THE WORKS OF CORNELIUS TACITUS;
AN ESSAY ON HIS LIFE AND GENIUS, NOTES, SUPPLEMENTS, &c.
BY ARTHUR MURPHY, ESQ.
Praecipuum munus annalium reor, ne virtutes sileantur, utque pravis dictis factisque ex posteritate et infamia metus sit. TACITUS, Annales, iii. s. 65.
A NEW EDITION, WITH THE AUTHOR'S LAST CORRECTIONS.
IN EIGHT VOLUMES.
LONDON: PRINTED FOR JOHN STOCKDALE; F.C. AND J. RIVINGTON; J. WALKER; R. LEA; LONGMAN, HURST, REES, ORME, AND BROWN; CADELL AND DAVIES; J. MAWMAN; J. MURRAY; J. RICHARDSON; R. BALDWIN; AND J. FAULDER.
A DIALOGUE CONCERNING ORATORY,
OR THE CAUSES OF CORRUPT ELOQUENCE.
I. General introduction, with the reasons for writing an account of the following discourse.
II. The persons engaged in the dialogue; at first, Curiatius Maternus, Julius Secundus, and Marcus Aper.
III. Secundus endeavours to dissuade Maternus from thinking any more of dramatic composition.
IV. Maternus gives his reasons for persisting.
V. Aper condemns his resolution, and, in point of utility, real happiness, fame and dignity, contends that the oratorical profession is preferable to the poetical.
VIII. He cites the example of Eprius Marcellus and Crispus Vibius, who raised themselves by their eloquence to the highest honours.
IX. Poetical fame brings with it no advantage.
X. He exhorts Maternus to relinquish the muses, and devote his whole to eloquence and the business of the bar.
XI. Maternus defends his favourite studies; the pleasures arising from poetry are in their nature innocent and sublime; the fame is extensive and immortal. The poet enjoys the most delightful intercourse with his friends, whereas the life of the public orator is a state of warfare and anxiety.
XIV. Vipstanius Messala enters the room. He finds his friends engaged in a controversy, and being an admirer of ancient eloquence, he advises Aper to adopt the model of the ancients in preference to the plan of the modern rhetoricians.
XV. Hence a difference of opinion concerning the merit of the ancients and the moderns. Messala, Secundus, and Maternus, profess themselves admirers of the oratory that flourished in the time of the republic. Aper launches out against the ancients, and gives the preference to the advocates of his own time. He desires to know who are to be accounted ancients.
XVIII. Eloquence has various modes, all changing with the conjuncture of the times. But it is the nature of men to praise the past, and censure the present. The period when Cassius Severus flourished, is stated to be the point of time at which men cease to be ancients; Cassius with good reason deviated from the ancient manner.
XX. Defects of ancient eloquence: the modern style more refined and elegant.
XXI. The character of Calvus, Caelius, Caesar and Brutus, and also of Asinius Pollio, and Messala Corvinus.
XXII. The praise and censure of Cicero.
XXIII. The true rhetorical art consists in blending the virtues of ancient oratory with the beauties of the modern style.
XXIV. Maternus observes that there can be no dispute about the superior reputation of the ancient orators: he therefore calls upon Messala to take that point for granted, and proceed to an enquiry into the causes that produced so great an alteration.
XXV. After some observations on the eloquence of Calvus, Asinius Pollio, Caesar, Cicero, and others, Messala praises Gracchus and Lucius Crassus, but censures Maecenas, Gallio, and Cassius Severus.
XXVII. Maternus reminds Messala of the true point in question; Messala proceeds to assign the causes which occasioned the decay of eloquence, such as the dissipation of the young men, the inattention of their parents, the ignorance of rhetorical professors, and the total neglect of ancient discipline.
XXXIV. He proceeds to explain the plan of study, and the institutions, customs, and various arts, by which orators were formed in the time of the republic.
XXXV. The defects and vices in the new system of education. In this part of the dialogue, the sequel of Messala's discourse is lost, with the whole of what was said by Secundus, and the beginning of Maternus: the supplement goes on from this place, distinguished by inverted commas [transcriber's note: not used], and the sections marked with numerical figures.
1. Messala describes the presumption of the young advocates on their first appearance at the bar; their want of legal knowledge, and the absurd habits which they contracted in the schools of the rhetoricians.
2. Eloquence totally ruined by the preceptors. Messala concludes with desiring Secundus and Maternus to assign the reasons which have occurred to them.
4. Secundus gives his opinion. The change of government produced a new mode of eloquence. The orators under the emperors endeavoured to be ingenious rather than natural. Seneca the first who introduced a false taste, which still prevailed in the reign of Vespasian.
8. Licinius Largus taught the advocates of his time the disgraceful art of hiring applauders by profession. This was the bane of all true oratory, and, for that reason, Maternus was right in renouncing the forum altogether.
10. Maternus acknowledges that he was disgusted by the shameful practices that prevailed at the bar, and therefore resolved to devote the rest of his time to poetry and the muses.
11. An apology for the rhetoricians. The praise of Quintilian. True eloquence died with Cicero.
13. The loss of liberty was the ruin of genuine oratory. Demosthenes flourished under a free government. The original goes on from this place to the end of the dialogue.
XXXVI. Eloquence flourishes most in times of public tumult. The crimes of turbulent citizens supply the orator with his best materials.
XXXVII. In the time of the republic, oratorical talents were necessary qualifications, and without them no man was deemed worthy of being advanced to the magistracy.
XXXVIII. The Roman orators were not confined in point of time; they might extend their speeches to what length they thought proper, and could even adjourn. Pompey abridged the liberty of speech, and limited the time.
XXXIX. The very dress of the advocates under the emperors was prejudicial to eloquence.
XL. True eloquence springs from the vices of men, and never was known to exist under a calm and settled government.
XLI. Eloquence changes with the times. Every age has its own peculiar advantages, and invidious comparisons are unnecessary.
XLII. Conclusion of the dialogue.
The time of this dialogue was the sixth of Vespasian's reign.
Year of Rome—Of Christ Consuls.
828 75 Vespasian, 6th time; Titus his son, 4th time.
A DIALOGUE CONCERNING ORATORY, OR THE CAUSES OF CORRUPT ELOQUENCE.
I. You have often enquired of me, my good friend, Justus Fabius [a], how and from what causes it has proceeded, that while ancient times display a race of great and splendid orators, the present age, dispirited, and without any claim to the praise of eloquence, has scarcely retained the name of an orator. By that appellation we now distinguish none but those who flourished in a former period. To the eminent of the present day, we give the title of speakers, pleaders, advocates, patrons, in short, every thing but orators.
The enquiry is in its nature delicate; tending, if we are not able to contend with antiquity, to impeach our genius, and if we are not willing, to arraign our judgement. An answer to so nice a question is more than I should venture to undertake, were I to rely altogether upon myself: but it happens, that I am able to state the sentiments of men distinguished by their eloquence, such as it is in modern times; having, in the early part of my life, been present at their conversation on the very subject now before us. What I have to offer, will not be the result of my own thinking: it is the work of memory only; a mere recital of what fell from the most celebrated orators of their time: a set of men, who thought with subtilty, and expressed themselves with energy and precision; each, in his turn, assigning different but probable causes, at times insisting on the same, and, in the course of the debate, maintaining his own proper character, and the peculiar cast of his mind. What they said upon the occasion, I shall relate, as nearly as may be, in the style and manner of the several speakers, observing always the regular course and order of the controversy. For a controversy it certainly was, where the speakers of the present age did not want an advocate, who supported their cause with zeal, and, after treating antiquity with sufficient freedom, and even derision, assigned the palm of eloquence to the practisers of modern times.
II. Curiatius Maternus [a] gave a public reading of his tragedy of Cato. On the following day a report prevailed, that the piece had given umbrage to the men in power. The author, it was said, had laboured to display his favourite character in the brightest colours; anxious for the fame of his hero, but regardless of himself. This soon became the topic of public conversation. Maternus received a visit from Marcus Aper [b] and Julius Secundus [c], both men of genius, and the first ornaments of the forum. I was, at that time, a constant attendant on those eminent men. I heard them, not only in their scenes of public business, but, feeling an inclination to the same studies, I followed them with all the ardour of youthful emulation. I was admitted to their private parties; I heard their debates, and the amusement of their social hours: I treasured up their wit, and their sentiments on the various topics which they had discussed in conversation. Respected as they were, it must, however, be acknowledged that they did not escape the malignity of criticism. It was objected to Secundus, that he had no command of words, no flow of language; and to Aper, that he was indebted for his fame, not to art or literature, but to the natural powers of a vigorous understanding. The truth is, the style of the former was remarkable for its purity; concise, yet free and copious; and the latter was sufficiently versed in all branches of general erudition. It might be said of him, that he despised literature, not that he wanted it. He thought, perhaps, that, by scorning the aid of letters, and by drawing altogether from his own fund, his fame would stand on a more solid foundation.
III. We went together to pay our visit to Maternus. Upon entering his study, we found him with the tragedy, which he had read on the preceding day, lying before him. Secundus began: And are you then so little affected by the censure of malignant critics, as to persist in cherishing a tragedy which has given so much offence? Perhaps you are revising the piece, and, after retrenching certain passages, intend to send your Cato into the world, I will not say improved, but certainly less obnoxious. There lies the poem, said Maternus; you may, if you think proper, peruse it with all its imperfections on its head. If Cato has omitted any thing, Thyestes [a], at my next reading, shall atone for all deficiencies. I have formed the fable of a tragedy on that subject: the plan is warm in my imagination, and, that I may give my whole time to it, I now am eager to dispatch an edition of Cato. Marcus Aper interposed: And are you, indeed, so enamoured of your dramatic muse, as to renounce your oratorical character, and the honours of your profession, in order to sacrifice your time, I think it was lately to Medea, and now to Thyestes? Your friends, in the mean time, expect your patronage; the colonies [b] invoke your aid, and the municipal cities invite you to the bar. And surely the weight of so many causes may be deemed sufficient, without this new solicitude imposed upon you by Domitius [c] or Cato. And must you thus waste all your time, amusing yourself for ever with scenes of fictitious distress, and still labouring to add to the fables of Greece the incidents and characters of the Roman story?
IV. The sharpness of that reproof, replied Maternus, would, perhaps, have disconcerted me, if, by frequent repetition, it had not lost its sting. To differ on this subject is grown familiar to us both. Poetry, it seems, is to expect no quarter: you wage an incessant war against the followers of that pleasing art; and I, who am charged with deserting my clients, have yet every day the cause of poetry to defend. But we have now a fair opportunity, and I embrace it with pleasure, since we have a person present, of ability to decide between us; a judge, who will either lay me under an injunction to write no more verses, or, as I rather hope, encourage me, by his authority, to renounce for ever the dry employment of forensic causes (in which I have had my share of drudgery), that I may, for the future, be at leisure to cultivate the sublime and sacred eloquence of the tragic muse.
V. Secundus desired to be heard: I am aware, he said, that Aper may refuse me as an umpire. Before he states his objections, let me follow the example of all fair and upright judges, who, in particular cases, when they feel a partiality for one of the contending parties, desire to be excused from hearing the cause. The friendship and habitual intercourse, which I have ever cultivated with Saleius Bassus [a], that excellent man, and no less excellent poet, are well known: and let me add, if poetry is to be arraigned, I know no client that can offer such handsome bribes.
My business, replied Aper, is not with Saleius Bassus: let him, and all of his description, who, without talents for the bar, devote their time to the muses, pursue their favourite amusement without interruption. But Maternus must not think to escape in the crowd. I single him out from the rest, and since we are now before a competent judge, I call upon him to answer, how it happens, that a man of his talents, formed by nature to reach the heights of manly eloquence, can think of renouncing a profession, which not only serves to multiply friendships, but to support them with reputation: a profession, which enables us to conciliate the esteem of foreign nations, and (if we regard our own interest) lays open the road to the first honours of the state; a profession, which, besides the celebrity that it gives within the walls of Rome, spreads an illustrious name throughout this wide extent of the empire.
If it be wisdom to make the ornament and happiness of life the end and aim of our actions, what can be more advisable than to embrace an art, by which we are enabled to protect our friends; to defend the cause of strangers; and succour the distressed? Nor is this all: the eminent orator is a terror to his enemies: envy and malice tremble, while they hate him. Secure in his own strength, he knows how to ward off every danger. His own genius is his protection; a perpetual guard, that watches him; an invincible power, that shields him from his enemies.
In the calm seasons of life, the true use of oratory consists in the assistance which it affords to our fellow-citizens. We then behold the triumph of eloquence. Have we reason to be alarmed for ourselves, the sword and breast-plate are not a better defence in the heat of battle. It is at once a buckler to cover yourself [b] and a weapon to brandish against your enemy. Armed with this, you may appear with courage before the tribunals of justice, in the senate, and even in the presence of the prince. We lately saw [c] Eprius Marcellus arraigned before the fathers: in that moment, when the minds of the whole assembly were inflamed against him, what had he to oppose to the vehemence of his enemies, but that nervous eloquence which he possessed in so eminent a degree? Collected in himself, and looking terror to his enemies, he was more than a match for Helvidius Priscus; a man, no doubt, of consummate wisdom, but without that flow of eloquence, which springs from practice, and that skill in argument, which is necessary to manage a public debate. Such is the advantage of oratory: to enlarge upon it were superfluous. My friend Maternus will not dispute the point.
VI. I proceed to the pleasure arising from the exercise of eloquence; a pleasure which does not consist in the mere sensation of the moment, but is felt through life, repeated every day, and almost every hour. For let me ask, to a man of an ingenuous and liberal mind, who knows the relish of elegant enjoyments, what can yield such true delight, as a concourse of the most respectable characters crowding to his levee? How must it enhance his pleasure, when he reflects, that the visit is not paid to him because he is rich, and wants an heir [a], or is in possession of a public office, but purely as a compliment to superior talents, a mark of respect to a great and accomplished orator! The rich who have no issue, and the men in high rank and power, are his followers. Though he is still young, and probably destitute of fortune, all concur in paying their court to solicit his patronage for themselves, or to recommend their friends to his protection. In the most splendid fortune, in all the dignity and pride of power, is there any thing that can equal the heartfelt satisfaction of the able advocate, when he sees the most illustrious citizens, men respected for their years, and flourishing in the opinion of the public, yet paying their court to a rising genius, and, in the midst of wealth and grandeur, fairly owning, that they still want something superior to all their possessions? What shall be said of the attendants, that follow the young orator from the bar, and watch his motions to his own house? With what importance does he appear to the multitude! in the courts of judicature, with what veneration! When he rises to speak, the audience is hushed in mute attention; every eye is fixed on him alone; the crowd presses round him; he is master of their passions; they are swayed, impelled, directed, as he thinks proper. These are the fruits of eloquence, well known to all, and palpable to every common observer.
There are other pleasures more refined and secret, felt only by the initiated. When the orator, upon some great occasion, comes with a well-digested speech, conscious of his matter, and animated by his subject, his breast expands, and heaves with emotions unfelt before. In his joy there is a dignity suited to the weight and energy of the composition which he has prepared. Does he rise to hazard himself [b] in a sudden debate; he is alarmed for himself, but in that very alarm there is a mingle of pleasure, which predominates, till distress itself becomes delightful. The mind exults in the prompt exertion of its powers, and even glories in its rashness. The productions of genius, and those of the field, have this resemblance: many things are sown, and brought to maturity with toil and care; yet that, which grows from the wild vigour of nature, has the most grateful flavour.
VII. As to myself, if I may allude to my own feelings, the day on which I put on the manly gown [a], and even the days that followed, when, as a new man at Rome, born in a city that did not favour my pretensions [b], I rose in succession to the offices of quaestor, tribune, and praetor; those days, I say, did not awaken in my breast such exalted rapture, as when, in the course of my profession, I was called forth, with such talents as have fallen to my share, to defend the accused; to argue a question of law before the centumviri [c], or, in the presence of the prince, to plead for his freedmen, and the procurators appointed by himself. Upon those occasions I towered above all places of profit, and all preferment; I looked down on the dignities of tribune, praetor, and consul; I felt within myself, what neither the favour of the great, nor the wills and codicils [d] of the rich, can give, a vigour of mind, an inward energy, that springs from no external cause, but is altogether your own.
Look through the circle of the fine arts, survey the whole compass of the sciences, and tell me in what branch can the professors acquire a name to vie with the celebrity of a great and powerful orator. His fame does not depend on the opinion of thinking men, who attend to business and watch the administration of affairs; he is applauded by the youth of Rome, at least by such of them as are of a well-turned disposition, and hope to rise by honourable means. The eminent orator is the model which every parent recommends to his children. Even the common people [e] stand at gaze, as he passes by; they pronounce his name with pleasure, and point at him as the object of their admiration. The provinces resound with his praise. The strangers, who arrive from all parts, have heard of his genius; they wish to behold the man, and their curiosity is never at rest, till they have seen his person, and perused his countenance.
VIII. I have already mentioned Eprius Marcellus and Crispus Vibius [a]. I cite living examples, in preference to the names of a former day. Those two illustrious persons, I will be bold to say, are not less known in the remotest parts of the empire, than they are at Capua, or Vercellae [b], where, we are told, they both were born. And to what is their extensive fame to be attributed? Not surely to their immoderate riches. Three hundred thousand sesterces cannot give the fame of genius. Their eloquence may be said to have built up their fortunes; and, indeed, such is the power, I might say the inspiration, of eloquence, that in every age we have examples of men, who by their talents raised themselves to the summit of their ambition.
But I waive all former instances. The two, whom I have mentioned, are not recorded in history, nor are we to glean an imperfect knowledge of them from tradition; they are every day before our eyes. They have risen from low beginnings; but the more abject their origin, and the more sordid the poverty, in which they set out, their success rises in proportion, and affords a striking proof of what I have advanced; since it is apparent, that, without birth or fortune, neither of them recommended by his moral character, and one of them deformed in his person, they have, notwithstanding all disadvantages, made themselves, for a series of years, the first men in the state. They began their career in the forum, and, as long as they chose to pursue that road of ambition, they flourished in the highest reputation; they are now at the head of the commonwealth, the ministers who direct and govern, and so high in favour with the prince, that the respect, with which he receives them, is little short of veneration.
The truth is, Vespasian [c], now in the vale of years, but always open to the voice of truth, clearly sees that the rest of his favourites derive all their lustre from the favours, which his munificence has bestowed; but with Marcellus and Crispus the case is different: they carry into the cabinet, what no prince can give, and no subject can receive. Compared with the advantages which those men possess, what are family-pictures, statues, busts, and titles of honour? They are things of a perishable nature, yet not without their value. Marcellus and Vibius know how to estimate them, as they do wealth and honours; and wealth and honours are advantages against which you will easily find men that declaim, but none that in their hearts despise them. Hence it is, that in the houses of all who have distinguished themselves in the career of eloquence, we see titles, statues, and splendid ornaments, the reward of talents, and, at all times, the decorations of the great and powerful orator.
IX. But to come to the point, from which we started: poetry, to which my friend Maternus wishes to dedicate all his time, has none of these advantages. It confers no dignity, nor does it serve any useful purpose. It is attended with some pleasure, but it is the pleasure of a moment, springing from vain applause, and bringing with it no solid advantage. What I have said, and am going to add, may probably, my good friend Maternus, be unwelcome to your ear; and yet I must take the liberty to ask you, if Agamemnon [a] or Jason speaks in your piece with dignity of language, what useful consequence follows from it? What client has been defended? Who confesses an obligation? In that whole audience, who returns to his own house with a grateful heart? Our friend Saleius Bassus [b] is, beyond all question, a poet of eminence, or, to use a warmer expression, he has the god within him: but who attends his levee? who seeks his patronage, or follows in his train? Should he himself, or his intimate friend, or his near relation, happen to be involved in a troublesome litigation, what course do you imagine he would take? He would, most probably, apply to his friend, Secundus; or to you, Maternus; not because you are a poet, nor yet to obtain a copy of verses from you; of those he has a sufficient stock at home, elegant, it must be owned, and exquisite in the kind. But after all his labour and waste of genius, what is his reward?
When in the course of a year, after toiling day and night, he has brought a single poem to perfection, he is obliged to solicit his friends and exert his interest, in order to bring together an audience [c], so obliging as to hear a recital of the piece. Nor can this be done without expence. A room must be hired, a stage or pulpit must be erected; benches must be arranged, and hand-bills distributed throughout the city. What if the reading succeeds to the height of his wishes? Pass but a day or two, and the whole harvest of praise and admiration fades away, like a flower that withers in its bloom, and never ripens into fruit. By the event, however flattering, he gains no friend, he obtains no patronage, nor does a single person go away impressed with the idea of an obligation conferred upon him. The poet has been heard with applause; he has been received with acclamations; and he has enjoyed a short-lived transport.
Bassus, it is true, has lately received from Vespasian a present of fifty thousand sesterces. Upon that occasion, we all admired the generosity of the prince. To deserve so distinguished a proof of the sovereign's esteem is, no doubt, highly honourable; but is it not still more honourable, if your circumstances require it, to serve yourself by your talents? to cultivate your genius, for your own advantage? and to owe every thing to your own industry, indebted to the bounty of no man whatever? It must not be forgotten, that the poet, who would produce any thing truly excellent in the kind, must bid farewell to the conversation of his friends; he must renounce, not only the pleasures of Rome, but also the duties of social life; he must retire from the world; as the poets say, "to groves and grottos every muse's son." In other words, he must condemn himself to a sequestered life in the gloom of solitude.
X. The love of fame, it seems, is the passion that inspires the poet's genius: but even in this respect, is he so amply paid as to rival in any degree the professors of the persuasive arts? As to the indifferent poet, men leave him to his own [a] mediocrity: the real genius moves in a narrow circle. Let there be a reading of a poem by the ablest master of his art: will the fame of his performance reach all quarters, I will not say of the empire, but of Rome only? Among the strangers who arrive from Spain, from Asia, or from Gaul, who enquires [b] after Saleius Bassus? Should it happen that there is one, who thinks, of him; his curiosity is soon satisfied; he passes on, content with a transient view, as if he had seen a picture or a statue.
In what I have advanced, let me not be misunderstood: I do not mean to deter such as are not blessed with the gift of oratory, from the practice of their favourite art, if it serves to fill up their time, and gain a degree of reputation. I am an admirer of eloquence [c]; I hold it venerable, and even sacred, in all its shapes, and every mode of composition. The pathetic of tragedy, of which you, Maternus, are so great a master; the majesty of the epic, the gaiety of the lyric muse; the wanton elegy, the keen iambic, and the pointed epigram; all have their charms; and Eloquence, whatever may be the subject which she chooses to adorn, is with me the sublimest faculty, the queen of all the arts and sciences. But this, Maternus, is no apology for you, whose conduct is so extraordinary, that, though formed by nature to reach the summit of perfection [d], you choose to wander into devious paths, and rest contented with an humble station in the vale beneath.
Were you a native of Greece, where to exhibit in the public games [e] is an honourable employment; and if the gods had bestowed upon you the force and sinew of the athletic Nicostratus [f]; do you imagine that I could look tamely on, and see that amazing vigour waste itself away in nothing better than the frivolous art of darting the javelin, or throwing the coit? To drop the allusion, I summon you from the theatre and public recitals to the business of the forum, to the tribunals of justice, to scenes of real contention, to a conflict worthy of your abilities. You cannot decline the challenge, for you are left without an excuse. You cannot say, with a number of others, that the profession of poetry is safer than that of the public orator; since you have ventured, in a tragedy written with spirit, to display the ardour of a bold and towering genius.
And for whom have you provoked so many enemies? Not for a friend; that would have had alleviating circumstances. You undertook the cause of Cato, and for him committed yourself. You cannot plead, by way of apology, the duty of an advocate, or the sudden effusion of sentiment in the heat and hurry of an unpremeditated speech. Your plan was settled; a great historical personage was your hero, and you chose him, because what falls from so distinguished a character, falls from a height that gives it additional weight. I am aware of your answer: you will say, it was that very circumstance that ensured the success of your piece; the sentiments were received with sympathetic rapture: the room echoed with applause, and hence your fame throughout the city of Rome. Then let us hear no more of your love of quiet and a state of security: you have voluntarily courted danger. For myself, I am content with controversies of a private nature, and the incidents of the present day. If, hurried beyond the bounds of prudence, I should happen, on any occasion, to grate the ears of men in power, the zeal of an advocate, in the service of his client, will excuse the honest freedom of speech, and, perhaps, be deemed a proof of integrity.
XI. Aper went through his argument, according to his custom, with warmth and vehemence. He delivered the whole with a peremptory tone and an eager eye. As soon as he finished, I am prepared, said Maternus smiling, to exhibit a charge against the professors of oratory, which may, perhaps, counterbalance the praise so lavishly bestowed upon them by my friend. In the course of what he said, I was not surprised to see him going out of his way, to lay poor poetry prostrate at his feet. He has, indeed, shewn some kindness to such as are not blessed with oratorical talents. He has passed an act of indulgence in their favour, and they, it seems, are allowed to pursue their favourite studies. For my part, I will not say that I think myself wholly unqualified for the eloquence of the bar. It may be true, that I have some kind of talent for that profession; but the tragic muse affords superior pleasure. My first attempt was in the reign of Nero, in opposition to the extravagant claims of the prince [a], and in defiance of the domineering spirit of Vatinius [b], that pernicious favourite, by whose coarse buffoonery the muses were every day disgraced, I might say, most impiously prophaned. The portion of fame, whatever it be, that I have acquired since that time, is to be attributed, not to the speeches which I made in the forum, but to the power of dramatic composition. I have, therefore, resolved to take my leave of the bar for ever. The homage of visitors, the train of attendants, and the multitude of clients, which glitter so much in the eyes of my friend, have no attraction for me. I regard them as I do pictures, and busts, and statues of brass; things, which indeed are in my family, but they came unlooked for, without my stir, or so much as a wish on my part. In my humble station, I find that innocence is a better shield than oratory. For the last I shall have no occasion, unless I find it necessary, on some future occasion, to exert myself in the just defence of an injured friend.
XII. But woods, and groves [a], and solitary places, have not escaped the satyrical vein of my friend. To me they afford sensations of a pure delight. It is there I enjoy the pleasures of a poetic imagination; and among those pleasures it is not the least, that they are pursued far from the noise and bustle of the world, without a client to besiege my doors, and not a criminal to distress me with the tears of affliction. Free from those distractions, the poet retires to scenes of solitude, where peace and innocence reside. In those haunts of contemplation, he has his pleasing visions. He treads on consecrated ground. It was there that Eloquence first grew up, and there she reared her temple. In those retreats she first adorned herself with those graces, which have made mankind enamoured of her charms; and there she filled the hearts of the wise and good with joy and inspiration. Oracles first spoke in woods and sacred groves. As to the species of oratory, which practises for lucre, or with views of ambition; that sanguinary eloquence [b] now so much in vogue: it is of modern growth, the offspring of corrupt manners, and degenerate times; or rather, as my friend Aper expressed it, it is a weapon in the hands of ill-designing men.
The early and more happy period of the world, or, as we poets call it, the golden age, was the aera of true eloquence. Crimes and orators were then unknown. Poetry spoke in harmonious numbers, not to varnish evil deeds, but to praise the virtuous, and celebrate the friends of human kind. This was the poet's office. The inspired train enjoyed the highest honours; they held commerce with the gods; they partook of the ambrosial feast: they were at once the messengers and interpreters of the supreme command. They ranked on earth with legislators, heroes, and demigods. In that bright assembly we find no orator, no pleader of causes. We read of Orpheus [c], of Linus, and, if we choose to mount still higher, we can add the name of Apollo himself. This may seem a flight of fancy. Aper will treat it as mere romance, and fabulous history: but he will not deny, that the veneration paid to Homer, with the consent of posterity, is at least equal to the honours obtained by Demosthenes. He must likewise admit, that the fame of Sophocles and Euripides is not confined within narrower limits than that of Lysias [d] or Hyperides. To come home to our own country, there are at this day more who dispute the excellence of Cicero than of Virgil. Among the orations of Asinius or Messala [e], is there one that can vie with the Medea of Ovid, or the Thyestes of Varius?
XIII. If we now consider the happy condition of the true poet, and that easy commerce in which he passes his time, need we fear to compare his situation with that of the boasted orator, who leads a life of anxiety, oppressed by business, and overwhelmed with care? But it is said, his contention, his toil and danger, are steps to the consulship. How much more eligible was the soft retreat in which Virgil [a] passed his days, loved by the prince, and honoured by the people! To prove this the letters of Augustus are still extant; and the people, we know, hearing in the theatre some verses of that divine poet [b], when he himself was present, rose in a body, and paid him every mark of homage, with a degree of veneration nothing short of what they usually offered to the emperor.
Even in our own times, will any man say, that Secundus Pomponius [c], in point of dignity or extent of fame, is inferior to Domitius Afer [d]? But Vibius and Marcellus have been cited as bright examples: and yet, in their elevation what is there to be coveted? Is it to be deemed an advantage to those ministers, that they are feared by numbers, and live in fear themselves? They are courted for their favours, and the men, who obtain their suit, retire with ingratitude, pleased with their success, yet hating to be obliged. Can we suppose that the man is happy, who by his artifices has wriggled himself into favour, and yet is never thought by his master sufficiently pliant, nor by the people sufficiently free? And after all, what is the amount of all his boasted power? The emperor's freedmen have enjoyed the same. But as Virgil sweetly sings, Me let the sacred muses lead to their soft retreats, their living fountains, and melodious groves, where I may dwell remote from care, master of myself, and under no necessity of doing every day what my heart condemns. Let me no more be seen at the wrangling bar, a pale and anxious candidate for precarious fame; and let neither the tumult of visitors crowding to my levee, nor the eager haste of officious freedmen, disturb my morning rest. Let me live free from solicitude, a stranger to the art of promising legacies [e], in order to buy the friendship of the great; and when nature shall give the signal to retire, may I possess no more than may be safely bequeathed to such friends as I shall think proper. At my funeral let no token of sorrow be seen, no pompous mockery of woe. Crown [f] me with chaplets; strew flowers on my grave, and let my friends erect no vain memorial, to tell where my remains are lodged.
XIV. Maternus finished with an air of enthusiasm, that seemed to lift him above himself. In that moment [a], Vipstanius Messala entered the room. From the attention that appeared in every countenance, he concluded that some important business was the subject of debate. I am afraid, said he, that I break in upon you at an unseasonable time. You have some secret to discuss, or, perhaps, a consultation upon your hands. Far from it, replied Secundus; I wish you had come sooner. You would have had the pleasure of hearing an eloquent discourse from our friend Aper, who has been endeavouring to persuade Maternus to dedicate all his time to the business of the bar, and to give the whole man to his profession. The answer of Maternus would have entertained you: he has been defending his art, and but this moment closed an animated speech, that held more of the poetical than the oratorical character.
I should have been happy, replied Messala, to have heard both my friends. It is, however, some compensation for the loss, that I find men of their talents, instead of giving all their time to the little subtleties and knotty points of the forum, extending their views to liberal science, and those questions of taste, which enlarge the mind, and furnish it with ideas drawn from the treasures of polite erudition. Enquiries of this kind afford improvement not only to those who enter into the discussion, but to all who have the happiness of being present at the debate. It is in consequence of this refined and elegant way of thinking, that you, Secundus, have gained so much applause, by the life of Julius Asiaticus [b], with which you have lately obliged the world. From that specimen, we are taught to expect other productions of equal beauty from the same hand. In like manner, I see with pleasure, that our friend Aper loves to enliven his imagination with topics of controversy, and still lays out his leisure in questions of the schools [c], not, indeed, in imitation of the ancient orators, but in the true taste of our modern rhetoricians.
XV. I am not surprised, returned Aper, at that stroke of raillery. It is not enough for Messala, that the oratory of ancient times engrosses all his admiration; he must have his fling at the moderns. Our talents and our studies are sure to feel the sallies of his pleasantry [a]. I have often heard you, my friend Messala, in the same humour. According to you, the present age has not a single orator to boast of, though your own eloquence, and that of your brother, are sufficient to refute the charge. But you assert roundly, and maintain your proposition with an air of confidence. You know how high you stand, and while in your general censure of the age you include yourself, the smallest tincture of malignity cannot be supposed to mingle in a decision, which denies to your own genius, what by common consent is allowed to be your undoubted right.
I have as yet, replied Messala, seen no reason to make me retract my opinion; nor do I believe, that my two friends here, or even you yourself (though you sometimes affect a different tone), can seriously maintain the opposite doctrine. The decline of eloquence is too apparent. The causes which have contributed to it, merit a serious enquiry. I shall be obliged to you, my friends, for a fair solution of the question. I have often reflected upon the subject; but what seems to others a full answer, with me serves only to increase the difficulty. What has happened at Rome, I perceive to have been the case in Greece. The modern orators of that country, such as the priest [b] Nicetes, and others who, like him, stun the schools of Mytelene and Ephesus [c], are fallen to a greater distance from AEschines and Demosthenes, than Afer and Africanus [d], or you, my friends, from Tully or Asinius Pollio.
XVI. You have started an important question, said Secundus, and who so able to discuss it as yourself? Your talents are equal to the difficulty; your acquisitions in literature are known to be extensive, and you have considered the subject. I have no objection, replied Messala: my ideas are at your service, upon condition that, as I go on, you will assist me with the lights of your understanding. For two of us I can venture to answer, said Maternus: whatever you omit, or rather, what you leave for us to glean after you, we shall be ready to add to your observations. As to our friend Aper, you have told us, that he is apt to differ from you upon this point, and even now I see him preparing to give battle. He will not tamely bear to see us joined in a league in favour of antiquity.
Certainly not, replied Aper, nor shall the present age, unheard and undefended, be degraded by a conspiracy. But before you sound to arms, I wish to know, who are to be reckoned among the ancients? At what point of time [a] do you fix your favourite aera? When you talk to me of antiquity, I carry my view to the first ages of the world, and see before me Ulysses and Nestor, who flourished little less than [b] thirteen hundred years ago. Your retrospect, it seems, goes no farther back than to Demosthenes and Hyperides; men who lived in the times of Philip and Alexander, and indeed survived them both. The interval, between Demosthenes and the present age, is little more than [c] four hundred years; a space of time, which, with a view to the duration of human life, may be called long; but, as a portion of that immense tract of time which includes the different ages of the world, it shrinks into nothing, and seems to be but yesterday. For if it be true, as Cicero says in his treatise called Hortensius, that the great and genuine year is that period in which the heavenly bodies revolve to the station from which their source began; and if this grand rotation of the whole planetary system requires no less than twelve thousand nine hundred and fifty-four years [d] of our computation, it follows that Demosthenes, your boasted ancient, becomes a modern, and even our contemporary; nay, that he lived in the same year with ourselves; I had almost said, in the same month [e].
XVII. But I am in haste to pass to our Roman orators. Menenius Agrippa [a] may fairly be deemed an ancient. I take it, however, that he is not the person, whom you mean to oppose to the professors of modern eloquence. The aera, which you have in view, is that of [b] Cicero and Caesar; of Caelius [c] and Calvus; of Brutus [d], Asinius, and Messala. Those are the men, whom you place in the front of hour line; but for what reason they are to be classed with the ancients, and not, as I think they ought to be, with the moderns, I am still to learn. To begin with Cicero; he, according to the account of Tiro, his freedman, was put to death on the seventh of the ides of December, during the consulship of Hirtius and Pansa [e], who, we know, were both cut off in the course of the year, and left their office vacant for Augustus and Quintus Pedius. Count from that time six and fifty years to complete the reign of Augustus; three and twenty for that of Tiberius, four for Caligula, eight and twenty for Claudius and Nero, one for Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, and finally six from the accession of Vespasian to the present year of our felicity, we shall have from the death of Cicero a period of about [f] one hundred and twenty years, which may be considered as the term allotted to the life of man. I myself remember to have seen in Britain a soldier far advanced in years, who averred that he carried arms in that very battle [g] in which his countrymen sought to drive Julius Caesar back from their coast. If this veteran, who served in the defence of his country against Caesar's invasion, had been brought a prisoner to Rome; or, if his own inclination, or any other accident in the course of things, had conducted him thither, he might have heard, not only Caesar and Cicero, but even ourselves in some of our public speeches.
In the late public largess [h] you will acknowledge that you saw several old men, who assured us that they had received more than once, the like distribution from Augustus himself. If that be so, might not those persons have heard Corvinus [i] and Asinius? Corvinus, we all know, lived through half the reign of Augustus, and Asinius almost to the end. How then are we to ascertain the just boundaries of a century? They are not to be varied at pleasure, so as to place some orators in a remote, and others in a recent period, while people are still living, who heard them all, and may, therefore, with good reason rank them as contemporaries.
XVIII. From what I have said, I assume it as a clear position, that the glory, whatever it be, that accrued to the age in which those orators lived, is not confined to that particular period, but reaches down to the present time, and may more properly be said to belong to us, than to Servius Galba [a], or to Carbo [b], and others of the same or more ancient date. Of that whole race of orators, I may freely say, that their manner cannot now be relished. Their language is coarse, and their composition rough, uncouth, and harsh; and yet your Calvus [c], your Caelius, and even your favourite Cicero, condescend to follow that inelegant style. It were to be wished that they had not thought such models worthy of imitation. I mean to speak my mind with freedom; but before I proceed, it will be necessary to make a preliminary observation, and it is this: Eloquence has no settled form: at different times it puts on a new garb, and changes with the manners and the taste of the age. Thus we find, that Gracchus [d], compared with the elder Cato [e], is full and copious; but, in his turn, yields to Crassus [f], an orator more polished, more correct, and florid. Cicero rises superior to both; more animated, more harmonious and sublime. He is followed by Corvinus [g], who has all the softer graces; a sweet flexibility in his style, and a curious felicity in the choice of his words. Which was the greatest orator, is not the question.
The use I make of these examples, is to prove that eloquence does not always wear the same dress, but, even among your celebrated ancients, has its different modes of persuasion. And be it remembered, that what differs is not always the worst. Yet such is the malignity of the human mind, that what has the sanction of antiquity is always admired; what is present, is sure to be condemned. Can we doubt that there have been critics, who were better pleased with Appius Caecus [h] than with Cato? Cicero had his adversaries [i]: it was objected to him, that his style was redundant, turgid, never compressed, void of precision, and destitute of Attic elegance. We all have read the letters of Calvus and Brutus to your famous orator. In the course of that correspondence, we plainly see what was Cicero's opinion of those eminent men. The former [k] appeared to him cold and languid; the latter [l], disjointed, loose, and negligent. On the other hand, we know what they thought in return: Calvus did not hesitate to say, that Cicero was diffuse luxuriant to a fault, and florid without vigour. Brutus, in express terms, says, he was weakened into length, and wanted sinew. If you ask my opinion, each of them had reason on his side. I shall hereafter examine them separately. My business at present, is not in the detail: I speak of them in general terms.
XIX. The aera of ancient oratory is, I think, extended by its admirers no farther back than the time of Cassius Severus [a]. He, they tell us, was the first who dared to deviate from the plain and simple style of his predecessors. I admit the fact. He departed from the established forms, not through want of genius, or of learning, but guided by his own good sense and superior judgement. He saw that the public ear was formed to a new manner; and eloquence, he knew, was to find new approaches to the heart. In the early periods of the commonwealth, a rough unpolished people might well be satisfied with the tedious length of unskilful speeches, at a time when to make an harangue that took up the whole day, was the orator's highest praise. The prolix exordium, wasting itself in feeble preparation; the circumstantial narration, the ostentatious division of the argument under different heads, and the thousand proofs and logical distinctions, with whatever else is contained in the dry precepts of Hermagoras [b] and Apollodorus, were in that rude period received with universal applause. To finish the picture, if your ancient orator could glean a little from the common places of philosophy, and interweave a few shreds and patches with the thread of his discourse, he was extolled to the very skies. Nor can this be matter of wonder: the maxims of the schools had not been divulged; they came with an air of novelty. Even among the orators themselves, there were but few who had any tincture of philosophy. Nor had they learned the rules of art from the teachers of eloquence.
In the present age, the tenets of philosophy and the precepts of rhetoric are no longer a secret. The lowest of our popular assemblies are now, I will not say fully instructed, but certainly acquainted with the elements of literature. The orator, by consequence, finds himself obliged to seek new avenues to the heart, and new graces to embellish his discourse, that he may not offend fastidious ears, especially before a tribunal where the judge is no longer bound by precedent, but determines according to his will and pleasure; not, as formerly, observing the measure of time allowed to the advocate, but taking upon himself to prescribe the limits. Nor is this all: the judge, at present, will not condescend to wait till the orator, in his own way, opens his case; but, of his own authority, reminds him of the point in question, and, if he wanders, calls him back from his digression, not without a hint that the court wishes to dispatch.
XX. Who, at this time, would bear to hear an advocate introducing himself with a tedious preface about the infirmities of his constitution? Yet that is the threadbare exordium of Corvinus. We have five books against Verres [a]. Who can endure that vast redundance? Who can listen to those endless arguments upon points of form, and cavilling exceptions [b], which we find in the orations of the same celebrated advocate for Marcus Tullius [c] and Aulus Caecina? Our modern judges are able to anticipate the argument. Their quickness goes before the speaker. If not struck with the vivacity of his manner, the elegance of his sentiments, and the glowing colours of his descriptions, they soon grow weary of the flat insipid discourse. Even in the lowest class of life, there is now a relish for rich and splendid ornament. Their taste requires the gay, the florid, and the brilliant. The unpolished style of antiquity would now succeed as ill at the bar, as the modern actor who should attempt to copy the deportment of Roscius [d], or Ambivius Turpio. Even the young men who are preparing for the career of eloquence, and, for that purpose, attend the forum and the tribunals of justice, have now a nice discriminating taste. They expect to have their imaginations pleased. They wish to carry home some bright illustration, some splendid passage, that deserves to be remembered. What has struck their fancy, they communicate to each other: and in their letters, the glittering thought, given with sententious brevity, the poetical allusion that enlivened the discourse, and the dazzling imagery, are sure to be transmitted to their respective colonies and provinces. The ornaments of poetic diction are now required, not, indeed, copied from the rude obsolete style of Accius [e] and Pacuvius, but embellished with the graces of Horace, Virgil, and [f] Lucan. The public judgement has raised a demand for harmonious periods, and, in compliance with the taste of the age, our orators grow every day more polished and adorned. Let it not be said that what we gain in refinement, we lose in strength. Are the temples, raised by our modern architects, of a weaker structure, because they are not formed with shapeless stones, but with the magnificence of polished marble, and decorations of the richest gilding?
XXI. Shall I fairly own to you the impression which I generally receive from the ancient orators? They make me laugh, or lull me to sleep. Nor is this the case only, when I read the orations of Canutus [a], Arrius, Furnius, Toranius and others of the same school, or rather, the same infirmary [b]; an emaciated sickly race of orators; without sinew, colour, or proportion. But what shall be said of your admired Calvus [c]? He, I think, has left no less than one and twenty volumes: in the whole collection, there is not more than one or two short orations, that can pretend to perfection in the kind. Upon this point there is no difference of opinion. Who now reads his declamations against Asitius or Drusus? His speeches against Vatinius are in the hands of the curious, particularly the second, which must be allowed to be a masterpiece. The language is elegant; the sentiments are striking, and the ear is satisfied with the roundness of the periods. In this specimen we see that he had an idea of just composition, but his genius was not equal to his judgement. The orations of Caelius, though upon the whole defective, are not without their beauties. Some passages are highly finished. In those we acknowledge, the nice touches of modern elegance. In general, however, the coarse expression, the halting period, and the vulgarity of the sentiments, have too much of the leaven of antiquity.
If Caelius [d] is still admired, it is not, I believe, in any of those parts that bear the mark of a rude illiterate age. With regard to Julius Caesar [e], engaged as he was in projects of vast ambition, we may forgive him the want of that perfection which might, otherwise, be expected from so sublime a genius. Brutus, in like manner, may be excused on account of his philosophical speculations. Both he and Caesar, in their oratorical attempts, fell short of themselves. Their warmest admirers acknowledge the fact, nor is there an instance to the contrary, unless we except Caesar's speech for Decius the Samnite [f], and that of Brutus for king [g] Dejotarus. But are those performances, and some others of the same lukewarm temper, to be received as works of genius? He who admires those productions, may be left to admire their verses also. For verses they both made, and sent them into the world, I will not say, with more success than Cicero, but certainly more to their advantage; for their poetry had the good fortune to be little known.
Asinius lived near our own times [h]. He, seems to have studied in the old school of Menenius and Appius. He composed tragedies as well as orations, but in a style so harsh and ragged, that one would think him the disciple of Accius and Pacuvius. He mistook the nature of eloquence, which may then be said to have attained its true beauty, when the parts unite with smoothness, strength, and proportion. As in the human body the veins should not swell too high, nor the bones and sinews appear too prominent; but its form is then most graceful, when a pure and temperate blood gives animation [i] to the whole frame; when the muscles have their proper play, and the colour of health is diffused over the several parts. I am not willing to disturb the memory of Corvinus Messala [k]. If he did not reach the graces of modern composition, the defect does not seem to have sprung from choice. The vigour of his genius was not equal to his judgement.
XXII. I now proceed to Cicero, who, we find, had often upon his hands the very controversy, that engages us at present. It was the fashion with his contemporaries to admire the ancients, while he, on the contrary, contended for the eloquence of his own time. Were I to mention the quality that placed him at the head of his rivals I should say it was the solidity of his judgement. It was he that first shewed a taste for polished and graceful oratory. He was happy in his choice of words, and he had the art of giving weight and harmony to his composition. We find in many passages a warm imagination, and luminous sentences. In his later speeches, he has lively sallies of wit and fancy. Experience had then matured his judgement, and after long practice, he found the true oratorical style. In his earlier productions we see the rough cast of antiquity. The exordium is tedious; the narration is drawn into length; luxuriant passages are not retouched with care; he is not easily affected, and he rarely takes fire; his sentiments are not always happily expressed [a], nor are the periods closed with energy. There is nothing so highly finished, as to tempt you to avail yourself of a borrowed beauty. In short, his speeches are like a rude building, which is strong and durable, but wants that grace and consonance of parts which give symmetry and perfection to the whole.
In oratory, as in architecture, I require ornament as well as use. From the man of ample fortune, who undertakes to build, we expect elegance and proportion. It is not enough that his house will keep out the wind and the rain; it must strike the eye, and present a pleasing object. Nor will it suffice that the furniture may answer all domestic purposes; it should be rich, fashionable, elegant; it should have gold and gems so curiously wrought, that they will bear examination, often viewed, and always admired. The common utensils, which are either mean or sordid, should be carefully removed out of sight. In like manner, the true orator should avoid the trite and vulgar. Let him reject the antiquated phrase, and whatever is covered with the rust of time; let his sentiments be expressed with spirit, not in careless, ill-constructed, languid periods, like a dull writer of annals; let him banish low scurrility, and, in short, let him know how to diversify his style, that he may not fatigue the ear with a monotony, ending for ever with the same unvaried cadence [b].
XXIII. I shall say nothing of the false wit, and insipid play upon words, which we find in Cicero's orations. His pleasant conceits about the wheel of fortune [a], and the arch raillery on the equivocal meaning of the word verres [b], do not merit a moment's attention. I omit the perpetual recurrence of the phrase, esse videatur [c], which chimes in our ears at the close of so many sentences, sounding big, but signifying nothing. These are petty blemishes; I mention them with reluctance. I say nothing of other defects equally improper: and yet those very defects are the delight of such as affect to call themselves ancient orators. I need not single them out by name: the men are sufficiently known; it is enough to allude, in general terms, to the whole class.
We all are sensible that there is a set of critics now existing, who prefer Lucilius [d] to Horace, and Lucretius [e] to Virgil; who despise the eloquence of Aufidius Bassus [f] and Servilius Nonianus, and yet admire Varro and [g] Sisenna. By these pretenders to taste, the works of our modern rhetoricians are thrown by with neglect, and even fastidious disdain; while those of Calvus are held in the highest esteem. We see these men prosing in their ancient style before the judges; but we see them left without an audience, deserted by the people, and hardly endured by their clients. The truth is, their cold and spiritless manner has no attraction. They call it sound oratory, but it is want of vigour; like that precarious state of health which weak constitutions preserve by abstinence. What physician will pronounce that a strong habit of body, which requires constant care and anxiety of mind? To say barely, that we are not ill, is surely not enough. True health consists in vigour, a generous warmth, and a certain alacrity in the whole frame. He who is only not indisposed, is little distant from actual illness.
With you, my friends, the case is different: proceed, as you well can, and in fact, as you do, to adorn our age with all the grace and splendour of true oratory. It is with pleasure, Messala, that I see you selecting for imitation the liveliest models of the ancient school. You too, Maternus, and you, my friend, Secundus [h], you both possess the happy art of adding to weight of sentiment all the dignity of language. To a copious invention you unite the judgement that knows how to distinguish the specific qualities of different authors. The beauty of order is yours. When the occasion demands it, you can expand and amplify with strength and majesty; and you know when to be concise with energy. Your periods flow with ease, and your composition has every grace of style and sentiment. You command the passions with resistless sway, while in yourselves you beget a temperance so truly dignified, that, though, perhaps, envy and the malignity of the times may be unwilling to proclaim your merit, posterity will do you ample justice [i].
XXIV. As soon as Aper concluded, You see, said Maternus, the zeal and ardour of our friend: in the cause of the moderns, what a torrent of eloquence! against the ancients, what a fund of invective! With great spirit, and a vast compass of learning, he has employed against his masters the arts for which he is indebted to them. And yet all this vehemence must not deter you, Messala, from the performance of your promise. A formal defence of the ancients is by no means necessary. We do not presume to vie with that illustrious race. We have been praised by Aper, but we know our inferiority. He himself is aware of it, though, in imitation of the ancient manner [a], he has thought proper, for the sake of a philosophical debate, to take the wrong side of the question. In answer to his argument, we do not desire you to expatiate in praise of the ancients: their fame wants no addition. What we request is, an investigation of the causes which have produced so rapid a decline from the flourishing state of genuine eloquence. I call it rapid, since, according to Aper's own chronology, the period from the death of Cicero does not exceed one hundred and twenty years [b].
XXV. I am willing, said Messala, to pursue the plan which you have recommended. The question, whether the men who flourished above one hundred years ago, are to be accounted ancients, has been started by my friend Aper, and, I believe, it is of the first impression. But it is a mere dispute about words. The discussion of it is of no moment, provided it be granted, whether we call them ancients, or our predecessors, or give them any other appellation, that the eloquence of those times was superior to that of the present age. When Aper tells us, that different periods of time have produced new modes of oratory, I see nothing to object; nor shall I deny, that in one and the same period the style and manners have greatly varied. But this I assume, that among the orators of Greece, Demosthenes holds the first rank, and after him [a] AEschynes, Hyperides, Lysias, and Lycurgus, in regular succession. That age, by common consent, is allowed to be the flourishing period of Attic eloquence.
In like manner, Cicero stands at the head of our Roman orators, while Calvus, Asinius, and Caesar, Caelius and Brutus, follow him at a distance; all of them superior, not only to every former age, but to the whole race that came after them. Nor is it material that they differ in the mode, since they all agree in the kind. Calvus is close and nervous; Asinius more open and harmonious; Caesar is distinguished [b] by the splendour of his diction; Caelius by a caustic severity; and gravity is the characteristic of Brutus. Cicero is more luxuriant in amplification, and he has strength and vehemence. They all, however, agree in this: their eloquence is manly, sound, and vigorous. Examine their works, and you will see the energy of congenial minds, a family-likeness in their genius, however it may take a distinct colour from the specific qualities of the men. True, they detracted from each other's merit. In their letters, which are still extant, we find some strokes of mutual hostility. But this littleness does not impeach their eloquence: their jealousy was the infirmity of human nature. Calvus, Asinius, and Cicero, might have their fits of animosity, and, no doubt, were liable to envy, malice, and other degrading passions: they were great orators, but they were men.
Brutus is the only one of the set, who may be thought superior to petty contentions. He spoke his mind with freedom, and, I believe, without a tincture of malice. He did not envy Caesar himself, and can it be imagined that he envied Cicero? As to Galba [c], Laelius, and others of a remote period, against whom we have heard Aper's declamation, I need not undertake their defence, since I am willing to acknowledge, that in their style and manner we perceive those defects and blemishes which it is natural to expect, while art, as yet in its infancy, has made no advances towards perfection.
XXVI. After all, if the best form of eloquence must be abandoned, and some, new-fangled style must grow into fashion, give me the rapidity of Gracchus [a], or the more solemn manner of Crassus [b], with all their imperfections, rather than the effeminate delicacy of [c] Maecenas, or the tinkling cymbal [d] of Gallio. The most homely dress is preferable to gawdy colours and meretricious ornaments. The style in vogue at present, is an innovation, against every thing just and natural; it is not even manly. The luxuriant phrase, the inanity of tuneful periods, and the wanton levity of the whole composition, are fit for nothing but the histrionic art, as if they were written for the stage. To the disgrace of the age (however astonishing it may appear), it is the boast, the pride, the glory of our present orators, that their periods are musical enough either for the dancer's heel [e], or the warbler's throat. Hence it is, that by a frequent, but preposterous, metaphor, the orator is said to speak in melodious cadence, and the dancer to move with expression. In this view of things, even [f] Cassius Severus (the only modern whom Aper has ventured to name), if we compare him with the race that followed, may be fairly pronounced a legitimate orator, though it must be acknowledged, that in what remains of his compositing, he is clumsy without strength, and violent without spirit. He was the first that deviated from the great masters of his art. He despised all method and regular arrangement; indelicate in his choice of words, he paid no regard to decency; eager to attack, he left himself unguarded; he brandished his weapons without skill or address; and, to speak plainly, he wrangled, but did not argue. And yet, notwithstanding these defects, he was, as I have already said, superior to all that came after him, whether we regard the variety of his learning, the urbanity of his wit, or the vigour of his mind. I expected that Aper, after naming this orator, would have drawn up the rest of his forces in regular order. He has fallen, indeed, upon Asinius, Caelius, and Calvus; but where are his champions to enter the lists with them? I imagined that he had a phalanx in reserve, and that we should have seen them man by man giving battle to Cicero, Caesar, and the rest in succession. He has singled out some of the ancients, but has brought none of his moderns into the field. He thought it enough to give them a good character in their absence. In this, perhaps, he acted with prudence: he was afraid, if he selected a few, that the rest of the tribe would take offence. For among the rhetoricians of the present day, is there one to be found, who does not, in his own opinion, tower above Cicero, though he has the modesty to yield to Gabinianus [g]?
XXVII. What Aper has omitted, I intend to perform. I shall produce his moderns by name, to the end that, by placing the example before our eyes, we may be able, more distinctly, to trace the steps by which the vigour of ancient eloquence has fallen to decay. Maternus interrupted him. I wish, he said, that you would come at once to the point: we claim your promise. The superiority of the ancients is not in question. We want no proof of it. Upon that point my opinion is decided. But the causes of our rapid decline from ancient excellence remain to be unfolded. We know that you have turned your thoughts to this subject, and we expected from you a calm disquisition, had not the violent attack which Aper made upon your favourite orators, roused your spirit, and, perhaps, given you some offence. Far from it, replied Messala; he has given me no offence; nor must you, my friends, take umbrage, if at any time a word should fall from me, not quite agreeable to your way of thinking. We are engaged in a free enquiry, and you know, that, in this kind of debate, the established law allows every man to speak his mind without reserve. That is the law, replied Maternus; you may proceed in perfect security. When you speak of the ancients, speak of them with ancient freedom, which, I fear, is at a lower ebb than even the genius of those eminent men.
XXVIII. Messala resumed his discourse: The causes of the decay of eloquence are by no means difficult to be traced. They are, I believe, well known to you, Maternus, and also to Secundus, not excepting my friend Aper. It seems, however, that I am now, at your request, to unravel the business. But there is no mystery in it. We know that eloquence, with the rest of the polite arts, has lost its former lustre: and yet, it is not a dearth of men, or a decay of talents, that has produced this fatal effect. The true causes are, the dissipation of our young men, the inattention of parents, the ignorance of those who pretend to give instruction, and the total neglect of ancient discipline. The mischief began at Rome, it has over-run all Italy, and is now, with rapid strides, spreading through the provinces. The effects, however, are more visible at home, and therefore I shall confine myself to the reigning vices of the capital; vices that wither every virtue in the bud, and continue their baleful influence through every season of life.
But before I enter on the subject, it will not be useless to look back to the system of education that prevailed in former times, and to the strict discipline of our ancestors, in a point of so much moment as the formation of youth. In the times to which I now refer, the son of every family was the legitimate offspring of a virtuous mother. The infant, as soon as born, was not consigned to the mean dwelling of a hireling nurse [a], but was reared and cherished in the bosom of a tender parent. To regulate all household affairs, and attend to her infant race, was, at that time, the glory of the female character. A matron, related to the family, and distinguished by the purity of her life, was chosen to watch the progress of the tender mind. In her presence not one indecent word was uttered; nothing was done against propriety and good manners. The hours of study and serious employment were settled by her direction; and not only so, but even the diversions of the children were conducted with modest reserve and sanctity of manners. Thus it was that Cornelia [b], the mother of the Gracchi, superintended the education of her illustrious issue. It was thus that Aurelia [c] trained up Julius Caesar; and thus Atia [d] formed the mind of Augustus. The consequence of this regular discipline was, that the young mind grew up in innocence, unstained by vice, unwarped by irregular passions, and, under that culture, received the seeds of science. Whatever was the peculiar bias, whether to the military art, the study of the laws, or the profession of eloquence, that engrossed the whole attention, and the youth, thus directed, embraced the entire compass of one favourite science.
XXIX. In the present age, what is our practice? The infant is committed to a Greek chambermaid, and a slave or two, chosen for the purpose, generally the worst of the whole household train; all utter strangers to every liberal notion. In that worshipful society [a] the youth grows up, imbibing folly and vulgar error. Throughout the house, not one servant cares what he says or does [b] in the presence of his young master: and indeed how should it be otherwise? The parents themselves are the first to give their children the worst examples of vice and luxury. The stripling consequently loses all sense of shame, and soon forgets the respect he owes to others as well as to himself. A passion for horses, players, and gladiators [c], seems to be the epidemic folly of the times. The child receives it in his mother's womb; he brings it with him into the world; and in a mind so possessed, what room for science, or any generous purpose?
In our houses, at our tables, sports and interludes are the topics of conversation. Enter the places of academical lectures, and who talks of any other subject? The preceptors themselves have caught the contagion. Nor can this be wondered at. To establish a strict and regular discipline, and to succeed by giving proofs of their genius, is not the plan of our modern rhetoricians. They pay their court to the great, and, by servile adulation, increase the number of their pupils. Need I mention the manner of conveying the first elements of school learning? No care is taken to give the student a taste for the best authors [d]; the page of history lies neglected; the study of men and manners is no part of their system; and every branch of useful knowledge is left uncultivated. A preceptor is called in, and education is then thought to be in a fair way. But I shall have occasion hereafter to speak more fully of that class of men, called rhetoricians. It will then be seen, at what period that profession first made its appearance at Rome, and what reception it met with from our ancestors.
XXX. Before I proceed, let us advert for a moment to the plan of ancient discipline. The unwearied diligence of the ancient orators, their habits of meditation, and their daily exercise in the whole circle of arts and sciences, are amply displayed in the books which they have transmitted to us. The treatise of Cicero, entitled Brutus [a], is in all our hands. In that work, after commemorating the orators of a former day, he closes the account with the particulars of his own progress in science, and the method he took in educating himself to the profession of oratory. He studied the civil law under [b] Mucius Scaevola; he was instructed in the various systems of philosophy, by Philo [c] of the academic school, and by Diodorus the stoic; and though Rome, at that time, abounded with the best professors, he made a voyage to Greece [d], and thence to Asia, in order to enrich his mind with every branch of learning. Hence that store of knowledge which appears in all his writings. Geometry, music, grammar, and every useful art, were familiar to him. He embraced the whole science of logic [e] and ethics. He studied the operations of nature. His diligence of enquiry opened to him the long chain of causes and effects, and, in short, the whole system of physiology was his own. From a mind thus replenished, it is no wonder, my good friends, that we see in the compositions of that extraordinary man that affluence of ideas, and that prodigious flow of eloquence. In fact, it is not with oratory as with the other arts, which are confined to certain objects, and circumscribed within their own peculiar limits. He alone deserves the name of an orator, who can speak in a copious style, with ease or dignity, as the subject requires; who can find language to decorate his argument; who through the passions can command the understanding; and, while he serves mankind, knows how to delight the judgement and the imagination of his audience.
XXXI. Such was, in ancient times, the idea of an orator. To form that illustrious character, it was not thought necessary to declaim in the schools of rhetoricians [a], or to make a vain parade in fictitious controversies, which were not only void of all reality, but even of a shadow of probability. Our ancestors pursued a different plan: they stored their minds with just ideas of moral good and evil; with the rules of right and wrong, and the fair and foul in human transactions. These, on every controverted point, are the orator's province. In courts of law, just and unjust undergo his discussion; in political debate, between what is expedient and honourable, it is his to draw the line; and those questions are so blended in their nature, that they enter into every cause. On such important topics, who can hope to bring variety of matter, and to dignify that matter with style and sentiment, if he has not, beforehand, enlarged his mind with the knowledge of human nature? with the laws of moral obligation? the deformity of vice, the beauty of virtue, and other points which do not immediately belong to the theory of ethics?
The orator, who has enriched his mind with these materials, may be truly said to have acquired the powers of persuasion. He who knows the nature of indignation, will be able to kindle or allay that passion in the breast of the judge; and the advocate who has considered the effect of compassion, and from what secret springs it flows, will best know how to soften the mind, and melt it into tenderness. It is by these secrets of his art that the orator gains his influence. Whether he has to do with the prejudiced, the angry, the envious, the melancholy, or the timid, he can bridle their various passions, and hold the reins in his own hand. According to the disposition of his audience, he will know when to check the workings of the heart, and when to raise them to their full tumult of emotion.
Some critics are chiefly pleased with that close mode of oratory, which in a laconic manner states the facts, and forms an immediate conclusion: in that case, it is obvious how necessary it is to be a complete master of the rules of logic. Others delight in a more open, free, and copious style, where the arguments are drawn from topics of general knowledge; for this purpose, the peripatetic school [b] will supply the orator with ample materials. The academic philosopher [c] will inspire him with warmth and energy; Plato will give the sublime, and Xenophon that equal flow which charms us in that amiable writer. The rhetorical figure, which is called exclamation, so frequent with Epicurus [d] and Metrodorus, will add to a discourse those sudden breaks of passion, which give motion, strength, and vehemence.
It is not for the stoic school, nor for their imaginary wise man, that I am laying down rules. I am forming an orator, whose business it is, not to adhere to one sect, but to go the round of all the arts and sciences. Accordingly we find, that the great master of ancient eloquence laid their foundation in a thorough study of the civil law, and to that fund they added grammar, music, and geometry. The fact is, in most of the causes that occur, perhaps in every cause, a due knowledge of the whole system of jurisprudence is an indispensable requisite. There are likewise many subjects of litigation, in which an acquaintance with other sciences is of the highest use.
XXXII. Am I to be told, that to gain some slight information on particular subjects, as occasion may require, will sufficiently answer the purposes of an orator? In answer to this, let it be observed, that the application of what we draw from our own fund, is very different from the use we make of what we borrow. Whether we speak from digested knowledge, or the mere suggestion of others, the effect is soon perceived. Add to this, that conflux of ideas with which the different sciences enrich the mind, gives an air of dignity to whatever we say, even in cases where that depth of knowledge is not required. Science adorns the speaker at all times, and, where it is least expected, confers a grace that charms every hearer; the man of erudition feels it, and the unlettered part of the audience acknowledge the effect without knowing the cause. A murmur of applause ensues; the speaker is allowed to have laid in a store of knowledge; he possesses all the powers of persuasion, and then is called an orator indeed.
I take the liberty to add, if we aspire to that honourable appellation, that there is no way but that which I have chalked out. No man was ever yet a complete orator, and, I affirm, never can be, unless, like the soldier marching to the field of battle, he enters the forum armed at all points with the sciences and the liberal arts. Is that the case in these our modern times? The style which we hear every day, abounds with colloquial barbarisms, and vulgar phraseology: no knowledge of the laws is heard; our municipal policy is wholly neglected, and even the decrees of the senate are treated with contempt and derision. Moral philosophy is discarded, and the maxims of ancient wisdom are unworthy of their notice. In this manner, eloquence is dethroned; she is banished from her rightful dominions, and obliged to dwell in the cold regions of antithesis, forced conceit, and pointed sentences. The consequence is, that she, who was once the sovereign mistress of the sciences, and led them as handmaids in her train, is now deprived of her attendants, reduced, impoverished, and, stripped of her usual honours (I might say of her genius), compelled to exercise a mere plebeian art.
And now, my friends, I think I have laid open the efficient cause of the decline of eloquence. Need I call witnesses to support my opinion? I name Demosthenes among the Greeks. He, we are assured, constantly attended [a] the lectures of Plato. I name Cicero among the Romans: he tells us (I believe I can repeat his words), that if he attained any degree of excellence, he owed it, not so much to the precepts of rhetoricians, as to his meditations in the walks of the academic school. I am aware that other causes of our present degeneracy may be added; but that task I leave to my friends, since I now may flatter myself that I have performed my promise. In doing it, I fear, that, as often happens to me, I have incurred the danger of giving offence. Were a certain class of men to hear the principles which I have advanced in favour of legal knowledge and sound philosophy, I should expect to be told that I have been all the time commending my own visionary schemes.
XXXIII. You will excuse me, replied Maternus, if I take the liberty to say that you have by no means finished your part of our enquiry. You seem to have spread your canvas, and to have touched the outlines of your plan; but there are other parts that still require the colouring of so masterly a hand. The stores of knowledge, with which the ancients enlarged their minds, you have fairly explained, and, in contrast to that pleasing picture, you have given us a true draught of modern ignorance. But we now wish to know, what were the exercises, and what the discipline, by which the youth of former times prepared themselves for the honours of their profession. It will not, I believe, be contended, that theory, and systems of art, are of themselves sufficient to form a genuine orator. It is by practice, and by constant exertion, that the faculty of speech improves, till the genius of the man expands, and flourishes in its full vigour. This, I think, you will not deny, and my two friends, if I may judge by their looks, seem to give their assent. Aper and Secundus agreed without hesitation.
Messala proceeded as follows: Having, as I conceive, shewn the seed-plots of ancient eloquence, and the fountains of science, from which they drew such copious streams; it remains now to give some idea of the labour, the assiduity, and the exercises, by which they trained themselves to their profession. I need not observe, that in the pursuit of science, method and constant exercise are indispensable: for who can hope, without regular attention, to master abstract schemes of philosophy, and embrace the whole compass of the sciences? Knowledge must be grafted in the mind by frequent meditation [a]; to that must be added the faculty of conveying our ideas; and, to make sure of our impression, we must be able to adorn our thoughts with the colours of true eloquence. Hence it is evident that the same arts, by which the mind lays in its stock of knowledge, must be still pursued, in order to attain a clear and graceful manner of conveying that knowledge to others. This may be thought refined and too abstruse. If, however, we are still to be told that science and elocution are things in themselves distinct and unrelated; this, at least, may be assumed, that he, who, with a fund of previous knowledge, undertakes the province of oratory, will bring with him a mind well seasoned, and duly prepared for the study and exercise of real eloquence.
XXXIV. The practice of our ancestors was agreeable to this theory. The youth, who was intended for public declamation, went forth, under the care of his father, or some near relation, with all the advantages of home-discipline; his mind was expanded by the fine arts, and impregnated with science. He was conducted to the most eminent orator of the time. Under that illustrious patronage he visited the forum; he attended his patron upon all occasions; he listened with attention to his pleadings in the tribunals of justice, and his public harangues before the people; he heard him in the warmth of argument; he noted his sudden replies, and thus, in the field of battle, if I may so express myself, he learned the first rudiments of rhetorical warfare. The advantages of this method are obvious: the young candidate gained courage, and improved his judgement; he studied in open day, amidst the heat of the conflict, where nothing weak or idle could be said with impunity; where every thing absurd was instantly rebuked by the judge, exposed to ridicule by the adversary, and condemned by the whole bar.
In this manner the student was initiated in the rules of sound and manly eloquence; and, though it be true, that he placed himself under the auspices of one orator only, he heard the rest in their turn, and in that diversity of tastes which always prevails in mixed assemblies, he was enabled to distinguish what was excellent or defective in the kind. The orator in actual business was the best preceptor: the instructions which he gave, were living eloquence, the substance, and not the shadow. He was himself a real combatant, engaged with a zealous antagonist, both in earnest, and not like gladiators, in a mock contest, fighting for prizes. It was a struggle for victory, before an audience always changing, yet always full; where the speaker had his enemies as well as his admirers; and between both, what was brilliant met with applause; what was defective, was sure to be condemned. In this clash of opinions, the genuine orator flourished, and acquired that lasting fame, which, we all know, does not depend on the voice of friends only, but must rebound from the benches filled with your enemies. Extorted applause is the best suffrage.
In that school, the youth of expectation, such as I have delineated, was reared and educated by the most eminent genius of the times. In the forum, he was enlightened by the experience of others; he was instructed in the knowledge of the laws, accustomed to the eye of the judges, habituated to the looks of a numerous audience, and acquainted with the popular taste. After this preparation, he was called forth to conduct a prosecution, or to take upon himself the whole weight of the defence. The fruit of his application was then seen at once. He was equal, in his first outset, to the most arduous business. Thus it was that Crassus, at the age of nineteen [a], stood forth the accuser of Papirius Carbo: thus Julius Caesar, at one and twenty, arraigned Dolabella; Asinius Pollio, about the same age, attacked Caius Cato; and Calvus, but a little older, flamed out against Vatinius. Their several speeches are still extant, and we all read them with admiration.
XXXV. In opposition to this system of education, what is our modern practice? Our young men are led [a] to academical prolusions in the school of vain professors, who call themselves rhetoricians; a race of impostors, who made their first appearance at Rome, not long before the days of Cicero. That they were unwelcome visitors, is evident from the circumstance of their being silenced by the two censors [b], Crassus and Domitius. They were ordered, says Cicero, to shut up their school of impudence. Those scenes, however, are open at present, and there our young students listen to mountebank oratory. I am at a loss how to determine which is most fatal to all true genius, the place itself, the company that frequent it, or the plan of study universally adopted. Can the place impress the mind with awe and respect, where none are ever seen but the raw, the unskilful, and the ignorant? In such an assembly what advantage can arise? Boys harangue before boys, and young men exhibit before their fellows. The speaker is pleased with his declamation, and the hearer with his judgement. The very subjects on which they display their talents, tend to no useful purpose. They are of two sorts, persuasive or controversial. The first, supposed to be of the lighter kind, are usually assigned to the youngest scholars: the last are reserved for students of longer practice and riper judgement. But, gracious powers! what are the compositions produced on these occasions?
The subject is remote from truth, and even probability, unlike any thing that ever happened in human life: and no wonder if the superstructure perfectly agrees with the foundation. It is to these scenic exercises that we owe a number of frivolous topics, such as the reward due to the slayer of a tyrant; the election to be made by [c] violated virgins; the rites and ceremonies proper to be used during a raging pestilence; the loose behaviour of married women; with other fictitious subjects, hackneyed in the schools, and seldom or never heard of in our courts of justice. These imaginary questions are treated with gaudy flourishes, and all the tumor of unnatural language. But after all this mighty parade, call these striplings from their schools of rhetoric, into the presence of the judges, and to the real business of the bar [d]:
1. What figure will they make before that solemn judicature? Trained up in chimerical exercises, strangers to the municipal laws, unacquainted with the principles of natural justice and the rights of nations, they will bring with them that false taste which they have been for years acquiring, but nothing worthy of the public ear, nothing useful to their clients. They have succeeded in nothing but the art of making themselves ridiculous. The peculiar quality of the teacher [a], whatever it be, is sure to transfuse itself into the performance of the pupil. Is the master haughty, fierce, and arrogant; the scholar swells with confidence; his eye threatens prodigious things, and his harangue is an ostentatious display of the common-places of school oratory, dressed up with dazzling splendour, and thundered forth with emphasis. On the other hand, does the master value himself for the delicacy of his taste, for the foppery of glittering conceits and tinsel ornament; the youth who has been educated under him, sets out with the same artificial prettiness, the same foppery of style and manner. A simper plays on his countenance; his elocution is soft and delicate; his action pathetic; his sentences entangled in a maze of sweet perplexity; he plays off the whole of his theatrical skill, and hopes to elevate and surprise.