Page images

...with their different objects....ends....and characters.

pose further to remark, that several of the terms above explained, are sometimes used by rhetoricians and, critics in a much larger and more vague signification, than has been given them here. Sublimity and vehemence, in particular, are often confounded, the latter being considered as a species of the former. In this manner has this subject been treated by that great master Longinus, whose acceptation of the term sublime is extremely indefinite, importing an eminent degree of almost any excellence of speech, of whatever kind. Doubtless, if things themselves be understood, it does not seem material what names are assigned them. Yet it is both more accurate, and proves no inconsiderable aid to the right understanding of things, to discriminate by different signs such as are truly dif. ferent. And that the two qualities above mentioned are of this number is undeniable, since we can produce passages full of vehemence, wherein no image is presented, which, with any propriety, can be termed great or sublime f. In matters of criticism, as in the

+ For an instance of this, let that of Cicero against Antony suffice. “Tu istis faucibus, istis lateribus, ista gladiatoria totius cor“poris firmitate, tantum vini in Hippiae nuptiis exhauseras, ut tibi “necesse esset in populi Romani conspectu vomere postridie. Orem non modo visu foedam, sedetiam auditu ! Si hoc tibi inter coenam,

in tuis immanibus illis poculis accidisset, quis non turpe duceret 2

[ocr errors]

“In caetu vero populi Romani, negotium publicum gerens, magister

“equitum, cui ructare turpe esset, is vomens, frustis esculentis vi

“num redolentibus, gremium suum et totum tribunal implevit.” Here the vivacity of the address, in turning from the audience to the person declaimed against, the energy of the expressions, the re

Vol. I, - C petition,


[ocr errors]

Eloquence defined...its more general forms exhibited....

abstract sciences, it is of the utmost consequence to ascertain, with precision, the meanings of words, and, as nearly as the genius of the language in which one writes will permit, to make them correspond to the boundaries assigned by nature to the things signified. That the lofty and the vehement, though still distinguishable, are sometimes combined, and act with united force, is not to be denied. It is then only that the orator can be said to fight with weapons, which are at once sharp, massive, and refulgent, which, like Heaven's artillery, dazzle while they strike, which overpower the sight and the heart in the same instant. How admirably do the two forenamed qualities, when happily blended, correspond in the rational to the thunder and lightning in the natural world, which are not more awfully majestical in sound and aspect, than irristible in power *. petition, exclamation, interrogation, and climax of aggravating circumstances, accumulated with rapidity upon one another, display, in the strongest light, the turpitude of the action, and thus at once convince the judgment, and fire the indignation. It is therefore justly stiled vehement. But what is the image it presents 2 The reverse in every respect of the sublime; what, instead of gazing on with admiration, we should avert our eyes from with abhorrence. For, however it might pass in a Roman senate, I question whether Ciceronian eloquence itself could excuse the uttering of such things in any modern assembly, not to say a polite one. With vernacular expressions, answering to these, “vomere, ructare, frustis esculen“tis vinum redolentibus,” our more delicate ears would be immoderately shocked. In a case of this kind, the more lively the picture is, so much the more abominable it is. * A noted passage in Cicero's oration for Cornelius Balbus, will Serve

...with their different objects...ends...and characters.

Thus much shall suffice for explaining the spirit, the intent, and the distinguishing qualities of each of

serve as an example of the union of sublimity with vehemence. Speaking of Pompey, who had rewarded the valour and public sers vices of our orator's client, by making him a Roman citizen, he says, “ Utrum enim, inscientum vultis contra foedera fecisse, an “scientem 2 Si scientem, O nomen nostri imperii, O populi Ro“mani excellens dignitas, O Cneii Pompeii sic late longèque dif. “fusa laus, ut ejus gloriae domicilium communis imperii finibuster“minetur: O nationes, urbes, populi, reges, tetrarchae, tyranni, testes Cheii Pompeii non solum virtutis in bello, sedetiam religionis in pace: vos denique mutae regiones imploro, et sola terrarum ultimarum vos maria, portus, insulae, littoraque, quae est enim ora, quae sedes, qui locus, in quo non extent hujus cum fortitudinis, tum vero humanitatis, tum animi, tum consilii, impres“sa vestigia 2 Hunc quisquam incredibili quadam atque inaudita “gravitate, virtute, constantia praeditum, foodera scientem neglex“isse, violasse, rupisse, dicere audebit 2". Here every thing conspires to aggrandize the hero, and exhalt him to something more than mortal in the minds of the auditory; at the same time, every thing inspires the most perfect veneration for his character, and the most entire confidence in his integrity and judgment. The whole world is exhibited as no more than a sufficient theatre for such a superior genius to act upon. How noble is the idea! All the nations and potentates of the earth are, in a manner, produced as witnesses of his valour and his truth. Thus the orator at once fills the imagination with the immensity of the object, kindles in the breast an ardour of affection and gratitude, and by so many accumulated evidences, convinces the understanding, and silences every doubt. Accordingly, the effect which the words above quoted, and some other things advanced in relation to the same personage, had upon the audience, as we learn from Quintílian, was quite extraordinary. They extorted from them such demonstrations of their their applause and admiration, as he acknowledges to have been

G 2 but

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Of wit....humour....and ridicule.

the forementioned sorts of address; all which agree in this, an accommodation to affairs of a serious and important nature.


Of wit, humour and ridicule.

THIS article, concerning eloquence in its largest acceptation, I cannot properly dismiss without making some observations on another genus of oratory, in many things similar to the former, but which is naturally suited to light and trivial matters.

THIS also may be branched into three sorts, corresponding to those already discussed, directed to the fancy, the passions, and the will; for that which illuminates the understanding, serves as a common foundation to both, and has here nothing peculiar. This may be styled the eloquence of conversation, as the other is more strictly the eloquence of declamation +. Not, indeed, but that wit, humour, ridicule, which are the essentials of the former, may often be successfully admitted into public harangues. And, on the other hand, sublimity, pathos, vehemence, may sometimes enter the precincts of familiar converse. To justify the use of such distinctive appellations, it is enough that they refer to those particulars which are predominant in each, though not peculiar to either.

but ill-suited to the place and the occasion. He excuses it, however, because he considers it, not as a voluntary, but as a necessary consequence of the impression made upon the minds of the people.

His words are remarkable, “Atque ego illos credo qui aderant,

“nec sensisse quid facerent, nec sponte judicioque plausisse, sed ve“lut mente captos, et quo essent in loco ignaros, erupisse, in hunc “voluntatis affectum,” lib. viii. cap. 3. Without doubt, a considerable share of the effect ought to be ascribed to the immense advantage which the action and pronunciation of the orator would give to his expression.

SECT. I....Qf wit.

To consider the matter more nearly, it is the design of wit to excite in the mind an agreeable surprise, and that arising, not from anything marvellous in the subject, but solely from the imagery she employs, or the strange assemblage of related ideas presented to the mind. This end is effected in one or other of these three ways: first, in debasing things pompous or seemingly grave: I say seemingly grave, because to vilify what is truly grave, has something shocking in it, which rarely fails to counteract the end : secondly, in aggrandising things little and frivolous: thirdly, in setting ordinary objects, by means not only remote but apparently contrary, in a particular and uncommon point

+ In the latter of these ancients excel; in the former, the moderns. Demosthenes and Cicero, not to say, Homer and Virgil, to this day, remain unrivalled, and in all antiquity, Lucian himself not excepted, we cannot find a match for Swift and Cervantes.


« PreviousContinue »