« AnteriorContinuar »
popular mind his hopes of becoming a noted orator were without foundation and doomed to disappointment. Still there were a few indications that he possessed at least the head and the heart of an orator. And indeed such he was, notwithstanding his constitutional misfortunes.
There was an indication of this at sixteen years of age. At that time, Callistratus, an orator of considerable reputation, was pleading a civil case in Athens, and Demosthenes, by some means, secured a position where, without being himself noticed, he could hear the orator to the best advantage. Callistratus upon that occasion was brilliant, and won the admiration, praise, and applause of the entire assembly. Demosthenes was thrilled and
inspired. A new life opened before him. grandeur of eloquence stirred his soul to its depths, and he firmly resolved that this power, which he saw could so mightily sway and mould the thoughts and purposes of the masses, should be his.
In this experience, Demosthenes, among the noted orators, does not stand alone. Grattan received his first oratorical impulse while listening to one of Lord Chatham's thrilling speeches in Parliament. Robert Hall felt the first kindling of these fires of oratory in listening to a sermon when a student at the Northampton Academy. And Rufus Choate, while a young man, had the same experience in listening to a brilliant plea of William Pinkney. In these instances the silent chord was struck to which every other chord of the man's being responded. It
is as with Correggio: his face flushed, his eye flashed fire, while looking for the, first time upon a painting of Raphael, and he exclaimed, "I, too, am a painter!" Thus, also, Demosthenes, while listening to Callistratus, had the feeling for the first time, no doubt, "I, too, am an orator!"
Subsequent events show that he also probably had in mind the fact that with this oratorical skill and might he could crush the power of his guardians and compel them to refund his stolen patrimony. With characteristic determination, he at once abandoned all other life-plans, and rigorously and continuously applied himself to the art and science of oratory. To be numbered some day among the great orators of Greece was at once his determination and his inspiration.
Two years after this determination was formed, at eighteen years of age, he appeared at the bar with a plea for the recovery of his embezzled inheritance. He was successful, gaining his cause. But his next public appearance was an utter failure. He was confused, then hissed down. He left the assembly and wandered about the streets of Athens, dejected, well-nigh disheartened. Fortunately he was met by Eunomus, an aged, kind-hearted, and keen-sighted man, who said to him, "You have a manner of speaking much like that of Pericles." Eunomus likewise urged Demosthenes not to suffer his body, through severe study, "to wither away in negligence and indolence," but "to prepare it by exercise for the labor of the rostrum.'
How much this word of encouragement did for the young orator we cannot easily tell. He had learned a most valuable lesson, however; this that the background of a successful life is a task. His work was to be done not in an easy-chair nor with kid gloves on. He also received a valuable hint from Satyrus, who, as Plutarch tells us, following Demosthenes to his home after one of his early failures, said to him, "Though you are the most laborious of all the orators, and have almost sacrificed your health to application, still you gain no favor with the people: drunken seamen and other unlettered persons are heard and keep the rostrum, while you are entirely disregarded." These hints were well received.
The subsequent efforts of Demosthenes to overcome his defects of person and speech are too familiar to dwell upon. He built a subterranean study, to which he daily repaired to exercise his voice. He excluded himself from the public for months together, devoting himself to physical discipline and study; and lest he should be tempted, during these seasons, to abandon his purpose, he shaved the hair off one half his head, and thus precluded the possibility of relinquishing his purpose. He increased the capacity of his lungs by speaking while rapidly climbing steep hills. He increased the penetrating power of his voice by declaiming on the shores of the Ægean Sea when lashed into fury by a storm, so that he could cope with the tumult of an Athenian audience. He corrected his imper
fect enunciation by the painful expedient of placing in his mouth, while speaking for practice, a handful of pebbles. He improved his awkward bearing and gesticulation by speaking before critical masters, and also before a mirror in his own house. He acquired the power of giving ready expression to his thoughts by continually talking; whenever left to himself he would seize upon the passing moment to put into a speech what he had heard on the street or at the fireside. He was in his work an enthusiast.* Demosthenes was also a constant student of men in the common walks of life. When persons who had suffered some wrong came to him, he would listen to their complaints, and reply that they had not been much wronged. Then, when they were repelling this charge, he would study their action and words, as an artist studies the form he is to transfer to So laborious was the great orator in all these matters, that many people, as Plutarch writes, said that Demosthenes is no genius.
But more than this. Demosthenes, in all departments bearing upon eloquence and oratory, applied for instruction to the most noted men of his time. No labor or expense, as he judged, was too great to be offered in sacrifice. He received elocutionary lessons of Satyrus, a noted theatric player, and rehearsed before him the speeches found in Euripides and Sophocles. Isæus, however, in the arts of elo
*The notes in this volume are indicated by the small Arabic numerals ', 2, 3, etc., and constitute the Supplement. See page 235.
quence was his principal teacher, and an especial favorite, owing to the vigor and nerve of his style. Demosthenes also received instruction from Callias, and studied the rhetorical systems of Isocrates and Alcidamus. He copied and recopied the entire writings of Thucydides, that his own style might catch the glow and beauty of that polished historian. In a word, Demosthenes, by personal effort and the best schooling of the day, sought to master everything pertaining to his art-general bearing, gesture, vocal expression, the rhetorical framing and delicate balancing of sentences and even parts of sentences, the nice choice of words, indeed, everything in rhetoric that would contribute to the utmost closeness, richness, and strength of language. "The result of this training,' as a recent reviewer has remarked, any one can guess. His bodily infirmities disappeared, his voice became strong, and his elocution perfect. His appearance before an audience, however excited the people were, was a signal for quiet and order. It is allowed on all hands that no man ever had such control over his listeners. could move them at a word to laughter or to tears."
During these years when he was gaining popularity, he was extremely careful in his preparations for all public efforts. He so highly prized eloquence that he would not publicly mar its reputation through negligence of its high requirements. He seldom, until near the close of his career, spoke off-hand, yet he never appeared with manuscript or note.1 He was often called to speak upon some point under