SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Image Map : Christian Books : ELEGANCE AND GRACE

The Training Of A Public Speaker by Grenville Kleiser


The orator will recommend himself particularly by the embellishments he adopts, securing in other ways the approbation of the learned, and in this also the favor of popular applause.

Not so much with strong as with shining armor did Cicero engage in the cause of Cornelius. His success was not due merely to instructing the judges, and speaking in a pure and clear style. These qualities would not have brought him the honor of the admiration and applause of the Roman people. It was the sublimity, magnificence, splendor, and dignity of his eloquence that forced from them signal demonstrations of their amazement. Nor would such unusual eulogies have been given him if his speech had contained nothing extraordinary, nothing but what was common. And, indeed, I believe that those present were not completely aware of what they were doing, and that what they did was neither spontaneous, nor from an act of judgment, but that filled with a sort of enthusiasm, and not considering the place they were in, they burst forth with unrestrained excitement.


These ornaments of speech, therefore, may be thought to contribute not a little to the success of a cause, for they who hear willingly are more attentive and more disposed to believe. Most commonly it is pleasure that wins them over, and sometimes they are seized and carried away with admiration. A glittering sword strikes the eyes with some terror, and thunder would not so shock us if its crash only, and not its lightning, was dreaded. Therefore Cicero, with good reason, says in one of his epistles to Brutus: |The eloquence which does not excite admiration, I regard as nothing.| Aristotle, too, would have us endeavor to attain this perfection.

But this embellishment, I must again and again repeat, ought to be manly, noble, and modest; neither inclining to effeminate delicacy, nor assuming a color indebted to paint, but glistening with health and spirits.

Let none of those who build up their reputation on a corrupt manner of eloquence, say that I am an enemy to such as speak with elegance. I do not deny that it is a perfection, but I do not ascribe it to them. Shall I think a piece of ground better laid out and improved, in which one shall show me lilies and violets and pleasing cascades, than one where there is a full harvest or vines laden with grapes? Shall I esteem a barren planetree and shorn myrtles beyond the fruitful olive and the elm courting the embraces of the vine? The rich may pride themselves on these pleasures of the eye, but how little would be their value if they had nothing else?

But shall no beauty, no symmetry, be observed in the care of fruit trees? Undoubtedly there should, and I would place them in a certain order, and keep a due distance in planting them. What is more beautiful than the quincunx, which, whatever way you look, retains the same direct position? Planting them out so will also be of service to the growth of the trees, by equally attracting the juices of the earth. I should lop off the aspiring tops of my olive; it will spread more beautifully into a round form, and will produce fruit on more branches. A horse with slender flanks is considered handsomer than one not framed in that manner, and the same quality also shows that he excels in swiftness. An athlete whose arms from exercise show a full spring and play of the muscles, is a beautiful sight, and he, likewise, is best fitted as a combatant. Thus the true species is never without its utility, as even a meager judgment easily may discern.


But it will be of more importance to observe that this decent attire ought to be varied according to the nature of the subject. To begin with our first division, the same style will not suit equally demonstrative, deliberative, and judicial causes. The first, calculated for ostentation, aims at nothing but the pleasure of the auditory. It, therefore, displays all the riches of art, and exposes to full view all the pomp of eloquence; not acting by stratagem, nor striving for victory, but making praise and glory its sole and ultimate end. Whatever may be pleasing in the thought, beautiful in the expression, agreeable in the turn, magnificent in the metaphor, elaborate in the composition, the orator will lay open for inspection and, if it were possible, for handling, as a merchant exposes his wares; for here the success wholly regards him and not the cause.

But when the serious part of a trial is on hand, and the contest is truly in earnest, care of reputation ought to be the orator's last concern. For this reason, when everything in a way is at stake, no one ought to be solicitous about words. I do not say that no ornaments ought to have place in them, but that they should be more modest and severe, less apparent, and above all suited to the subject. For in deliberations the senate require something more elevated; the assemblies of the people, something more spirited; and at the bar, public and capital causes, something more accurate. But a private deliberation, and causes of trivial consequence, as the stating of accounts and the like, need little beyond the plain and easy manner of common discourse. Would it not be quite shameful to demand in elaborate periods the payment of money lent, or appeal to the emotions in speaking of the repairs of a gutter or sink?


As the ornament, as well as perspicuity, of speech consists either in single words or in many together, we shall consider what they require separately and what in conjunction. Tho there is good reason for saying that perspicuity is best suited by proper words, and ornament by metaphorical, yet we should always know that an impropriety is never ornamental. But as many words very often signify the same thing, and therefore are called synonymous, some of these must be more sublime, more bright, more agreeable, and sweeter and fuller in pronunciation than others. As the more clear-sounding letters communicate the same quality to the syllables they compose, so the words composed of these syllables become more sonorous, and the greater the force or sound of the syllables is, the more they fill or charm the ear. What the junction of syllables makes, the copulation of words makes also, a word sounding well with one, which sound badly with another.

There is a great diversity in the use of words. Harsh words best express things of an atrocious nature. In general, the best of simple words are believed to be such as sound loudest in exclamation, or sweetest in a pleasing strain. Modest words will ever be preferred to those that must offend a chaste ear, and no polite discourse ever makes allowance for a filthy or sordid expression. Magnificent, noble, and sublime words are to be estimated by their congruity with the subject; for what is magnificent in one place, swells into bombast in another; and what is low in a grand matter, may be proper in a humble situation. As in a splendid style a low word must be very much out of place and, as it were, a blemish to it, so a sublime and pompous expression is unsuited to a subject that is plain and familiar, and therefore must be reputed corrupt, because it raises that which ought to find favor through its native simplicity.


I shall pass now to the construction of words, observing that their ornamental use may be considered from two points of view; first, as it regards the elocution we conceive in our minds; second, the manner of expressing it. It is of particular consequence that we should be clear as to what ought to be amplified or diminished; whether we are to speak with heat or moderation; in a florid or austere style; in a copious or concise manner; in words of bitter invective, or in those showing placid and gentle disposition; with magnificence or plainness; gravity or politeness. Besides which it is equally important to know what metaphors, what figures, what thoughts, what manner, what disposition, are best suited for effecting our purpose.


In speaking of the ornaments of a discourse, it may not be amiss to touch first upon qualities contrary to them, because the principal perfection consists in being free from faults. We, therefore, must not expect ornament that is not probable, in a discourse. Cicero calls that kind of ornament probable which is not more nor less than it ought to be. Not that it should not appear neat and polished, for this is a part of ornament, but because too much in anything is always a fault. He would have authority and weight in words, and thoughts that are sensible, or conformable to the opinions and manners of men. These inviolably retained and adhered to, he makes ample allowance for whatever else may contribute to illustrate a discourse. And thus it is that metaphors, superlatives, epithets, compound, and synonymous words, if they seem to express the action and fully represent things, seldom fail to please.

We should avoid the fault which makes a sentence appear not full enough, on account of something defective, tho this is rather a vice of obscurity than want of ornament in speech. But when it is done for some particular reason, then it becomes a figure of speech. We should likewise be aware of tautology, which is a repetition of the same word or thought, or the use of many similar words or thoughts. Tho this does not seem to have been much guarded against by some authors of great note, it is, notwithstanding, a fault, and Cicero himself often falls into it.

Similarity of expression is a still greater vice, because the mind is wearied by lack of the graces of variety, and the discourse being all of one color, shows a great deficiency in the art of oratory. It, besides, creates loathing, and at length becomes insupportable, both to the mind and ear, through the tedious repetition of the same cold thoughts, figures, and periods.

There is another fault, that of being over-nice, which is caused by extreme anxiety to be exact, but which is as far distant from exactness as superstition is from true religion. In short, every word that contributes neither to perspicuity nor ornament, may be called vicious.

A perverse affectation is faulty in all respects. All bombast, and flimsiness, and studied sweetness, and redundancies, and far-fetched thoughts, and witticisms, fall under the same denomination. Thus whatever stretches beyond the bounds of perfection, may be called affectation, and this happens as often as the genius is lacking in judgment, and suffers itself to be deceived by an appearance of good. It is the worst of vices in matters of eloquence, for even when others are avoided, this is sought after, and its whole trespass is against elocution. There are vices incident to things, which come from being devoid of sense, or from being common, or contrary, or unnecessary, and a corrupt style consists principally in impropriety of words, in their redundancy, in their obscure import, in a weak composition, and in a puerile hunting after synonymous or equivocal words. But every perverse affectation is false in consequence of its idea, tho not everything that is false is an affectation, the latter saying a thing otherwise than as nature will have it, and than it ought to be, and than is sufficient.


There can not be a greater perfection than to express the things we speak of in such lively colors as to make them seem really to take place in our presence. Our words are lacking in full effect, they assume not that absolute empire they ought to have, when they strike only the ear, and when the judge who is to take cognizance of the matter is not sensible of its being emphatically exprest.

One manner of representation consists in making out of an assemblage of circumstances the image we endeavor to exhibit. An example of this we have in Cicero's description of a riotous banquet; he being the only one who can furnish us with examples of all kinds of ornaments: |I seemed to myself to see some coming in, others going out; some tottering with drunkenness, others yawning from yesterday's carousing. In the midst of these was Gallius, bedaubed with essences, and crowned with flowers. The floor of their apartment was all in a muck of dirt, streaming with wine, and strewed all about with chaplets of faded flowers, and fish-bones.| Who could have seen more had he been present?

In this manner pity grows upon us from hearing of the sacking of a town. Undoubtedly he who acquaints us of such an event, comprehends all the incidents of so great a calamity, yet this cursory piece of intelligence makes but a languid impression upon the mind. But if you enter into descriptive pictures of all that was included in one word, as it were, flames will appear spreading through houses and temples; the crash of falling houses will be heard; and one confused noise formed out of all together. Some will be seen striving to escape the danger, but know not where to direct their flight; others embracing for the last time their parents and relations; here the dismal shrieks of women and piercing cries of children fill one with pity; there the sighs and groans of old men, lamenting their unhappy fate for having lived so long as to be witnesses of their country's desolation. A further addition to these scenes of woe is the plunder of all things, sacred as well as profane; the avidity of the soldier prowling after and carrying away his prey; the wretched citizens dragged away in chains before their haughty conquerors; mothers struggling to keep with them their children; and slaughter still exercising its cruelties wherever there is the least expectation of booty. Tho all these details are comprehended in the idea of the sacking of a town, yet it is saying less to state merely that the town was sacked than to describe its destruction in this circumstantial manner.

Such circumstances may be made to appear vivid if they retain a likeness to truth. They may not have happened in reality, yet, as they are possible, the descriptive evidence is not objectionable. The same evidence will arise also from accidents, as in the following examples:

... me horror chills,
Shudd'ring, and fear congeals my curdling blood.

... to their bosoms press'd,
The frighted mothers clasp'd their crying babes.

This perfection, the greatest, in my opinion, a discourse can have, is very easily acquired by only considering and following nature. For eloquence is a picture of the happenings of human life, every one applying to himself what he hears, by making the case in some measure his own, and the mind receives very willingly that with which it has become familiar.

To throw light, also, upon things, similes have been invented, some of which by way of proof are inserted among arguments, and others are calculated for expressing the images of things, the point we are here explaining.

... Thence like wolves
Prowling in gloomy shade, which hunger blind
Urges along, while their forsaken whelps
Expect them with dry jaws.

... Thence with all his body's force
Flings himself headlong from the steepy height
Down to the ocean: like the bird that flies
Low, skimming o'er the surface, near the sea,
Around the shores, around the fishy rocks.


We must be exceedingly cautious in regard to similitudes, that we do not use such as are either obscure or unknown. For that which is assumed for the sake of illustrating another thing, ought indeed to be clearer than that which it so illustrates.

In speaking of arguments I mentioned a kind of similitude which, as an ornament to a discourse, contributes to make it sublime, florid, pleasing, and admirable. For the more far-fetched a similitude is, the more new and unexpected it will appear. Some may be thought commonplace, yet will avail much for enforcing belief; as, |As a piece of ground becomes better and more fertile by cultivation, so does the mind by good institutions.| |As physicians prescribe the amputation of a limb that manifestly tends to mortification, so would it be necessary to cut off all bad citizens, tho even allied to us in blood.| Here is something more sublime: |Rocks and solitudes echo back the melody, and the fiercest beasts are often made more gentle, being astonished by the harmony of music.| But this kind of similitude is often abused by the too great liberties our declaimers give themselves; for they use such as are false, and they do not make a just application of them to the subjects to which they would compare them.

In every comparison the similitude either goes before, and the thing follows; or the thing goes before, and the similitude follows. But the similitude sometimes is free and separate: sometimes, which is best, it is connected with the thing of which it is the image, this connection being made to aid and correspond mutually on both sides. Cicero says in his oration for Murena: |They who have not a genius for playing on the lyre, may become expert at playing on the flute (a proverbial saying among the Greeks to specify the man who can not make himself master of the superior sciences): so among us they who can not become orators, turn to the study of the law.| In another passage of the same oration, the connected comparison is conceived in a sort of poetical spirit. |As storms are often raised by the influence of some constellation, and often suddenly and from some hidden cause which can not be accounted for, so the stormy agitations we sometimes behold in the assemblies of the people are often occasioned by a malign influence easily discoverable by all; and often their cause is so obscure as to seem merely the effect of chance.| There are other similes, which are very short, as this, |Strolling and wandering through forests like beasts.| And that of Cicero against Clodius, |From which judgment we have seen him escape naked, like a man from his house on fire.| Such similes constantly occur in common discourse.

Of a similar kind is an ornament which not only represents things, but does so in a lively and concise manner. Undoubtedly a conciseness in which nothing is lacking, is deservedly praised; that which says precisely only what is necessary, is less estimable; but that which expresses much in a few words is of all the most beautiful.

Eloquence does not think it enough to show of what it speaks, in a clear and evident manner; it uses, besides, a variety of other expedients for embellishing a discourse. Thus it is that a simple and unaffected style is not without beauty, but it is a beauty entirely pure and natural, such as is admired in women. Beauty is also annexed to propriety and justness of expression, and this beauty is the more elegant as it shows but little care. There is an abundance that is rich, an abundance that smiles amidst the gaiety of flowers, and there is more than one sort of power, for whatever is complete in its kind can not be destitute of its proper strength and efficacy.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy