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The Albany Law Journal.
Albany, January *, 1870. On The Study Of Forensic Eloquenx'e.
There is another essential, aside from a knowledge of the law, foi the successful court lawyer — that is eloquence; that sort of eloquence which Blair defines to be "the art of speaking in such a manner as to attain the end for which we speak." Most young men, who study with a view of coming to the bar, have an ambition, more or less strong, to become advocates — to be able to convince judges and persuade juries by the power of their logic and the graces of their style and utterance; but a visit to our courts is but too likely to show how lamentable the great majority of them fail of achieving their desire.
Lack of perseverance in performing the labor necessary to the student of elocution, or ignorance of the method to be pursued, or, in many cases, a notion that orators, like poets, "are born, not made," has served to make the number of eloquent advocates very small indeed.
The almost universal idea seems to prevail, that industry can effect nothing; that everyone must be content to remain just what he happens to be, and that eminence is the result of accident. For the acquirement of any other art, men expect to serve long apDrenticeships; to study it carefully and laboriously; to master it thoroughly. lf one would learn to sing, he attends a master and is drilled in the elementary principles; and it is only after the most careful discipline that he dares to exercise his voice in public . lf he would learn to play a musical instrument, how patiently and persistently does he study and practice, that he may draw out, at will, all its various combinations of harmonious sounds, and its full richness and delicacy of expression. And yet a man will fancy that the grandest, the most complex, the most expressive of all instruments, which is fashioned by the union of intellect with power of speech, may be played upon without study or practice. Ho comes to it a mere tyro, and thinks to manage all its stops, and command the whole compass of its varied and comprehensive power; he finds himself a mere bungler in the attempt, wonders at his failure, and settles it in his mind forever that the attempt is vain — that it can be done only by genius.
Nothing can be more mischievous and unfortunate to the student than for him to fall into such an error— to hold the opinion that excellence in speaking is a gift of nature and not the result of patient and persistent labor and study. lf all men had entertained and acted upon such an opinion, those who have won time and honor by their eloquence would have re
mained mute and inglorious. Never would Demosthenes have charmed an Athenian audience, not Cicero have hurled his denunciations against Cataline. Lord Chatham would have remained simple William Pitt, andErskine lived an ordinary English barrister; Curran would have been " Orator Mum" to the end of his days, and Choato died "unwept, unhonored, and unsung."
Men who believe that eloquence is the result of genius, and not of labor, are like the dwellers in the East, as described by Sir Joshua Reynolds in his address to the pupils of the Royal Academy. He says: "The travelers into the East tell us, that when the ignorant inhabitants of those countries are asked concerning the ruins of stately edifices yet remaining amongst them the melancholy monuments of their former grandeur and long-lost science, they always answer: 'They were built by magicians.' The untaught mind finds a vast gulf between its own powers and those works of complicated art, which it is utterly unable to fathom; and it supposes that such a void can be passed only by supernatural powers." What Sir Joshua says of painting is true of oratory. Those who know not the cause of any thing extraordinary and beyond them may well be astonished at the effect; and what the uncivilized ascribe to magic, others ascribe to genius,— two mighty pretenders who, for the most part, are safe from rivalry only because by the terror of their names they discourage in their own peculiar sphere that resolute and sanguine spirit of enterprise which is essential to success. But as has been well said, "all magic is science in disguise," and it is our object in this article to proceed to take off the mask — to show that the mightiest objects of our wonder, so far as eloquence is concerned, are mere men like ourselves, have attained their superiority by steps which we can follow, and that we can walk in the same path even though there remain at last a broad space between us.
Lord Chesterfield was not very far wrong when, in his letters to his son, he told him that any man of reasonable abilities might make himself an orator; not an orator like Cicero's magnificent myth, who should have "the acuteness of the logician, the wisdom of the philosophers, the language almost of poetry, the memory of lawyers, the voice of tragedians, the gesture of the best actors;"* such orators, we admit, must be nascitur, nonfit — born, not made — and they are rarely to be found; but orators like Pitt and Fox, like Mansfield and Erskine, like Pinkney and Choate — orators who can "sway listening senates," who are stormy masters of the jury-box.
Chesterfield was perhaps an illustration of his own theory for he said that he at one time determined to moke himself the best speaker in Parliament and set about a severe course of training for it; and we have the opinion of so able a judge as Horace Walpole that he was the first speaker of the House. Every schoolboy can tell you of the gigantic labors of Demosthenes in training himself for a public speaker. lt will be refreshing for any student who desires to improve himself in speaking to turn to Plutarch's life of Demosthenes, and read of his early struggles with obstacles which would have discouraged at the
* Cicero's De Oratore, Book l, c. 28.
threshold the great majority of mankind. Laughed at and interrupted by the clamor of the people in his first efforts, by reason of his violent and awkward manner, and a weakness and stammering in his voice, he retired to his house with covered head and in great distress, yet not disheartened. At one time he complained to Satyrus, the player, "that though he was the most laborious of all the orators, and had almost sacrificed his health to that application, yet he could gain no favor with the people." Satyrus seems to have been a judicious adviser, and proceeded to correct his faults as Hume says, he who teaches eloquence must—by example. He requested Demosthenes to read some speech from Euripides or Sophocles. When he had done, Satyrus pronounced the same speech with so much propriety of action that it appeared to the orator quite a different passage. "He now understood so well," says Plutarch, "how much grace and dignity action adds to the best oration, that he thought it a small matter to premeditate and compose, though with the utmost care, if the pronunciation and propriety of gesture were not attended to. Upon this he built himself a subterranean study, whither he repaired every day to form his action and exercise his voice; and he would often stay there two or three months together, shaving one side of his head, that if he should happen to be ever so desirous of going abroad, the shame of appearing in that condition might keep him in." The contemporaries of Demosthenes esteemed him as a man of but little genius, and concluded that all his eloquence was the result of labor. Certain it is that he was seldom heard to speak extempore; and though often called upon in the assembly to speak, he would not do it unless he came prepared. It is undoubtedly true that nature had sowed in Demosthenes the seeds of a great orator; but they were brought to perfection only by the most patient labor and severe discipline — labor and discipline that would make any student of the law, of ordinary judgment and sense, the equal of Pinkney, of Wirt, or ofChoate.
Think of the eloquence of Cicero! How wonderful the grandeur and magnificence of his style; how copious and elegant his diction; how various and comprehensive his knowledge; surely, we say, like the dwellers in the East, this is the work of magic — of genius. But when we take off the mask we find that it is mainly the result of careful, unflagging, untiring study and practice. Middleton says: "His industry was incredible, beyond the example or even conception of our days; this was the secret by which he performed such wonders, and reconciled perpetual study with perpetual affairs."
Nor were these orators of antiquity singular in their devotion to the art of speaking. All the great orators of modern times have emulated their greatness by emulating their love of labor. Lord Chatham, who has been justly regarded as the most powerful orator of modern times, was from his early youth a most laborious and devoted student of oratory. His biographer says of him: "At the age of eighteen, Mr. Pitt (afterward Lord Chatham), was removed to the University of Oxford. Here, in connection with his other studies, he entered on that severe course of rhetorical training, which he often referred to in after life
as forming so large a part of his early discipline. He took up the practice of writing out translations from the ancient orators and historians, on the broadest scale. Demosthenes was his model; and we are told that he rendered a large part of his orations again and again into English, as the best means of acquiring a forcible and expressive style. ... As a means of acquiring copiousness of diction and an exact choice of words, Mr. Pitt also read and re-read the sermons of Dr. Barrow till he knew many of them by heart. With the same view he performed a task, to which, perhaps, no other student in oratory has ever submitted. He went twice through the folio dictionary of Bailey, examining each word attentively, dwelling on its peculiar import and modes of construction, and thus endeavoring to bring the whole range of our language completely under his control. At this time, also, he began those exorcises in elocution by which he is known to have obtained his extraordinary powers of delivery. Though gifted by nature with a commanding voice and person, he spared no effort to add everything that art could confer for his improvement as an orator." His success was commensurate with his zeal. Garrick himself was not a greater actor, in that higher sense of the term in which Demosthenes declared action to be the first, and second, and third thing in oratory. The labor which he bestowed on these exercises was surprisingly great. Probably no man of genius since the days of Cicero has over submitted to an equal amount of drudgery.
Lord Mansfield, equally famous as an advocate and judge, affords us another example of unwoarying, patient discipline. He studied oratory with the greatest fervor and diligence. He read everything that had been written on the subject of the art; lie made himself familiar with all the great masters of eloquence in Greece and Rome, and spent much of his time in translating their finest productions as the best means of improving his style. During his study of the law at Lincolu's Inn, he carried on the practice of oratory with the utmost zeal, and was a constant attendant and speaker in a debating society which he had joined. One day, says his biographer, he was surprised by a friend, who suddenly entered his room, in "the act of practicing before a glass, while Pope (the poet) sat by to aid him in the character of an instructor." Such are the arts by which are produced those results that the uninitiated ascribe to genius.
Sheridan was one of the most brilliant orators of modern times, and yet his maiden speech in Parliament, delivered when ho was nearly thirty years old, was a failure. Woodfall, the reporter, used to relate that Sheridan came up to him in the gallery, when the speech was ended, and asked him, with much anxiety, what he thought of his first attempt. "I am sorry to say," replied Woodfall," that I don't think this is your line; you would better have stuck to your former pursuit." Sheridan rested his head on his hand for a few minutes, and then exclaimed, with vehemence: "It is in me, and it shall come out of me." Quickened by a sense of shame, ho now devoted himself, with the utmost assiduity, to the cultivation of his powers as a speaker. Seven years after he brought forward, in the House of Commons, the charges against Warren Hastings, relating to the princesses of Oude, in a speech of such brilliancy and eloquence that the whole assembly, at its conclusion, broke forth into expressions of tumultuous applause, and the House adjourned to recover from the excitement produced by it. Pitt said, "an abler speech was perhaps never delivered," and Fox and Windham, years after, spoke of it with undiminished admiration. As Sheridan had said to Woodfall, it teas in him and it did come out, but it was wrought out by patient toil and study. Moore paints him at his desk at work on this very speech — writing and erasing with all the care and pains-taking of a special pleader. Indeed, it transpired after his death, that his uril was most of it studied out before hand. His common-place book was found to be full of humorous thoughts and sportive turns, written first in one form and then in another — the point shifted from one part of the sentence to another to try the effect. How little did his delighted hearers imagine, as some playful allusion, keen retort, or brilliant sally, flashed out upon them from his speeches, in a manner so easy, natural, and yet unexpected, that it had been long before laboriously moulded and manufactured. Johnson tells us that Butler, the author of "Hudibras," had garnered up his wit in the same way. How conclusively do these examples illustrate the truth of Sir Joshua Reynolds' remark, that the effects of genius must have their causes, and that these may, for the most part, be analyzed, digested, and copied, though sometimes they may be too subtle to be reduced to a written art.
Charles James Fox rose, says Mr. Burke, " by slow degrees, to be the most brilliant and accomplished debater the world ever knew," and Fox himself has told us the secret of his skill. He gained it, he says, "at the expense of the House," for he had frequently tasked himself, during an entire session, to speak on every question that came up, whether he was interested in it or not, as a means of exercising and training his faculties.
Curran, the Irish orator and advocate, was known at school as "stuttering Jack Curran;" and, while studying at an Inn of Court, the members of a debating society to which he belonged called him "Orator Mum," in honor of his signal failure as a speaker. But he had made up his mind to become an orator, and was not to be put down by obstacles. He spent his mornings, as he states, "in reading even to exhaustion," and the rest of the day in the more congenial pursuits of literature, and especially in unremitting efforts to perfect himself as a speaker. His voice was bad, and his articulation hasty and confused; his manner was awkward, his gestures constrained and meaningless, and his whole appearance calculated only to produce laughter. Such is the picture of him left us by his biographers. Surely, one would think, an orator could never be made out of such materials. Yet all these faults he overcame by severe and patient labor. Constantly on the watch against bad habits, be practiced daily before a glass, reciting passages from Shakspcarc, Junius, and the best English orators. Ho frequented debating societies, and unmindful of the ridicule that greeted his repeated failures, he continued to take part in the discussions. At last, he surmounted every difficulty. "He turned his shrill and stumbling brogue," says one of his friends, "into
a flexible, sustained, and finely-modulated voice; his action became free and forcible; and he acquired perfect readiness in thinking on his legs;" in short, he became one of the most brilliant and eloquent advocates that the world has ever produced. Well might one of his biographers say: "His oratorical training was as severe as any Greek ever underwent."
The biographies of Pultney, of Burke, of Pitt, of Erskine, of Grattan, of Brougham—of all the great orators of England—contain records of the same careful training and discipline in the art of speaking.
Nor have American orators found the path to success loss difficult. Rufus Choate—who was, perhaps, the most accomplished advocate America has yet produced—was a noble illustration of what systematic culture and discipline can do. He was, in the truest sense of the term, a made orator. Forensic rhetorio was the great study of his life, and he pursued it with a patience, a steadiness, a zeal, equal to that of Chatham or Curran. He trusted to no native gift of eloquence, but practiced elocution every day for forty years as a critical study. Everything that could be prepared, was prepared; every nerve, every muscle that could be trained, was trained; every power that daily practice could strengthen, was invigorated. So thoroughly imbued was he with a zeal for oratory, that it formed the subject of his almost daily conversation, as it did of his daily practice; and his biography will rouse an ambitious student as the sound of the tiumpet does the war-horse.
Daniel Webster may, perhaps, be considered to have been as nearly a natural orator as any this country has produced; and yet the students are few indeed that cultivate the art of oratory so laboriously as did he. Even his genius was mainly " science in disguise.'' He himself told the late Senator Fessenden, that those figures and illustrations in his speeches, which had become so famous and been so often quoted, were, like Sheridan's wit, the result of previous study and preparation; and that that passage in his speech, wherein he describes the glory and power of England—a passage known and quoted the world over—was conceived and fashioned while he was standing on the American side of tho Niagara river, listening to the British drum-beats on tho Canada shore.
From these examples, we may learn that all truly noble orators in every ago have trusted, not to inspiration, but to discipline; that great as were their natural abilities, they were much less than the ignorant rated them; that even the mightiest condescended to certain rules and methods of study by which the humblest are able to profit. It is good for the student to read of the studies and labors, tho trials and conflicts, the difficulties and triumphs of such men. It is to the ambitious student as the touch of mother earth was to Anteeus in his struggle with Hercules—renewing his strength and reviving his flagging zeal. It rouses him to severer self-denial, to more assiduous study, to more self-sustaining confidence, and leads him to feel, like Themistocles of old, that "the trophies of Miltiades will not let me sleep.'' These examples will teach him that God has set a price on every real and noble achievement; that success in oratory, as in everything else worth succeeding in, can be purchased only by pain and labor; and lastly and mainly, that