At what age an orator should begin to plead in public.
1. The age at which an orator should begin to plead in public must doubtless be fixed according to the student's capacity. I should name no particular year, for it is well known that Demosthenes pleaded his cause against his guardians when he was quite a boy; Calvus, Caesar, and Pollio undertook causes of the highest importance long before they were of age for the quaestorship; it is said that some have pleaded in the toga praetexta; and Caesar Augustus pronounced a funeral eulogium on his grandmother at the age of twelve.
2. But it seems to me that a medium should be observed so that a countenance too young for the public eye may not be made prematurely bold and that whatever is still crude in a young man may not suffer by exposure, for this is how disdain of study arises, the foundations of effrontery are laid, and (what is in all cases most pernicious) presumption goes before ability. 3. Apprenticeship, on the other hand, should not be put off until an advanced age, for fear then grows upon us from day to day, what we have still to attempt appears continually more alarming, and while we are deliberating when we will begin, we find that the time for beginning is past.
Accordingly, the fruit of study ought to be produced in its greenness and first sweets, while there is hope of indulgence, while favor is ready to be shown, and while it is not unbecoming to make a first trial. Age will supply what is deficient in the attempts of youth, and whatever is expressed in too turgescent a style will be received as evidence of a vigorous genius. Such is all that passage of Cicero in his speech for Sextus Roscius, Quid enim tam commune, quam spiritus vivis, terra mortuis, mare, fluctuantibus, litus ejectis, "For what is more common than the air to the living, the earth to the dead, the sea to navigators, the shore to those cast up out of the deep," etc.. He was 26 years old when he delivered that speech, which received the greatest applause from his audience; at a more advanced period of life, he observed that his style had fermented in the course of time and had grown clear with age. 4. To say the truth, whatever improvement private study may produce, there is still a peculiar advantage attendant on our appearance in the forum, where the light is different and there is an appearance of real responsibility quite different from the fictitious cases of the schools. If we estimate the two separately, practice without learning will be of more avail than learning without practice. 5. Hence, some who have grown old in the schools are astonished at the novelty of things when they come before the tribunals, and they look in vain for something similar to their scholastic exercises. But in the forum, the judge is silent, the adversary noisy, and nothing uttered rashly is unnoticed. Whatever we assert, we must prove. There may be no time to deliver a speech which has been prepared and composed with the labor of whole days and nights. In some cases, laying aside the ostentation of trumpeting forth fine words, we must speak in the tone of conversation, to which our eloquent declaimers are utter strangers, and we may accordingly find some of them who are, in their own opinion, too eloquent for pleading causes.
6. But I should wish my young student, whom I have brought into the forum dependent on strength still immature, to commence with as easy and favorable a cause as possible, just as the young of wild animals are fed with the most delicate food that they can catch. But I would not have him continue to plead causes uninterruptedly after his commencement and render his genius, which still requires nourishment, hard and insensible. But once he knows what a real combat is and for what he has to prepare himself, I would like him to recruit and renew his strength. 7. Thus he will get over the fear of a first attempt while it is easier for him to make it, but will not make the facility which he experiences in his first essays a reason for despising labor. Cicero adopted this plan: when he had already gained an honorable name among the pleaders of his day, he made a voyage into Asia and doubtless attended on other masters of eloquence and wisdom. But he committed himself especially to Apollonius Molo at Rhodes, of whom he had been an auditor at Rome, to be fashioned and cast, as it were, anew. It is then, indeed, that labor properly becomes valuable, when theory and experience are duly united.