Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

with so much certainty, I attack every part, and push at every opening; in short, to use a vulgar proverb, I leave no stone unturned. As in agriculture, it is not my vineyards, or my woods alone, but my fields also that I cultivate; and (to pursue the allusion) as I do not content myself with sowing those fields with only one kind of grain, but employ several different sorts, so in my pleadings at the bar I spread at large a variety of matter like so many different seeds, in order to reap from thence whatever may happen to hit; for the disposition of your judges is as precari. ous and as little to be ascertained as that of soils and seasons. I remember the comic writer Eupolis mentions it in praise of that excellent orator Pericles, that

« On his lips persuasion hung,
And powerful reason rul'd his tongue :
Thus he alone could boast the art,
To charm at once and sting the heart.”

But could Pericles, without the richest variety of expression, and merely by force of the concise or the rapid style, or both together (for they are extremely different), have exerted that charm and that sting of which the poet here speaks? To delight and to persuade requires time and a great compass of language; and to leave a sting in the minds of his audience is an effect not to be expected from an orator who slightly pushes, but from him, and him only, who thrusts home and deep. Another comic poet, speaking of the same orator, says,

« His mighty words like Jove's own thunder roll;
Greece hears and trembles to her inmost soul.”

But it is not the concise and the reserved, it is the copious, the majestic, and the sublime orator, who with the blaze and thunder of his eloquence hurries impetuously along, and bears down all before him. There is a just mean, I own, in everything; but he equally deviates from that true mark, who falls short of it, as he who goes beyond it; he who confines himself in too narrow a compass, as he who launches out with too great a latitude. Hence it is as common to hear our orators condemned for being too barren, as too luxuriant; for not reaching, as well as for overflowing the bounds of their subject. Both, no doubt, are equally distant from the proper medium; but with this difference, however, that in the one the fault arises from an excess, in the other from a deficiency; an error which if it be not a sign of a more correct, yet is certainly of a more exalted genius. When I say this, I would not be understood to approve that everlasting talker mentioned in Homer, but that other described in the following lines:

“Frequent and soft as falls the winter snow,

Thus from his lips the copious periods flow.)

Not but I extremely admire him too, of whom the poet says,

« Few were his words, but wonderfully strong.)

Yet if I were to choose, I should clearly give the preference to the style resembling winter snow, that is, to the full and diffusive; in short, to that pomp of eloquence wbich seems all heavenly and divine. But ('tis urged) the harangue of a more moderate length is most generally admired. It is so, I confess; but by whom? By the indolent only; and to fix the standard by the laziness and false delicacy of these would surely be the highest absurdity. Were you to consult persons of this cast, they would tell you, not only that it is best to say little, but that it is best to say nothing. Thus, my friend, I have laid before you my sentiments upon this subject, which I shall readily abandon, if I find they are not agreeable to yours. But if you should dissent from me, I beg you would communicate to me your reasons. For though I ought to yield in this case to your more enlightened judgment, yet in a point of such consequence I had rather receive my conviction from the force of argument than authority. If you should be of my opinion in this matter, a line or two from you in return, intimating your concurrence, will be sufficient to confirm me in the justness of my sentiments. On the contrary, if you think me mistaken, I beg you would give me your objections at large. Yet has it not, think you, something of the air of bribery, to ask only a short letter if you agree with me; but enjoin you the trouble of a very long one, if you are of a contrary opinion ? Farewell.

To Cornelius Tacitus.

AULUS GELLIUS

(c. 130-180 A. D.)

USULUS GELLIUS, one of the most interesting prose writers of the im

perial period of Rome, was born about one hundred and thirty

years after Christ. He was highly educated in the literature both of Greece and Rome, and in his “Attic Nights” he discusses almost, if not quite, the whole range of topics likely to interest the educated man of his day. The fourteenth chapter of the seventh book of the « Attic Nights” gives a valuable definition of the three kinds of eloquence which were held in good repute at Rome and Athens.

THE THREE KINDS OF ELOQUENCE

Doth in verse and prose there are three approved forms of speaking, called by s the Greeks xapaktnpes, and distinguished by the terms avdpov, coxvov, ueoov. The

first we call copious, the next graceful, the third middle. The copious is that which comprehends dignity and grandeur; the graceful is that which is becoming and neat; the middle is partaker of both these. To these virtues of oratory there are an equal number of kindred defects, which fallaciously assume their dress and appearance. Thus often the tumid and the pompous pass for the copious,” the mean and the empty for the graceful,” the doubtful and ambiguous for the middle.» M. Varro says that in the Latin tongue there are three true and pertinent examples of these forms; namely, Pacuvius of the copious, Lucilius of the graceful, Terence of the middle. But these three modes of speaking are more anciently specified by Homer in three distinct personages: Ulysses was magnificent and copious, Menelaus acute and concise, Nestor mixed and moderate. This threefold variety was also observable in three philosophers whom the Athenians sent on an embassy to Rome and the Senate, to remit the fine imposed upon them on account of the plundering Oropus. This fine was almost five hundred talents. These philosophers were Carneades of the Academy, Diogenes the Stoic, and Critolaus the Peripatetic; and being admitted into the senate, they employed C. Acilius, a senator, as their interpreter. But previously each of these, by way of displaying his abilities, had harangued in a numerous assembly. Then it is said that Rutilius and Polybius greatly admired the eloquence which was peculiar to each philosopher. They affirm that the oratory of Carneades was strong and rapid, that of Critolaus learned and polished, of Diogenes modest and temperate. But each of these forms, as I have before observed, when its ornaments are chaste and modest, is excellent; when daubed and painted it is contemptible.

Complete. Beloe's translation. Attic Nights, Book VII., chap. xiv.

LONGINUS

(c. 210-6. 273 A. D.)

S

THE essay of Longinus «On the Sublime » is one of the most re

markable productions of the human mind. It is unsurpassed CC in ancient literature, though the “Poetics » of Aristotle is classed with it. Of the many imitations of it by Moderns none equal it in originality and penetration. Its author was born in the third century after Christ. He was probably a Syrian Greek born at or near Emesa. He was educated both at Athens and Alexandria, then the two great centres of culture. Among the associates of his maturity were Porphyry and Plotinus, the celebrated Neoplatonists, and it is said by Suidas that he was Porphyry's teacher. He was not himself a Neoplatonist, however. He was a man of affairs as well as a philosopher, and becoming a member of the cabinet of Queen Zenobia in her attempt to free her country from the tyranny of Rome, he was put to death by the Emperor Aurelian, 273 A. D.

SUBLIMITIES IN ELOQUENCE

I Tith regard to sublimities in eloquence, which should never overshoot the

mark of utility and advantage, we must consider, at the same time, that

all the authors of these, though far removed from faultlessness, yet soar above the level of mortality; and that while all other things carry with them evidence that they proceed from men, yet the sublime indicates an approximation to the loftiness of divine intelligence; and that while the correct and faultless does but escape censure, the great and grand enforces admiration also.

Why need I yet further observe that each of those noble writers frequently redeems all his failures by one single stroke of the sublime, one happy effort ? and it is worthy of especial remark that if any one should pick out the slips of Homer, Demosthenes, Plato, and the other consummate authors, and put them together, the instances in which those heroes of fine writing have attained to absolute perfection would be found to bear a very small, nay, an indefinitely small proportion to them. It is on account of these that all posterity, in every age, exempt from the blinding prejudices created by envy, have freely awarded them the laurels they have earned, and, to this day, suffer them not to be torn from their brows, but will, as it seems, continue to guard them,

« As long as streams in silver mazes rove,

Or spring with annual green renews the grove.)) Now, in answer to the writer who objects that the Colossus, with all its faults, is not superior to the Guardsman of Polycletus, it is obvious to reply, among many other things, that, in works of art, it is exact proportion that wins our admiration; but in those of nature, grandeur and magnificence. Now, speech is a gift bestowed upon us by nature. As, therefore, resemblance and proportion to the originals is required in statues, so, in the noble faculty of discourse, there should be something, as I have said, more than humanly great.

But still (for after a long excursion I come round to the precept I delivered in the commencement of the treatise), since it is the perfection of art to avoid, in the main, defect and blemish, while the nature of a sublime genius is to exhibit superlative greatness in its productions, but not uniformly sustained, it is meet that art should, in all cases, be resorted to as an auxiliary to nature. For, from such union and mutual alliance, perfection would seem to result.

Thus much I have been under a necessity of delivering in decision of the questions in debate; but let every man enjoy his own opinion. ..

It still remains for us, my honored friend, to inquire into the fifth of those which were laid down to be the causes that contribute to the consummation of the sublime. It is the due structure of words. Having already, in two treatises, delivered sufficiently upon this subject all that I could attain to in the matter, I will now add only, in compliance with the necessary requirements of my present purpose, that harmony is not only a cause of persuasion and delight inherent in human nature, but a wonderful means of imparting majesty to diction, and expressing mental affections. For does not the pipe inspire its hearers with certain emotions, and, in a manner, transport and fill them with ecstasy; and when it has played off some closing notes in a certain rhythm, does it not force the hearer to step according to it, and keep time, and to adapt himself to the tune, even though he be altogether unversed in music? And, assuredly, the tones of the harp, which signify nothing unconnectedly, yet by the changes of sounds, by being tempered together, and mutually blended, often charm us marvelously by the concord of sweet sounds, as you very well know. Yet these are but faint shadows and bastard imitations of the powers of persuasion, and not the genuine operations of man's distinctive nature. Do we not think, then, that composition in language, which is a sort of harmony of that speech which nature has implanted in man, which reaches to the very soul, and not the ear alone, which suggests such various forms of words, sentiments, things, beauty, proportion, all innate and congenial to us — that harmony which, by blending and diversifying its own sounds, insinuates into the souls of others the affection kindled in the speaker's breast, and infallibly causes the hearers to participate therein, and which, by building up an edifice of words, forms into one harmonious whole the grand things at its disposal -do we not think, I say, that, acting by such means as these, composition must charm the soul at the same time that it invariably impresses us with ideas of grandeur, dignity, sublimity, and whatsoever else is comprehended in it, exercising an absolute and sovereign sway over all the powers of the mind ? But it seems madness to make a question of points so fully admitted, for the evidence of experience requires no confirmation.

Sublimely effective and substantially admirable is that conception of Demosthepes (« Oration on the Crown ») which he subjoins to the decree: « This decree caused the danger which then enveloped the city to pass away like a mist.) Yet the harmonious sound of the words comes up to the sublimity of the sentiment they convey; for the whole is uttered in dactylic measures, the finest and most conducive to sublimity; for which cause, also, they are employed in forming heroic verse, the goodliest of all. For do but remove the last two words (in the Greek] from their proper place to any other you please, or even lop off one syllable only from the end of the last but one, and you will be satisfied how much harmonious sound contributes to

« AnteriorContinuar »