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Character of Philip-Moral Nature of Eloquence.
Some years after this Demosthenes felt himself urged to take a still more decided position against Philip. 'The king in his plans of conquest, waged war against the city of Olynthus, and the people sent to Athens for assistance. Demosthenes seized this opportunity to summon the people to opposition against Philip. On this subject we have the three Olynthian orations, in which the orator, with far more precision than in the first Philippic, fixes his eye upon his purpose, and with far greater power urges the execution of his proposals. In comparing the three we find in them a remarkable progress, since the orator, from the ideas of outward welfare, penetrates ever more deeply the ideas of integrity and civil virtue. In the first oration he tells them what must be done. In the second everything is transferred to the province of morality; everywhere we meet the thought that Philip is a worthless man; that he owes his power to his faithlessness and his wicked deeds; that the fortune of such a man cannot be of long duration ; that ruin must soon overtake him and all his power. " For it is impossible, yes it is impossible, men of Athens," exclaims the orator, " that an unjust, a perjured, and false man should possess a lasting power. Such a power may stand for once and for a short time; it blooms in hope when fortune smiles, but time is lying in wait for it, and it falls to pieces of itself. For, as in a house, a ship and other like things, the lowest must be the strongest, so in actions, the beginning and the foundation must be true and just. But this we do not find in that which Philip has done.” Demosthenes paints the worthless life of Philip in the midst of immoral jugglers and buffoons, and then adds : “ These things, men of Athens, however unimportant they may seem to many, are to the wise evident signs of his manner of thinking, and of the evil genius which rules him.” This view of things which comes here suddenly to light, will astonish every one who reads with attention. It was necessary, to be sure, to hold up some encouragement in opposition to the orators, who disquieted the Athenians by their exaggerations of the power of Philip; but that Demosthenes, instead of untying should cut the knot, by maintaining that the power of the unjust cannot subsist, is worthy of our admiration. Even now every one may not be ripe for such a thought. At the time when Napoleon's power was in its bloom, one might not have found everywhere ready hearers for a doctrine like this; and could an orator among a heathen people, rise to such a moral view of the world?
These observations are made, not so much in praise of the Athenians, as in praise of eloquence. It is wholly of a moral nature ; moral ideas are its province, and it cannot be assailed so long as it remains therein. The boldest thoughts, if they but have a moral foundation, can be pronounced to thousands of assembled men; you may presume upon their assent; you will never be deceived. All feel that the orator must be allowed to address the highest and noblest impulses of human nature; that he must address himself to no other than these. If you wish to persuade a man to a base action, speak to him alone, and turn away your face when you make the base proposition. But he, who should appear before an assembly of thousands, with the advice to renounce honor and freedom, to bear patiently the chains of servitude, among whatever people it might be, would be stoned.
In the third Olynthian oration a new progress may be observed in the development of these moral ideas. The orator, swayed and impelled by them, cannot avoid applying them more fully and powerfully than ever before, against the Athenians themselves; and as he had called Philip a worthless man, and denied him all success for the future, he now lets his own countrymen feel the weight of his patriotic indignation. Leaving Philip and Olynthus in the back ground, he dwells only upon the administration of the State, and the degeneracy of the Athenians produced thereby. With a sadness far too earnest and deep, to relieve itself by derision; to which the melancholy truth itself was sufficient, and which disdained to weaken the impression by rhetorical turns, he draws a comparative picture of the earlier and his own times. This delineation, in which the most important contrasts are placed side by side in definite outlines without amplification, was admired by antiquity.
The Athenians at various times sent help to the Olynthians, yet their city was taken and destroyed, and the Athenians listened to proposals of peace from Philip. After this, Philip threw himself, with his whole power, upon the Phocians, conquered them and destroyed their cities, and thus gained the renown of having put an end to the so-called “ holy war.” And the Greeks, regarding that as a service, which, in reality, was an important step towards their subjugation, gave him a seat and voice in the Amphictyonic council. When the Athenians were asked concerning their assent to the choice, Demosthenes, in his oration concerning peace," advises for so trifling a matter, not to commence a war, in which they would have not only Philip but most of the Greeks for their enemies; thus showing again that discretion and correct judgment of relations, which in him, were in so rare union with power and decision.
The greatest political activity of Demosthenes, falls in the period between the peace with Philip and the battle of Chaeronea, where the
11 freedom of Greece was extinguished. He appears as the chief opponent of the Macedonian party. Philip was extending bis conquests and enlarging his power; he had made complaints to the Athenians, concerning the conduct of Diopeithes, whom they had sent to the Chersonesus, at the head of a body of armed colonists. Demosthenes on this occasion, though not wholly justifying Diopeithes, still excusing bim, appears against Philip. With the most various turns, now looking to the past, now to the future, he utters or rather thunders forth his thoughts in combination with each other. Through this powerful emotion, swaying the orator, in which the most various conceptions are melted together as to a unity, but at the same time presented with full clearness, one supported by the other, this oration becomes in the highest degree penetrating, and acquires an uncommonly elevated character. Amid the keenest reproaches, escape from his love of country, moving words of recognition; as when he says in the same oration, “ And, truly, it is not a like danger, that threatens others and you, for be designs not only to subject the city, but to exterminate it entirely. For he knows too well that ye will not be slaves, nor if you would, would ye know how to be, for ye are accustomed to rule.”
In the same year, the forty-third of the orator, we have the third Philippic. Here, in a connected delineation, he shows all the unjust acts of Philip; that he has already violated the peace with the Athenians. Then he turns himself against those who have sold themselves to the king, and demands from the people their punishment. He instructs his fellow citizens upon the great advantages which Philip derived from his changed and more speedy mode of warfare. For their warning he accumulates examples of nations and cities, who had given ear to Philip and his bought flatterers, and who, after the ruin that had come upon them, had painfully, but too late, repented their delusion. In this oration, as it seems to me, Demosthenes has most completely unfolded that stormy, irresistible power, which was peculiar to him. If any one of his orations is the most excellent, it is this or that for the Crown. The latter indeed leaves everything else behind it; but it cannot be denied that its plan is more artificial than one would wish ; and that the orator, otherwise animated by the noblest emotions, often descends here to personalities, which one might wish away. The third Philippic, on account of its simple structure, and the ever noble emotion that flows through it, would merit the preeminence over it. How great a difference between this oration and that against Leptines, held thirteen years before. Then, he could quietly and gracefully polish his thoughts, as Polykleitas his statues.
But now he had run upon all the cliffs which beset the course of life for every man, especially for him who undertakes to manage great affairs. Here bis speech is an angry and thundering stream; in the place of beauty is sublimity; and if gracefulness is no longer compatible with so powerful emotions, yet precisely by these the oration reaches the highest degree of its irresistible power. Where in these orations does Demosthenes pass the limits becoming a noble man? whilst he hurls thunderbolts, he stands there in completely moral dignity. It is so predominant in him, that, correctly speaking, the qualities of his eloquence, which are falsely called art and beauty, must be designated only by names which are borrowed from moral qualities; such as power, boldness, self-sacrifice. The moral faculty here applies all the other powers of the soul, which are likewise in the highest degree active, such as acuteness, reflection and discretion.
Soon however came that great catastrophe in which Athens lost her freedom, Philip was conqueror in the battle of Chaeronea. Though the policy of Demosthenes had not saved his country, yet his fellow citizens honored him ; obliged almost daily to answer accumulated accusations in court, he was always acquitted. He was called to pronounce the funeral oration over those who had fallen at Chaeronea. In the same year with that battle, Ctesiphon proposed to the people, that a golden crown should be presented to Demosthenes, in consideration of expenses, which he had defrayed from his own means, for public improvements, as of the services which he had constantly rendered the State. Aeschines, availing himself of the right of protestation, instituted a process against Ctesiphon. Demosthenes appeared as counsel for the defendant, and, on this occasion, delivered his famous oration “for the Crown,” in which he enters into a defence of his public life and character. It was in his fifty-fifth year ; hence as the oration is the most beautiful, so also is it a late fruit of his eloquence. Aeschines appears as the defender of his own cause, and in his oration, commits, in the outset, the great fault of commencing with the outward question of mere legality, rather than that of worthiness or unworthiness in the life and public administration of Demosthenes. If he had commenced with the latter, and given the other a subordinate situation, bis oration, in the commencement, would have acquired that living and powerful elevation which is so necessary to produce strong effect upon the minds of men; but this it must renounce, and, in the outset, lose all its force, so soon as that which is unimportant is made equal to that which is of more consequence. How can we explain his adoption of the plan which he took? Only thereby, it appears to me, that the inner grounds, from the life and administra1849.)
Character of the Eloquence of Demosthenes.
tion of Demosthenes, did not appear to him sufficient; because he himself was not convinced of all the baseness of which his passion led him to accuse Demosthenes ; because he despaired of making that perfectly credible to the judges, which he himself did not believe. With a feeling of the dubiousness of his undertaking, the juridical reasons appeared, after all, to afford the greatest assurance ; on this account he unfolds these first, without reflecting that from that a deadly coldness must spread itself over the other reasons. In following this unwise plan ; in all the faults which sprang from it, and made his defeat inevitable, nothing was in fault, to express it in one word, but his guilty conscience, and the distrust in his own cause, with which it smote him. We may regard it as established, that the forming of the plan of an oration is an act; and it can succeed only by an unbindered action of the moral powers. If this is true in the political ora. tor, how much more in the sacred orator! If the latter lives only in outward things, and not in the depth of religious intuitions, he will never grasp his subject at that point, whence a fulness of thought naturally develops itself.
If the faults in the oration of Aeschines arise from a wrong moral sentiment, the excellences of the oration of Demosthenes are, in their deepest foundation, moral excellences. Such a defence as this would have been wbolly impossible, with an embarrassment and disquietude arising from inward reproaches; it is only conceivable in a man, who is filled with the consciousness of having willed the best, and of having served his country through a long series of years, with unquestioned self-sacrifice. Indeed, without the fullest coufidence in his cause, he never could have formed his plan as he did, in which he avoids the faults of his opponent, and paves the way for the most stirring developments. Only when animated by this confidence could he, in passing over subordinate matters, have dwelt ever upon the main point, and placed first the examination of his life, and made the whole decision dependent upon the result.
From the foregoing representation it follows, that to Demosthenes, even if we cannot free bis character from all blemish, is due, in the highest degree, the praise of power, decision, perseverance and devo
his country; that he has succeeded in impressing the stamp of these virtues upon his eloquence, and that it owes to them its high and admirable excellences.
The first feature in the eloquence of Denjosthenes, and which may also perhaps be called the first in the ideal of eloquence, is, that bis person, its advantageous appearance, and regard for the applause of his hearers, is always sacrificed to the subject and aim of the oration. VOL. VI. No. 21.