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The Training Of A Public Speaker by Grenville Kleiser


The exordium, or introduction, is that part of the discourse which is pronounced before the subject is entered upon. As musicians make a prelude for obtaining silence and attention before they play their selections, so orators, before they begin their cause, have specified by the same application that which they say by way of preface for securing for themselves a kindly feeling in the listeners.


The reason for an exordium is to dispose the auditors to be favorable to us in the other parts of the discourse. This, as most authors agree, is accomplished by making them friendly, attentive, and receptive, tho due regard should be paid to these three particulars throughout the whole of a speech.

Sometimes the exordium is applicable to the pleader of the cause, who, tho he ought to speak very little of himself, and always modestly, will find it of vast consequence to create a good opinion of himself and to make himself thought to be an honest man. So it is he will be regarded not so much as a zealous advocate, as a faithful and irreproachable witness. His motives for pleading must, therefore, appear to proceed not from tie of kindred, or friendship, but principally from a desire to promote the public good, if such motive can be urged, or any other important consideration. This conduct will befit plaintiffs in a much greater degree, that they may seem to have brought their action for just and weighty reasons, or were even compelled to do it from necessity.

As nothing else gives so great a sanction to the authority of the speaker as to be free from all suspicion of avarice, hatred, and ambition, so, also, there is a sort of tacit recommendation of ourselves if we profess our weak state and inability for contending with the superior genius and talents of the advocate of the other side. We are naturally disposed to favor the weak and opprest, and a conscientious judge hears an orator willingly whom he presumes not to be capable of making him swerve from his fixt purpose of doing justice. Hence the care of the ancients for concealing their talents.


All contemptuous, spiteful, haughty, calumniating expressions must be avoided and not so much as even insinuated to the defamation of any particular person or rank, much less against those to whom an affront would alienate the minds of the judges. To be so imprudent as to attack judges themselves, not openly, but in any indirect manner, would be most unwise.

The advocate for the other side may likewise furnish sufficient matter for an exordium. Sometimes honorable mention may be made of him, as when we pretend to be in dread of his interest and eloquence in order to make them suspected by the judges, and sometimes by casting odium on him, altho this must be done very seldom. I rather think, from the authority of the best authors, that whatever affects the orator, affects also the cause he patronizes, as it is natural for a judge to give more credit to those whom he more willingly hears.

We shall procure the favor of the judge not so much by praising him, which ought to be done with moderation, and is common to both sides, but rather by making his praise fitting, and connecting it with the interest of our cause. Thus, in speaking for a person of consequence, we may lay some stress on the judge's own dignity; for one of mean condition, on his justice; for the unhappy, on his mercy; for the injured, on his severity.


It also would not be amiss to become acquainted, if possible, with his character. For, according as his temper is, harsh or mild, pleasant or grave, severe or easy, the cause should be made to incline toward the side which corresponds with his disposition, or to admit some mitigation or softening where it runs counter to it.

It may happen sometimes, too, that the judge is our enemy, or the opponent's friend. This is a circumstance requiring the circumspection of both parties, yet I think the favored advocate should behave with great caution, for a judge of a biased disposition will sometimes choose to pass sentence against his friends, or in favor of those to whom he bears enmity, that he may not appear to act with injustice.


Judges have also their private opinions and prejudices, which we must either strengthen or weaken, according as we see necessary. Fear, too, sometimes must be removed, as Cicero, in his defense of Milo, endeavors to assure the judges that Pompey's army, drawn up about the Forum, is for their protection; and sometimes there will be an occasion to intimidate them, as the same orator does in one of his pleadings against Verres.

There are two ways of proceeding in this last case, the first plausible, and frequently used, as when it is hinted to them that the Roman people might entertain an ill opinion of them, or that there might be an appeal from their judgment; the other desperate, and not so much used, as when threatened with prosecution themselves if they suffer themselves to be corrupted. This is a hazardous point, and is conducted with more safety to the orator when in a large assembly where corrupt judges are restrained by fear, and the upright have the majority. But I would never counsel this before a single judge, unless every other resource was wanting. If necessity requires it, I can not say that it is the business of the art of oratory to give directions in the matter, any more than to lodge an appeal, tho that, too, is often of service, or to cite the judge in justice before he passes sentence, for to threaten, denounce, or indict may be done by any one else as well as the orator.

If the cause itself should furnish sufficient reason for gaining the good will of the judge, out of this whatever is most specious and favorable may be inserted in the exordium. It will be unnecessary to enumerate all the favorable circumstances in causes, they being easily known from the state of facts; besides, no exact enumeration can take place on account of the great diversity of law-suits. It is the cause itself, therefore, that must teach us to find and improve these circumstances; and, in like manner, with a circumstance that may make against us the cause will inform us how it may either be made entirely void, or at least invalidated.

From the cause compassion also sometimes arises, whether we have already suffered or are likely to suffer anything grievous. For I am not of the opinion of those who to distinguish the exordium from the peroration, will have the one to speak of what is past and the other of what is to come. They are sufficiently distinguished without this discrimination. In the exordium the orator ought to be more reserved, and ought only to throw out some hints of the sentiments of compassion he designs to excite in the minds of the judges; whereas in the peroration he may pour out all the passions, introduce persons speaking, and make the dead to come forth, as it were, out of their graves, and recommend to the judges the care of their dearest pledges. All these particulars are seldom executed in the exordium. But the manner just pointed out, it will be very proper to observe in it, and to wear down all impressions to the contrary made by the opposite side, that as our situation will be deplorable if we should be defeated in our expectations, so, on the other hand, the behavior of our opponent would be insolent and haughty.


Besides persons and causes, the exordium likewise is sometimes taken from their adjuncts, that is, from things relating to the cause and persons. To persons are applicable not only the pledges above mentioned, but affinities, friendships, sometimes cities and whole countries are also likely to suffer by the person's misfortunes.

Theophrastus adds another kind of exordium, taken from the pleading of the orator who speaks first. Such seems to be that of Demosthenes for Ctesiphon, in which he requests the judges to please permit him to reply as he thinks suitable rather than to follow the rules prescribed by the accuser.

As the confidence observable in some orators may easily pass for arrogance, there are certain ways of behavior which, tho common, will please, and therefore ought not to be neglected, to prevent their being used by the opposing side: these are wishing, warding off suspicion, supplicating, and making a show of trouble and anxiety.

The judge's attention is secured by inducing him to believe that the matter under debate is new, important, extraordinary, or of a heinous nature, or that it equally interests him and the public. Then his mind is to be roused and agitated by hope, fear, remonstrance, entreaty, and even by flattery, if it is thought that will be of any use. Another way of procuring attention may be to promise that we shall take up but little of their time, as we shall confine ourselves to the subject.

From what has been said, it appears that different causes require to be governed by different rules; and five kinds of causes are generally specified, which are said to be, either honest, base, doubtful, extraordinary, or obscure. Some add shameful, as a sixth kind, which others include in base or extraordinary. By extraordinary is understood that which is contrary to the opinion of men. In a doubtful cause the judge should be made favorable; in an obscure, docile; in a base, attentive. An honest cause is sufficient of itself to procure favor. Extraordinary and base causes lack remedies.


Some, therefore, specify two kinds of exordiums, one a beginning, the other an insinuation. In the first the judges are requested openly to give their good will and attention; but as this can not take place in the base kind of cause, the insinuation must steal in upon their minds, especially when the cause does not seem to appear with a sufficiently honest aspect, either because the thing itself is wicked, or is a measure not approved by the public. There are many instances of causes of unseemly appearance, as when general odium is incurred by opposing a patriot; and a like hostility ensues from acting against a father, a wretched old man, the blind, or the orphan.

This may be a general rule for the purpose, |To touch but slightly on the things that work against us, and to insist chiefly on those which are for our advantage.| If the cause can not be so well maintained, let us have recourse to the goodness of the person, and if the person is not condemnable, let us ground our support on the cause. If nothing occurs to help us out, let us see what may hurt the opponent. For, since to obtain more favor is a thing to be wished, so the next step to it is to incur less hatred.

In things that can not be denied, we must endeavor to show that they are greatly short of what they are reported to be, or that they have been done with a different intention, or that they do not in any wise belong to the present question, or that repentance will make sufficient amends for them, or that they have already received a proportionate punishment. Herein, therefore, it will be better and more suitable for an advocate to act than for the person himself; because when pleading for another he can praise without the imputation of arrogance, and sometimes can even reprove with advantage.

Insinuation seems to be not less necessary when the opponent's action has pre-possest the minds of the judges, or when they have been fatigued by the tediousness of the pleading. The first may be got the better of by promising substantial proofs on our side, and by refuting those of the opponent. The second, by giving hopes of being brief, and by having recourse to the means prescribed for making the judge attentive. In the latter case, too, some seasonable pleasantry, or anything witty to freshen the mind will have a good effect. It will not be amiss, likewise, to remove any seeming obstruction. As Cicero says of himself, he is not unaware that some will find it strange that he, who for so many years had defended such a number of people, and had given no offense to anyone, should undertake to accuse Verres. Afterward he shows that if, on the one hand, he accuses Verres, still, on the other, he defends the allies of the Roman people.


The orator should consider what the subject is upon which he is to speak, before whom, for whom, against whom, at what time, in what place, under what conditions, what the public think of it, what the judges may think of it before they hear him, and what he himself has to desire, and what to apprehend. Whoever makes these reflections will know where he should naturally begin. But now orators call exordium anything with which they begin, and consider it of advantage to make the beginning with some brilliant thought. Undoubtedly many things are taken into the exordium which are drawn from other parts of the cause or at least are common to them, but nothing in either respect is better said than that which can not be said so well elsewhere.


There are many very engaging things in an exordium which is framed from the opponent's pleading, and this is because it does not seem to favor of the closet, but is produced on the spot and comes from the very thing. By its easy, natural turn, it enhances the reputation of genius. Its air of simplicity, the judge not being on his guard against it, begets belief, and tho the discourse in all other parts be elaborate and written with great accuracy, it will for the most part seem an extempore oration, the exordium evidently appearing to have nothing premeditated.

But nothing else will so well suit an exordium as modesty in the countenance, voice, thoughts, and composition, so that even in an uncontrovertible kind of cause, too great confidence ought not to display itself. Security is always odious in a pleader, and a judge who is sensible of his authority tacitly demands respect.

An orator must likewise be exceedingly careful to keep himself from being suspected, particularly in that regard; therefore, not the least show of study should be made, because all his art will seem exerted against the judge, and not to show this is the greatest perfection of art. This rule has been recommended by all authors, and undoubtedly with good reason, but sometimes is altered by circumstances, because in certain causes the judges themselves require studied discourses, and fancy themselves thought mean of unless accuracy appears in thought and expression. It is of no significance to instruct them; they must be pleased. It is indeed difficult to find a medium in this respect, but the orator may so temper his manner as to speak with justness, and not with too great a show of art.


Another rule inculcated by the ancients is not to admit into the exordium any strange word, too bold a metaphor, an obsolete expression, or a poetical turn. As yet we are not favorably received by the auditors, their attention is not entirely held, but when once they conceive an esteem and are warmly inclined toward us, then is the time to hazard this liberty, especially when we enter upon parts the natural fertility of which does not allow the liberty of expression to be noticed amidst the luster spread about it.

The style of the exordium ought not to be like that of the argument proper and the narration, neither ought it to be finely spun out, or harmonized into periodical cadences, but, rather, it should be simple and natural, promising neither too much by words nor countenance. A modest action, also, devoid of the least suspicion of ostentation, will better insinuate itself into the mind of the auditor. But these ought to be regulated according to the sentiments we would have the judges imbibe from us.

It must be remembered, however, that nowhere is less allowance made than here for failing in memory or appearing destitute of the power of articulating many words together. An ill-pronounced exordium may well be compared to a visage full of scars, and certainly he must be a bad pilot who puts his ship in danger of sinking, as he is going out of port.

In regard to the length of the exordium, it ought to be proportionate to the nature of the cause. Simple causes admit of a shorter exordium; the complex, doubtful, and odious, require a longer exordium. Some writers have prescribed four points as laws for all exordiums, -- which is ridiculous. An immoderate length should be equally avoided, lest it appear, as some monsters, bigger in the head than in the rest of the body, and create disgust where it ought only to prepare.


As often as we use an exordium, whether we pass next to the narration, or immediately to the proofs, we ought always to preserve a connection between what follows and what goes before. To proceed from one part to another, by some ingenious thought which disguises the transition, and to seek applause from such a studied exertion of wit, is quite of a piece with the cold and childish affectation of our declaimers. If a long and intricate narration must follow, the judge ought naturally to be prepared for it. This Cicero often does, as in this passage: |I must proceed pretty high to clear up this matter to you, which I hope, gentlemen, you will not be displeased at, because its origin being known will make you thoroughly acquainted with the particulars proceeding from it.|

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