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Cicero

Roman Statesman

106-43 B.C.

A selection from
THE ORATOR

Narrated by Barrett Whitener

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We now proceed to delineate the form and character of each of the three species of Eloquence.

The first character to be described, is the Orator who, according to some, is the only one that has any just pretensions to _Atticism_. He is distinguished by his modest simplicity; and as he imitates the language of conversation, he differs from those who are strangers to Eloquence,rather in reality than in appearance. For this reason, those who hear him,though totally unskilled in the art of Speaking, are apt to persuade themselves that they can readily discourse in the same manner

His language, therefore, must befree and unconfined, but not loose and irregular, that he may appear towalk at ease, without reeling or tottering. He will not be at the pains to cement word to word with a scrupulous exactness: for those breaks which are made by a collision of vowels, have now and then an agreeable effect, and betray the not unpleasing negligence of a man who is more felicitous about things than words.

But though he is not to labour at a measured flow, and a masterly arrangement of his words, he must be careful in other respects. For even these limited and unaspiring talents are not to be employed carelessly, but with a kind of industrious negligence: for as some females are most becoming in a dishabille, so this artless kind of Eloquence has her charms, though she appears in an undress. There is something in both which renders them agreeable, without striking the eye. Here, therefore, all the glitter of ornament, like that of jewels and diamonds, must be laid aside; nor must we apply even the crisping-iron to adjust the hair. There must be no colouring, no artful washes to heighten the complexion: but elegance and neatness must be our only aim. Our style muft be pure, and correct;—we must speak with clearness and perspicuity; —and be always attentive to appear in character. There is one thing, however, which must never be omitted, and which is to be one of the chief beauties of composition;—I mean thatsweet and flowing ornament, a plentiful intermixture of lively sentiments,which seem to result from a natural fund of good sense, and are peculiarlygraceful in the Orator we are now describing.

The Orator who is distinguished by the simplicity of his manner, provided he is correct and elegant, will be sparing in the use of new words; easy and modest in his metaphors; and very cautious in the use of words which are antiquated;—and as to the other ornaments of language and sentiment, here also he will be equally plain and reserved. But in the use of metaphors, he will, perhaps, take greater liberties; because these are frequently introduced in conversation, not only by Gentlemen, but even by rustics, and peasants: for we often hear them say that the vine _shoots out_ it's buds, that the fields are _thirsty_, the corn _lively_, and the grain _rich_ and flourishing. Such expressions, indeed, are rather bold: but the resemblance between the metaphor and the object is either remarkably obvious; or else, when the latter has no proper name to express it, the metaphor is so far from appearing to be laboured, that we seem to use it merely to explain our meaning. This, therefore, is an ornament in which our artless Orator may indulge himself more freely; but not so openly as in the more diffusive and lofty species of Eloquence. For that _indecorum_, which is best understood by comparing it with its opposite quality, will even here be viable when a metaphor is too conspicuous;—or when this simple and dispassionate sort of language is interrupted by a bold ornament, which would have been proper enough in a different kind of Elocution.

This kind of Oratory will be frequently enlivened by those turns of wit and pleasantry, which in Speaking have a much greater effect than is imagined. There are two sorts of them; the one consisting in smart sayings and quick repartees, and the other in what is called _humour_. Our Orator will make use of both;—of the latter in his narratives, to make them lively and entertaining;—and of the other, either in giving or retorting a stroke of ridicule, of which there are several kinds; but at present it is not our business to specify them. It will not be amiss, however, to observe by way of caution, that the powers of _ridicule_ are not to be employed too often, lest we sink into scurrility;—nor in loose and indecent language, lest we degenerate into wantonness and buffoonery; —nor with the least degree of petulance and abuse, lest we appear audacious and ill-bred;—nor levelled against the unfortunate, lest we incur the censure of inhumanity;—nor against atrocious crimes, lest we raise a laugh where we ought to excite abhorrence;—nor, in the last place, should they be used unseasonably, or when the characters either of the Speaker, or the Hearer, and the circumstances of time and place forbid it;—otherwise we should grossly fail in that decorum of which we have already said so much. We should likewise avoid all affected witticisms, which appear not to be thrown out occasionally, but to be dragged from the closet; for such are generally cold and insipid. It is also improper to jest upon our friends, or upon persons of quality, or to give any strokes of wit which may appear ill-natured, or malicious. We should aim only at our enemies; and even at these, not upon every occasion, or without any distinction of character, or with the same invariable turn of ridicule. Under these restrictions our artless Orator will play off his wit and humour, as I have never seen it done by any of the modern pretenders.

But there is a second character, which is more diffusive, and somewhat stronger than the simple and artless, one we have been describing,—though considerably inferior to that copious and all-commanding Eloquence we shall notice in the sequel. In this, though there is but a moderate exertion of the nerves and sinews of Oratory, there is abundance of melody and sweetness. It is much fuller and richer than the close and accurate style above-mentioned; but less elevated than the pompous and diffusive. In _this_ all the ornaments of language may be employed without reserve; and _here_ the flow of our numbers is ever soft and harmonious.

This species of Eloquence (I mean the _middling_, or temperate) is embellished with all the brilliant figures of language, and many of the figures of sentiment. By this, moreover, the most extensive and refined topics of science are handsomely unfolded, and all the weapons of argument are employed without violence. But what need have I to say more? Such Speakers are the common offspring of Philosophy; and were the nervous, and more striking Orator to keep out of sight, these alone would fully answer our wishes. For they are masters of a brilliant, a florid, a picturesque, and a well-wrought Elocution, which is interwoven with all the beautiful embroidery both of language and sentiment. This character first streamed from the limpid fountains of the _Sophists_ into the Forum; but being afterwards despised by the more simple and refined kind of Speakers, and disdainfully rejected by the nervous and weighty; it was compelled to subside into the peaceful and unaspiring mediocrity we are speaking of.

The _third character_ is the extensive,—the copious,—the nervous,—the majestic Orator, who possesses the powers of Elocution in their full extent. _This_ is the man whose enchanting and diffusive language is so much admired by listening nations, that they have tamely suffered Eloquence to rule the world;—but an Eloquence whose course is rapid and sonorous!—an Eloquence which every one gazes at, and admires, and despairs to equal! This is the Eloquence that bends and sways the passions!—_this_ the Eloquence that alarms or sooths them at her pleasure! This is the Eloquence that sometimes tears up all before it like a whirlwind; and, at other times, steals imperceptibly upon the senses, and probes to the bottom of the heart!—the Eloquence which ingrafts opinions that are new, and eradicates the old; but yet is widely different from the two characters of Speaking before-mentioned.

He who exerts himself in the simple and accurate character, and speaks neatly and smartly without aiming any higher!—_he_, by this alone, if carried to perfection, becomes a great, if not the greatest of Orators; nor does he walk upon slippery ground, so that if he has but learned to tread firm, he is in no danger of falling. Also the middle kind of Orator, who is distinguished by his equability, provided he only draws up his forces to advantage, fears not the perilous and doubtful hazards of a public Harangue; and, though sometimes he may not succeed to his wishes, yet he is never exposed to an absolute defeat; for as he never soars, his fall must be inconsiderable. But the Orator, whom we regard as the prince of his profession,—the nervous,—the fierce,—the flaming Orator, if he is born for this alone, and only practices and applies himself to this, without tempering his copiousness with the two inferior characters of Eloquence, is of all others the most contemptible. For the plain and simple Orator, as speaking acutely and expertly, has an appearance of wisdom and good-sense; and the middle kind of Orator is sufficiently recommended by his sweetness:—but the copious and diffusive Speaker, if he has no other qualification, will scarcely appear to be in his senses. For he who can say nothing calmly,—nothing gently—nothing methodically, —nothing clearly, distinctly, or humourously, (though a number of causes should be so managed throughout, and others in one or more of their parts:)—he, moreover, who proceeds to amplify and exaggerate without preparing the attention of his audience, will appear to rave before men of understanding, and to vapour like a person intoxicated before the sober and sedate.

He then is truly an _Orator_, (I again repeat it,) who can speak upon trivial subjects with simplicity, upon indifferent ones with moderation, and upon weighty subjects with energy and pathos.

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