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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On Embellishments of Style
By Quintilian (c. 35–c. 95 A.D.)
 
From the ‘Institutes’: Translation in Bohn’s Library

I COME now to the subject of embellishment; in which doubtless, more than in any other department of oratory, the speaker is apt to give play to his fancy. For the praise of such as speak merely with correctness and perspicuity is but small; since they are thought rather to have avoided faults than to have attained any great excellence. Invention of matter is often common to the orator and to the illiterate alike; arrangement may be considered to require but moderate learning, and whatever high arts are used, are generally concealed, or they would cease to deserve the name of art: and all these qualities are directed to the support of causes alone. But by polish and embellishment of style, the orator recommends himself to his auditors in his proper character; in his other efforts he courts the approbation of the learned, in this the applause of the multitude. Cicero, in pleading the cause of Cornelius, fought with arms that were not only stout, but dazzling; nor would he merely by instructing the judge, or by speaking to the purpose and in pure Latin and with perspicuity, have caused the Roman people to testify their admiration of him not only by acclamations, but even tumults of applause. It was the sublimity, magnificence, splendor, and dignity of his eloquence, which drew forth that thunder of approbation. No such extraordinary commendation would have attended on the speaker if his speech had been of an everyday character, and similar to ordinary speeches. I even believe that his audience were insensible of what they were doing; and that they gave their applause neither voluntarily nor with any exercise of judgment, but that, being carried away by enthusiasm, and unconscious of the place in which they stood, they burst forth instinctively into such transports of delight.  1
  But this grace of style may contribute in no small degree to the success of a cause, for those who listen with pleasure are both more attentive and more ready to believe: they are very frequently captivated with pleasure, and sometimes hurried away in admiration. Thus the glitter of a sword strikes something of terror into the eyes; and thunder-storms themselves would not alarm us so much as they do if it were their force only, and not also their flame, that was dreaded. Cicero, accordingly, in one of his letters to Brutus, makes with good reason the following remark: “That eloquence which excites no admiration, I account as nothing.” Aristotle also thinks that to excite admiration should be one of our greatest objects.  2
  But let the embellishment of our style (for I will repeat what I said) be manly, noble, and chaste; let it not affect effeminate delicacy, or a complexion counterfeited by paint, but let it glow with genuine health and vigor. Such is the justice of this rule, that though, in ornament, vices closely border on virtues, yet those who adopt what is vicious disguise it with the name of some virtue. Let no one of those, therefore, who indulge in a vicious style, say that I am an enemy to those who speak with good taste. I do not deny that judicious embellishment is an excellence, but I do not allow that excellence to them. Should I think a piece of land better cultivated, in which the owner should show me lilies, and violets, and anemones, and fountains playing, than one in which there is a plentiful harvest, or vines laden with grapes? Should I prefer barren plane-trees, or clipped myrtles, to elms embraced with vines, and fruitful olive-trees? The rich may have such unproductive gratifications; but what would they be if they had nothing else?  3
  Shall not beauty, then, it may be asked, be regarded in the planting of fruit-trees? Undoubtedly: I would arrange my trees in a certain order, and observe regular intervals between them. What is more beautiful than the well-known quincunx, which, in whatever direction you view it, presents straight lines? But a regular arrangement of trees is of advantage to their growth, as each of them then attracts an equal portion of the juices of the soil. The tops of my olive, that rise too high, I shall lop off with my knife; it will spread itself more gracefully in a round form, and will at the same time produce fruit from more branches. The horse that has thin flanks is thought handsomer than one of a different shape, and is also more swift. The athlete, whose muscles have been developed by exercise, is pleasing to the sight, and is so much the better prepared for the combat. True beauty is never separate from utility. But to perceive this requires but a moderate portion of sagacity.  4
  What is of more importance to be observed, is, that the graceful dress of our thoughts is still more becoming when varied with the nature of the subject. Recurring to our first division, we may remark that the same kind of embellishment will not be alike suitable for demonstrative, deliberative, and judicial topics. The first of these three kinds, adapted only for display, has no object but the pleasure of the audience; and it accordingly discloses all the resources of art, and all the pomp of language: it is not intended to steal into the mind, or to secure a victory, but strives only to gain applause and honor. Whatever, therefore, may be attractive in conception, elegant in expression, pleasing in figures, rich in metaphor, or polished in composition, the orator—like a dealer in eloquence, as it were—will lay before his audience for them to inspect, and almost to handle; for his success entirely concerns his reputation, and not his cause. But when a serious affair is in question, and there is a contest in real earnest, anxiety for mere applause should be an orator’s last concern. Indeed, no speaker should be very solicitous about his words where important interests are involved. I do not mean to say that no ornaments of dress should be bestowed on such subjects, but that they should be as it were more close-fitting and severe, and thus display themselves less; and they should be, above all, well adapted to the subject. In deliberations the Senate expects something more elevated, the people something more spirited; and in judicial pleadings, public and capital causes require a more exact style than ordinary: but as for private causes, and disputes about small sums, which are of frequent occurrence,—simple language, the very reverse of that which is studied, will be far more suitable for them. Would not a speaker be ashamed to seek the recovery of a petty loan in elaborate periods? or to display violent feeling in speaking of a gutter? Or to perspire over a suit about taking back a slave?  5
  But let us pursue our subject; and as the embellishment, as well as the perspicuity of language, depends either on the choice of single words, or on the combination of several together, let us consider what care they require separately, and what in conjunction. Though it has been justly said that perspicuity is better promoted by proper words, and embellishment by such as are metaphorical, we should feel certain, at the same time, that whatever is improper cannot embellish. But as several words often signify the same thing (and are called synonyms), some of those words will be more becoming, or sublime, or elegant, or pleasing, or of better sound, than others; for as syllables formed of the better sounding letters are clearer, so words formed of such syllables are more melodious; and the fuller the sound of a word, the more agreeable it is to the ear; and what the junction of syllables effects, the junction of words effects also, proving that some words sound better in combination than others.  6
  But words are to be variously used. To subjects of a repulsive character, words that are harsh in sound are the more suitable. In general, however, the best words, considered singly, are such as have the fullest or most agreeable sound. Elegant, too, are always to be preferred to coarse words; and for mean ones there is no place in polished style. Such as are of a striking or elevated character are to be estimated according to their suitableness to our subject. That which appears sublime on one occasion, may seem tumid on another; and what appears mean when applied to a lofty subject, may adapt itself excellently to one of an inferior nature. In an elevated style a low word is noticeable and indeed a blemish; and in like manner a grand or splendid word is unsuited to a plain style, and is in bad taste, as being like a tumor on a smooth surface.  7
 
 
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