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senate of Rome. The few specimens which are extant, evince that the history of Rome, under the emperors, consisted chiefly of studied panegyrics, or orations on state occasions, like the declamations of the French academy, which nobody reads. They might be indeed sufficiently ornamented and polished; but they want interest, because we know they were mere artificial compositions, without a relation to any great undertaking or transaction of public life. The best specimen extant of these, is the panegyric of the younger Pliny on the Emperor Trajan.
We have also some examples extant of that kind of eloquence which was taught in the schools of rhetoric, particularly the Controversia, as they are called, of Seneca the rhetorician, the father of the famous philosopher of that name. They are altogether artificial, full of antitheses and studied ornament. Yet much as I admire the genius of Dr. Johnson, whoever looks into these orations, will find that our great writer was not unacquainted with the Controversia of Seneca.
After the preaching of christianity a new style of oratory was introduced, of the highest importance as to the subject, but less animated than the eloquence of debate, because of a more didactic nature. The Epistles of Paul, however, and even some of the later Fathers, contain specimens of eloquence superior to any, I will affirm, to be found in the compositions of either Cicero or Demosthenes.
A late French writer, the unfortunate Marquis de Condorcet, in a posthumous work, affects to speak lightly of the writings of the Fathers. His remarks, however, only prove his ignorance, and shew that, like the rest of his superficial and contemptible sect, he had the effrontery to censure writings that he never read. They shew that he has never perused the sweet and flowing orations of Chrysostom;* the animated addresses of Gregory Nazianzen; the unequal, but sometimes sub
* The golden-mouthed.
lime compositions of St. Augustine; the strong and nervous periods of Tertullian; and of Lactantius, who abounds in all the learning of the times, and in every beauty of composition. The criticisms even of Dr. Blair, on these writers, prove that he was not much more conversant with them than Condorcet himself. It is, perhaps, sufficient to say, that the most eloquent preacher of the present times confessedly formed his style altogether on that of the ancient Fathers.
The only countries in modern Europe where we can expect to find eloquence cultivated are France and England. The French have naturally a sprightly genius, and a taste, though not a correct one, for the polite arts. The English have had a great advantage, both from their genius and the nature of their government; they have both however produced very great men in many different professions, and some orators who might justly contend with either Demosthenes or Cicero.
In England, however, as well as in Greece and Rome, the highest efforts of eloquence seem confined to the great assembly of the nation. There are, no doubt, some good speakers who plead at the bar, but none of their orations are transmitted to posterity, while we read those of the ancients with pleasure. The sermons of the English writers are inferior to none in good sense and reasoning, but they appear in general, deficient in spirit and animation.
In the writings of Bossuet, Bourdaloue, and Masillon, we see a much higher kind of eloquence aimed at than by any English preacher; but these are as lamentably deficient in matter as the English are in style; and, if we except a few sermons of Masillon, there are not many of them of much value.
I shall conclude this letter with, a short comparison between two of the most finished orators that ever graced the British or any other senate. It was written several years ago, when I was in the habit of attending the debates of the house of commons, and was originally published in a periodical publication, in the conducting of which I had some share.
"Both Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox are strictly what may be termed business speakers. They argue like men of business, rather with a view of influencing their hearers, than of conciliating applause to themselves. They vary less from the question, and indulge their imaginations less than Mr. Burke or Mr. Sheridan; and the superior force of their eloquence is the best panegyric on this species of oratory. Though agreeing in this one essential, the oratory of these great men is however in a variety of circumstances materially different. A brief comparison, therefore, of their excellencies and defects, whether instructive or not, cannot, I think, fail to prove entertaining, at least to country readers.
"The first obvious difference which excited my attention was, that the one is the most elegant, the other the most impassioned speaker I have ever heard. The one carries the understanding along with him, and while we are the captives of his ingenuity, we imagine we are following the light of our own reason; the other leads us no less forcibly by our passions; and if Mr. Pitt addresses the head, every sentence of Mr. Fox demonstrates his influence over the heart. The one interests, the other convinces. The one conducts you over a pleasant champaign and luxuriant meadow; the other forces you along with him, be the ground ever so uneven, be the path ever so rough and interrupted. It is something extraordinary that the younger man should be distinguished by the greater extent and variety of his knowledge-but such undoubtedly appears to be the fact; and to account for it, we perhaps must have recourse to the different education and habits of the two orators. Thus Mr. Pitt is diffuse, and surprises by the multitude of his ideas, and by the variety of lights in which he exhibits the subject. Mr. Fox, on the other hand, is concise and energetic; his proofs are arranged to the utmost advantage, and all of them tend immediately to the very point: he introduces but few arguments, few ideas, but these are generally the very strongest, and placed in the strongest light. In short, it is impossible to hear the two speakers without recollecting the ob
servation of Quinctilian in his celebrated parallel between Cicero and Demosthenes: "To the one, nothing can be added; from the other, nothing can be taken away." But if it be granted, that from indolence, from the variety of his avocations, or perhaps from not possessing the means, Mr. Fox appears deficient of information on any occasion, what he wants in knowledge, he amply compensates for in ingenuity. He catches almost instantaneously the slightest hint, and an argument which appears of no force when treated by a minor speaker, in his hands appears both interesting and important. Mr. Pitt generally comes well prepared to speak upon the business of the day: to Mr. Fox, preparation seems unnecessary, since even from the casual intimation of his adversaries, he is able to produce matter sufficient, either for attack or defence.
"I have intimated that neither of them are very florid speakers; and I cannot help thinking it rather an extraordinary circumstance, in Mr. Pitt particularly, that though fresh from the schools, we find in his speeches no classical allusions, no embellishments from ancient literature, no pomp of erudition; he seldom quotes, but rather produces the ideas of other men in his own words, contrary to the fashionable practice of cloathing our own thoughts in the peculiar phraseology of books. In point of wit, I do not think either of them deficient, though they are prudent in the use of it. Mr. Fox seldom descends from the earnestness and dignity of his declamation to light or trivial remarks; and yet Mr. Pitt's oratory is not disgraced by that elegant irony, that polished ridicule, in which he sometimes indulges himself and his hearers. The candid of all parties agree in allowing to Mr. Pitt the happiest choice of words that graces any senator in either house; but I confess I was surprized to find the editor of Bellendenenus attribute, in unqualified terms, this excellence to Mr. Fox. The style of Mr. Pitt is in general so correct, that the auditor is almost induced to fancy he hears the studied composition of some masterly writer. The language of Mr. Fox is indeed generally forcible and expressive, but it
is by no means so elegant, select, and harmonious, as that of his more finished rival. If fluency be a mark of genius, in this too Mr. Pitt has the advantage. His words flow rapidly, but easily, without difficulty or hesitation; on the contrary, Mr. Fox frequently hesitates, sometimes recals his words, and seems dubious which to make choice of; and though a very rapid speaker, his rapidity appears rather the effect of passion than imagination. With respect to manner, Mr. Pitt at first appears to have greatly the advantage; but Mr. Fox compensates in vivacity for his want of elegance, and though less graceful, is perhaps more interesting than Mr. Pitt. Mr. Pitt's voice is a full tenor, and his modulation is harmonious. Mr. Fox's is a treble, and his enunciation is affected by an occasional lisp. He soon teaches us, however, to forget these defects. His is both the language and the expression of nature, and without gratifying the eye, or charming the ear of his auditors, he commands their affections.
"Such appears to me to be the general character of each of these distinguished speakers. I have seen cach of them occasionally bear away the palm from his competitor, and I have observed each fall greatly below the standard of his own merit, when defending a bad cause ; a decisive proof that ingenuity and command of words will not alone form an orator, but that there must be a good foundation of truth and argument; or the most splendid harangue is but blossom without fruit; a mere shadow of eloquence without substance or effect."