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4thly, Any man before he rises to speak in a popular assembly should have formed a complete plan of his intended discourse; whether in speaking he adopts divisions or not, he will find his memory greatly assisted by dividing in his mind his intended harangue into its several parts, and methodically arranging them. I have seen the first of our parliamentary orators have in their hands little memorandums, which I could perceive contained the heads of their discourses. In a reply the proper arrangement is always to follow the course of your adversary's argument; and hence those speakers who are not great masters of method and arrangement, often shine more in a reply than in an opening speech. I am far from advising that you should study the words or phrases you are to employ before-hand, this would only serve to confuse and embarrass you. The language of an orator must be strictly his own, such as in general he would employ upon ordinary occasions, but as select as the rapidity of utterance will allow.
5thly. In the course of an oration never hesitate about the choice of a word. Take that which presents itself rather than look for terms more uncommon and refined; for if the mind is once diverted from the matter to the words, your discourse will be deranged, and fail in a lucid order, which is a greater deficiency than an indifferent style; and it is also probable that even your enunciation will be perplexed and stammering.
6thly. From the two preceding rules you will easily perceive of what immense importance it is to an orator to accustom himself even in common conversation to polished language, and a very nice choice of expression. He must never permit himself to use a vulgarism on the most common occasion, but must carefully eradicate all such noxious weeds from his vocabulary. A little attention to this chastity and correctness of expression will soon render it easy and habitual. No other words but the best will present themselves to your mind; and on the contrary, I am convinced that unless a man has previously cleared his usual dialect from low and vicious expressions, they will obtrude themselves whenever he
speaks in public, whatever may be his caution and attention.
In treating thus of extempore oratory, as far as applies to the eloquence of the senate, I have anticipated much of what I should otherwise have had to advance on that of the bar, for the same rules will apply to both, and I shall only have to add one or two remarks exclusively applicable to the latter.
I am far from agreeing with Mr. Hume and Dr. Blair, that the English bar affords not a fine theatre for oratory. They certainly, in forming this conclusion, reasoned under some disadvantage; for they had only before their view the Scottish bar, where the trial by jury is allowed only in criminal cases. The observation of Dr. Blair is therefore perfectly just in this case. Speakers at the bar," says he, "address themselves to one or a few judges, and those too, persons generally of age, gravity, and authority of character. There they have not those advantages which a mixed and numerous assembly affords for employing all the arts of speech." This is strictly true from the view which presented itself to this writer; but in England, where in three of the principal courts, as well as in all the inferior judicatures of the kingdom, almost every cause is tried by a jury of twelve men, selected by ballot, surely the very finest opportunity for the display of oratory is afforded, and especially as the advocate addresses them under peculiar advantages, with some ideas of superior learning and superior dignity.
The English advocate too has conducted the cause from its commencement, and examined the evidence; he is therefore not only made master of the whole argument, but, if possessed of feeling, must have acquired some warmth and ardour in the cause. Grant that he is in some degree confined by the precision of our laws, still it is matter of fact on which he has principally to address a jury, and the less of technical language he mingles in it the greater will be its effect. It would indeed perhaps be better if oratory had less influence than it is known to have in our courts of justice. It is
somewhat checked by the sedate character of the people of England, and by the feeling of jurymen that they are bound by their oaths; but still it is found to be of so much intrinsic consequence, that the barrister who possesses this talent finds that it infallibly conducts to fame and fortune.
1st. The most important rule that I can lay down to the practitioner at the bar, is to make himself perfect master of the science of the law. Without this he can never speak with courage and confidence; and he will also be in danger of incurring the ridicule of his adversary, and perhaps the contempt of the court. A knowledge of the law will also supply the means of eloquence, or at least a substitute for it; for a sound lawyer is always heard with attention, whether he is what is called eloquent or not.
2d. The next requisite is a perfect knowledge of the cause in which he is engaged. This is indeed a duty he owes not less to his client than to his own reputation, for he actually defrauds the man from whom he receives a fee, unless he exerts himself to the very utmost of his abilities.
3dly. Though warmth and vehemence may be occasionally admitted, and sometimes required, yet a counsel will commonly have most weight with a jury, who addresses them as rational beings, and seems at least to labour to convince their judgment. In the beginning of his oration he should always appear cool and temperate, but always in earnest, otherwise they will have less confidence in his assertions.
The plan and order which I laid down in my last letter is strictly applicable to judicial oratory, and every address to a jury must consist of; 1st, an exordium, in which he must endeavour to conciliate their favour; 2d, a statement of facts or narrative, in which the pleader recapitulates or anticipates the principal parts of the evidence; 3dly, it will be in general better and clearer to a jury, if he points out the proper divisions of his argument, as more of method is expected from a pleader.
than in a mere declamatory address; 4thly, the argumentative part is indispensable, that being the peculiar business of an advocate; 5thly, the peroration or conclusion should be always remarkably clear and lucid, and if the subject admits of the pathetic, this is the part in which it will commonly be introduced to the greatest advantage.
MY DEAR JOHN,
IT would be a very pleasing exercise to trace the history of eloquence from its first rude origin through the various ramifications of human genius; to mark the powers, the character of the different men in the different ages of society, who have successfully employed this fascinating art. It would be pleasing even to pursue the science as long as the records of civilized man permit; and to trace the progress of oratory from Pericles to Pitt. But our materials for such a critical investigation are very few. The best effusions of oratory are Επεα πτεροεντα (winged words). Unfortunately for us they are not
"Congeal'd in northern air.”
Not only we lose the music, the cadence, the action with which they were graced, but even the substance of very few of these productions are transmitted to us. Of the orations of Demosthenes, a very small number have outlived the depredations of time. Cicero, who for some years spoke almost daily in public, and who was the most diligent of men, has committed to writing a very small proportion of his numerous orations; even the eloquence of our own great and distinguished orators, St. John, Pulteney, Pitt, Fox, and Sheridan, are only to be traced in those meagre and imperfect registers, the volumes of Parliamentary Debates, in which you are presented rather with the language of an illiterate reporter, than with that of the accomplished statesman and orator, whose speech he undertakes to detail.