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E S S A Y XII.
HOSE, who consider the periods and revolutions
of human kind, as represented in history, are entertained with a spectacle full of pleafure and variety, and fee, with furprize, the manners, customs, and opinions of the same species susceptible of such prodigious changes in different periods of time. It may, however, be observed, that, in civil history, there is found a much greater uniformity than in the history of learning and science, and that the wars, negociations, and politics of one age resemble more those of another, than the taste, wit, and speculative principles. Interest and ambition, honour and shame, friendship and enmity, gratitude and revenge, are the prime movers in all public transactions; and these passions are of a very stubborn and intractable nature, in comparison of the sentiments and understanding, which are easily varied by education and example. The Goths were much more inferior to the ROMANS, in taste and science, than in courage and virtue.
But not to compare together nations so widely different; it may be observed, that even this later period of human learning is, in many respects, of an opposite character to the ancient; and that if we be superior in 6
philosophy, we are still, notwithstanding all our refines ments, much inferior in eloquence.
In ancient times, no work of genius was thought to require so great parts and capacity, as the speaking in public; and some eminent writers have pronounced the talents, even of a great poet or philosopher, to be of an inferior nature to those which are requisite for such an undertaking. Greece and Rome produced, each of them, but one accomplished orator ; and whatever praises the other celebrated speakers might merit, they were still esteemed much inferior to these great models of eloquence. It is observable, that the ancient critics could scarcely find two orators in any age, who deserved to be placed precisely in the same rank, and possessed the same degree of merit. Calvus, CÆLIUS, Curio, HORTENSIUS, CÆSAR rose one above another : But the greatest of that age was inferior to Cicero, the moft eloquent speaker, that had ever appeared in ROME. Those of fine taste, however, pronounced this judgment of the ROMAN orator, as well as of the GRECIAN, that both of them surpassed in eloquence all that had ever appeared, but that they were far from reaching the perfection of their art, which was infinite, and not only exceeded human force to attain, but human imagination to conceive. Cicero declares himself dissatisfied with his own performances ; nay, even with those of Demos
Ita sunt avide & capaces meæ aures, says he, & femper aliquid immensum, infinitumque desiderant.
Of all the polite and learned nations, BRITAIN alone poffefses a popular government, or admits into the legifature such numerous assemblies as can be supposed to lie under the dominion of eloquence. But what has BRITAIN to boast of in this particular? In enumerating
the great men, who have done honour to our country, we exult in our poets and philosophers; but what orators are ever mentioned? Or where are the monuments of their genius to be met with? There are found, indeed, in our histories, the names of several, who directed the resolutions of our parliament: But neither themselves nor others have taken the pains to preserve their speeches; and the authority, which they possessed, seems to have been owing to their experience, wisdom, or power, more than to their talents for oratory. At present, there are above half a dozen speakers in the two houses, who, in the judgment of the public, have reached very near the same pitch of eloquence; and no man pretends to give any one the preference above the rest. This seems to me a certain proof, that none of them have attained much beyond a mediocrity in their art, and that the species of eloquence, which they aspire to, gives no exercise to the sublimer faculties of the mind, but may be reached by ordinary talents and a flight application. A hundred cabinet-makers in LONDON can work a table or a chair equally well; but no one poet can write verses with such spirit and elegance as Mr. Pope.
We are told, that, when Demosthenes was to plead, all ingenious men Aocked to Athens from the most remote parts of Greece, as to the most celebrated spectacle of the world t. At LONDON you may see men fauntering in the court of requests, while the most im.
+ Ne illud quidem intelligunt, non modo ita memoriæ proditum effe, sed ita necesse fuiffe, cum DemoSTHENEş dicturus effet, ut concursus, au-: diendi causa, ex tota Grecia fierent. At cum ifti Attici dicunt, non modo a corona (quod eft ipsum miserabile) sed etiam ab advocatis relinquuntur.
Cicero de Claris Oratoribus,
portant debate is carrying on in the two houses; and many do not think themselves fufficiently compensated, for the losing of their dinners, by all the eloquence of our most celebrated speakers. When old Cibber is to act, the curiosity of several is more excited, than when our prime minister is to defend himself from a motion for his removal or impeachment.
Even a person, unacquainted with the noble remains of ancient orators, may judge, from a few strokes, that the stile or species of their eloquence was infinitely more sublime than that which modern orators aspire to. How absurd would it appear, in our temperate and calm speakers, to make use of an Apostrophe, like that noble one of DEMOSTHENES, so much celebrated by QuintiLIAN and LONGINUS, when, justifying the unsuccessful battle of CHÆRONEA, he breaks out, No, my FellowCitizens, No: You have not erred. I swear by the manes of those heroes, who fought for the same cause in the plains of MARATHON and PLATÆA. Who could now endure such a bold and poetical figure, as that which CICERO einploys, after describing in the most tragical terms the crucifixion of a Roman citizen. Should I paint the horrors of this scene, not to Roman citizens, not to the allies of our state, not to those who have ever heard of the ROMAN Name, not even to men, but to brute-creatures; or, to 89 farther, meuld I lift up my voice in the most desolate folitude, to the rocks and mountains, yet should I surely see those rude and inanimate parts of nature moved with horror and indigration at the recital of so enormous an action to With
+ The original is; Quod fi hæc non ad cives Romanos, non ad aliquos amicos noftræ civitatis, non ad eos qui populi Romani nomen audiffent ; denique, si non ad homines, verum ad beftias; aut etiam, ut longius pros
what a blaze of eloquence must such a sentence be fur. rounded to give it grace, or cause it to make any impreffion on the hearers? And what noble art and sublime talents are requisite to arrive, by just degrees, at a fentiment fo bold and excessive: To inflame the audience, so as to make them accompany the speaker in such violent paffions, and such elevated conceptions : And to conceal, under a torrent of eloquence, the artifice, by which all this is effectuated! Should this sentiment even appear to us excellive, as perhaps it justly may, it will at least serve to give an idea of the style of ancient eloquence, where such swelling expressions were not rejected as wholly monstrous and gigantic.
Suitable to this vehemence of thought and expreffion, was the vehemence of action, observed in the ancient orators. The supplofio pedis, or stamping with the foot, was one of the most usual and moderate gestures which they made use of ti though that is now esteemed too violent, either for the senate, bar, or pulpit, and is only. admitted into the theatre, to accompany the most violent passions, which are there represented.
One is somewhat at a loss to what cause we may afcribe fo sensible a decline of eloquence in later ages. The genius of mankind, at all times, is, perhaps, equal : The moderns have applied themselves, with great
grediar, fi in aliqua desertiffima solitudine, ad faxa & ad fcopulos hæc con. queri & deplorare vellem, tamen omnia muta atque inanima, tanta & tam indigna rerum atrocitate commoverentor.
Cic, in ver. •+ Ubi dolor? Ubi ardor animi, qui etiam ex infantium ingeniis elicere voces & querelas solet ? nulla perturbatio. animi, nulla corporis : frons non percussa, non femur; pedis (quod minimum eff) nulla fupplofio. Itaque tantum abfuit ut inflammares noftros animos; fomnum isto loco vix tenebamus,
Cicero de Claris Oratoribus.