« PreviousContinue »
LE C T. municated, in consequence of discourse and
It is obvious, then, that writing and discourse are objects intitled to the highest attention. Whether the influence of the speaker, or the entertainment of the heater, be consulted; whether utility or pleasure be the principal aim in view, we are prompted, by the strongest motives, to study how we may communicate our thoughts to one another with most advantage. Accordingly we find, that in almost every nation, as soon as language had extended itself beyond that scanty communication which was requisite for the supply of men's necessities, the improvement of difcourfe began to attract regard. In the language even of rude uncultivated tribes, we can trace fome attention to the grace and force of those expressions which they used, when they fought to persuade or to affect. They were early sensible of a beauty in discourse, and endeavoured to give it certain decorations which experience had taught them it was capable of receiving, long before the study of those decorations was formed into a regular art.
But, among nations in a civilized state, no art has been cultivated with more care, than that of language, style, and composition. The attention paid to it may, indeed, be
affumed as one mark of the progress of so- LE C T. ciety towards its most improved period. For, according
as society improves and Aourishes, men acquire more influence over one another by means of reasoning and discourse; and in proportion as that influence is felt to enlarge, it must follow, as a natural consequence, that they will bestow more care upon the methods of expressing their conceptions with propriety
quence. Hence we find, that, in all the polished nations of Europe, this study has been treated as highly important, and has pofsessed a considerable place in every plan of liberal education.
INDEED, when the arts of speech and writing are mentioned, I am sensible that prejudices against them are apt to rise in the minds of many. A sort of art is immediately thought of, that is oftentatious and deceitful; the mi. nute and triding study of words alone; the pomp of expression; the studied fallacies of rhetoric; ornament substituted in the room of use. We need not wonder, that, under such: imputations, all study of discourse as an art, should have suffered in the opinion of men of understanding: and I am far from denying, that rhetoric and criticism have sometimes been so managed as to tend to the corruption, rather than to the improvement, of good taste and true eloquence. But sure it is equally
IEC T. possible to apply the principles of reason and
good sense to this artas to any other that is cultivated among men.
If the following Lectures have any merit, it will consist in an endeavour to fubftitute the application of these principles in the place of artificial and scholastic rhetoric; in an endeavour to explode false ornament, to direct attention more towards fubftance than show, to recommend good sense as the foundation of all good composition, and fimplicity as effential to all truc ornament.
When entering on the subject, I may be allowed, on this occasion, to suggeft a few thoughts concerning the importance and advantages of such studies, and the rank they are intitled to possess in academical education *. I am under no temptation, for this purpose, of extolling their importance at the expence of any other department of science. On the contrary, the study of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres fuppofes and requires a proper acquaintance with the rest of the liberal arts.
* The Author was the first who read Lectures on this fubject in the Univerfity of Edinburgh. He began with read. ing them in a private character in the year 1759. In the following year he was chosen Profeffor of Rhetoric by the Magistrates and Town-council of Edinburgh; and, in 1;62, his Majesty was pleased to erect and endow a Profession of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in that University ; and the Author was appointed the first Regius Profeffor.
It embraces them all within its circle, and LECT. recommends them to the highest regard. The first care of all such as wish either to write with reputation, or to speak in public command attention, must be, to extend their knowledge; to lay in a rich store of ideas relating to those subjects of which the occasions of life may call them to discourse or to write, Hence, among the ancients, it was a fundamental principle, and frequently inculcated, " Quod omnibus disciplinis et artibus debet « esse instructus orator ;" that the orator ought to be an accomplished scholar, and conversant in every part of learning. It is indeed impossible to contrive an art, and very pernicious it were if it could be contrived, which should give the stamp of merit to any composition rich or splendid in expression, but barren or erroneous in thought. They are the wretched attempts towards an art of this kind which have so often disgraced oratory, and debased it below its true standard. The graces of composition have been employed to disguise or to supply the want of matter ; and the temporary applause of the ignorant has been courted, instead of the lasting approbation of the discerning. But such impofture can never maintain its ground long. Knowledge and science must furnish the materials that form the body and substance of any valuable composition. Rhetoric serves to add
LECT. the polish ; and we know that fione but firmi
and solid bodies can be polished well.
Of those who peruse the following Lectures, some, in consequence either of their proferfion, or of their prevailing inclination, may have the view of being employed in composition, or in public speaking. Others, without any prospect of this kind, may with only to improve their taste with respect to writing and discourse, and to acquire principles which will enable them to judge for themselves in that part of literature called the Belles Lettres.
With respect to the former, such as may have occasion to communicate their sentiments to the Public, it is abundantly clear that some preparation of study is requisite for the end which they have in view. To speak or to write perspicuously and agreeably, with purity, with grace and strength, are attainments of the utmost consequence to all who purpose, either by speech or writing, to address the Public. For without being master of those attainments, no man can do justice to his own conceptions; but how rich foever he may be in knowledge and in good sense, will be able to avail himself less of those treasures, than such as poffefs not half his store, but who can display what they possess with more propriety. Neither are these attainments of that