Page images




A youth who would the Olympic honors gain,

All arts must try and every toil sustain.- HORACE.

The wise in heart shall be called prudent, but the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.- SOLOMON.


OU are about to begin a course of rhetorical discipline. You cannot, it is manifest, be made adequately to comprehend at once notions which the study. itself is intended to enable you to understand; but it is desirable that you should be enabled to form at least some vague conception of the road that you are to travel and of the point to which it will conduct you.

In these days of paper and print, when the mind is reached chiefly through the medium of the eye, rhetoric asks not, as formerly, whether you are to be a poet, a scientist, or a debater, but simply whether it is your wish to be put in the right way of communicating yourself with power to others. Expression of thought in language is regarded, in all its varieties, as one department, governed by the same fundamental principles. Theoretically and practically, rhetoric has reference to the mode, rather than to the material, of expression. Form and substance, indeed, coexist in mutual dependence, and to know the laws of the one we must consider the nature of the other;

but wherein they are separable, the first is here the special and dominant topic of inquiry.

It has been customary to divide the arts into fine, elegant, or liberal; and useful, mechanical, or practical: the design of the first being to refine the higher faculties, and thus to afford a larger amount of a more elevated kind of enjoyment; of the second, to qualify a human being to act the part of a dexterous instrument. If for convenience we admit the division, rhetoric evidently has the character of both classes. But the distinction is essentially superficial; for, with the progress of civilization, there is a progressive union of the useful and the beautiful; while, with the growth of a more spiritual view of human destiny, whatever is conducive to the highest education of the noblest powers is held to be of preeminent The rhetorician may, therefore, cheerfully profess himself a utilitarian, and, on the special ground of its utility, claim for his art its peculiar importance.


Every art is closely allied to one or more sciences which furnish the principles that govern and explain it. In making harmony between matter and manner, and using both to secure worthy ends, rhetoric subsidizes Grammar, which unites words in correct construction; and Logic, which tests the validity of the reasoning. In so far as it expresses moral states, or aims to excite them, it is related to Ethics. It is allied to Esthetics by conformity with the laws of taste-the great moderator that wars against excess. But it does not properly embrace these in their integrity. It does not assume into itself purely scientific investigations and discussions of them. It takes their laws as settled and applies them, where there is occasion, to its own purposes. Since thought is now conveyed far more frequently by the pen than by the voice, Elocution is but accidentally subsidiary. The two arts should be separated, because (1) their modes of training are different;

(2) vocal expression is not necessary to the artistic and forcible embodiment of thought; (3) they are distinct, so much so that great strength in either may consist with. great weakness in the other. Many excellent actors have been utterly unable to construct an oration, while many excellent composers have been miserable speakers.

An argument, however, may violate no rule, either of grammar or of logic, and may also be faultlessly pronounced, yet fail of the intended effect. In other words, rhetoric has requirements of its own.

It takes the

thoughts thus grammatically and logically approved, and so clothes them, so arranges them, as to make the product pleasing, forceful, effective.

The laws of labor and method are equally binding upon genius and mediocrity. The common artisan owes his utmost proficiency to perfect familiarity with rules, if not with their foundation,- a forgetfulness of them in their unconscious application. Phidias will be vainly afire with the conception of Jove unless he has a prior knowledge of anatomy, and uses his chisel with painstaking care, systematically, though at last without formal teaching. The genius of Beethoven will avail nothing to the composer unless he conforms to the laws of musical form, orchestration and harmony. Always there is the search for means suited to an end. Will you do as well with scattered as with concentrated forces, as well without meditation as with it, without purpose as with it, without order as with it? Yet such is art- the assemblage of the means for making or doing a thing. To exclude it- that is, to exclude reflection or the use of method-is simply to renounce perfection. Art by exercising itself becomes what habit is in the moral life-second nature, intelligent instinct, involuntary observance of rule. This is precisely the case with Shakespeare, as attested by the Eulogy of Ben Jonson:

Yet must I not give Nature all: thy art,
My gentle Shakespear, must enjoy a part;
For though the poet's matter Nature be,
His art doth give the fashion; and that he
Who casts to write a living line must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses' anvil; turn the same
(And himself with it) that he thinks to frame;
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn,

For a good poet's made as well as born,

And such wert thou. Look how the father's face
Lives in his issue, even so the race

Of Shakespear's mind and manners brightly shines
In his well-turned and true-filed lines,

In each of which he seems to shake a lance,

As brandished at the eyes of Ignorance.

The rules of rhetoric are but a concise general expression of the manner in which it has been found that the masters have achieved success. They are generalized experience, and experience is, in all spheres, a teacher which inspired men cannot reject, to which ordinary men must attend. 'He who will not answer to the rudder must answer to the rocks.'

Perhaps all serious opposition to the art has arisen from the abuse of it, either to hide the want of sense with excess of sound and ornament, or to hoodwink the judgment by alluring the fancy, like Milton's Belial, whose tongue

Dropp'd manna, and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and dash

Maturest counsels.

But, on the one hand, rhetoric does not undertake to remedy barrenness, to furnish vitalizing energy or native power-without which all art must be the merest surfacework. On the other, it is no conclusion against the excellence of the fashion, that a gentleman's livery may be worn by a rogue. Rhetoric, taking no note of differ

ences in men, regards only their universal natural practice when they speak or write well, be they gifted or not, leaving to every one the full, free use of his peculiar resources to effect his freely chosen ends.

To exercise the imagination and improve the taste, with their attendant happy effects on life, by bringing into view the chief beauties that ought to be imitated and the leading defects that ought to be shunned; to unlearn bad habits; to substitute the best models for the worst or the indifferent; to cultivate accurate thinking, as well as accurate speaking, by the careful practice of putting our sentiments into words according to law; to enable the person of brain and emotion to put himself in communication with the minds and hearts of others under the most favorable circumstances; to guide and develop; to shorten the time and the uncertainty of walking in the dark;such are the utilities, subjective and objective, on which we rest the dignity and merit of the present study. Let us define Rhetoric, therefore, as the art of enabling those who have something to say, to say it to the best advantage.

« PreviousContinue »