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a letter, or even in common conversation, study to express himself with propriety. By this, we do not mean that he is never to write or speak, but in elaborate and artificial language. This would introduce stiffuess and affectation, infinitely worse than the greatest negligence. But we must observe, that there is, in every thing, a proper and becoming manner; and, on the contrary, there is also an awkward performance of the same thing. The becoming manner is often the most light, and seemingly most careless; but taste and attention are requisite to seize the just idea of it. That idea, when acquired, should be kept in view, and upon it should be formed, whatever we write or speak.
Exercises in speaking have always been recommended to students; and, when under proper regulation, must be of great use. Those public and promiscuous societies, in which numbers are brought together, who are frequently of low stations and occupations; who are connected by no common bond of union, except a ridiculous rage for public speaking, and have no other object in view, than to exhibit their supposed talents, are institutions not only useless, but injurious. They are calculated to become seminaries of licentiousness, petulance, and faction. Even the allowable meetings, into which students of oratory may form themselves, need direction, in order to render them useful. If their subjects of discourse be improperly chosen; if they support extravagant or indecent topics; if they indulge themselves in loose and flimsy declamation; or accustom themselver without preparation to speak pertly, on all subjects, they will unavoidably acquire a very faulty and vicious taste in speaking. It should therefore be recommended to all those who are members of such societies, to attend to the choice of their subjects; to take care that they be useful and manly, either connected with the course of their studies, or related to morals and taste, to action and life. They should also be temperate in the practice of speaking; not speak too often, nor on subjects of which they are ignorant; but only when they have proper materials for a discourse, and have previously considered and digested the subject. In speaking, they should be cautious always to keep good sense and persuasion in view, rather than a show of eloquence. By these means they will gradually form themselves to a manly, correct, and persuasive manner of speaking.
It may now be asked, of what use will the study of critical and rhetorical writers be, to those who wish to excel in eloquence? They certainly ought not to be neglected; and yet, perhaps, very much cannot be expected from them. It is, however, from the original ancient writers, that the greatest advantage may be derived; and it is a disgrace to any one, whose profession calls him to speak in public, to be unacquainted with them. In all the ancient rhetorical writers, there is indeed one defect; they are too systematical. They aim at doing too much; at reducing rhetoric to a perfect art, which may even supply invention with materials, on every subject; so that one would suppose they expected to form an orator by 'rule, as they would form a carpenter. But in reality all that can be done, is to assist and enlighten taste, and to point out to genius the course it ought to hold.
Aristotle was the first, who took rhetoric out of the hands of the sophists, and founded it on reason and solid sense. Some of the profoundest observations, which have been made on the passions and manners of men, are to be found in his Treatise on Rhetoric; though in this, as in all his writings, his great conciseness often renders him obscure. The Greek rhetoricians, who succeeded him, most of whom are now lost, improved on his foundation. Two of them still remain, Demetrius Phalereus, and Dionysius of Halicar
Both wrote on the construction of sentences, and deserve to be consulted; particularly Dionysius, who is a very accurate and judicious critic.
To recommend the rhetorical writings of Cicero is superfluous. Whatever, on the subject of eloquence, is suggested by so great an orator, must be worthy of attention. His most extensive work, on this subject, is that De Oratore. None of his writings are more highly finished than this treatise. The dialogue is polite; the characters are well supported, and the management of the whole is beautiful and pleasing. The Orator ad M. Brutum, is also a valuable treatise ; and indeed, through all Cicero's rhetorical works, are displayed those sublime ideas of eloquence, which áre calculated to form a just taste, and to inspire that enthusiasm for the art, which is highly conducive to excellence.
But of all ancient writers, on the subject of oratory, the most instructive and most useful is Quintilian. His institutions abound with good sense, and discover a taste, in the bighest degree just and accurate. Almost all the principles of good criticism are found in them. He has well digested the ancient ideas concerning rhetoric, and has delivered his instructions in elegant and polished language.
COMPARATIVE MERIT OF THE ANCIENTS AND
MODERNS. A VERY curious question has been agitated, with regard to the comparative merit of the ancients and moderns. In France, this dispute was carried on with great heat, between Boileau and Madame Dacier, for the ancients, and Perranlt and La Motte, for the moderns. Even at this day, men of letters are divided on the subject. A few reflections
be useful. To decry the ancient classics is a vain attempt. Their reputation is established upon too solid a foundation to be shaken. Imperfections may be traced in their writings; but to .discredit their works in general, can belong only to peevishness or prejudice. The approbation of the public through so many centuries, establishes a verdict in their favour, from which, there is no appeal.
In matters of mere reasoning the world may be long in error; and systems of philosophy often have a currency for a time, and then die. But in objects of taste there is no such fillibility ; as they depend not on knowledge and science, bui upon sentiment and feeling. Now the universal feeling of mankind must be right; Homer and Virgil, therefore, must continue to stand upon the same ground which they have so long occupied.
Let us guard, however, against blind veneras
tion for the ancients, and institute a fair comparison between them and the moderns. If the ancients had the pre-eminence in genius, yet the moderns must have some advantage in all arts, which are improved by the patural progress of knowledge.
Hence, in natural philosophy, astronomy, chymistry, and other sciences, which rest upon observation of facts, the moderns have a decided superiority over the ancients. Perhaps too, in precise reasoning, philosophers of modern ages are superior to those of ancient times; as a more extensive literary intercourse has contributed to sharpen the faculties of men. The moderns have also the superiority in history and in political knowledge; owing to the extension of commerce, the discovery of different countries, the superior faculty of intercourse, and the multiplicity of events and revolutions, which have taken place in the world. In poetry, likewise, some advantages have been gained, in point of regularity and accuracy. In dramatic performances, improvements have certainly been made upon the ancient models. The variety of characters is greater; greater skill has been displayed in the conduct of the plot; and a bappier attention to probability and decorum. Among the ancients we find higher conceptions, greater simplicity, and more original fancy. Among the moderns, there is more of art and correctness, but less genius.
But though this remark may, in general, be just, there are some exceptions from it; Milton and Shakespeare are inferior to no poets in any age.
Among the ancients, were many circumstances, favourable to the exertions of genius. They