Necessity of firmness and presence of mind to an orator, § 1-4. Natural advantages to be cultivated, 5, 6.
1. SUCH are the acquirements of which I had promised to give an account. They are instruments, not of the art, as some have thought, but of the orator; they are the arms he ought to have at hand and with a knowledge of which he ought to be thoroughly prepared, united with a ready store of words and figurative language, as well as with power of imagination, skill in the disposition of materials, strength of memory, and grace of delivery.
2. But the most important of all qualities is steady presence of mind, which fear cannot shake, or clamor intimidate, nor the authority of an audience restrain beyond the just portion of respect that is due to them, for though faults of an opposite naturepresumption, temerity, audacity, and arroganceare in the highest degree offensive, without proper firmness, confidence, and courage, neither art, nor study, nor knowledge would be of the least avail, any more than weapons put into the hands of weakness and timidity. It is not without unwillingness, indeed, that I observe (for what I say may be misunderstood) that modesty itself, which, though a fault, is an amiable one and frequently the parent of virtues, is to be numbered among qualities detrimental to the orator and has had such an effect on many that the merits of their genius and learning have never been brought into light, but have wasted away under the rust contracted in obscurity. 3. However, should any young student not yet sufficiently experienced in distinguishing the meaning of words read this remark, let him understand that it is not a reasonable degree of diffidence which I blame, but an excess of modesty, which is a species of fear that draws off the thoughts from what we ought to do, whence proceeds confusion, repentance that we ever began, and sudden silence. Who can hesitate to number among faults an affection by the influence of which we become ashamed to do what is right? 4. On the other hand, neither should I be unwilling that a speaker should rise with some concern, change color, and show a sense of the hazard he is encountering, feelings which, if they do not arise within us, should be assumed. But this should be the effect, not of fear, but of a consciousness of the weight of our task, and though we should be moved, we should not sink down in helplessness. The great remedy for bashfulness, however, is confidence in our cause, and any countenance, however likely to be daunted, will be kept steady by a consciousness of being in the right.
5. But there are, as I observed before, advantages from nature that may doubtless be improved by art, such as good organs of speech and tone of voice, strength of body, and grace of motion, advantages which are often of such effect that they gain their possessor a reputation even for genius. Our age has seen more fertile orators than Trachalus, but when he spoke, he seemed to be far above all his contemporaries, such was the loftiness of his stature, the fire of his eyes, the authority of his look, and the grace of his action. While his voice was not indeed, as Cicero desires, similar to that of actors in tragedy, it was superior to that of any tragic actor that I ever heard. 6. I well remember that on one occasion, when he was speaking in the Basilica Julia before the first tribunal, and the four companies of judges, as is usual, were assembled while the whole place resounded with noise, he was not only heard and understood, but was applauded by all four tribunals to the great prejudice of those who were speaking at the same time. But the possession of such a voice is the very height of an orator's wishes and a rare happiness, and whoever is without it, let it suffice for him to be heard by those to whom he immediately addresses himself. Such ought an orator to be, and such are the qualifications which he ought to attain.