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f we could ask the unknown artist who carved this statue of the greatest
orator of Athens, why he did not make it more graceful, he might reply.
«Because Demosthenes himself was not so.” It is said that Demosthenes felt his awkwardness keenly, and that in educating himself for public speaking he hung a sword over one of his shoulders so that the prick he received from its point on raising one of them too high might com pel him to keep them even,
beasts let out of confinement, they would set the world on fire with the mischiefs they would occasion. Upon the whole, then, I have shown that the bane of true genius in the present day is that dissolution of morals which, with few exceptions, prevails universally among men, who, in all they do or undertake, seek only applause and self-gratification, without a thought of that public utility which cannot be too zealously pursued or too highly valued.
From the essay “On the Sublime.)
THE STYLE OF DEMOSTHENES
F the perfections of writings are to be estimated by number, and not intrinsic
worth, then even Hyperides will prove far superior to Demosthenes; for he has
more variety and harmony, and a greater number of beauties, and in almost every perfection is next to excellent. He resembles a champion practiced in the five exercises, who in each of them severally must yield the superiority to other athletes, but is superior to all unprofessional practitioners. For Hyperides, besides that he has, in every point except the structure of his words, imitated the excellencies of Demosthenes, has over and above embraced the graces and beauties of Lysias. For when his subject demands simplicity, he relaxes the energy of his style; nor does he utter everything in one unaltered strain of vehemence, like Demosthenes; and in his description of manners there is a charming sweetness.
There is an exhaustless fund of wit about him, a vein of elegant satire, a natural grace, a skillfulness of irony, jests not clumsy or loose, after the manner of those old Attic writers, but natural and easy; a ready talent at ridicule; a deal of comic point, conveyed in a style of well-managed pleasantry; and, in all these respects, a winning gracefulness that is almost inimitable. Gifted with extraordinary power to excite commiseration, he is also fertile in stories and familiar chat, returning to his subject after digressions without any distress or difficulty. So, also, it is plain that he has composed his discourse of Latona in a style more like poetry than prose; and his funeral oration with a pomp of dictio as far as I know, unequaled.
Demosthenes, on the other hand, was not studious to portray the humors and characters of men; he was not diffusive in his eloquence; far from flexible and pliant, and void of pomp and parade; and, in a word, for the most part, deficient in all the qualities ascribed to Hyperides. Where he constrains himself to be merry or facetious, if he makes people laugh, it is at himself. And the more he endeavors to be elegant, the further he is from it. Had he ever attempted an oration for a Phryne or an Athenogenes, he would have only served still more as a foil to Hyperides.
But since, to my thinking, the beauties of Hyperides, though numerous, have no inherent greatness; are the productions of a sedate and sober genius, but without force to move an audience,- for certainly no one is affected by fear in reading him; while Demosthenes is gifted, on the one hand, with a genius intensely sublime and a capacity of lofty diction carried to a pitch of transcendent excellence, passions that live and breathe, an exhaustless copiousness, shrewdness, rapidity; and, on the other hand, a vehemence and power which none could ever approach; since, I say, Demosthenes has embraced and monopolized all these, as it were, Heaven-sent gifts, – for it were a sin to call them human,- he invariably surpasses all in the excellences that are his own; and, in place of those he has not, strikes down the orators of every age as with the force of thunder, and throws them into the shade as with the glare of lightning; and sooner might a man look with steadfast gaze on the descending thunderbolt, than eye undismayed his reiterated flashes of passion.
From the essay "On the Sublime.)
MICHEL EYQUEM DE MONTAIGNE
ONTAIGNE'S « Consideration upon Cicero ) is an admirable example
of the style as an essayist which immortalized him. He is a
master of the great art of digression, and when he announces his subject those who know him will know that it is useless to attempt to guess from it what he really means to talk about. In this essay, however, he does make a number of valuable observations not only on Cicero and the eloquence of words, but on the eloquence of silence, and of action.
A CONSIDERATION UPON CICERO
HERE are to be gathered out of the writings of Cicero, and this younger Pliny
(but little, in my opinion, resembling his uncle in his humor), infinite testi-
measure ambitious nature; and, amongst others, this for one, that they both, in the sight of all the world, solicit the historians of their time not to forget them in their memoirs; and Fortune, as if in spite, has made the vacancy of those requests live upon record down to this age of ours, when she has long since damned the histories themselves to oblivion. But this exceeds all meanness of spirit in persons of such quality, as they were, to think to derive any great and living renown from babbling and prating; even to the publishing of their private letters to their friends, and so withal, that though some of them were never sent, the opportunity being lost, they, nevertheless, expose them to the light, with this worthy excuse, that they were hereafter unwilling to lose their labors, and have their lucubrations thrown away. Was it not very well becoming two consuls of Rome, sovereign magistrates of the republic that commanded the world, to spend their time in contriving quaint and elegant missives, thence to gain the reputation of being critics, in their own mother tongues: what could a pitiful schoolmaster have done worse, whose trade it was to get his living? If the acts of Xenophon and Cæsar had not far enough transcended their eloquence, I scarce believe they would ever have taken the pains to have writ them. They made it their business to recommend, not their speaking, but their doing. And could the perfection of eloquence have added any lustre proportionable to the merit of a great person, certainly Scipio and Lælius had never resigned the honor of their comedies, with all the luxuriances and delicacies of the Latin tongue, to an African slave; for that that work was theirs the beauty and excellency of it do sufficiently declare; besides, Terence himself confesses as much, and I should take it ill from any one that would dispossess me of that belief. 'Tis a kind of injurious mockery and offense to extol a man for qualities misbecoming his merit, and condition, though otherwise commendable in themselves, but such as ought not, however, to be his chiefest talent: as if a man should commend a king for being a good painter, a good architect, a good marks.
man, or a good runner at the ring,— commendations that add no honor, unless mentioned altogether, and in the train of those that are more properly applicable to him, namely, his justice and the science of governing and conducting his people both in peace and war. At this rate agriculture was an honor to Cyrus, and eloquence and the knowledge of good letters to Charlemagne. I have in niy time known some who, by that knack of writing, have got both their titles and fortune, disown their apprenticeage, purposely corrupt their style, and affect ignorance in so vulgar a quality (which also our nation observes to be rarely seen in very intelligent hands), to seek a reputation by better qualities. The companions of Demosthenes in the embassy to Philip, extolling that prince as handsome, eloquent, and a stout drinker, Demosthenes replied that those were commendations more proper for a woman, an advocate, or a sponge, than a king.
Imperet bellante prior jacentem.
- Hor. Carm.
«First let his empire from his valor flow,
'Tis not his profession to know either how to hunt, or to dance well.
Orabunt causas alii, cælique meatus
“Let others plead at the litigious bar,
Plutarch says, moreover, that to appear so excellent in these less necessary qualities is to produce witness against a man's self, that he has spent his time and applied his study ill, which ought to have been employed in the acquisition of more necessary and more useful things, so that Philip, King of Macedon, having heard that great Alexander, his son, sing once at a feast to the wonder and envy of the best musicians there: «Art not thou asham'd,” said he to him, «to sing so well ?) And to the same Philip a musician, with whom he was disputing about some things concerning his art: «Heav'n forbid! Sir,” said he, that so great a misfortune should ever befall you, as to understand these things better than I.) A king should be able to answer as Iphicrates did the orator, who pressed upon him in his invective after this manner: «And what art thou, that thou brav'st it at this rate ? Art thou a man at arms, art thou an archer, art thou a pike?» «I am none of all this; but I know how to command all these.» And Antisthenes took it for an argument of little valor, in Ismenas, that he was commended for playing excellently well upon a flute. I know very well that when I hear any one insist upon the language of essays, I had rather a great deal he would say nothing. 'Tis not so much to elevate the style as to depress the sense, and so much the more offensively, as they do it disgracefully, and out of the way. I am much deceived if many
essayists deliver more worth nothing as to the matter, and how well, or ill soever, if
any other writer has strewed them either much more material, or thicker upon his paper than myself. To bring the more in, I only muster up the heads; should I annex the sequel, I should strangely multiply this volume; and how many stories have I scattered up and down, in this book, that I ly touch upon; which should any one more curiously search into, they would find matter enough to produce infinite essays;
Paraphrased from Virgil. Æneid VI. 849–57.