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ON THE ATHENIAN ORATORS.
To the famous orators repair,
The celebrity of the great classical writers | all that could be done by the resolving and is confined within no limits, except those combining powers of the understanding, seems which separate civilized from savage man. not to have possessed much of sensibility or Their works are the common property of every imagination. Partly, also, it may be attributed polished nation. They have furnished sub- to the deficiency of materials. The great works jects for the painter, and models for the poet. of genius which then existed were not either In the minds of the educated classes through- sufficiently numerous or sufficiently varied to out Europe, their names are indissolubly asso-enable any man to form a perfect code of literaciated with the endearing recollections of ture. To require that a critic should conceive childhood,- the old school-room,—the dog- classes of composition which had never ex. eared grammar,—the first prize,-the tears so isted, and then investigate their principles, often shed and so quickly dried. So great is would be as unreasonable as the demand of the veneration with which they are regarded, Nebuchadnezzar, who expected his magicians that even the editors and commentators, who first to tell him his dream, and then to interperform the lowest menial offices to their me pret it. mory, are considered, like the equerries and With all his deficiencies Aristotle was the chamberlains of sovereign princes, as entitled most enlightened and profound critic of antito a high rank in the table of literary prece- quity. Dionysius was far from possessing the dence. It is, therefore, somewhat singular that same exquisite subtlety, or the same vast comtheir productions should so rarely have been prehension, But he had access to a much examined on just and philosophical principles greater number of specimens, and he had deof criticism.
voted himself, as it appears, more exclusively The ancient writers themselves afford us but to the study of elegant literature. His partilittle assistance. When they particularize, cular judginents are of more value than his they are commonly trivial: when they would general principles. He is only the historian generalize, they become indistinct. An excep- of literature. Aristotle is its philosopher. tion must, indeed, be made in favour of Aris Quintilian applied to general literature the tulle. . Buch in analysis and in combination, same principles by which he had been accus. that great man was without a rival. 'No phi-tomed to judge of the declamations of his pulosopher has ever possessed, in an equal de- pils. He looks for nothing but rhetoric, and gree, the talent either of separating established rhetoric not of the highest order. He speaks systems into their primary elements, or of con- coldly of the incomparable works of Æschylus. necting detached phenomena in harmonious He admires, beyond expression, those inex. systems. He was the great fashioner of the haustible mines of commonplaces, the plays of intellectual chaos: he changed its darkness Euripides. He bestows a few vague words on into light, and its discord into order. He the poetical character of Homer. He then brought to literary researches the same vigour proceeds to consider him merely as an oraand amplitude of mind, to which both physicaltor. An orator Homer doubtless was, and a and metaphysical science are so greatly In great orator. But surely nothing is more redebted. His fundamental principles of criti-markable, in his admirable works, than an art cism are excellent. To cite only a single in- with which his oratorical powers are made stance;—the doctrine which he established, subservient to the purposes of poetry. Nor that poetry is an imitative art, when justly un- can I think Quintilian a great critic in his own derstood is to the critic what the compass is to province. Just as are many of his remarks, the navigator. With it he may venture upon beautiful as are many of his illustrations, wo the most extensive excursions. Without it he can perpetually detect in his thoughts that must creep cautiously along the coaşı, or lose flavour which the soil of despotism generally himself in a trackless expanse, and trust, at communicates to all the fruits of genius. Elobest, to the guidance of an occasional star. It quence was, in his time, little more than a is a discovery which changes a caprice into a condiment which served to stimulate in a des science.
pot the jaded appetite for panegyric, an amuse The general propositions of Aristotle are ment for the travelled nobles and the blue valuable. But the merit of the superstructure stocking matrons of Rome. It is, therefore, bears no proportion to that of the foundation. with him, rather a sport than a war: it is a This is partly to be ascribed to the character contest of foils, not of swords. He appears to of the philosopher, who, though qualified to do think more of the grace of the attitude 'han of . Vol. IV.--55
the direction and vigour of the thrust. It must | French Anas a ludicrous instance of this. A be acknowledged, in justice to Quintilian, that scholar, doubtless of great learning, recomthis is an error to which Cicero has too ofien mends the study of some long Latin treatise, given the sanction, both of his precept and his of which I now f' rget the name, on the reli example.
gion, manners, government, and language of Longinus seems to have had great sensibi- the early Greeks. “For there," says be, you lity but little discrimination. He gives us elo- will learn every thing of importance that is quent sentences, but no principles. It was contained in the Iliad and Odyssey, without the happily said that Montesquieu ought to have trouble of reading two such tedious books." changed the name of his book from L'esprit des Alas! it had not occurred to the poor gentleLois to L'esprit sur les Lois. In the same man- man that all the knowledge to which he had ner the philosopher of Palmyra ought to have attached so much value was useful only as it entitled his famous work, not “Longinus on illustrated the great poems which he despised, the Sublime,” but “The Sublimities of Longi- and would be as worthless for any other pur. pus." The origin of the sublime is one of the pose as the mythology of Caffraria nr the vomost curious and interesting subjects of in- cabulary of Otaheite. guiry that can occupy the attention of a critic. or those scholars who have disdained to In our own country it has been discussed with confine themselves to verbal criticism, few great ability, and, I think, with very little suc. have been successful. The ancient languages cess, by Burke and Dugald Stewart. Longinus have, generally, a magical influence on their dispenses himself from all investigations of faculties. They were "fools called into a cir. this nature, by telling his friend Terentianus cle by Greek invocations." The Iliad and that he already knows every thing that can be Æneid were to them not books, but curiosities, said upon the question. It is to be regretted or rather relics. They no more admired those that Terentianus did not impart some of his works for their merits, than a good Catholic knowledge to his instructor, for from Longi- venerates the house of the Virgin at Loretto nus we learn only that sublimity means height for its architecture. Whatever was classical -or elevation.* This name, so commodiously was good. Homer was a great poel, and so was vague, is applied indifferently to the noble Callimachus. The epistles of Cicero were fine, prayer of Ajax in the Iliad, and to a passage and so were those of Phalaris. "Even with reof Plato about the human body, as full of con- spect to questions of evidence, they fell into the ceits as an ode of Cowley. Having no fixed same error. The authority of all narrations, standard, Longinus is right only by accident. written in Greek or Latin, was the same with He is rather a fancier than a critic.
them. It never crossed their minds that the Modern writers have been prevented by many lapse of five hundred years, or the distance of causes from supplying the deficiencies of their five hundred leagues, could-affect the accuracy classical predecessors. At the time of the re- of a narration,--that Livy could be a less veravival of literature no man could, without great cious historian than Polybius,-or that Pluand painful labour, acquire an accurate and tarch could know less about the friends of Xe elegant knowledge of the ancient languages. nophon than Xenophon himself. Deceived by And, unfortunately, those grammatical and the distance of time, they seem to consider all philological studies, without which it was im- the classics as contemporaries; just as I have possible to understand the great works of known people in England, deceived by the disAthenian and Roman genius, have a tendency tance of place, take it for granted that all perto contract the views and deaden the sensibili sons who live in India are neighbours, and ask ty of those who follow them with extreme as an inhabitant of Bombay about the health of an siduity. A powerful mind which has been long acquaintance at Calcuita. It is to be hoped employed in such studies, may be compared that no barbarian deluge will ever again pass to the gigantic spirit in the Arabian tale, who over Europe. But should such a calamity hapwas persuaded to contract himself to small pen, it seems not improbable that some future dimensions in order to enter within the en- Rollin or Gillies will compile a history of Eng. chanted vessel, and, when his prison had been land from Miss Porter's Scottish Chiefs, Miss closed upon him, found himself unable to es- Lee's Recess, and Sir Nathaniel Wraxall's Mes cape from the narrow boundaries to the mea- moirs. sure of which he had reduced his stature. It is surely time that ancient literature When the means have long been the objects should be examined in a different manner, of application, they are naturally substituted without pedantical prepossessions, but with a for the end. It was said by Eugene of Savoy, just allowance, at the same time, for the differthat the greatest generals have commonly been ence of circumstances and manners. I am far those who have been at once raised to com- from pretending to the knowledge or ability mand, and introduced to the great operations which such a task would require. All that I of war without being employed in the petty mean to offer is a coliection of desultory recalculations and maneuvres which employ the marks upon a most interesting portion of Greek time of an inferior officer. In literature the literature. principle is equally sound. The great tactics It may be doubted whether any compositions of criticism will, in general, be best understood which have ever been produced in the world by those who have not had much practice in are equally perfect in their kind with the great drilling syllables and particles.
Athenian orations. Genius is subject to the I remember to have observed among the same laws which regulate the production of
cotton and molasses. The supply adjusts itself • 'Αγροτης και εξοχη τις λογων εστι τα υψη. to the demand. The quantity may be dimi
nished by restrictions and multiplied by boun-| have improved our condition as much in reality lies. The singular excellence. to which elo- as in appearance. Rumford, it is said, proquence attained at Athens is to be mainly at- posed to the Elector of Bavaria a scheme for tributed to the influence which it exerted there. feeding his soldiers at a much cheaper rate In turbulent times, under a constitution purely than formerly. His plan was simply to comdemocratic, among a people educated exactly pel them to masticate their food thoroughly. to that point at which men are most suscepti- A small quantity thus eaten would, according ble of strong and sudden impressions, acute, to that famous projector, afford more suste but not sound reasoners, warm in their feel- nance than a large meal hastily devoured. I ings, unfixed in their principles, and passionate do not know how Rumford's proposition was ailmirers of fine composition, oratory received received; but to the mind, I believe, it will be such encouragement as it has never since ob- found more nutritious to digest a page than to tained.
devour a volume. The taste and knowledge of the Athenian Books, however, were the least part of the people was a favourite object of the contemptu- education of an Athenian citizen. Let us, for ous derision of Samuel Johnson; a man who a moment, transport ourselves, in thought, to knew nothing of Greek literature beyond the that glorious city. Let us imagine that we are common school-books, and who seems to have entering its gates, in the time of its power and brought to what he had read scarcely more glory. A crowd is assembled round a portico. than the discernment of a common schoolboy. All are gazing with delight at the entablature, He used to assert, with that arrogant absurdity for Phidias is putting up the frieze. We turn which, in spite of his great abilities and vir- into another street; a rhapsodist is reciting tues, renders him perhaps the most ridiculous there; men, women, children, are thronging character in literary history, that Demosthenes round him; the tears are running down their spoke to a people of brutes -o a barbarous cheeks; their eyes are fixed; their very breath people,--that there could have been no civi- is still; for he is telling how Priam fell at the lization before the invention of printing. John- feet of Achilles, and kissed those hands,-the son was a keen but a very narrow-minded ob terrible,--the murderous,—which had slain so server of mankind. He perpetually confound many of his sons.* We enter the public ed their general nature with their particular place; there is a ring of youths, all leaning for. circumstances. He knew London intimately. ward, with sparkling eyes, and gestures of exThe sagacity of his remarks on its society is pectation. Socrates is pitted against the fa. perfectly astonishing. But Fleet Street was mous Atheist, from Ionia, and has just brought the world to him. He saw that Londoners who him to a contradiction in terms. But we are did not read were profoundly ignorant, and he interrupted. The herald is crying—"Room inferred that a Greek who had few or no books for the Prytanes.". The general assembly is must have been as uninformed as one of Mr. to meet. The people are swarming in on every Thrale's draymen.
side. Proclamation is made-“Who wishes to There seems to be, on the contrary, every speak." There is a shout, and a clapping of reason to believe that in general intelligence hands: Pericles-is mounting the stand." Then the Athenian populace far surpassed the lower for a play of Sophocles; and away to sup with orders of any commnnity that has ever existed. Aspasia. I know of no modern university which It must be considered that to be a citizen was has so excellent a system of education. to be a legislator—a soldier-a judge—one up Knowledge thus acquired, and opinions thus on whose voice might depend the fate of the formed, were, indeed, likely to be, in some reWealthiest tributary state, of the most eminent spects, defective. Propositions, which are public' man. The lowest offices, both of agri- advanced in discourse, generally result from a culture and of trade, were in common per- partial view of the question, and cannot be formed by slaves. The commonwealth sup- kept under examination long enough to be plied its meanest members with the support corrected. Men of great conversational pow. of lise, the opportunity of leisure, and the ers almost universally practise a sort of lively. means of amusement. Books were, indeed, sophistry and exaggeration, which deceives, few, but they were excellent, and they were for the moment, both themselves and their accurately known. It is not by turning over auditors. Thus we see doctrines, which canlibraries, but by repeatedly perusing, and in- not bear a close inspection, triumph perpetently contemplating a few great models, that tually in drawing-rooms, in debating societhe mind is best disciplined. A man of letters ties, and even in legislative or judicial assemmust now read much that he soon forgets, and blies. To the conversational education of the much from which he learns nothing worthy to Athenians, I am inclined to attribute the great be remembered. The best works employ, in looseness of reasoning, which is remarkable in general, but a small portion of his time. De- most of their scientific writings. Even the mosthenes is said to have transcribed, six most illogical of modern writers would stand times, the History of Thucydides. If he had perfectly aghast at the puerile fallacies which been a young politician of the present age, he seem to have deluded some of the greatest men might in the same space of time have skimmed of antiquity. Sir Thomas Lethbridge would innumerable newspapers and pamphlets. I do stare ai the political economy of Xenophon not condemn that desultory mode of study and the author of Soirées de Petersbourg wouid which the state of things in our day renders a be ashamed of some of the metaphysical argu. matter of necessity. But I may be allowed to doubt whether the changes on which the ad
• Kat Kvos xetpas, mirers of modern institutions delight to dwell četras, axdaadopous, ni atr sac «ravny war
ments of Plato. But the very circumstances was immediate conviction and persuasión. which retarded the growth of science, were He, therefore, who would justly appreciate the peculiarly favourable to the cultivation of elo- merit of the Cirecian orators, should place him. quence. From the early habit of taking a share self, as nearly as possible, in the situation of in animated discussion, the intelligent student their auditors : he should divest himself of his would derive that readiness of resource, that modern feelings and acquirements, and make copiousness of language, and that knowledge the prejudices and interests of the Athenian of the temper and understanding of an audi- citizens his own. He who studies their works ence, which are far more valuable to an orator in this spirit will find that many of those things than the greatest logical powers.
which, to an English reader, appear to be Horace has prettily compared-poems to those blemishes,—the frequent violation of those paintings of which the effect varies as the excellent rules of evidence, by which our spectator changes his stand. The same re- courts of law are regulated, -the introduction mark applies with at least equal justice to of extraneous matter,--the reference to con. speeches. They must be read with the temper siderations of political expediency in judicial of those to whom they were addressed, or they investigations,--the assertions, without proof, must necessarily appear to offend against the --the passionate entreaties,--the furious ini laws of taste and reason; as the finest picture, vectives,-are really proofs of the prudence seen in a light different from that for which it and address of the speakers. He must not was designed, will appear fit only for a sign. dwell maliciously on arguments or phrases, This is perpetually forgotten by those who but acquiesce in his first impressions. It rea criticise oratory. Because they are reading at quires repeated perusal and reflection to deleisure, pausing at every line, reconsidering cide rightly on any other portion of literature. every argument, they forget that the hearers But with respect to works of which the merit were hurried from point to point too rapidly to depends on their instantaneous effect, the most detect the fallacies through which they were hasty judgment is likely to be best. conducted; that they had no time to disentan The history of eloguence at Athens is regle sophisms, or to notice slight inaccuracies markable. From a very early period great of expression; that elaborate excellence, either speakers had flourished there. Pisistratus and of reasoning or of language, would have been Themistocles are said to have owed much o absolutely thrown away. To recur to the ana- their influence to their talents for debate. W. logy of the sister art, these connoisseurs ex- learn, with more certainty, that Pericles wa amine a panorama through a microscope, and distinguished by extraordinary oratorical pow quarrel with a scene-painter because he does ers. The subsiance of some of his speeches i. not give to his work the exquisite finish of transmitted to us by Thucydides, and that ex Gérard Dow.
cellent writer has doubtless faithfully reported Oratory is to be estimated on principles dif- the general line of his arguments. But the ferent from those which are applied to other manner, which in oratory is of at least a: productions. Truth is the object of philosophy much consequence as the matter, was of ne and history., Truth is the object even of those importance to his narration. It is evident thal works which are peculiarly called works of he has not attempted to preserve it. Through fiction, but which, in fact, bear the same rela- out his work, every speech on every subject, tion to history which algebra bears to arith-whatever may have been the character or the metic. The merit of poetry, in its wildest dialect of the speaker, is in exactly the same forms, still consists in its truth, -truth con- form. The grave King of Sparta, the furious veyed to the understanding, not directly by the demagogue of Athens, the general encouraging words, but circuitously by means of imagina. his army, the captive supplicating for his iife, sive associations, which serve as its con- all are represented as speakers in one unvaried ductors. The object of oratory alone is not style,—a style moreover wholly unfit for oratruth, but persuasion. The admiration of the torical purposes. His mode of reasoning is multitude does not make Moore a greater poet singularly elliptical,-in reality most consecn. than Coleridge, or Beattie a greater philoso- tive, yet in appearance often incoherent. His pher than Berkeley. But the criterion of elo- meaning, in itself is sufficiently perplexing, is quence is different. A speaker, who exhausts compressed into the fewest possible words. the whole philosophy of a question, who dis- His great fondness for antithetical expression plays every grace of style, yet produces no has not a little conduced to this effect." Every effect on his audience, may be a great essayist, one must have observed how much more the a great statesman, a great master of composi- sense is condensed in the verses of Pope and tion, but he is not an orator. If he miss the his imitators, who never ventured to continue unark, it makes no difference whether he have the same clause from couplet to couplet, than taken aim too high or too low.
in those of poets who allow themselves that The effect of the great freedom of the press license. Every artificial division, which is in England has been, in a great measure, to strongly marked, and which frequently recurs, destroy this distinction, and to leave among us has the same tendency. The natural and per. littlc of what I call Oratory Proper. Our Ic-spicuous expression which spontaneously rises gislators, our candidates, on great occasions to the mind, will often refuse to accommodate even our advocates, address themselves less itself to such a form. It is necessary either to so the audience than to the reporters. They expand it into weakness, or to compress it into think less of the few hearers than of the innu- almost impenetrable density. The latter is merable readers. At Athens, the cas was generally the choice of an able man, and was different. there the only object of the speaker assuredly the choice of Thucydides.
It is scarcely necessary lo say that such the stadium, yet enjoyed far greater genera. speeches could never have been delivered. vigour and health than either. It is the same They are perhaps among the most difficult pas- with the mind. The superiority in technical sages in the Greek language, and would pro- skill is often more than compensated by the bably have been scarcely more intelligible to inferiority in general intelligence. And this is an Athenian auditor than to a modern reader. peculiarly the case in politics. Slates have Their obscurity was acknowledged by Cicero, always been best governed by men who have who was as intimate with the literature and taken a wide view of public affairs, and who language of Greece as the most accomplished have rather a general acquaintance with many of its natives, and who seems to have beld a sciences than a perfect mastery of one. The respectable rank among the Greek authors. union of the political and military departments The difficulty to a modern reader lies, not in in Greece contributed not a litle to the splenthe words, but in the reasoning. A dictionary dour of its early history. After their separais of far less use in studying them, than a clear tion more skilful generals and greater speakers head and a close attention to the context. They appeared ;-but the breed of statesmen dwindled are valuable to the scholar, as displaying, be- and became almost extinct. Themistocles or yond almost any other compositions, the powers Pericles would have been no match for Deof the finest languages :-they are valuable to mosthenes in the assembly, or Iphicrates in the the philosopher, as illustrating the morals and field. But surely they were incomparably manners of a most interesting age ;-they better fitted than either for the supreme direcabound in just thought and energetic expres- tion of affairs. sion. But they do not enable us to form any There is indeed a remarkable -coincidence accurate opinion on the merits of the early between the progress of the art of war, and Greek orators.
that of the art of oratory, among the Greeks. Though it cannot be doubted, that, before the They both advanced to perfection by contemPersian wars, Athens had produced eminent poraneous steps, and from similar causes. The speakers, yet the period during which elo- early speakers, like the early warriors of Greece, quence most flourished among her citizens was were merely a militia. It was found, that in by no means that of her greatest power
and both employments, practice and discipline gave glory. It commenced at the close of the Pelo- superiority. Each pursuit, therefore, became ponnesian war. In fact, the steps by which first an art, and then a trade. In proporţion as Athenian oratory approached to its finished the professors of each became more expert in excellence, seem to have been almost contem- their particular craft, they became less respect. poraneous with those by which the Athenian able in their general character. Their skill character and the Athenian empire sunk to de- had been obtained at too great expense to be gradation. At the time when the little com- employed only from disinterested views. Thus, monwealth achieved those yictories which the soldiers forgot that they were citizens, and twenty-five eventual centuries have left un- the orators that they were statesmen. I know equalled, eloquence was in its infancy. The not to what Demosthenes and his famous condeliverers of Greece became its plunderers and ten.poraries can be so justly compared as to oppressors. Unmeasured exaction, atrocious those mercenary troops, who, in their time, vengeance, the madness of the multitude, the overran Greece; or those who, from similar tyranny of the great, filled the Cyclades with causes, were some centuries ago the scourge tears, and blood, and mourning. The sword of the Italian republics,-perfectly acquainted unpeopled whole islands in a day. The plough with every part of their profession, irresistible passed over the ruins of famous cities. The in the field, powerful to defend or to destroy, imperial republic sent forth her children by but defending without love, and destroying thousands to pine in the quarries of Syracuse, without hatred. We may despist he characor to feed the vultures of Ægospotami. She was at length reduced by famine and slaughter to humble herself before her enemies, and to * It has often occurred to me, that to the circumpurchase existence by the sacrifice of her em- the most remarkable events in Grecian history, I mean
stances mentioned in the text, is to be referred one of pire and her laws. During these disastrous the silent but rapid downfall of the Lacedæmonian and gloomy years, oratory was advancing power. Soon after the termination of the Peloponnesian towards its highest excellence. And it was military discipline, its social institutions were the same. when the moral, the political, the military cha- Agesilaus, during whose reign the change took place, racter of the people was most utterly degraded; was the ablest of its kings." Yet the Spartan armies
were frequently defeated in pitched battles, -an ocit was when the viceroy of a Macedonian so
currence considered impossible in the earlier ages of vereign gave law to Greece, that the courts of Greece. They are allowed to have fought most bravely, Aihens witnessed the most splendid contest of yet they were no longer attended by the success to which
ihey had formerly been accustomed. No solution of eloquence that the world has ever known.
these circumstances is offered, as far as I know, by any The causes of this phenomenon it is not, I ancient author. The real cause, I conceive, was this think, difficult to assign. The division of la- The Lacedæmonians, alone among the Greeks, formed bour operates on the productions of the orator commonwealths were engaged in agriculture and trade, as it does on those of the mechanic. It wa. they had no employment whatever but the study of remarked by the ancients, that the Pentathlete, toponnesian Wars, they had that advantage over their who divided his attention between several exer- neighbours which regular troops always possess over cises, though he could not vie with a boxer in militia. This advantage they lost when other states the use of a cestus, or with one who had con- began,
at a later period, to employ mercenary forces,
who were probably as superior to them in the art of wa fined his attention to running in the contest as they had hitherto been to their antagonists.