Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 2 - Chapter 5

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Advantages of reading history and speeches, § 1-3. On what points in them the professor of rhetoric should lecture, 4-9. Faulty composition may sometimes be read, to exercise the pupil's judgment, 10-13. Usefulness of this exercise, 14-17. Best authors to be read at an early age, 18-20. The pupil should be cautious of imitating very ancient or very modern writers, 21-26.

1. BUT of the proper mode of declaiming I shall speak a little further on; meanwhile, as we are treating of the first rudiments of rhetoric, I should not omit, I think, to observe how much the professor would contribute to the advancement of his pupils, if, as the explanation of the poets is required from teachers of grammar, so he, in like manner, would exercise the pupils under his care in the reading of history and even still more in that of speeches, a practice which I myself have adopted in the case of a few pupils, whose age required it, and whose parents thought it would be serviceable to them. 2. But though I then deemed it an excellent method, two circumstances were obstructions to the practice of it: that long custom had established a different mode of teaching and that they were mostly full-grown youths, who did not require that exercise, that were forming themselves on my model. 3. But though I should make a new discovery ever so late, I should not be ashamed to recommend it for the future. I know, however, that this is now done among the Greeks, but chiefly by assistant-masters, since the time would seem hardly sufficient, if the professors were always to lecture to each pupil as he read. 4. Such lecturing, indeed, as is given that boys may follow the writing of an author easily and distinctly with their eyes and such even as explains the meaning of every word, at all uncommon, that occurs, is to be regarded as far below the profession of a teacher of rhetoric.

5. But to point out the beauties of authors, and, if occasion ever present itself, their faults, is eminently consistent with that profession and engagement by which he offers himself to the public as a master of eloquence, especially as I do not require such toil from teachers, that they should call their pupils to their lap, and labor at the reading of whatever book each of them may fancy. 6. For to me it seems easier as well as far more advantageous that the master, after calling for silence, should appoint some one pupil to read (and it will be best that this duty should be imposed on them by turns) that they may thus accustom themselves to clear pronunciation; 7. and then, after explaining the cause for which the oration was composed (for so that which is said will be better understood), that he should leave nothing unnoticed which is important to be remarked, either in the thought or the language; that he should observe what method is adopted in the exordium for conciliating the judge; what clearness, brevity, and apparent sincerity is displayed in the statement of facts; what design there is in certain passages and what well concealed artifice (for that is the only true art in pleading which cannot be perceived except by a skilful pleader); 8. what judgment appears in the division of the matter; how subtle and urgent is the argumentation; with what force the speaker excites, with what amenity he soothes; what severity is shown in his invectives, what urbanity in his jests; how he commands the feelings, forces a way into the understanding, and makes the opinions of the judges coincide with what he asserts. 9. In regard to the style, too, he should notice any expression that is peculiarly appropriate, elegant, or sublime; when the amplification deserves praise; what quality is opposed to it, what phrases are happily metaphorical, what figures of speech are used, what part of the composition is smooth and polished, and yet manly and vigorous.

10. Nor is it without advantage, indeed, that inelegant and faulty speeches, yet such as many, from depravity of taste, would admire, should be read before boys and that it should be shown how many expressions in them are inappropriate, obscure, tumid, low, mean, affected, or effeminate; expressions which, however, are not only extolled by many readers, but what is worse, are extolled for the very reason that they are vicious, 11. for straight-forward language, naturally expressed, seems to some of us to have nothing of genius; but whatever departs, in any way, from the common course, we admire as something exquisite, as with some persons, more regard is shown for figures that are distorted and in any respect monstrous than for such as have lost none of the advantages of ordinary conformation. 12. Some, too, who are attracted by appearance think that there is more beauty in men who are depilated and smooth, who dress their locks, hot from the curling-irons, with pins, and who are radiant with a complexion not their own, than unsophisticated nature can give, as if beauty of person could be thought to spring from corruption of manners.

13. Nor will the preceptor be under the obligation merely to teach these things, but frequently to ask questions upon them and try the judgment of his pupils. Thus, carelessness will not come upon them while they listen, nor will the instructions that shall be given fail to enter their ears; and they will at the same time be conducted to the end which is sought in this exercise, namely that they themselves may conceive and understand. For what object have we in teaching them, but that they may not always require to be taught?

14. I will venture to say that this sort of diligent exercise will contribute more to the improvement of students than all the treatises of all the rhetoricians that ever wrote, which doubtless, however, are of considerable use, but their scope is more general; and how indeed can they go into all kinds of questions that arise almost every day? 15. So, though certain general precepts are given in the military art, it will yet be of far more advantage to know what plan any leader has adopted wisely or imprudently and in what place or at what time, for in almost every art precepts are of much less avail than practical experiments. 16. Shall a teacher declaim that he may be a model to his hearers, and will not Cicero and Demosthenes, if read, profit them more? Shall a pupil, if he commits faults in declaiming, be corrected before the rest, and will it not be more serviceable to him to correct the speech of another? Indisputably, and even more agreeable, for every one prefers that others' faults should be blamed rather than his own. 17. Nor are there wanting more arguments for me to offer; but the advantage of this plan can escape the observation of no one; and I wish that there may not be so much unwillingness to adopt it as there will be pleasure in having adopted it.

18. If this method be followed, there will remain a question not very difficult to answer, which is, what authors ought to be read by beginners? Some have recommended inferior writers, as they thought them easier of comprehension; others have advocated the more florid kind of writers as being better adapted to nourish the minds of the young. 10. For my part, I would have the best authors commenced at once and read always; but I would choose the clearest in style and most intelligible, recommending Livy, for instance, to be read by boys rather than Sallust, who, however, is the greater historian, but to understand him there is need of some proficiency. 20. Cicero, as it seems to me, is agreeable even to beginners, and sufficiently intelligible, may not only profit, but even be loved; and next to Cicero (as Livy advises), such authors as most resemble Cicero.

21. There are two points in style on which I think that the greatest caution should be used in respect to boys: one is that no master, from being too much an admirer of antiquity, should allow them to harden, as it were, in the reading of the Gracchi, Cato, and other like authors, for they would thus become uncouth and dry since they cannot, as yet, understand their force of thought; and content with adopting their style, which at the time it was written was doubtless excellent, but is quite unsuitable to our day, they will appear to themselves to resemble those eminent men. 22. The other point, which is the opposite of the former, is, lest, being captivated with the flowers of modern affectation, they should be so seduced by a corrupt kind of pleasure as to love that luscious manner of writing which is the more agreeable to the minds of youth in proportion as it has more affinity with them. 23. When their taste is formed, however, and out of danger of being corrupted, I should recommend them to read not only the ancients (from whom if a solid and manly force of thought be adopted, while the rust of a rude age is cleared off, our present style will receive additional grace), but also the writers of the present day, in whom there is much merit. 21. For nature has not condemned us to stupidity, but we ourselves have changed our mode of speaking and have indulged our fancies more than we ought; and thus the ancients did not excel us so much in genius as in severity of manner. It will be possible, therefore, to select from the moderns many qualities for imitation, but care must be taken that they be not contaminated with other qualities with which they are mixed. Yet that there have been recently, and are now, many writers whom we may imitate entirely, I would not only allow (for why should I not?) but even affirm. 26. But who they are it is not for everybody to decide. We may even err with greater safety in regard to the ancients, and I would therefore defer the reading of the moderns, that imitation may not go before judgment.

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