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L

LECTURES

ON

ELOQUENCE:

GENTLEMEN,

WE

E are now to enter on the study of eloquence, or

as perhaps it ought to be called, from the man. ner in which you will find it treated, Composition, Taste and Criticism.

Eloquence is undoubtedly a very noble art, and when possessed in a high degree, has been, I think, in all ages, one of the most admired and envied talents. It has not only been admired in all ages, but, if I am not mistaken, among all ranks. Its power is universally felt, and there. fore probably the talent more universally esteemed, than either genius or improvement in several other kinds of human excellence. Military skill and political wisdom, have their admirers, but far inferior in number to those who admire, envy, or would wish to imitate, him that has the power of persuafion.

Plato in his republic, or idea of a well regulated state, has banished orators, under pretence that their power over the minds of men is dangerous and liable to abuse. Some moderns have adopted the same sentiments.

Sir Thomas More in his Utopia, I believe, (though I am not certain) has embraced it. But this is a manner

of thinking and reasoning altogether fuperficial. It would militate equally against all cultivation of the mind, and indeed against every human excellence, natural and acquired. They are, and have been, and may be abused, by men of vicious dispositions. But how shall this be prevented ? It is impoffible. How shall it be counteracted? Only by assisting the good in the cultivation of their pow: ers, and then the same weapons will be used in defence of truth and virtue, with much greater advantage, than they can be in support of falsehood and vice. Learning in general, possessed by a bad man, is unspeakably pernicious, and that very thing has sometimes made weak people Speak against learning ; but it is just as absurd as if in the confines of a country exposed to hostile inroads, the inhabitants should say, we will build no forts for protection, because if the enemy get into poffeffion of them they will become the means of annoyance; we will ufe no arms for defence, for if the enemy take them from us, they will be turned against us.

Perhaps it may be proper to take notice of what the apostle Paul says, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, in several places, particularly from the beginning of the ad chapter, “and I brethren," &c. and in the 4th chap. II verse, " And my speech, and my preaching was not,” &c. I have mentioned this to prevent any of you mif. taking or being prejudiced against the subject, and shall obferve upon it, that the meaning of the apostle in this and other fimilar passages, is fully comprehended in one or more of the following particulars (1) That he came not to the Corinthians with an artful delusive eloquence, such as the sophists of these days made use of to varnish over their foolish sentiments. (2) That he came not to show his skill in speaking for and against any thing, as many of them did, not to discover or communicate truth, but to display their own talents. (3) That the truths he had to communicate needed no ornaments to set them off, and were not by any means adapted to the proud fpirit of the world : and, (4) thai he would use the greatest self-denial, and not by any means attempt to recommend himself as a man of ability and learning, but content himself with the humble and fimple doctrine of the cross. And the truth is, after the highest improvement in the art of speaking, there must be the greatest reserve and self denial in the use of it, otherwise it will defeat its own purpose. Rhetoricians do usually give it among the very precepts of the art, to appear to be in earnest, and to have the subject or the ina tereft of the audience at heart, and not their own fame; and this can never be attained to fo great perfection as when there is the humility of a true disciple, and the disinterested zeal of a faithful minister of Christ. That this is not contrary to the most diligent application for the im provement of our powers is manifest in itself, and appears from the many exhortations of the fame apostle to his young disciples, Timothy and Titus, 1 Tim. iv. 13. " till I come, give attendance,” &c. and v. 15. “ meditate,” &c. : I know not whether any apology is necessary for my undertaking to speak on this subject, or the manner of treating it. Some may expect that discourses on eloquence should be distinguished examples of the art of which they treat. Such may just be pleased to observe, that a cool, plain, and simple manner of speaking, is necessary in teaching this, as well as every other art. No doubt, a juftness and precision of expression, will be of great benefit in these discourses, but there will be no need of that high and complete polith, that might be expected in what is prepared for publication. Nor would the fame brevity and conciseness be any advantage to disa courses once delivered, that would be reckoned a beauty in what is in every body's hands, and therefore may be often read.

Before entering on the strict and methodical discusion of the subject, I have commonly begun the course by two or three preliminary discourses, containing such general ob. servations as may be most intelligible, and may ferve to prepare the way for what shall be afterwards introduced. 2 The subject of the first preliminary discourse shall be the following question ; whether does art or nature, con tribute most to the production of a complete orator?

2

This is a question often asked, and many things have been said upon it; yet to discuss it as a matter of controverly, and adduce the arguments on each side, in order to a decision in favor of the one, and prejudice of the other, I take to be of very little consequence, or rather improper and absurd. It seems to be just as if one should pro- ... pose an inquiry, whether the soil, the climate, or the culture, contributes most to the production of the crop ? Therefore, instead of treating the question as if one fide of it were true, and the other false, I shall make a few observations on the mutual influence of nature and art, in order to your forming just apprehensions of the subject, and to direct you in your future conduct and stu. dies.

1. Some degree of natural capacity is evidently neceffary to the instruction or study of this art, in order to produce any effect. A skilful laborer may subdue a ve. Ty stubborn, or meliorate a very poor foil; but when there is no soil at all, as on a bare and folid rock, his labor would be impossible or fruitless. There must therefore, doubtless be fome capacity, in general, and even some turn for this very branch of knowledge. In this sense it is true of every other art, as well as oratory, a man must be born to it.

There are some so destitute of oratorical powers, that nothing can posibly be made of them. It will be strange however, if this is not easily discovered by themselves, and if it does not make the study as unpleasant as it is difficult, so that they will {peedily give it over. I have known some examples, but very few, of ministers, whose principal defect was mere barrenness of invention. This is exceedingly rare, because the far greatest number of bad speakers have enough to say, such as it is, and generally the more absurd and incoherent, the greater the abundance.

When speaking on this observation, I must make one remark, that a total want of capacity for one branch of science, is not inconsistent even with a great capacity for another. We fometimes fee great mathematicians who make miserable orators. Nay it is reckoned by some of

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