The training of a public speaker by grenville kleiser

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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.


Knowledge of the civil law will, likewise, be necessary for the orator whom we have described, and together with it knowledge of the customs and religion of the commonwealth of which he may take charge, for how shall he be able to give counsel in public and private deliberations if ignorant of the many things which happen together particularly to the establishment of the State? And must he not falsely aver himself to be the patron of the causes he undertakes, if obliged to borrow from another what is of greatest consequence in these causes, in some measure like those who repeat the writings of poets? And how will he accomplish what he has so undertaken if the things which he requires the judge to believe, he shall speak on the faith of another, and if he, the reputed helper of his clients, shall himself stand in need of the help of another?


But we will suppose him not reduced to this inconvenience, having studied his cause sufficiently at home, and having thoroughly informed himself of all that he has thought proper to lay before the judges: yet what shall become of him when unforeseen questions arise, which often are suddenly started on the back of pleadings? Will he not with great unseemliness look about him? Will he not ask the lower class of advocates how he shall behave? Can he be accurate in comprehending the things then whispered to him, when he is to speak on them instantly? Can he strongly affirm, or speak ingenuously for his clients? Grant that he may in his pleadings, but what shall be his fate in altercation, when he must have his answer ready and he has no time for receiving information? And what if a person learned in the law is not assisting? What if one who knows little of the matter tells him something that is wrong? And this is the greatest mischief in ignorance, to believe such a monitor intelligent.

Now, as we suppose the orator to be a particularly learned and honest man, when he has made sufficient study of that which naturally is best, it will give him little trouble if a lawyer dissents from him in opinion, since even they are admitted to be of different opinions among themselves. But if he desires to know their sentiments on any point of law, he need only read a little, which is the least laborious part of study. If many men who despaired of acquiring the necessary talents for speaking in public, have engaged in the study of law, with how much more ease will the orator effect this, which may be learned by those who from their own confession could not be orators?

M. Cato was as much distinguished by his great eloquence as by his great learning in the law. Scævola and Servius Sulpitius, both eminent lawyers, were also very eloquent. Cicero not only in pleading never appeared at a loss in knowledge of the law, but also began to write some tracts on it. From all these examples it appears that an orator may not less attend to the teaching than the learning of it.


I would not have him who is to speak rise unconcerned, show no change of color, and betray no sense of danger,--if they do not happen naturally, they ought at least to be pretended. But this sense should proceed from solicitude for performing well our duty, not from a motive of fear; and we may decently betray emotion, but not faint away. The best remedy, therefore, for bashfulness, is a modest assurance, and however weak the forehead may be, it ought to be lifted up, and well it may by conscious merit.


There are natural aids, as specified before, which are improved by care, and these are the voice, lungs, a good presence, and graceful action, which are advantages sometimes so considerable as to beget a reputation for wit. Our age produced orators more copious than Trachallus, but when he spoke he seemed to surpass them all, so great was the advantage of his stature, the sprightliness of his glance, the majesty of his aspect, the beauty of his action, and a voice, not as Cicero desires it should be, but almost like that of tragedians, and surpassing all the tragedians I ever heard. I well remember that when he once pleaded in the Julian Hall before the first bench of judges, and there also, as usual, the four classes of judges were then sitting, and the whole place rang with noise, he was not only heard distinctly from the four benches, but also was applauded, which was a disparagement to those who spoke after him. But this is the accumulation of what can be wished for, and a happiness hard to be met with, and as it can not fall to every one's lot, let the orator strive at least to make himself heard by those before whom he speaks.


Above all, as happens to a great many, let not desire for temporary praise keep our orator from having an eye to the interest of the cause he has undertaken. For as generals in waging wars do not always march their armies over pleasant plains, but often must climb rugged hills, must lay siege to forts and castles raised on steep rocks and mountains, and fortified both by nature and by art: so an orator will be pleased with an opportunity to make great excursions, and when he engages on champion ground, he will display all his forces so as to make an exceedingly fine appearance; but if under the necessity of unraveling the intricacies of some points of law, or placing truth in a clear light from amidst the obscurity thrown around it, he will not then ostentatiously ride about, nor will he use a shower of pointed sentences, as missive weapons; but he will carry on his operations by frustrating his enemy; by mines, by ambuscade, and by stratagem: all of which are not much to be commended while they are being used, but after they have been practised. Whence those men benefit themselves most, who seem least desirous of praise; for when the frivolous parade of eloquence has ceased its bursts of thunder among its own applauders, the more potent applause of true talents will appear in genuine splendor; the judges will not conceal the impressions which have been made on them; the sense of the learned will outweigh the opinion of ignorance: so true it is that it is the winding up of the discourse, and the success attending it, that must prove its true merit.


It was customary with the ancients to hide their eloquence; and M. Antonius advises orators so to do, in order that they may be the more believed, and that their stratagems may be less suspected. But the eloquence of those times could well be concealed, not yet having made an accession of so many luminaries as to break out through every intervening obstacle to the transmission of their light. But indeed all art and design should be kept concealed, as most things when once, discovered lose their value. In what I have hitherto spoken of, eloquence loves nothing else so much as privacy. A choice of words, weight of thought, elegance of figures, either do not exist, or they appear. But because they appear, they are not therefore to be displayed with ostentation. Or if one of the two is to be chosen, let the cause rather than the advocate be praised; still the issue will justify him, by his having pleaded excellently a very good cause. It is certain that no one else pleads so ill as he who endeavors to please, while his cause displeases; because the things by which he pleases must necessarily be foreign to his subject.

The orator ought not to be so particular and vain as not to undertake the pleading of the smaller kind of causes, as beneath him, or as if a matter of less consequence should in any respect lessen the reputation he has acquired. Duty indeed is a just motive for his undertaking them, and he should wish that his friends were never engaged in any other kind of suits, which in the main are set off with sufficient eloquence when he has spoken to the purpose.


Some are very liberal in abuse of the advocate of the opposing party, but unless he has brought it upon himself, I think it is acting very ungenerously by him, in consideration of the common duties of the profession. Add to this that these sallies of passion are of no advantage whatever to him who pleads, the opponent having, in his turn, an equal right to abuse; and they may even be harmful to the cause, because the opponent, spurred on to become a real enemy, musters together all the forces of wit to conquer if possible. Above all, that modesty is irrecoverably lost which procures for the orator so much authority and belief, if once departing from the character of a good man, he degenerates into a brawler and barker, conforming himself not to the disposition of the judge, but to the caprice and resentment of the client.

Taking liberties of this kind frequently leads the orator to hazard some rash expressions not less dangerous to the cause than to himself. Pericles was accustomed to wish, with good reason, that no word might ever enter his mind which could give umbrage to the people. But the respect he had for the people ought in my opinion to be had for all, who may have it in their power to do as much hurt; for the words that seemed strong and bold when exprest, are called foolish when they have given offense.


As every orator is remarkable for his manner, the care of one having been imputed to slowness, and the facility of another to rashness, it may not be amiss to point out here a medium. Let him come for pleading prepared with all possible care, as it must argue not only neglect, but also a wicked and treacherous disposition in him, to plead worse than he can in the cause he undertakes, therefore he should not undertake more causes than he is well able to handle.

He should say things, studied and written, in as great a degree as the subject can bear, and, as Demosthenes says, deeply engraven, if it were possible, on his memory, and as perfect as may be. This may be done at the first pleading of a cause, and when in public judgments a cause is adjourned for some time before it comes to a rehearsing. But when a direct reply is to be made, due preparations are impracticable; and even they who are not so ready find what they have written to be rather a prejudice to them if anything unexpectedly is brought forward; for it is with reluctance that they part with what they have prepared, and keeping it in mind during the whole pleading, they are forced to continually wonder if anything can be taken from it to be included in what they are obliged to speak extempore. And tho this may be done, there will still be a lack of connection, and the incoherence will be discoverable from the different coloring and inequality of style. Thus there is neither an uninterrupted fluency in what they say extempore, nor a connection between it and what they recite from memory, for which reason one must be a hindrance to the other, for the written matter will always bring to it the attention of the mind, and scarcely ever follow it. Therefore in these actions, as country-laboring men say, we must stand firmly on our legs. For, as every cause consists of proving and refuting, whatever regards the first may be written, and whatever it is certain the opponent will answer, as sometimes it is certain what he will, may be refuted with equal care and study.

Knowing the cause well is one essential point for being prepared in other respects, and listening attentively to all the opponent states, is another. Still we may previously think of many particular incidents and prepare the mind for all emergencies, this being of special advantage in speaking, the thought being thereby the more easily transmitted and transferred.

But when in answering or otherwise there may be necessity for extempore speaking, the orator will never find himself at a loss and disconcerted, who has been prepared by discipline, and study, and exercise, with the powers of facility, and who, as always under arms and ready for engaging, will no more lack a sufficient flow of speech in the pleading of causes than he does in conversation on daily and domestic occurrences; neither will he ever, for lack of coming duly prepared, decline burdening himself with a cause, if he has time to learn the state of it, for with anything else he always will be well acquainted.


The orator having distinguished himself by these perfections of eloquence at the bar, in counsels, in the assemblies of the people, in the senate, and in all the duties of a good citizen, ought to think, likewise, of making an end worthy of an honest man and the sanctity of his ministry: not that during the course of his life he ought to cease being of service to society, or that, endowed with such integrity of mind and such talent of eloquence, he can continue too long in the exercise of so noble an employment; but because it is fitting that he should guard against degrading his character, by doing anything which may fall short of what he has already done. The orator is indebted for what he is, not only to knowledge, which increases with his years, but to his voice, lungs, and strength of body; and when the latter are impaired by years, or debilitated by infirmities, it is to be feared that something might be lacking in this great man, either from his stopping short through fatigue, and out of breath at every effort, or by not making himself sufficiently heard, or, lastly, by expecting, and not finding, him to be what he formerly was.

When the orator does sound a retreat, no less ample fruits of study will attend on him. He either will write the history of his time for the instruction of posterity, or he will explain the law to those who came to ask his advice, or he will write a treatise on eloquence, or that worthy mouth of his will employ itself in inculcating the finest moral precepts. As was customary with the ancients, well-disposed youth will frequent his house, consulting him as an oracle on the true manner of speaking. As the parent of eloquence will he form them, and as an old experienced pilot will he give them an account of shores, and harbors, and what are the presages of storms, and what may be required for working the ship in contrary or favorable winds. To all this will he be induced not only by a duty of humanity common to mankind, but also by a certain pleasure in it; for no one would be glad to see an art going into decay, in which he himself excelled, and what is more laudable than to teach others that in which one is perfectly skilled?

For all I know, the happiest time in an orator's life is when he has retired from the world to devote himself to rest; and, remote from envy, and remote from strife, he looks back on his reputation, as from a harbor of safety; and while still living has a sense of that veneration which commonly awaits only the dead; thus anticipating the pleasure of the noble impression posterity will conceive of him. I am conscious that to the extent of my poor ability, whatever I knew before, and whatever I could collect for the service of this work, I have candidly and ingenuously made a communication of, for the instruction of those who might be willing to reap any advantage from it: and it is enough for an honest man to have taught what he knows.

To be good men, which is the first and most important thing, consists chiefly in the will, and whoever has a sincere desire to be a man of integrity, will easily learn the arts that teach virtue; and these arts are not involved in so many perplexities, neither are they of such great number, as not to be learned by a few years' application. The ordering of an upright and happy life is attainable by an easy and compendious method, when inclination is not lacking. Nature begot us with the best dispositions, and it is so easy to the well-inclined to learn that which is good, that we can not help being surprized, on making a due estimate of things, how there can be so many bad persons in the world. For, as water is naturally a proper element for fish, dry land for quadrupeds, and air for birds, so indeed it ought to be more easy to live according to the prescript of nature than to infringe her laws.

As to the rest, tho we might measure our age, not by the space of more advanced years, but by the time of youth, we should find that we had quite years enough for learning, all things being made shorter by order, method, and the manner of application. To bring the matter home to our oratorical studies, of what significance is the custom which I see kept up by many, of declaiming so many years in schools, and of expending so much labor on imaginary subjects, when in a moderate time the rules of eloquence may be learned, and pursuant to their directions, a real image framed of the contests at the bar? By this I do not mean to hint in the least that exercises for speaking should ever be discontinued, but rather that none should grow old in any one particular exercise for that purpose, for we may require the knowledge of many sciences, and learn the precepts of morality, and exercise ourselves in such causes as are agitated at the bar, even while we continue in the state of scholars. And indeed the art of oratory is such as need not require many years for learning it. Each of the arts I have mentioned may be abridged into few books, there being no occasion to consider them so minutely and so much in detail. Practise remains, which soon makes us well skilled in them. Knowledge of things is increasing daily, and yet books are not so many; it is necessary to read in order to acquire this knowledge, of which either examples as to the things themselves may be met with in history, or the eloquent expression of them may be found in orators. It is also necessary that we should read the opinions of philosophers and lawyers, with some other things deserving of notice.


All this indeed may be compassed, but we ourselves are the cause of our not having time enough. How small a portion of it do we allot to our studies! A good part of it is spent in frivolous compliments and paying and returning visits, a good part of it is taken up in the telling of idle stories, a good part at the public spectacles, and a good part in the pleasures of the table. Add to these our great variety of amusements, and that extravagant indulgence we bestow upon our bodies. One time we must go on a course of travels, another time we wish recreation amidst the pleasures of rural life, and another time we are full of painful solicitude regarding the state of our fortune, calculating and balancing our loss and gain; and together with these, how often do we give ourselves up to the intoxication of wine, and in what a multiplicity of voluptuousness does our profligate mind suffer itself to be immersed? Should there be an interval for study amidst these avocations, can it be said to be proper? But were we to devote all this idle or ill-spent time to study, should we not find life long enough and time more than enough for becoming learned? This is evident by only computing the time of the day, besides the advantages of the night, of which a good part is more than sufficient for sleep. But we now preposterously compute not the years we have studied, but the years we have lived. Tho geometricians and grammarians, and the professors of other arts, spent all their lives, however long, in treating and discussing their respective arts, does it thence follow that we must have as many lives as there are things to be learned? But they did not extend the learning of them to old age, being content with learning them only, and they spent so many years not so much in their study as in their practise.

Now, tho one should despair of reaching to the height of perfection, a groundless hope even in a person of genius, health, talent, and with masters to assist him; yet it is noble, as Cicero says, to have a place in the second, or third, rank. He who can not rival the glory of Achilles in military exploits, shall not therefore have a mean opinion of the praise due to Ajax, or Diomedes, and he who can not approach Homer, need not despise the fame of Tyrteus. If men were to yield to the thought of imagining none capable of exceeding such eminent persons as went before them, then they even who are deemed excellent would not have been so. Vergil would not have excelled Lucretius and Macer; nor Cicero, Crassus and Hortensius; and no one for the future would pretend to any advantage over his predecessor.

Tho the hope of surpassing these great men be but faint, yet it is an honor to follow them. Have Pollio and Messala, who began to appear at the bar when Cicero was already possest of the empire of eloquence, acquired little dignity in their life-time, and left but a small degree of glory for the remembrance of posterity? True it is that arts brought to perfection would deserve very ill of human affairs if afterward they could not at least be kept to the same standard.


Add to this that a moderate share of eloquence is attended with no small advantage, and if measured by the fruits gathered from it, will almost be on a par with that which is perfect. It would be no difficult matter to show from many ancient or modern examples that no other profession acquires for men, greater honors, wealth, friendship, present and future glory, were it not degrading to the honor of letters to divert the mind from the contemplation of the most noble object, the study and possession of which is such a source of contentment, and fix it on the less momentous rewards it may have, not unlike those who say they do not so much seek virtue as the pleasure resulting from it.

Let us therefore with all the zealous impulses of our heart endeavor to attain the very majesty of eloquence, than which the immortal gods have not imparted anything better to mankind, and without which all would be mute in nature, and destitute of the splendor of a perfect glory and future remembrance. Let us likewise always make continued progress toward perfection, and by so doing we shall either reach the height, or at least shall see many beneath us.

This is all, as far as in me lies, I could contribute to the promoting and perfecting of the art of eloquence; the knowledge of which, if it does not prove of any great advantage to studious youth, will, at least, what I more heartily wish for, give them a more ardent desire for doing well.

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