Remarks on declamations, § 1, 2. Injudiciousnees in the choice of subjects has been an obstruction to improvement in eloquence, 3-5. On what sort of subjects pupils may be permitted to declaim, 6-8. What alterations should be made in the common practice, 9-15.
1. WHEN the pupil has been well instructed and sufficiently exercised in these preliminary studies, which are not in themselves inconsiderable but members and portions, as it were, of higher branches of learning, the time will have nearly arrived for entering on deliberative and judicial subjects. But before I proceed to speak of those matters, I must say a few words on the art of declamation, which, though the most recently invented of all exercises, is indeed by far the most useful. 2. For it comprehends within itself all those exercises of which I have been treating and presents us with a very close resemblance to reality; and it has been so much adopted, accordingly, that it is thought by many sufficient of itself to form oratory since no excellence in continued speaking can be specified which is not found in this prelude to speaking. 3. The practice, however, has so degenerated through the fault of the teachers that the license and ignorance of declaimers have been among the chief causes that have corrupted eloquence. But of that which is good by nature we may surely make a good use. 4. Let therefore the subjects themselves, which shall be imagined, be as like as possible to truth; and let declamations to the utmost extent that is practicable imitate those pleadings for which they were introduced as a preparation. 5. For as to magicians, and the pestilence, and oracles, and step-mothers more cruel than those of tragedy, and other subjects more imaginary than these, we shall in vain seek them among sponsions and interdicts. What, then, it may be said, shall we never suffer students to handle such topics as are above belief and (to say the truth) poetical, so that they may expatiate and exult in their subject and swell forth as it were into full body? 6. It would indeed be best not to suffer them; but at least let not the subjects, if grand and turgid, appear also to him who regards them with severe judgment, foolish and ridiculous, so that if we must grant the use of such topics. Let the declaimer swell himself occasionally to the full, provided he understands that as four-footed animals, when they have been blown with green fodder, are cured by losing blood and thus return to food suited to maintain their strength, so must his turgidity be diminished and whatever corrupt humors he has contracted be discharged if he wishes to be healthy and strong; for otherwise, his empty swelling will be hampered at the first attempt at any real pleading.
7. Those, assuredly, who think that the whole exercise of declaiming is altogether different from forensic pleading, do not see even the reason for which that exercise was instituted. 8. For if it is no preparation for the forum, it is merely like theatrical ostentation or insane raving. To what purpose is it to instruct a judge who has no existence? To state a case that all know to be fictitious? To bring proofs of a point on which no man will pronounce sentence? This indeed is nothing more than trifling; but how ridiculous is it to excite our feelings and to work upon an audience with anger and sorrow unless we are preparing ourselves by imitations of battle for serious contests and a regular field? 9. Will there then be no difference, it may be asked, between the mode of speaking at the bar and mere exercise in declamation? I answer that if we speak for the sake of improvement, there will be no difference. I wish, too, that it were made a part of the exercise to use names; that causes more complicated, and requiring longer pleadings, were invented; that we were less afraid of words in daily use; and that we were in the habit of mingling jests with our declamation; all which points, however we may have been practiced in the schools in other respects, find us novices at the bar.
10. But even if a declamation be composed merely for display, we ought surely to exert our voice in some degree to please the audience. For even in those oratorical compositions, which are doubtless based in some degree upon truth, but are adapted to please the multitude (such as are the panegyrics which we read and all that epideictic kind of eloquence), it is allowable to use great elegance, and not only to acknowledge the efforts of art (which ought generally to be concealed in forensic pleadings), but to display it to those who are called together for the purpose of witnessing it. 12. Declamation, therefore, as it is an imitation of real pleadings and deliberations, ought closely to resemble reality, but, as it carries with it something of ostentation, to clothe itself in a certain elegance. 13. Such is the practice of actors who do not pronounce exactly as we speak in common conversation, for such pronunciation would be devoid of art; nor do they depart far from nature, as by such a fault imitation would be destroyed; but they exalt the simplicity of familiar discourse with a certain scenic grace.
14. However, some inconveniences will attend us from the nature of the subjects which we have imagined, especially as many particulars in them are left uncertain, which we settle as suits our purpose, as age, fortune, children, parents, strength, laws, and manners of cities; and other things of a similar kind. 15. Sometimes, too, we draw arguments from the very faults of the imaginary causes. But on each of these points we shall speak in its proper place. For though the whole object of the work intended by us has regard to the formation of an orator, yet, lest students may think anything wanting we shall not omit, in passing, whatever may occur that fairly relates to the teaching of the schools.