Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

without colouring or disguise, the orator is to endeavour to perform by his art. Though, indeed, if what a person says be inconsistent with his usual conduct and behaviour at other times, he cannot expect it should gain much credit, or make any deep impression upon his hearers : which may be one reason why the ancient rhetoricians make it so necessary a qualification in an orator, that he be a good man; since he should always be consistent with himself, and, as we say, talk in character. And therefore it is highly requisite, that he should not only gain the skill of assuming those qualities, which the nature and circumstances of his discourse require him to express, but, likewise, that he should use his utmost endeavours to get the real habits implanted in his mind : for as by this means they will be always expressed with greater ease and facility, so, by appearing constantly in the course of his life, they will have more weight and influence upon particular occasions.

Now there are four qualities more especially suited to the character of an orator, which should always appear in his discourses, in order to render what he says acceptable to his hearers; and these are, wisdom, integrity, benevolence, and modesty.

Wisdom is necessary, because we easily give in to the opinion of those whom we esteem wiser and more knowing than ourselves. Knowledge is very agreeable and pleasant to all, but few make very great improvements in it. Such, therefore, who either cannot or do not care to give themselves the trouble of examining into things themselves, must take up with the representation of others; and it is an ease to them to hear the opinion of persons whom they esteem wis

er than themselves. No one loves to be deceived; and such who are fearful of being misled are pleased to meet with a person in whose wisdom, as they think, they can safely trust. The character of wisdom, therefore, is of great service to an orator, since the greater part of mankind are swayed by authority rather than arguments.

But this of itself is not sufficient, unless the opinion of integrity be joined with it. Nay, so far from it, that the greater knowledge and understanding a man is supposed to have, unless he likewise have the character of an honest man, he is often the more suspected. For knowledge without honesty is generally thought to dispose a person, as well as qualify him to deceive. Quintilian, in treating upon narration, has a very remarkable passage to this purpose, which I shall here transcribe. I must not omit, says he, how much the authority of the speaker gives credit to what he relates, which is to be gained principally by his life, and partly from his manner of speaking. And what Quintilian observes here with respect to narration, the best writers all recommend as necessary through the whole conduct of an orator.

And to both these qualities the appearance of kindness and benevolence should likewise be added. For though a person have the reputation of wisdom and honesty, yet if we apprehend he is either not well affected to us, or at least regardless of our interest, we are in many cases apt to be jealous of him. Mankind are naturally swayed by their affections, and much influenced through love or friendship; and therefore nothing has a greater tendency to induce persons to credit what is said, than intimations of affection and kindness. The best orators have been always sensible what great influence the expressions of kindness and benevolence have upon the minds of others, to induce them to believe the truth of what they say; and therefore they frequently endeavour to impress them with the opinion of it. Thus Demosthenes begins his celebrated oration for Ctesiphon : It is my hearty prayer, says he, to all the deities, that this my defence may be received by you with the same affection which I have always expressed for you and your city. And it is a very fine image of it which we have in Cicero, where, in order to influence the judges in favour of Milo, he introduces him speaking thus, as became a brave man, and a patriot, even upon the supposition he should "be condemned by them : I bid my fellow citizens adieu ; may they continue flourishing and prosperous! may this famous city be preserved, my most dear country, however it has treated me! may my fellow citizens enjoy peace and tranquillity without me, since I am not to enjoy it with them, though I have procured it for them! I will withdraw, I will be gone.

The fourth and last quality above mentioned, as necessary to the character of an orator, is modesty. And it is certain, that what is modestly spoken is generally better received than what carries in it an air of boldness and confidence. Most persons, though ignorant of a thing, do not care to be thought so, and would have some deference paid to their understanding. But he who delivers himself in an arrogant and assuming way seems to upbraid his hearers with ignorance, while he does not leave them to judge for themselves, but dictates to them, and, as it were, demands their assent to what he says; which is certainly a ve

[ocr errors]

ry improper method to win upon them. For not a few, when convinced of an error in such a way, will not own it, but will rather adhere to their former opinion than seem forced to think right, when it gives another the opportunity of a triumph. A prudent orator, therefore, will behave himself with modesty, that he may not seem to insult his hearers; and will set things before them in such an engaging manner as may remove all prejudice, either from his person, or what he asserts. But, at the same time, firmness and resolution are as necessary as modesty, that he may appear to confide in the justice and truth of his cause. For to speak timorously, and with hesitation, destroys the credit of what is offered ; and so far as the speaker seems to distrust what he says himself, he often induces others to do the like.

But, as has been said already, great care is to be taken that these characters do not appear feigned and counterfeit. For what is fictitious can seldom be long concealed. And if this be once discovered, it makes all that is said suspected, however specious it may otherwise appear. If men always loved truth for its own excellency, it would be sufficient to propose it clearly and plainly; nor would the assistance of art be necessary, in order to induce them to embrace it. But it frequently happens, that truth clashes with what men account their interest, and for that reason they will not regard it. An ungrateful truth will either not be heard, or soon discarded. And many times where persons cannot contradict what is offered, yet, if that contradict their settled opinions, they will still suppose it may not be true. Nor is it a difficult thing for persons to bring themselves to such a belief,

while they forbear calmly and seriously to consider the arguments offered on the other side. And since matters are thus, it is often necessary for the orator to have recourse to art, in order to obtain that which otherwise he cannot come at. For this purpose, therefore, it is very serviceable to accommodate his discourse to the temper and inclination of his audience. Nor indeed can any one reasonably hope to succeed in this province without well considering the circumstances of time and place, with the sentiments and dispositions of those to whom he speaks; which, according to Aristotle, may be distinguished four ways, as they discover themselves by the several affections, habits, ages, and fortunes of mankind. And each of these requires a different conduct and manner of address.

The affections denote certain emotions of the mind, which, during their continuance, give a great turn to the disposition. For love prompts to one thing, and hatred to another. The like may be said of anger, lenity, and the rest of them : as I shall show, when I come to treat of them particularly.

Persons differ likewise according to the various habits of their mind. So a just man is inclined one way, and an unjust man another; a temperate man to this, and an intemperate man to the contrary.

And as to the several ages of men, Aristotle has described them very accurately, and how persons are differently affected in each of them. I shall content myself with the substance of what he says, to prevent being tedious. He divides the lives of men, considered as hearers, into three stages ;-youth, middle age, and old age. Young men, he says, have generally strong passions, and are very eager to obtain what

« VorigeDoorgaan »