« PreviousContinue »
ter. This imagined model of perfection they fancy that they lead by the hand. A young man with the greatest acuteness of understanding, regularly trained in the most perfect discipline, by no means unacquainted with jurisprudence; who, when he rises in the senate, never fails to charm the ear and delight the passions; who has all the splendid stores of eloquence perfectly at command; who is copious, elegant, and sublime.
Having taken this opportunity of giving my sentiments to the public, I shall relate, with unreserved freedom, what from various and important reasons I have hitherto concealed. This young man is distinguished by an ornamented and florid style of eloquence, which, as it seems altogether transferred to the senate from the schools of the sophists, offends the sagacity of some, and the dignity of others. He possesses one faculty, in my opinion his chief recommendation, of speaking with facility on all occasions. The ancients were accustomed to believe this talent could only be the effect, though the honourable effect, of continual industry. Whatever is the necessity of the occasion, as soon as he rises, at the very waving of his hand and motion of his foot, an exuberance of words (like the Pompeian band, bound to their leader by the solemnity of an oath), press themselves forwards with zealous eagerness; and very remarkable it is that, whilst speaking with great variety, and still greater celerity, in all the turns and changes of debate, he is accurate in the choice, and correct in the application of his words, that he never in the
minutest instance deviates from grammatical precision. To which facility it is to be added, that in disputation he preserves one uniform tenour, and that regularity which seems best and most properly adapted to the order of his sentiments, as prompted by the contingence of the occasion. There is no pause nor hesitation in his speaking; he never seems to deliberate, even for a moment, as if selecting, from two things present to his fancy, the one most eligible for use or for ornament.
There are many, however, who do not entirely approve of that rapidity of style, which is produced by the imagination when warm with new ideas. Yet these, nevertheless, acknowledge, that if this style were committed to writing, it could not be made more polished or more perfect. The application perhaps of unusual, and of what are termed attic expressions, may be defective in strength, but is sometimes exceedingly beautiful. It sometimes also happens that a sentence, however decorated by well chosen words, carries with it little or no impression; the words themselves may be offensive in their operation upon the ear: and very often the speech to which we have listened with attentive pleasure appears, when we have the opportunity of examining it at leisure, weak, trifling, and unconnected.
The minister's style of oratory is always severe, and sometimes acrimonious: indeed it is sometimes necessary to make the retaliation his asperity provokes. At ridicule also he makes occasional attempts, either to prevent the effects of weari
vOl. II. " H H
ness and satiety on his audience, or probably by way of relaxation to bis own genius, naturally of a very different propensity. But in this respect he fails altogether; he is neither pointed, elegant, nor witty; and obviously discovers that, like Demosthenes, he is not so much averse to facetiousness as unsuccessful in attaining it.
But his principal defect is entirely different from any thing I have yet mentioned. As a civilian, in which kind of knowledge it becomes an orator to be particularly accomplished, he has no claim to praise. He is destitute of that ratiocination which is applied by philosophy to the investigation of human nature and human manners. He possessed not the impressive power of exciting the ardour of the soul, and of leaving on the minds of his hearers an energy not easily effaced. To obtain our applause, his speeches should be more compressed and less voluble; with greater marks of study and polished artifice; with a spirit of harmony natural and unaffected; not, as it were, laboured and constrained. If we determine that to be the only genuine eloquence, which at one time rouses to ardour, at another steals upon the sense; which communicates new ideas, and operates to the extinction of inveterate prejudice; the present minister is by many degrees distant from his father's excellence.
He is by nature vehement and impetuous, and can by no means allow a syllable to fall from another's tongue that is not either agreeable or honourable to himself. It is this very circumstance which induces me to check his presumption and to restrain his petulant promptitude of speech by a few questions of this nature. To these ostentatious ornaments, so conspicuous in his speeches, does he add those which are derived from polished erudition—which in youth, a state entitled to every indulgence, we listen to with praise? Does he attend sufficiently to those events which modern times revere as sacred? Or is his mind enriched with those stories of ancient literature, which are not only delightful to hear, but in illustration are considered as equally authentic and satisfactory? Does he apply those words which breathe and glow, the delight of the studious and the learned, happily to his subject, or introduce them in his speeches with effect? Does he communicate any thing uncommonly exquisite, any thing fully adequate to the expectation of those whose learning is extensive, and whose judgments are mature? any thing, in short, to which men of continued experience, or even men of more moderate attainments, can ascribe the praise of originality 1 Of these perfections he possessed none. I am therefore less reluctant in allowing him the merit of that eloquence which is trite and common. I will go further; I will acknowledge, and it is one perfection of an orator, that he discovers marks of considerable attention, that he has received some benefit from reading. But if, at any time, somewhat peculiarly exquisite has been introduced in his speeches, which has not frequently happened, it is to me sufficiently obvious that he has drawn it from other sources than his own.
It is not very long since he left with disdain our inferior courts, as places of drudgery, ill suited to his talents. But what others usually attain from art, or from habit, we may suppose him to have received from nature, or from the slightest application possible. Hence it happens that common phrases appear floating about an immense ocean of words, some from Livy, others from Lucan, both well known to schoolboys and smatterers in learning: so that his style of oratory upon some occasions marks the declaimer from the schools; at others, the wrangler from the bar. Let it by no means be imputed to him as a merit, that he never expresses alarm about the events of debate, or that he despises the magnitude and difficulty of the affairs to be conducted, however serious and extensive. Marcus Crassus made no scruple of confessing that, when beginning to speak, he frequently turned pale, was discomposed in his mind, and trembled in every limb. Cicero also acknowledges, that whenever the remembrance of the day in which he was to speak occurred, he was not only agitated in his mind, but he showed his agitation outwardly. But no one ever saw our present minister in the smallest degree disordered by fear, or embarrassed by that ingenuous and lovely modesty, so becoming in the youthful character. There are some, I know, who esteem this an admirable quality *; but, in the opinion of Marcus Crassus, the best and the finest speakers may well deserve the imputation of impudence, if they do not rise with some degree of timidity, and show some little embarrassment at the commencement of their speeches. * Cicero.