IT will be remembered, that, in making the general distribution of the science of rhetoric into its primary divisions, they were stated to be five: invention; disposition, elocution, memory, and pronunciation of action.
To the first of these divisions, invention, my last ten lectured have been devoted; containing a general view of every thing, which the rhetoricians of antiquity considered as constituting the materials of an oratorial [sic] discourse. The formation of these materials was the proper and exclusive function of invention; which was analogous only to the state of chaos in the creation of the world. To shape this chaos into form, to give the original mass of mingled elements an existence for use or beauty, the principle of order must be introduced; as the creation of light immediately succeeded that of matter; and the division of light from darkness was the first thing, which the Supreme Creator saw to be good. This principle of order in rhetoric is termed disposition; and it is that, upon which I am now to discourse.
Disposition, according to the definition of Cicero, to which I formally referred you, is “the orderly arrangement of the things invented.” And I then suggested to you some considerations for estimating its importance. They will the more especially merit your attention, inasmuch as this part of the oratorical talent is more indebted to study, than to nature; rather to be acquired by the assiduous toils of industry, than communicated by the gratuitous bounties of genius. The power of invention is distributed with the same capricious partiality, which marks all the endowments of nature to the superficial mind of man. In the views of a wise and beneficent Providence there must be some great and regular principle, upon which the energies of genius are bestowed in their regular proportions, as they appear among mankind; but to our contracted capacity of observation that principle is not discoverable. Invention is the child of genius, and genius is not to be imparted by tuition. But if genius be heaven’s best gift, “order is heaven’s first law;” and the power of giving effect and execution to this law is placed within the reach of our own assiduity. In contemplating that stupendous system of physical being, which hangs upon the unvarying laws of matter and the regular motions of unnumbered worlds, the human mind shrinks from the vastness of its own conceptions. Of the power of creation it is incapable of forming a distinct idea. But it sees, it comprehends, it calculates the operations of a Supreme Disposer; and in the act of arrangement or disposition alone are the works of man capable of imitating the laws of the Deity. The system of the universe itself is maintained only by its perfect and immutable order. Suppose that order but for one instant suspended, and the innumerable host of heaven, those fixed or wandering stars, which through the regions of unbounded space, “still choiring [sic] to the young eyed cherubim,” sing the omnipotence of their Maker, would rush together in hideous ruin, and chaos return again.
In the comparative estimate of the two faculties, as they are susceptible of being possessed by the human understanding, we shall perceive, that invention, is an attribute of the imagination, and disposition an exercise of the judgment. Invention soars on the pinions of fancy; disposition plods in the path of reason. Yet are they mutually dependent upon each other. Invention without order is chaos before the creation of light. Order without invention is a mere unintelligent operation of mechanical power. And widely as the characters of these co-ordinate agents differ from each other, there are points of contact between them, which assimilate and almost identify them together. Some invention is indispensable to conceive and combine any complicated system of arrangement, and some rule of order no less essential to embody the visions of fancy.
Disposition, as applied to rhetoric, is but another word for method. According to Quinctilian it is “a useful distribution of things, or of parts; assigning to each its proper place and station.” It is obvious then, that no general rule of disposition can be given for the various classes of public speaking. The same disposition, which would be suitable to a deliberative speech, would be utterly inapplicable for the management of a cause in a judicial court. That, which would be proper for a demonstrative oration or a sermon, would again differ from both the others, and even with regard to discourses of the same kind it must be admitted that from the creation of the world to this hour no two occasions of public speaking have been in every respect alike. The speaker therefore must exercise his own discernment. He must study his subject. examine its bearings, measure its capacities, and use his own ingenuity according to his opportunities.
The ancient rhetoricians are not all agreed either in the subjects, which they comprehend under the article of disposition, or in the number and denominations of the distinct parts, which are combined in the composition of a regular discourse. Under the head of disposition Quinctilian treats solely and exclusively of judicial causes; and teaches how and when several states of conjecture, of definition, of quantity, of quality, are to be assumed, together with the various questions, which may put in issue the jurisdiction of the court, or the meaning and construction of the law; while Aristotle and Cicero include in their ideas of disposition the several component parts of an oration; a subject likewise copiously handled by Quinctilian, but which he ranges under the first general head of invention.
The distinct parts of a discourse, enumerated by Aristotle, are only four; introduction, proposition, proof, and conclusion; and even of these four he pronounces the second and third only to be indispensable; since a discourse may be complete without the formality of an exordium or of a peroration. To these four parts Quinctilian adds a fifth, with some difference in the denomination of the parts.He distinguished the introduction, narration, proof, refutation, and conclusion. But the distribution of Cicero is still further extended, and recognises [sic] six parts under the names of introduction, narration, proposition, proof, refutation, and conclusion.
In examining particularly into this diversity of technical divisions we perceive, that it arises in both instances from that rage of minute and subtle subdivisions, which we have noticed on former occasions. Thus Quinctilian gains a point upon Aristotle by subdividing his proof into two parts, which he calls confirmation and refutation; by the first of which he understands proof, adduced in support of a proposition, without reference to an adversary; and by the second, proof in reply to objections. A similar minuteness of analysis forms the sixth head of division, assumed by Cicero. Under the name of proposition Aristotle included the narration. Quinctilian changes the name, and under the head of narration includes the proposition. Cicero separates them entirely, and treats each of them as a distinct general division. Other rhetoricians have multiplied them still further; but microscopic researches into trivial distinctions will never teach us genuine rhetoric; much less will they ever form an eloquent orator. The line of distinction between the parts assigned by Aristotle is strong and clear. It will suit every class of discourses, and adapt itself to every form of eloquence. The divisions of Cicero and Quinctilian are more peculiarly applicable to the practice of the bar. It is not very material which of these arrangements is pursued; but I shall follow that of Cicero, because it had been prescribed to me, and shall successively treat of the properties and uses of the introduction, narration, proposition, confirmation, confutation, and conclusion as distinct parts of a regular discourse; and to these I shall add, as occasion may require, remarks on the subordinate and incidental topics of transition, digression, and amplification.
It will scarcely be necessary to detain you long with a definition or explanation of the terms, which of themselves are sufficiently understood. They mean only, that in the composition of an elaborate oration the most easy and proper course you can adopt is to begin with an exordium; then proceed to relate the facts, upon which you mean to rely; after which you are to unfold the proposition, constituting the subject of your discourse, and support it by such proof, ad you are able to adduce for its confirmation. When the objections of your antagonist have been heard, you are to reinforce your proof by confuting them; and close the whole by a peroration, or conclusion.
Of all these parts you are to bear in mind, that the proposition and proof are alone of absolute necessity to every public discourse. Although in real life it is not unexampled to hear a man speaking in public without purpose and without proof, yet the case is not admissible in theory, and there is no speculative system of rhetoric, to which such harrangues [sic] are reducible. But the exordium and peroration are ornamental, rather than vital parts. Narration and refutation are incidental, and not always necessary or proper. In elucidating however the properties and uses of these several parts, it will be most useful to consider them in the order, which they themselves take in the discourses where they all find a place, rather than in that of their relative importance. Let us begin them with the exordium.
The exordium is defined by Cicero “a discourse to prepare the minds of the audience for the favorable reception of the remainder.” Hence you will observe it is not inherent in the subject; but a mere preliminary to conciliate the favor of the hearer. Though not always indispensable, it is often necessary; and when not improper should never be omitted. It is not peculiar to the scenes of public oratory; it is equally habitual to every species of written composition, and its use is analogous to that of the common salutations among men, which under some form or other in every state of society precede their entrance upon the transaction of business. The universal propensity to some sort of prefatory introduction, at the threshold of all intercourse between men, may perhaps be traced to the constitution of human nature, independent of any state of society. It has been a question among philosophers whether the natural state of man is that of peace or war. Different solutions have with great and rival ingenuity been drawn from different speculative views of human nature. If we judge however from the experience we have of mankind in the state, approaching nearest to that of nature, in which men have ever been found, or from the nature and character of human wants and human passions, or by analogy from the state of other wild beasts among themselves, I think we shall conclude, that the state of nature, like the state of society, is in itself not uniformly a state either of peace or war; but alternately of either. Stimulated by the necessities or the passions, implanted in his nature for the preservation of the individual or of the species,man would be at war with any of his fellow creatures, from whom he would wrest the object of his immediate wants. Satiated and satisfied, he would be at peace with the whole of creation. In hunger he would be active and violent; in fullness indolent and cowardly. A natural result of this variation of temper would be, that, in the accidental meeting of two human creatures, a reciprocal uncertainty would exist in the bosom of each in regard to the disposition of the other; and one of the first steps towards association would be the concert of some sign or indication, which might be understood as a pledge of peace at such occurrences. A manifestation of amity would thus become habitual, as introductory to every transaction of a peaceable nature between men; and passing from speculation to experience, we find some usage of this kind practised [sic] by every tribe of savages, as well as among all the civilized nations, with which we are acquainted. When by the progress of society the original motive for exhibiting these banners of benevolence disappears, the courtesies of civilized life assume its place, and adopt, as a customary formality, what was in its origin a promise of kindness. In all civilized society professions of friendship are multiplied in proportion as its realities diminish. Salutations, embraces, the joining of hands, are lavished as tokens of mutual regard, even when it is not felt; and wherever man meets man in the attitude of peace, be it for objects of pleasure, of business, or of devotion, some introduction to every purpose is held to be not less necessary, than the purpose itself. From the common forms of personal intercourse the usage was transferred to the silent communications, introduced by the art of writing, and all literary discourse, from the familiar letter to the epic poem, announces itself with more or less formality of introduction, according to the nature or the subject and the genius of the writer.
The general purpose of an oratorical exordium then is to prepare the minds of the hearers for receiving the rest of the discourse; or in other words to engage their good will, their attention, and their docility; to interest them in favor of the speaker; to rivet their attention to his speech; and to enlist their feelings in behalf of his cause. These are distinct objects, and are to be promoted by different means. The skill of the orator consists in combining them judiciously, and pointing them with effect to the same end.
The good will of the audience towards the speaker is the first object of consideration. To estimate its importance we need only place ourselves in the situation of hearers, and consult our own breasts. How much more readily do we believe those, whom we love, than those, against whom we feel disgust or aversion. Confidence is the natural companion of affection, and distrust is almost inseparable from dislike. In a former lecture I suggested this to you, as one of the most powerful motives, which should urge a public speaker to lay the foundations of confidence in the general excellence of his personal character. But a speaker may be unknown to most of his audience, and therefore an object of their indifference; or he may have had prejudices excited against him, and have evil impressions to remove. We are now inquiring what aids he can derive for this purpose from his exordium.
He may bespeak favor by allusions, direct or indirect, to himself; by explanations of his own motives; by professions of honor and virtue; by disproving or extenuating charges or inculpations [sic], which may have been alledged [sic] against him; by leading the mind of his hearers to recollections of his services or good deeds; by enlarging upon the difficulties, obstacles, and dangers, with which he has contended; or by express and open solicitation. This is an easy but a dangerous topic. There are few men, possessed of any talent for public speaking, but can display great eloquence upon so favorite a subject, as themselves. But the danger is of overrating its importance; of dwelling upon it with too much emphasis; of provoking the censure of the hearer by self-applause, or his derision by self-admiration. He may bespeak favor by stimulating an opposite sentiment against his adversary; an expedient of frequent resort in all controversial causes; but which, like the last, requires great delicacy of hand to be properly managed. It is not difficult at any time to stir up sentiments of hatred, envy, and contempt in the human heart. But, as I have heretofore observed to you, these are poisoned arrows, which the improved morality of modern ages rejects, as unlawful weapons of war. There are indeed vices, which even charity cannot rescue from the scourge of scorn; and crimes, which even mercy would doom to the rack of indignation. If the detection or exposure of these should at any time become the duty of a public orator, he may draw the kindness of his audience to himself in proportion to the odium he pours upon them; but he must above all things be cautious not to mistake the cry of his own passions for the voice of virtue; and remember that profound admonition of the wisest of men, wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy? The favor of an auditory may be induced by the expression of confidence in them; by the manifestation of an ardent zeal for their welfare, of respect for their opinions, of reliance upon their wisdom, their fortitude, their magnanimity. It has been remarked by accurate observers of human nature, that for conciliating kindness praise is a more efficacious instrument, than beneficence; and perhaps it may be added, that a multitude is still more susceptible of being influenced by praise, than an individual. Direct praise to a single man is more liable to the suspicion of flattery. To an assemblage of men it may be offered in a bolder nakedness, as they are generally less scrupulous in receiving it. Yet in administering these sweetmeats of persuasion the speaker should be cautious to guard at once against the profusion, which must cloy the receiver, and that officiousness, which would degrade himself.
The favor of an auditory may finally be engaged by an exordium, borrowed from the subject itself; for which purpose the orator must prepare himself by a careful and impartial examination of its character, with reference to the previous dispositions of his hearers. And in this point of view there are five different shades of complexion [sic], which the subject may bear. It may be popular, obnoxious, equivocal, trivial, or obscure.
The popular subject is that, which, being already possessed of the public favor, calls for no exertion on the part of the orator to bespeak kindness. The obnoxious subject is that, against which the hearers come forearmed with strong prepossessions. The equivocal subject is that, which presents a doubtful aspect; a mixture of favorable and of unpropitious circumstances. The trivial subject is that, which, involving no important interest or engaging no strong sensation, is considered by the hearer insignificant, and deserving little attention. And the obscure subject is that, which, by embracing a multitude of intricate and entangled facts and principles, perplexes the understanding of the auditory.
To suit these various descriptions of subjects introductions are divided into two general classes, the first direct, and the second oblique; which the Roman rhetoricians distinguish by the names of principium or beginning, and insinuation. The direct introduction is always to be employed upon popular subjects, if any exordium is convenient; and it is the most suitable for the trivial and obscure subjects. But in equivocal cases for the most part, and in obnoxious subjects generally, a skilful orator will begin with insinuation. The name is sufficiently indicative of the thing. It arises from the necessity of the case and the most common propensities of mankind. For directly to solicit their good will in the moment of their animosity, instead of conciliating their kindness only exasperates their indignation. On such occasions the only possible chance of success, of which the speaker can avail himself, is to begin by diverting his hearers from their own thoughts. He must appease them with excuses; soothe them with apologies. He must allure the attention of their minds from objects of their aversion to images, in which they take delight; from characters, whom they despise or hate, to those, whom they love and revere. The real purpose of his discourse must sometimes be concealed; sometimes even disguised. An occasional incident occurring at the moment, a humorous anecdote, ingeniously pointed to the purpose; a smart retort or repartee, arising from the opponent’s recent conclusion; an allusion to some object of sympathy to the audience; an address to the natural love of novelty, or to the taste for satire; all these may furnish the variety of expedients, which the speaker must seize with the suddenness of instinct, to commence a discourse by insinuation.
The introduction, whether direct or oblique, should be simple and unassuming in its language; avoiding all appearance of brilliancy, wit, or polished elegance. These are graces, the display of which tend rather to prepossess the audience against a speaker, than in his favor. They raise that sort of temper, with which we observe a handsome person admiring himself before a glass. The natural kindness towards beauty is lost in the natural disgust at vanity. To excite the admiration of his audience the speaker must cautiously forebear to discover his own. But he may throw into it the whole powers of his mind, by energy of thought and dignity of sentiment; for nothing can so forcibly propitiate his hearer both to himself and to his discourse, as the exhibition of ideas, which command respect without the appearance of a solicitude to obtain it.
The introduction should avoid vulgarity; that is, a character, which would render it equally suitable for many other occasions, as for that, upon which it is used. It should not be common nor convertible; that is, capable of being employed with little or no variation to the purpose of the speaker’s antagonist, as usefully to his own. It should not be too long; charged with no heavy redundancies; incumbered [sic] with no superfluous repetitions. It should shun all appearance of incongruity or of transposition; that is of tendencies opposite or even obviously varient [sic] from those of the discourse, which it precedes. Most of all should it be aware of such a violation of these rules, as to spend itself upon purposes different from those of engaging the attention, the confidence, and the kindness of the hearer. To say that it ought to avoid exciting contrary emotions in his mind would be to suppose the speaker had lost his senses.
In all cases where the speaker and his subject are both fully known, as most frequently happens in our judicial courts, and in our deliberative assemblies, a formal exordium is generally unnecessary, and often improper. On some occasions of great urgency the omission of all introduction becomes itself a beauty of a high order, as you see exemplified in a distinguished manner by the first of Cicero’s orations against Catiline. To this example the sublimest [sic] of poets must have alluded in that passage, where he compares the arch enemy, satan, practising [sic] in his temptation of Eve the arts of an orator of ancient times.
As when of old some orator renown’d
In Athens, or free Rome, when eloquence
Flourish’d (since mute) to some great cause addrest,
Stood in himself collected, while each part,
Motion, each act won audience, ere the tongue,
Sometimes in height began, as no delay
Of preface brooking, through his zeal of right.
So standing, moving, or to height up grown,
The tempter all impassion’d, thus began.
P. L. IX. 670.
As the magnitude of the cause, and the crisis of the moment point the judgment of the speaker to the cases, which exclude a regular exordium, they serve to indicate, that an elaborate introduction is most peculiarly adapted to demonstrative and pulpit discourses. The speaker stands alone. His subject generally depends upon his choice, and until announced by himself is generally unknown to his audience. There is something new to introduce, and no sudden or unexpected pressure of circumstance can lop away the preliminaries of custom. Indeed in the practice of modern oratory it may be laid down as a general rule, that extemporaneous speeches seldom can require, and written orations as seldom can forbear the formalities of rhetorical exordium.