AT an early period of this course, in pointing out the several sources of invention it was observed, that they were to be derived, first from the subject of the discourse; secondly from the speaker; and thirdly from the audience. The materials for invention, which can be supplied by the subject, have been now fully considered; as well those, which belong to all the classes of oratory in common, as those more distinctly suitable to the demonstrative, deliberative, judicial, or pulpit eloquence apart. It is now time to fix our attention upon the speaker himself, and to inquire what resources for the success of his cause he may be enabled to derive from his own personal character and address.
There are three particulars in the character of an orator, which may naturally and essentially affect the success of his eloquence. They are manifested by the qualities of the heart, the endowments of the understanding, and the dispositions of the temper; of which I propose to speak successively in the order here assigned them, according to my estimate of their relative importance.
The first and most precious quality then, which contributes to the success of a public speaker, is an honest heart; a sentiment which I wish above all others may be impressed with indelible force upon your minds. On a former occasion I freely acknowledged my own opinion, that the maxim, upon which the ancient rhetoricians, and especially Quinctilian, so emphatically insisted, that none but an honest man could possibly be an orator, was not strictly true. That from a laudable but mistaken intention it strained too far the preeminence of virtue, and supposed a state of moral perfection as extant in the world, which was at best but imaginary. The position in so broad an extent is not only erroneous in itself, but dangerous in its tendency. For if no other than a good man can possibly be a great orator, the converse of the proposition must be also true, and every great orator would of course be proved an honest man. An opinion of this kind might be pernicious to youth and inexperience. It is incompatible with the uniform constitution of human nature, and the unvaried tenor of human history. It leads to conclusions, which must confound the distinctions between fair profession and honorable action; and makes a smooth and fluent tongue the incontrovertible test of moral excellence.
It is however unquestionably true, that in forming that ideal model of an all-accomplished orator, that perfect master of the art, which a fruitful imagination is able to conceive, the first quality, with which he should be endowed, is uprightness of heart. In mere speculation we cannot separate the moral character from the oratorical power. If we assume as a given point, that a man is deficient in the score of integrity, we discard all confidence in his discourse, and all benevolence to his person. We contemn [sic] his argument as sophistry. We detest his pathos as hypocrisy. If the powers of creation could be delegated to mortal hands, and we could make an orator, as a sculptor moulds [sic] a statue, the first material we should employ for the composition would be integrity of heart. The reason why this quality becomes so essential is, that it forms the basis of the hearer’s confidence, without which no eloquence can operate upon his belief. Now if the profession and the practice of virtue were always found in unison with each other, it would inevitably follow,.that no other than a good man could possess high powers of oratory; but as the world is constituted, the reputation of integrity will answer all the purpose of inspiring confidence, which could be attained bf the virtue itself.
The reputation of integrity is sometimes enjoyed without being deserved, and sometimes deserved without being enjoyed. There is however no safer maxim, upon which a young man can proceed in the career of life, than that the reputation is to be acquired and maintained by the practice of virtue.
To estimate at its proper value the importance to a public speaker of an irreproachable character, consider its general operation upon the auditory at the several scenes of public oratory, with which we are conversant, and the distinctive characters of which have been delineated in my preceding lectures.
Our demonstrative orations are generally delivered upon some public anniversary, or before some charitable or humane society, or in the form of funeral eulogy. Whether as the vehicles of persuasion to charity, or of moral or political sentiment, or of fair and honorable fame, how much more forcible and impressive must be the words of a speaker esteemed and respected for his personal character, than of one degraded in reputation. To influence the public opinion for some purpose of public benefit is the great end, to which the demonstrative orator should always endeavour [sic] to direct his discourse. This he will seldom find difficult. The occasions, upon which he will be called to speak, seldom fail to furnish him the opportunity. But to ensure his success the esteem and confidence of his hearers will contribute more than the substance of his discourse. The demonstrative orator should imagine to himself what what truth and virtue and honor would say, could they appear in person. and speak with a human voice. What they would speak is precisely what he should say; and what can so surely fix the seal upon generous and noble sentiment, as the universal testimonial of the public voice, that it issued from a noble and a generous soul?
Still more important is a pure and spotless reputation for integrity to the general success of a pleader at the bar. The profession of the law requires a life the more scrupulously pure, for being more than perhaps any other occupation exposed to temptations, and stimulated by opportunities of departure from the path of rectitude; and for being far more than any other obnoxious to popular prejudices and suspicions. But although a fair character will certainly promote the general success of an advocate, it can have little or no influence upon the issue of any particular cause. Here again we discover different consequences from the different judicial institutions of ancient and modern times. One of the reasons most earnestly urged by Quinctilian, in recommending to his orator integrity of character, is, that it may enable him to succeed in advocating a bad cause. And it is obvious from the whole scope of his argument, and from that of Cicero to the same purpose, that the personal character of the advocate influenced in no small degree the·fate of almost every cause. But in our courts of law it is the duty and the practice both of the judges and the juries to separate entirely the merits of the cause from those of its advocate. In the greater part of our criminal trials neither the prosecution nor the defence [sic] is conducted by men, who voluntarily assumed the office. The attorney-general is bound by the duties of his station to conduct before the courts all accusations, preferred by the grand-jury; and although there are certain cases, in which he may proceed by way of information, that is, he may himself commence a prosecution without the intervention of a grand.jury, yet those cases are rare and of little comparative importance. On the other hand our laws and constitutions, in that spirit of humanity, which marks all their regulations of criminal process, have expressly provided that all persons, charged with crimes, shall have the benefit of counsel; and it is generally made the duty of the practitioners at our bar to defend the party, who applies for his assistance. In all capital cases, if the prisoner under indictment is unable to defray the expense of an adequate fee, the judges themselves appoint individual members of the bar to manage his defence [sic], and the task, thus imposed upon the advocate, he is bound to assume and to discharge with as much zeal and fidelity to the client thus allotted him, as if it had been the effect of his choice. The moral character of the lawyer can therefore have not the weight of a feather upon the scales of justice in causes of criminal jurisdiction. With regard to civil suits there is certainly a line of discrimination strongly marked between the general practice of different men in extensive business. There is a reputable and a disreputable practice. But even in these cases the result is different, from that of ancient times. The complexion [sic] of the cause is often reflected upon the reputation of its supporter, but receives neither light nor shade from it. There are causes, which a man of moral delicacy never would undertake; and there is a management of causes, when undertaken, which a person solicitous for his own reputation never would adopt. Such causes and such a mode of conducting them are consequently found in the hands of men less scrupulous, and generally settle their reputation. But even in their hands every cause stands, as it ought to stand, upon its own merits, and is submitted to no criterion of decision, other than the law.
It is impossible on this subject to pre[s]cribe any uniform rule, which can be recommended to your observance. It is neither practicable nor necessary for a lawyer to pretend in the course of his professional practice to be always on the right side. A great proportion of causes, litigated in the courts of civil jurisdiction, consist of questions, the right or wrong of which can be ascertained only by the decision of the court. To insist upon having always the triumphant side of the cause would be to abandon the character of an advocate, and to arrogate that of a judge. The personal integrity of the lawyer is therefore by no means implicated in the failure of the causes, which he may support. On the other hand there are sometimes cases in which the operation of the law itself is so harsh, so unfeeling, so at war with that natural justice, which can never bet obliterated from the heart, that a man of principle would refuse his ministration for carrying it into effect. The only advice I can give you for all such emergencies is, before you enter upon that profession, to lay the foundation of your conduct in a well digested system of ethics; to make yourselves thoroughly acquainted with the general duties of the man and the citizen; to form for yourselves principles
Beyond the fixed and settled rules
Of vice and virtue in the schools,
Beyond the letter of the law;
and, when once thus well grounded in the theory of your moral obligations, you may safely consult the monitor in your own breasts for direction upon every special occasion of difficulty, which may afterwards occur in your intercourse with mankind.
To the deliberative orator the reputation of unsullied virtue is not only useful, as a mean of promoting his general influence, it is also among his most efficient engines of persuasion, upon every individual occasion. The test of deliberation you remember is utility. Its issue is some measure to be pursued or rejected. The purpose of the speaker is to persuade his hearers that the act, to which he exhorts, will be advantageous to themselves; or, if the discourse is held before a representative body, to their constituents. It is obvious then, that the hearers of a deliberative speaker will listen to him with a disposition much more favorable to the adoption of his opinions, when they have an unshaken confidence in his integrity, than when they suspect or disbelieve the purity of his intentions.
In our country the legislative bodies of the state or of the union are the assemblies, in which all the most important deliberative discussions are agitated. Generally speaking, a reputation for integrity must to a certain degree be established, before a citizen can obtain a seat in those assemblies, and enjoy the right of taking a part in their debates. I do not mean to say, that these stations are universally or exclusively filled by men of exemplary virtue, or even of fair fame. There always are and always will be some exceptions. The places are all elective, and all granted for a short space of time. But the instances of polluted characters ushered into the halls of legislation are rare. An election by popular suffrage to a place of trust and honor is conclusive proof, that the person chosen was an object of esteem to those, by whom he was elected. If not always decisive evidence of merit, at least it is an indication of good repute. And as uprightness of character is the most effectual passport to a seat in the legislative councils, so is it the most certain instrument for acquiring influence in them. Without it the most brilliant eloquence loses half its lustre [sic]; with it every faculty of speech acquires a ten-fold energy.
To the worldly orator then of whatever denomination, good name is a jewel of inestimable price. But to the preacher of the gospel it is the immediate jewel of his soul. Not that there is any principle of religion or of virtue, binding upon a clergyman, from which men of other occupations are entitled to an exemption. Heaven has not prescribed one system of morality for the priesthood, and another for the people. The divine precepts are the same for us all; and that, which would be criminal in a divine, can never become innocent in a layman. Nevertheless usages of society, and the general opinions of mankind apply a more rigorous standard of piety and virtue to the duties of a clergyman, than to those of other men. High offences [sic] partake of aggravated enormity, when committed by them; and indulgencies [sic], deemed innocent in the ordinary characters of mankind, become transgressions in the cloth. By their profession they are teachers of religion and virtue. If then by his example a divine should give the lie to his own instructions, his guilt is complicated. Besides the criminality, which he incurs in common with every other offender, he commits a sort of moral and professional suicide. He destroys all possibility, that his lessons to others should obtain credit. He is an apostate from the cause, to which he has pledged himself. He is not merely a worthless man; he is an impostor to mankind, and a traitor to his God. This character, I add with pleasure, is no less rare, than it is odious. There is no class of men in society so generally distinguished for pure morals and blameless lives, as our clergy. For dignity of mind and decency of manners, for uprightness of conduct and delicacy of sentiment, no other profession can bear a comparison with the ministers of the gospel of every sect and denomination. To men of this vocation the maxim of Quinctilian might be applied in its utmost extent. The orator of heaven must be a saint upon earth.
And truths divine come mended from his tongue.
Thus then, for the purpose of conciliating the benevolence of the auditory, an object so indispensable to the success of all eloquence, the reputation of integrity appears of momentous consequence to the orator of every description. But there is an advantage, which genuine integrity will secure to the speaker, independent of the fallacious estimates of his hearers, which no baseless reputation can usurp, and no delusive prejudice can destroy. The advantage of that natural alliance, which always subsists between honesty and truth, guided by that spirit of truth, which is no other than the perception of things, as they exist in reality, an orator will never use, for he will never need any species of deception. He will never substitute falsehood for fact, nor sophistry for argument. Always believing himself what he says, he will possess the first of instruments for obtaining the belief of others. Nor is the respect for truth in a fair and ingenuous mind a passive or inert quality. It is warm with zeal. It never suffers carelessness to overlook, nor indolence to slumber. It spurs to active exertion; it prompts to industry, to perseverance, to fortitude. Integrity of heart is a permanent and ever active principle, exercising its influence over the heart throughout life. It is friendly to all the energetic virtues; to temperance, to resolution, to labor. It trims the midnight lamp in pursuit of that general knowledge, which alone can qualify the orator of ages. It greets the rising dawn in special application to the cause, for which its exertions may be required. Yet more; integrity of heart must be founded upon an enlarged and enlightened morality. A truly virtuous orator must have an accurate knowledge of the duties, incident to man in a state of civil society. He must have formed a correct estimate of good and evil; a moral sense, which in demonstrative discourse will direct him with the instantaneous impulse of intuition to the true sources of honor and shame; in judicial controversy, to those of justice; in deliberation, to the path of real utility; in the pulpit, to all that the wisdom of man, and all that the revelation of heaven have imputed of light for the pursuit of temporal or eternal felicity.
Finally, an honest heart is the fountain of all irresistible argument, and an overpowering sentiment. Mankind are indeed liable to be occasionally led astray and deluded by their passions; but all the lasting sympathies of the human soul are with virtue. So true is this, that the most abandoned instigators to criminal acts are ever solicitous to varnish over their purposes with some plausible pretext; and the prince of darkness holds forth temptation in the garb and image of an angel of light.
But integrity of heart, although the first, is not the only essential qualification for the eminence of a public speaker; nor is it a distinction more peculiarly adapted to his profession, than to all others. It forms a general duty, obligatory alike upon all, though I have here considered it only, as it operates upon the oratorical character. The endowments of the mind are the next ingredients in the composition of a public speaker; and though subordinate to that all-surrounding orb of moral principle, they are equally indispensable to the harmony of the system.
The faculties of the mind are either natural or acquired. There is no occupation among men, excepting the exercise of the military art, which affords so wide a scope for the operations of genius, as the practice of oratory. So far however as genius is the gift of nature, it cannot be a subject of much useful discussion. It is a property neither to be suppressed where it exists, nor given where it is not. The natural endowments however, which are indispensable for a distinguished orator, are not of that rare and extraordinary kind, which that common mother bestows only upon a darling of twenty centuries. Fluency of speech, strength of lungs, and boldness of heart, these appear to be the only natural gifts, which an orator can require, excepting the powers of invention. But the attribute, which of all others exclusively bears the mark of genius, is the power of overcoming obstacles; and in the history of Demosthenes it seems as if nature had purposely denied him all those physical powers, for the express purpose of exhibiting the triumph of genius over nature. The sublimest [sic] of human orators became such in despite of an impediment in his speech, of feeble lungs,and of the timidity, which dreads the sound of its own voice before an assembled multitude. The example of Demosthenes can be safely recommended however only to those, who have not to struggle with the same difficulties. Let the youth more liberally provided with the physical organs of speech, whose ambition points him to the paths of oratorical fame, let him remember, that the same indefatigable assiduity, the same inflexible perseverance, and the same inventive ingenuity, which enabled Demosthenes to disarm the very rigors of nature, are the weapons, with which he must learn to improve her favors.
It will not be necessary for me to dwell with tedious earnestness upon the importance to the orator of those faculties, which his own industry can acquire. The rhetorical dialogues of Cicero and the institutes of Quinctilian are so ample and so comprehensive on this article, that the most elaborate discourse I could frame to the same purpose would in substance consist of nothing but of repetitions from them. It were easy to transcribe, and perhaps impossible to add to the weight of their opinions,or·to the energy of their instructions. If it were possible to suppose any of you seriously doubtful, and inclining to·the belief, that shallow draughts of learning suffice for the purposes of oratory, there would be reason to apprehend, that on such a mind neither Cicero nor Quinctilian could make much impression. As students at this place, I cannot imagine the use of an argument to recommend to you the pursuit of knowledge. It is the purpose, for which you are here, and a dissertation to convince you of the benefits of learning would be like a medical treatise to prove that food is conducive to health, and that respiration is one of the luxuries of life. There is however one observation, which may perhaps not be so obvious to all. An university by its name imports a seminary, where youth is initiated in all the sciences; and it is an idea too flattering to indolence and vanity not to have many believers, that aIl the knowledge of the sciences, which can be of use in the common affairs of life, is to be acquired at the university. According to this estimate of things a liberal education means no more, than the acquisition of a degree; and the pursuit of the sciences here taught is regularly laid aside with the square cap and the collegiate gown. But the practice upon this doctrine will never make an accomplished orator. The student, who aspires to the attainment of that proud eminence, must consider himself as able to acquire here nothing more, than the elements of useful knowledge, a mere introduction to the porches of science. These fountains of the muses are destined not to quench but to provoke his thirst. Here he can only learn to be his own teacher hereafter.
But to say that the orator must be a man of universal knowledge is to speak in terms too general for practical utility. The objects of human learning are so multifarious, and its several branches are so complicated, that no human wit or industry can be adequate to a mastery equally minute over the whole. The comparative importance and value of the various classes and kinds of knowledge is worthy of your most deliberate inquiry; that no precious time may be wasted upon unprofitable researches and that no hasty conclusion may discard studies, adapted to useful purposes.
The professional studies, which succeed the termination of your academical education, will be different, as your choice may lead you to the ministry of the gospel, or to the practice of the bar. To enlarge upon these would lead me into a field too extensive for the present occasion, and would anticipate subjects, which may more properly be presented to your consideration hereafter. The materials, upon which the mind of a deliberative orator is called to fix a special attention, are still more various and extensive; and the period, at which they may become necessary to be investigated by you, still more remote. But as art is long and life short, there is no precept, which I can more earnestly recommend to you, than that of exercising your own understanding upon all the knowledge you acquire. Endeavour [sic] to methodise [sic] your studies. Habituate yourselves to reflect upon what you read and what you hear. Let the streams of knowledge never stagnate upon your souls. Learning in the head of indolence is like the sword of a hero in the hand of a coward. The credit and the usefulness of a merchant depends at least as much upon the employment, as upon the extent of his capital. The reputation of learning is no better, than that of a pedantic trifle, unless accompanied with the talent of making that learning useful to its possessor and to mankind.
With this talent the orator must also be governed by a corresponding disposition. And the disposition, manifested by the temper of the speaker, was the third and last of the properties, which I have deemed important, as affecting the merits of the oratorical character. The temper of the speaker operates in a twofold manner; like the reputation of integrity, it influences the affections of the auditory; and like integrity itself, it modifies his management of every subject. The qualities, which operate most powerfully upon the hearers, are benevolence, modesty, and confidence. That, which affects the treatment of the subject, may be comprised in the single term self-command. Benevolence is not merely the first of moral and christian [sic] virtues, it is the most captivating of all human qualities; for it recommends itself to the selfish passions of every individual. Benevolence is a disposition of the heart, universal in its nature; and every single hearer imagines that temper to be kindly affected towards himself, which is known to be actuated by good will to all. It is the general impulse of human nature to return kindness with kindness, and the speaker, whose auditory at the instant of his first address believe him inspired with a warm benevolence for them, has already more than half obtained his end. Modesty is a kindred virtue to benevolence, and possesses a similar charm over the hearts of men. Modesty always obtains the more, precisely because it asks nothing. Modesty lulls all the irritable passions to sleep. It often disarms, and scarcely ever provokes opposition. These qualities are so congenial to the best feelings of mankind, that they can never be too assiduously cultivated. In them there is no counteraction. If they do not always succeed, they never totally fail. They neutralize malice; they baffle envy; they relax the very brow of hatred, and soften the features of scorn into a smile. But the purest of virtues border upon pernicious failings. Let your benevolence never degenerate into weakness, nor your modesty into bashfulness. A decent confidence is among the most indispensable qualifications of an accomplished orator. Arrogance stimulates resentment; vanity opens to derision; but a mild and determined intrepidity, unabashed by fear, unintimidated [sic] by the noise and turbulence of a popular assembly, unawed [sic] by the rank or dignity of an auditory, must be acquired by every public speaker aspiring to high distinction. It is as necessary to command the respect, as to conciliate the kindness of your hearers.
This decent and respectful confidence is but a natural result of that perfect and unalterable self command, which, though last, is far, very far from being the least ingredient in the composition of an accomplished orator. If it be true of mankind in general, that he who ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city, to no description of human beings can this preeminence of self dominion be so emphatically ascribed, as to the public·speaker. Let no man presume to bespeak an ascendency over the passions of others, until he has acquired an unquestioned mastery over his own. Let no man dare to undertake the guidance of reason in others, while he suffers anger or vanity, the overflowings [sic] of an inflated or an irritated mind, to intermingle with the tide of his eloquence. When the ebullitions of passion burst in peevish crimination of the audience themselves, when a speaker sallies forth, armed with insult and outrage for his instruments of persuasion, you may be assured, that this Quixotism [sic] of rhetoric must eventually terminate like all other modern knight errantry and that the fury must always be succeeded by the impotence of the passions.