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The Training Of A Public Speaker by Grenville Kleiser


Eloquence will never be solid and robust, unless it collects strength and consistence from much writing and composing; and without examples from reading, that labor will go astray for lack of a guide; and tho it be known how everything ought to be said, yet the orator who is not possest of a talent for speaking, always ready to exert himself on occasion, will be like a man watching over a hidden treasure.

Our orator, who we suppose is familiar with the way of inventing and disposing things, of making a choice of words, and placing them in proper order, requires nothing further than the knowledge of the means whereby in the easiest and best manner he may execute what he has learned. It can not, then, be doubted that he must acquire a certain stock of wealth in order to have it ready for use when needed, and this stock of wealth consists of a plentiful supply of things and words.


Things are peculiar to each cause, or common to few; but a provision of words must be made indiscriminately for all subjects. If each word were precisely significant of each thing, our perplexity would be less, as then words would immediately present themselves with things, but some being more proper than others, or more ornamental, or more emphatic, or more harmonious, all ought not only to be known but to be kept ready and in sight, as it were, that when they present themselves for the orator's selection, he easily may make a choice of the best.

I know that some make a practise of classing together all synonymous words and committing them to memory, so that out of so many at least one may more easily come to mind; and when they have used a word, and shortly after need it again, to avoid repetition they take another of the same significance. This is of little or no use, for it is only a crowd that is mustered together, out of which the first at hand is taken indifferently, whereas the copiousness of language of which I speak is to be the result of acquisition of judgment in the use of words, with the view of attaining the true expressive force of eloquence, and not empty volubility of speech. This can be affected only by hearing and reading the best things; and it is only by giving it our attention that we shall know not only the appellations of things, but what is fittest for every place.


With some eloquent compositions we may derive more profit by reading them, but with some others, more by hearing them pronounced. The speaker keeps awake all our senses, and inspires us by the fire that animates him. We are struck, not by the image and exterior of things, but by the things themselves. All is life and motion, and with solicitude for his success, we favorably receive all he says, its appeal to us lying in the charm of novelty. Together with the orator, we find ourselves deeply interested in the issue of the trial and the safety of the parties whose defense he has undertaken. Besides these we find that other things affect us: a fine voice, a graceful action corresponding with what is said, and a manner of pronunciation, which perhaps is the most powerful ornament of eloquence; in short, everything conducted and managed in the way that is most fitting.


In reading, our judgment goes upon surer ground, because often our good wishes for the speaker, or the applause bestowed on him, surprizes us into approbation. We are ashamed to differ in opinion from others, and by a sort of secret bashfulness are kept from believing ourselves more intelligent than they are; tho indeed we are aware, at the same time, that the taste of the greater number is vicious, and that sycophants, even persons hired to applaud, praise things which can not please us; as, on the other hand, it also happens that a bad taste can have no relish for the best things. Reading is attended, besides, with the advantage of being free, and not escaping us by the rapidity which accompanies action; and we may go over the same things often, should we doubt their accuracy, or wish to fix them in our memories. Repeating and reviewing will, therefore, be highly necessary; for as meats are chewed before they descend into the stomach, in order to facilitate their digestion, so reading is fittest for being laid up in the memory, that it may be an object of imitation when it is no longer in a crude state but has been softened and elaborated by long meditation.


None, however, but the best authors, and such as we are least liable to be deceived in, demand this care, which should be diligent and extended even almost to the point of taking the pains to transcribe them. Nor ought judgment to be passed on the whole from examining a part, but after the book has been fully perused, it should have a second reading; especially should this be done with an oration, the perfections of which are often designedly kept concealed. The orator, indeed, often prepares, dissembles, lies in wait, and says things in the first part of the pleading which he avails himself of in the last part. They may, therefore, be less pleasing in their place, while we still remain ignorant of the purpose for their being said. For this reason, after a due consideration of particulars, it would not be amiss to re-read the whole.


Theophrastus says that the reading of poetry is of vast service to the orator. Many, and with good reason, are of the same opinion, as from the poets may be derived sprightliness in thought, sublimity in expression, force and variety in sentiment, propriety and decorum in character, together with that diversion for cheering and freshening minds which have been for any time harassed by the drudgery of the bar.

Let it be remembered, however, that poets are not in all things to be imitated by the orator, neither in the liberty of words, nor license of figures. The whole of that study is calculated for ostentation. Its sole aim is pleasure, and it invariably pursues it, by fictions of not only what is false, but of some things that are incredible. It is sure, also, of meeting with partizans to espouse its cause, because, since it is bound down to a certain necessity of feet it can not always use proper words, and being driven out of the straight road, must turn into byways of speaking, and be compelled to change some words, and to lengthen, shorten, transpose and divide them. As for orators, they must stand their ground completely armed in the order of battle, and having to fight for matters of the highest consequence, must think of nothing but gaining the victory.

Still would I not have their armor appear squalid and covered with rust, but retain rather a brightness that dismays, such as of polished steel, striking both the mind and eyes with awe, and not the splendor of gold and silver, a weak safeguard, indeed, and rather dangerous to the bearer.

History, likewise, by its mild and grateful sap may afford kind nutriment to an oratorical composition. Yet the orator should so read history as to be convinced that most of its perfections ought to be avoided by him. It nearly borders upon poetry, and may be held as a poem, unrestrained by the laws of verse. Its object is to narrate, and not to prove, and its whole business neither intends action nor contention, but to transmit facts to posterity, and enhance the reputation of its author.

In the reading of history there is another benefit, and indeed the greatest, but one not relative to the present subject. This proceeds from the knowledge of things and examples, which the orator ought to be well versed in, so that not all his testimonies may be from the parties, but many of them may be taken from antiquity, with which, through history, he will be well acquainted; these testimonies being the more powerful, as they are exempt from suspicion of prejudice and partiality.

I shall venture to say that there are few which have stood the test of time, that may not be read with some profit by the judicious. Cicero himself confesses that he received great help from old authors, who were, indeed, very ingenious but were deficient in art. Before I speak of the respective merit of authors, I must make, in a few words, some general reflections on the diversity of taste in regard to matters of eloquence. Some think that the ancients deserve to be read, believing that they alone have distinguished themselves by natural eloquence and that strength of language so becoming men. Others are captivated with the flowery profusion of the orators of the present age, with their delicate turns, and with all the blandishments they skilfully invent to charm the ears of an ignorant multitude. Some choose to follow the plain and direct way of speaking. Others take to be sound and truly Attic whatever is close, neat, and departs but little from ordinary conversation. Some are delighted with a more elevated, more impetuous, and more fiery force of genius. Others, and not a few, like a smooth, elegant, and polite manner. I shall speak of this difference in taste more fully when I come to examine the style which may seem most proper for the orator.



We may begin properly with Homer.

He it is who gave birth to, and set the example for all parts of eloquence, in the same way, as he himself says, as the course of rivers and springs of fountains owe their origin to the ocean. No one, in great subjects, has excelled him in elevation; nor in small subjects, in propriety. He is florid and close, grave and agreeable, admirable for his concise as well as for his copious manner, and is not only eminent for poetical, but likewise oratorical, abilities.


AEschylus is the one who gave birth to tragedy. He is sublime, and grave, and often pompous to a fault. But his plots are mostly ill-contrived and as ill-conducted. For which reason the Athenians permitted the poets who came after him to correct his pieces and fit them for the stage, and in this way many of these poets received the honor of being crowned.

Sophocles and Euripides

Sophocles and Euripides brought tragedy to greater perfection; but the difference in their manner has occasioned dispute among the learned as to their relative poetic merits. For my part, I shall leave the matter undecided, as having nothing to do with my present purpose. It must be confest, nevertheless, that the study of Euripedes will be of much greater value to those who are preparing themselves for the bar; for besides the fact that his style comes nearer the oratorical style, he likewise abounds in fine thoughts, and in philosophic maxims is almost on an equality with philosophers, and in his dialog may be compared with the best speakers at the bar. He is wonderful, again, for his masterly strokes in moving the passions, and more especially in exciting sympathy.

Thucydides and Herodotus

There have been many famous writers of history, but all agree in giving the preference to two, whose perfections, tho different, have received an almost equal degree of praise. Thucydides is close, concise, and ever pressing on. Herodotus is sweet, natural, and copious. One is remarkable for his animated expression of the more impetuous passions, the other for gentle persuasion in the milder: the former succeeds in harangues and has more force; the other surpasses in speeches of familiar intercourse, and gives more pleasure.


A numerous band of orators follows, for Athens produced ten of them, contemporary with one another. Demosthenes was by far the chief of them, and in a manner held to be the only model for eloquence; so great is his force; so closely together are all things interwoven in his discourse, and attended with a certain self-command; so great is his accuracy, he never adopting any idle expression; and so just his precision that nothing lacking, nothing redundant, can be found in him. AEschines is more full, more diffusive, and appears the more grand, as he has more breadth. He has more flesh, but not so many sinews.

Lysias and Isocrates

Lysias, older than these, is subtle and elegant, and if it is enough for the orator to instruct, none could be found more perfect than he is. There is nothing idle, nothing far-fetched in him; yet is he more like a clear brook than a great river. Isocrates, in a different kind of eloquence, is fine and polished, and better adapted for engaging in a mock than a real battle. He was attentive to all the beauties of discourse, and had his reasons for it, having intended his eloquence for schools and not for contentions at the bar. His invention was easy, he was very fond of graces and embellishments, and so nice was he in his composition that his extreme care is not without reprehension.


Among philosophers, by whom Cicero confesses he has been furnished with many resourceful aids to eloquence, who doubts that Plato is the chief, whether we consider the acuteness of his dissertations, or his divine Homerical faculty of elocution? He soars high above prose, and even common poetry, which is poetry only because comprised in a certain number of feet; and he seems to me not so much endowed with the wit of a man, as inspired by a sort of Delphic oracle.


What shall I say of Xenophon's unaffected agreeableness, so unattainable by any imitation that the Graces themselves seem to have composed his language? The testimony of the ancient comedy concerning Pericles, is very justly applicable to him, |That the Goddess of Persuasion had seated herself on his lips.|

Aristotle and Theophrastus

And what shall I say of the elegance of the other disciples of Socrates? What of Aristotle? I am at a loss to know what most to admire in him, his vast and profound erudition, or the great number of his writings, or his pleasing style and manner, or the inventions and penetration of his wit, or the variety of his works. And as to Theophrastus, his elocution has something so noble and so divine that it may be said that from these qualities came his name.


In regard to our Roman authors, we can not more happily begin than with Vergil, who of all their poets and ours in the epic style, is without any doubt the one who comes nearest to Homer. Tho obliged to give way to Homer's heavenly and immortal genius, yet in Vergil are to be found a greater exactness and care, it being incumbent on him to take more pains; so that what we lose on the side of eminence of qualities, we perhaps gain on that of justness and equability.


I proceed to our orators, who likewise may put Roman eloquence upon a par with the Grecian. Cicero I would strenuously oppose against any of them, tho conscious of the quarrel I should bring upon myself by comparing him with Demosthenes in a time so critical as this; especially as my subject does not oblige me to it, neither is it of any consequence, when it is my real opinion that Demosthenes ought to be particularly read, or, rather, committed to memory.

I must say, notwithstanding, that I judge them to be alike in most of the great qualities they possest; alike in design, disposition, manner of dividing, of preparing minds, of proving, in short in everything belonging to invention. In elocution there is some difference. The one is more compact, the other more copious; the one closes in with his opponent, the other allows him more ground to fight in; the one is always subtle and keen in argument, the other is perhaps less so, but often has more weight; from the one nothing can be retrenched, neither can anything be added to the other; the one has more study, the other more nature.

Still ought we to yield, if for no other reason than because Demosthenes lived before Cicero, and because the Roman orator, however great, is indebted for a large part of his merit to the Athenian. For it seems to me that Cicero, having bent all his thoughts on the Greeks, toward forming himself on their model, had at length made constituents of his character the force of Demosthenes, the abundance of Plato, and the sweetness of Isocrates. Nor did he only, by his application, extract what was best in these great originals, but by the happy fruitfulness of his immortal genius he himself produced the greater part, or rather all, of these same perfections. And to make use of an expression of Pindar, he does not collect the water from rains to remedy a natural dryness, but flows continually, himself, from a source of living waters, and seems to have existed by a peculiar gift of Providence, that in him eloquence might make trial of her whole strength and her most powerful exertions.

For who can instruct with more exactness, and move with more vehemence? What orator ever possest so pleasing a manner that the very things he forcibly wrests from you, you fancy you grant him; and when by his violence he carries away the judge, yet does the judge seem to himself to obey his own volition, and not to be swept away by that of another? Besides, in all he says there is so much authority and weight that you are ashamed to differ from him in opinion; and it is not the zeal of an advocate you find in him, but rather the faith and sincerity of a witness or judge. And what, at the same time, is more admirable, all these qualities, any one of which could not be attained by another without infinite pains, seem to be his naturally; so that his discourses, the most charming, the most harmonious, which possibly can be heard, retain, notwithstanding, so great an air of happy ease that they seem to have cost him nothing.

With good reason, therefore, is he said by his contemporaries to reign at the bar, and he has so far gained the good graces of posterity that Cicero is now less the name of a man than the name of eloquence itself. Let us then keep him in view, let him be our model, and let that orator think he has made considerable progress who has once conceived a love and taste for Cicero.


If Caesar had made the bar his principal occupation, no other of our orators could better have disputed the prize of eloquence with Cicero. So great is his force, so sharp his wit, so active his fire, that it plainly appears he spoke with as much spirit as he fought. A wonderful elegance and purity of language, which he made his particular study, were a further embellishment of all these talents for eloquence.


It remains only to speak of those who have written on subjects of philosophy. Hitherto we have had but few of this kind. Cicero, as in all other respects, so also in this, was a worthy rival of Plato. Brutus has written some excellent treatises, the merit of which is far superior to that of his orations. He supports admirably well the weight of his matter, and seems to feel what he says. Cornelius Celsus, in the manner of the Skeptics, has written a good many tracts, which are not without elegance and perspicuity. Plancus, among the Stoics, may be read with profit, for the sake of becoming acquainted with the things he discusses. Catius, an Epicurean, has some levity in his way, but in the main is not an unpleasing author.


I have designedly omitted speaking hitherto of Seneca, -- who was proficient in all kinds of eloquence, -- on account of the false opinion people entertained that I not only condemned his writings, but also personally hated him. I drew this aspersion upon myself by my endeavor to bring over eloquence to a more austere taste, which had been corrupted and enervated by very many softnesses and delicacies. Then Seneca was almost the only author young people read with pleasure. I did not strive to exclude him absolutely, but could not bear that he should be preferred to others much better, whom he took all possible pains to cry down, because he was conscious that he had taken to a different manner from their way of writing, and he could not otherwise expect to please people who had a taste for these others. It was Seneca's lot, however, to be more loved than imitated, and his partizans run as wide from him as he himself had fallen from the ancients. Yet it were to be wished that they had proved themselves like, or had come near, him. But they were fond of nothing in him but his faults, and every one strove to copy them if he could. Then priding themselves on speaking like Seneca, of course they could not avoid bringing him into disgrace.

His perfections, however, were many and great. His wit was easy and fruitful, his erudition considerable, his knowledge extensive -- in which last point he sometimes was led into mistakes, probably by those whom he had charged to make researches for him. There is hardly a branch of study on which he has not written something; for we have his orations, his poems, epistles, and dialogs. In philosophic matters he was not so accurate, but was admirable for his invectives against vice.

He has many bright thoughts, and many things are well worth reading in him for improvement of the moral character; but his elocution is, for the most part, corrupt, and the more dangerous because its vices are of a sweet and alluring nature. One could wish he had written with his own genius and another's judgment. For if he had rejected some things, if he had less studiously affected some engaging beauties, if he had not been overfond of all his productions, if he had not weakened the importance of his matter by frivolous thoughts, he would have been honored by the approbation of the learned rather than by the love of striplings.

However, such as he is, he may be read when the taste is formed and strengthened by a more austere kind of eloquence, if for no other reason than because he can exercise judgment on both sides. For, as I have said, many things in him are worthy of praise, worthy even of admiration if a proper choice had been made, which I wish he had made himself, as indeed that nature is deserving of an inclination to embrace what is better, which has ability to effect anything to which it inclines.

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