WE are about to enter upon the third great division of the science of rhetoric, termed elocution. But, as well for the recollection of those, who have attended this course of lectures from its commencement, as for the information of their juniors, who are now for the first time required to give their attendance upon them, it may be necessary, before I begin upon the immediate subject, which next offers itself to our investigations, briefly to recapitulate the substance of my preceding lectures.
By the regulations of this institution, the professor was required to deliver, in a course of lectures, a system of rhetoric and oratory, founded upon the classical theories of antiquity. The outline of this system was prescribed with a minuteness, which I have in general closely observed; and from which I should not readily have swerved, had it even differed in many particulars from my own views of the subject. The distinction between rhetoric and oratory had not indeed been formally marked by any of the ancient writers; but it had manifestly been taken by the founder of this establishment; and it appeared well calculated to illuminate the career, which we were to traverse. I considered rhetoric as significant of the theory, and oratory of the practice; rhetoric as the science, oratory as the art. Although the consideration of these must necessarily to a certain extent be blended together, and they must reciprocally reflect light upon each other, I thought it most expedient to treat them successively and distinctly. Departing from this great original principle, my subject opened itself in two great divisions; under the first of which I have endeavoured [sic] to give you as correct a general idea of the ancient theories of public speaking, as I have been able to collect from their profoundest and most ingenious writers. But as knowledge is principally valuable for the uses, to which it can be applied, I have been anxious, in making you acquainted with the rhetorical principles of antiquity, to explain and point out how far they may be still adapted to the purposes of real life among ourselves, and to the occasions, which may arise in the course of your own future progress in the world. My plan therefore has necessarily been different from that of all the modern writers upon rhetoric and, belles-lettres. It has been partly didactic, and partly historical. Partly to unfold to you, as matter of fact, the precepts of Aristotle, Cicero, Quinctilian, Longinus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and the rest; and partly to show how much of that doctrine may still be suited to us, amid the changes of language, of manners, of religion, and of government, which in the lapse of ages have been effected by the ever-revolving hand of time. In pursuance of this plan, after an historical and critical review of the principal ancient rhetoricians, I adopted, as the basis of our inquiries relative to the science, the primary divisions, into which it had been distributed by them. These are known by the denominations of invention, disposition, elocution, memory, and action or pronunciation.
The first two of these heads, invention and disposition, have been largely discussed in the compass of eighteen lectures. Under that of invention were considered the topics, internal and external; the state of a controversy; the arguments proper to demonstrative, deliberative, judicial, and pulpit discourses, respectively; the character and address of a finished orator; and the use and excitation of the passions; objects, which had all been specially recommended in the regulations, and upon which I have enlarged in proportion to the importance, which had been bestowed upon them, or which they appeared to deserve.
In like obedience to the same injunctions, we have treated, under the head of disposition, of the properties and uses of each part of a regular discourse, moulded [sic] on the forms of antiquity. The introduction, narration, proposition, confirmation, confutation, and conclusion, have been in due succession submitted to our scrutiny; nor have the occasional incidents of digression, transition, and amplification, been neglected, or failed to receive their proper notice.
Thus far we have been implicitly governed by the regulations. The principle of consistency now furnishes an additional motive for continuing in faithful servitude to them. They have directed, that under the head of elocution we should “first treat generally and largely of elegance, composition, and dignity, and of their respective requisites; and then particularly of the several species of style, as the low, middle, sublime, &c. and of their distinguishing qualities with respect both to the thoughts and the words, illustrating the same by proper examples; and likewise of the various style of epistles, dialogues, history, poetry, and orations.”
Such is the copious table of contents, given us to be filled up, while descanting upon the general department of rhetoric, termed elocution.
A moment’s attention to these particulars, thus included under that general term, might supersede the necessity of repeating what I have heretofore very explicitly stated, that by elocution is here understood an idea quite different from that, in which the same word is now commonly used, and which is affixed to it by the modern English rhetoricians. Sheridan, Walker, and other, who have published professed treatises upon elocution, mean by that word the mode of speaking, or delivery; the same thing, which by the ancients was understood under the name of action. But in the language of Cicero and Quinctilian elocution refers to the writer, and not to the speaker; to the diction, and not to the delivery. To this meaning of the term I shall uniformly adhere, and would wish you to bear it in mind through the progress of our inquiries.
By the definitions of Cicero, which we adopted at the commencement of our course,
Invention was described as the discovery by meditation of those things, which by their truth or verisimilitude gave probability to the cause.
Disposition, as the orderly arrangement of the things invented. And
Elocution, as the application of proper words and sentences to the materials of invention.
In terms still more concise invention may be said to furnish the matter, disposition the order, and elocution the manner, for the composition of a public discourse. For the composition, and not for the delivery; to that we have not yet arrived. Of that we shall hereafter speak under the head of action.
Under this head of elocution then I am to begin by treating generally and largely of elegance, composition, and dignity, and of their respective requisites. And here again the first thing indispensable to be done is, by an explanation of the meaning affixed to these words, to guard you against misconceptions, into which you would inevitably fall by receiving them in their common acceptations.
Should you be told, without further explanation of the terms, that elocution consists of elegance, composition, and dignity, would not your first sentiment be, that here was an association of words, which in their aggregate conveyed no distinct meaning? And after pausing to disentangle the confusion, in which they would involve the mind, would you not next remark the incongruity od their combination? Elegance and dignity may be conceived, as qualities of composition. They are merely the properties of the work. Composition is the act of the workman. The three specific constituent expressions do not belong to the same general term. It is as if you should say of a portrait, that it consisted of beauty, coloring, and the painter’s brush; or as if, in speaking of the Æneid, you should say it poetry consisted of harmony, fiction, and Virgil’s hand-writing.
This combination of elegance, composition, and dignity, as forming the constituent parts of elocution, appears to have been first made by the author of the rhetorics to Herennius, attributed commonly to Cicero. From him they have been adopted by succeeding rhetoricians; and some modern translators, commentators, and rhetorical writers, have perplexed themselves, and drawn very absurd deductions from inattention to the peculiar meaning, which that writer annexed to these expressions.
The peculiar subject, which we consider under the head of elocution, is words. It is the wording of the discourse. And in the employment of the words, with which our thoughts must be embodied, our attention must naturally be directed to three things; their choice, their arrangement, and their decoration. You are to consider what words you shall select, how they shall be arranged, and how they shall be adorned. This is the exact meaning of elegance, composition, and dignity. They have all reference to the labor of the artist, and not to the character of the performance. Elegance signifies precisely the same thing with choice. We have been so long and so constantly habituated to receive these words, as the signs of ideas widely remote from each other, that you may perhaps find some difficulty to reconcile them in your minds, as synonymous. A retrospect however upon their etymology will immediately show, that they are descended from one common stock, and are of close affinity, The derivation of elegance, elegentia, is direct from eligo, to choose; and in Latin the noun had probably not deviated from the primitive idea, as it has done in our language.
Nor is this meaning altogether unexampled, as applied even to the modern English. There is is the Paradise Lost a passage, where the word elegant is obviously employed in this sense. After tasting of the forbidden fruit, and while laboring under the intoxication of its effects, Adam says to his partner in guilt,
Eve, now I see thou art exact of taste,
And elegant, of sapience no small part;
Since to each meaning, savor we apply,
And palate call judicious.
But I believe this passage stands alone in English literature, as respects that meaning of the word; and we see Milton himself thought an explanation necessary, in the very midst of an epic poem, for so using it.
As elegance means here no more than choice, so composition, adhering equally to its primitive derivation, signifies only putting together. WHen the words are chosen they must be put together; and the object of composition, in this subordinate division, is to furnish rules and principles, directing how they are to be put together.
Both these particulars belong strictly to the department of grammar; and Cornificius expressly refers the student to the grammarian for the details of their use. But dignity, or, as I have supposed it would more properly be called, decoration, embraces the whole theory of figurative language. Tropes and figures unquestionably constitute all the ornaments of discourse; and in the estimation of the writer, from whom this classification is borrowed, they also constituted its dignity. The word elegance, as commonly understood by us, might perhaps be applied to this part of the subject, since nothing serves to give so much an appearance of elegance to an oratorical performance, as a lively and judicious application of figures. But in the rhetorics to Herennius elegance has nothing to do with the metaphorical part of a discourse. His elegance is exclusively limited to the choice of words; and his principles of selection he very explicitly lays down under the appellations of purity and perspicuity.
Having thus ascertained with precision the force of the terms elegance, composition, and dignity, the incongruity of their association immediately vanishes. The choice, the collocation, and the embellishment of the words, in which the performances of an orator may be clothed, are not only proper subjects of consideration to the student of rhetorical elocution, but they are naturally viewed in connexion [sic] with each other. They exhibit no heterogeneous mixture of dissimilar elements, no unnatural concatenation of materials from earth, air, fire, and flood, to compose one and the same body. They no longer mingle into inextricable confusion the cause, the means, and effect; the toil of the laborer, and the properties of his work. They are the several distinct, but not disconnected parts of one consistent whole, and comprise within their just extent every particular of inquiry respecting the language, which it is the purpose of a public orator to wing with persuasion.
Elegance then, thus explained, consists of purity and perspicuity. Or the rules, by which a speaker should choose his words, are first, that they be pure English; and secondly, that they clearly indicate his meaning.
The character of these subdivisions would of itself be sufficient to prove what was meant by that elegance, which they are said to constitute. If by elegance were meant that sort of beauty, which the term in its common acceptation imports, neither purity nor perspicuity would suffice, singly or combined, for its production. The object in review is naked words; single words in their plainest literal sense; without reference to their arrangement in sentences, for that follows under the article of composition; without respect to the graces they may derive from metaphorical ornament, for that is included in the discussion of dignity. To these solitary elements of thought elegance, in its ordinary sense, never can be attributed; but choice may, and must. To speak of a word as elegant were absurd, did we not mean by that epithet only to characterize the word as eligible.
To put these principles in a preceptive form then, we must say to the oratorical student, in the selection of your words, you must take care that they be pure and perspicuous.
Still these are terms too general in their nature, too vague in their signification, to answer the purposes of real instruction. It will be necessary to enter further into detail, in order to explain fully to your satisfaction, first the full import of the words; secondly the reason of the laws, which prescribe them, as the tests of preference in the choice of words; and thirdly the means of complying with their requisites. And to preserve that purity and perspicuity, so peculiarly necessary when treating of these qualities themselves, it will be most advisable to take them into consideration distinctly and in succession. Purity, as applied to words, in its most extensive sense, includes two very different objects, having relation one to morality, the other to grammar. It is however only of grammatical purity, that the rhetoricians treat; and the author of the rhetorics to Herennius considers purity as consisting of latinity [sic] and properity [sic].
With regard to the first of these properties, it is almost superfluous to remark, the latinity [sic] can be pure only for the use of those, who are to speak in Latin. The principles however are alike applica[ble] to all other languages. The Roman writers make latinity [sic] the principal standard of their purity; as Aristotle and the other Greek rhetoricians, in delivering the same rules, call it hellenism. On the same principle our oratorical purity must consist in the choice of words purely English.
The rigor of this rule was originally meant only to operate in exclusion of words from foreign languages; and it was adhered to with so much fastidiousness by the ancient Greeks, that they denominated every departure from it a barbarism. This term in itself did not perhaps carry so much harshness with it in their estimation, as it now conveys. It meant no more than that the word was foreign or of foreign extraction; but it partook of that angry temper, which in those early ages of the world made every nation, of whose history we have any records extant, behold an enemy in every stranger. To the Greeks every nation, other than themselves, were barbarians; and every word, which came from any other fountain than the native Greek, was a barbarism. Thus the barbarism was always a relative term, used in contradistinction to the hellenism. By the former was understood a term of foreign, by the latter a word of indigenous growth.
From the Greeks the Romans borrowed all their knowledge of the liberal arts; from them they learned even the cultivation of their own language. Until after they had made the conquest of Greece, they were in every sense of the word barbarians, although Pyrrus confessed, what he had found to his cost, that they had nothing barbarous in their discipline.
They adopted all the principles of the fine arts from the Grecian theories; and in their turn passed the proscription of barbarism upon every nation, other than their own. From this sentence they had however the justice or the modesty to except the Greeks, whom they always acknowledged as their superiors and masters in every art and science, save only that of war.
One of the necessary consequences of this course of events was, that, in borrowing all these graces and embellishments of the human character, they were compelled to adopt with them the vocabularies appropriated to them. Thus almost every expression, having reference to the liberal arts in the Latin language, is of Greek origin. When they came to apply therefore that rule of Grecian philology, which denominates every word of foreign extraction a barbarism, they were obliged to make an express exception in favor of words derived from the Greek. To the hellenism of the Greeks they found a corresponding term in their own latinity [sic]. But when they made the application of its correlative term, the barbarism, they limited its rigor to the words of all other languages besides the Greek, which, by a sort of general indulgence, they admitted to the freedom of the city. This indulgence is explicitly recognized by Horace in his art of poetry. A barbarism therefore among the Romans was not precisely a counterpart to latinity [sic]; but to a community of latinity [sic] and hellenism. Every word, not derived from one of the two languages, was a barbarism.
The term barbarism has also been adopted by the nations of modern Europe; though in its application to their languages it cannot with propriety bear the same meaning, which it held either in Greece or at Rome. It were for example absurd to extend the Grecian doctrine of universal exclusion against foreign words to a language like the English, constituted as it is of twenty different dialects. The English language, like some celebrated rivers, flows from so many different fountains, that it is almost impossible to determine which of the springs is entitled to the privilege of being styled its source. The ancient Celtic, the Teutonic, the Greek, the Hebrew, the Latin, the Arabic, and the modern French, have all contributed plentiful streams to this deep rapid flood. Conquest, commerce, religion, and science, have all concurred to enrich, as well as to complicate the modes of British articulation. The Saxon, the Dane, and the Norman, successively engraved their forms of speech on the cliffs of Albion with the point of the sword. With the fragrance of Arabian aromatics the breeze of commerce has wafted the echoes of Arabian speech. The hallowed secrets of Indostan have ceased to be silent. The impenetrable walls of China have fallen before the magic of the human voice. The savage and silent desarts [sic] of the western hemisphere have resounded to accumulate the treasures of English utterance. Its liberality of admission has been almost unbounded; and if an individual from every distinct tribe of human beings, scattered over the face of the globe, were to assemble in some city, where the English is the predominating language, there would not be one, but would hear in the discourse of its inhabitants some sounds familiar to his ear.
Of such a language it would be ridiculous to prescribe, as a role of its grammar or its rhetoric, that every word of foreign origin should be accounted a barbarism. The principle of exclusion can neither be universal, as among the Greeks, nor with a single exception, as among the Romans. To say simply of a word, that it is not English, is by no means to declare it a barbarism; and other rules of purity must be prescribed, if purity be a character at all attributable to the language.
To settle that standard of purity has been an object of much perplexity, and of laborious investigation to many of the modern British grammarians. But their success has not always been equal to their industry. The subject is handled very largely and systematically by Dr. Campbell in his philosophy of rhetoric, a work of great learning and ingenuity; but to whose doctrine of purity, for the choice of words in English writing, I cannot altogether subscribe. He resolves all language into fashion, and finds no other standard of purity, than use or custom.
But in adopting use, under a variety of modifications, which he finds it necessary to direct, as the sole and universal standard of purity, we are in danger of cramping too much the liberties of language and the powers of oratory. The principle, if carried through in its rigor, would be destructive to all improvement of language. If no word can properly be used, which has not been used before, long used by the generality of the nation, and the majority of eminent writers, language would be in a state of perpetual and irreparable decay. These seems a fundamental inconsistency in the principle itself. It supposes long, settles, universal practice of usages, which never could commence. It holds up a purity to be compounded of impurities multiplied. The first time a word is used, by this rule, it must be impure. The second, third, and fourth time, it still remains impure, though still in a lessening degree. In proportion to the number of its repetitions it grows continually cleaner, until by obtruding its pollution upon the whole nation and their best writers for a series of years, it clarifies at length into crystal. It reverses all our ideas of moral and physical purity. Its virtue consists in the aggravation of its offences [sic]. It swells transgression into rectitude; bleeches [sic] as it stales; and can lay claim to the honors of spotless innocence only from the moment, when it has become common as the air.
I believe the simplest and best rule of oratorical purity may be derived from the purpose of the speaker. That choice of words must be the best, which most effectually conveys his idea to the mind of his hearer. The most indispensable of all requisites for him is to be understood; for which purpose he must use those words, which to the understandings of his auditory will be the signs of the same ideas, which they represent in his own. All the rules of exclusion, recommended by the grammarians, may be deduced from this principle. It repels the introduction of new words, because their meaning cannot be understood without an explanation. It discards old words, because their signification has escaped from the memory of men. It bars the door against foreign words, because the generality of mankind speak but one language; and it rejects those expressions of limited circulation, which blossom and decay with the lapse of a season; which range only within a narrow compass of place, or which belong to the glossaries of particular trades and professions. But the exceptions, when every one of these squeamish scruples may be set aside, are so numerous, that they out-number the rule. The speaker ion popular assemblies must often relax the muscles of his grammatical prudery, and liberally lacker [sic] his discourse with phraseology familiar to his audience, though restricted within a narrow channel of circulation. The orator in the pulpit, in the legislature, and at the bar, must employ in each of those scenes a multitude of expressions, appropriated to the spot; there absolutely necessary; unsuitable every where else. New ideas may claim of right the vehicle of new words. Obsolete expressions may without offence [sic] be roused from a slumber, which has been mistaken for death. Naturalization may be made easy to foreign terms, upon the fair condition of useful service; and the only sentence of eternal banishment from his lips, to which a speaker should doom any word significant of thought, is that which moral purity requires.
Immodest words admit of no defence [sic],
For want of decency is want of sense.
Obtain then a command over the language, in which you are to speak, as extensive as possible. When discoursing in public, let your choice of words be neither tainted with indelicacy, nor tarnished with affectation. Let your word bear the express image of your thought, and transmit it complete to your hearer’s mind. You need then give yourself very little concern to inquire for the parish register of its nativity. Whether new or old, whether of Saxon or of Grecian parentage, it will perform its duties to your satisfaction, without at all impairing your reputation for purity of speech.