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N°70. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 1709.
Quicquid agunt homines
nostri est farrago libelli.
Juv. Sat. i. 85, 86.
From my own Apartment, September 19. The following letter, in prosecution of what I have lately asserted, has urged that matter so much better than I had, that I insert it as I received it. These testimonials are customary with us learned men, and sometimes are suspected to be written by the author; but I fear no one will suspect me of this.
London, Sept. 15, 1709. • Having read your lucubrations of the tenth instant, I cannot but entirely agree with you in your notion of the scarcity of men who can either read or speak. For my part, I have lived these thirty years in the world, and yet have observed but very few who could do either in any tolerable manner; among which few, you must understand that I reckon myself. How far eloquence, set off with the proper ornaments of voice and gesture, will prevail over the passions, and how cold and unaffecting the best oration in the world would be without them, there are two remarkable instances, in the case of Ligarius, and that of Milo. Cæsar had condemned Ligarius. He came indeed to hear what might be said ; but, thinking himself his own master, resolved not to be biassed by any thing Cicero could say in his behalf; but in this he was mistaken ; for when the orator began to speak, the hero is moved, he is vanquished, and at length the criminal is absolved. It must be observed that this famous orator was less renowned for his courage than his eloquence; for though he came at another time prepared to defend Milo with one of the best orations that antiquity has produced; yet being seized with a sudden fear, by seeing some armed men surrounding the Forum, he faltered in his speech, and became unable to exert that irresistible force and beauty of action which would have saved his client, and for want of which he was condemned to banishment. As the success of the former of these orations met with appears chiefly owing to the life and graceful manner with which it was recited (for some there are who think it may be read without transport) so the latter seems to have failed of success for no other reason, but because the orator was not in a condition to set it off with those ornaments. It must be confessed, that artful sound will with the crowd prevail even more than sense; but those who are masters of both, will ever gain the admiration of all their hearers; and there is, I think, a very natural account to be given of this matter: for the sensation of the head and heart are caused in each of these parts by the outward organs of the eye and ear: that, therefore, which is conveyed to the understanding and passions by only one of these organs will not affect us so much as that which is transmitted through both. I cannot but think your charge is just against a great part of the learned clergy of Great Britain, who deliver the most excellent discourses with such coldness and indifference, that it is no great wonder the unintelligent many of their congregations fall asleep. Thus it happens that their orations meet with a quite contrary fate to that of Demosthenes you mentioned ; for as that lost much of its beauty and force, by being repeated to the magistrates of Rhodes without the winning action of that great orator; so the performances of these gentlemen never appear with so little grace, and to so much disadvantage, as when delivered by themselves from the pulpit. Hippocrates, being sent for to a patient in this city, and having felt his pulse, inquired into the symptoms of his distemper: and finding that it proceeded in great measure from want of sleep, advises his patient, with an air of gravity, to be carried to church to hear a sermon, not doubting but that it would dispose him for the rest he wanted. If some of the rules Horace gives for the theatre were (not improperly applied to our pulpits, we should not hear a sermon prescribed as a good opiate.
--Si vis me flere, dolendum est
HOR. Ars Poet. ver. 102.
- A man must himself express some concern and affection in delivering his discourse, if he expects his auditory should interest themselves in what he proposes. For otherwise, notwithstanding the dignity and importance of the subject he treats of; notwithstanding the weight and argument of the discourse itself; yet too many will say,
- -Male si mandata loqueris,
Hor. Ars Poet. ver. 104.
If there be a deficiency in the speaker, there will not be a sufficient attention and regard paid to the thing spoken: but, Mr. Bickerstaff, you know, that as too little action is cold, so too much is ful. some. Some, indeed, may think themselves accomplished speakers, for no other reason than because they can be loud and noisy; for surely Stentor must have some design in his vociferations. But, dear Mr. Bickerstaff, convince them, that as harsh and irregular sound is not harmony; so neither is banging a cushion, oratory: and therefore, in my humble opinion, a certain divine of the first order, whom I allow otherwise to be a great man, would do well to leave this off; for I think his sermons would be more persuasive, if he gave his auditory less disturbance. Though I cannot say that this action would be wholly improper to a prophane oration; yet I think, in a religious assembly, it gives a man too warlike, or perhaps too theatrical a figure to be suitable to a Christian congregation.
I am, sir, your humble servant, &c.' The most learned and ingenious Mr. Rosehat is also pleased to write to me on this subject
"Sir, "I read with great pleasure in the Tatler of Saturday last the conversation upon eloquence: permit me to hint to you one thing the Great Roman orator observes upon this subject ; Caput enim arbitrabatur oratoris (he quotes Menedemus, an Athenian), ut ipsis apud quos ageret talis qualem ipse optaret videretur ; id fieri vitæ dignitate. (Tull. de Orat.) It is the first rule in oratory, that a man must appear such as he would persuade others to be; and that can be accomplished only by the force of his life. I believe it might be of great service to let our public orators know, that an unnatural gra
vity, or an unbecoming levity in their behaviouri out of the pulpit, will take very much from the force of their eloquence in it. Excuse another scrap of Latin ; it is from one of the fathers: I think it will appear a just observation to all, and it may have authority with some ; Qui autem docent tantum, nec faciunt, ipsi præceptis suis, detrahunt pondus : quis enim obtemperet, cum ipsi præceptores doceant non obtemperare? Those who teach, but do not act agreeably to the instructions they give to others, take away all weight from their doctrine: for who will obey the precepts they inculcate, if they themselves teach us by their practice to disobey them? • I am, sir, your most humble servant,
P.S.—You were complaining in that paper, that the clergy of Great Britain had not yet learned to speak: a very great defect indeed : and therefore I shall think myself a well-deserver of the church, in recommending all the dumb clergy to the famous speaking doctor at Kensington. This ingenious gentleman, out of compassion to those of a bad utterance, has placed his whole study in the new modelling the organs of voice: which art he has so far advanced, as to be able even to make a good orator of a pair of bellows. He lately exhibited a specimen of his skill in this way, of which I was informed by the worthy gentlemen then present; who were at once delighted and amazed to hear an instrument of so simple an organization use an exact articulation of words, a just cadency in its sentences, and a wonderful pathos in its pronunciation; not that he designs to expatiate in this practice; because he cannot, as he says, apprehend what use it may be of to mankind, whose benefit he aims at in a more particular manner: and for the same reason, he