Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

found fusceptible of order, method, and constancy, to a surprizing degree. Property is there secure; industry encouraged; the arts flourish; and the prince lives secure among his subjects, like a father among his children. There are perhaps, and have been for two centuries, near two hundred absolute princes, great and small, in Europe; and allowing twenty years to each reign, we may suppose, that there have been in the whole two thousand monarchs or tyrants, as the Greeks would have called them : Yet of these there has not been one, not even Philip II. of SPAIN, fo bad as TIBERIUS, CALIGULA, Nero, or DOMITIAN, who were four in twelve amongst the Roman emperors. It must, however, be confessed, that tho monarchical governments have approached nearer to popular ones, in gentleness and stability, they are still much inferior. Our modern education and customs instil more humanity and moderation than the ancient; but have not as yet been able to overcome entirely the disadvantages of that form of government,

But here I must beg leave to advance a conjecture, which seems very probable, but which posterity alone can fully judge of. I am apt to think, that in monarchical governments there is a source of improvement, and in popular governments a source of degeneracy, which in time will bring these species of government still nearer an equality. The greatest abuses, which arise in FRANCE, the most perfect model of pure monarchy, proceed not from the number or weight of the taxes, beyond what are to be met with in free countries; but from the expensive, unequal, arbitrary, and intricate method of levying them, by which the industry of the poor, especially of the peasants and farmers, is, in a great meafure, discouraged, and agriculture rendered a beggarly and a Navish employment. But to whofe advantage do these abuses tend ? If to that of the nobility, they might be esteemed inherent in that form of government ; since the nobility are the true fupports of monarchy; and 'tis natural their interest should be more consulted, in such a constitution, than that of the people. But the nobility are, in reality, the principal losers by this oppression ; since it ruins their estates, and beggars their tenants. The only gainers by it are the Financiers, a race of men rather odious to the nobility and the whole kingdom. If a prince or a minister, therefore, should arife, endowed with sufficient discernment to know his own and the public interest, and with sufficient force of mind to break thro' ancient cuftoms, we might expect to see these 'abuses remedied; in which case, the difference betwixt their absolute government and our free one, would not appear fo considerable as at present.

The source of degeneracy, which may be remarked in free governments, confifts in the practice of contracting debt, and mortgaging the public revenues, by which taxes may, in time, become altogether intolerable, and all the property of the state be brought into the hands of the public. This practice is of modern date. The ATHENIANS, tho' governed by a republic, paid near two hundred per Cent. for those sums of money, which any emergent occasion made it necessary for them to borrow; as we learn from XENOPHON *. Among the moderns, the Dutch first introduced the practice of borrowing great fums at low interest, and

any em

ed the carn from

• Κτησιν δε απ' έδενός αν έτω καλήν κτήσαιντο ώσπερ κωσιν, ου γαρ μιαν προλελέσαντες, εγγυς δυοίν μια τρόαφ και αν προελέσωσιν εις την αφορμήν. - οι δέ γε πλείςοι σοδον έξεσι -ο δόκει των ανθρωπίνων ασφαλέσαιον τε και A9rców. Whilova Antonlar xat iwanlov s osa cr simsvíga Fono xpon átatov tuvas. EEN. NIOPOI.

have

[ocr errors]

have well nigh ruined themselves by it. Absolute princes have also contracted debt; but as an absolute prince may play the bankrupt when he pleases, his people can never be opprest by his debts. In popular governments, the people, and chiefly those who have the highest offices, being commonly the public creditors, 'cis difficult for the state to make use of this remedy, which, however it may be sometimes necessary, is always cruel and barbarous. This, therefore, seems to be an inconvenience, which nearly threatens all free governments; especially our own, at the present juncture of affairs. And what a strong motive is this, to increase our frugality of the public money ; left, for want of it, we be reduced, by the multiplicity of taxes, to curse our free government, and wilh ourselves in the same state of servitude with all the nations that surround us ?

E

S S A Y XVI.
OF ELOQUENCE.

HOSE, who consider the periods and revolutions of human kind, as re:

presented in history, are entertained with a spectacle full of pleasure and variety, and fee, with surprize, the manners, customs, and opinions of the same fpecies 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, negotiations, and politics of one age resemble more those of another, than the taste, wit, and speculative principles. Interest and ambition, honor 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, that they may almost be esteemed of a different species; it may be observed, that even this latter period of human learning, is, in many respects, of an opposite character to the ancient ; and that if we be sup?rior in philosophy, we are itill, notwithstanding all our refinements, 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 s and some eminent writers have pronounced the talents, even of a great poet or philosopher, to be of an inferior nature to thcse 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. 'Tis observable, that the ancient critics could scarce find two orators in any age, who deserved to be placed precisely in the same rank, and posseffed 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

most

most eloquent speaker, who 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 DEMOSTHENES. Ita funt avidæ & capaces meæ aures, says he, & femper aliquid immensum, infinitumque defiderant.

This single circumstance is sufficient to make us apprehend the wide difference between ancient and modern eloquence, and let us see how much the latter is inferior' to the former. Of all the police and learned nations, Britain alone poffesses a popular government, or admits into the legislature such numerous affemblies as can be supposed to lie under the dominion of eloquence. But what has BRITAIN to boast of in this particular ? In enumerating all the great men, who have done honor 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 preferve their speeches ; and the authority which they porfessed 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 to 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 night application. A hundred cabinetmakers 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 focked to ATHENS from the most remote parts of GREECE, as to the moft celebrated fpectacle of the world *. At LONDON you may see men fauntering in the court of requests, while the most important 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, chan 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 ftrokes, that the stile or species of their eloquence was infi. nitely more sublime than that which modern orators aspire to. How absurd would it appear, in our temperate and calm fpeakers, to make use of an Apostrophe, like that noble one of Demosthenes, so much celebrated by QUINCTILIAN and LONGINUS, when, juftifying the unsuccessful battle of CHÆRONEA, he breaks out,

* Ne illud quidem intelligunt, non modo ita Attici dicunt, non modo a corona (quod eft ipmemoriæ proditum effe, fed ita neceffe fuiffe, cum sum miserabile) sed etiam ab advocatis relinquunDemosthenes dicturus esset, ut concursus, audi- tur.

Cicero de Claris Oratoribus. cndi caufa, ex tota GRECIA fierent. At cum isti

No, No, my Fellow-Citizens, 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 employs, 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 go fartber, hould I lift up my voice, in the most desolate folitude, to the rocks and mountains, yet pould I surely see those rude and inani. mate parts of nature moved with borror and indignation at the recital of fo enorinous an action *. With what a blaze of eloquence must such a sentence be surrounded to give it grace, or cause it to make any impression on the hearers ? And what noble art and sublime talents are requisite to arrive, by just degrees, at a sentiment so bold and excessive: To inflame the audience, so as to make them accompany the speaker in such violent passions, and such elevated conceptions: And to conceal, under a torrent of eloquence, the artifice, by which all this is effectuated!

SUITABLE to this vehemence of thought and expression, was the vehemence of action, observed in the ancient orators. The supplofio pedis, or stamping of the foot, was one of the most usual and moderate gestures which they made use of t; tho' 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 ascribe so sensible a decline of eloquence in latter ages. The genius of mankind, at all times, is, perhaps, equal : The moderns have applied themselves, with great industry and success, to all the other arts and sciences : And one of the most learned nations of the universe poffefses a popular government, which seems requisite for the full display of these noble talents: But notwithstanding all these advantages, our progress in eloquence is very inconsiderable, in comparison of the advances, which we have made in all the other parts of learning

SHALL we assert, that the strains of ancient eloquence are unsuitable to our age, and not to be imitated by modern orators? Whatever reasons may be made use of to prove this, I am persuaded they will be found, upon examination, to be unfound and unsatisfactory.

First, It may be said, that in ancient times, during the flourishing period of the GREEK and Roman learning, the municipal laws, in every state, were but few and simple, and the decision of causes was, in a great measure, left to the equity and common sense of the judges. The study of the laws was not then a laborious occupation. requiring the drudgery of a whole life to finish it, and utterly incompatible with every other study or profession. The great statesmen and

* The original is ; Quod fi hæc non ad cives tate commoverentur. Cic. in ver. Romanos, non ad aliquos amicos noftræ civitatis, + Ubi dolor? Ubi ardor animi, qui etiam ex innon ad eos qui populi Romani nomen audissent; fantium ingeniis elicere voces & querelas folet ? denique, fi non ad homines, veram ad bestias ; nulla perturbatio animi, nulla corporis : frons non aut etiam, ut longius progrediar, si in aliqua percuffa, non femur; pedis (quod minimum eft) desertissima solitudine, ad faxa & ad fcopulos hæc nulla supplosio. Itaque tantum abfuit ut inflamconqueri & deplorare vellem, tamen omnia muta mares noftros animos ; somnum iito loco vix teneatque inanima, tanta & tam indigna rerum atroci- bamus. Cicero de Claris Oratoribus.

generals

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

generals among the ROMANS were all lawyers ; and Cicero, to shew the facility of acquiring this science, declares, that in the midst of all his occupations, he would undertake, in a few days, to make himself a compleat civilian. Now, where a pleader addresses himself to the equity of his judges, he has much more room to display his eloquence, than where he must draw his arguinents from strict laws, statutes, and precedents. In the former case, many circumstances must be taken in, many personal considerations regarded ; and even favor and inclination, which it belongs to the orator, by his art and eloquence,' to conciliate; may be disguised under the appearance of equity. But, how shall a modern lawyer have leisure to quit his toilfome occupations, in order to gather the flowers of ParNASSUS ? Or what opportunity shall he have of displaying them, amidst the rigid and subtile arguments, objections, and replies, which he is obliged to make use of? The greatest genius, and greatest orător, wlio should pretend to plead before the Chancellor, after a month's study of the laws, would only labor to make himself ridiculous.

I am ready to own, that this circumstance, of the multiplicity and intricacy of laws, is a discouragement to eloquence in modern times : But I assert, that it will not account entirely for the decline of that noble art. It may banish oratory from WESTMINSTER-HALL, but not from either house of parliament. Among the ATHENIANS, the AREOPAGITES expresly forbad all allurements of eloquence; and some have pretended that in the GREEK orations wrote in the judiciary form, there is not such a bold and rhetorical: stile, as appears in the ROMAN. Buć to what a pitch did the ATHENIANS carry their eloquence in the deliberative kind, when affairs of state were canvassed, and the liberty, happiness, and honor of the na tion were the subjects of debate ? Difputes of this nature elevate the genius above all others, and give the fullest scope to eloquence'; and such disputes are very frequent in this nation.

Secondly, It may be pretended, that the decline of eloquence is owing to the fuperior good sense of the moderns, who reject with disdain, all those rhetorical tricks, employed to seduce the judges, and will admit of nothing but solid argument in any debate or deliberation. If a man be accused of murder, the fact must be proved by witnesfes and evidence; and the laws will afterwards determine the punishment of the criminal. It would be ridiculous to describe, in strong colours, the horror and cruelty of the action: To introduce the relations of the dead ; and, at a signal, make them throw themfelves at the feet of the judges, imploring ju-, .ftice with tears and lamencations : And still more ridiculous would it be, to employ a picture representing the bloody deed, in order to move the judges by the display of so tragical a spectacle : Tho' we know, that this poor artifice was fomea, times practised by the pleaders of old *. Now, banish the pathetic from public discourses, and you reduce the speakers merely to modern eloquence ; that is, to good-sense, delivered in proper expressions.

PERHAPS it may be acknowleged, that our modern customs, or our superior good-fense, if you will, should make our orators more cautious and reserved than the ancient, in attempting to inflame the passions, or elevate the imagination of their audience : But, I see no reason, why it should make them despair absolutely

* QUINTIL. lib. 6. cap. .

« ZurückWeiter »