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quently inculcated, “ Quod omnibus difciplinis et s artibus debet eile instructus orator ;' that the orator ought to be an accomplished scholar, and conversant in every part of learning. It is indeed impofsible to contrive an art, and very pernicious it were, if it could be contrived, which fhould give the Stamp of merit to any composition rich or fplendid in expression, but barren or erroneous in thought. They are the wretched attempts towards an art of this kind which have so often disgraced oratory, and debased it below its true standard. The graces of composition have been employed to disguise or to supply the want of matter; and the temporary applause of the ignorant has been courted, instead of the lasting approbation of the discerning. But such imposture can never maintain its ground long. Knowledge and science must furnish the materials that form the body and substance of any valuable composition. Rhetoric ferves to add the polish ; and we know that none but firm and folid bodies can be polished well.
Of those who peruse the following lectures, fome, in consequence either of their profession, or of their prevailing inclination, may have the view of being employed in composition, or in public speaking.' Others, without any prospect of this kind, may wish only to improve their taste with respect to writing and discourse, and to acquire principles which will enable them to judge for themselves in that part of literature called the belles lettres.
With respect to the former, such as may have occafion to communicate their sentiments to the public, it is abundantly clear that some preparation of study is requisite for the end which they have in view. To speak or to write perspicuously and agreeably, with purity, with grace and strength, are attainments of the utmost consequence to all who purpose, either by speech or writing, to address the
public. For without being master of those attainments, no man can do justice to his own conceptions; but how rich foever he may be in knowledge and in good sense, will be able to avail himself less of those treasures, than fuch as possess, not half his store, but who can display what they poffefs with more propriety. Neither are these attainments of that kind for which we are indebted to nature merely. Nature has, indeed, conferred upon fome a very favourable distinction in this respect, beyond others. But in these, as in most other talents fhe bestows, she has left much to be wrought out by every man's own industry. So confpicuous have been the effects of study and improvement in every part of eloquence ; fuch remarkable examples have appeared of persons furmounting, by their diligence, the disadvantages of the most untoward nature, that among the learned it has long been a contested, and remains still an undecided point, whether nature or art confer most towards excelling in writing and discourse.
With respect to the manner in which art can moft effe&tually furnish affiftance for such a purpose, there may be diversity of opinions. I by no means pretend to say that mere rhetorical rules, how just foever, are sufficient to form an orator. Supposing natural genius to be favourable, more by a great deal will depend upon private application and study, than upon any system of instruction that is capable of being publicly communicated. But at the fame time, though rules and instructions cannot do all that is requisite, they may, however, do much that is of real use. They cannot, it is true, infpire genius; but they can direct and af lift it. They cannot remedy barrenness; but they may correct redundancy. They point out proper models for imitation. They bring into view the chief beauties that ought to be studied, and the principal faults that ought to be avoided ; and thereby tend to enlighten taste, and to lead genius from unnatural deviations, into its proper channel. What would not avail for the production of great excellencies, may at least serve to prevent the commission of considerable errors.
All that regards the study of eloquence and composition, merits the higher attention upon this account, that it is intimately connected with the improvement of our intellectual powers. For I must be allowed to say, that when we are employed, after a proper manner, in the study of composition, we are cultivating reason itself.: True rhetoric and found logic are very nearly allied. The study of arranging and expressing our thoughts with propriety, teaches to think, as well as to speak, accurately. By putting our sentiments into words, we always conceive them more distinctly. Every one who has the slightest acquaintance with composition, knows, that when he expresses himself ill on any subject, when his arrangement is loose, and his fentences become feeble, the defects of his style can, almost on every occasion, be traced back to his indistinct conception of the subject : so close is the connexion between thoughts and the words in which they are clothed.
The study of composition, important in itself at all times, has acquired additional importance from the taste and manners of the present age. It is an age wherein improvements, in every part of science, have been prosecuted with ardour. To all the liberal arts much attention has been paid ; and to none more than to the beauty of language, and the grace and elegance of every kind of writing. The public ear is become refined. It will not ealily bear what is flovenly and incorrect. Every author mult aspire to some merit in exprellion, as
well as in sentiment, if he would not incur the danger of being neglected and despised.
I will not deny that the love of minute elegance, and attention to inferior ornaments of composition, may at present have engrossed too great a degree of the public regard. It is indeed my opinion, that we lean to this extreme; often more careful of polished style, than of storing it with thought. Yet hence arises a new reason for the study of just and proper composition. If it be requisite not to be deficient in elegance or ornament in times where they are in such high estimation, it is still more requisite to attain the power of distinguishing false ornament from true, in order to prevent our being carried away by that torrent of false and frivolous taste, which never fails, when it is prevalent, to fweep along with it the raw and the ignorant. They who have never studied eloquence in its principles, nor have been trained to attend to the genuine and manly beauties of good writing, are always ready to be caught by the mere glare of language ; and when they come to speak in public, or to compose, have no other standard on which to form themselves, except what chances to be fashionable and popular, how corrupted foever, or erroneous, that may be.
But as there are many, who have no such objects as either composition or public speaking in view, let us next consider what advantages may be derived by them, from such studies as form the subject of these lectures. To them, rhetoric is not so much a practical art as a speculative science ; and the same instructions which aslist others in composing, will aflift them in discerning, and relishing, the beauties of composition. Whatever enables genius to execute well, will enable taste to criticise justly.
When we name criticising, prejudices may per
haps arise, of the same kind with those which I mentioned before with respect to rhetoric. As rhetoric has been sometimes thought to signify nothing more than the scholastic study of words and phra.
ses, and tropes, fo criticism has been considered as ! merely the art of finding faults; as the frigid ap
plication of certain technical terms, by means of which persons are taught to cavil and censure in a learned manner. But this is the criticism of pedants only, True criticism is a liberal and humane art. It is the offspring of good sense and refined taste. It aims at acquiring a just discernment of the real merit of authors. It promotes a lively rea lish of their beauties, while it preserves us from that blind and implicit veneration which would confound their beauties and faults in our esteem. It teaches us, in a word, to admire and to blame with judgment, and not to follow the crowd blindly.
In an age when works of genius and literature are so frequently the subjects of discourse, when every one erects himself into a judge, and when we can hardly mingle in polite society without bearing fome share in such discussions ; studies of this kind, it is not to be doubted, will appear to derive part of their importance from the use to which they may be applied in furnishing materials for those fathiona, ble topics of discourse, and thereby enabling us to support a proper rank in social life.
But I should be forry if we could not rest the merit of such studies on somewhat of folid and intrinsical use, independent of appearance and show. The exercise of taste and of sound criticism, is in truth one of the most improving employments of the understanding. To apply the principles of good sense to composition and discourse; to examine what is beautiful, and why it is so ; to employ ourselves in distinguishing accurately between the specious and the folid, between affected and natural ornament, must