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be that deadly. weapon; the possession of which is so per. inicios, that the atfection of a parent, studious of the leatting and virtue of his son, dares not entrust it to his hand. If rhetoric be no more than the Babylonish dialect of the schools, if oratory be no more than the sounding emptiness of the scholar, they are at least not those dangerous and destructive engines, which pollute the fountains of justice, and batter down the liberties of nations. These objections are still more at strife with each other, than with the science, against which they are pointed. Were they urged by one and the same disputant, we might be content to array them against each other. We might oppose the argument of insignificance against the argument of danger; and enjoy the triumph of beholding our adversary refute himself
. But inasmuch as they spring from different sources, they are entitled to a distinct consideration. From their mutual opposition, the only conclusive inference we can draw against them is, that they cannot all be well founded. Let us endeavour to prove the same against each of them separately, beginning with those, which affect only the usefulness, and not the moral character of our profession.
The first assault then, which we are called upon pel, comes from the shaft of wit; always a formidable, but not always a sair antagonist. A poet of real genius and original humor, in a couplet, which goes farther to discredit all systems of rhetoric, than volumes of sober argument can effect in promoting them, has told the world that
All a rhetorician's rules
But happily the doctrine, that ridicule is the test of truth, has never obtained the assent of the rational part of mankind. Wit, like the ancient Parthian, flies while it fights; or like the modern Indian, shoots from behind trees and hedges. The arrow comes winged from an invisible hand. It rankles in your side, and you look in vain for the archer. Wit is the unjust judge, who often decides wrong; and even when right, often from a wrong motive. From his decisions however, after paying the forfeit, there is always an appeal to the more even balance of common sense. On this review we shall find the poet's position not exactly conformable to truth; and. even so far as true, by no means decisive against the study of the science. For what can be more necessary to the artist, than to know the names, as well as the uses of his tools? Rhetoric alone can never constitute an orator. No human art can be acquired by the mere knowledge of the principles, upon which it is founded. But the artist, who understands its principles, will exercise his art in the highest perfection. The profoundest study of the writers upon architecture, the most laborious contemplation of its magnificent monuments will never make a mason. But the mason, thoroughly acquainted with the writers, and fainiliar with the construction of those monuments, will surely be an abler artist, than the mere mechanic, ignorant of the mysteries of his trade, and even of the names of his tools. A celebrated French comic writer, Moliere, has represented one of his characters, learning with great astonishment and self-admiration, at the age of forty, that he had been all his life time speaking prose without knowing it. And this bright discovery comes from the information he then first receives from his teacher of grammar, that whatsoever is not prose is verse, and whatsoever is not verse is prose.
But the names of the rhetorician's rules are not the only objects of his precepts. They are not even essen. tial to the science. Figurative and ornamented language indeed is one of the important properties of oratory, and when the art canie to be reduced into a system among the ancient Greeks, some of the subordinate writers, unable to produce any thing of their own upon the gener al subject, exercised their subtlety to discriminate, and their ingenuity to name the innumerable variety of forms, in which language may be diverted from the direct into the figurative channel. Pursuing this object with more penetration than discernment, they ransacked all their celebrated authors for figures of speech, to give them names; and often finding in their search some incorrect expression, which the inattention of the writer had overlooked, they concluded it was a figure of speech, because it was not conformable to grammatical construction; and very gravely turning a blunder into a trope, invested it with the dignity of a learned name. A succession of these rhetorical nomenclators were continually improving upon one another, until the catalogue of figures grew
to a lexicon, and the natural shape of rhetoric was distended to a dropsy.
This excessive importance, given to one of the branches of the science, led to the absurd notion, that all rhet. oric was comprised in the denomination of figurative expressions, and finally provoked the lash of Butler's ridicule. But he must have a partial and contracted idea indeed of rhetoric, who can believe, that by the art of persuasion is meant no more than the art of distinguishing between a metonymy and a metaphor, or of settling the boundary between synecdoche and antonomasia. So far is this from being true, that Aristotle, the great father of the science, though he treats in general terms of metaphorical language, bestows very little consideration upon it, and cautions the orator, perhaps too rigorously, against its use. Cicero, though from the natural turn of his genius more liberal of these seductive graces, allows them only a very moderate station in his estinate of the art; and Quinctilian appropriates to them only part of two, out of his twelve books of institutes.
The idea, that the purpose of rhetoric is only to teach the art of making and delivering a holiday declamation, proceeds from a view of the subject equally erroneous and superficial. Were this its only or even its principal object, its acquisition might rationally occupy a few moments of your leisure, but could not claim that assiduous study and persevering application, without which no inan will ever be an orator. It would stand in the rank of elegant accomplishments, but could not aspire to that of useful talents. Perhaps one of the causes of this mistaken estimate of the art is the usual process, by which it is learnt. The exercises of the student are necessaa rily confined to this lowest departinent of the science. Your weekly declamations, your occasional themes, and forensic disputes, and the dialogues, conferences and orations of the public exhibitions, from the nature of things, must relate merely to speculative subjects. Here is no issue for trial, in which the life or fortune of an individual may be involved. Here is no vote to be taken, upon which the destinies of a nation may be suspended. Here is no immortal soul, whose future blessedness or misery may hinge upon your powers of eloquence to carry conviction to the heart. But here it is, that you must prepare yourselves to act your part in those great realities of
life. To consider the lessons or the practices, by which the art of oratory can be learnt, as the substance of the art itself, is to mistake the means for the end. It is to measure the military merits of a general by the gold threads of his epaulette, or to appreciate the valor of the soldier by the burning of powder upon a parade. The eloquence of the college is like the discipline of a review. The art of war, we are all sensible, does not consist in the manoeuvres of a training day; nor the stedfastness of the soldier at the hour of battle, in the drilling of his orderly sergeant. Yet the superior excellence of the veteran army is exemplified in nothing more forcibly, than in the perfection of its discipline. It is in the heat of the action, upon the field of blood, that the fortune of the day may be decided by the exactness of the manual exercise; and the art of displaying a column, or directing a charge, may turn the balance of victory and change the history of the world. The application of these observations is as direct to the art of oratary, as to that of war.
The exercises, to which you are here accustomed, are not intended merely for the display of the talents you have acquired. They are instruments, put into your
bands for future use. Their object is not barely to prepare you for the composition and delivery of an oration to amuse an idle hour on some public anniversary. It is to give you a clue for the labyrinth of legislation in the public councils; a spear for the conflict of judicial-war in the public tribunals; a sword for the field of religious and moral victory in the pulpit.
In the endeavour to refute these pretty cavils against rhetoric, which have no higher foundation, than a super ficial misconception of its real character and object, I have perhaps consumed too much of your time. A more serious obstacle remains to be removed. An obstacle, arising, not from a mistaken estimate of its value, but from too keen a sense of its abuses, An objection, which admits, nay, exaggerates, the immensity of its powers, but harps upon their perversion to evil ends; which beholds in oratory, not the sovereign, but the usurper of the soul; which, far from exposing the science to the sneer of contempt, aims at inflaming against it the rancour of jealousy.
Eloquence, we are told by these eloquent detractors, is the purveyor of fraud, and the pander of delusion. Her tongue drops manna, but to make the worse appear the better reason; to perplex and dash maturest coun. sels. She fills the trump of glory with the venal blast of adulation, and binds the wreath of honor around the brows of infamy. Her voice is ever ready to rescue the culprit from punishment, and to turn the bolt of public vengeance upon innocence. Upon every breeze her breath wings the pestilence of sedition, or kindles the flames of unextinguishable war. Her most splendid victories are but triumphs over reason, and the basis of her temple is erected upon the ruins of truth.
To this tempest of inculpation what reply can we oppose? If we dispute the correctness of the assertions, our adversaries appeal with confidence to the testimony of historical fact. If we assure them upon the word of Cicero and Quinctilian, that none but a good man can possibly be an orator, they disconcert us by calling for our examples of orators, who have been good men.
Let us then tell them, that their objection in this instance, is rather against the constitution of human nature, the dispersations of Providence, and the moral government of the universe, than against rhetoric and oratory. It applies with equal force against every faculty, which exalts the human character, virtue alone excepted. Strength of body, vigor of mind, beauty, valor, genius, whatever we admire and love in the character of man; how often are they perverted to his shaine and corruption! It applies with equal foree against the laws of physical nature. Observe the phenomena of the universe, in which we dwell. The very beams of that glorious sun, the source of genial heat, of heavenly light, of vegetable growth, and of animal life, how often does their radiance blind the eyes, and their fervor parch the plains! How often do they shed pernicious plagues, and kindle consuming tires!The very atmosphere we breathe, unless perpetually purified by the accession of oxygen, is it not the most deadly poison? Virtue, my young friends, is the oxygen, the vital air of the moral world. Immutable and incorruptible itself, like that being, of whom it is the purest emanation, in proportion as it intermingles with and pervades every other particle of intellectual nature, it inspires the salutiferous gale, the principle of life, and health, and happiness. But this is the peculiar privilege of virtue, Like all the other