IN a former lecture, you may remember, that I noticed a remarkable difference between the history of rhetoric in Greece and at Rome; and observed, that in the former eloquence appeared to have been the twin-sister to history, while in the latter she appears to have been the child of the republic’s old age, at first discarded, long banished, but finally adopted, and rising to the most unbounded influence in the person of Cicero. But the duration of the period, in which rhetoric was cultivated, is equally remarkable in Greece by its length, and in Rome by its shortness. From Pittheus to Longinus, the two extremes in the chronology of the Greek rhetoricians, you perceive a line of more than thirteen hundred years, filled with a catalogue of writers, distinguished by their numbers, as well as by their ingenuity. At Rome we have seen the science began with Cicero. It ended with Quinctilian. These two writers lived within one hundred years of each other; and in them alone are we to seek for all, that Roman literature can furnish to elucidate the science of rhetoric. Their writings may indeed, in point of real value, contend for the prize with the more copious stores of Greece; and if a complete system were to be collected exclusively from the one or the other language, it would perhaps be difficult to say which would be most reluctantly given up,the Grecian numbers, or the Roman weight. Of the Greek rhetoricians I have given you an account, a very lame and imperfect one indeed, in a single lecture; while the writings of Cicero alone, on this theme, have already occupied two; and I now purpose to devote another to the institutes and the character of Quinctilian.
It will however be proper previously to notice a. collection of declamations, under the title of controversies and deliberations, different from those, which bear the name of Quinctilian, and published as the compilation of Seneca. Not of Seneca, the philosopher, the preceptor, the accomplice, and the victim of Nero; but another Seneca, generally suppoSed to be his father, and a native of Cordova in Spain. This collection was not of his own composition; but collected from upwards of one hundred writers, and accompanied by the critical remarks of the editor.
The practice of declamation among the ancients was deemed of so much importance, it was so different from that exercise, bearing the same name, to which you are accustomed, it was at one period so useful in promoting the improvement, and at another so precious in hastening the corruption of eloquence, that it will be proper to give you a short historical account of its rise, progress, and perversion.
There has been some controversy, by whom it was first introduced; nor is it of much importance to ascertain whether its inventor were Gorgias, the celebrated sophist, or Eschines, who, after his banishment from Athens, opened a school of oratory in the island·of Rhodes, or Demetrius Phalereus, the last of the Attic orators. It is more generally agreed to have been introduced at Rome by Plotius, the first teacher of rhetoric in the Latin language; and was practised [sic] constancy, by most of the Roman orators, from the age of Cicero to that of Quinctilian. These declamations were composed and delivered by the same person; which rendered them a much more laborious, but at the same time a much more improving exercise, than that of repeating the compositions of others. They were suited, by their gradations of difficulty, to the degrees of proficiency, which the student had attained. They began with short themes upon any topic, selected at pleasure, similar to those, upon which you sometimes exercise your ingenuity. From this the progress was to controverted [sic] questions, resembling what we now call forensic disputes; and finally a fictitious narrative or fable was invented, to raise upon its events a moral, political, or legal question, either simple or complicated, for discussion. Thus you perceive, that what they called declamation rather resembled our performances at commencements and at the public exhibitions, than that repetition of the writings of others, to which our practice limits the original name. Its advantages were much greater, inasmuch as it was an exercise of invention, as well as of delivery, and sharpened the faculties of the mind, while it gave ease and confidence to that mechanical operation, which Cicero has called the eloquence of the body.
Of the importance given to this exercise, during the splendid era of Roman oratory, you may form an opinion from the unquestionable fact, that it was practised [sic] by Cicero, not only while a student, before his appearance at the bar, but throughout his whole life. In the midst of that splendid and active career, when the fate of the Roman empire and of the world was at his control, he continued the custom of declaiming himself, and of assisting at the declamations of men, as far advanced in years, and as highly exalted in dignity; such as Pompey and Piso; Hirtius and Pansa; Crassus and Dolabella. Nay, so essential was this discipline to every public speaker of that age, that even Mark Anthony, the luxurious, the dissolute Mark Anthony, prepared himself, by constant declamation, to contend against the divine philippics of his adversary; and Augustus Caesar, during the war of Modena, in that final struggle for the dominion of the world, learned, by assiduous declamation, to achieve nobler victories, than he could obtain by all the veteran legions of his father. When the revolution in government had destroyed the freedom of speech, the practice of declamation was still pursued, but underwent a corresponding change of character. Dignified thought, independent spirit, bold and commanding sentiment, then became only avenues to the scaffold. Declamation was still valued, but soon changed its character. Instead of leading the student to the art of persuasion, it taught him the more useful lesson of concealment, the safer doctrine of disguise. The themes of declamation were studiously stripped of every thing, that could bear a resemblance to reality. The most extravagant fictions were made the basis, and a dazzling affectation of wit the superstructure of their oratory. Hence it soon passed into a maxim, that pleasure, and not persuasion. was the ultimate purpose of eloquence. “The author of a declaration,” says Seneca, the person, of whom I am now speaking, “writes not to prove, but to please. He hunts up every thing, that can give pleasure. Arguments he discards, because they are toilsome, and disdain decoration. He is content to charm his audience with pointed sentences, and flights of fancy. He asks your favor, not for his cause, but for himself.” Here you see the root of corruption, plucked up and exposed Instead of assimilating declamation to the realities; for which it was first taught, it was purposely and systematically made to deviate from them as widely, as possible. But this unnatural affectation could not fail to spread infection over the reality, and the fribbling [sic] declaimer of the school became, in regular progression, the nerveless and tawdry talker in the senate, or at the bar.
From this history you may infer a general opinion of the rate, at which the declamations of the rhetorician, Seneca, are to be estimated. They might perhaps have been more valuable, had they come down to us in a perfect state; but mutilated, as they are, and formed on such a defective foundation, they can be of little use in the study of modem eloquence, and their intrinsic merit cannot entitle them to much attention. Those, which pass under the name of Quinctilian, are not much better, and are well known not to have been composed or even compiled by him.
There exists also a dialogue of that age, on the causes of the corruption of eloquence, which has occasionally been ascribed both to Tacitus and Quinctilian, and is usually published among the works of both those writers. It contains an ingenious parallel between eloquence and poetry, with a warm eulogium upon these sister arts; a comparison between the celebrated orators of that day, and their predecessors in the age of Hortensius and Cicero. It concludes with an inquiry into the causes, whence the corruption of eloquence, then so universally perceived, had proceeded. The causes assigned deserve our particular attention. The first is the general dissipation, to which the youth of the age had abandoned themselves. For indolence and pleasure are more fatal to the understanding, than to the constitution; they clog the circulations of the soul still more, than they deaden the energies of the body; and, by one simultaneous operation, emasculate the physical, while they stupify [sic] the intellectual man. The next cause. and inseparably connected with it, is the neglect and carelesness [sic] of the parents, who were grossly heedless of the education of their children. In that universal degradation of taste and of morals, the very ties of nature were unstrung, and, as the sons had no sense of what was due to themselves, the fathers had lost all memory of their duties to their offspring. The ignorance of the rhetorical teachers, their preposterous methods of instruction, alternately both cause and effect of the degeneracy in the public taste, that degraded taste itself, the impatience of the judges, who, under that arbitrary government, abridged the freedom of speech, so essential to an orator, but above all the form of government since the extinction of the republic; all these are justly enumerated, as the causes of that corruption, which a Quinctilian or a Tacitus could not but lament, but which it was not even in their genius and talents to heal. It is much to be regretted, that a considerable part of this valuable treatise is lost.
To rescue the art from this state of degradation, Quinctilian did all, that human ability could accomplish. His institutes embrace the most comprehensive plan, formed by any of the ancient rhetoricians; and the execution of the work is in all respects worthy of the design. Like Seneca, he is said to have been a native of Spain; and some have asserted, that he was the grandson of the Quinctilian, who collected the declamations. Twenty years of his life were passed at Rome, in the two-fold profession of a teacher of rhetoric and a practitioner at the bar; in both of which characters he is mentioned honorably by the epigrammatist, Martial, in the following lines.
Quinctiliane, vagae moderator summe juventae,
Gloria Romanae, Quinctiliane, togae;
which, for the benefit of a less classical auditory than mine, might be thus translated.
Sure, to the public speaker's fair renown,
Henceforth, the wildest Roman. youth may reach;
Since thy instructions, glory of the gown,
At once by precept and example teach.
During part of the time, that he exercised the rhetorical profession, he received a salary from the public treasury; and he obtained from one of the Roman emperors the honors, if not the official dignity of the consulship. He was appointed to superintend the education of two grand children to the sister of the emperor Domitian; and had two sons and a daughter, connected by marriage and adoption with some of the most illustrious families in Rome. He is often noticed with distinction by the satirist, Juvenal, who ascribes his wealth however rather to his good fortune, than to his talents, and who scourges, with a merciless hand, the proud and tasteless grandees of the age for their neglect of the rhetorician. After twenty years of this laborious occupation, Quinctilian was permitted to relinquish the employment, and enjoy the fruits of his toils. But many of his friends, who had witnessed the happy effects: of his system of instruction, intreated [sic] him to publish, and leave it for the benefit of posterity. Two considerations finally prevailed upon him to comply with these requests. The excellency of his lectures had occasioned partial and incorrect copies of many of them to be surreptitiously taken by some of his scholars, and in that state of imperfection they had been published to the world. He also thought, that in all the rhetorical works, then extant, there was a defect to be supplied. They were not sufficiently elementary. They presupposed the knowledge of many things, essential to the formation of an orator; and took up their pupils, as already initiated in all the preparatory learning. For the purpose therefore of vindicating his own reputation, and of giving a complete system of rhetoric for the benefit of succeeding ages, he undertook the work, which he divided into twelve books. It is addressed to Marcellus Victorius, one of his most intimate friends; a man of elegant taste and literary accomplishments, who felt a more than common interest in the undertaking, as having a son of great promise, then in the course of his education. Quinctilian therefore supposes, that he has a child to educate in the manner, best adapted to make him an accomplished orator; for which he takes him the first years of infancy, yet lisping from the arms of the nurse, and conducts him by fair degrees through every preliminary study, and every appropriate branch of discipline, until he has attained the perfection of the art. He carries him through life; suggests to him the various studies, occupations, and amusements, best suited to the purpose of his destination. Accompanies him through a long career of active eloquence; follows him in the decline of life into honorable retirement, and teaches him how to render even that season of his existence useful to others,and agreeable to himself. I had prepared an analysis of this work, as well as of some treatises of the Grecian rhetoricians, with the intention of presenting them, in one comprehensive summary, to your view. But I have thought on reflection, that it would waste too much of your present time, and involve the consideration of some parts of the science, which require a previous elucidation, to be clearly understood. I shall therefore at present only notice a few passages, which even now may furnish useful hints for your miditation [sic] and improvement.
The first book is altogether preparatory; containing advice, relative to the selection of the child’s earliest instructers [sic]; a discussion of the comparative advantages and disadvantages of public schools, and of domestic tuition; hints for ascertaining the natural dispositions and intellectual faculties of children; grammatical disquisitions, and miscellaneous observations upon reading, composition, music, geometry, gesture, and pronunciation; all of which he considers, as preliminary acquisitions; and which he thinks may be most advantageously learnt at the same time. In reply to the objection, that this system is too laborious, he says, with a warmth of eloquence, and a soundness of sense, which cannot too strongly be impressed upon our minds—
The whole day neither can nor ought to be engrossed with learning grammar; for the mind of the scholar should not be wearied into disgust. And how can we do better, than assign the intervals of leisure to these subsidiary studies of music and geometry; taking care not to overburthen [sic] him with any of them? I do not undertake to form a musician by trade, nor a very minute proficient in geometry. In teaching pronunciation, I am not training an actor for the stage; nor, in giving rules for gesture, do I propose to make a dancing master. Not that there is any lack of time. The years of youthful discipline are many; and I do not suppose my pupil a dunce. What made Plato so eminent for possessing all the knowledge, which I suppose essential to an orator? It was because, not content with all the learning of Athens, he traveled [sic] into Italy for that of the Pythagoreans; and even into Egypt to obtain access to the secret mysteries of her priests. Let us be honest. It is our own idleness, that we endeavour [sic] to shelter under the mantle of difficulty. We have no real affection for the art. We court eloquence, not for her native, exquisite, and unrivalled beauties; but as the instrument of sordid purposes, and of base and groveling gains. Let the vulgar orator of the forum hold forth his ignorance for his fee. After all, the pedler [sic] with his pack, and the town-crier by his voice will earn more money. For my part, I would not willingly have a reader, who should estimate his learning by his wages; no, give me the man, who, in the sublime conceptions of an exalted mind, has figured to himself an image of real eloquence, of that eloquence, called by Euripides the queen of the world. He will never measure her rewards by his fee-table. He will find them in his own soul; in his own science; in his own meditations. Rewards beyond the reach of fortune, and perpetual in their nature. That man will easily prevail upon himself to bestow upon geometry and music the time, which others waste upon theatres; upon public sports; upon gaming; upon idle companions; if not upon sleep, or upon debauchery. And how much more delightfully will he pass his time, than in those coarse and ignorant indulgences! For it is one of the blessings of providence to mankind, that “the most honorable should also be the most exquisite enjoyments.” These are the sentiments of Quinctilian. They are the only sentiments, which lead to greatness and to glory; to social usefulness, and individual felicity.
The introductory chapters to the fourth and sixth books are peculiarly interesting, as they relate to important events in the life of the author. After completing the third, and before he had begun upon the fourth book, he had been appointed to superintend the education of the two grandsons of the emperor Domitian’s sister. He appears to have been too much elated by the honor of this appointment; and, in the effusions of his gratitude or of his servility, prostitutes his eloquence in strains of adulation to the emperor, which cannot wipe off a stain from the infamy of Domitian, but which shed some portion of it upon his panegyrist. For the manners of the age, and the nature of the government, some allowance must be made; and, if any thing could be wanting to complete our abhorrence of arbitrary power, it would he sufficient to behold a man of Quinctilian’s genius and industry prostrate in the dust before a being, like Domitian. In the midst of this degradation, it is however some consolation to observe gleams of unquenchable virtue, still piercing through the gloom. We rejoice to find him sensible, that the advancement of his dignity was a call upon him for redoubled industry and energy in the prosecution of his work.
If the introduction to the fourth hook compels us reluctantly to pass a censure upon our excellent instructer [sic], that of the sixth exhibits him under the pressure of such cruel calamities, that the natural and pathetic eloquence, with which he laments his fate, will yet claim a generous tear from the eye of sensibility. When he began upon his great work, his condition was blessed with the possession of a young and amiable wife; and of two promising sons. The ardor of his spirit had been inflamed by the hope and the prospect, that his own children would participate in the benefit of his toils; and the fire of his genius blazed with brighter fervency for being kindled at the torch of parental affection. But during the progress of his labors, and before he had commenced upon the sixth book, all his actual enjoyments and all his flattering prospects were blasted by the hand of death.
“The shaft flew thrice; and thrice his peace was slain.”
The feelings of a husband and a father,alone can conceive the anguish, which inspires his complaints. They are the agonies of nature, when unsupported by the everlasting pillars of christian consolation. He breaks out into maledictions upon his own writings, and curses upon his attachment to literature; charges heaven with injustice; denies an eternal superintending providence, and scorns his own weakness for supporting the burden of his existence, while his own hand could release him from its thraldom [sic]. When we compare these sentiments with that genuine doctrine of fortitude under the miseries of life, which the precepts of the christian’s faith inculcate. we cannot but compassionate the unhappy sufferer; while we feel with redoubled conviction the superiority of that philosophy, which teaches us to consider this world, as no more than a course of discipline to prepare for another; and resignation as the only genuine heroism in misfortune. The soft overflowings [sic] of the father’s heart succeed the bitterness of his execrations, and the copious enumeration of trivial incidents, to display the opening virtues and fond attachments of his child, awakens a congenial sense in the reader, and touches the finest fibres [sic] of sympathy. But finally, after paying the full tribute to sensibility, the energy of Stoic virtue recovers her ascendency; and we admire the resolution, with which he struggles against the rigor of his fate, and seeks consolation in the bosom of literature.
In the twelfth and concluding book Quinctilian discusses a variety of miscellaneous topics, all having relation to the oratorical profession. Here it is, that he maintains, in a long and elaborate chapter, a maxim, much dwelt upon by most of the ancient rhetoricians, and which, if properly understood and qualified, is undoubtedly true; but which a good intention has led him to assert in terms, and to defend by arguments, irreconcilable to truth and virtue.
To form the perfect ideal orator, that model of a fair imagination, to the imitation of which every public speaker should constantly aspire, honesty, or virtuous principle, is the first and most essential ingredient. None but a good man therefore can ever be such an orator; and incorruptible integrity is the most powerful of all the engines of persuasion.
But if by an orator is meant only a man, possessed of the talent of public speaking to such an extent, as has ever been witnessed in the experience of mankind; if it be meant, that no man can be eloquent without being virtuous, the assertion is alike contradicted by the general constitution of human nature, and by the whole tenor of human experience. Bad men may be, many a bad man has been eminently gifted with oratory; and the dignity of virtue disdains a recommendation of herself at the expense of truth.
The arguments of Quinctilian, in support of his favorite position, are not all worthy of his cause. They do not glow with that open, honest eloquence, which they seem to recommend; but sometimes resemble the quibbling of a pettifogger, and sometimes the fraudulent morality of a Jesuit. “A bad man,” says he, “not only by the judgment of philosophers, but oftentimes even by the vulgar, is thought a fool. Now a fool can never be an orator.” If this reasoning is only ridiculous, that, which follows, is something worse. An orator, says he, must be an honest man to enable him, whenever it may be necessary for the success of his cause, to impose upon the minds of his auditors falsehood for truth. And then follows a philosophical disquisition of the occasions, when an honest man may lie, for the good of his client. Perhaps in this last argument we may discover the real nature, as well as the origin of Quinctilian’s principle. He insists, that his orator must be an honest man. But he allows his honest man to equivocate, and lie, and abuse the confidence, acquired by honesty, to promote the success of fraud. Where the standard of virtue is so low, it can need little labor to keep on its level. His principle is that of sir Hudibras.
For if the devil, to serve his turn,
Can tell truth; why the saints should scorn,
When it serves theirs, to swear, and lie,
I think there’s little reason why.
No; providence has not thought fit so to constitute the race of man, as to bind in irrefragable chains the virtues of the heart with the faculties of the mind. Nor, could we realize this dream of fancy, would it improve the moral government of the world. Virtue is an injunction of positive duty, of which heaven has at once made the command and the power of fulfilment [sic] universal; leaving the execution to individual will. But the distribution of intellectual powers is partial, and graduated with infinite variety. To be honest is the duty and in the power of us all. To be eloquent can only be the privilege of a few. Hard indeed would be the condition of men, if honesty were to wander in all the eccentricities of genius, or to be a sport to the caprices of fortune. Let us then all be honest; for honesty is wisdom; is pleasantness; is peace. If the indulgence of nature and the vigils of your own industry have endowed you with the favors of eloquence, remember, that all your moral duties are multiplied in proportion to your powers; that to whom much is given, of him shall much be required. But in the course of your pilgrimage through this world of trial and of temptation, if you should occasionally meet with a man, blessed with all the power of words, do not too hastily conclude, that his moral worth must be of equal preeminence with his mental faculties. Reserve the treasure of your confidence for the silent oratory of virtuous deeds.
We have now completed our survey of the character and writings of the principal rhetoricians of antiquity. It has been extremely superficial; yet has it consumed no inconsiderable portion of our time. I shall next ask your attention, in passing from the history of the science to the consideration of the science itself.