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nor has that high and sublime kind of it, which prevailed in those ancient states, been so much ás aimed at: notwithstanding, too, that a new profession has been established, which gives peculiar advantages to Oratory, and affords it the noblest field; I mean that of the Church. The genius of the world seems, in this respect, to have undergone some alteration. The two countries where we might expect to find most of the spirit of Eloquence, are France and Great Britain : France, on account of the distinguished turn of the nation towards all the liberal arts, and of the encouragement which, for this century past, these arts have received from the Public; Great Britain, on account both of the public capacity and genius, and of the free government which it enjoys. Yet so it is, that, in neither of those countries has the talent of Public Speaking risen near to the degree of its ancient splendour. While in other productions of genius, both in prose and in poetry, they have contended for the prize with Greece and Rome; nay, in some compositions, may be thought to have surpassed them: the names of Demosthenes and Cicero stand, at this day, unrivalled in fame; and it would be held presumptuous and absurd, to pretend to place any modern whatever in the same, or even in a nearly equal rank.
It seems particularly surprising, that Great Britain should not have made a more conspicuous figure in Eloquence than it has hitherto attained'; when we consider the enlightened, and, at the same time, the free and bold genius of the country, which seems not a little to favour Oratory; and when we consider that of all the polite 'nations, it alone possesses a popular government, or admits into the legislature
such numerous assemblies as can be supposed to lie under the dominion of Eloquence.* Notwithstanding this advantage, it must be confessed, that, in most parts of Eloquence, we are undoubtedly inferior, not only to the Greeks and Romans, by many degrees, but also in some respects to the French. We have Philosophers, eminent and conspicuous, perhaps, beyond any nation, in every branch of science. We have both taste and erudition in a high degree. We have Historians, we have Poets of the greatest name; but of Orators, or Public Speakers, how little have we to boast ? And where are the monuments of their genius to be found ? In every period we have had some who made a figure, by managing the debates in Parliament; but that figure was commonly owing to their wisdom, or their experience in business, more than to their talents for Oratory; and unless, in some few instances, wherein the power of Oratory has appeared, indeed, with much lustre, the art of Parliamentary Speaking rather obtained to several a temporary applause, than conferred upon any a lasting renown. At the bar, though, questionless, we have many able pleaders, yet few or none of their pleadings have been thought worthy to be transmitted to posterity; or have commanded attention, any longer than the cause which was the subject of them,
* Mr. Hume, in his Essay on Eloquence, makes this observ. ation, and illustrates it with his usual elegance. He, indeed, supposes, that no satisfactory reasons can be given to account for the inferiority of modern to ancient Eloquence. In this, I differ from him, and shall endeavour, before the conclusion of this Lecture, to point out some causes, to which, I think, it may,
in a great measure, be ascribed in the three great scenes of Public Speaking
interested the Public; while, in France, the pleadings of Patru, in the former age, and those of Cochin and D'Aguesseau, in later times, are read with pleasure, and are often quoted as examples of Eloquence by the French critics. In the same manner, in the pulpit, the British divines have distinguished themselves by the most accurate and rational compositions, which, perhaps, any nation can boast of. Many printed sermons we have, full of good sense, and of sound divinity and morality; but the eloquence to be found in them, the power of persuasion, of interesting and engaging the heart, which is, or ought to be, the great object of the pulpit, is far from bearing a suit. able proportion to the excellence of the matter. There are few arts, in my opinion, farther from per. fection, than that of preaching is among us; the reasons of which, I shall afterwards have occasion to discuss ; in proof of the fact, it is sufficient to observe, that an English sermon, instead of being a persuasive animated Oration, seldom rises beyond the strain of correct and dry reasoning. Whereas, in the sermons of Bossuet, Massillon, Bourdaloue, and Flechier, among the French, we see a much higher species of Eloquence aimed at, and in a great measure attained, than the British preachers have in view.
In general, the characteristical difference between the state of Eloquence in France and in Great Britain is, that the French have adopted higher ideas both of pleasing and persuading by means of Oratory, though sometimes, in the execution, they fail. In Great Britain we have taken up Eloquence on a lower key; but in our execution, as was naturally to be expected, have been more correct. In France, the style of their Orators is ornamented with bolder
figures; and their discoursé carried on with more amplification, more warmth and elevation. The com position is often very beautiful; but sometimes, also, too diffuse, and deficient in that strength and cogency which renders Eloquence powerful: a defect owing, perhaps, in part, to the genius of the people, which leads them to attend fully as much to ornament as to substance; and, in part, to the nature of their government, which, by excluding Public Speaking from having much influence on the conduct of public affairs, deprives Eloquence of its best opportunity for acquiring nerves and strength. Hence the pulpit is the principal field which is left for their Eloquence, The members, too, of the French Academy, give harangues at their admission, in which genius often appears; but labouring under the misfortune of having no subject to discourse upon, they run commonly into flattery and panegyric, the most barren and insipid of all topics.
I observed before, that the Greeks and Romans aspired to a more sublime species of Eloquence, than is aimed at by the Moderns. Theirs was of the vehement and passionate kind, by which they endeavoured to inflame the minds of their hearers, and hurry their imaginations away: and, suitable to this vehemence of thought, was their vehemence of gesture and action; the “ supplosio pedis *,” the “percussio frontis & femoris *,” were, as we learn from Cicero's writings, usual gestures among them at the bar; though now they would be reckoned extravagant any where, except upon the stage. Modern Elo
* Vide De Clar. Orator.
quence is much more cool and temperate; and in Great Britain especially, has confined itself almost wholly to the argumentative and rational. It is much of that species which the ancient critics called the “ Tenuis” or “ Subtilis ;" which aims at convincing and instructing, rather than affecting the passions, and assumes a tone not much higher than common argument and discourse.
Several reasons may be given, why Modern Eloquence has been so limited and humble in its efforts. In the first place, I am of opinion, that this change must, in part, be ascribed to that correct turn of thinking, which has been so much studied in modern times. It can hardly be doubted, that, in many efforts of mere genius, the ancient Greeks and Romans excelled us; but, on the other hand, that, in accuracy and closeness of reasoning on many subjects, we have some advantage over them, ought, I think, to be admitted also. In proportion as the world has advanced, philosophy has made greater progress. A certain strictness of good sense has, in this island particularly, been cultivated, and introduced into every subject. Hence we are more on our guard against the flowers of Elocution; we are on the watch; we are jealous of being deceived by Oratory. Our Public Speakers are obliged to be more reserved than the Ancients, in their attempts to elevate the imagination, and warm the passions; and, by the influence of prevailing taste, their own genius is sobered and chastened, perhaps in too great a degree. It is likely too, I confess, that what we fondly ascribe to our correctness and good sense, is owing, in a great measure, to our phlegm and natural coldness. For the vivacity and sensibility of the Greeks and Romans,