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they are not kings who sit on thrones, but they who know how to govern. The definitions of eloquence describe its attraction for young men. Antiphon the Rhamnusian, one of Plutarch's ten orators, advertised in Athens, that he would cure distempers of the mind with words.” No man has a prosperity so high or firm, but two or three words can dishearten it. There is no calamity which right words will not begin to redress. Isocrates described his art, as“ the power of magnifying what was small and diminishing what was great; - an acute, but partial definition. Among the Spartans, the art assumed a Spartan shape, namely, of the sharpest weapon.
Socrates says, “If any one wishes to converse with the meanest of the Lacedæmonians, he will at first find him despicable in conversation; but, when a proper opportunity offers, this same person, like a skilful jaculator, will hurl a sentence worthy of attention, short and contorted, so that he who converses with him will appear to be in no respect superior to a boy.” Plato's definition of rhetoric is, “ the art of ruling the minds of men.” The Koran says, “ A mountain may change its place, but a man will not change his disposition;
yet the end of eloquence is, — is it not? — to alter in a pair of hours, perhaps in a half-hour's discourse, the convictions and habits of years. Young men, too, are eager to enjoy this sense of added power and enlarged sympathetic existence. The orator sees himself the organ of a multitude, and concentrating their valors and powers:
But now the blood of twenty thousand men
Blushed in my face.” That which he wishes, that which eloquence ought to reach, is, not a particular skill in telling a story, or neatly summing up evidence, or arguing logically, or
dexterously addressing the prejudice of the company; no, but a taking sovereign possession of the audience. Him we call an artist, who shall play on an assembly of men as a master' on the keys of the piano, -- who, seeing the people furious, shall soften and compose them, shall draw them, when he will, to laughter and to tears. Bring him to his audience, and, be they who they may, coarse or refined, pleased or displeased, sulky or savage, with their opinions in the keeping of a confessor, or with their opinions in their banksafes, he will have them pleased and humored as he chooses; and they shall carry and execute that which he bids them.
This is that despotism which poets have celebrated in the “ Pied Piper of Hamelin,” whose music drew like the power of gravitation, — drew soldiers and priests, traders and feasters, women and boys, rats and mice; or that of the minstrel of Meudon, who made the pall-bearers dance around the bier. This is a power of many degrees, and requiring in the orator a great range of faculty and experience, requiring a large composite man, such as Nature rarely organizes, so that, in our experience, we are forced to gather up the figure in fragments, here one talent, and there another.
The audience is a constant metre of the orator. There are many audiences in every public assembly, each one of which rules in turn. If anything comic and coarse is spoken, you shall see the emergence of the boys and rowdies, so loud and vivacious, that you might think the house was filled with them. If new topics are started, graver and higher, these roisters recede; a more chaste and wise attention takes place. You would think the boys slept, and that the men have any degree of profoundness. If the speaker utter a noble sentiment, the attention deepens, a new
and highest audience now listens, and the audiences of the fun and of facts and of the understanding are all silenced and awed. There is also something excellent in every audience, the capacity of virtue. They are ready to be beatified. They know so much more than the orator, — and are so just! There is a tablet there for every line he can inscribe, though he should mount to the highest levels. Humble persons are conscious of new illumination; narrow brows expand with enlarged affections: delicate spirits, long unknown to themselves, masked and muffled in coarsest fortunes, who now hear their own native language for the first time, and leap to hear it. But all these several audiences, each above each, which successively appear to greet the variety of style and topic, are really composed out of the same persons; nay, sometimes the same individual will take active part in them all, in turn.
This range of many powers in the consummate speaker and of many audiences in one assembly leads us to consider the successive stages of oratory.
Perhaps it is the lowest of the qualities of an orator, but it is, on so many occasions, of chief importance, - a certain robust and radiant physical health, -- or, shall I say? great volumes of animal heat. When each auditor feels himself to make too large a part of the assembly, and shudders with cold at the thinness of the morning audience, and with fear lest all will heavily fail through one bad speech, mere energy and
mellowness are then inestimable. Wisdom and learnTing would be harsh and unwelcome, compared with a
substantial cordial man, made of milk, as we say, who is a house-warmer, with his obvious honesty and good meaning, and a hue-and-cry style of harangue, which inundates the assembly with a flood of animal spirits, and makes all safe and secure, so that any and every
sort of good speaking becomes at once practicable. I do not rate this animal eloquence very highly, and yet, as we must be fed and warmed before we can do any work well, even the best, so is this semi-animal exuberance, like a good stove, of the first necessity in a cold house.
Climate has much to do with it, climate and race. Set a New Englander to describe any accident which happened in his presence. What hesitation and reserve in his narrative! He tells with difficulty some particulars, and gets as fast as he can to the result, and, though he cannot describe, hopes to suggest the whole scene. Now listen to a poor Irishwoman recounting some experience of hers. Her speech flows like a river, -- so unconsidered, so humorous, so pathetic, such justice done to all the parts! It is a true transubstantiation, — the fact converted into speech, all warm and colored and alive, as it fell out. Our Southern people are almost all speakers, and have every advantage over the New England people, whose climate is so cold, that, 'tis said, we do not like to open our mouths very wide. But neither can the Southerner in the United States, nor the Irish, compare with the lively inhabitant of the South of Europe. The traveller in Sicily needs no gayer melodramatic exhibition than the table d'hôte of his inn will afford him, in the conversation of the joyous guests. They mimic the voice and manner of the person they describe; they crow, squeal, hiss, cackle, bark, and scream like mad, and, were it only by the physical strength exerted in telling the story, keep the table in unbounded excitement. But in every constitution some large degree of animal vigor is necessary as material foundation for the higher qualities of the art.
But eloquence must be attractive, or it is none.
The virtue of books is to be readable, and of orators to be interesting, and this is a gift of Nature; as Demosthenes, the most laborious student in that kind, signified his sense of this necessity when he wrote,
Good Fortune,” as his motto on his shield. As we know, the power of discourse of certain individuals amounts to fascination, though it may have no lasting effect. Some portion of this sugar must intermingle. The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together, and no constable to keep them. It draws the children from their play, the old from their armchairs, and the invalid from his warm chamber; it holds the hearer fast, steals away his feet, that he shall not depart,
- his memory, that he shall not remember the most pressing affairs, — his belief, that he shall not admit any opposing considerations. The pictures we have of it in semi-barbarous ages, when it has some advantages in the simpler habit of the people, show what it aims at. It is said that the Khans, or storytellers in Ispahan and other cities of the East, attain a controlling power over their audience, keeping them for many hours attentive to the most fanciful and extravagant adventures. The whole world knows pretty well the style of these improvisators, and how fascinating they are, in our translations of the “ Arabian Nights.” Scheherzarade tells these stories to save her life, and the delight of young Europe and young America in them proves that she fairly earned it. And who does not remember in childhood some white or black or yellow Scheherzarade, who, by that talent of telling endless feats of fairies and magicians, and kings and queens, was more dear and wonderful to a circle of children than any orator of England or America is now? The more indolent and imaginative complexion of the Eastern nations makes them much more impressible by these appeals to the fancy.