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But Cicero was a remarkable instance of a man who understood himself. He knew his own character thoroughly ; he understood wherein bis greatest power consisted, and he used every means to cultivate those faculties which he was aware could alone ensure his success. He very early in life formed the conception of that perfect character, which he says an orator ought to be ; a man who has cultivated every power to the highest degree ; to whom the arts, the ornaments of life, nature itself pays tribute ; whose mind is enriched by the knowledge of all sciences, and the thoughts and imaginings of kindred spirits in all ages, and who gathers into himself the results of genius of every period, country, and form. Upon this model Cicero formed bis character. He was aware ihat his powers were equal to the task. He knew that he could comprehend all that man had known ; that his powers of acquiring and his industry were unsurpassed ; and still more, he felt, that knowledge in his mind would not be a dead and useless weight, but that he had power to mould and transform, to bring forth new and fairer forms, and to bequeath to all futurity high and worthy thoughts. From his earliest years, therefore, he devoted himself to literary pursuits. He made himself familiar, not only with the rhetorician's art, but also with the whole science of Roman jurisprudence ; two branches which had always been considered as forming distinct professions. After gaining all the knowledge to be found in Rome, he travelled into Greece; he there perfected himself in the language of that country, and became familiar with her rich philosophy and literature. In Asia he was surrounded by the most distinguished philosophers and orators, with whom he daily conversed and reasoned, and from whom he probably obtained much of that knowledge of ancient philosophy, which he displays in his writings. His mind was stored with all huinan knowledge; the beautiful poetry of Greece was familiar to him ; he bad walked in the groves of Academus, and the genius of the place had penetrated his soul; he had listened to the various creeds of the schools, and had boldly formed his own opinions, without suffering the shackles of other minds; and he returned to make all his acquirements contribute to one object, the profession of eloquence. Of all the manifestations of human power, Cicero regarded that of the orator as the greatest, and as approaching nearest to the divine nature. To this, he made all knowledge and all talent
subservient; to this, poetry, philosophy, and history were but the ministering attendants.
We gather from his own writings his exalted opinion of the eloquent man.
“Let us trace the qualifications," says he, “ of the orator such as Antony never saw, nor any other man ; whom we can perchance describe as he ought to be, though perhaps we can neither imitate him, nor show any example of such a man, (for Antony used to say that these qualities were hardly granted to a God.) - Orator, c. 5.
“ The orator must possess the knowledge of many sciences, without which a mere flow of words is vain and ridiculous; his style of speaking must be formed not only by a choice of words, but by a skilful arrangement and construction of sentences; he must be deeply versed in every emotion which nature has given to man ; for all skill and power in speaking, consists in soothing or exciting the minds of the audience. In addition to this, he must possess a ready wit and pleasantry, an amount of erudition such as is becoming to a freeman, and a quickness of repartee united with refined elegance and urbanity. He must be familiar with all antiquity, and be provided with a store of examples; nor must he neglect the science of laws and jurisprudence. — And what shall I say of action ? which depends upon the motions of the body, the gestures, the countenance, the tones and changes of the voice. The great importance of action may be discovered from the actor's frivolous art, and the stage ; for who is ignorant how few can resist the effect even of the moderate skill exhibited there? What shall I say of the memory,
that treasury of all learning, without whose aid in preserving the knowledge we have acquired, or the thoughts we have originated, all the most valuable qualities of an orator would be lost ? Let us no longer wonder, then, that eloquence is so rare, since it consists of so many accomplishments, each of which would seem to be the work of a life in acquiring.” — De Oratore, lib. 1, c. 5.
Such was Cicero's notion of the Perfect Orator, and such he endeavoured to render himself. He was undoubtedly correct, in regarding eloquence as the concentration of human genius, the fullest developement of all the powers, and the manifestation of the highest qualities of our nature. There is certainly no display of mortal power so imposing, as that of the great orator at the moment of putting forth his energies ; when the highest mental faculties are called into action in concert with those physical powers which are so noble that the Greeks held them divine ; when the thoughts that breathe and the words that burn are enforced by the graceful and impressive gesture, the form that seems to tower up and dilate, the beaming eye, the voice, with its thousand tones, embodying thought in the most resistless forms; and the enraptured crowds are ready to cry out, " It is the voice of a god and not of a
The union of the physical with the mental must always be more dazzling, more overwhelming in its effects, than mere intellectual effort can ever be. Hence, probably, the glory that must always be attached to great military prowess. The leader of a mighty host, governing all by the force of his single intellect, and with majestic presence of mind, amid the scene of carnage and horror, assailed by the dreadful sounds of battle, the deafening shouts, the continued roar, the shrieks of agony, the trumpet's blast, calmly directing the storm, or perhaps himself heading the charge, and rushing foremost in the onset, and inspiring thousands with a heroism they never felt before, — this is a display of energy and power, that must command admiration even from those who turn with loathing and horror from the scene.
This union of physical with intellectual power, however, is more remarkable and magnificent in the orator than in the soldier ; for here, the intellect predominates. It is mind manifesting itself in the brightest form of matter, and simply using it to give a more intense and perceptible expression to thought. In the warrior, the physical seems to prevail ; it is aided by the intellectual, but it makes mind subservient to matter, and the effect produced is owing more to muscles and sinews, to animal courage and strength, than to intellectual power. The orator occasions, in a degree, the same effect, but in a far more noble manner. “Before whom," says Cicero, “do men tremble ? on whom do they gaze stupefied ? at whose words do they shout ? whom do they regard as a God among
To some it may seem strange that one, whose ambition was so great as Cicero's, should have been content to rest his fame on a distinction so transient as that gained by the orator. True eloquence, as Cicero understood the word, uttered, not written, was to be terminated with the life of the orator.
When that voice which invoked the people to their duties, as with a trumpet call, at whose sound the guilty quailed and fled, which made one tyrant tremble on his judgment-seat, and goaded another to very madness, was hushed in death ; when the speaking eye was closed, and the graceful right hand had lost its cunning; where was that eloquence to which a life of industry and careful labor had been devoted ? For a few years the memory of it lingered among his countrymen, who thought with bitter feelings of that name they dared not utter, and that glory which Rome was never again to witness; but one by one all who had listened to him passed away, and the oratory of Cicero was a forgotten thing, or survived only in vague tradition. Why then, it may be asked, should a man of his genius devote his life to building up a monument, which at his death would melt away and disappear like some gorgeous cloud-pile which the wind scatters?
But, we ask, is eloquence so transient ? Though the voice of the orator or the tragedian be hushed in death, do his glory and power pass away entirely ? Though we may no longer hear his voice, or be moved by his eloquence; though these may be forgotten things, and their very existence doubted, still they are not lost upon the earth. Has the memory of those mighty orators who have lived before, perished altogether ? is it not handed down from those who listened to the strains, to their children, and their children's children, from generation to generation, till the fame thereof has filled the whole earth? The writer, indeed, addresses us, centuries after his death, in the self-same words that he spoke to his contemporaries, while the accents of the orator are forgotten. But the memory of the results he brought to pass, the power he exerted, the good he did, can never die ; it endures with life-giving and eternal power ; it exists in the hearts of thousands, a beautiful ideal, which the lips may fail perhaps to body forth, but which the mind conceives and beholds in its full glory. It lives on, a standard and model which urges thousands forward to a perfection they could never have reached without it. In this sense, there is much that is real and permanent in the fame of an orator. He who founds a city, or discovers a continent, leaves an imperishable fame ; but the monument of an orator's glory is not less real, firm, and lasting; it is renewed with every successive age; it lives again in the accents of every eloquent man whom it has stimulated to
be what he is. In this view of it, the fame of an orator is well worth possessing, because it is not an empty sound, but an active principle, that endures and exerts a noble influence through countless ages.
An instance in illustration of our remarks occurs in the celebrated speech of Sheridan before the House of Commons, preceding the impeachment of Warren Hastings. The records of this speech have not been preserved, and there are few living who were blessed with the sound of that voice. It is only known, that at the close of the oration, Sir William Dolben moved an adjournment of the debate, on the ground, that, “in the state of mind in which Sheridan's speech had left him, it was impossible for him to give a determinate opinion." Yet what volumes does this speak! The imagination paints that august body whom the orator was addressing ; at first we see their usual indifference; we notice them whispering and moving about, or lounging on their benches ; as the orator proceeds, their attention is gradually fixed; they sit erect that they may listen more carefully ; the whispering and bustle cease ; the speaker himself loses his usual appearance of indifference and apathy ; the stern countenances relax, and tears are seen trickling down many a furrowed cheek. The stillness is now profound, broken only by the occasional sob, or the irrepressible cry of admiration, or perhaps at intervals the orator is interrupted, not by the usual tributes of applause, but by cries of rapture, shouts that know not parliamentary forms, and which are uttered by those who would have repressed them, but could not. As he closes, and the sounds of bis magnificent eloquence die upon the ear, the same deep stillness continues, so
" that even Silence
Still to be so displaced.” Then follows that noble and generous tribute to his power, and the members withdraw in silence and meditation, astonished and overwhelmed by the gorgeous eloquence they had listened to. What the words were, and what the manner was, that so wrought upon this refined and fastidious body, can only be conjectured; the imagination dwells upon it with longing, yet almost in despair ; but many a youthful orator has become eloquent from the image of perfection which this slight record has created in his mind.