When the orator does sound a retreat, no less ample fruits of study will attend on him. He either will write the history of his time for the instruction of posterity, or he will explain the law to those who came to ask his advice, or he will write a treatise on eloquence, or that worthy mouth of his will employ itself in inculcating the finest moral precepts. As was customary with the ancients, well-disposed youth will frequent his house, consulting him as an oracle on the true manner of speaking. As the parent of eloquence will he form them, and as an old experienced pilot will he give them an account of shores, and harbors, and what are the presages of storms, and what may be required for working the ship in contrary or favorable winds. To all this will he be induced not only by a duty of humanity common to mankind, but also by a certain pleasure in it; for no one would be glad to see an art going into decay, in which he himself excelled, and what is more laudable than to teach others that in which one is perfectly skilled?
For all I know, the happiest time in an orator's life is when he has retired from the world to devote himself to rest; and, remote from envy, and remote from strife, he looks back on his reputation, as from a harbor of safety; and while still living has a sense of that veneration which commonly awaits only the dead; thus anticipating the pleasure of the noble impression posterity will conceive of him. I am conscious that to the extent of my poor ability, whatever I knew before, and whatever I could collect for the service of this work, I have candidly and ingenuously made a communication of, for the instruction of those who might be willing to reap any advantage from it: and it is enough for an honest man to have taught what he knows.
To be good men, which is the first and most important thing, consists chiefly in the will, and whoever has a sincere desire to be a man of integrity, will easily learn the arts that teach virtue; and these arts are not involved in so many perplexities, neither are they of such great number, as not to be learned by a few years' application. The ordering of an upright and happy life is attainable by an easy and compendious method, when inclination is not lacking. Nature begot us with the best dispositions, and it is so easy to the well-inclined to learn that which is good, that we can not help being surprized, on making a due estimate of things, how there can be so many bad persons in the world. For, as water is naturally a proper element for fish, dry land for quadrupeds, and air for birds, so indeed it ought to be more easy to live according to the prescript of nature than to infringe her laws.
As to the rest, tho we might measure our age, not by the space of more advanced years, but by the time of youth, we should find that we had quite years enough for learning, all things being made shorter by order, method, and the manner of application. To bring the matter home to our oratorical studies, of what significance is the custom which I see kept up by many, of declaiming so many years in schools, and of expending so much labor on imaginary subjects, when in a moderate time the rules of eloquence may be learned, and pursuant to their directions, a real image framed of the contests at the bar? By this I do not mean to hint in the least that exercises for speaking should ever be discontinued, but rather that none should grow old in any one particular exercise for that purpose, for we may require the knowledge of many sciences, and learn the precepts of morality, and exercise ourselves in such causes as are agitated at the bar, even while we continue in the state of scholars. And indeed the art of oratory is such as need not require many years for learning it. Each of the arts I have mentioned may be abridged into few books, there being no occasion to consider them so minutely and so much in detail. Practise remains, which soon makes us well skilled in them. Knowledge of things is increasing daily, and yet books are not so many; it is necessary to read in order to acquire this knowledge, of which either examples as to the things themselves may be met with in history, or the eloquent expression of them may be found in orators. It is also necessary that we should read the opinions of philosophers and lawyers, with some other things deserving of notice.
TAKING TIME FOR STUDY
All this indeed may be compassed, but we ourselves are the cause of our not having time enough. How small a portion of it do we allot to our studies! A good part of it is spent in frivolous compliments and paying and returning visits, a good part of it is taken up in the telling of idle stories, a good part at the public spectacles, and a good part in the pleasures of the table. Add to these our great variety of amusements, and that extravagant indulgence we bestow upon our bodies. One time we must go on a course of travels, another time we wish recreation amidst the pleasures of rural life, and another time we are full of painful solicitude regarding the state of our fortune, calculating and balancing our loss and gain; and together with these, how often do we give ourselves up to the intoxication of wine, and in what a multiplicity of voluptuousness does our profligate mind suffer itself to be immersed? Should there be an interval for study amidst these avocations, can it be said to be proper? But were we to devote all this idle or ill-spent time to study, should we not find life long enough and time more than enough for becoming learned? This is evident by only computing the time of the day, besides the advantages of the night, of which a good part is more than sufficient for sleep. But we now preposterously compute not the years we have studied, but the years we have lived. Tho geometricians and grammarians, and the professors of other arts, spent all their lives, however long, in treating and discussing their respective arts, does it thence follow that we must have as many lives as there are things to be learned? But they did not extend the learning of them to old age, being content with learning them only, and they spent so many years not so much in their study as in their practise.
Now, tho one should despair of reaching to the height of perfection, a groundless hope even in a person of genius, health, talent, and with masters to assist him; yet it is noble, as Cicero says, to have a place in the second, or third, rank. He who can not rival the glory of Achilles in military exploits, shall not therefore have a mean opinion of the praise due to Ajax, or Diomedes, and he who can not approach Homer, need not despise the fame of Tyrteus. If men were to yield to the thought of imagining none capable of exceeding such eminent persons as went before them, then they even who are deemed excellent would not have been so. Vergil would not have excelled Lucretius and Macer; nor Cicero, Crassus and Hortensius; and no one for the future would pretend to any advantage over his predecessor.
Tho the hope of surpassing these great men be but faint, yet it is an honor to follow them. Have Pollio and Messala, who began to appear at the bar when Cicero was already possest of the empire of eloquence, acquired little dignity in their life-time, and left but a small degree of glory for the remembrance of posterity? True it is that arts brought to perfection would deserve very ill of human affairs if afterward they could not at least be kept to the same standard.
THE REWARDS OF ELOQUENCE
Add to this that a moderate share of eloquence is attended with no small advantage, and if measured by the fruits gathered from it, will almost be on a par with that which is perfect. It would be no difficult matter to show from many ancient or modern examples that no other profession acquires for men, greater honors, wealth, friendship, present and future glory, were it not degrading to the honor of letters to divert the mind from the contemplation of the most noble object, the study and possession of which is such a source of contentment, and fix it on the less momentous rewards it may have, not unlike those who say they do not so much seek virtue as the pleasure resulting from it.
Let us therefore with all the zealous impulses of our heart endeavor to attain the very majesty of eloquence, than which the immortal gods have not imparted anything better to mankind, and without which all would be mute in nature, and destitute of the splendor of a perfect glory and future remembrance. Let us likewise always make continued progress toward perfection, and by so doing we shall either reach the height, or at least shall see many beneath us.
This is all, as far as in me lies, I could contribute to the promoting and perfecting of the art of eloquence; the knowledge of which, if it does not prove of any great advantage to studious youth, will, at least, what I more heartily wish for, give them a more ardent desire for doing well.