S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
There are two instances of Silence in the two greatest poets that ever wrote, which have something in them as sublime as any of the speeches in their whole works. The first is that of Ajax, in the eleventh book of the Odyssey. Ulysses, who had been the rival of this great man in his life, as well as the occasion of his death, upon meeting his shade in the region of departed heroes, makes his submission to him with a humility next to adoration, which the other passes over with dumb, sullen majesty, and such a Silence as, to use the words of Longinus, had more greatness in it than anything he could have spoken.
At a banquet the ambassador desired the wise men to deliver every one of them some sentence or parable, that he might report to his king, which they did: only one was silent, which the ambassador perceiving, said to him: Sir, let it not displease you; why do you not say somewhat that I may report? He answered: Report to your lord, that there are that can hold their peace.
Think not silence the wisdom of fools, but, if rightly timed, the honour of wise men who have not the infirmity but the virtue of taciturnity; and speak not of the abundance, but the well-weighed thoughts of their hearts. Such silence may be eloquence, and speak thy worth above the power of words. Make such a one thy friend, in whom princes may be happy, and great counsels successful. Let him have the key of thy heart who hath the lock of his own, which no temptation can open; where thy secrets may lastingly lie, like the lamp in Olybius his urn, alive and light, but close and invisible.
What a strange power there is in silence! How many resolutions are formedhow many sublime conquests effectedduring that pause when the lips are closed, and the soul secretly feels the eye of her Maker upon her! When some of those cutting, sharp, blighting words have been spoken which send the hot indignant blood to the face and head, if those to whom they are addressed keep silence, look on with awe: for a mighty work is going on within them, and the spirit of evil, or their guardian angel, is very near to them in that hour. During that pause they have made a step toward heaven or toward hell, and an item has been scored in the book which the day of judgment shall see opened. They are the strong ones of the earth, the mighty food for good or evil,those who know how to keep silence when it is a pain and a grief to them; those who give time to their own souls to wax strong against temptation, or to the powers of wrath to stamp upon them their withering passage.
There are three kinds of silence. Silence from words is good, because inordinate speaking tends to evil. Silence or rest from desires and passions is still better, because it promotes quickness of spirit. But the best of all is silence from unnecessary and wandering thoughts, because that is essential to internal recollection, and because it lays a foundation for a proper regulation and silence in other respects.
Euripides was wont to say silence was an answer to a wise man; but we seem to have greater occasion for it in our dealing with fools and unreasonable persons; for men of breeding and sense will be satisfied with reason and fair words.