Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?c.A.D. 113). Letters. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
XXIV. To Cerealis
YOU advise me to read my late speech before an assemblage of my friends. I shall do so, as you advise it, though I have strong scruples. Compositions of this sort lose, I well know, all their force and fire, and even their very name almost, by a mere recital. It is the solemnity of the tribunal, the concourse of advocates, the suspense of the event, the fame of the several pleaders concerned, the different parties formed amongst the audience; add to this the gestures, the pacing, aye, the actual running,, to and fro, of the speaker, the body working1 in harmony with every inward emotion, that conspire to give a spirit and a grace to what he delivers. This is the reason that those who plead sitting, though they retain most of the advantages possessed by those who stand up to plead, weaken the whole force of their oratory. The eyes and hands of the reader, those important instruments of graceful elocution, being engaged, it is no wonder that the attention of the audience droops, without anything extrinsic to keep it up, no allurements of gesture to attract, no smart, stinging impromptus to enliven. To these general considerations I must add this particular disadvantage which attends the speech in question, that it is of the argumentative kind; and it is natural for an author to infer that what he wrote with labour will not be read with pleasure. For who is there so unprejudiced as not to prefer the attractive and sonorous to the sombre and unornamented in style? It is very unreasonable that there should be any distinction; however, it is certain the judges generally expect on style of pleading, and the audience another; whereas an auditor ought to be affected only by those parts which would especially strike him, were he in the place of the judge. Nevertheless it is possible the objections which lie against this piece may be surmounted in consideration of the novelty it has to recommend it: the novelty, I mean, with respect to us; for the Greek orators have a method of reasoning upon a different occasion, not altogether unlike that which I have employed. They, when they would throw out a law as contrary to some former one unrepealed, argue by comparing those together; so I, on the contrary, endeavour to prove that the crime, which I was insisting upon as falling within the intent and meaning of the law relating to public extortions, was agreeable, not only to that law, but likewise to other laws of the same nature. Those who are ignorant of the jurisprudence of their country can have no taste for reasonings of this kind, but those who are not ought to be proportionably the more favourable in the judgments they pass upon them. I shall endeavour, therefore, if you persist in my reciting it, to collect as learned an audience as I can. But before you determine this point, do weigh impartially the different considerations I have laid before you, and then decide as reason shall direct; for it is reason that must justify you; obedience to your commands will be a sufficient apology for me. Farewell.
Note 1. Cicero and Quintilian have laid down rules how far, and in what instances, this liberty was allowable, and both agree it ought to be used with great sagacity and judgment. The latter of these excellent critics mentions a witticism of Flavius Virginius, who asked one of these orators, Quot millia passuum declamasset? How many miles he had declaimed. [back]