« PreviousContinue »
HISTORY OF THE ORATOR DEMOSTHENES.
DEMOSTHENES, having lost his father at the age
of seven years, and falling into the hands of selfish and avaricious guardians, who where wholly bent upon plundering his estate, was not educated with the care which so excellent a genius as his deserved, and the delicacy of his constitution did not allow his masters to urge him in regard to his studies.
2. Hearing them one day speak of a famous cause that was to be pleaded, and which made a great noise in the city, he importuned them very much to carry him with them to the bar in order to hear the pleadings. The orator was heard with great attention, and having been very successful, was conducted home in a very ceremonious manner, amidst a crowd of illustrious citizens, who expressed the highest satisfaction.
3. Demosthenes was strongly affected with the honors which were paid to the orator, and still more with the absolute and despotic power which eloquence had over the mind. He himself was sensible of its force, and unable to resist its charms, he from that day devoted himself entirely to it, and immediately laid aside every other pleasure and study.
4. His first essay of eloquence was against his guardians, whom he obliged to restore part of his fortune. Encouraged by this good success, he ventured to speak before the people, but he acquitted himself very ill on that occasion, for he had a faint voice, stammered in his speech, and had a very short breath.
5. He therefore was hissed by the whole audience, and went home quite dejected, and determined to abandon för ever a profession to which he imagined himself unequal. . But one of his hearers, who perceived an excellent genius amidst his faults, encouraged him, by the strong remonstrances he made, and the salutary advice he gave him. HE
therefore appeared a second time before the people, but with no better success than before.
6. As he was going home with downcast eyes, and full of confusion, he was met by his friend Satyrus, one of the best actors of the age; who being informed of the cause of his chagrin, told Demosthenes only to repeat some verses to him, which he immediately did. 7. Satyrus then repeated them after him, and
gave them quite another grace, by the tone of voice, the gesture, and vivacity with which he spoke them, so that Demosthenes observed they had quite a different effect. This made him sensible of what he wanted, and he applied himself to the attainment of it.
8. His endeavours to correct the natural impediment in his speech, and to perfect himself in utterance, of the value of which his friend had made him so sensible, seem almost incredible, and demonstrate that indefatigable industry can overcome all difficulties.
9. He stammered to such a degree that he could not pronounce certain letters at all, and among others that which began the name of the art he studied; and his breath was so short that he could not utter a whole period without stopping. However, Demosthenes overcame all these obstacles, by putting little pebbles into his mouth, and then repeating several verses without taking breath.
10. He would do this when he walked, and ascended very craggy and steep places, so that at last he could pronounce all the letters without hesitating, and speak the longest periods without once taking breath. But this was not all, for he used to go to the sea shore and speak his orations when the weather was most boisterous, in order to prepare himself, by the confused noise of the waves, for the uproar of the people, and the cries of tumultuous assemblies.
11. He had a large mirror, before which he used to declaim before he spoke in public ; and as he had an ill habit of drawing up his shoulders, he hung a drawn sword over them with the point downwards. He was well paid for his trouble, since by these methods he carried the art of declaiming to the highest perfection of which it was capable,
12. His application to study, in other respects, was equal to the pains he took to conquer his natural defects. He had a room made under ground, that he might be remote from noise and disturbance, and this was to be seen many centuries afterwards. There he shut himself up for months together, and had half his head shaved that his ridiculous appearance might prevent bim from going abroad.
13. It was there by the light of a small lamp he composed those excellent harangues, which smelt, as his enemies declared, of the oil, to insinuate they were too much laboured. It is very evident replied be, yours did not cost you so much trouble.
14. Eschines, a rival orator, opposed the decree which bestowed a crown of gold upon Demosthenes. The cause was argued with the greatest eloquence on both sides, but Eschines was unsuccessful, and suffered exile for his rash attempt. When he was departing from Athens, Demosthenes ran after him, and prevailed upon him to accept of a sum of money to pay
his expenses. 15. Eschines, astonished at his liberality, exclaimed, I have reason to regret my departure from'a country where my enemies are so generous that I do not expect to find friends equal to them elsewhere. He afterwards established a school for eloquence at Rhodes, which was long celebrated.
16. He commenced his lessons by delivering to his auditors bis own oration against Demosthenes, and that of Demosthenes which caused his banishment. They bestowed great praise upon his own, but when he came to that of Demosthenes, their acclamations redoubled. If such is your applause, said he, at my delivery, what would you have said if you had heard Demosthenes himself?
TIME is more valuable to young people than to any others. They should not lose an hour in forming their taste, their manners and their minds; for whatever they are to a certain degree, at eighteen, they will be more or less so, all the rest of their lives.
2. Nothing can be of greater service to a young man who has any degree of understanding, than an intimate con. versation with one of riper years, who is not only able to advise, but who knows the manner of advising. By this mean, youth can enjoy the benefit of the experience of age; and that, at a time of life when such experience will be of more service to a man, than when he has lived long enough to acquire it of himself.
3. The kindnesses which most men receive from others, are like traces drawn in the sand. The breath of every passion sweeps them away, and they are remembered no more. But injuries are like inscriptions on monuments of brass or pillars of marble, which endure, unimpaired, the revolutions of time.
4. View the groves in autumn, and observe the constant succession of falling leaves ; in like manner the generations of men silently drop from the stage of life, and are blended with the dust from whence they sprang.
5 Perfect happiness is not the growth of a terrestrial soil; it buds in the gardens of the virtuous on earth, but blooms with unfading verdure only in the celestial regions.
6. He who would pass the latter part of his life with honour and decency, must, when he is young, consider that he shall one day be old ; and remember when he is old, that he has once been young.
7. He who governs his passions does more than he who commands armies. Socrates, being one day offended with his servant, said, “I would beat you if I were not angry.”
8. We too often judge of men by the splendor, and not by the merit of their actions. Alexander demanded of a pirate whom he had taken, by what right be infested the seas? By the same right, replied he boldly, that you enslave the world. I am called a robber, because I have only one small vessel ; but you are styled a conqueror, because you command great fleets and armies.
9. Beauty, as the flowery blossom, soon fades ; but the divine excellencies of the mind, like the medicinal virtues of the plant, remain in it when all those charms are withered.
10. There are two considerations which always embitter the heart of an avaricious man; the one is a perpetual thirst after more riches; the other, tbe prospect of leaving what he hath already acquired.