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The Training Of A Public Speaker by Grenville Kleiser


It may well be imagined that nothing else is so important in the whole art of oratory as the proper use of the passions. A slender genius, aided by learning or experience, may be sufficient to manage certain parts to some advantage, yet I think they are fit only for instructing the judges, and as masters and models for those who take no concern beyond passing for good speakers. But to possess the secret of forcibly carrying away the judges, of moving them, as we please, to a certain disposition of mind, of inflaming them with anger, of softening them to pity, so as to draw tears from them, all this is rare, tho by it the orator is made most distinguished and by it eloquence gains empire over hearts. The cause itself is naturally productive of arguments, and the better share generally falls to the lot of the more rightful side of the question, so that whichever side wins by dint of argument, may think that so far they did not lack an advocate. But when violence is to be used to influence the minds of the judges, when they are to be turned from coolly reflecting on the truth that works against us, then comes the true exercise of the orator's powers; and this is what the contending parties can not inform us of, nor is it contained in the state of their cases. Proofs, it is true, make the judges presume that our cause is the better, but passion makes them wish it to be such, and as they wish it, they are not far from believing it to be so. For as soon as they begin to absorb from us our passions of anger, favor, hatred, or pity, they make the affair their own. As lovers can not be competent judges of beauty, because love blinds them, so here a judge attentive to the tumultuous working of a passion, loses sight of the way by which he should proceed to inquire after the truth. The impetuous torrent sweeps him away, and he is borne down in the current. The effect of arguments and witnesses is not known until judgment has been passed, but the judge who has been affected by the orator, still sitting and hearing, declares his real sentiments. Has not he who is seen to melt into tears, already pronounced sentence? Such, then, is the power of moving the passions, to which the orator ought to direct all his efforts, this being his principal work and labor, since without it all other resources are naked, hungry, weak, and unpleasing. The passions are the very life and soul of persuasion.


What we require in the orator is, in general, a character of goodness, not only mild and pleasing, but humane, insinuating, amiable, and charming to the hearer; and its greatest perfection will be if all, as influenced by it, shall seem to flow from the nature of things and persons, that so the morals of the orator may shine forth from his discourse and be known in their genuine colors. This character of goodness should invariably be maintained by those whom a mutual tie ought to bind in strict union, whenever it may happen that they suffer anything from each other, or pardon, or make satisfaction, or admonish, or reprimand, but far from betraying any real anger or hatred.

A sentiment very powerful for exciting hatred may arise when an act of submission to our opponents is understood as a silent reproach of their insolence. Our willingness to yield must indeed show them to be insupportable and troublesome, and it commonly happens that they who have desire for railing, and are too free and hot in their invectives, do not imagine that the jealousy they create is of far greater prejudice to them than the malice of their speech.

All this presupposes that the orator himself ought to be a good and humane man. The virtues which he commends, if he possibly can, in his client, he should possess, or be supposed to possess, himself. In this way will he be of singular advantage to the cause he undertakes, the good opinion he has created of himself being a prejudice in its favor. For if while he speaks he appears to be a bad man, he must in consequence plead ill, because what he says will be thought repugnant to justice. The style and manner suitable on these occasions ought, therefore, to be sweet and insinuating, never hot and imperious, never hazarded in too elevated a strain. It will be sufficient to speak in a proper, pleasing, and probable way.

The orator's business in regard to the passions should be not only to paint atrocious and lamentable things as they are, but even to make those seem grievous which are considered tolerable, as when we say that an injurious word is less pardonable than a blow, and that death is preferable to dishonor. For the powers of eloquence do not consist so much in forcing the judge into sentiments which the nature of the matter itself may be sufficient to inspire him with, as they do in producing and creating, as it were, the same sentiments when the subject may seem not to admit them. This is the vehemence of oratorical ability which knows how to equal and even to surpass the enormity and indignity of the facts it exposes, a quality of singular consequence to the orator, and one in which Demosthenes excelled all others.


The great secret for moving the passions is to be moved ourselves, for the imitation of grief, anger, indignation, will often be ridiculous if conforming to only our words and countenance, while our heart at the same time is estranged from them. What other reason makes the afflicted exclaim in so eloquent a manner during the first transports of their grief? And how, otherwise, do the most ignorant speak eloquently in anger, unless it be from this force and these mental feelings?

In such passions, therefore, which we would represent as true copies of real ones, let us be ourselves like those who unfeignedly suffer, and let our speech proceed from such a disposition of mind as that in which we would have the judge be. Will he grieve who hears me speak with an expressionless face and air of indifference? Will he be angry when I, who am to excite him to anger, remain cool and sedate? Will he shed tears when I plead unconcerned? All this is attempting impossibilities. Nothing warms nor moistens but that which is endued with the quality of heat or moisture, nor does anything give to another a color it has not itself. The principal consideration, then, must be that we, ourselves, retain the impression of which we would have the judges susceptible, and be ourselves affected before we endeavor to affect others.


But how shall we be affected, the emotions or passions being not at our command? This may be done by what we may call visions, whereby the images of things absent are so represented to the mind that we seem to see them with our eyes and have them present before us. Whoever can work up his imagination to an intuitive view of this kind, will be very successful in moving the passions.

If I deplore the fate of a man who has been assassinated, may I not paint in my mind a lively picture of all that probably happened on the occasion? Shall not the assassin appear to rush forth suddenly from his lurking place? Shall not the other appear seized with horror? Shall he not cry out, beg for his life, or fly to save it? Shall I not see the assassin dealing the deadly blow, and the defenseless wretch falling dead at his feet? Shall I not picture vividly in my mind the blood gushing from his wounds, his ghastly face, his groans, and the last gasp he fetches?

When there is occasion for moving to compassion, we should believe and, indeed, be persuaded that the distress and misfortunes of which we speak have happened to ourselves. Let us place ourselves in the very position of those for whom we feel sorrow on account of their having suffered such grievous and unmerited treatment. Let us plead their cause, not as if it were another's, but taking to ourselves, for a short time, their whole grief. In this way we shall speak as if the case were our own. I have seen comedians who, when they have just appeared in a mournful character, often make their exit with tears in their eyes. If, then, the expression given to imaginary passions can affect so powerfully, what should not orators do, whose inner feelings ought to sympathize with their manner of speaking, which can not happen unless they are truly affected by the danger to which their clients are exposed.


In the declamatory exercises of schools it would be expedient, likewise, to move the passions and imagine the scene as a real one in life, and it is the more important as there the part is performed rather of a pleader against some person, than an advocate for some person. We represent a person who has lost his children, or has been shipwrecked, or is in danger of losing his life, but of what significance is it to personate such characters, unless we also assume their real sentiments. This nature, and these properties of the passions, I thought it incumbent on me not to conceal from the reader, for I, myself, such as I am, or have been (for I flatter myself that I have acquired some reputation at the bar), have often been so affected that not only tears, but even paleness, and grief, not unlike that which is real, have betrayed my emotions.

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