Composition and Style
I well know that there are some who will not sanction any care in composition, contending that our words as they flow by chance, however uncouth they may sound, are not only more natural, but likewise more manly. If what first sprang from nature, indebted in nowise to care and industry, be only what they deem natural, I admit that the art of oratory in this respect has no pretensions to that quality. For it is certain that the first men did not speak according to the exactness of the rules of composition; neither were they acquainted with the art of preparing by an exordium, informing by a narration, proving by arguments, and moving by passions. They were deficient in all these particulars, and not in composition only; and if they were not allowed to make any alterations for the better, of course they would not have exchanged their cottages for houses, nor their coverings of skins for more decent apparel, nor the mountains and forests in which they ranged for the abode of cities in which they enjoy the comforts of social intercourse. And, indeed, what art do we find coeval with the world, and what is there of which the value is not enhanced by improvement? Why do we restrain the luxuriance of our vines? Why do we dig about them? Why do we grub up the bramble-bushes in our fields? Yet the earth produces them. Why do we tame animals? Yet are they born with intractable dispositions. Rather let us say that that is very natural which nature permits us to meliorate in her handiwork.


How can a jumble of uncouth words be more manly than a manner of expression which is well joined and properly placed? If some authors weaken the subjects of which they treat, by straining them into certain soft and lascivious measures, we must not on that account judge that this is the fault of composition. As the current of rivers is swifter and more impetuous in a free and open channel than amidst an obstruction of rocks breaking and struggling against the flow of their waters, an oration that is properly connected flows with its whole might, and is far preferable to one that is craggy and desultory by reason of frequent interruptions. Why, then, should it be thought that strength and beauty are incompatible, when, on the contrary, nothing has its just value without art, and embellishment always attends on it? Do not we observe the javelin which has been cleverly whirled about, dart through the air with the best effect; and in managing a bow and arrow, is not the beauty of the attitude as much more graceful as the aim is more unerring? In feats of arms, and in all the exercises of the palaestra, is not his attitude best calculated for defense or offense, who uses a certain art in all his motions, and keeps to a certain position of the feet? Composition, therefore, in my opinion, is to thoughts and words what the dexterous management of a bow or string may be for directing the aim of missive weapons; and I may say that the most learned are convinced that it is greatly conducive not only to pleasure, but also to making a good impression on others. First, because it is scarcely possible that anything should affect the heart, which begins by grating on the ear. Secondly, because we are naturally affected by harmony, otherwise the sounds of musical instruments, tho they express no words, would not excite in us so great a variety of pleasing emotions. In sacred canticles, some airs are for elating the heart into raptures, others to restore the mind to its former tranquillity. The sound of a trumpet is not the same when it is the signal for a general engagement, and when on defeat it implores the conqueror's mercy; neither is it the same when an army marches up to give battle, and when it is intent on retreating. It was a common practise with the Pythagoric philosophers, on arising in the morning, to awake their minds by an air on the lyre, in order to make them more alert for action; and they had recourse to the same musical entertainment for disposing them to sleep, believing it to be a means for allaying all tumultuous thoughts which might in any way have ruffled them in the course of the day.

If, then, so great a power lies in musical strains and modulations, what must it be with eloquence, the music of which is a speaking harmony? As much, indeed, as it is essential for a thought to be exprest in suitable words, it is equally necessary for the same words to be disposed in proper order by composition, that they may flow and end harmoniously. Some things of little consequence in their import, and requiring but a moderate degree of elocution, are commendable only by this perfection; and there are others which appear exprest with so much force, beauty, and sweetness, that if the order in which they stand should be changed or disturbed, all force, beauty, and sweetness would vanish from them.


There are three things necessary in every kind of composition, and these are order, correction, and number.

1. Order

We shall speak first of order, which applies to words considered separately or joined together. In regard to the former, care must be taken that there be no decrease by adding a weaker word to a stronger, as accusing one of sacrilege, and giving him afterward the name of thief; or adding the character of wanton fellow to that of a highwayman. The sense ought to increase and rise, which Cicero observes admirably where he says: "And thou, with that voice, those lungs, and that gladiator-like vigor of thy whole body." Here each succeeding thing is stronger than the one before; but if he had begun with the whole body, he could not with propriety have descended to the voice and lungs. There is another natural order in saying men and women, day and night, east and west.

Words in prose not being measured, as are the feet which compose verse, they are, therefore, transferred from place to place, that they may be joined where they best fit, as in a building where the irregularity, however great, of rough stones is both suitable and proper. The happiest composition language can have, however, is to keep to a natural order, just connection, and a regularly flowing cadence.

Sometimes there is something very striking about a word. Placed in the middle of a sentence, it might pass unnoticed, or be obscured by the other words that lie about it, but when placed at the end the auditor can not help noting it and retaining it in his mind.

2. Connection

Juncture follows, which is equally requisite in words, articles, members, and periods, all these having their beauty and faults, in consequence of their manner of connection. It may be a general observation that in the placing of syllables, their sound will be harsher as they are pronounced with a like or different gaping of the mouth. This, however, is not to be dreaded as a signal fault, and I know not which is worse here, inattention or too great care. Too scrupulous fear must damp the heat and retard the impetuosity of speaking, while at the same time it prevents the mind from attending to thoughts which are of greater moment. As, therefore, it is carelessness to yield to these faults, so it is meanness to be too much afraid of them.

3. Number

Numbers are nowhere so much lacking, nor so remarkable, as at the end of periods; first, because every sense has its bounds, and takes up a natural space, by which it is divided from the beginning of what follows: next, because the hearers following the flow of words, and drawn, as it were, down the current of the oration, are then more competent judges, when that impetuosity ceases and gives time for reflection. There should not, therefore, be anything harsh nor abrupt in that ending, which seems calculated for the respite and recreation of the mind and ear. This, too, is the resting-place of the oration, this the auditor expects, and here burst forth all his effusions of praise.


The beginning of periods demands as much care as the closing of them, for here, also, the auditor is attentive. But it is easier to observe numbers in the beginning of periods, as they are not depending on, nor connected with, what went before. But the ending of periods, however graceful it may be in composition and numbers, will lose all its charm if we proceed to it by a harsh and precipitate beginning.

As to the composition of the middle parts of a period, care must be taken not only of their connection with each other, but also that they may not seem slow, nor long, nor, what is now a great vice, jump and start from being made up of many short syllables, and producing the same effect on the ear as the sounds from a child's rattle. For as the ordering of the beginning and ending is of much importance, as often as the sense begins or ends; so in the middle, too, there is a sort of stress which slightly insists; as the feet of people running, which, tho they make no stop, yet leave a track. It is not only necessary to begin and end well the several members and articles, but the intermediate space, tho continued without respiration, ought also to retain a sort of composition, by reason of the insensible pauses that serve as so many degrees for pronunciation.

Cicero gives many names to the period, calling it a winding about, a circuit, a comprehension, continuation, and circumscription. It is of two kinds; the one simple when a single thought is drawn out into a considerable number of words; the other compound, consisting of members and articles which include several thoughts.

Wherever the orator has occasion to conduct himself severely, to press home, to act boldly and resolutely, he should speak by members and articles. This manner has vast power and efficacy in an oration. The composition is to adapt itself to the nature of things, therefore, even rough things being conceived in rough sounds and numbers, that the hearer may be made to enter into all the passions of the speaker. It would be advisable, for the most part, to make the narration in members; or if periods are used, they ought to be more loose and less elaborate than elsewhere. But I except such narrations as are calculated more for ornament than for giving information.


The period is proper for the exordiums of greater causes, where the matter requires solicitude, commendation, pity. Also in common places and in every sort of amplification; but if you accuse, it ought to be close and compact; if you praise, it should be full, round, and flowing. It is likewise of good service in perorations, and may be used without restriction wherever the composition requires to be set off in a somewhat grand and noble manner, and when the judge not only has a thorough knowledge of the matter before him, but is also captivated with the beauty of the discourse and, trusting to the orator, allows himself to be led away by the sense of pleasure.

History does not so much stand in need of a periodical flow of words, as it likes to move around in a sort of perpetual circle, for all its members are connected with each other, by its slipping and gliding along from one subject to the next, just as men, strengthening their pace, hold and are held, by grasping each other by the hand. Whatever belongs to the demonstrative kind has freer and more flowing numbers. The judicial and deliberative, being varied in their matter, occasionally require a different form of composition.


Who doubts that some things are to be exprest in a gentle way, others with more heat, others sublimely, others contentiously, and others gravely? Feet composed of long syllables best suit grave, sublime, and ornamental subjects. The grave will take up a longer space in the pronunciation, and the sublime and ornamental will demand a clear and sonorous expression. Feet of short syllables are more agreeable in arguments, division, raillery, and whatever partakes of the nature of ordinary conversation.

The composition of the exordium will differ, therefore, as the subject may require. For the mind of the judge is not always the same, so that, according to the time and circumstances, we must declare our mournful plight, appear modest, tart, grave, insinuating; move to mercy and exhort to diligence. As the nature of these is different, so their composition must be conducted in a different way.

Let it be in some measure a general observation that the composition ought to be modeled on the manner of pronunciation. In exordiums are we not most commonly modest, except when in a cause of accusation we strive to irritate the minds of the judges? Are we not copious and explicit in narration; in arguments animated and lively, even showing animation in our actions; in common places and descriptions, exuberant and lavish of ornaments; and in perorations, for the most part weighed down by distress? Of the variety which ought to be in a discourse, we may find another parallel instance in the motions of the body. With all of them, do not the circumstances regulate their respective degrees of slowness and celerity? And for dancing as well as singing, does not music use numbers of which the beating of the time makes us sensible? As our voice and action are indeed expressive of our inner feelings in regard to the nature of the things of which we speak, need we, then, be surprized if a like conformity ought to be found in the feet that enter into the composition of a piece of eloquence? Ought not sublime matters be made to walk in majestic solemnity, the mild to keep in a gentle pace, the brisk and lively to bound with rapidity, and the nice and delicate to flow smoothly?


If faults in composition be unavoidable, I should rather give preference to that which is harsh and rough than to that which is nerveless and weak, the results of an affected style that many now study, and which constantly corrupts, more and more, by a wantonness in numbers more becoming a dance than the majesty of eloquence. But I can not say that any composition is good, however perfect otherwise, which constantly presents the same form, and continually falls into the same feet. A constant observing of similar measures and cadences, is a kind of versification, and all prose in which this fault is discoverable, can have no allowance made for it, by reason of its manifest affectation (the very suspicion of which ought to be avoided), and its uniformity, which, of course, must fatigue and disgust the mind. This vice may have some engaging charms at first sight, but the greater its sweets are, the shorter will be their continuance; and the orator once detected of any anxious concern in this respect, will instantly lose all belief that has been placed in him, and vainly will he strive to make on others' minds the impressions he expected to make; for how is it to be expected that a judge will believe a man, or permit himself to feel grief or anger on account of one whom he observes to have attended to nothing more than the display of such trifles? Some of the connections of smooth composition ought, therefore, to be designedly broken, and it is no small labor to make them appear not labored.

Let us not be such slaves to the placing of words as to study transpositions longer than necessary, lest what we do in order to please, may displease by being affected. Neither let a fondness for making the composition flow with smoothness, prevail on us to set aside a word otherwise proper and becoming; as no word, in reality, can prove disagreeable enough to be wholly excluded, unless it be that in the avoiding of such words we consult mere beauty of expression rather than the good of composition.

To conclude, composition ought to be graceful, agreeable, varied. Its parts are three: order, connection, number. Its art consists in adding, retrenching, changing. Its qualities are according to the nature of the things discust. The care in composition ought to be great, but not to take the place of care in thinking and speaking. What deserves to be particularly attended to is the concealing of the care of composition, that the numbers may seem to flow of their own accord, and not with the least constraint or affectation.

elegance and grace
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