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And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.
The first thing to be attended to in all composition intended for delivery is, when we have fixed upon a subject, to form a plan of treating it.
The parts which compose a regular oration are these six ;-the exordium, or introduction; the state and division of the subject; the narration, or explication; the reasoning, or arguments; the pathetic parts; and the conclusion. It is not necessary that these must enter into every public discourse, or that they must always be admitted in the order in which they are here set down. There are many excellent discourses in which some of these parts are altogether omitted but as they are the natural and constituent parts of a regular oration, and as in every discourse some of them must occur, it is agreeable to our present purpose to speak of each of them distinctly.
The introduction should be easy and natural: it should always be suggested by the subject; nor should it be planned till after the writer has meditated in his own mind the substance of his discourse. In short, it should be like the preface to a book, which, though presenting itself first, is generally written last; for which reason I have seen a whimsical writer who placed it at the end instead of the beginning of his work. The introduction is seldom the place for vehemence or passion the audience must be gradually prepared, before the speaker can venture on strong impassioned sentiments. A becoming modesty, therefore, is almost essential to the composition as well as the delive of this part of an oration.
In dividing a subject, we must be always careful to
follow the order of nature, beginning with the most simple points, such as are most easily understood and necessary to be first discussed, and proceeding thence to those which are built upon the former, and which suppose them to be known. In short, the subject should be divided into those parts which grow out of each other, and into which they are most naturally and easily dissolved.
The narration or explication is that part of an oration which gives the true state of the question, unfolds every particular which belongs to it, and prepares the minds of the hearers to attend to the arguments which are to be produced in favour of the side we adopt. This part of the oration should be simple, nervous, and comprehensive, and the language plain, precise, and without ornament.
The argumentative part of the oration must be considered as the strong bulwark of the rhetorical fortification. The greatest care must be taken to select such arguments as are the best calculated to prove that what we advance is either true, right, or fit, or that it is profitable and good. Truth, duty, and interest, are the three great subjects of discussion among mankind. But the arguments employed upon either of them are generally distinct; and he who mixes them all under one topic, which he calls his argument, as is too frequently done in sermons, will render his reasoning indistinct and inelegant.
With respect to the different degrees of strength in arguments, the common as well as the most natural rule is to advance in the way of climax. Nor can I agree with Dr. Blair, or any other rhetorician, that any state of the question will authorize an orator to
begin with his strongest argument, and end with his weakest. The last impression is generally what decides in popular addresses, and this should be nicely attended to. Besides, when once a point is proved, the multiplying of arguments only tends to weaken it; for it ought to be observed, that a number of weak arguments seldom convince the mind so much as one strong one; and, therefore, that we ought to be cautious how we lay too great stress on little things, as scarcely any thing so much implies a weakness of understanding. A great number of weak reasons ought therefore to be carefully avoided, lest we fall into the fault ridiculed by Pope in his Dunciad :
Explain upon a thing till all men doubt it,
When argument and reasoning have produced their full effect, then, and not till then, the pathetic is admitted with the greatest force and propriety. When the subject will admit of the pathetic (for all subjects do not,) a speaker should cautiously avoid giving his hearers warning that he intends to excite their passions; every previous preparation of this kind chills their sensibility. The orator should steal imperceptibly upon the feelings of his hearers, and engage their passions before they perceive he is addressing them.
To succeed in the pathetic, it is necessary to attend to the proper language of the passions. This, if we consult nature, we shall ever find is unaffected and simple. It may be animated with bold and strong figures, but it will have no ornament or finery. There is a material difference between painting to the imagination and to the heart. The one may be done with
deliberation and coolness; the other must always be rapid and ardent. In the former, art and labour may be suffered to appear; in the latter, no proper effect can be produced, unless it seem to be the work of nature only. Hence all digressions should be avoided, which may interrupt or turn aside the swell of passion. Hence comparisons are always dangerous, and commonly quite improper in the midst of the pathetic. It is also to be observed, that emotions which are violent cannot be lasting. The pathetic, therefore, should not be prolonged and extended too much. A due regard should always be preserved to what the audience will bear; for he that attempts to carry them farther in passion, than they will follow him, annihilates his purpose; by endeavouring to warm them in the extreme, he takes the surest method of completely freezing them.
For the expression of these passions by pronunciation or delivery, the student must be referred to a work, entitled Elements of Elocution, where it is hoped he will find a clearer description of the operation of the passions on the attitude, countenance, gesture, and tone of voice, whether in reading or speaking, than is to be met with in any other work on the subject. Besides, what has never before been attempted, he will there find a mechanical process of exciting the passions in the speaker, so necessary to his communicating them to his hearer, according to the rule of Horace :
-Si vis me flere,
Dolendum est primum ipse tibi.
Concerning the peroration, or conclusion of a discourse, a few words will be sufficient. Sometimes the whole pathetic part comes in most properly at the
conclusion. Sometimes, when the discourse has been altogether argumentative, it is proper to conclude with summing up the arguments, placing them in one point of view, and leaving the impression of them full and strong on the minds of the hearers. For the principal rule of a conclusion, and what nature obviously suggests, is to place that last, on which we choose that the strength of our cause should rest.
In every kind of public speaking it is important to hit the precise time of concluding, so as to bring the discourse just to a point: neither ending abruptly, and unexpectedly, nor disappointing the expectation of the hearers, when they look for the discourse being finished. The close should always be concluded with dignity and spirit, that the minds of the hearers may be left warm, and that they may depart with a favourable impression of the subject and of the speaker.
Having thus adjusted and prepared the several parts of a subject, the next object is the style in which we are to convey it to others. This has been so elaborately and accurately treated by Dr. Blair, that I shall take the same liberty which others have done, of extracting some of his thoughts on this subject, and refer the student in rhetoric to the Doctor's excellent lectures, for a more complete view of whatever is necessary to be known.
Style-Perspicuity and Precision.
Style is the peculiar manner in which a man expresses his conceptions by means of language. It is a picture of the ideas which rise in his mind, and of the order in which they are produced.