HAVING in my preceding lectures explained to you the nature, and submitted to your reflections my opinion of the real worth of those incidents in the science of rhetoric, usually known by the denomination of the state of the controversy, and general topics, internal as well as external, the course of my subject now leads me to consider, separately and successively, the arguments suitable to each of the three classes of orations, the demonstrative, the deliberative, and the judicial. This arrangement is enjoined by·the regulations of the institution; and is perhaps the best, that could have been devised, as it unfolds to your view the principles of the rhetorical science in the same order of time, as they may be expected to present themselves to your use for practical application. Whenever you shall have occasion to speak in public, the first object, to which your attention will be required, can be no other, than to ascertain precisely the state of the controversy, or in other words the subject of your discourse. The next will be to collect from the whole stock of your ideas those, which may be most subservient to the design, for which you are to speak; and the rhetorical topics were devised to facilitate this process. Your third consideration will be to settle specifically upon those ideas or arguments, best adapted to the particular nature of discourse. The arguments, specially adapted to each of the three kinds of public speaking, may be and often are introduced to the greatest advantage in discourses of the other classes; but there are certain arguments, adapted in a peculiar manner to each of the three departments, which still retain their character and denomination, even when used in the service of the others.
The arguments, suited to either of the three kinds of discourses, are such, as apply more especially to the purpose of that class, to which they belong; and to determine what that is we must recur to those original and fundamental distinctions, which I have already noticed. You will remember then, that the central point, to which all the rays of argument should converge, in deliberative oratory is utility; in judicial discourses is justice; and in demonstrative orations is praise or censure.
Every discourse then, of which panegyric or reprobation upon persons or things is the main purpose, must be included in the demonstrative class. It embraces accordingly a very numerous description of oratorical performances, both of ancient and of modern times. Among the Greeks and Romans, panegyrics upon the gods, upon princes, generals, and distinguished men dead or living, and even upon cities and countries, were frequently written and delivered. Funeral eulogies upon deceased persons of illustrious rank, male or female, were often composed and pronounced in public by their kinsmen; a custom, to which the first emperors themselves, Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Tiberius, successively conformed. These were orations strictly and altogether demonstrative. But the panegyric of Pompey, interwoven by Cicero into his oration for the Manilian law, that of Caesar in the oration for Marcellus, that of Literature in the oration for Archias; the panegyric of Trajan by the younger Pliny; and Cicero’s invectives against Antony· in his philippics, against Piso, Catiline, Clodius, and Verres, in many other of his orations, are applications of the demonstrative manner in certain parts of deliberative, or judicial discourses.
In modern ages and christian countries funeral sermons are every where customary. With the Roman Catholics the panegyric of saints is an ordinary exercise of public eloquence. Some of the most illustrious scientific and literary societies in France were accustomed, upon the decease of a member, to hear a short biographical eulogy pronounced upon him by their secretary. During a long series of years every member of the French academy was expected, on the day of his reception, to deliver a panegyric upon Louis XIV, the first patron, and upon Cardinal Richelieu, the founder of that institution. The learned academies of France were accustomed also to propose the panegyric of some distinguished personage in French history, as a subject for ingenious competition, with the offer of a prize or premium for the best performance. These were also discourses strictly demonstrative, though, instead of being delivered by their authors, the prize composition alone was read at a public meeting of the society.
But as demonstrative eloquence has been thus assiduously cultivated and zealously encouraged in France, it has in a very singular and unaccountable manner been neglected in England. Of the British nation may emphatically be said, what one of their most eloquent writers has confessed of himself; “they are not conversant in the language of panegyric.” How has it happened, that a people, illustrious by a long catalogue of worthies, among the brightest in the fields of fame, should have taken so little pains, or rather should so studiously have avoided, to bestow upon them the merited mead of glory? Their substitute for the clarion of fame is a marble monument, in St. Paul’s church, or Westminster Abbey. This is indeed a fair and honorable distinction; a powerful incentive to generous deeds, and a noble expression of national gratitude. But after all a tomb-stone is in its proper character a record of mortality. The approbation, the applause of their fellow men, are among the most precious rewards, which prompt the most exalted spirits to deathless achievements; and the sepulchres [sic] of the dead are not the stages, upon which this applause and approbation can properly ascend. Non quia intercedendum putem imaginibus, quae marmore aut aere finguntur; sed ut vultus hominum, vita simu1acra vultus imbecilla ac mortalia sunt; forma mentis aeterna, quam tenere et exprimere non per alienam materiem et, artem, sed tuis ipse moribus possis. Have the British nation been insensible to the truth of this sublime sentiment? Have they believed, that such perishable and frail materials, as brass and marble, could bear the proper memorial of imperishable minds? Or why have they been so penurious of their praise? The funeral sermon is the only oratorical form, in which they have been accustomed to utter eulogy; and even that discourse has rather been devoted to soothe private sorrows, or to gratify personal friendship, than to testify public gratitude or admiration. They once held a theatrical celebration in honor of Shakspeare [sic], and they have commemorated Handel in solemnizing the strains of his own harmony. But on these, on all other like occasions, rhetoric remained in obstinate and immoveable silence. Alfred and Elizabeth, Shakspeare and Milton, Bacon and Locke, Newton and Napier, Marlborough and Nelson, Chatham and Burke, slumber in death, unhonored [sic] by the grateful offerings of panegyric. The British poets indeed have often spoken with exquisite pathos and beauty the language of eulogy; but in the whole compass of English literature there is not one effusion of eloquence, which, like those of Isocrates, Cicero, and Pliny in Greece and Rome, or those of Bosuet and Fléchier, Mascaron and Thomas in France, immortalize at once the speaker and his subject, and interweave, in one immortal texture, the glories of achievement with those of celebration.
Descending in general from British ancestry, speaking their language, and educated in their manners, usages, and customs, we have in some degree inherited this unaccountable indifference to the memory of departed merit. I say in some degree, for funeral sermons are much more frequent in our usage than in that of the nation, whence we originate. But the funeral sermon is perhaps the most objectionable form, in which panegyrical eloquence could be revived. It is too common to be much valued, and too indiscriminate to be very valuable. But we have occasional funeral orations in honor of distinguished personages; and we have numerous anniversary discourses, which might be made the vehicles of honorable and precious commendation. But the acquaintance of our public orators is generally so exclusively limited to English literature, that they are accustomed to look for models of composition so invariably to English example, that, where this has failed them, they seem to have been at a loss where to resort for a substitute; or, with more confidence than safety, they have relied upon the fertility of their own genius, and nobly disdained either to seek models from the past, or to furnish them for the future. Certain at least it is, that our success in this department of literature has not been correspondent to our partialities in its favor. The faculties of our countrymen have been more conspicuous in action, than in celebration. The worthies of elder times have often been commemorated, but seldom eulogized; and the spirit of Washington, in the very abodes of blessedness, must have nauseated at some of the reeking honors, which have issued from his tomb.
Yet although the English language is destitute of orations strictly demonstrative in the line of panegyric, there are however passages of the panegyrical description, interspersed in the speeches of their parliamentary orators, which prove, that its proper style has not always been either unknown or neglected. The speeches of Burke, which were published by himself, contain some admirable specimens of this, as well as of every other kind of eloquence. I refer you particularly to his eulogies of Howard, of lord Bathurst, of Charles Townsend, of Sir George Saville, and of Mr. Dunning; but above all to that of the American people; the fairest and most glorious tribute of panegyric, that ever was uttered in their honor. As a memorial of the merits of your forefathers, it may be recommended to your patriotism; as an effort of the most splendid eloquence, to your taste; and as a lesson of the most elevated morality, to your imitation. Every line of praise upon the fathers should be received, as a line of duty for the children.
But praise is only the illuminated hemisphere of demonstrative eloquence. Her orb on the other side is darkened with invective and reproach. Solemn orations of invective are not indeed usual. Panegyric sometimes ends in itself, and constitutes the only purpose of the speaker. It has not, I believe, been the custom of any age or nation thus to administer censure; but in discourses of business, deliberative or judicial, reprehension is perhaps of more frequent and extensive use than applause. It is plentifully scattered over the most celebrated orations both of ancient and modern times. Familiar alike to Demosthenes and Cicero; to Chatham, Junius, and Burke. The French orators indeed have been most sparing in its use; for the sublimest [sic] French orators have been ministers of religion, and have been duly impressed with that truly excellent sentiment of the Athenian priestess, who refused her office to anathematize Alcibiades; because it was her duty to implore blessings, and not to pronounce execrations. She was a priestess to bless, and not to curse. Invective is not one of the pleasing functions of oratory; nor is it her amiable aspect. But she is charged with a sting, as well as with honey. Her terrors are as potent, as her charms; as the same omnipotent hand is manifested by the blasting volley of thunder, as by the genial radiance of the sun.
The ultimate object then of demonstrative eloquence is show; the display of qualities good or bad. Her special function is to point the finger of admiration or of scorn; to deal out the mead of honor and of shame. From this fundamental principle are to be derived all the precepts for the composition of demonstrative discourses; which I shall now present to your consideration in successive reference to the subject, the grounds, and the manner. In other words we are to inquire, what may properly be praised or censured; next, for what, and finally how such praise or censure should be dispensed.
The subjects of panegyric or reprobation may be either persons or things. In the language of Aristotle, which has been adopted by Quinctilian, “demonstrative oratory generally relates either to gods or men; but sometimes to other animals, and even to things inanimate.” Surely one would think these divisions sufficiently clear and comprehensive; but,this is one of the parts of the science, where the rhetoricians of the middle age, from the time of Quinctilian down to the beginning of the last century, wasted a world of idle ingenuity upon petty distinctions, and the multiplication of artificial subdivisions. Vossius for example very grave1y discusses the question, whether this division of Aristotle includes vegetables; because they are neither gods, men, other animals, nor things inanimate. Nay, after long and painful argument, he admits, that in the praise or censure of persons, actions, and things, that of the brute creation cannot be comprized [sic]; and therefore, in compliance with the scruples of the formidable critics, who insisted upon a more perfect enumeration, he proposes a fourth subdivision of quasi-persons; so that every bird, beast, fish, and creeping thing, of this terraqueous [sic] globe, might be regularly entitled to its just proportion of panegyric; or be punished with its proper share of reproach. Unquestionably all being moral or physical, actual or possible, from the Supreme Creator to nothing, “night’s elder brother,” may seriously or in joke be made a subject of eulogy or of invective. But, in order to establish this proposition, it cannot be necessary to dissect all existence material and metaphysical, and count its every vein and artery, nerve and sinew, for the purpose of converting into legitimate oratory a philippic upon a monkey, or a panegyric upon a parrot.
In christian countries the great and transcendent object of praise, before which all others vanish, is the Creator and Preserver of the universe. His power and goodness are inexhaustible themes, upon which the duties of the pulpit orator particularly require him to expatiate in all his pub1ic performances. It is a part of the regular, stated duties of public worship, and in those churches, where this portion of the divine service has not been reduced to prescribed, unvarying forms, is perhaps the most arduous of all the functions of the sanctuary. With the praise of the Creator is naturally associated that of the Saviour [sic] of the world; which will be diversified according to the different views, in which that exalted character is considered by the different denominations of christians; differences, which it is not my province to discuss, and of which mutual forbearance and charity furnish the best, if not the only solution.
Among the ancient heathens the mythological doctrine and history supplied a copious fund for encomiastic eloquence, in their numberless divinities, demi-gods, and heroes. The Roman catholics, by an easy substitution, have reserved to themselves the same themes in their hierarchy of saints, angels, and archangels;
“Thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers.”
But the protestant communities know too little of those “orders bright,” those supernatural intelligences [sic], to honor them with that panegyric, to which, by their rank and dignity in the scale of being, they may perhaps be entitled; but which in our ignorance has an unfortunate tendency to lead us from veneration to worship, from the adoration of the true God to the idolatry of his creatures.
The persons however, who, in the common affairs of the world, most frequently call for the voice of panegyric or of censure, are men; or at least human beings. And the qualities, for which they may deserve the warmest praise, are those, which contribute to social or individual happiness. And here it is, proper to notice a very material distinction, drawn by Socrates, and developed by his disciples, between what they call the fair, and the good; the Καλον, και αγαθον. By the good they understood till those blessings, the direct benefit of which was confined to their possessor; such as health, strength, beauty, and the gifts of nature, which contribute to the happiness of the individual. But the fair was the assemblage of those powers and faculties, which are not only desirable in themselves, but as contributing to the happiness of others. Hence it is that Aristotle remarks, that the whole scope of the demonstrative orator is the fair; το καλον; the display of qualities, which administer to the happiness of mankind. Hence the most perfect theme of human panegyric is virtue. Virtue is the Καλον και αγαθον; both good and fair; at once contributing to the happiness of its possessor and of other men. Virtue alone unites the double praise of enjoyment and of beneficence. But, as beneficence is her most essential characteristic, it necessarily follows, that those of her attributes, which are most beneficial to others, are those, which merit the highest panegyric. To do good and to communicate is thus the only solid foundation for legitimate praise; and the passage of the holy scripture, which says of the blessed Jesus, that he &ldquo went about doing good,” embraces within itself the whole compass of applause, the whole system of demonstrative eloquence.
With this general principle always in view, and with continual reference to it, a man may be panegyrized for the qualities of his mind, for bodily accomplishments, or for external circumstances. The highest praise must be reserved for the first. They are most beneficent in their nature, and most extensive in their effects. Mere bodily perfections are of small benefit to the world in a state of civilization, and Hercules himself could, by the cleansing of a stable, or the strangling of a lion, deserve but little praise from mankind, once emancipated from the savage weakness of the heroic age. External circumstances, or the blessings of fortune, can supply no materials for encomium from themselves; but they may be rendered praiseworthy by their application. This they can receive only from the energy of virtue. So that after all, directly or indirectly, virtue is the only pure and original fountain of praise.
But virtue is a term so general and so comprehensive, that the idea annexed to it is seldom very precise. Aristotle therefore, after marking its universal characteristic, beneficence, the property of doing good, enters into a minute enumeration of all its parts; such as justice, fortitude, temperance, magnificence, magnanimity, liberality, meekness, prudence, and wisdom. He gives ingenious and accurate definitions of all these moral and intellectual qualities; but it deserves peculiarly to be remarked, that among the virtues he formally includes revenge. For, says he, retaliation is part of justice; and inflexibility part of fortitude. How striking in illustration is this at once of the superior excellence and of the truth of divine revelation. To mere naked, human nature, this reasoning of Aristotle is irresistible. It is not his wonderful sagacity, that deserts him; it is merely the infirmity of the natural man, in which he participates. On principles of mere natural mortality revenge is a virtue, retaliation is justice, and inflexibility is fortitude. But look for the practical comment upon this principle into the fictions of the poets; see the hero of Homer, the goddess-born Achilles, wreaking his fury upon the lifeless corpse of his valiant and unfortunate foe. See the hero of Virgil, the pious Æneas, steeling his bosom against mercy, and plunging his pitiless sword into the bosom of a fallen and imploring enemy, to avenge the slaughter of his friend. Look for it in real history; consult Thucydides; consult the annals of the French revolution, from the instant, when that peculiar doctrine of christianity, the forgiveness of injuries, was cast off, as a relic of monkish superstition; and you will trace this virtue of revenge through rivers and oceans of blood, shed in cold and deliberate butchery. But this subject is too fruitful and too important for discussion here. It is a theme for more sacred occasions, and more hallowed lips. Returning to our proper sphere, it now remains to inquire how praise or censure best may be dispensed.
In formal panegyric there are two modes of proceeding, either of which may be adopted, as the circumstances of the case my render expedient. The one may be called biographical, the other ethical panegyric. One proceeds from the object, and the other from the qualities. One takes its departure from the person, and the other from the virtue celebrated.
The biographical panegyric is the easiest. Its divisions are uniform, and are precisely the same in every subject, to which they are applied. It traces the hero of the story through his genealogy to the moment of his birth; accompanies him through life; follows him to the grave, and gathers all the flowers ever scattered on his tomb. The moral panegyric is of more difficult composition. It takes the prominent qualities of the person celebrated for the principal divisions of discourse, and treats them in succession without regard to chronological order. Of these two methods the first has been pursued by Isocrates and Pliny; the last by Cicero. The French funeral eulogists endeavour [sic] to combine the advantages of both, and exhibit a developement [sic] of virtues in succession, corresponding with the order of a biographical narrative. One of the most beautiful examples of panegyric, thus treated, is the funeral oration of the duchess of Montausier by Fléchier.
The rules for the composition of panegyric are neither numerous nor complicated. The first is a sacred and undeviating regard for truth. But the duties, which truth prescribes, are variously modified under various relations. A mere biographer is bound to divest himself of all partialities; to notice the errors and failings, as well as the virtues and achievements of his hero. The obligation of the panegyrist is less rigorous. His purpose is not history but encomium. He is bound to tell the truth. Errors, vices, follies, will not be disguised, nor justified; but they may be covered with the veil of silence; and if more than counterbalanced by transcendent merits, they may even be extenuated; a proceeding perfectly consistent with the pure morality of that religion, which teaches, that “charity covereth [sic] a multitude of sins.”
The ancient rhetoricians even allowed panegyric orators the very dangerous indulgence of using what they call moral approximation; and, as all the virtues border very closely upon corresponding vices, they authorize the speaker of praise or invective to transpose them, or mingle up their colors with the view to cause the one to be mistaken for the other. Aristotle formally recommends the occasional substitution of prudence for timidity; of sagacity for cunning; of simplicity for dulness [sic]; of gentleness for indolence; and he ingeniously reminds his reader, that this transposition will be most advisable, when the vice is only the excess of its correlative virtue. And thus rashness may easily be pruned into valor, and extravagance whitened into generosity. The aspect, in which moral qualities may be considered, is undoubtedly susceptible of great variety; and nothing falls more frequently under our observation in the common occurrences of life, than the different lights, in which the same act is viewed by different eyes. To deny the speaker of panegyric or invective the use of the faculty, which darkens or illumines the canvass of his portraits, would be restriction too severe. He may present the object in the aspect best suited to his purpose, without deviating from the truth. The use of approximation is more questionable, when employed for censure, than for commendation; unmerited reproach being more pernicious and more odious, than undeserved praise.
An example of oratorical approximation in the correspondence between Junius and Sir William Draper is introduced on both sides of the controversy; and refers to a feature in the character of the Marquis of Granby, which one of the writers endeavours [sic] to exalt, and the other struggles to degrade.* An impartial observer will perceive, that plain fact lay between the two representations. As efforts of skill, the execution of Junius is far superior to that of his adversary. But it is tinctured with bitter and corrosive passions. Sir William Draper is less pleasing and more amiable. Junius is the ablest champion; Sir William. has the fairest cause. If ever engaged in controversy, remember that approximation requires at once firmness and pliancy, steady principle and accommodating address. It obtains more indulgence, used defensively, than offensively; more excuse, urged by way of attenuation, than of reproof; more encouragement in amplifying virtues, than in aggravating faults.
The next rule for the distribution of praise or censure is that it be specific. General encomium is the praise of fools. The quality, which a man has in common with many others, is no theme for panegyric or invective. Dwell on all important incidents, exclusively or at least peculiarly applicable to the person, of whom you speak. Strive rather to excite, than to express admiration, to exhibit, rather than to proclaim the excellences of your hero, if your theme be praise. If invective, pursue the same process, though with inverted step. General abuse may discover anger, but not eloquence. The alphabet of demonstrative oratory is the same, spelt forward or backward. But in descending to specialties, be cautious in the selection of circumstances, which admit of panegyric and embellishment. Assume nothing trivial; applaud nothing really censurable; blame nothing really praise-worthy. The value of praise depends much on the character of the panegyrist, and the selection of incidents for remark is the truest test or both the orator and the oration.
Amplification is the favorite figure of demonstrative eloquence. The speaker then should proceed from the less to the greater, and make his discourse a continual climax. The ears of men are fastidious to praise. When listening to it, they are ever prone to slide into the more pleasant sensation of ridicule. The orator must suit his discourse to the disposition of the audience. Praise or dispraise is relative. To conciliate the favor of his auditory is the first task of the orator in every form of public speaking. To the demonstrative orator it is the alpha and omega, the first and the last.
The last, though not the least important precept far the composition of these discourses is to moralise [sic] the subject; an art, which requires the most consummate of skill. The amusement of the audience, and the celebration of some favorite occasion or character, are the immediate purposes of the oration; but the speaker should propose to himself the further and nobler end of urging them to virtuous sentiment and beneficent action. Not by assuming the tone of a teacher; not by dealing out driblets of morality from the whole duty of man; not by pillaging the primer, or laying the spelling-book under contribution. Your moral sentiment must be pure, to be useful; it must bear some mark of novelty in the expression or in the modification, to be received without disgust, and to leave a deep impression. Hence you will perceive, that a profound knowledge of human nature, an accurate observation of mankind, and a thorough knowledge of ethics, or the science of moral distinctions, are among the essential qualifications of the demonstrative orator. In this art of mingling moral sentiment with oratorical splendor, modern eloquence has perhaps equalled [sic] that of the ancients; and the French orators have excelled all other moderns. Bossuet and Fléchier, in their funeral orations and panegyrics, combine admirable sentiments with ardent panegyric, and irradiate every gem of their eloquence with a lucid beam of instruction.
Thus much for the arguments, suited peculiarly to demonstrative oratory. My next object will be to give you a view of those, most adapted to the eloquence of deliberation.
* Heron’s Junius i. p. 37, 51, 59.