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Though po glittering guards surround me,
Prompt to do their master's will, I must perish like a Roman,
Die the great Triumvir still.
Let not Cæsar's servile minions
Mock the lion thus laid low; 'Twas no foeman's arm that felled him
'Twas his own that struck the blow,His, who, pillowed on thy bosom,
Turned aside from glory's rayHis, who, drunk with thy caresses,
Madly threw a world away.
Should the base plebeian rabble
Dare assail my name at Rome, Where my noble spouse, Octavia,
Weeps within her widowed home, Seek her; say the Gods bear witness
Altars, augurs, circling wingsThat her blood, with mine commingled,
Yet shall mount the throne of kings.
And for thee, star-eyed Egyptian!
Glorious sorceress of the Nile, Light the path to Stygian horrors
With the splendors of thy smile.
Let his brow the laurel twine;
Triumphing in love like thine.
I am dying, Egypt, dying;
Hark! the insulting foeman's cry. They are coming! quick, my falchion!
Let me front them ere I die. Ah! no more amid the battle
Shall my heart exulting swellIsis and Osiris guard thee!
Cleopatra, Rome, farewell!
[M. Fabius QUINTILIANUS, teacher of oratory, was born in the town now named Calahorra, in Spain, A.D. 40. Coming to Rome A.D. 68, he attained distinction as an orator. He also received pupils in oratory, the two grandnephews of the Emperor Domitian and Pliny the Younger being amongst the number. For nearly twenty years Quintilian devoted himself to this profession, and he is noted as being the first teacher who received remuneration from the imperial exchequer for his services. He died about 118. He composed the system of rhetoric called “De Institutione Oratoria," in twelve books, after his retirement from public duties.]
I AM now to treat of a matter quite the reverse of that I discussed in the last chapter, - I mean, the manner of dissipating melancholy impressions, of unbending the mind from too intense application, of renewing its powers and recruiting its strength, after being surfeited and fatigued.
Now, we may be sensible, from the examples of the two great fathers of Greek and Roman eloquence, how difficult a matter this is, for it is generally thought that Demosthenes had no talents, and Cicero no bounds, in raising laughter. The truth is Demosthenes was not at all averse from attempting it, as appears by the instances of that kind which he left behind him ; which, though very few, are far from being answerable to his other excellences. Few, however, as they are, they show that he liked jocularity, but that he had not the art of hitting it off. But as to our countryman Cicero, he was thought to affect it too much, for it not only entered into his common discourse, but into his most solemn pleadings. For my part, call it want of judgment or prepossession in favor of the most eloquent of mankind, I think Cicero had a wonderful share of delicate wit. No man ever said so many good things as he did in ordinary conversation, in debating, and in examining of witnesses; and he artfully throws into the mouths of others all his insipid jokes concerning Verres, and brings them as so many evidences of the notoriety of the charges against him ; thereby intimating that the more vulgar they were, it was the more probable they were the language of the public, and not invented to serve the purposes of the orator.
I wish, however, that his freedman Tyro, or whoever he was who collected the three books of his jokes, had been a little more sparing in publishing the good things he said ; and that in choosing them he had been as judicious as in compiling them he was industrious. The compiler then had been less liable to criticism; and yet the book, even as it has come to our hands, discovers the characteristics of Cicero's genius ; for, however you may retrench from it, you can add nothing to it.
Several things concur to render this manner extremely difficult. In the first place, all ridicule has something in it that is buffoonish; that is, somewhat that is low, and oftentimes purposely rendered mean. In the next place, it is never attended with dignity, and people are apt to construe it in different senses ; because it is not judged by any criterion of reason, but by a certain unaccountable impression which it makes upon the hearer. I call it unaccountable, because many have endeavored to account for it, but, I think, without success. Here it is that a laugh may arise, not only from an action or a saying, but even the very motion of the body may raise it ; add to this, that there are many different motives for laughter. For we laugh not only at actions and sayings that are witty and pleasant, but such as are stupid, passionate, and cowardly. It is, therefore, of a motley composition ; for very often we laugh with a man as well as laugh at him. For, as Cicero observes, “the province of ridiculousness consists in a certain meanness and deformity." The manner that points them out is termed wit or urbanity. If while we are pointing them out we make ourselves ridiculous, it is termed folly. Even the slightest matter, when it comes from a buffoon, an actor — nay, a dunce, may, notwithstanding, carry with it an effect that I may call irresistible, and such as it is impossible for us to guard against. The pleasure it gives us bursts from us even against our will, and appears not only in the expression of our looks and our voices, but is powerful enough even to shake the whole frame of our body. Very often, as I have already observed, one touch of the ridiculous may give a turn to the most serious affairs. We have an instance of this in some young Tarentines, who, having at an entertainment made very free with the character of King Pyrrhus, were next morning examined before him upon what they had said, which, though they durst not defend and could not deny, yet they escaped by a well-turned joke : “Sir,” says one of them, “if our liquor had not failed us we would have murdered you.” This turn of wit at once canceled all the guilt they were charged with.
Yet this knack, or whatever the reader pleases to call it, of joking, I will not venture to pronounce to be void of all art, for it admits of certain rules, which Greek and Roman writers have reduced into a system ; I, however, affirm that its success is chiefly owing to nature and the occasion. Now, nature does not consist in the acuteness and skill which some possess above others in the inventive part (for that may be improved by art); but some people's manner and face are so well fitted for this purpose, that, were others to say the same thing, it would lose a great part of its gracefulness. With regard to the occasion and the subject, they are so very serviceable in matters of wit, that dunces and clowns have been known to make excellent repartees; and, indeed, everything has a better grace that comes by way of reply, than what is offered by way of attack. What adds to the difficulty is, that no rules can be laid down for the practice of this thing, and no masters can teach it. We know a great many who say smart things at entertainments, or in common conversation; and, indeed, they cannot avoid it, for they are hourly attempting it. But the wit that is required in an orator is seldom to be met with; it forms no part of his art, but arises from the habits of life. I know no objection, however, against prescribing exercises of this kind, to accustom young men to compositions of a brisk lively turn of wit: nay, the sayings which we call “good things,” and which are so common on merrymaking and festival days, may be of very great service to the practice at the bar, could they be brought to answer any purpose of utility, or could they be brought in aid of any serious subject. At present, however, they serve no purpose but that of useless diversion to younger persons.
We may either act or speak ridicule. Sometimes a grave way of doing an arch thing occasions great ridicule. Thus, when the consul Isauricus had broken the curule chair belonging to the pretor Marcus Cælius, the latter erected another chair, slung upon leathern straps, because it was notorious that the consul, on a time, had been strapped by his father. Sometimes ridicule attacks objects that are past all sense of shame; for instance, the adventure of the casket, mentioned by Cicero in his pleading for Cælius. But that was so scandalous a thing that no one in his senses could enlarge upon it. We may make the same observation when there is anything droll in the look or the manner; for they may be rendered extremely diverting, but never so much as when they appear to be very serious. For nothing is more stupid than to see a man always upon the titter, and, as it were, beating up for a laugh. But, though a grave serious look and manner add greatly to ridicule, and indeed are sometimes ridicule itself, by the person remaining quite serious, yet still it may be assisted by the looks and the powers of the face, and a certain pleasing adjustment of one's whole gesture: but always remember never to overdo.
As to the ridicule that consists in words, its character is either that of wantonness and jollity, as we generally saw in Galba; or cutting, such as the late Junius Bassus possessed ; or blunt and rough, like the manner of Cassius Severus ; or winning and delicate, like that of Domitius Afer.
The place where we employ those different manners is of great importance, for at entertainments and in common discourse the vulgar are wanton, but all mankind may be cheerful. Meanwhile, let all malice be removed, and let us never adopt that maxim, “Rather to lose our friend than our jest." With regard to our practice at the bar, if I were to employ any of the manners I have mentioned, it should be that of the gentle, delicate kind. Though at the same time we are allowed to employ the most reproachful and cutting expressions against our adversaries ; but that is in the case of capital impeachments, when justice is demanded upon an offender. But even in that case, we think it inhuman to insult the misery or the fallen state of another, for such are generally less to blame than they are represented, and insults may recoil upon the head of the person who employs them.
We are in the first place, therefore, to consider who the person is that speaks, what is the cause, who is the judge, who is the party, and what are the expressions. An orator ought by all means to avoid every distortion of look and gesture employed by comedians to raise a laugh. All farcical theatrical pertness is likewise utterly inconsistent with the character of an orator; and he ought to be so far from expressing, that he ought not to imitate anything that is offensive to modesty. Nay, though he should have an opportunity to expose it, it may be sometimes more proper to pass it over.
Further, though I think the manner of an orator ought at all times to be elegant and genteel, yet he should by no means affect being thought a wit. He should not, therefore, be always witty when he can; and he ought sometimes to sacrifice his jest