Page images

public fpeaker guard against this error. Whether he fpeak in a private room, or in a great affembly, let him remember that he ftill fpeaks. Follow nature: confider how The teaches you to utter any fentiment or feeling of your heart. Imagine a fubject of debate started in converfation among grave and wife men, and yourself bearing a thare in it. Think after what manner, with what tones and inflexions of voice, you would on fuch an occafion express yourself, when you were moft in earnest, and fought moft to be liftened to. Carry thefe with you to the bar, to the pulpit, or to any public affembly; let these be the foundation of your manner of pronouncing there; and you will take the fureft method of rendering your delivery both agreeable and perfuafive.

I have faid, Let thefe converfation tones be the foundation of public pronunciation; for, on fome occafions, folemn public fpeaking requires them to be exalted beyond the ftrain of common difcourfe. In a formal, ftudied oration, the elevation of the ftyle, and the harmony of the fentences, prompt, almost neceffarily, a modulation of voice more rounded, and bordering more upon mufic, than converfation admits. This gives rife to what is called, the Declaiming Manner. But though this mode of pronunciation runs confiderably beyond ordinary discourse, yet ftill it must have, for its bafis, the natural tones of grave and dignified converfation. I muft obferve, at the fame time, that the conftant indulgence of a declamatory manner, is not favourable either to good compofition, or good delivery; and is in hazard of betraying public speakers into that monotony of tone and cadence, which is fo generally complained of. Whereas, he who forms the general run of his delivery upon a fpeaking manner, is not likely ever to become difagreeable through monotony. He will have the fame natural variety in his tones, which a perfon has in converfation. Indeed, the perfection of delivery requires both these different manners, that of speaking with liveliness and eafe, and that of declaiming with stateliness and dignity, to be poffeffed by one man; and to be employed by him, according as the different parts of his difcourfe require either the one or the other. This is a perfection which is not attained by many; the greatest part of public fpeakers allowing their delivery to be formed altogether accidentally, according as fome turn of voice appears to them most beautiful, or some artificial model has caught their fancy; and

acquiring, by this means, a habit of pronunciation, which they can never vary. But the capital direction, which ought never to be forgotten, is, to copy the proper tones for expreffing every fentiment from those which nature dictates to us, in converfation with others; to speak always with her voice; and not to form to ourselves a fantastic public manner, from an abfurd fancy of its being more beautiful than a natural one

It now remains to treat of Gefture, or what is called Action in public discourse. Some nations animate their words in common converfation, with many more motions of the body than others do. The French and the Italians are, in this refpect, much more fprightly than we. But there is no nation, hardly any perfon fo phlegmatic, as not to accompany their words with fome actions and gefticulations, on all occafions, when they are much in earnest. It is therefore unnatural in a public speaker, it is inconfiftent with that earneftnefs and ferioufnefs which he ought to fhew in all affairs of moment, to remain quite unmoved in his outward appearance; and to let the words drop from his mouth, without any expreffion of meaning, or warmth in his gesture.

The fundamental rule as to propriety of action, is undoubtedly the fame with what I gave as to propriety of tone. Attend to the looks and geftures, in which earnestness, indignation, compaffion, or any other emotion, difcovers itself to most advantage in the common intercourfe of men; and let thefe be your model. Some of thefe looks and geftures are common to all men; and there are alfo certain peculiarities of manner which distinguish every individual. A public fpeaker must take that manner which is most natural to himfelf. For it is here juft as in tones. It is not the bufinefs of a fpeaker to form to himself a certain set of motions and gestures, which he thinks moft becoming and agreeable, and to practile

"Loquere," (fays an author of the last century, who has written a Treatife in Verfe, de Geftu et Voce Oratoris)

"Loquere; hoc vitium commune, loquatur "Ut nemo; at tensâ declamaret omnia voce. "Tu loquere, ut mos eft hominum; Boat & latrat ille:

"Ille ululat; rudit hic (fari fi talia dignum eft); "Non hominem vox ulla fonat ratione loquentem."

JOANNES LUCAS, de Geftu et Voce, Lib. 11. Paris 1675. thefe

thefe in public, without their having any correípondence to the manner which is natural to him in private. His geftures and motions ought all to carry that kind of expremion which nature has dictated to him; and, unless this be the cafe, it is impoffible, by means of any study, to avoid their appearing stiff and forced.

However, although nature must be the ground-work, I admit that there is room in this matter for fome ftudy and art. For many perfons are naturally ungraceful in the motions which they make; and this ungracefulness might, in part at least, be reformed by application and care. The ftudy of action in public fpeaking, confifts chiefly in guarding against awkward and difagreeable motions, and in learning to perform fuch as are natural to the speaker, in the most becoming manner. For this end, it has been advised by writers on this fubject, to practife before a mirror, where one may fee, and judge of his own geftures. But I am afraid, perfons are not always the best judges of the gracefulness of their own motions: and one may declaim long enough before a mirror, without correcting any of his faults. The judgment of a friend, whofe good taste they can truft, will be found of much greater advantage to beginners, than any mirror they can use. With regard to particular rules concerning action and gefticulation, Quinctilian has delivered a great many, in the last chapter of the 11th Book of his Inftitutions; and all the modern writers on this fubject have done little elfe but tranflate them. I am not of opinion, that fuch rules, delivered either by the voice or on paper, can be of much use, unless perfons fay them exemplified before their eyes*.

The few following hints only I fhall adventure to throw out, in case they may be of any fervice. When speaking in public, one should study to preferve as much dignity as poffible in the whole atitude of the body. An erect posture is generally to be chofen : standing firm, fo as to have the fulleft and freeft command of all his motions; any inclination which is used, should be forwards towards the hearers, which is a natural expreffion of earneftness. As for the countenance, the chief rule is, that it should correfpond with the nature of the difcourfe, and when no particular emotion is expreffed, a ferious and manly look is always the beit. The eyes fhould never be fixed close on any one object, but move easily round the audience. In the motions made with the hands, confifts the chief part of gefture in speaking. The Ancients condemned all motions performed by the left hand alone; but I am not fenfible, that these are always offenfive, though it is natural for the right hand to

I fhall only add further on this head that in order to fucceed well in delivery, nothing is more neceffary than for a speaker to guard against a certain flutter of spirits, which is peculiarly incident to those who begin to fpeak in public. He must endeavour above all things to be recollected, and mafter of himself. For this end, he will find nothing of more ufe to him, than to ftudy to become wholly engaged in his fubject; to be poffeffed with a fenfe of its importance or seriousness; to be concerned much more to perfuade than to please. He will generally please moft, when pleasing is not his foul nor chief aim. This is the only rational and proper method of raifing one's felf above that timid and bafhful regard to an audience, which is fo ready to difconcert a fpeaker, both as to what he is to say, and as to his manner of saying it.

I cannot conclude, without an earnest admonition to guard against all affectation, which is the certain ruin of good delivery. Let your manner, whatever it is, be your own; neither imitated from another, nor affumed upon fome imaginary model, which is unnatural to you. Whatever is native, even though accompanied with feveral defects, yet is likely to please; because it fhows us a man; because it has the appearance of coming from the heart. Whereas, a delivery attended with feveral acquired graces and beauties, if it be not eafy and free, if it betray the marks of art and affectation, never fails to difguft. To attain any extremely correct, and perfectly graceful delivery, is what few can expect; fo many natural talents being requifite to concur in forming it. But to attain, what as to the effect is very little inferior, a forcible and perfuafive manner, is within the

be more frequently employed. Warm emotions demand the motion of both hands correfponding together. But whether one gefticulates with one or with both hands, it is an important rule, that all his motions fhould be free and eafy. Narrow and straitened movements are generally ungraceful; for which reafon, motions made with the hands are directed to proceed from the fhoulder, rather than from the elbow. Perpendicular movements too with the hands, that is, in the ftraight line up and down, which Shakespeare, in Hamlet, calls, "fawing the air with the hand," are feldom good. Oblique motions are, in general, the most graceful. Too fudden and nimble motions fhould be likewife avoided. Earneftnefs can be fully expreffed without them. Shakespear's directions on this head, are full of good sense; "ufe all gently," fays he, " and in the very tor"rent and tempeft of paffion, acquire a tempe rance that may give it smoothness."



[ocr errors][ocr errors]

power of most perfons; if they will only unlearn falfe and corrupt habits; if they will allow themselves to follow nature, and will fpeak in public, as they do in private, when they speak in earneft, and from the heart. If one has naturally any grofs defects in his voice or geftures, he begins at the wrong end, if he attempts at reforming them only when he is to fpeak in public: he fhould begin with rectifying them in his private manner of fpeaking; and then carry to the public the right habit he has formed. For when a fpeaker is engaged in a public difcourfe, he fhould not be then employing his attention about his manner, or thinking of his tones and his gestures. If he be fo employed, study and affectation will appear. He ought to be then quite in earneit; wholly occupied with his fubject and his fentiments; leaving nature, and previously formed habits, to prompt and fuggeft his manner of delivery.

[ocr errors]


Means of improving in Eloquence.

I have now treated fully of the different kinds of public fpeaking, of the compofition, and of the delivery of a difcourfe. Before I finish this fubject, it may be of ufe to fuggeft fome things concerning the propereft means of improvement in the art of public fpeaking, and the most neceffary tudies for that purpose.

To be an eloquent speaker, in the proper fenfe of the word, is far from being either a common or an eafy attainment. Indeed, to a florid on fome pular topic, and to deliver it fo as to amufe an audience, is a matter not very difficult. But though fome praife be due to this, yet the idea, which I have endeavoured to give of eloquence, is much higher. It is a great exertion of the human powers. It is the art of being perfuafive and commanding; the art, not of pleafing the fancy merely, but of speaking both to the understanding and to the heart; of interefting the hearers in fuch a degree, as to feize and carry them along with us; and to leave them with a deep and ftrong impreflion of what they have heard. How many talents, natural and acquired, muft concur for carrying this to perfection! A ftrong, lively, and warm imagination; quick fenfibility of heart, joined with folid judgment, good fenfe, and prefence of mind; ail improved by great and long attention to ftyle and compofition;

and fupported alfo by the exterior, yet important qualifications, of a graceful manner, a prefence not ungainly, and a full and tuneable voice. How little reafon to wonder, that a perfect and accomplished orator fhould be one of the characters that is most rarely to be found! Let us not defpair, however. Between mediocrity and perfection there is a very wide interval. There are many intermediate fpaces, which may be filled up with honour; and the more rare and difficult that complete perfection is, the greater is the honour of approaching to it, though we do not fully attain it. The number of orators who ftand in the highest clafs is, perhaps, fmaller than the number of poets who are foremost in poetic fame; but the ftudy of oratory has this advantage above that of poetry, that, in poetry, one must be an eminently good performer, or he is not fupportable;

-Mediocribus effe potis, Non homines, non Dî, non conceffêre columne.

In Eloquence this does not hold. There, one may poffefs a moderate ftation with dignity. Eloquence admits of a great many different forms; plain and fimple, as well as high and pathetic; and a genius with much reputation and ufefulness in that cannot reach the latter, may fhine

the former.

Whether nature or art contribute moft to attainments whatever, nature muit be the form an orator, is a trifling enquiry. In all Prime agent. She must beftow the origi

nal talents. She muft fow the feeds; but

culture is requifite for bringing thofe feeds to perfection. Nature muit always have be left to be done by art. This is certain, done fomewhat; bet a great deal will always that study and difcipline are more neceffary for the improvement of natural genius in oratory, than they are in poetry. What I mean is, that though poetry be capable of receiving affiftance from critical art, yet a Poet, without any aid from art, by the force lic speaker can do, who has never given atof genius alone, can rife higher than a puband delivery. Homer formed himfelf; Detention to the rules of ftyle, compofition, mofthenes and Cicero were formed by the help of much labour, and of many affiftances derived from the labour of others.

For God and man, and lettered poft denies, 1 hat poets ever are of middling fize.



After thefe preliminary obfervations, let us proceed to the main defign of this lecture; to treat of the means to be used for improvement in eloquence.

In the first place, what ftands highest in the order of means, is perfonal character and difpofition. In o. der to be a truly eloquent or perfuafive fpeaker, nothing is more neceffary than to be a virtuous man. This was a favourite pofition among the ancient rhetoricians: "Non poffe oratorem * effe nifi virum bonum." To find any fuch connection between virtue and one of the higheft liberal arts, muft give pleasure; and it can, I think, be clearly fhewn, that this is not a mere topic of declamation, but that the connection here alledged, is undoubtedly founded in truth and reaíon.

For, confider firit, Whether any thing contributes more to perfuafion, than the opinion which we entertain of the probity, difintereftedness, candour, and other good moral. qualities of the person who endeavours to perfuade? Thefe give weight and force to every thing which he utters; nay, they add a beauty to it; they difpofe us to liften with attention and pleafure; and create a fecret partiality in favour of that fide which he efpoutes. Whereas, if we entertain a fufpicion of craft and difingenuity, of a corrupt, or a bafe mind, in the fpeaker, his eloquence lofes all its real effect. It may entertain and amufe; but it is viewed as artifice, as trick, as the play only of fpeech; and, viewed in this light, whom can it perfunde? We even read a book with more pleafure, when we think favourably of its author; but when we have the living speaker before our eyes, addrefing us perfonally on fome fabject of importance, the opinion we entertain of his character must have a much more powerful effect.

But, left it should be faid, that this relates only to the character of virtue, which one may maintain, without being at bottom a truly worthy man, I muft obferve farther, that, befides the weight which it adds to character, real virtue operates alfo in other Ways, to the advantage of eloquence.

Firft, Nothing is fo favourable as virtue to the profecution of honourable studies. It prompts a generous emulation to excel; it inures to induftry; it leaves the mind vacant and free, mafter of itself, difencumbered of thofe bad paffions, ard difengaged from thofe mean purfuits, which have ever been found the greatest enemies to true proficiency. Quastilian has touched this confideration very properly: "Quod fi

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

But, befides this confideration, there is another of ftill higher importance, though I am not fure of its being attended to as much as it deferves; namely, that from the fountain of real and genuine virtue, are drawn thofe fentiments which will ever be most powerful in affecting the hearts of others. Bad as the world is, nothing has fo great and universal a command over the minds of men as virtue. No kind of language is to generally understood, and fo powerfully felt, as the native language of worthy and virtuous feelings. He only, therefore, who poffeffes thefe full and strong, can fpeak properly, and in its own language, to the heart. On all great fubjects and occafions, there is a dignity, there is an energy in noble fentiments, which is overcoming and irrefiftible. They give an ardour and a flame to one's discourse, which teldom fails to kindle a like flame in those who hear; and which, more than any other caufe, beftows on eloquence that power, for which it is famed, of feizing and transporting an audience. Here art and imitation will not avail. An affumed character conveys nothing of this powerful warmth. It is only a native and unaffected glow of feeling, which can tranfmit the emotion to others. Hence the most renowned orators, fuch as Cicero and Demofthenes, were no lefs distinguished for fome of the hig. virtues, as public fpirit and zeal for their country, than for eloquence.

"If the management of an estate, if anxious "attention to domeftic economy, a paffion for "hunting, or whole days given up to public "places and amufements, confume fo much time "that is due to ftudy, how much greater wafte "must be occafioned by licentious defires, avarice, "or envy! Nothing is fo much hurried and agi"tated, fo contradictory to itself, or fo violently "torn and fhattered by conflicting paflions, as a "bad heart. Amidst the distractions which it "produces, what room is left for the cultivation "of letters, or the purfuit of any honourable art? "No more, affuredly, than there is for the growth "of corn in a field that is over-run with thorns "and brambles."


Beyond doubt, to these virtues their elo-
quence owed much of its effect; and thofe
orations of theirs, in which there breathes
moft of the virtuous and magnanimous fpi-
rit, are those which have most attracted the
admiration of ages.

Nothing, therefore, is more neceffary for
those who would excel in any of the higher
kinds of oratory, than to cultivate habits of
the several virtues, and to refine and im-
prove all their moral feelings. Whenever
thefe become dead, or callous, they may
be affured, that on every great occafion,
they will speak with lefs power, and lefs
fuccefs. The fentiments and difpofitions
particularly requifite for them to cultivate,
are the following; the love of juftice and
order, and indignation at infolence and op-
preffion; the love of honefty and truth, and
deteftation of fraud, meannefs, and cor-
ruption; magnanimity of fpirit; the love
of liberty, of their country and the public;
zeal for all great and noble defigns, and
reverence for all worthy and heroic cha-
racters. A cold and fceptical turn of mind
is extremely adverse to eloquence; and no
lefs fo, is that cavilling difpofition which
takes pleasure in depreciating what is great,
and ridiculing what is generally admired.

Such a difpofition befpeaks one not very
likely to excel in any thing; but leaft of
all in oratory. A true orator should be a
perfon of generous fentiments, of warm
feelings, and of a mind turned towards the
admiration of all those great and high ob-
jects which mankind are naturally formed
to admire. Joined with the manly virtues,
he should, at the fame time, poffefs ftrong
and tender fenfibility to all the injuries,
diftreffes, and forrows, of his fellow-crea-
tures; a heart that can easily relent; that
can readily enter into the circumstances of
others, and can make their cafe his own.
A proper mixture of courage, and of mo-
deity, must also be studied by every public
fpeaker. Modefty is effential; it is al-
ways, and justly, supposed to be a conco-
mitant of merit; and every appearance of
it is winning and prepoffeffing. But mo-
defty ought not to run into exceffive timi-
dity. Every public speaker should be able
to reft fomewhat on himfelf; and to affume
that air, not of felf-complacency, but of
firmnefs, which befpeaks a consciousness of
his being thoroughly perfuaded of the truth
or juftice, of what he delivers;
ftance of no small confequence for making
impreffion on those who hear.


« PreviousContinue »