« PreviousContinue »
orator. The same medium, language, is made use of; the same general rules of composition, in narration, description, argumentation, are observed; and the same tropes and figures, either for beautifying or for invigorating the diction, are employed by both. In regard to versification, it is more to be considered as an appendage, than as a constituent of poetry. In this lies what may be called the more mechanical part of the poet's work, being at most but a sort of garnishing, and by far too unessential to give a designation to the kind. This particularity in form, to adopt an expression of the naturalists, constitutes only variety, and not a different species.
Now, though a considerable proficiency in the practice of the oratorical art may be easily and almost naturally attained, by one in whom clearness of apprehension is happily united with sensibility of taste, fertility of imagination, and a certain readiness in language, a more thorough investigation of the latent energies, if I may thus express myself, whereby the instruments employed by eloquence produce their effect upon the hearers, will serve considerably both to improve the taste, and to enrich the fancy. By the former effect we learn to amend and avoid faults in composing and speaking, against which the best natural but uncultivated parts give no security; and by the latter, the proper mediums are suggested, whereby the necessary aids of topics, arguments, illustrations, and motives, may be procured. Besides, this study, properly conducted, leads directly to an acquaintance with ourselves; it not only traces the operations of the intellect and imagination, but discloses the lurking springs of action in the heart. In this view it is perhaps the surest and the shortest, as well as the pleasantest way of arriving at the science of the human mind. It is as an humble attempt to lead the mind of the studious inquirer into this track, that the following sheets are now submitted to the examination of the public.
When we consider the manner in which the rhetorical art hath arisen, and been treated in the schools, we must be sensible that in this, as in the imitative arts, the first handle has been given to criticism by actual performances in the art. The principles of our nature will, without the aid of any previous and formal instruction, sufficiently account for the first attempts. As speakers existed before grammarians, and reasoners before logicians, so doubtless there were orators before there were rhetoricians, and poets before critics. The first impulse towards the attainment of every art is nature.. The earliest assistance and direction that can be obtained in the rhetorical art, by which men operate on the minds of others, arises from the consciousness a man has of what operates on his own mind, aided by the sympathetic feelings, and by that practical experience of mankind, which individuals, even in the rudest state of society,
are capable of acquiring. The next step is to observe and discriminate, by proper appellations, the different attempts, whether modes of arguing, or forms of speech, that have been employed for the purposes of explaining, convincing, pleasing, moving, and persuading. Here we have the beginnings of the critical science. The third step is to compare, with diligence, the various effects, favourable or unfavourable, of those attempts, carefully taking into consideration every attendant circumstance by which the success appears to have been influenced, and by which one may be enabled to discover to what particular purpose each attempt is adapted, and in what circumstances only to be used. The fourth and last is to canvass those principles in our nature to which the various attempts are adapted, and by which, in any instance, their success or want of success may be accounted for. By the first step the critic is supplied with materials. By the second, the materials are distributed and classed, the forms of argument, the tropes and figures of speech, with their divisions and subdivisions, are explained. By the third, the rules of composition are discovered, or the method of combining and disposing the several materials, so as that they may be perfectly adapted to the end in view. By the fourth, we arrive at that knowledge of human nature which, besides its other advantages, adds both weight and evidence to all precedent discoveries and rules.
The second of the steps above mentioned, which, by the way, is the first of the rhetorical art, for all that precedes is properly supplied by Nature, appeared to the author of Hudibras the utmost pitch that had even to his time been attained :
For all a rhetorician's rules
Teach nothing but to name his tools3.
In this, however, the matter has been exaggerated by the satirist. Considerable progress had been made by the ancient Greeks and Romans, in devising the proper rules of composition, not only the two sorts of poesy, epic and dramatic, but also in the three sorts of orations which were in most frequent use among them, the deliberative, the judiciary, and the demonstrative. And I must acknowledge that, as far as I have been able to discover, there has been little or no improvement in this respect made by the moderns. The observations and rules transmitted to us from these distinguished names in the learned world, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian, have been for the most part only translated by later critics, or put into a modish dress and new arrangement. And as to the fourth and last step, it may be said to bring us into a new country, of which, though
3 Part i. Canto 1.
there have been some successful incursions occasionally made upon its frontiers, we are not yet in full possession.
The performance which, of all those I happen to be acquainted with, seems to have advanced farthest in this way, is the Elements of Criticism. But the subject of the learned and ingenious author of that work is rather too multifarious to admit so narrow a scrutiny as would be necessary for a perfect knowledge of the several parts. Every thing that is an object of taste, sculpture, painting, music, architecture, and gardening, as well as poetry and eloquence, come within his plan. On the other hand, though his subject be more multiform, it is, in respect of its connexion with the mind, less extensive than that here proposed. All those particular arts are examined only on that side wherein there is found pretty considerable coincidence with one another; namely, as objects of taste, which, by exciting sentiments of grandeur, beauty, novelty, and the like, are calculated to delight the imagination. In this view, eloquence comes no further under consideration, than as a fine art, and adapted, like the others above mentioned, to please the fancy, and to move the passions. But to treat it also as a useful art, and closely connected with the understanding and the will, would have led to a discussion foreign to his purpose.
I am aware that, from the deduction given above, it may be urged, that the fact, as here represented, seems to subvert the principle formerly laid down, and that as practice in the art has given the first scope for criticism, the former cannot justly be considered as deriving light and direction from the latter; that, on the contrary, the latter ought to be regarded as merely affording a sort of intellectual entertainment to speculative men. It may be said that this science, however entertaining, as it must derive all its light and information from the actual examples in the art, can never in return be subservient to the art, from which alone it has received whatever it has to bestow. This objection, however specious, will not bear a near examination. For let it be observed, that though in all the arts the first rough drafts, or imperfect attempts, that are made, precede every thing that can be termed criticism, they do not precede every thing that can be termed knowledge, which every human creature, that is not an idiot, is every day, from his birth, acquiring, by experience and observation. This knowledge must of necessity precede even those rudest and earliest essays; and if, in the imperfect and indigested state in which knowledge must always be found in the mind that is rather self-taught than totally untaught, it deserves not to be dignified with the title of Science, neither does the first awkward attempt in practice merit to be honoured with the name of Art. As is the one, such is the other. It is enough
for my purpose that something must be known, before any thing in this way, with a view to an end, can be undertaken to be done.
At the same time it is acknowledged, that as man is much more an active than a contemplative being, and as generally there is some view to action, especially in uncultivated minds, in all their observations and inquiries, it cannot be doubted that, in composition, the first attempts would be in the art, and that afterwards, from the comparison of different attempts with one another, and the consideration of the success with which they had been severally attended, would arise gradually the rules of criticism. Nor can it, on the other hand, be pleaded with any appearance of truth, that observations derived from the productions of an art can be of no service for the improvement of that art, and consequently of no benefit to future artists. On the contrary, it is thus that every art, liberal or mechanical, elegant or useful, except those founded in pure mathematics, advances towards perfection. From observing similar but different attempts and experiments, and from comparing their effects, general remarks are made, which serve as so many rules for directing future practice; and from comparing such general remarks together, others still more general are deduced. A few individual instances serve as a foundation to those observations, which, when once sufficiently established, extend their influence to instances innumerable. It is in this way that, on experiments comparatively few, all the physiological sciences have been reared; it is in this way that those comprehensive truths were first discovered, which have had such an unlimited influence on the most important arts, and given man so vast a dominion over the elements, and even the most refractory powers of nature. It is evident, therefore, that the artist and the critic are reciprocally subservient, and the particular province of each is greatly improved by the assistance of the other.
But it is not necessary here to enter further into this subject; what I shall have occasion afterwards to advance on the acquisition of experience, and the manner of using it, will be a sufficient illustration.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF
THE NATURE AND FOUNDATIONS OF ELOQUENCE.
Eloquence in the largest acceptation defined, its more general forms exhibited, with their different objects, ends, and characters.
In speaking there is always some end proposed, or some effect which the speaker intends to produce on the hearer. The word eloquence in its greatest latitude denotes, “That art or talent by which the discourse is adapted to its end1."
All the ends of speaking are reducible to four; every speech being intended to enlighten the understanding, to please the imagination, to move the passions, or to influence the will.
Any one discourse admits only one of these ends as the principal. Nevertheless, in discoursing on a subject, many things may be introduced, which are more immediately and apparently directed to some of the other ends of speaking, and not to that which is the chief intent of the whole. But then these other and immediate ends are in effect but means, and must be rendered conducive to that which is the primary intention. Accordingly, the propriety or the impropriety of the introduction of such secondary ends, will always be inferred from their subserviency or want of subserviency to that end, which is, in respect of them, the ultimate. For example, a discourse addressed to the understanding, and calculated to illustrate or evince some point purely speculative, may borrow aid from the imagination, and admit metaphor and comparison, but not the bolder and more striking figures, as that called
1 "Dicere secundum virtutem orationis. Scientia bene dicendi." Quintilian. The word eloquence, in common conversation, is seldom used in such a comprehenhave, however, made choice of this definition on a double account : 1st. It exactly corresponds to Tully's idea of a perfect orator; "Optimus est orator qui dicendo animos audientium et docet, et delectat, et permovet." 2dly. It is best adapted to the subject of these papers. See the note on page 4.