Page images

for a definite purpose, that their ulterior purpose is not literary but forensic, and that their time for such auxiliary art is limited. The Dramatists of this period are so many, and their works so voluminous, that the best part of a lifetime might be spent before they were mastered. Take Charles Lamb's “Specimens of the old Dramatists.” They are extremely well chosen, both as showing the characteristics of each author, and for the sake of the beauty and force of the extracts. They will probably lead you to select some of the best of the dramas to read through, and your own taste may guide you in the selection.

Recollect that neither with regard to the Elizabethan, nor any other model writers, should you study with indiscriminate imitation. I have spoken before* of the obscurity which frequently deforms the early portions of our literature. Notice this, but notice it as a warning what to avoid.

Great advantage will be gained from close and repeated study of portions of Dryden's and of Pope's works. Much of them, indeed, should be got by heart: and the task of doing so is a labour of love; fór the strong, sinewy rhymes cling marvellously to the memory, and a thousand incidents of daily life remind us of their sterling, though often bitter truthfulness. However deficient in some poetical qualities these two authors may be, they shine in others, which it is specially valuable for an orator to acquire. The smiting sway of impassioned argument in Dryden, the shrewd keen sense, the unfailing intellectual buoyancy of Pope, with the marvellous grace and dignity of their diction, make them admirable models for him who would rule by his words the minds of others. I recommend in Dryden the poems only of what is called his Second Period, comprising among other things the “Religio Laici," the “Mac Flecknoe," and, above all, the “ Absolom and Achitophel.” Add to these the first book of the “ Hind and Panther," the opening

* See Law Mag. and Rev. for February last, p. 295,

lines of which have been regarded by many good judges as the most exquisite specimen in the language of pure, melodious, forcible English. In Pope take for special study the Satires and the Epistles, with their Introductions and Epilogues. I strongly recommend an additional study of “The Dunciad.” Much of the interest of this satire has passed away, now that the obscure band of personal enemies, whom Pope chiefly attacked in it, have sunk with their writings into oblivion. But this is far from being the case with the whole poem : and for deadly sarcasm, for exhibiting an adversary in a ludicrous or degrading light, for gibbeting false pretenders to fame, whether fribbles or pedants, the “ Dunciad” is, to my mind, a splendid monument of genuine rhetorical genius.

Pope prided himself on “correctness" as his characteristic merit. He had a right to do so; but correctness was the general attribute of all the Queen Anne's men, as the remarkable group of writers have been called who flourished during the first thirty or forty years of the last century. I should only repeat what all my readers must have seen recommended by others of far more authority, if I were to give detailed reasons for the careful study of Addison and Swift; but there is one great writer of this epoch, whose works are now so much neglected, that I must devote a few sentences to them, for I believe that they are the finest models as to style to be found in our literature. I say emphatically “as to style,” for I am not concerned here with the merits or demerits of the writer's politics or doctrines. I mean Lord Bolingbroke.* I unhesitatingly place him at the head of all the prose writers in our language. Hooker, Milton, Jeremy Taylor, and others of our old authors may have finer bursts, of sublimity and pathos in their most poetic prose; but these are purpurei panni, to be sought for among heaps of rugged sentences, harsh metaphors, and grotesque conceits. Boling

* I may ask permission to refer here to what I have written on Bolingbroke in “The Memoirs of Eminent Etonians.”

broke never thus shocks the taste; while for page after page he charms us with the fertility of his imagination and the varied richness of his majestic mind. He is clear and nervous as Swift, without Swift's plebeian meagreness of style. He has Addison's elegance without his tameness. He has Johnson's sententious grandeur without his pomposity. He has sarcasm as stern as that of Junius, but he has also descriptive powers; he has a skill of varying his tone and manner; he has a graceful facility and judgment in the introduction of passages of repose, such as that celebrated railer never displays. Above all, Bolingbroke's writings (unlike those of Lord Macaulay) have the charm of never bearing the appearance of any effort analogous to that of getting up the steam. His intellectual strength is like the strength of the living body, ever present, and ever ready for free and unartificial exertion. So too of his diction : his contemporary, Lord Chesterfield, confessed that till he read Lord Bolingbroke's writings, he did not know all the extent and powers of the English language; and that Lord Bolingbroke's eloquence was not a studied or laboured eloquence, but a flowing happiness of expression. Lord Mahon* truly says that “ The greatest praise of Bolingbroke's style is to be found in the fact, that it was the study and the model of the two greatest minds of the succeeding generationsMr. Burke and Mr. Pitt. The former, as is well known, had so closely imbued himself with it, that his first publication was a most injurious, and, to many persons, most deceptive imitation of its manner. To Mr. Pitt it was recommended by the example and advice of his illustrious father, who, in one of his letters, observes of Oldcastle's Remarks [a series of historical attacks on Sir Robert Walpole, written by Bolingbroke under that title,] that they should be studied, and almost got by heart, for the inimitable beauty of the style.' Mr. Pitt, accordingly, early read and often recurred

• The Lord Mahon of this extract is now better known as the late Lord Btanhope.

to these political writings; and he has several times stated in conversation to the present Lord Stanhope, that there was scarcely any loss in literature which he so deeply deplored, as that no adequate record of Bolingbroke's speeches should remain. What glory to Bolingbroke, if we are to judge of the master by the pupils ! ”

Lord Brougham has eulogised Bolingbroke's style in terms equally strong. I would advise any reader who wishes to satisfy himself as to the true position of Bolingbroke as a writer, to consider, first, what are the two great elements of our language ; and whether excellence in writing English must not consist in combining and judiciously employing the peculiar beauties and resources of each of these elements. Then, read Bolingbroke's letter to Sir William Wyndham, and the two first of the “Letters on the Study of History," and ask yourself whether you would wish to have more complete or more graceful specimens, either of the simple pure strength of the Anglo-Saxon, or of the dignified copiousness of the Latin part of our language.

I could much expand this part of my essay, if I were to comment on, or even merely to mention all the writings which a forensic student may usefully study; and still more would this be the case, if I were to assign my reasons for omissions. But I am trammelled by limits of space; and I have sought only to name a few authors, who certainly may be studied with pre-eminent benefit, and may be studied without consuming an undue proportion of the available time of our Propositus.

For Treatises on Rhetoric, that are both scientific and practical, we still must chiefly have recourse to the classics. Campbell's,“ Philosophy of Rhetoric” is very valuable; but it is far from dealing with the whole of the subject, and it has a good deal of verbosity and repetition as to the portions which it does discuss. But it ought to be read carefully. It would have been well if Archbishop Whately, in his " Treatise on Rhetoric" (first published in the “Encyclopædia Metropolitana," and afterwards remodelled and republished as a separate work) had not ignored Campbell so much as he has done. Whately's strong common-sense, and his keenness of observation, are conspicuous in his little book; and it contains very much which practising advocates, as well as students in preparation for the Bar, will find eminently useful. But it is not well-arranged, nor is it sufficiently comprehensive. Old Quintilian remains after seventeen centuries our fullest and best guide in the study. Our Propositus should make Quintilian a special book among his classics. Get an interleaved copy, and note in it all useful hints and advice from other sources about rhetorical training and improvement. The other best ancient Treatises are Cicero “De Oratore,” his “ Brutus," as he entitled the book “ De Claris Oratoribus ;' and his “De Inventione." Cicero himself, in his later writings, speaks slightingly of the De Inventione :” but I speak of it as being, as I found it, a very useful book for a practising young English barrister to read and to abstract.* I have often thought that Cicero's dislike to this essay of his youth is connected with the marvellous similarity between large portions of the “ De Inventione," and the Rhetorical treatise called commonly the “Ad Herennium,” which is generally printed among Cicero's works, but is certainly (and, I believe, undisputedly) the production of some other pen. Mommsen, in his customary Anti-Ciceronian zeal, praises up the “Ad Herennium," as far superior to anything written by Marcus Tullius. Without going this length, I would point out the “Ad Herennium" as well deserving our modern Rhetorician's perusal.

Among the Greek treatises on the subject, Aristotle's “Rhetoric" is paramount in merit. But though, of course,

* I will refer as specimens to the advice in it how to open an unpopular or weak Cage; about tho mode of stating facts; on rousing indignation; on impulses and reasons; on the value of character; and on the probabilities or improbabilities of guilt arising from the Act itself. I carefully copied and epitomized all these, and many other parts of the book, and I often found them useful before London and Sussex Juries.

« PreviousContinue »