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Evan Roberts Quote : Christian Books : THE NARRATION

The Training Of A Public Speaker by Grenville Kleiser


There are causes so short as to require rather to be proposed than told. It is sometimes the case with two contending sides, either that they have no exposition to make, or that agreeing on the fact, they contest only the right. Sometimes one of the contending parties, most commonly the plaintiff, need only propose the matter, as most to his advantage, and then it will be enough for him to say: |I ask for a certain sum of money due to me according to agreement; I ask for what was bequeathed to me by will.| It is the defendant's business to show that he has no right to such a debt or legacy. On other occasions it is enough, and more advisable, for the plaintiff to point out merely the fact: |I say that Horatius killed his sister.| This simple proposition makes known the whole crime, but the details and the cause of the fact will suit better the defendant. Let it be supposed, on the other hand, that the fact can not be denied or excused; then the defendant, instead of narrating, will best abide by the question of right. Some one is accused of sacrilege for stealing the money of a private person out of a temple. The pleader of the cause had better confess the fact than give an account of it. |We do not deny that this money was taken out of the temple. It was the money of a private person, and not set apart for any religious use. But the plaintiff calumniates us by an action for sacrilege. It is, therefore, your business, gentlemen, to decide whether it can properly be specified as sacrilege.|


There are two kinds of narration in judicial matters, the one for the cause, the other for things belonging to it. |I have not killed that man.| This needs no narration. I admit it does not; but there may be a narration, and even somewhat long, concerning the probable causes of innocence in the accused, as his former integrity of life, the opponent's motives for endangering the life of a guiltless person, and other circumstances arguing the incredibility of the accusation. The accuser does not merely say, |You have committed that murder,| but shows reasons to evince its credibility; as, in tragedies, when Teucer imputes the death of Ajax to Ulysses, he says that |He was found in a lonely place, near the dead body of his enemy, with his sword all bloody.| Ulysses, in answer, not only denies the crime, but protests there was no enmity between him and Ajax, and that they never contended but for glory. Then he relates how he came into that solitary place, how he found Ajax dead, and that it was Ajax's own sword he drew out of his wound. To these are subjoined proofs, but the proofs, too, are not without narration, the plaintiff alleging, |You were in the place where your enemy was found killed.| |I was not,| says the defendant, and he tells where he was.


The end of the narration is rather more for persuading than informing. When, therefore, the judges might not require information, yet, if we consider it advisable to draw them over to our way of thinking, we may relate the matter with certain precautions, as, that tho they have knowledge of the affair in general, still would it not be amiss if they chose to examine into every particular fact as it happened. Sometimes we may diversify the exposition with a variety of figures and turns; as, |You remember|; |Perhaps it would be unnecessary to insist any longer on this point|; |But why should I speak further when you are so well acquainted with the matter.|

A subject of frequent discussion is to know whether the narration ought immediately to follow the exordium. They who think it should, seem to have some reason on their side, for as the design of the exordium is to dispose the judges to hear us with all the good will, docility, and attention, we wish, and as arguments can have no effect without previous knowledge of the cause, it follows naturally that they should have this knowledge as soon as it can conveniently be given to them.


If the narration be entirely for us, we may content ourselves with those three parts, whereby the judge is made the more easily to understand, remember, and believe. But let none think of finding fault if I require the narration which is entirely for us, to be probable tho true, for many things are true but scarcely credible, as, on the contrary, many things are false tho frequently probable. We ought, therefore, to be careful that the judge should believe as much what we pretend as the truth we say, by preserving in both a probability to be credited.

Those three qualities of the narration belong in like manner to all other parts of the discourse, for obscurity must be avoided throughout, and we must everywhere keep within certain bounds, and all that is said must be probable; but a strict observance of these particulars ought to be kept more especially in that part wherein the judge receives his first information, for if there it should happen that he either does not understand, remember, or believe, our labor in all other parts will be to no purpose.


The narration will be clear and intelligible if, first, it be exprest in proper and significant words, which have nothing mean and low, nothing far-fetched, and nothing uncommon. Second, if it distinguishes exactly things, persons, times, places, causes; all of which should be accompanied with a suitable delivery, that the judge may retain the more easily what is said.

This is a quality neglected by most of our orators, who, charmed by the applause of a rabble brought together by chance, or even bribed to applaud with admiration every word and period, can neither endure the attentive silence of a judicious audience, nor seem to themselves to be eloquent unless they make everything ring about them with tumultuous clamor. To explain simply the fact, appears to them too low, and common, and too much within the reach of the illiterate, but I fancy that what they despise as easy is not so much because of inclination as because of inability to effect it. For the more experience we have, the more we find that nothing else is so difficult as to speak in such a manner that all who have heard us may think they could acquit themselves equally as well. The reason for the contrary notion is that what is so said is considered as merely true and not as fine and beautiful. But will not the orator express himself in the most perfect manner, when he seems to speak truth? Now, indeed, the narration is laid out as a champion-ground for eloquence to display itself in; the voice, the gesture, the thoughts, the expression, are all worked up to a pitch of extravagance, and what is monstrous, the action is applauded, and yet the cause is far from being understood. But we shall forego further reflections on this misguided notion, lest we offend more by reproving faults, than gratify by giving advice.

The narration will have its due brevity if we begin by explaining the affair from the point where it is of concern to the judge; next, if we say nothing foreign to the cause; and last, if we avoid all superfluities, yet without curtailing anything that may give insight into the cause or be to its advantage. There is a certain brevity of parts, however, which makes a long whole: |I came to the harbor, I saw a ship ready for sailing, I asked the price for passengers, I agreed as to what I should give, I went aboard, we weighed anchor, we cleared the coast, and sailed on briskly.| None of these circumstances could be exprest in fewer words, but it is sufficient to say, |I sailed from the port.| And as often as the end of a thing sufficiently denotes what went before, we may rest satisfied with it as facilitating the understanding of all other circumstances.

But often when striving to be short, we become obscure, a fault equally to be avoided, therefore it is better that the narration should have a little too much, than that it should lack enough. What is redundant, disgusts; what is necessary is cut down with danger. I would not have this rule restricted to what is barely sufficient for pronouncing judgment on, because the narration may be concise, yet not, on that account, be without ornament. In such cases it would appear as coming from an illiterate person. Pleasure, indeed, has a secret charm; and the things which please seem less tedious. A pleasant and smooth road, tho it be longer, fatigues less than a rugged and disagreeable short cut. I am not so fond of conciseness as not to make room for brightening a narration with proper embellishments. If quite homely and curtailed on all sides, it will be not so much a narration as a poor huddling up of things together.


The best way to make the narration probable is to first consult with ourselves on whatever is agreeable to nature, that nothing may be said contrary to it; next, to find causes and reasons for facts, not for all, but for those belonging to the question; and last, to have characters answerable to the alleged facts which we would have believed; as, if one were guilty of theft, we should represent him as a miser; of adultery, as addicted to impure lusts; of manslaughter, as hot and rash. The contrary takes place in defense, and the facts must agree with time, place, and the like.

Sometimes a cause may be prepared by a proposition, and afterward narrated. All circumstances are unfavorable to three sons who have conspired against their father's life. They cast lots who shall strike the blow. He on whom the lot falls, enters his father's bed-chamber at night, with a poniard, but has not courage to put the design into execution. The second and the third do the same. The father wakes. All confess their wicked purpose, and by virtue of a law made and provided for such case, they are to be disinherited. But should the father, who has already made a partition of his estate in their favor, plead their cause, he may proceed thus: |Children are accused of parricide, whose father is still alive, and they are sued in consequence of a law that is not properly applicable to their case. I need not here give an account of a transaction that is foreign to the point of law in question. But if you require a confession of my guilt, I have been a hard father to them, and rather too much occupied in hoarding up the income of my estate, which would have been better spent in necessaries for them.| Afterward he may say that they did not form this plan by themselves, that they were instigated to it by others who had more indulgent parents, that the result clearly showed they were not capable of so unnatural an action, that there was no necessity for binding themselves by oath if in reality they could have had such an inclination, nor of casting lots if each did not want to avoid the perpetration of such a crime. All these circumstances, such as they are, will be favorably received, softened in some measure by the short defense of the previous propositions.


I am not of the opinion of those who think that the facts ought always to be related in the same order in which they happened. That manner of narration is best which is of most advantage to the cause, and it may, not improperly, call in the aid of a diversity of figures. Sometimes we may pretend that a thing has been overlooked, so that it may be better exprest elsewhere than it would be in its own order and place; assuring the judges at the same time that we shall resume the proper order, but that the cause in this way will be better understood. Sometimes, after explaining the whole affair, we may subjoin the antecedent causes. And thus it is that the art of defense, not circumscribed by any one invariable rule, must be adapted to the nature and circumstances of the cause.

It will not be amiss to intimate that nothing enhances so much the credibility of a narration as the authority of him who makes it, and this authority it is our duty to acquire, above all, by an irreproachable life, and next, by the manner of enforcing it. The more grave and serious it is, the more weight it will have. Here all suspicion of cunning and artifice should, therefore, be particularly avoided, for the judges, ever distrustful, are here principally on their guard, and, likewise, nothing should seem a pure fiction, or the work of study, which all might rather be believed to proceed from the cause than the orator. But this we can not endure, and we think our art lost unless it is seen; whereas it ceases to be art if it is seen.

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