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The dreadful duty of Definition meets me at the outset. I fulfil it as follows :
Rhetoric is the art of influencing by words men's wills, feelings, and opinions.
The common short way of describing Rhetoric is to call it the “ Art of Persuasion.” I should have been quite content to adopt this as intelligible and sufficiently comprehensive, if it had not been objected to by many, of whom Aristotle is the great leader.
Space will not allow me to consider the objections seriatim. Suffice it to say, that in the definition, which I have framed, the art of Influencing may be fairly held to apply to cases where the Rhetorician attempts, but fails, to persuade, as well as to those in which he is successful. I have also marked the distinction between influencing by words, and influencing by acts, such as by setcing an example to follow, or by exhibiting a repulsive line of conduct, which might naturally be avoided. The main distinction which it is necessary to draw, is between, ist, Rhetoric, which applies itself to inspire, to guide, to check, or to modify volition; and, 2nd, Dialectic, which applies itself to convincing by hard dry reasonings. This distinction is drawn by stipulating that Rhetoric is to influence the Will. The Logician (and the same is the case with the Mathematician) seeks only to command the judgment. The Rhetorician wants to do something more than to gain the assent of the understanding, an effect, which (so far as he regards it at all) is valued by him as an instrument, and not as an end. He wants an action, or a manifestation of the Will, which is generally desired to be speedy; but sometimes the speaker is satisfied if he creates in his hearers a predisposition to act as he wishes, whenever the time and opportunity for such action may arrive. A Rhetorician will frequently employ Dialectic ; for, it is mostly difficult to rule a man's will, unless you make him think that to some extent you have reason on the side which you wish him to adopt, and which you must make him wish to adopt as his own. But there are other modes which are used in the Art of Rhetoric for swaying the opinions and feelings of an audience. You may effect this to a considerable amount by giving information as to new facts, or by controverting supposed old facts, or by arranging facts, old and new, in different combinations. You may gain this end partly by the powers of the imagination, and you may do it most of all by getting men's sympathies on your side, and by exciting or quelling their passions. Rhetoric deals with both the head and the heart ; but it is in the world of the heart that its greatest victories are gained.
It has been pointed out that Rhetoric exercises its influence by means of words. The first care, therefore, of him who would be a master of the Art, is to acquire an ample and effective stock of words, and to be ready and adroit in their employment. Our English youth, who aspires to be a successful orator in the Senate, or at the Bar, must be fluent and accurate, energetic, and graceful; and, above all, he must be lucid in his English.
I have already in this Essay* spoken of the importance of early training at home, and in school to the right use of the mother-tongue; and also to the value of the innovation in the system of our great educational establishments, by which the scientific study of the English language is made an essential part of instruction, instead of the lad being left to pick up his vernacular by the light of nature, and according to the surrounding voces populi.
I now will attempt some further and more practical directions as to how the “Copia verborum," such as the orator needs, may best be acquired. Most of what I have to say on this, will consist of advice “ What to read;" but I must add something about the habits of composing, analysing, and common-placing, which should be combined with judicious reading. I am not at present going to discuss what
* Sze Law Mag. and Rev. for February last, No. CCXIX. (2nd edit.), p, 290, et seq.
works of orators, ancient and modern, are to be preferred as models. This more ambitious part of our theme may be dealt with better when other matters have been previously considered.
“Use the pen : it keeps the mind from staggering about." I read this sentence many years ago in some periodical, of which I have long forgotten the name and date; but I have never ceased to value the maxim. It expresses perfectly the beneficial effects of taking notes of what we read, of writing summaries of books and arguments, and of occasionally drawing up little essays of our own, with references to the authors whom we have been reading. It matters comparatively little what becomes of our youthful manuscripts. They may be lost or burned within a day after they are written, but the benefit of the process of writing them will remain in our brains. It is when we begin to write that we chiefly detect, and are led to cure, our own blunders and imperfections. A man may know a great deal about a subject, and yet not know it. When he has to employ his information, he finds great gaps and stumbling-blocks. His mind “goes staggering about.” But when his pen has pioneered the way, he advances with sure step from one position to another, and he has firm foothold, whence (if needful) he can wage controversy. It is hardly necessary to repeat here Lord Bacon's aphorism, that “ Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” I will quote to you two or three more authorities (and they shall be experts) on the special advantage which a Rhetorician derives from habits of written composition. The old Greek writer on Rhetoric, Theon, in a passage cited by Professor Jebb,* warns us that “Even as for him, who would be a painter, it is unavailing to observe the works of Apelles, unless he tries to paint with his own hand; so for him, who would become a speaker, there is no help in the speeches of
the ancients, in the copiousness of their thoughts, or in the purity of their diction, or in their harmonious composition, no, nor in lectures upon elegance, unless he disciplines himself by writing from day to day."
Cicero attests that “Stilus optimus et præstantissimus dicendi effector et magister."* Lord Brougham says, “I should lay it down as a rule, admitting of no exception, that a man will speak well in proportion as he has written much.”+ Let me add the example of Pitt, to prove the utility of what are generally known as “common-place books.” Pitt's biographer, the late Lord Stanhope, tells us that when a student at Cambridge, as well as in his boyhood, Pitt kept up a habit of copying any eloquent sentence, or any beautiful or forcible expression which occurred in his reading.
The same great orator may be cited on another matter, in favour of that system of combining the study of English and the study of the classics, which I have recommended in the earlier part of this essay. Lord Stanhope, in his memoirs of Pitt, mentions that his own father, then Lord Mahon, while residing with Mr. Pitt at Walmer Castle, in 1803, ventured on one occasion to ask him by what means he “had acquired his admirable readiness of speech-his aptness of finding the right word without pause or hesitation.” Mr. Pitt replied that, whatever readiness he might be thought to possess in that respect, was, he believed, greatly owing to a practice which his father had impressed upon him. Lord Chatham had bid him take up any book in some foreign language with which he was well acquainted, in Latin or Greek, especially. Lord Chatham then enjoined him to read out of this work a passage in English, stopping where he was not sure of the word to be used in English until the right word came to his mind, and then to proceed. Mr. Pitt stated that he had assiduously followed this practice. We may conclude that at first he had often to
• De Oratore, i., ch. 33.
stop for a while before he could recollect the proper word, but that he found the difficulties gradually disappear, until what was a toil to him at first, became at last an easy and familiar occupation.
The same biographer tells us that Pitt, when at Cambridge, continued the same practice of extemporaneous translation which he had commenced under his father. His favourite authors were Thucydides, Livy, and Sallust, especially the speeches in them.
I have already mentioned that Lord Chatham himself ascribed his own readiness and felicity as an orator in the choice of words, to the practice which his own father had taught him in early life, to read every day over to himself some passage in the classics, and then to translate it aloud and continuously into English prose.
Charles James Fox, the great antagonist of the younger Pitt in “the eloquent war,” almost surpassed his rival Statesman in vehement fondness of the classics. Fox not only read the master-pieces of Greek and Roman literature extensively, and acquired from them “that exquisite taste which familiarity with the classics bestows," * but he read with critical accuracy: he made himself not merely a scholar among statesmen, but a scholar among scholars. He kept up these studies throughout life. His biographer has preserved an excellent letter of his, in which he recommends the same course to a friend who had been his private secretary, and who had begun to read for the Bar. Fox says, “Now that you are hard at it with the law I ought not, according to common notions, to answer your questions about Æschylus, &c., but I am of opinion that the study of good authors, and especially poets, ought never to be intermitted by any man who is to speak or write for the public, or, indeed, who has any occasion to tax his imagination, whether it be for argu
• The phrase is Lord Brougham's.