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ited to those upon whom, unfortunately, the mantle of the rhetorician has fallen. Let them, if need be, restrain themselves by technicalities and formulas, cramp their limbs with fetters, and mince their steps according to mathematical admeasurements, while the scholar, leaving the schools, as no longer needful for him, forgetting the rules, but not the spirit of the rules, shall walk forth among living men, and do, with a free heart and a strong hand, such work as he may find to do.
Eloquence, though, like poetry, gushing out from the fountains within, owes more than its sister art to study, to earnest, protracted effort, with which mediocrity may rise to honorable estimation, and without which, even genius may remain unnoticed. Rather, however, than assert the value of an art which, I hope, needs no formal defence, I would suggest, as briefly as may be, some of the studies most important to an orator.
The orator can attain to no very high eminence without a mastery of the resources of language. His speech must be
obedient, dexterous, exact, like a promptly ministering genius.” His words must not only be appropriate, but the best. They must “ trip like nimble servitors to do his bidding." His style must be pliant. He needs a majesty of diction which shall not dishonor the loftiest thought,-a plain sobriety, suited to vulgar narration,-a playfulness which may gracefully dance about the gayest subject,--a power of indignant rebuke or of elegant jesting. It is not enough that thought be clear and precise. The masters of language do not protrude the idea, meager and bald, but introduce it, vigorous in itself, surrounded by a company of kindred thoughts. Every word has a power to evoke, from the shadows where they have slumbered, a host of images and dim recollections; and, by all this host attended, the main idea moves on. A thousand chords of the human heart are attuned in unison; and if one be struck the others vibrate. Nothing in the use of language more decidedly marks the power of genius, than the ability to bring out the hidden harmony of the instrument. It is not difficult to detect, according to this suggestion, a prominent cause of the different degrees of vividness, which two men shall give to apparently, I cannot say really the same thought; and while some have a surprising facility in attenuating every idea which they chance to fall upon, its virtue lay. Truly, it lay not in that bare frame-work which the skeleton-seeker developed, but in the life and motion which he overlooked; not in the plain obvious meaning, but in its rich suggestions. The magnificent prose of Milton is deprived of its glory if it be translated into other words. Milton is gone, and another is come. A faultless prose style is held to be the last attainment in language,-more difficult than a facility in metrical composition, where the jingle of the rhyme assists in a favorable choice of words, and excuses an imperfect phrase. By common consent, the number of great writers may be included in a short catalogue. Genius will not insure a power over words. The thoughts of the writer may be great, but who will be the better, if he cannot give them a ready and forcible utterance?
Were it demanded, it might be shown how those, in every age, whose musical, vigorous speech we most admire, have labored to obtain the desired excellence; with how much toil Milton gained a mastery of the “ artifice of language;" with what critical care ‘he built up the lofty rhyme;' how Petrarch returned to his sonnets, day after day, to alter a single word, or make a trifling change in the arrangement of a line; how Virgil revised, corrected, remodelled his verses, like a “she-bear” to use his own comparison-licking her ill-formed offspring into shape; how relentlessly Demosthenes disciplined his words, how carefully he chose his figures, how dili ently he moulded them. But these things are on record.
Of all the studies which affect the style, common consent seems to place the ancient languages in the first rank. The ancients elaborated their composition with a care to which the moderns are strangers. One cause of this among the Greeks, may be found in that peculiar love of the beautiful, which, as a redeeming virtue, pre-eminently characterized this inquisitive, artful and restless people.
It did more than almost any other virtue to elevate the character of the nation. Like a kind genius, it hovered over every philosopher, poet, orator, historian. It imparted amenity to a character, which, without it, would have been brutalized by war; guided the pen which wrote the Edipus Tyrannus, the Prometheus Bound, the Symposium and the Anabasis; gave birth to temples, such as no other people ever reared ; to statues, the fragments of which are the wonder of the world. If, in another country than their own, the traveller lights upon a structure of singular elegance, a statue of faultless symmetry, he is told that Grecian architects fashioned the pillars, that Grecian sculptors moulded the limbs : and if, as at Pæstum, he discovers the remains of ancient temples, simple, majestic, beautiful,-unknown to history, reverently visited by Augustus as antiquities of unknown date, standing, then as now, grand and solitary in the midst of the deserted campagna,—the antiquarian will tell him that a Grecian colony came, no one knows when, departed, no one knows wherefore, and left, in the rude material of the country, these solemn and imperishable memorials of their existence and their genius.
It is not very surprising that a people, whose remote and animportant colonies, thus carried with them the tastes of the rugged little territory whence they sprang,-a people, daily receiving the silent influence of the purest exhibition of art, of art consecrated to religion, of art embodied in the fearful and sacred forms of their divinities, and in temples which have long outlasted the superstitions which once they adorned,-a people accustomed, from choice or necessity, to the most generous display of unrivalled ability in eloquence and song, whose knowledge was not stored in books for reference, but living in the memory,—it is not very surprising that such a people should have been quick to notice the faults of the orator and actor ; nor, on the other hand, that he, whose first object it was to move or delight the public, should have spared no severity of discipline to obtain their favor, in whose praise lay his own immortality.
Latin authors, however different from the Greek in other points, are the same in respect of a careful polish and severe nicety of style. What can surpass the gorgeous panoply with which Cicero invests his thoughts ? the playful adroitness of Horace ? the terse and comprehensive narration of Sallust? The literature of the ancients bears the same impress as their art. It is the wonder of ancient sculpture, that it seems to have been finished with the chisel, without the aid of rasp or file. It is the wonder of ancient composition, that, to a niceness obtained only by the most assiduous labor, it adds the utmost boldness and freedom. In literature, as in art, there is the same simplicity and unity, the same purity of ornament, springing, like wild flowers, spontaneously from the bosom of the argument; in fine,“ perfection in elegance, proportioa, grace and dignity.” Their perfectness was the result of unrelenting discipline, and suggests to us the means to be used for attaining to
the same excellence. The ancient writings are models of that restrained, simple, severe method of composition, appropriate to men who are conscious of the value of their thoughts, and certain that their worth will one day be recognised. We find in them a fitness of part to part, and of the whole to the object to be attained : a self-denying restraint which never allows the orator to show himself, but only his subject,—which compels him to avoid every thing, however pleasant in itself, if it interferes with the single great end, success.
There is an earnestness which will not allow the speaker to play about the subject. He is bound to a course where he will gain little credit for style, for action, for grace. His only fame is the fame incident to untiring and successful exertion.
With a view to the same object, the cultivation of the power of language,-another study suggests itself, most agreeable to the English student. The old English writers have done more than any others to show us the richness of our inheritance in our own tongue. The ambitious painter seeks his inspiration and his pattern, first in nature, then in the works of Raphael, Titian and Guido. The sculptor studies form in the unrivalled antiques, and, for expression, adds the works of Michael Angelo. The architect measures the Parthenon, and St. Peter's and York Minster. So, in painting with words, in shaping and applying the living stones of a language, should the artist come with zeal and affectionate reverence to the schools of the best writers. It is true, indeed, that “to write in the real manner of Jeremy Taylor requires as mighty a mind as his;" but who would not hope, by daily and familiar intercourse, to rise above himself, and approach, in some degree, nearer the serene elevation of that exalted spirit. ?
We cannot know of what our language is capable, until we see what it has done. Not, indeed, so rich and pliant as the Greek, not quite so majestic as the Latin, not so musical nor so flexible as the Italian, standing midway between the rigid preciseness of the French and the liberty of the German, depending upon the contribution of foreign languages for the increase of its curious store, it yet offers us a combination of excellencies, which it were wiser to use than to disregard, a copiousness which few know how to exhaust; a pliancy which will adapt itself to almost every elevation or depression of the subject; in its Latin derivatives, an elegance and grace which will satisfy the taste of the most refined and sensitive, and in its Saxon frame-work, a manly dignity and strength, a stern and honest vigor pre-eminently fitted for clear-sighted men,-active rather than meditative, earnest in doing rather than in speculating.
I fear that in the enthusiasm for foreign languages, the dignity and richness of our own are too little prized, and its best writers too little studied. The facility, with which a knowledge of the tongue competent for ordinary purposes may be acquired, prevents that exertion which alone can secure the highest excellence. The older writers, laboring with a healthful spirit, in an age when there was less eagerness in matters of immediate practical utility and more in the development of the spirit, less earnestness in the sciences and more in theology, in questions of church polity and probably of civil government, less possibility of immediate literary popularity, and, consequently, a patient waiting for the revelation of truth, less influence of public anonymous criticism, and a freer display of individual tastes and peculiarities—these writers give us the fresh impress and image of their own minds; and, in so doing, have left models of a variety of style and thought, which it will be difficult to equal, almost impossible to surpass. “It is the existence of an individual idiom in each,” says one who read them and loved them, “that makes the principal writers before the restoration the great patterns or integers of English style.”
There have indeed been writers, in our own age, and in that which is just past, who, for every excellence, fall nothing short of the choicest models. But they, for the most part, careless of the thin, vicious stream of modern ephemeral productions, have drunk from the deep, still fountains of the older writers. I have sometimes thought that he, who attempts to guide another to our earlier authors, may, with slight change, say as Milton did of his own plan of instruction; “I will straight conduct you to a hill-side, where I will point out the right path of a virtuous and noble education, laborious, indeed, at the first ascent, but else so smooth, so green, so full of goodly prospects and melodious sounds on every side, that the harp of Orpheus was not more charming.”
It is questionable whether our language, since the restoration, has not lost more in vigor, than it has gained in smoothness. The writers before the revolution were, indeed, tempted to twist the gnarled stock of our tongue into the manifold forms of the ancients; and the result was not grace, but uncouthness. Yet they produced a variety which we dare not attempt;-a