Albany Law Journal/Volume 1
THE ALBANY LAW JOURNAL.
A WEEKLY RECORD
LAW AND THE LAWYERS.
FROM JANUARY TO JULY, 1870,
WEED, PARSONS & CO.,
THE ALBANY LAW JOURNAL. 3
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The Albany Law Journal,
ALBANY, JANUARY 8, 1870.
ON THE STUDY OF FORENSIC ELOQUENCE.
There is another essential, aside from a knowledge of the law, for the successful court lawyer — that is eloquence; that sort of eloquence which Blair defines to be “the art of speaking in such a manner as to attain the end for which we speak.” Most young men, who study with a view of coming to the bar, have an ambition, more or less strong, to become advocates — to be able to convince judges and persuade juries by the power of their logic and the graces of their style and utterance; but a visit to our courts is but too likely to show how lamentable the great majority of them fail of achieving their desire.
Lack of perseverance in performing the labor necessary to the student of elocution, or ignorance of the method to be pursued, or, in many cases, a notion that orators, like poets, “are born, not made,” has served to make the number of eloquent advocates very small indeed.
The almost universal idea seems to prevail, that industry can effect nothing; that every one must be content to remain just what he happens to be, and that eminence is the result of accident. For the acquirement of any other art, men expect to serve long apprenticeships; to study it carefully and laboriously; to master it thoroughly. If one would learn to sing, he attends a master and is drilled in the elementary principles; and it is only after the most careful discipline that he dares to exercise his voice in public. If he would learn to play a musical instrument, how patiently and persistently does he study and practice, that he may draw out, at will, all its various combinations of harmonious sounds, and its full richness and delicacy of expression. And yet a man will fancy that the grandest, the most complex, the most expressive of all instruments, which is fashioned by the union of intellect with power of speech, may be played upon without study or practice. He comes to it a mere tyro, and thinks to manage all its stops, and command the whole compass of its varied and comprehensive power; he finds himself a mere bungler in the attempt, wonders at his failure, and settles it in his mind forever that the attempt is vain—that it can be done only by genius.
Nothing can be more mischievous and unfortunate to the student than for him to fall into such an error to hold the opinion that excellence in speaking is a gift of nature and not the result of patient and persistent labor and study. If all men had entertained and acted upon such an opinion, those who have won iame and honor by their eloquence would have re
mained mute and inglorious. Never would Demosthenes have charmed an Athenian audience, nor Cicero have hurled his denunciations against Cataline. Lord Chatham would have remained simple William Pitt, and Erskine lived an ordinary English barrister; Curran would have been “Orator Mum” to the end of his days, and Choate died “unwept, unhonored, and unsung.”
Men who believe that eloquence is the result of genius, and not of labor, are like the dwellers in the East, as described by Sir Joshua Reynolds in his address to the pupils of the Royal Academy. He says: “The travelers into the East tell us, that when the ignorant inhabitants of those countries are asked concerning the ruins of stately edifices yet remaining amongst them the melancholy monuments of their former grandeur and long-lost science, they always answer: “They were built by magicians.” The untaught mind finds a vast gulf between its own powers and those works of complicated art, which it is utterly unable to fathom; and it supposes that such a void can be passed only by supernatural powers.” What Sir Joshua says of painting is true of oratory. Those who know not the cause of any thing extraordinary and beyond them may well be astonished at the effect; and what the uncivilized ascribe to magic, others ascribe to genius,—two mighty pretenders who, for the most part, are safe from rivalry only because by the terror of their names they discourage in their own peculiar sphere that resolute and sanguine spirit of enterprise which is essential to success. But as has been well said, “all magic is science in disguise,” and it is our object in this article to proceed to take off the mask —to show that the mightiest objects of our wonder, so far as eloquence is concerned, are mere men like ourselves, have attained their superiority by steps which we can follow, and that we can walk in the same path even though there remain at last a broad space between us.
Lord Chesterfield was not very far wrong when, in his letters to his son, he told him that any man of reasonable abilities might make himself an orator; not an orator like Cicero's magnificent myth, who should have “the acuteness of the logician, the wisdom of the philosophers, the language almost of poetry, the memory of lawyers, the voice of tragedians, the gesture of the best actors;” such orators, we admit, must be nascitur, non-fit—born, not made—and they are rarely to be found; but orators like Pitt and Fox, like Mansfield and Erskine, like Pinkney and Choate–orators who can “sway listening Senates,” who are stormy masters of the jury-box.
Chesterfield was perhaps an illustration of his own theory for he said that he at one time determined to make himself the best speaker in Parliament and set about a severe course of training for it; and we have the opinion of so able a judge as Horace Walpole that he was the first speaker of the House. Every schoolboy can tell you of the gigantic labors of Demosthenes in training himself for a public speaker. It will be refreshing for any student who desires to improve himself in speaking to turn to Plutarch's life of Demosthenes, and read of his early struggles with obstacles which would have discouraged at the
- Cicero's De Oratore, Book I, c. 28.