THE division of all oratorical discourses into demonstrative deliberative, and judicial classes, as explained in one of my last lectures, was made, as I then informed you, for the purpose of facilitating the process of invention, and of marking the discrimination between those topics, which furnish arguments to every kind of discourse, and those, peculiarly incident to each of the separate classes. The topics, which belong alike to every species of public discourse, are those, which first claim our attention; and, in the works of the ancient rhetoricians, assume exclusively to themselves the name of topics. They were originally so called from the Greek word τοπος, a place. as being the common seats or places, to which every speaker must resort for his arguments. They were alike open to both parties in every controversy; which indiscriminate adaptation, together with the abuses, which a misapplication or them has often occasioned, has contributed in process of time to bring them into contempt; and almost all the modern writers upon rhetoric have concurred to explode them from the science. It was not without some hesitation, that I determined to make them the subject of a lecture. But being myself of opinion, that they are not so entirely useless, as in modern times they have generally been considered; and reflecting, that the purpose of these lectures is to make you acquainted not only with the prevailing systems, but with the history of rhetoric; I concluded to give you such an abstract of them, as may at least open more thoroughly to your view the ancient systems of the science, although they may never answer any purpose of practical oratory for your own use.
The rhetorical topics, or common places then were the general incidents, or circumstances, belonging alike to every subject, and distributed under a certain number of heads, to facilitate the invention of public speakers. The topics were divided into two general classes; internal and external. The internal topics arose from the bosom of the subject itself. External topics arose from any other source without the subject; but made applicable to it. They are in our courts of law included under the general designation of evidence.
The internal topics are said to be sixteen; three of which, definition, enumeration, and notation or etymology, embrace the whole subject. The others, without being equally comprehensive, are derived from its various properties, incidents, and relations. From their names you will perceive the necessity of some further explanation to render them intelligible. They are as follow [sic]. Genus, species, antecedents, consequents, adjuncts, conjugates, cause, effect, contraries, repugnances, similitude, dissimilitude, and comparison.
Definition I presume it will not be necessary for me to define. But it will not be improper to tell you, that definitions are of two kinds, that is, of things and of ideas; objects perceptible to the sense, and objects only conceived by the understanding. The forms of definition are various; but the essential character of them all must be to separate the properties, which the defined object has in common with all others, from those, which are peculiar to itself. Definition is of great use in argument,and is at least as serviceable in logic, as in rhetoric. It is much used by the French orators, as an instrument of amplification. Thus in the funeral oration of Turenue by Fléchier, the orator, to display with greater force the combination of talents, required for commanding an army, resorts to an oratorical definition. “What,” says he, “what is an army? An army is a body, agitated. by an infinite variety of passions, directed by an able man to the defence [sic] of his country. It is a multitude of armed men blindly obedient to the orders of a commander, and totally ignorant of his designs. An assembly of base and mercenary souls for the most part, toiling for the fame of kings and conquerors, regardless of their own; aˇmotley mass of libertines to keep in order; of cowards to lead in to battle; of profligates to restrain; of mutineers to control.” This definition, you see, is no panegyric, and to a superficial view may appear to have been ill judged at the court of Louis XIV, and ill timed in the funeral eulogy of a great general. It is precisely what constitutes its highest merit. In this definition there was couched a profound moral lesson to Louis himself, which that prince had magnanimity enough to hear without offence [sic], though not enough to apply with genuine wisdom to his conduct. I question whether any Parisian orator of the present day would pronounce such a definition of an army.
Enumeration consists in the separation of a subject into its constituent parts. The letters of Junius, ranking in the very first line of eloquence, but far lower in moral and political wisdom, make frequent use of enumeration. His first letter for instance contains an enumeration of the high offices of state, which composed the administration; with a commentary to prove, that they were all held by weak or worthless men. In his address to the king, he asks him on what part of his subjects he could rely for support, if the people of England should revolt; and then answers by enumerating all the other classes of people, then composing the British empire, and proving, that he could depend upon none of them. Enumeration is of great use in elaborate argument, but when employed must be made complete; that is, the utmost care must be taken not to omit any one of the component parts.
Notation, or etymology, seeks the meaning of a word by tracing it to its original sources. Its use is for elucidation; and its application is most suited to discussion of judicial questions. Nearly akin to notation are conjugates, which are nothing more than the different words, derived from the same root. Thus, when Milton’s Comus says
“It is for homely features to keep home,
They had their name thence;”
he gives an example both of notation and of conjugates.
Genus and species must be well understood by all the students of logic. They are however often employed in argumentative oratory, and the speaker’s talent is discerned in the art, with which he descends from a general to a special proposition; or ascends from the special to the general. In technical language the general position is called the thesis, and the special position the hypothesis. In using arguments from these topics you have only to remember, that the species proves the genus; but the genus rather excludes, than proves the species. This is rather abstruse; but perhaps the following little epigram of Prior will make it plainer.
Yes, every poet is a fool,
By demonstration Ned can show it;
Happy, could Ned’s inverted rule
Prove every fool to be a poet.
Here fool is the genus, and poet the species; and the very point of the epigram rests upon the axiom, I have just laid down, that the species proves the genus; but that the genus is better in argument to exclude, than to prove the species.
Antecedents, consequents, and adjuncts are circumstances attendant upon the principal point, in the several relations of past, future, and present time. The application of these topics is most common in arguments at law, upon questions of fact; and are there practised [sic] in form of comment upon what is called circumstal1tial evidence. Antecedents and consequents are said by Cicero more properly to belong to logic, than to rhetoric; because they are necessary attendants upon the fact. But adjuncts are more peculiarly rhetorical topics; because mere contingencies, which leave large room for imagination and conjecture. The relation of antecedent and consequent is strongly marked in two lines of Shakspeare [sic].
She is a woman; therefore to be woo’d;
She is a woman; therefore to be won.
Implying, as characteristic of the female character, that a woman can neither be won without antecedent wooing; nor wooed without consequent winning. I do not vouch for the truth of the sentiment, but only adduce the passage, as an example where these topics are brought into the most pointed opposition.
It requires a minute subtlety of discrimination to distinguish between these places and those of cause and effect. They are however distinguished, as well as the two kinds of cause and effect; the one universal and the other occasional. The inference from effect to cause is more conclusive, than that from cause to effect. Thus the material world, both in reason and in scripture, is the foundation of a never-answered argument to prove the existence of the Creator. The visible things are the effect; and they prove beyond dispute the invisible things, the cause; the eternal power and godhead of the Creator. But this argument cannot be inverted. The existence of the Creator is not in itself a proof of the creation. A necessary caution in the use of this argument from effect to cause is not to trace the connexion [sic] too far, by ascending to a cause too remote. The reasoning in such cases becomes ludicrous. Thus Shakspeare’s [sic] Polonius undertakes with great solemnity to find out the cause of Hamlet’s madness. And, after much circumlocution in praise of brevity, and much prologue to introduce nothing, when he comes to assign the cause, it is, “I have a daughter;” and then, through a long and minute deduction, infers from his having a daughter the lord Hamlet’s madness; to make all which elaborate reasoning the more ridiculous, you will recollect, that the madness, so shrewdly deduced from its cause by Polonius, was all the time feigned. So in the Dunciad, Dennis draws the lamentable conclusion, that he is sixty years of age from a cause still more remote.
And am I then three-score!
Ah! why, ye gods, must two and two make four!
Another nice distinction is that between contraries and repugnancies [sic]. Thus, in the passage from Sallust, concordia res parvae crescunt, discordia maximae dilabuntur; the observation is taken from the contraries, concord and discord. But when Pope, speaking of some character, says he was
So obliging, that he ne’er obliged;
the assertion is drawn from repugnancy; from things generally inconsistent, but sometimes reconcileable [sic]. The use of contraries gives energy to the thought; that of repugnancies [sic] often gives smartness to the expression. The combination of repugnancies [sic] is the most fruitful source of the antithesis; a figure, of which I shall say more hereafter.
Similitude, dissimilitude, and comparison, stand last in the list of internal topics, and are among the most copious sources of rhetorical ornament. These peculiarly belong to rhetoric; as those of cause and effect, antecedent and consequent, are more especially suited to logic. The distinction between similitude and comparison is, that the former has reference to the quality, the latter to the quantity. Comparison is between more and less; similitude is between good and bad. Thus when Livy says of Hannibal, who rested upon the Alps some time with his army, that he hung like a tempest upon the declivities of the mountains, it is a likeness by similitude. But when a learned writer says, that the sublimity of the scriptural prophets exceeds that of Homer, as much as thunder is louder than a whisper, it is a likeness by comparison. Similitude draws objects together to show their resemblance; comparison separates them to mark their difference.
From the internal let us now pass to the consideration of the external, or, as they are otherwise called, the inartificial [sic] topics. Inartificial [sic], not that their management requires less art, than that of the others; it requires perhaps more; but because they are not inherent in the subject itself, upon which you discourse; but arise from some external source. There is great diversity and no small confusion among the ancient rhetoricians upon this part of the subject, which varies in the Greek and Roman writers, according to the varieties in their political and judicial institutions; and most of which is altogether inapplicable, except under a different modification, to ours.
The external topics, according to Quinctilian, are six. First, prejudications [sic]; second, common fame; third, torture; fourth, written documents; fifth, oaths; and sixth, witnesses.
1. Prejudications [sic] were principally confined to the bar. They were of three kinds. First, precedents, or adjudged cases, involving the same point of law, as that in litigations. These are as much used among us, as they were among the Romans; and every lawyer’s library principally consists of such adjudged cases in elaborate compilations under the name of reports. Second, previous decisions on the same question between other parties. As for instance in the case of Cluentius; two of the accomplices of Oppianicus had already been tried, and convicted; from which circumstance Cicero strongly urges the argument against Oppianicus himself. Third, decisions of the same cause and between the same parties, before tribunals of inferior jurisdiction,from which there was an appeal. The second and third of these kinds of prejudication [sic] are as familiar to our laws, as to the Roman code; but they do not furnish the orator the same fund of argument; because it is a settled maxim of the common law,that the decision of the same question between other parties, or the decision of an inferior tribunal is upon the appeal of no authority whatsoever; and the case must be tried, as if it had never before been judicially examined. Thus the verdict of a coroner’s inquest, the indictment of a grand-jury, or the sentence of an inferior court, appealed from, cannot with propriety be mentioned, as matter of argument on either side of a cause. In this respect our system of rendering justice has improved upon that of the civil law. Another difference between the common and the civil law makes a different application and modification of arguments, drawn from prejudication [sic], necessary. By the Roman system the questions of law and fact, involved in a cause, were always blended together, and decided by the same judges. By the common law every question of law was decided by the judge and every question of fact by the jury; and, excepting in cases where the questions of law and fact are so interwoven together that the decision of one involves that of the other, this doctrine of the common law still prevails in practice. Hence the authority of precedents, prejudications [sic] on mere points of law, is much greater, than in the age of Quinctilian; while his second class of prejudications [sic], chiefly relating to facts, which had so much weight in his time, has none or next to none in ours. I say next to none, because by the principles of our law it ought to have none. Not but that, in your attendance upon judicial courts, you will sometimes hear a speaker argue from this, and even from the third class of prejudications [sic]. There always will be some weight in such arguments and therefore they often will be introduced for want of better. But our institutions very justly counteract that natural first propensity to adopt the opinions of others; and forbid juries from putting any trust in the presentment of an inquest, and judges from paying any regard, on appeal, to the judgment of the subordinate tribunal.
There is another peculiarity in our institutions, which in like manner forbids, and yet instigates occasionally the use of arguments from prejudication [sic], in our legislative assemblies, and in deliberative discourses. Our legislatures, as you know, generally consist of two separate assemblies; a senate and a house of representatives. Every law, before it is enacted, must be assented to by a majority of each of these assemblies. It is very common, upon a debate in either branch upon a question, which has been acted upon in the other, to alledge [sic] the determination of the co-ordinate body, as an argument for or against the thing itself. But the same remark is here applicable, which I have just made with regard to the second and third kinds of judicial prejudication [sic]. Such arguments are inconsistent with the fundamental principle, upon which the legislative power is divided between two distinct bodies of men. They are contrary to the rules of order in every such assembly. Yet such is the sympathetic power of opinion, that they are introduced into almost every debate, and are seldom entirely without their influence.
When prejudication [sic] is adduced by way of argument, the speaker, adducing it, naturally dwells upon every circumstance, which may contribute to its weight; and enlarges on every favorable incident of reputation and character, which adds to its authority; and upon every feature or similarity between the case decided and that in controversy. His adversary, on the other hand; diligently marks the points of dissimilarity, or assails the reputation of those, from whom the decision is adduced. This requires much delicacy of management. It is usual to profess at least a respect of form for the intentions of those, whose authority is opposed; and when occasions arise, as they sometimes must, requiring an exception to this rule, and corrupt motives are to be denounced, moderation of expression becomes at once one of the most difficult and most necessary parts of the orator’s address.
2. Common fame is a copious topic for argument in deliberative and demonstrative discourses, but is generally excluded from the judicial practice of modern nations. As evidence, it is by the rules of the common law never admissible, when other evidence can be supposed to exist. The reputation of a witness, the marriage of persons deceased, who lived together as man and wife, and some other cases of that kind are allowed to be proved by common fame; but.in general the extreme inaccuracy of such testimony has shut the doors of our courts of justice against it. Common fame and prejudication [sic] can seldom or never extend further, than to warrant a presumption. The speaker, appealing to it, may exercise his ingenuity in deriving from the concurrent assent of multitudes the probability of truth. But common fame herself is no better reputed in the world, than in the courts of common law. Her testimony stands so degraded in universal estimation, that upon a controverted [sic] fact there is some danger in referring to her; as a skilful opponent takes advantage of the very reference to her, and urges, that the truth is to be found in the disbelief of what she asserts, and the full faith of what she denies.
3. Torture, which was a topic of continual recurrence among the Greeks and Romans, is still applied in many parts of modem Europe. It has often been considered, as the most powerful of all the tests of truth; but its, use is equally abhorrent to the spirit of freedom, of reason, and of humanity. Among the ancients slaves only were subjected to it; but wherever it has been practised [sic] it has been thought to produce evidence of the strongest kind; and the person tortured has been said to be put to the question. Fortunately for us, we can never know its effects, but by speculation and the experience of others. It is not among the ways and means of our oratory.
4. Written documents compose a great proportion of the testimonies, admitted as evidence in the courts of law. Papers of this description give rise to oratorical controversy, either upon their authenticity, or upon their meaning or construction, or upon their legal effect. These are subjects however at this day more proper for the investigation of students at law, than of the mere rhetorician. The law prescribes how every document must be executed for admission, as evidence in the courts. It contains rules, founded upon sound logic, for settling the questions from ambiguity or expression, from disagreement between the words and intention, from repugnances [sic], from analogies of reasoning, and from varietiesˇof interpretation. It has dictated also their forms of expression, the legal operation of which has been settled for many ages. To your future studies I must then refer you for a further elucidation of this subject.
5. The importance of oaths, as oratorical topics, is also principally confined to the practice of the law. The oath of the parties was one of the common modes of trial among the Greeks and Romans. It is also admitted in certain cases both by the common and statute laws of this commonwealth; but the general maxim of our law is, that no man can be received as a witness in his own cause; and it usually disqualifies the testimony of every person, interested in the event of the trial. The oath of a party therefore, even when admitted, can never have much weight, and can, be of use to an orator only on the failure of all other testimony.
6. Witnesses constitute the last external topic, concerning which I am to speak. And under this name are included authorities from eminent writers, common proverbs, and oracles among the ancients, instead of which we substitute the sacred scriptures. There are also two modes of connecting the testimony of living witnesses; that is, one when they are present, by word of mouth; the other in their absence, when it is reduced to the form of written depositions. The difference between these two modes of evidence, the advantages and inconveniences, attending each of them, and the cases, in which they are admissible, or must be excluded, belong, like almost every part of these external topics, to the same theory of evidence, which occupies so large a portion of the lawyers’ studies.
Such are the topics, both internal and external, which occupy so high a station in all the ancient books upon rhetoric. You will readily conceive what infinite variety of matter they present to the use of an orator. But besides the direct employment of them all, they may be applied also indirectly under a fictitious presentment of facts, with the aid of hypothesis. The hypothesis of an orator bears the same proportion to his thesis, that traverse bears to plane sailing in navigation. It is not included among the topics, but includes them all under a different modification. Hypothesis is the potential or subjunctive mood of rhetoric; frequently used in every kind of public discourse. It is peculiarly calculated to excite attention, and rivet the impression of the topics, employed under it. Read for instance Junius’ address, which I have already quoted, and commonly called his letter to the king. It is however in form a hypothetical speech to the king, introduced in a letter to the printer, and a considerable part of its force is owing to the hypothesis, upon which it is raised. Hypothesis is a favorite artifice with all orators of a brilliant imagination. It gives a license of excursion to fancy, which cannot be allowed to the speaker, while chained to the diminutive sphere of relatives. In deliberative and judicial orations, it affords an opportunity to say hypothetically what the speaker would not dare to say directly. The artifice is indeed so often practised [sic] to evade all restraint upon speech, that there is at least no ingenuity in its employment. The purposes, for which it is resorted to from this motive, are often so disingenuous, that in seeing it used and abused, as you will upon numberless occasions throughout your lives, you will probably go a step beyond the conclusion of the philosophical clown in Shakspeare [sic], and settle in the opinion, that there is much vice, as well “much virtue in IF.”
Thus much may suffice for the doctrine of the topics, or loci communes, which were deemed of vast importance to the students both of logic and rhetoric in ancient times, but which the modern teachers of eloquence have almost unanimously pronounced to be utterly useless. If mere authority were to decide the question, the writers of later ages must excuse me for receiving with great caution any principle in the theory of the science, directly opposed to the opinion and the practice or Cicero. But considering the subject, as divested of all sanction from venerable names, on its own merits I do not deem the topics to be altogether without their use. Their proper use may be illustrated by reference to an [sic] usage, with which you are all well acquainted.
In entering an apothecary’s shop you have often observed its walls lined with a wainscoting of small boxes, on the outside of which you have seen, painted in capital letters, certain cabalistical [sic] words, most of which I presume you found yourselves quite unable to decypher [sic]. You ask the attendant at the shop for the medicinal article you want; he goes to one of his boxes,and in a moment brings you the drug, for which you applied; but which you never would have discovered from the names upon the boxes. Now the topics are, as I conceive, to the young orator, exactly what the apothecary’s painted boxes are to his apprentice. To the total stranger they are impenetrable hieroglyphics. To the thorough bred physician they may be altogether unnecessary. But in that intermediate stage, when arrangement is needed to relieve the mind from the pressure of accumulation, the painted boxes and the rhetorical topics may be of great use to the young practitioner. The topics are the ticketed boxes, or the labelled [sic] phials, in which the arguments of the speaker are to be found. And although telling us where to look for an argument does not furnish us the argument itself, yet it may suggest the train of thought, and add facility to the copiousness of the orator. This is all the benefit, that can be derived, or that I presume it was ever pretended could be derived from a thorough knowledge of the topics. They cannot give, but they may assist invention. They exhibit the subject in all its attitudes, and under every diversity of light and shade. They distribute the field of contemplation among a number of distinct proprietors, and mark out its divisions by metes and bounds. A perfect master of the topics may be a very miserable orator; but an accomplished orator will not disdain a thorough knowledge of the topics.