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I have more than once experienced in myself ; nor have I ever looked upon this most afflicting of all spectacles, without a strong impression of the danger to which I should be exposed, if I were to witness it daily. In consequence of this impression, I have always read, with peculiar admiration, the scene in the Tragedy of Lear, which forms the transition from the old king's beautiful and pathetic reflections on the storm, to the violent madness in which, without any change whatever in his external circumstances, he is immediately after represented. In order to make this transition more gradual, the poet introduces Edgar, who, with a view of concealing himself from Lear, assumes the dress and behaviour of a madman. At every sentence he utters, the mind of the king, " whose wits," (as we are told in the preceding scene) were “beginning to turn,” becomes more and more deranged, till at length every vestige of reason vanishes completely.
2d, As bodily affections seem to be, in certain cases, contagious, where they are altogether unaccompanied by any mental passion or emotion, so, on the other hand, the passions and emotions felt, or supposed to be felt by one individual, have a tendency to spread among his companions, even without the intervention of any external expression manifested in the appearance. This effect will be acknowledged by every man of sensibility, when a person who has lately received any signal instance either of good or of bad fortune, enters a numerous assembly; and it is sufficiently accounted for, by our natural disposition to sympathize with the feelings of those with whom we associate. Where a number of men, however, are collected upon any occasion of common concern, and on which the feel. ings of all may be expected to be in unison,--on any occasion, for instance, of public festivity or of public mourning, -the impression produced in each will be greatly augmented; and it is accordingly apt, in such cases, to vent itself in tears, either of joy or of sorrow, even among characters whom the event in question would, in their solitary hours, have scarcely affected with any emotion whatsoever.
The devotional feelings are, in like manner, roused and exalted merely by the presence of others met together in the same place of worship ; and that independently of any external rite, and often when all around are composed and silent.
3d, When the two former suppositions are combined, -that is, when the feelings of a crowd are in unison, or conceived to be in unison, from the operation of some common cause, and when, at the same time, these feelings begin, in a few individuals, to manifest themselves by strong bodily agitations, the effect is likely to be incalculably great; the mind at once acting on the body, and the body re-acting on the mind, while : the influence of each is manifested by the inexplicable contagion of sympathetic imitation.
4th, Independently, however, of these considerations, there is something in the sight of a great multitude, more favourable to the excitement of the imagination and of the passions, than to the cool exercise of our reasoning powers. Every person who has been accustomed to address a large audience, must have experienced this in himself; and, accordingly, in popular assemblies, when a speaker indulges in declamation, or attempts to rouse the passions of his hearers, his eyes may generally be observed to sweep from place to place over his auditory; sometimes, perhaps, in a moment of more than common animation, to comprehend the whole at a glance; but, when he is about to reason or to detail facts, he strives to concentrate his thoughts by forgetting the crowd, and fixing the eye of a single individual. His hearers, in the mean time, (at least such of them as hare not learned from early and long habit to maintain their self-possession and command of mind in circumstances so peculiarly adverse to reflection) become almost passive materials in his hands, and are prepared to follow wherever he leads the way ;-So just is the maxim of Cardinal de Retz, that " all "great assemblies are mere mob, and swayed in their delibe“rations by the most trilling motives.” In the history of human nature, few facts are more curious or more important than this ; that where immense numbers of men are collected on the same spot, and their physical force is the most irresistible, their minds are the most easily subdued by the authority of (what they conceive to be) the voice of wisdom and of virtue. The consciousness of this power,--one of the proudest, unquestionably, which a man can possess over his fellow-creatures,-contributes, more than any thing else, to animate and inspire that eloquence which it supposes; and hence, the foundation of a maxim laid down by Cicero, that “ eloquence is impossible, without a listening crowd."*
On such occasions, the contagion of sympathetic imitation will be found to aid so very powerfully the ascendancy of the speaker's genius, as almost to justify the exclusive stress which
Fit autem, ut, quia maxima quasi oratori scena videatur concio, natura ipsa ad ornatius dicendi genus excitetur. Habet enim multitudo vim quandam talem, ut quemadmodum tibicen sine tibiis canere, sic orator sine multitudine audiente, eloquens, esse non possit. (De Oratore, lib. 2. lxxxiii. See also the treatise entitled Brutus, sive De Clar. Orator. Ii. Nec enim posset idem Demosthenes dicere, &c. &c.)
Demosthenes laid on action,* when compared with the other constituents of the oratorical art. Buffon seems to have been fully aware of the same thing, when he introduced the following description of the effects of popular eloquence, into the discourse which he pronounced on his reception into the French Academy. The description appears to me to be just, and to be executed with a masterly hand; but I quote it at present, chiefly to have an opportunity of expressing my dissent from the conclusion which it is employed to illustrate. “ True eloquence implies an exertion of genius, and supposes "a cultivated mind. It differs essentially from that fluency of *6 speech, which is a talent possessed by all who have strong « passions, flexible organs, and lively imaginations. Such men “ feel acutely, and express strongly, both by words and ges“ tures, what they feel. Hence, by a sort of mechanical im“pression, they impart to others their enthusiasm and their 66 affections ;-it is the body which speaks to the body; all its 16 movements, and all its expressive powers lending their aid. 66 How little is sufficient to shake the opinions of most men, 66 and to communicate to them the sentiments of the speaker! " A tone of voice vehement and pathetic ; gestures expressive 66 and frequent; words rapid and sonorous.” I
Buffon proceeds afterwards to contrast this popular eloquence with that which was cultivated in the French Academy, giving the decided preference to the latter, and, indeed, treating the former with every expression of contempt. The proper infer
* What idea was annexed by the ancients to the word Action, we learn from the following passage of Cicero de Oratore, Lib. i. Cap. v. “ Quid ego de ac“ tione ipsa, plura dicam, quæ motu corporis, quæ gestu, quæ vultu, quæ vocis “ conformatione ac varietate moderanda est? Quæ sola per se ipsa quanta sit, « histrionum levis ars et scena declarant." t " La véritable éloquence suppose l'exercice du génie et la culture de l'esprit
. s. Elle est bien différente de cette facilité naturelle de parler, qui n'est qu'un “ talent, une qualité accordé tous ceux dont les passions sont fortes, les or
ganes souples, et, l'imagination prompte. Ces hommes sentent vivement, s'af“ fectent de même, le marquent fortement au dehors, et par une impression “ purement méchanique, ils transmettent aux autres leur enthousiasme et leurs “ affections. C'est le corps qui parle au corps ; tous les mouvemens, tous les “ signes concourent et servent également. Que faut-il pour émouvoir la multis tude et l'entraîner? Que faut-il pour ébranler la plupart des autres hommes et “ les persuader? Un ton véhément et pathétique, des gestes expressifs et fré
quens, des paroles rapides et sonnantes."-Discours de M. de Buffon lors de sa reception à l'Académie Françoise.
To the same purpose Seneca. “ Quidam ad magnificas voces excitantur, et transeunt in affectum dicentium, alacres vultu et animo; nec aliter concitantur quam Phrygii solent tibicinis sono semiviri et ex imperio furentes.”-Seneca. Ep. 108.
“ Mais pour le petit nombre de ceux dont la tête est ferme, le gout délicat, “ et le sens exquis, et qui come vous, Messieurs, comptent pour peu le ton, les
gestes et le vain son des mots ; il faut des choses, des pensées, des raisons, il
ence, however, from his premises was, that if these secondary attainments of an orator can perform so much, where there is a real deficiency in more essential endowments, what effects might they not produce, if united with the higher gifts of the understanding! Why undervalue an art, merely because it is adapted to the principles of our physical as well as of our moral frame; an art which, in ancient times, was cultivated by men not more distinguished by the splendour of their military virtues, than by those accomplishments which adorn and humanize the mind; and who, to a skill in composition which it is our pride to imitate at a distance, seem to have added all the energy and all the grace which pronunciation and gesture, regulated by taste and philosophy, could supply? The eloquence of the French Academicians, when considered in relation to its professed objects, justly claims our admiration ; but why contrast it with that eloquence---to which it bears no resemblance but in name—which, in free states, has so often fixed the destiny of nations, and which the contagious sympathy of popular and patriotic emotions could-alone have inspired ? The compositions of Buffon himself, the most finished models, perhaps, of that polished and courtly style which he valued so highly,what are they, when compared with those mightier powers of genius which
Fulmin'd over Greece
What are they, even when compared with that eloquence, (tempered and subdued as it is by modern institutions and manners,) of which our own age and our own country has furnished so many illustrious examples ; and which, in political assemblies far more wisely and happily constituted than those of the Athenian commonwealth, secures to its possessors an authority which no other distinctions can command ? Such an ascendant is to be acquired only by talents as various as the principles of that nature on which they are destined to operate; and whoever, in the cultivation of the same art, forgets how closely the physical frame of man is linked with his imagination and his passions, may abandon all ambition of that empire over the minds of others to which the orators of antiquity aspired, and must rest satisfied with the praise of refinement, in genuity, and wit.
" faut savoir les presenter, les nuancer, les ordonnor ; il ne suffit pas de frapper " l'oreille et d'occuper les yeux, il faut agir sur l'ame et toucher le cæur en parlant " à l'esprit.”-Discours de M. de Buffon lors de sa reception d l'Académie Frangois.
Not many years after Buffon's death, the ascendant which Mirabeau acquired, and for a short time maintained, in the Constituent Assembly of France—“ wielding at will the fierce “ Democracy'?_afforded a splendid example of the influence of that species of eloquence, which, in the judgment of Buffon, is so inferior to that of the French Academicians. And if the rare endowments of this extraordinary man had been united with a less revolting physiognomy, and with an unblemished private and public character, it is difficult to say, had his life been prolonged, what permanent benefits he might not have conferred on his country. He would have been able, in all probability, to prevent many of the atrocities to which the Revolution gave birth, and might, perhaps, have had the glory of bequeathing to France the blessings of a Monarchy limited by Constitutional Laws. *
Of the Advantages resulting from this Constitution of Human Nature.
WHOEVER reflects, with due attention, on the very remarkable class of phenomena which form the subject of the preceding sections of this chapter, and compares them with the general analogy of our constitution, can scarcely fail to be impressed with a strong conviction, that the principles upon which they depend are subservient, on the whole, to beneficent and important purposes ; and that the occasional inconveniences which may arise from them, are more the consequences of some fault in education perverting them from their proper ends, than the necessary effects of those laws which nature has established. In confirmation of this pleasing idea, I shall here throw out a few hints and queries, which, although calculated rather to excite than to satisfy curiosity, may, perhaps suggest to my readers, some conclusions susceptible of a useful application in practice.
I have already taken notice of Imitation, as an important principle to be attended to in the education of children; and
* It may be proper here to remind the reader, that, in thus controverting the opinion of Buffon, I speak of eloquence merely as a display of the powers of the Human Mind. How far, in the present state of society, and in such a political establishment as ours, it is expedient to open, in a legislative body, such a field to this accomplishment, as to render its influence necessarily paramount to that of still more important attainments, is a question on which I do not presume to offer an opinion.