Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 12 - Chapter 9

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Applause not to be too eagerly sought, § 1-7. Invectives to be but sparingly introduced into a speech, 8-13. How far an orator should prepare himself by writing his speech; he must qualify himself to reply extempore to objections that may be suddenly started, 14-21.

1. THROUGH almost the whole of the work, I have been employed in showing what is to be observed in pleading a cause, yet I shall notice here a few things which properly fall under this head and which relate not so much to the art of oratory in general as to the duties of the orator personally. 2. Above all things, let not the desire of temporary praise draw off his attention from the interest of the cause he has undertaken, as is the case with many. The troops of generals conducting a war are not always led through level and pleasant plains; rugged hills must often be ascended, and towns must be stormed, though they are situated on rocks of the greatest possible steepness and scarcely accessible through the strength of their fortifications. Likewise, eloquence will delight in an opportunity of flowing in a more free course than ordinary and, engaging on fair ground, will display all its powers to gain public praise. 3. But if it shall be called to trace the intricacies of law or to penetrate into hiding places for the sake of discovering truth, it will not then make showy maneuvers or use brilliant and pointed thoughts as missile weapons, but will carry on its operations by mines, ambuscades, and every kind of secret artifice. 4. These stratagems, however, are commended not so much while they are being practiced as after they have been practiced. Hence, greater profit falls to those who are less eager for applause, for when the absurd parade of eloquence has brought its thunders among its partisans to a close, the credit of genuine merit appears with greater effect. The judges will not fail to show by which speaker they have been most impressed. Respect will be paid to the truly learned, and the real merit of a speech will be sure to be acknowledged when it is ended.

5. Among the ancients, indeed, it was a practice to dissemble the force of their eloquence, a practice which Marcus Antonius recommends, in order that more credit may be given to speakers and that the artifices of advocates on behalf of their clients may be less suspected. But such eloquence as then existed might well be concealed, for such splendor of oratory had not then risen as to break through every intervening obstacle. However, art and design, and whatever loses its value when detected, should certainly be masked. So far, eloquence has its secrecy. 6. As to choice of words, force of thoughts, and elegance of figures, they are either not in a speech or they must appear in it. But if they must appear, they are not to be displayed ostentatiously, and if one of the two is to be preferred, let the cause be praised rather than the pleader. Still, the true orator will make it his object that he may be thought to have pleaded an excellent cause in an excellent way. No man pleads worse than he who pleases while his cause displeases, for that which pleases in his speech must necessarily be foreign to the cause.

7. Nor will an honorable orator be infected by the fastidious disdain of pleading inferior causes, as if they were beneath him or if a subject of little dignity would detract from his reputation, for regard to duty will amply justify him for undertaking such causes. He ought also to desire that his friends may have as few lawsuits as possible, and whoever has successfully defended a cause, regardless of its nature, has proved himself sufficiently eloquent.

8. But some pleaders, if they happen to undertake such causes as require, in reality, but moderate powers of eloquence, envelope them in a variety of extrinsic matter and, if other resources fail, fill up the vacancies in their subject with invectives, just ones perhaps, if they occur, but if not, such as they can imagine, caring little, indeed, provided there is exercise for their wit and applause while they continue speaking. 9. But this is a practice which I consider so utterly at variance with the character of a perfect orator that I think he would not even utter just invectives unless his cause absolutely required him to do so, for it is mere canine eloquence, as Appius says, that subjects itself to the charge of being slanderous. They who practice it ought previously to have acquired the power of enduring slander, since retaliation is often inflicted on those who have pleaded in such a style, or the client at least suffers for the virulence of his advocate. But what appears outwardly is small in comparison with the malice of the mind within, for an evil speaker differs from an evil-doer only in opportunity. 10. A base and inhuman gratification, acceptable to no good man among the audience, is often required by clients, who think more of revenge than of the defense of their cause. But this, as well as many other things, is not to be done according to their pleasure, for what man indeed, possessed of the least portion of liberal spirit, could endure to utter abuse at the pleasure of another?

11. Yet some take pleasure in inveighing against the advocates of the opposite party, but unless they happen to have deserved reproof, this is an ungenerous violation of the common duties of the profession. It is a practice useless, too, to those who adopt it (for similar liberty of attack is allowed to the respondents), and it is detrimental to their cause, for their adversaries are thus rendered real enemies, and whatever power they have is provoked to double efforts by insult. 12. But worst of all, the modesty that gains the eloquence of an orator so much authority and credit is altogether lost if he degrades himself from a man of high feeling into a brawler and barker, adapting his language, not to the feelings of the judge, but to the resentment of his client. 13. Frequently, too, the seductions of such liberty lead to rashness, dangerous not only to the cause, but to the speaker; nor was it without reason that Pericles wished no word might ever enter into his mind at which the people could be offended. Every orator should pay the same regard to every audience before whom he appears, as they can do him quite as much harm as the people could do Pericles, and what appears spirited when it is uttered is called foolish when it has given offense.

14. As orators, for the most part, study each a particular manner, and as the cautiousness of one is imputed to dullness, while the readiness of another is ascribed to presumption, it appears by no means improper to state what sort of middle course I think an orator may observe between the two. 15. He will, in the first place, always give to the cause which he has to plead as much preparation as he can, for not pleading as well as he can is characteristic of a negligent and unprincipled advocate, and treacherous and faithless to the matter which he undertakes. For this reason, he must not take upon himself more causes than he is certain he can fairly support. 16. He will utter, as far as his subject will allow, nothing but what he has written or, as Demosthenes says, hewn into shape. This will be allowed only in the first hearing of a cause or in those granted for public trials after an interval of certain days; when a speaker has to reply at once to objections suddenly started, full preparation cannot be made, so that it is even injurious to those who are rather slow to have written their matter, if something arises from the opposite party different from what they had expected. 17. For they cannot readily depart from what they had premeditated and look back through all their composition, trying to ascertain if any part can be snatched from it and united with what they are going to say extempore. Even if this were practicable, there would be no proper coherence, and the patching would be visible, not only from the opening of the seams, as in a piece of work ill-joined, but from the difference of complexion in the style. 18. Thus there would be neither fluency nor elegant compactness in what they say, and the different parts would but hamper one another, for what was written would still fetter the mind instead of yielding itself to the mind's influence. 19. In such pleadings, therefore, we must stand as the husbandmen say, on all our feet, for as every case consists of a statement and a refutation; what belongs clearly to our own part may be written, and a refutation may be prepared with equal solicitude to what it is certain the adversary will reply (for it is sometimes certain). But as to other points, there is but one kind of preparation that we can make, namely, to gain a thorough knowledge of the cause. We may gain something further indeed at the time of the trial by listening attentively to the advocate of the opposite party. 20. We may, however, anticipate much that may occur and prepare ourselves for emergencies, and this is indeed a safer method than writing, as first thoughts may thus more easily be abandoned and the attention directed to something else.

21. But whether an orator has to speak extemporaneously in reply, or whether any other cause obliges him to do so, he will never find himself at a loss or disconcerted if discipline, study, and exercise have given him the accomplishment of facility. As he is always armed and standing prepared, as it were, for battle, the language of oratory will no more fail him in supporting a cause than the language of ordinary conversation on daily and domestic subjects. Nor will he ever shrink from his task under such an apprehension, provided that he has time for studying the cause, for everything else he will easily command.

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Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:1/15/07
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