7. But the crown of all our study and the highest reward of our long labours is the power of improvisation. The man who fails to acquire this had better, in my opinion, abandon the task of advocacy and devote his powers of writing to other branches of literature. For it is scarcely decent for an honourable man to promise assistance to the public at large which he may be unable to provide in the most serious emergencies, or to attempt to enter a harbour which his ship cannot hope to make save when sailing before a gentle breeze. [2] For there are countless occasions when the sudden necessity may be imposed upon him of speaking without preparation before the magistrates or in a trial which comes on unexpectedly. And if any such sudden emergency befalls, I will not say any innocent citizen, but some one of the orator's friends or connexions, is he to stand tongue-tied and, in answer to those who seek salvation in his eloquence and are doomed, unless they secure assistance, to ask for delay of proceedings and time for silent and secluded study, till such moment as he can piece together the words that fail him, commit them to memory and prepare his voice and lungs for the effort? [3] What theory of the duties of an orator is there which permits him to ignore such sudden issues? What will happen when he has to reply to his opponent? For often the expected arguments to which we have written a reply fail us and the whole aspect of the case undergoes [p. 135] a sudden change; consequently the variation to which cases are liable makes it as necessary for us to change our methods as it is for a pilot to change his course before the oncoming storm. [4] Again, what use is much writing, assiduous reading and long years of study, if the difficulty is to remain as great as it was in the beginning? The man who is always faced with the same labour can only confess that his past labour has been spent in vain. I do not ask him to prefer to speak extempore, but merely that lie should be able to do so. And this capacity is best acquired by the following method.

[5] In the first place, we must note the direction which the argument is likely to take, since we cannot run our race unless we know the goal and the course. It is not enough to know what are the parts1 into which forensic pleadings are divided or the principles determining the order of the various questions, important though these points are. We must realise what should come first, second, and so on, in the several parts; for these points are so closely linked together by the very nature of things that they cannot be separated, nor their order changed, without giving rise to confusion. [6] The orator, who speaks methodically, will above all take the actual sequence of the various points as his guide, and it is for this reason that even but moderately trained speakers find it easiest to keep the natural order in the statement of facts. Secondly, the orator must know what to look for in each portion of his case: he must not beat about the bush or allow himself to be thrown off the track by thoughts which suggest themselves from irrelevant quarters, or produce a speech which is a confused mass of incongruities, [p. 137] owing to his habit of leaping this way and that, and never sticking to any one point. [7] Finally, he must confine himself to certain definite bounds, and for this division is absolutely necessary. When to the best of his ability he has dealt fully with all the points which he has advanced, he will know that he has reached his goal.

The precepts just given are dependent on theory. Those to which I now come depend on individual study. We must acquire a store of the best words and phrases on lines that I have already laid down, while our style must be formed by continuous and conscientious practice in writing, so that even our improvisations may reproduce the tone of our writing, and after writing much, we must give ourselves frequent practice in speaking. [8] For facility is mainly the result of habit and exercise and, if it be lost only for a brief time, the result will be not merely that we fall short of the requisite rapidity, but that our lips will become clogged and slow to open. For although we need to possess a certain natural nimbleness of mind to enable us, while we are saying what the instant demands, to build up what is to follow and to secure that there will always be some thought formed and conceived in advance ready to serve our voice, none the less, [9] it is scarcely possible either for natural gifts or for methodic art to enable the mind to grapple simultaneously with such manifold duties, and to be equal at one and the same time to the tasks of invention, arrangement, and style, together with what we are uttering at the moment, what we have got to say next and what we have to look to still further on, not to mention the fact that it [p. 139] is necessary all the time to give close attention to voice, delivery and gesture. [10] For our mental activities must range far ahead and pursue the ideas which are still in front, and in proportion as the speaker pays out what he has in hand, he must make advances to himself from his reserve funds, in order that, until we reach our conclusion, our mind's eye may urge its gaze forward, keeping time with our advance: otherwise we shall halt and stumble, and pour forth short and broken phrases, like persons who can only gasp out what they have to say.

[11] There is, therefore, a certain mechanical knack, which the Greeks call ἄλογος τριβή, which enables the hand to go on scribbling, while the eye takes in whole lines at once as it reads, observes the intonations and the stops, and sees what is coming before the reader has articulated to himself what precedes. It is a similar knack which makes possible those miraculous tricks which we see jugglers and masters of sleight of hand perform upon the stage, in such a manner that the spectator can scarcely help believing that the objects which they throw into the air come to hand of their own accord, and run where they are bidden. [12] But this knack will only be of real service if it be preceded by the art of which we have spoken,2 so that what is irrational in itself will nevertheless be founded on reason. For unless a man speaks in an orderly, ornate and fluent manner, I refuse to dignify his utterance with the name of speech, but consider it the merest rant. [13] Nor again shall I ever be induced to admire a continuous flow of random talk, such as I note streams in torrents even from the lips of women when they quarrel, although, if a speaker is swept away by [p. 141] warmth of feeling and genuine inspiration, it frequently happens that he attains a success from improvisation which would have been beyond the reach of the most careful preparation. [14] When this occurred, the old orators, such as Cicero,3 used to say that some god had inspired the speaker. But the reason is obvious. For profound emotion and vivid imagination sweep on with unbroken force, whereas, if retarded by the slowness of the pen, they are liable to grow cold and, it put off for the moment, may never return. Above all, if we add to these obstacles an unhealthy tendency to quibble over the choice of words, and check our advance at each step, the vehemence of our onset loses its impetus; while even though our choice of individual words may be of the happiest, the style will be a mere patchwork with no regular pattern.

[15] Consequently those vivid conceptions of which I spoke4 and which, as I remarked, are called φαντασίαι, together with everything that we intend to say, the persons and questions involved, and the hopes and fears to which they give rise, must be kept clearly before our eyes and admitted to our hearts: for it is feeling and force of imagination that make us eloquent. It is for this reason that even the uneducated have no difficulty in finding words to express their meaning, if only they are stirred by some strong emotion. [16] Further the attention of the mind must be directed not to some one thing, but simultaneously to a number of things in continuous sequence. The result will be the same as when we cast our eyes along some straight road and see at once all that is on and near it, obtaining a view not merely of its end, but of the whole way there. Dread of the shame of failure is also a powerful stimulant to oratory, [p. 143] and it may be regarded as a matter for wonder that, whereas when writing we delight in privacy and shrink from the presence of witnesses, in extempore pleading a large audience has an encouraging effect, like that which the sight of the massed standards has on the soldier. [17] For the sheer necessity of speaking thrusts forward and forces out our labouring thought, and the desire to win approbation kindles and fosters our efforts. So true is it that there is nothing which does not look for some reward, that eloquence, despite the fact that its activity is in itself productive of a strong feeling of pleasure, is influenced by nothing so much as the immediate acquisition of praise and renown. [18] Nor should any man put such trust in his native ability as to hope that this power will present itself to him at the outset of his career as an orator; for the precepts which I laid down for premeditation5 apply to improvisation also; we must develop it by gradual stages from small beginnings, until we have reached that perfection which can only be produced and maintained by practice.

[19] Moreover, the orator should reach such a pitch of excellence that, while premeditation may still be the safer method, it will not necessarily be the better, since many have acquired the gift of improvisation not merely in prose, but in verse as well, as, for example, Antipater of Sidon and Licinius Archias (for whose powers we have the unquestionable authority of Cicero6), not to mention the fact that there are many, even in our own day, who have done this and are still doing it. I do not, however, regard this accomplishment as being particularly valuable in itself, for it is both unpractical and unnecessary, but mention it as a useful example to encourage students [p. 145] training for the bar, in the hope that they may be able to acquire this accomplishment. [20] Still our confidence in our power of speaking extempore should never be so great that we should neglect to devote a few minutes to the consideration of what we are going to say. There will but rarely be occasions when this is impossible, while in the lawsuits of the courts there is always some time allowed for the purpose. For no one can plead a cause with the facts of which be is unacquainted. [21] Some declaimers, it is true, are led by a perverse ambition to attempt to speak the moment their theme has been given them, and even ask for a word with which to start, an affectation which is in the worst and most theatrical taste. But eloquence has, in her turn, nothing but derision for those that insult her thus, and speakers who wish to seem learned to fools are merely regarded as fools by the learned. [22] If, however, chance should impose the necessity upon us of pleading a case at such short notice, we shall require to develop special mental agility, to give all our attention to the subject, and to make a temporary sacrifice of our care for the niceties of language, if we find it impossible to secure both. On such occasions a slower delivery and a style of speaking suggestive of a certain indecision and doubt will secure us time to think, but we must be careful to do this in such a way as to give the impression of thought, not of hesitation. [23] This precaution may be employed while we are clearing harbour, if the wind drive us forward before all our tackle is ready. Afterwards, as we proceed upon our course, we shall trim our sails, arrange our ropes, and pray that the breeze may fill our sails. Such a procedure is [p. 147] preferable to yielding ourselves to an empty torrent of words, that the storm may sweep us where it will.

[24] But it requires no less careful study to maintain than to acquire this facility. Theory once mastered is not forgotten, and the pen loses but little of its speed by disuse: but this promptitude and readiness for action can be maintained by practice only. The best form of exercise is to speak daily before an audience of several persons, who should, as far as possible, be selected from those whose judgement and good opinion we value, since it is rare for anyone to be sufficiently critical of himself. It is even better to speak alone than not at all. [25] There is yet another method of exercising this faculty: it consists in going over our subjects in their entirety in silent thought, although we must all the time formulate the words to ourselves: such practice is possible at any moment or place that finds us unoccupied, and is, in some respects, more useful than that which I have just mentioned; [26] for we are more careful about our composition than when we are actually speaking and in momentary fear of interrupting the continuous flow of our language. On the other hand, the first method is more valuable for certain purposes, as it gives strength to our voice, fluency to our tongue and vigour to our gesture; and the latter, as I have already remarked,7 in itself excites the orator and spurs him on, as he waves his hand or stamps his foot: he is, in fact, like the lion, that is said to lash himself to fury with his tail. But we must study always and everywhere. [27] For there is scarce a single day in our lives that is so full of occupations that we may not, at some moment or other, snatch a few precious minutes, as Cicero8 records that Brutus was [p. 149] wont to do, either for writing or reading or speaking; Gaius Carbo,9 for example, was in the habit of indulging in such exercises even in his tent. [28] I must also mention the precept (which again has the approval of Cicero10) that we should never be careless about our language. Whatever we say, under whatever circumstances, should be perfect in its way. As regards writing, this is certainly never more necessary than when we have frequently to speak extempore. For it maintains the solidity of our speech and gives depth to superficial facility. We may compare the practice of husbandmen who cut away the uppermost roots of their vines, which run close to the surface of the soil, that the taproots may strike deeper and gain in strength. [29] Indeed I am not sure that, if we practise both with care and assiduity, mutual profit will not result, and writing will give us greater precision of speech, while speaking will make us write with greater facility. We must write, therefore, whenever possible; if we cannot write, we must meditate: if both are out of the question, we must still speak in such a manner that we shall not seem to be taken unawares nor our client to be left in the lurch.

[30] It is, however, a common practice with those who have many cases to plead to write out the most necessary portions, more especially the beginnings of their speeches, to cover the remainder of that which they are able to prepare by careful premeditation and to trust to improvisation in emergency, a practice regularly adopted by Cicero, as is clear from his note-books. But the notes of other orators are also in circulation; some have been discovered by chance, just as they were jotted down previous to a speech, while others have been edited in book form, [p. 151] as in the case of the speeches delivered in the courts by Servius Sulpicius, of whose works only three speeches survive. These memoranda, however, of which I am speaking are so carefully drawn up that they seem to me to have been composed by himself for the benefit of posterity. [31] But Cicero's notes were originally intended merely to meet the requirements of the moment, and were afterwards collected11 by Tiro. In making this apology I do not mean to imply that I disapprove of them, but merely wish to make them more worthy of admiration. And in this connexion I must state that I admit the use of brief memoranda and note-books, which may even be held in the hand and referred to from time to time. [32] But I disapprove of the advice given by Laenas, that we should set down in our note-books, duly tabulated under the appropriate headings, summaries of what we propose to say, even in cases where we have already written it out in full. For reliance on such notes as these makes us careless in learning what we have written and mutilates and deforms our style. For my own part I think that we should never write out anything which we do not intend to commit to memory. For if we do, our thoughts will run back to what we have elaborated in writing and will not permit us to try the fortune of the moment. [33] Consequently, the mind will waver in doubt between the two alternatives, having forgotten what was committed to writing and being unable to think of anything fresh to say. However, as the topic of memory will be discussed in the next book, I will not introduce it here, as there are other points which require to be dealt with first.

1 See III. ix. 1.

2 §§ 5–7.

3 No such saying is found in Cicero's extant works.

4 VI. ii. 29.

5 Ch. vi. 3.

6 De Or. iii. 194; Pro Arch. viii. 18.

7 Ch. iii. 21.

8 Or. 34.

9 A supporter of Tib. Graccllus, who went over to the senatorial party and was consul 120 B.C. Committed suicide in the following year. Cicero praises his eloquence and industry; p. Brut. 103–5,de Or. I. § 154.

10 There is no trace of this.

11 Or perhaps “abbreviated.” Tiro was Cicero's friend, freedman and secretary.

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