conjecture of its contents. There is otherwise nothing improbable in the story; for the time, when Pittheus is alledged [sic] to have lived, is cotemporary [sic] with the age of Solomon; at which time we have the most indisputable proof in the sacred scriptures, that the art of literary composition, so intimately connected with that of oratory, had been carried to a high pitch of perfection. All the books of Moses, including probably that of Job, must have been written five hundred years before that time; and the Grecian Peloponnesus appears to have been first settled by a colony from Egypt, the same country, whence the Israelites issued to make the conquest of the promised land, and the same where Moses had received his education and acquired his learning. Be this as it may, innumerable passages in the Iliad and Odyssey leave no doubt, that rhetoric was taught, and oratory practised [sic], in high refinement, during, and before the war of Troy. We are there told, that Phoenix was sent with Achilles to teach him eloquence, as well as heroism;
Μνθων τι ρητηρ εμεναι, πζκχτκζα τι εξγων.
ΙΛ. Ι. 443.
or, as Pope has translated it,
To shine in councils, and in camps to dare.
IL. IX. 571.
And in the Odyssey Minerva herself is said to have performed the same office to Telemachus. Both these poems are full of speeches, exhibiting all the excellencies and all the varieties of practical eloquence. In the third Iliad Antenor gives a minute and contrasted character of the style of eloquence, for which Menelaus and Ulysses were respectively distinguished. The one concise, correct, and plain; the other artful to that last degree of perfection, which consists in concealing art, copious and astonishing by unexpected and irresistible arguments; while in another passage the eloquence of Nestor, mild, insinuating, and diffuse, is discriminated with clear accuracy from both the others. Nor need I tell you, who are so well acquainted with Homer, that the speeches, attributed to these three personages in the Iliad and Odyssey, all exactly correspond with the character, thus appropriated by the poet to each of them.
From this time however for the space of about four hundred years, no other traces of the science are to be found; and its first reappearance is in the island of Sicily, where a school of rhetoric is said to have been held, about five hundred years before Christ; and the first teacher of which was Empedocles. He was soon succeeded in the same country by Corax and Tisias. One of his pupils also was Gorgias of Leontium, whose reputation has fluctuated from the extreme of admiration to that of debasement.
Gorgias lived to the extraordinary age of one hundred and nine years. He had a great number of cotemporary [sic.] rhetoricians; among whom were Thrasymachus of Chalcedon; Prodicus of the island of Ceos, and the original author of that beautiful and instructive fable of the choice of Hercules; Protagoras of Abdera; Hippias of Elis; Alcidamus of Elea; Antiphon, who first published a rhetorical treatise, and a judicial oration together; Policrates, damned to fame, as one of the advocates against Socrates upon his trial; and Theodore of Byzantium. All these writers are included by Plato under the contemptuous denomination of word weavers.
Gorgias was the first, who extended so far the principles of his art, that he professed to prepare his pupils for extemporaneous declamation upon any subject whatsoever. His fame was spread far and wide. His country, being at war with the Syracusans, sent an embassy, at the head of which they placed him, to solicit the alliance of the Athenians. His eloquence was admired at Athens no less, than in his own city. It secured a successful issue to his mission; and some of his orations have received the approbation of Aristotle and Quinctilian. It is said by Cicero, that a golden statue of him was erected in the temple of Delphi, by the united offering of all Greece; an honor, never shown to any other man.
Unfortunately however for Gorgias, he found in Socrates, or rather in his disciple, Plato, a rival and antagonist, whose works and reputation have stood the test of ages, better than his own; which have sunk under the weight of his adversary’s superiority. Among the dialogues of Plato is one, entitled Gorgias, from the name of this rhetorician, and upon the subject of the art. He is there represented in a very ridiculous light; first, undertaking to make an orator eloquent upon every topic whatsoever; and yet,. when required by Socrates, unable to speak. with common sense upon the first elements of his art. In the hands of Plato Gorgias is a driveller [sic] so despicable, that Socrates appears disgraced by a victory over him. It is however well known, that no such dialogue, as that, published by Plato, was ever held between Gorgias and Socrates; and there was too much reason for the exclamation of Gorgias, on his first perusal of the work; “how handsomely that same Plato can slander!” The system and the practice of Gorgias were too affected and too presumptuous. The deeper penetration and the more chastened judgment of Socrates led to a higher perfection in the theory of rhetoric. But if it be true, as by the concurrent testimony of all the ancient rhetoricians we are assured, that Gorgias was the inventor of what are called topics, or common places, of oratorical numbers, and of a general plan for extemporaneous declamation upon every subject, he must be considered as one of the principal improvers of eloquence. These things are peculiarly liable to be abused; but they have been of important use to all the celebrated ancient orators; and to none more, than to Plato himself.
You will find it useful to remember, that the opposition of sentiment between Gorgias and Socrates laid the foundation for two rival systems of rhetoric, the respective pretensions of which have never been definitively settled. They gave rise to two very distinct classes of orators, and two different modes of speaking, distinguished at first by the denominations of the Attic and the Asiatic manners; and which in modern times have been as generally understood by the appellations of the close and the florid style.
Isocrates was a disciple of Gorgias; formed upon the principles of his school. In early life he had been of opinion, that eloquence ought not to be taught, as an art. Deterred by a natural and insuperable timidity, which, in common with many other men of genius, he either had, or fancied, from ever speaking in public himself, he composed orations for others, to be delivered upon the trial of judicial causes. This practice however having exposed him to a prosecution, under a certain Athenian law, which it was supposed to infringe, he abandoned the employment, and opened a school of rhetoric,which soon became highly celebrated, and from which, to use an expression of Cicero, as from the Trojan horse, issued a host of heroes. Isocrates was not only an able rhetorician, but an excellent citizen, and a true patriot. When Socrates fell a victim to the passions of a partial tribunal and a deluded people, and all his disciples were terrified into flight, Isocrates had the honorable intrepidity to appear in the streets of Athens with the mourning garb. When Theramenes was proscribed by the thirty tyrants, Isocrates exposed his own life, by undertaking to defend him at the altar of refuge; and after a life of little less than a whole century, he finally died broken-hearted of mere inanition, upon the fatal issue of the battle of Chaeronea, that final stroke to the agonizing liberties of Greece. Isocrates composed upwards of sixty orations, twenty one of which are still extant. His style is remarkable for its elegance, its polished periods, and harmonious numbers. Like his master, Gorgias, he delights in antithesis and pointed expression, but he is more copious and diffuse. He labored his compositions with such indefatigable assiduity, that he is said to have hem ten rears employed upon a single oration, entitled the panegyric.
As the school of Gorgias and the other sophists gave rise to the two dialogues of Plato, upon the subject of rhetoric, so that of Isocrates occasioned the rival school of Aristotle, and led to the composition of that work, which is the most ancient treatise, professedly systematic, upon the science, now extant. Plato, as you all know, was one of the disciples of Socrates; and with this fellow scholar Xenophon has published the moral and political doctrines of that philosopher, who left nothing written himself. Socrates was a teacher of philosophy, and as well as his follower, Plato, might have his personal reasons for opposing the theories of the other sophists, who inculcated other principles, but followed the same profession. If the real character of Socrates appears in the writings of his illustrious pupils, his mind must have been of a sterling stamp,and his heart of uncommon excellence. His method of reasoning was so striking, and so peculiar to himself, that to this day it is designated by his name; and though not perhaps the fairest process for a candid logician, it has always been considered, as a mode of close and irresistible argument. It consists in the art of entangling an adversary into absurdity and self contradiction, by a chain of questions, the first of which seems by its simplicity to admit but of one answer; the last of which with equal simplicity comes to the direct denial of the proposition to be refuted, and the connexion [sic] between which is imperceptible to the opponent, until he finds it too late to retreat. The son of Sophroniscus, by the turn of his mind, was devoted to the rigorous demonstrations of logic, and perhaps too fastidiously disdained the fascinating ornaments of rhetoric. Very different was the character of Plato. With a genius more sublime, though far less correct, he was addicted to the pomp and magnificence of speech, as much as the most ostentatious of the sophists. His imagination is so incessantly upon the wing, and soars to such empyrean heights, that it requires no inconsiderable effort of the understanding to keep him company. His writings are not only poetical to the extremest [sic] boundaries of poetry; they often encroach upon the borders of mysticism, and approach the undistinguishable regions of intellectual chaos. It is singular, that two men, of characters so extremely opposite, should have stood in precisely such a relation to each other. That Socrates should have written nothing; and Plato, nothing of his own. That Plato should have held himself out to the world, as the mere amanuensis of Socrates; and that Socrates should have intrusted [sic] the registry of his opinions to so wild and eccentric a recorder, as Plato. Hence there is no small difficulty in ascertaining what part of the sentiments, imputed by Plato to Socrates, were really his; but it is known, that the disciple has often ascribed his own doctrines to the master. Hence also may be drawn the most natural solution of that inconsistency on the subject of rhetoric, which appears in the two dialogues of Plato; an inconsistency so glaring, that in the Phaedrus, Pericles is mentioned, as a highly accomplished orator, while in the Gorgias he is as positively pronounced to be no orator at all. It is also remarkable, that the Phaedrus closes with a declaration of Socrates, that he intends to repeat the substance of his precepts to his young friend: Isocrates, of whose abilities and virtues he speaks in terms of panegyric, and whom he pronounces superior, as an orator, to Lysias. Yet Isocrates preferred the system of his first master, Gorgias. It is much to be regretted, that the rhetorical work of Isocrates is no longer extant, because, as the admirable work of Aristotle was written in professed opposition to it, we might doubtless derive much. useful instruction from a full and fair comparison of the two systems together.
Besides the principal work of Aristotle on rhetoric, which is in three books, there is another treatise, seemingly containing a compendium of the whole, published with the common editions of his works, and usually, though I believe not correctly, attributed to him. It is addressed to Alexander the Great, of whom Aristotle was indeed the preceptor; but there are many circumstances, which lead to the inference, that it was the work of another writer, supposed to be Anaximenes of Lampsacus. This was a writer of the same age, and, together with Aristotle, was selected by Philip of Macedon, as one of his son’s instructers [sic] His principal writings were historical, and his style has been characterized, as polished and correct, but florid, diffuse, and feeble. This description applies exactly to the rhetoric, addressed to Alexander, though nothing can be a stronger contrast, than the style of all the voluminous works, known to have been written by Aristotle. Demetrius Phalereus lived in the age, succeeding that of Aristotle. He is celebrated, as the last of the Grecian orators; and in that character I shall speak of him more at large on some future occasion. I mention him here, because there is a valuable treatise upon elocution extant, which has been attributed to him; though some learned critics have supposed it the work of another Demetrius, of Alexandria, who lived several centuries later; while others have ascribed it to Dionysius of Halicarnassus. The principal evidence, upon which it has been concluded not to be the production of Phalereus, is, that, being professedly a treatise upon elocution, or style, it not only differs most essentially from that, which was peculiar to this Athenian orator, but passes censure upon all its characteristic features. It is a valuable treatise, discussing at large that important branch of the oratorical art, and serving as a proper supplement to the general system of Aristotle, in which elocution is not so minutely considered.
There are several other rhetorical treatises, full of solid and ingenious criticism, written by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. He is more generally known, indeed, as one of the principal historians of Rome; a considerable, though proportionably [sic] small part of his work on the Roman antiquities being yet extant. He lived in the age of Augustus Caesar, and spent a great part of his life at Rome, where he is supposed to have been a teacher of rhetoric.
The next of the Grecian rhetoricians in point of time is Lucian of Samesata, who lived and died in the second century of the christian [sic] era. After having been successively a sculptor and a practitioner at the bar, and becoming disgusted with both these professions, he finally became a teacher of rhetoric. His acquirements in literature and moral philosophy were far above the level of his age; and the turn of his mind inclining to ridicule and satire, he is perhaps the wittiest writer of antiquity. He satirized with so much freedom the gods of paganism, that some learned men in modern times have supposed he was a christian [sic]; though no other evidence of the fact has been adduced.
The treatise, which has led me to speak of him in this place, is entitled ‘Ρκτορων Διδασκαλος, the teacher of orators. It is ironical and allegorical; holding out two systems of instruction for forming a public speaker, as delivered by two fictitious persons. The one indolent, dissipated, and fashionable; the other laborious, severe, and forbidding. Like Swift’s directions to servants, which were probably suggested by them, Lucian’s instructions mingle the satire of his own age with the lesson to the next; and his moral is only that of the old Greek adage, that the gods sell every thing to labor.
Nearly about the same time lived Hermogenes, one of the most extraordinary examples of early intellectual maturity and decay. At the age of fifteen his celebrity, as a teacher of rhetoric, attracted the personal attendance of the emperor, Marcus Antoninus, at his lectures; and the imperial satisfaction was manifested with princely munificence. The rhetorical works of Hermogenes, parts of which are yet extant, were composed at eighteen. At twenty four he lost his faculties, and continued during the remainder of his lire in a state, not far removed from idiotism [sic]. With several small fragments, there are two treatises of this author almost entire. One upon the character of an oration in five books, and one upon ideas in two. They are yet· in high estimation, and have sometimes been preferred even to the work of Aristotle.
I pass over the writings of Aristides, Apsines, Sopater, Alexander, Menander, Minucian, Cyrus, Apthonius, Theon, Ulpian, Tiberius, and Severus, who all lived near the time of Lucian and Hermogenes. There are short treatises on various rhetorical subjects by all these writers; which contain little else but repetitions of the precepts, taught by Aristotle and Hermogenes. But Longinus must not be thus slightly noticed. His work upon the sublime should be studied by every orator, and even by every writer in any department of literature. Though confined to a single subject, that subject is sublimity; though gnawed and mutilated by the tooth of time into a mere fragment, it is a fragment·from the table of the gods.
With Longinus the rhetorical genius of Greece expired; and preserved to its last gasp the proud preeminence of its youth. The luminary, which had so long enlightened the world, after languishing long in decline, at the moment of extinction, kindled into a blaze of transient glory. Longinus lived in the third century of the christian [sic] era. He was at once the rhetorical instructer [sic] and minister of state to Zenobia, the celebrated queen of Palmyra. With the prerogative of genuine eloquence he inspired her heroic sentiments into the mind of the princess. But he could not convert a people, degraded by servitude, into a nation of heroes. Zenobia. sunk before the victorious legions of Aurelian; and Longinus, like the great orators of better days, paid the usual tribute of transcendent genius, the forfeit of his life, to the principles of an unconquerable soul.
Here I shall conclude the review of the Grecian rhetoricians. It was my first intention, upon mentioning their works, to have given you a brief analytical survey of their contents. This however I soon found would require a course of lectures by itself. Perhaps at some future time, when the principles of the science shall be more familiar to your minds, I shall undertake to make you better acquainted with these venerable relics of antiquity, many of which are so contemptuously undervalued br modern writers. You win also remark, that I have yet spoken only of the rhetoricians, and have left the orators and their works for future consideration. In pursuance of plan I shall in my next lecture call your attention to the history of the science at Rome.