IN delineating the qualities of the heart, of the understanding, and of the temper, which must combine to constitute an orator worthy of a station in the memory of ages, I reserved, as the closing and highly important consideration, the necessity, that he should possess a steady and unvarying command over his own passions. The course of my subject naturally leads me next to inquire how far and by what means he will find it expedient to exercise an influence over those of his hearers.
The rhetorical theories of this age must differ very materially from those of ancient times on this part of the science. Among them the management of the passions was considered as including almost the whole art of oratory. Each of the three great writers, who have hitherto been our instructers [sic], appears to consider this as by far the most arduous task, and the most effectual power of a public speaker; and each of them has treated it in his peculiar characteristic manner. One entire book of the three, which contain the rhetorical system of Aristotle, is devoted to the passions. He selects from the whole mass of habits and affections, which hold dominion over the hearts of men, a certain number, which he comprises under the general denomination of oratorical passions, or passions which are peculiarly susceptible of being operated upon by a public speaker. To each of these he allots a distinct chapter, in which he successively analyzes the passion itself, the classes of men, who are most liable to be stimulated by it, and the manner in which it may be excited. This book is one of the profoundest and most ingenious treatises upon human nature, that ever issued from the pen of man. It searches the issues of the heart with a keenness of penetration, which nothing can surpass, unless it be its severity. There is nothing satirical in his manner, and his obvious intention is merely as an artist to expose the mechanism of man; to discover the moral nerves and sinews, which are the peculiar organs of sensation; to dissect the internal structure, and expose the most hidden chambers of the tenement to our view. Cicero insists also much upon the management of the passions. Not by anatomizing the passions themselves, but by allowing how they are to be handled. His example is followed by Quinctilian, whose sentiments on this chapter it may be proper to cite, as explained by himself, in order to mark distinctly how far they can be applicable to present times.
“There is,” says he, “perhaps nothing so important as this in the whole art of oratory. An inferior genius, with the aid of instruction and experience, may succeed, and appear to great advantage in all the other parts. You can easily find men able to invent arguments and proofs, and even to link them together in a chain of deduction. These men are not to be despised. They are well qualified to inform the judges; to·give them a perfect insight into the cause; nay to be the patterns and teachers of all your learned orators. But the talent of delighting, of overpowering the judge himself, of ruling at pleasure his very will, of inflaming him with anger, of melting him to tears, that is the rare endowment indeed. Yet therein consists the true dominion of the orator; therein consists the empire of eloquence over the heart. As for arguments, they generally proceed from the bosom of the cause itself, and are always the strongest on the right side. To obtain the victory by means of them is merely the success of a common lawyer; but to sway the judge in spite of himself, to divert his observation from the truth, when it is unpropitious to our cause, this is the real triumph of an orator. This is what you never can learn from the parties; what none of their documents will ever contain. The proofs and the reasonings serve indeed to convince the judge, that our cause is the best. But by means of his passions he is made to wish it such; and he will soon believe what he once wishes. No sooner does he begin to catch our passions and to share in our hatreds and friendships, indignations and fears, than he makes our cause his own. And as lovers are ill qualified to judge of beauty, because blinded by their passion, in like manner the judge, amidst his perturbation, loses the discernment of truth. The torrent hurries him along, and he gives himself up to its violence. Nothing but the sentence itself can indicate the effect of the arguments and witnesses upon his mind. But if he warmly feels the passion excited in him, you can easily discover his sentence before be leaves the bench; nay without his rising from it. When he bursts into tears, as sometimes happens at those admirable perorations, which must move the hardest of hearts, is not the decree already pronounced? Let the orator then direct all his exertions to this point; let him fasten most obstinately upon it, without which every thing else is slender, feeble, and ungracious. So true it is, that the strength and the soul of a pleader’s discourse centres [sic] in the passions.”
Let us here remark, that in this passage, which contains the whole substance of the ancient doctrine respecting the excitation· and management of the passions, Quinctilian applies his observations exclusively to judicial eloquence. The ends, for which these energetic machines are to be worked, have no relation to demonstrative discourses. There is no judge to be deceived, no sentence to be falsified. The ideas apply only by a weak and imperfect analogy to deliberative eloquence; and indeed it was a received maxim among all the rhetoricians, that the great field for operating upon the passions was at the bar. In my lectures on the subject. of judicial oratory, I have already shown, as a consequence of our judicial institutions and principles, that the means of influencing the issue of a cause, by the passions of the hearers, are less at the bar, than in any other form of public speaking. Our judges are sworn to administer justice according to law. Our juries are under oaths equally solemn to give their verdicts according to the evidence; and even the attornies [sic] and counsellors [sic], practising [sic] in all the courts, are under like engagement to do no wrong, and to suffer none knowingly to be committed. That, which Quinctilian tells us to be the most splendid triumph of the art, would therefore now be a high misdemeanor; and the judge,who should suffer his sentence to be diverted from the truth, and should join in the hatreds or friendships of one party against another, would soon get himself removed by impeachment.
This is perhaps one of the principal causes of the superiority, enjoyed by ancient over modern eloquence. It manifests a great improvement in the condition of society. When we see Quinctilian speaking contemptuously of arguments, because they are always strongest on the right side, what must we think of their admistration of the laws? If the modern courts have lost on the side of eloquence, they have gained on the side of justice; and if our orators have less brilliancy, our judges have more solidity.
The christian [sic] system of morality has likewise produced an important modification of the principles respecting the use of the passions. In the passage above quoted from Quinctilian, no distinction is made between the kindly and the malevolent passions. Neither does Aristotle intimate such a distinction. Envy, hatred, malice, and indignation, are recommended to be roused, as well as love, kindness, and good will. The christian [sic] morality has commanded us to suppress the angry and turbulent passions in ourselves, and forbids us to stimulate them in others. This precept, like many others proceeding from the same source, is elevated so far above the ordinary level of human virtue, that it is not always faithfully obeyed. But although perhaps not completely victorious over any one human heart, the command to abstain from malice and envy, and all the rancourous [sic] passions, has effected a general refinement of manners among men. Is there a rhetorician of modern ages, who would dare utter, as a precept to his pupils, instructions how to debauch the understanding of a judge, through the medium of his passions? Is there a teacher, who would have the courage to search out the most venomous regions of the human heart, to instruct his scholars how to feed them with congenial poison? Doctrines like these could only suit the times, when the rule of morality was “thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy.” They must be, and they are universally exploded from the lessons of those, who have been commanded to love their enemies; to return blessings for curses, prayers for persecution, and good for evil. Would to heaven, that they were as universally abandoned in practice. Of this there is but too much still remaining. It is too easily learned and too frequently employed, for the worst of purposes. Instead of recommending it to your use, I cannot too earnestly warn you against its adoption.
Addresses to the malevolent passions are not necessary for the highest efforts of eloquence. To convince yourselves of this truth, compare the oratorical compositions of Burke with the letters of Junius. They have been sometimes ascribed to the same author, and there are many particulars, in which the resemblance between them is remarkable. They are both writers of ardent passion and high vehemence. But in regard to the motives and feelings, which they strive to excite, they differ as widely as possible. Burke was upon principle and conviction a christian [sic]. He had examined its evidences, and compared its moral system with every other known theory of ethics. The result of his investigation was a conviction of the truth of christianity [sic], and its laws of general benevolence and charity appear in every page of his writings. The blaze of passion, the bolt of indignation, flash with incessant energy from his controversial speeches and publications; but the tone and character of his sentiment is invariably generous and benevolent. All his maxims of wisdom, all his remarks upon life and manners, beam with humanity, with good will to men. Junius was probably infected with the shallow infidelity of the French encyclopedists. He seldom suffers an opportunity for a sarcasm upon religion to escape him; and he always speaks of piety with a sneer, as if it conveyed to his mind no image, other than that of hypocrisy. Yet he dares not avow his infidelity; and, when directly charged with it, shuffles with the dexterity of a rope dancer, and cavils with the subtlety of a sophist to disclaim an offence [sic], which at the same moment be repeats. It is obvious from the general tenor of his letters, that christian principles were as foreign from his heart, as christian doctrines from his understanding. His eloquence is unshackled by any restraint of tenderness for his species. He flatters the foulest prejudices. He panders for the basest passions. Anger, hatred, and envy, are the choicest instruments of his oratory. There is scarcely a sentiment, calculated to warm the hearts of his readers with kindness to their fellow creatures, in the whole collection.·The tender, affectionate feelings never inspire him with a thought; and, whenever an idea of patriotism or philanthropy crosses his mind, his principal address consists in pointing it with individual malignity.
The vindictive and envious passions being excluded from the ways and means of our eloquence by the duties of our religion, and all the passions being so much discountenanced in our judicial courts, it is an obvious inference, that this particular department of the art has lost some of its relative importance. There are still however occasions, in every class of public speaking, when the orator may obtain his end by operating upon the passions of his hearers, and success obtained by these instruments is still the most difficult achievement and the most splendid triumph of the art. It is however an instrument, which requires the management of a skilful hand, and which, to retain its efficacy, must be very rarely employed.
Under the general denomination of passions we include two distinct classes of sentiments or impulsions, which by the ancient Greeks were distinguished by the names of παθος and ηθος. The terms in our language most nearly corresponding with these are passions and habits; in the sense which we apply to this latter word, when we say that habit is a nature. By the passions they understood the keen and forceful affections of the mind. By the habits they meant the mild and orderly emotions. The passions were tumultuous agitations; the habits quiet and peaceable impulses. The first were more adapted to control; the last to attract. Generally speaking the words marked a difference in duration, as well as in degree. The passions were momentary, the habits constant; the former an occasional, the latter a permanent influence. The passions are the tides of the ocean, ebbing and flowing at short intervals; the habits are the current of a mighty river, always setting in the same direction. From the analysis of Aristotle it appears also, that the habits affect men in classes; the passions only as individuals. Thus he describes the habits of the young, the old, and the middle aged; of the rich and the poor; of the powerful and the feeble; of the prosperous and the unfortunate. But in speaking of the passions he considers them individually; anger and its remission; love and hatred; fear and boldness; shame and honor; compassion and revenge; envy and emulation.
Although the distinction between these two powers, which divide between them the control of the human will, is obvious and important, they are sometimes of precisely the same nature, and differ only in degree. Thus for instance love is included among the passions, but friendship among the habits. Still more common is it to find them in opposition to each other, and the most vehement appeals to the passions are counteracted by addresses to the calmer influence of the habits.
The occasions, upon which an attempt to move the passions properly so called is advisable, do not often occur. In ordinary cases the speaker’s manner should be calm and moderate; avoiding all affected elevation or energy. Correctness of thought and expression, pleasantness and probability are the natural characters of discourses, urged to the habits of the hearers. But to stir the passions, the tempests of the soul, grandeur of expression, boldness and irregularity of thought, and gravity, seriousness, inflexibility of manner, become indispensable. In the compositions of the drama, the habits or manners belong exclusively to the province of comedy; the passions to that of tragedy.
One of the most universal precepts, recommended alike by all the writers upon the science ancient and modern, is that the orator himself should feel the passion, which he purposes to excite. This rule however must be received with some limitations. It is applicable only to some of the passions, and even with regard to those requires, that the speaker should be affected only in such degree, as to leave him in perfect possession of all his intellectual faculties. Si vis me fiere, dolendum est primum tibi ipsi. This is the direction of Horace to the writer for the stage; and thus far the rule is unquestionably as applicable to the forum, as to the theatre. But suppose the passion to be excited is fear or shame; is the orator,who would rouse these emotions, to partake of them himself? Suppose it to be anger or indignation; a sentiment justifiable and laudable in a virtuous cause; must he not rather struggle to suppress in himself the natural violence of these passions, to communicate them even in their due degree to his audience? In applying generally to the passions that rule, which was originally given only for that of compassion, or sympathy with distress, the doctrine has been too far extended, and reminds us of Johnson’s reply to some shallow wit, who repeated with great emphasis a verse, which he deemed truly sublime;
“Who rules o’er freemen, should himself be free.”
That, said Johnson, is as much as to say,
“Who drives fat oxen, should himself be fat.”
Indeed the passions, which are liable to be excited by the powers of oratory, are numerous; and some of those, which act with the most irresistible energy upon the hearts of mankind, are altogether omitted in the catalogue of Aristotle. Ambition, avarice, the love of fame, patriotism, are all passions to be numbered among the sharpest stimulants to action, and to the motives which they present, much of the most celebrated eloquence of all ages has been addressed. There is however a more restricted sense, in which the term passion is used, and of which the precisest idea will be formed by tracing its etymology. In this sense it is equivalent to sufferance, distress, anguish. In this sense it has emphatically been applied to the last sufferings of the Saviour [sic]; and to this sense it must be confined, when we are inquiring into those pathetic powers of oratory, which awaken the sympathies of the audience. These very words themselves, pathetic and sympathy, are both derived immediately from the Greek παθος, of which the Latin passio is merely a translation. And the meaning, universally annexed to them, has kept closer to their original derivation, than the Latin term. We could scarcely take up an oration of celebrated fame, without discovering in all its parts passages, calculated to move the passions. But we should certainly denominate pathetic only those, which have a tendency to excite our sympathies, with some exhibition of distress. This brings us back to the poetical precept of Horace, which the experience of all ages will verify, and which a public speaker can never imprint too deeply upon his mind. If then your purpose be to stir compassion, begin by feeling it yourself. But would you inflame anger? Be cool. Would you bring to a sense of shame? Sound the trump of unblemished honor. Would you strike terror? Be intrepid; and in general remember, that if it is the nature of some passions to spread by contagion, it is equally characteristic of others to kindle without collision.
But whatsoever be the passions, upon which the orator is desirous of working, this is the occasion, upon which he must summon all the powers of imagination. By imagination I here mean what perhaps is more properly called fantasy; the power of representing to the mind the images of absent things. The operation of the passions is much more uniform among mankind, than that of reason. The “sensible of pain” or of pleasure is nearly the same in all human beings. It differs only in degree. By the power of imagination the orator undergoes a virtual transformation. He identifies himself either with the person, in whose behalf he would excite the sentiment of compassion, or with the antagonist, against whom he is to contend, or with the auditor, whom he is to convince or persuade; or successively with each of them in turn. In the deep silence of meditation he holds an instructive dialogue with every one of these personages. Of his client he learns what he most keenly feels; of the antagonist what he most seriously dreads; of the auditor what he most readily believes. He sounds the depth of every heart; he measures the compass of every mind; he explores the secret recesses of nature herself. To him, as to the immortal bard, she unveils her face; to him she presents her golden keys, and says,
This can unlock the gates of joy,
Of horror that, and secret fears,
Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears.
The power of imagination furnishes a substitute for the evidence of all the senses. It creates and multiplies all those incidents, which, being the constant attendants upon all realities, have always so strong a tendency to enforce belief. So indispensable is this power to the success of that oratory, which aims at the dominion of the passions,that a public speaker can institute no more important self-examination, than the inquiry whether it has been bestowed upon him by nature. If it has, let him cherish and cultivate it, as the most precious of heaven’s blessings. If it has not, let him graduate the scale of his ambition to the temperate regions of eloquence, and aspire only to the reputation of being the orator of reason.
In each of our three great scenes of public speaking, the legislature, the bar, and the pulpit, there is one master passion, which bears, or is supposed to bear an ascendency [sic] so uncontroled [sic], that to attempt operating upon it is the never failing resource of all those orators, who are destitute of every other. I shall conclude this lecture with a few remarks upon them; and with pointing them out to you rather by way of warning, than of recommendation. These passions are jealousy, avarice, and fear.
The deliberative passion is jealousy. The ordinary mode of exciting it is by raising suspicions against the person or character of an opponent; by invidious reflections; by insinuations against his integrity, and imputations upon his motives. This species of oratory is generally suggested by the virulence of party spirit. It is forbidden by the rules of order in all deliberative assemblies; but is always practised [sic] upon the discussion of questions, which rouse the spirit of faction. It is the natural resort of those, who are unable to support by reason or argument the opinions, to which they adhere. Its efficacy is proportioned to the prejudices and ignorance of the hearers, to whom it is addressed, and the frequency of its use in our legislative assemblies for many years is not the most honorable feature in our national character. It is also not uncommon in the demonstrative discourses of our public anniversaries, which are thus made the engines of envy and slander. It is not to be denied, that these are weapons of formidable power; but a sound understanding will disdain, and a generous heart will abhor the use of them.
The judicial passion is avarice. I have heretofore shown, that the occasions, upon which any address to the passions is admissible in our courts of justice, are rare; and that they must of necessity imply a discretionary power in the persons, who are to decide upon the issue. There are certain cases, in which our judges possess certain discretionary powers; but they always presuppose the offender tried and convicted. The discretion of the court extends only to the degree of punishment. Here is not much scope for eloquence of any kind. The mercy of the court usually forestalls the need of the culprit, and there is scarcely ever a disposition or an opportunity to urge their severity. There are other cases, when the exercise of discretionary powers is allotted to juries. These are mostly upon trials for personal injuries, where juries have to settle the amount of damages. Such as actions for assault and battery, slander, libels, and other wrongs if possible of a still more atrocious complexion; which, from the comparative purity of our manners, are happily almost unknown among us. In these cases however the only sympathies of the jury, which an orator can attempt to move, are their love of money; for, by a gross imperfection in our codes of law, the only reparation attainable far all the bodily pain, mental affliction, or laceration of fame, which the villainy of one man can inflict upon the feelings of another, is a compensation in money. The only powers of a jury, in the most atrocious outrages of these kinds, are to strike an arithmetical rule of three between the pecuniary means of the offender and the moral and·physical sufferings of the injured party. There is, it must be confessed, not much delicacy of sentiment this tariff of moral feelings, this scale of depreciation for honor and fame. A ruffian has crippled you for life; a seducer has murdered your domestic peace; a slanderer has blasted your good name; and for wrongs thus enormous, thus inexpiable, you are compelled to ask of your country’s justice a beggarly retribution of dollars and cents; to solicit the equivalent for affliction, the premium for pain, the indemnity for shame, cast up correctly to a mill in regular federal currency. A fiend in human shape has trampled under foot honor, humanity, friendship, the rights of nature, and the ties of connubial society; but a check upon the bank atones for all his crime; a scrap of silk paper spunges [sic] up the whole blot of his infamy. It is not here the place to inquire, whether a system of jurisprudence might not be devised, which should secure a more honorable protection to personal rights; but it is manifest that the maxim, which affixes to personal sufferings their stated price in current coin, which estimates honor and shame by troy weight, which balances so many pangs of body with so many ounces of silver, and so much anguish of mind with so many pennyweights of gold, makes avarice the unresisted [sic] umpire of the soul. It administers money as the universal potion for healing all the bruises of the mind; and makes extortion the only standard for measuring the merits of virtue.
The passion of the pulpit orator is fear. As the exhortations of the divine have reference principally to the interests of a future existence, it is natural and proper, that he should often draw from the same source his materials of argument or of persuasion. And as the doctrines of religion are not aided among us by the weapons of secular power, the terrors of futurity are the only instruments, by which numerous classes of people are retained stedfast [sic] in their faith, or regulated in their practice. The vengeance of an offended Deity is to many preachers of many denominations the only fountain of motives or of reasoning; and their eloquence can never kindle without resorting to the flames of hell. I would not be understood, my friends, to treat this subject with a trifling hand. 1t is a serious concern to us all. But mere terror is a base and servile passion; nor should I value at a straw the religion or the morality, which hinges upon nothing else. Let me hope that you, and those who may hereafter enjoy the benefits of your ministry, will ever feel the force and efficacy of some nobler, some more generous stimulus to piety and virtue, than the mere selfishness even of eternity, and the shivering horrors of hell·fire.
We have now gone through the first great division of the rhetorical science. We have successively treated of the state of the controversy, the oratorical topics, the arguments peculiarly adapted to the demonstrative, deliberative, judicial, and religious class of discourses. We have endeavoured [sic] to trace the address and character suitable to an orator, and to point out the true use and proper means of exciting and directing the passions. The subject is copious; and, although it has occupied so large a portion of our time, is very far from being exhausted. My duties have been to collect and present to your view the materials for the plastic hands of genius to fashion into shape. For the employment of these materials you will naturally look not to me, but to yourselves; not to the lessons of a teacher, but to the fertility of your own invention.