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RHYTHM AND THE HARMONIES OF LANGUAGE

THE Ancients were of opinion that there should be a species of verse even in our

prose - in other words, that certain musical numbers ought to be applied to

it, and that, in order to allow regular intervals for breathing, so as not to distress the voice, the sentences should be divided into short clauses, determined, not by punctuation, but by the measure and modulation of the words; and this, as we learn from the writings of his pupil Naucrates, was first suggested by Isocrates, in order to reduce to harmony the rude and disjointed composition of our forefathers. For these two things, poetry and song, were invented by the musicians, who were originally identified with the poets, for the mere luxury of sound, that the cadence of the words and the melody of the voice might satisfy without satiating the ear. With this view, therefore, they maintained that the modulation of the voice and the harmonious structure of the language should be transferred, as far as the austerer nature of prose composition would permit, from poetry to eloquence. But in making this transfer, it is of the utmost insportance that the words should not be so viciously arranged as to glide into verse, and yet that, like verse, they should fall melodiously and with a perfectly rounded cadence on the ear; nor among his many excellencies is there any one which more immediately distinguishes the orator from the ignorant and unskillful speaker than this that the latter pours out all that he can at once, and without discrimination, and measures his sentences not by rule, but by mere strength of lungs; while the orator, on the contrary, so interweaves his words and sentences that they move in a measure at once fettered and free; for, though shackled by the cadence and conformation of the words, they are relaxed and liberated by the interchange of order; so that the language is not strictly bound, like poetry, nor yet so loose as to wander free from all restraint.

By pursuing what method, then, may we reasonably hope to attain an object so important as this mastery over the harmonies of speech? The attainment is rather necessary than difficult; for there is nothing so pliant, so flexible, so readily accommodating itself to every movement of the mind, as language. From this poetry and all the different poetical numbers are formed; from this likewise all the various kinds and cadences of prose. For we have not one set of words for conversation and another for debate - one for daily use, another for scenic pomp and display; but taking them indiscriminately from the common fund which lies before us, we mold and fashion them, like the softest wax, into whatever shape we please. Grandiloquent at one time, refined and delicate at another, and now holding an intermediate course, the style takes the mold of every sentiment we wish to express, and is plastic and convertible to every purpose, either to captivate the ear or to stimulate the passions. But in oratory, as in everything else, most marvelous are the operations of nature, invariably associating the most useful with the loftiest, and often even with the most beautiful. For the safety and preservation of all its parts, such we see to be the state of universal nature: the heaven suspending over us its rounded arch, the earth self-balanced and holding by inherent power its station in the centre, the sun in its career encircling the whole, approaching nearer in the brumal season, and thence ascending gradually in the opposite direction - the waning or the crescent moon, illumined by its rays, and the five stars traversing, though with unequal speed, the same vast space; and all with such nice and subtle art combined, that the slightest change would loosen their cohesion, and with such transcendent beauty that imagination cannot picture anything more gorgeous. Turn your attention now to man, or to the form and structure even of other animals; you will find no part of the body which is not essential to the other, and the whole not casually thrown together, but a most perfect work of art.

Again, in the vegetable world: the trunk, the branches, the very leaves of the tree - is not their chief purpose the renewal and preservation of the plant? Yet every part is full of beauty. Passing from nature to art: in navigation, what so necessary to a ship as the bulwarks, the keel, the prow, the stern, the yards, the sails, the mast ? And yet combining so much beauty with their respective configuration, that they seem invented less for the purposes of utility than to charm the eye with their grace and symmetry. In architecture, the columns give support to porticoes and temples, and yet are not more useful than ornamental. It was not taste, but necessity, that suggested the cupola of the capitol, or the slanting roof of other buildings; for when the problem was how the rain could be made to fall from both sides of the edifice, the beauty of the slanting roof was the consequence of its utility; so that if the capitol had been built above the clouds, where rain could never fall, no other conformation would have been equally pleasing to the eye. And thus it happens that in every department of oratory the useful and the almost indispensable bring grace and beauty in their train; for the necessary respiration and the limited action of the lungs have originated the different clauses and breaks in the sentence. This has been found so agreeable to the ear, that if the speaker could be endowed with inexhaustible power of lungs we should object to this continuous flow; for that has always proved the most harmonious which is not only practicable, but most easy to the utterance. ...

You are mistaken, Crassus, if you suppose, said Catulus, that either I, or any of our party, expect from you a repetition of the hackneyed rules in daily use. You have told us not only what we wished to hear, but also in the very form in which we wished to hear it, and this I say without any hesitation, not only for myself, but for all present. For my part, observed Antonius, I must admit that I have at length found what I stated in my pamphlet never to have met with a really eloquent man; but I have hitherto refrained from interrupting you by saying even so much, for fear of curtailing by a single word of mine the very limited time allowed you for this discussion. On this principle, then, said Crassus, with practice and the use of the pen, at all times, but here especially, the great refiner and embellisher of language, must be constructed the edifice of your composition. Nor is this a work of so much labor as it appears, neither are we to be fettered by any stringent rules of musical rhythm, only we must be careful to prevent our composition from being too loose or rambling, neither compressed too much, nor too widely expanded - well defined in its various members, and complete in its cadence; nor is the full and rounded period to be invariably used, but often broken up into minuter clauses, yet with a cadence of their own. . . .

But it is the conclusion of the sentence which demands especial elaboration, because it is there only that its absolute completeness can be judged; in verse, the beginning, middle, and end of the line require equal attention, a flaw in any one part extending to the whole line, but in a prose sentence, while few notice the commencing words, the closing cadences arrest the attention of almost every hearer; and these, at once so conspicuous and so well understood, ought to be varied in such a manner as neither to offend the judgment nor pall upon the ear. The two or three concluding feet ought to be distinctly marked and noted, care being taken at the same time that the preceding members be not abruptly short; and these last should consist of trochees or pæons, or each alternately, or else of the concluding pæon, recommended by Aristotle, or its equivalent — the cretic. These interchanges will prevent the sentence from palling by its monotony, and will obviate at the same time all appearance of elaborate artifice. Antipater the Sidonian, so well remembered

on. Catulus, was in the habit and practiced memory to loy. How much more easily

that of an upure in ever wrong in a statuary

by you, Catulus, was in the habit of extemporizing hexameter and other verse, and was enabled by his ready invention and practiced memory to throw his language without effort into whatever mold of metre he wished to employ. How much more easily will habitual practice enable the orator to attain this facility! And we shall cease to be surprised at the critical judgment of an unlettered audience, if we only reflect on the wonderfully discriminating power of nature in everything, but especially in oratory. Almost all mankind can distinguish right from wrong in reasoning and art, by an intuitive perception, and if this be the case in painting, and statuary, and other arts, where they have less aid from nature, how much more acutely will they judge of language, metre, and modulation, which address themselves to those senses that are common to all, and which Nature has altogether withheld from scarcely any of her children. Accordingly, all are affected, not only by the artistic arrangement of language, but even by rhythm and tone.

EMBELLISHING THE ORATION

THE great embellisher of every oration is its own character and complexion,

the bloom and coloring supplied by its own natural juices; for the qualities

of impressiveness, sweetness, intelligence, refinement, sublimity, elegance, passion, and pathos, as severally required, are not attributes of the separate members of a discourse, but pervading the whole body; the flowers of language and sentiment, on the contrary, ought not to be profusely spread over the entire speech, but disposed with tasteful economy, sparkling here and there like so many brilliant ornaments. That style of oratory, then, should be selected which is most attractive, and which not only delights, but delights without satiety (for I do not suppose you expect me to caution you against poverty, harshness, vulgarity, or obsoleteness of diction,- your ability and riper years demand something better from me). It is difficult to say why those objects which are most attractive to the senses, and affect them in the first instance with the most exquisite delight, are the very first to engender fastidiousness and satiety. How much more florid bloom and variety of color have most new paintings than the old, and yet, though so captivating at first sight, they soon cease to please; while the subdued and sombre coloring of the ancient masters has a permanent attraction. How much softer and more delicate in singing are the quaver and falsetto than the firm and simple notes of the natural voice, and yet if they occur too often, not only the more fastidious judges, but the whole audience cry out in reprobation. The same principle may be seen to pervade the other senses. We are sooner cloyed with the more luscious perfumes than with those of an austerer odor; the favor of wax is preferable to that of saffron; and even in objects which affect the touch also there must be a limit to softness and equability of surface. Of all the senses, that of the taste is most voluptuous, and delights most in sweet savors, and yet how it rejects and turns with loathing from any excessive sweetness. Who could subsist long on saccharine food or sweetened drinks ? In both the most tasteless and insipid please the longest. The extremes of gratification and disgust are separated by the finest line of demarcation. We need not be surprised then, that, as may be seen in our poets and orators, the pretty, the sparkling, the ornamental, or the gay, carried on without interruption, moderation, or variety, however brilliant the coloring, fail to please long. Prettinesses and faults of bad taste disgust the more readily in the poet and orator, because by sensual excess the senses only are cloyed, whereas in oratory and composition faults of this kind are offensive, not only to the ear, but still more so to the judgment.

Wherefore, though I would often have an audience exclaim, “good!” and “excellent!» «beautiful!” and “brilliant!) should be of less frequent occurrence, and though I do not object to the reiterated cry of « Nothing can be better,” yet those flashes of surpassing splendor which evoke such exclamations should have a corresponding depth of shade to throw them into bolder and more striking prominence. Roscius never gives all the effect that he could to the passage,

<< The wise man seeks for honor, not for spoil,
As the reward of virtue,"

but subdues it altogether, that he may come with a more startling expression of surprise, astonishment, and consternation on the words,

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How plaintive and subdued! how free from all violent emotion! for immediately follows that passionate burst of agony,

“O father! O country! O prostrate house of Priam ! »

which could not be given with the same force if the expression had been exhausted by a previous effort. Nor were the actors earlier in the discovery of this principle than the poets, and even the musicians, who well know the effect of judicious elevation, depression, contraction and expansion, variety and contrast. Let the orator then be graceful and harmonious (nor, indeed, can he be otherwise), but let his periods have a sharp and solid, not a soft and sodden sweetness; for the rules laid down for the distribution of embellishment are so easy that even the most indifferent speaker can explain them. In the first place, therefore, all the material of the discourse must be accumulated, of which department Antonius has already treated; it must then be wrought into the texture of the speaker's peculiar style, made clear by luminous expression, and interesting by the variety of sentiment. But the highest triumph of the art is the power of amplification, which consists, not only in expanding and elevating any subject, but also in depressing and degrading it.

A FUNDAMENTAL RULE

TO BRING our ideal orator into the actual business of life, and particularly into

that arena where his talents will be most in demand, viz., trials and litiga

tions (some will smile at the advice I am going to give, which is, indeed, less knowing than necessary, and rather the dictate of common sense than of profound science); but my very first injunction will be - a diligent investigation and thorough knowledge of whatever cause he is about to undertake. This is not to be found among our rudimentary precepts — for the causes given to boys are not very difficult, for example, the law forbids a stranger to ascend the wall - he ascends it - he beats back the enemy -- he is arraigned.) There is no great difficulty in fathoming questions of this kind, and accordingly no rules are laid down for them -- the

hus mature of their causes in

school exercises being mere formulas. But in the forum — wills, evidence, contracts, covenants, stipulations, relationship by blood, by affinity, decrees, legal opinions, even the entire history of the conflicting parties must be thoroughly known. To the neglect of these particulars may be ascribed the loss of most causes, especially of private ones, which are often the most intricate. Thus many advocates in order to impress the public with an opinion of the engrossing nature of their business, which hurries them from suit to suit into every part of the forum, take causes in hand of which they actually know nothing, whereby they incur the grave offense either of negligence in voluntarily undertaking the cause, or of treachery when engaged to defend it, and this is a more serious offense than it is commonly supposed to be, because no one can speak on a subject of which he is totally ignorant without the most disgraceful exposure both of himself and cause; thus, while disregarding the charge of ignorance, which is the heavier one, they incur, what they are most anxious to avoid, the imputation of inability. Indeed, I often make a point of getting my client to plead for himself, and that he may speak with more freedom in the absence of all witnesses, advocating myself the opposite side, that he may defend his own cause, and state everything he can advance in support of it; so that, after his departure, I calmly take upon myself the personation of three different characters — my own, my opponent's, and that of the judge. Whatever is likely rather to serve than to damage my cause I retain; what, on the contrary, promises to do more harm than good I altogether repudiate and reject; I thus obtain the advantage of preparing my case at one time, and of pleading it at another, which very many, in full reliance on their own ability, combine; but most assuredly they would serve their client more effectually by taking one time for the preparation, another for the pleading of his cause. The subject being thoroughly mastered, the question immediately presents itself — What is the point at issue? For no subject of discussion can arise, whether of a criminal nature, as some delinquency-or controversial, as the succession to an estate - or deliberative, as of war- or personal, as a eulogium - or philosophical, as the regulation of life, but it must fall under one of the following heads — what has been done, or is being done, or should be done, or what is its nature and designation. ...

But to return to my own method. When, therefore, after having thoroughly investigated and understood the merits of the cause in hand, I begin to consider how it ought to be treated, I settle nothing until I have ascertained to what point the whole speech bearing on the case in question must be directed. I then diligently ponder two things — how to gain the good-will of my audience for myself and client, and by what means to make them plastic to any impression I wish to leave upon their minds. Thus the whole art of persuasion depends upon three things to prove the truth of our statements, to conciliate our audience, and to give them that bias which is demanded by our cause. For the purpose of proof, a twofold material is placed at the disposal of the orator; the one consisting of those things which, not being elaborated from his own mind, but appertaining to the cause itself, require only to be employed judiciously — such as deeds, wills, compacts, examinations, laws, senatorial acts, precedents, decrees, legal opinions, and other things not discovered by the advocate, but brought under his notice by the cause, and by his clients. The other consists entirely of the reasoning and arguments of the orator himself. arguments of the orale hit in the latter his inve

In the former, his judgment only is engaged in arranging his materials, but in the latter his invention also must be exerted in discovering them. Those who profess to teach these things distribute all causes into sections, assigning to each section its own class of arguments - a system well enough adapted for mere boys, to supply them with commonplaces from which to draw a fund of ready argument for any urgent question; but it is the property of a sluggish

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