Category Archives: Oratory

Item of the Day: Oration… to Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy (1775)

Full Title: An Oration Delivered March 6, 1775, At the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston; To Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March, 1770.  By Dr. Joseph Warren.  Newport, Rhode Island: Reprinted and Sold by S. Southwick, in Queen Steet, 1775.

My Ever Honored Fellow-Citizens,

It is not without the most humiliating conviction of my want of ability that I now appear before you: But the sense I have of the obligation I am under to obey the calls of my country at all times, together with an animating recollection of your indulgence exhibited upon so many occasions, has induced me once more, undeserving as I am, to throw myself upon that candour which looks with kindness on the feeblest efforts of an honest mind.

You will not now expect elegance, the learning, the fire, the enrapturing strains of eloquence which charmed you when a Lovell, a Church, or a Hancock spake; but you will permit me to stay that with a sincerity, equal to their’s [sic], I mourn over my bleeding country: With them I weep at her distress, and with them deeply resent the many injuries she has received from the hands of cruel and unreasonable men.

That personal freedom is the natural right of every man; and that property or an exclusive right to dispose of what he has honestly acquired by his own labor, necessarily arising therefrom, are truths which common sense has placed beyond the reach of contradiction.  And no man or body of men can, without being guilty of flagrant injustice, claim a right to dispose of the persons or acquisitions of any other man, or body of men, unless it can be proved that such a right has arisen from some compact between the parties in which it has been explicitly and freely granted.

If I may be indulged in taking a retrospective view of the first settlement of our country, it will be easy to determine with what degree of justice the late parliament of Great-Britain have assumed the powers of giving away that property  which the Americans have earned by their labor. 

Our fathers, having nobly resolved never to wear the yoke of despotism, and seeing the European world, through indolence and cowardice, falling a prey to tyranny; bravely threw themselves upon the bosom of the ocean; determined to find a place in which they might enjoy the freedom, or perish in the glorious attempt.  Approving Heaven beheld the favourite ark dancing upon the waves, and graciously preserved it until the chosen families were brought in safety to these western regions.  They found the land swarming with savages, who threatened death with every kind of torture.  But savages, and death with torture, were far less terrible than slavery:—Nothing was so much the object of their abhorrence as a tyrant’s power:—They knew that it was more safe to dwell with man in his more unpolished state than in a country where arbitrary power prevails.  Even anarchy itself, that bugbear held up by the tools of power (though truly to be deprecated) is infinitely less dangerous to mankind than arbitrary governmentAnarchy can be but of short duration; for when men are at liberty to pursue that course which is most conducive to their own happiness, they will soon come into it, and from the rudest state of nature, order and good government must soon arise.  But tyranny, when once established, entails its curse on a nation to the latest period of time; unless some daring genius, inspired by Heaven, shall unappalled by danger, bravely form and execute the arduous design of restoring liberty and life to his enslaved, murdered country.

The tools of power in every age have racked their inventions to justify the FEW in sporting with the happiness of the MANY; and having found their sophistry too weak, to hold mankind in bondage, have impiously dared to force religion, the daughter of the king of Heaven, to become a prostitute in the service of Hell.  They taught that princes, honored with the name of christian, might bid defiance to the founder of their faith, might pillage pagan countries and deluge them with blood, only because they boasted themselves to be the disciples of that teacher who strictly charged his followers to do to others as they would that others should do unto them.   



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Filed under 1770's, American Revolution, Colonial America, Eighteenth century, Liberty, Oratory, Posted by Matthew Williams, Religion, Revolution

Item of the Day: Two Discourses on the Commencement of the New Year and the Completion of the Eighteenth Century (1801)

Full Title: Two Discourses, I. On the Commencement of a New Year; II. On the Completion of The Eighteenth Century; Delivered in New Haven: The former, January 4th, The latter, January 11th, 1801. By James Dana. New Haven : Printed by William W. Morse, 1801.




One generation passeth awary, and another generation cometh: But the earth abideth for ever.

WE have taken a concise view of the vicissitudes of thw world, and vanity of human pursuits. We have discoursed on the faithfulness of God as a foundation of trust, while terrestrial expectations are vain.

As further exemplification of the general subject, the commencement of a new CENTURY leads to a rehearsal of some distinguished events of the last. With this rehearsal a few seasonable reflections will be interspersed, and other subjoined as the conclusion of the discourse.

INTRODUCTORY to my design, it may not be amiss to remark, that the progress of science favored the cause of the reformation, which commenced under Luther 1517. Later improvements have been as the shining light, which shineth more and more. Whatever modifications the Romish faith has undergone in modern times; however the cruelty, impiety and profigacy of Rome may have faded, from well known causes, her religion is substantially the same as in the darkest ages. The reformers, warned of God, renounced her communion, at a time when the pontiff was in all his glory. The powers who agreed to lay their honor and wealth at his feet, have agreed to hate him, and strip him of his dominions. The nation, whose monarch first recognized him as a temporal prince, and placed the triple crown upon his head, with the cession of three kingdoms, is now the most forward instrument in his desolation. He has been invested in Rome itself, sent into banishment, and the city delivered to spoil.

Had the principles of the reformation and of liberty been understood, either in the old or new world, through the greater part of the 17th century, its history would not have been stained with perfection for the exercise of the unalienable right of private judgment; or with judiciary trials and decisions in violation of the principles of evidence. Our ancestors, persecuted in their native country, sought a path through the sea, to a land that was not sown, that they might freely worship God according to their own conscience. The spirit of popery was retained for a consderable time after its other errors were abjured. As good men may not know what spirit they are of, we do not pretend but our ancestors retained a portion of the error and bigory, which, at that day, adhered to all protestant communions. any instances of exterminating zeal in them, which were not according to knowledge, were no other than dishonored the English church, which has been considered as the bulwark of reformation. . . .


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Filed under 1800's, Eighteenth century, Oratory, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Dr. Trumbull’s Discourse on the Death of General Washington (1800)

Full Title: The Majesty and Mortality of created Gods Illustrated and Improved. A Funeral Discourse, Delivered at North-Haven, December 29, 1799. On the Death of George Washington; who died December 14, 1799. By Benjamin Trumbull. New Haven: Printed by Read & Morse, 1800.


The MAJESTY and MORTALITY of created GODS.


THAT portion of Scripture which shall lead our meditations, while we most sensibly participate in the general sorrow of our afflicted country, and pay our mournful tribute of respect to the departed Hero and Father of the American States, is written in the

LXXXII PSALM, 6 AND 7th verses.

I have said, Ye are Gods: and all of you are children of the Most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

HOWEVER bright the sun may rise, however useful and cheering he may be in his meridian course, yet, at the appointed hour, he will most certainly set. His cheering light and genial influence will be withdrawn. In like manner men of the greatest eminence, the most distinguished by genius, by mental improvement, by exalted stations and public usefulness, to whatever degree they have illuminated, gladdened and benefited the several ages and nations in which they have flourished, after a short and precarious day, have set in the midnight gloom of death. Their usefulness has soon terminated, and they lie in the dark regions of the dead. Short is the whole term from the morning of life to the sad evening of death. The author of our nature has made our days as an hand breadth and our age as nothing before him. The term of public life and usefulness is still much shorter. How soon is the arm, which, with manly vigor swayed the sceptre, wielded the sword of justice and of war, enervated with years? How soon does the strongest memory fail and the greatest mental powers decline with age? Nay, how often are men of the most distinguished characters arrested by the hand of death, before the approach of old age? In the glory of life, in the midst of usefulness they vanish, like the vapor, and appear no more. They die suddenly, die in every period of life and usefulness, and by all the diseases, casualities and misfortunes by which other men die. They exhibit to thw world the most melancholy and striking evidence, That every man at his best state is altogether vanity.

Of this it is the design of the text to admonish all men, and especially all the great and honorable among them: That notwithstanding the importance and elevation of their character they are mortal. The text indeed concedes, that some men are highly exalted above others. Magistrates are called by the awful name of Gods, and all of them children of the MOST HIGH, on the account of their office; the authority with which they are invested, the work to which they are appointed, and the majesty which GOD hath put upon them. But to check human vanity, make them better men, and more extensively useful, he who maketh them Gods, affirms also, That they shall die like men. His words not only assert their mortality, but imply the great importance and utility of their knowledge of it, and of their frequently and seriously contemplating upon it, and on their responsibility to a tribunal higher than their own. . . .


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Filed under 1800's, Oratory, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Sermons, Washington

Item of the Day: Timothy Dwight’s Discourse on the Character of George Washington (1800)

Full Title: A Discourse Delivered at New-Haven, Feb. 22, 1800; On the Character of George Washington, Esq. at the Request of the Citizens. By Timothy Dwight . . . New-Haven: Printed by Thomas Green and Son, 1800.

. . . GENERAL WASHINGTON  was great, not be means of that brilliancy of mind, often appropriately termed genius, and usually coveted for ourselves, and our children; and almost as usually attended with qualities, which preclude wisdom, and depreciate or forbid worth; but by a constitutional character more happily formed. His mind was indeed inventive, and full of resources; but his energy appears to have been originally directed to that which is practical and useful, and not to that which is shewy and specious. His judgment was clear and intuitive beyond that of most who have lived, and seemed instinctively to discern the proper answer to the celebrated Roman question: Cui bono erit? To this his incessant attention, and unweared observation, which nothing, whether great or minute, escaped, doubtless contributed in a high degree. What he observed he treasured up, and thus added daily to his stock of useful knowledge. Hence, although his early education was in a degree confined, his mind became possessed of extensive, various, and exact information. Perhaps there never was a mind, on which theoretical speculations had less influence, and the decisions of common sense more.

At the same time, no man ever more earnestly or uniformly sought advice, or regarded it, when given, with more critical attention. The opinions of friends and enemies, of those who abetted, and of those who opposed, his own system, he explored and secured alike. His own opinions, also, he submitted to his proper counsellours, and often to others; with a demand, that they should be sifted, and exposed, without any tenderness to them because they were his; insisting, that they should be considered as opinions merely, and, as such, should be subjected to the freest and most severe investigation.

When any measure of importance was to be acted on, he delayed the formation of his judgment until the last moment; that he might secure to himself, alway [sic], the benefit of every hint, opinion, and circumstance, which might contribute either to confirm, or to change, his decision. Hence, probably, it is a great measure arose, that he was so rarely committed; and that his decisions have so rarely produced regret, and have been so clearly justified both by their consequences and the judgment of mankind.

With this preparation, he formed a judgment finally and wholly his own; and although no man was ever more anxious before a measure was adopted, probably no man was ever less anxious afterward. He had done his duty, and left the issue to Providence . . .

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Filed under 1800's, Oratory, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Sermons, Washington

Item of the Day: First Philippic Oration of Demosthenes (1757)

Full Title: Orations of Demosthenes, Translated by the Rev. Mr. Francis, with Critical and Historical Notes. Vol. I. London: Printed for A. Millar in the Strand, MDCCLVII.





THE Rapidity of his Conquests, the numerous Forces he commanded, and his own enterprising Spirit, had long since made Philip of Macedon an Object of much Apprehension to the Athenians. He had lately taken several Tracian Cities; Confederates and Allies of Athens. The Year before this Oration, he had totally routed the Phocaens, and this present Year had attempted to march into Phoci, through the Pass of Thermopylae. The Athenians opposed him, and with Success. They now deliberate upon their Conduct towards him. Demosthenes advises an immediate Declaration of War. Shews the Necessity of such a Measure, both from Motives of Interest and Glory. Lays down a Plan for military Operations. Paints the Dangers of the Republic in the strongest Colours. Flatters and reproaches. Terrifies and encourages; for while he presents Philip as truly formidable, he represents him indebted for the Power, which made him thus formidable, only to the Indolence and Inactivity of the Athenians.

Our Author pronounced this Oration in the first year of the hundred and seventh Olympiad, when he was nine and twenty Years of Age. [Rev. Mr. Francis]


IF any new Affair, O Men of Athens, were appointed for your Debates, restraining my Impatience,  until the greatest Part of those, who are authorised by Custom, had laid before you their Opinions, I had continued silent, if the Measures they proposed had pleased me; if otherwise, I would then have endeavoured to speak my own Sentiments. But since the same Conjunctures, upon which they have often spoken are still the Subject of your Deliberations, I think, I may with Reason expect to be forgiven, though I rise before them in this Debate. For if they had ever given you that salutary Advice, your Affairs, required, there could be no Neccessity for your present Counsils.

LET it be therefore our first Resolution, O men of Athens, not to despair of our present Situation, however totally distressed, since even the worst Circumstance in your past Conduct is now become the best Foundation for your future Hopes. What Circumstance? That your never having acted in any single Instance, as you ought, hath occasioned your Misfortunes; for if you had constantly pursued the Measures necessary for your Welfare, and still the Commonwealth had continued thus distress, there could not even an Hope remain of its ever hereafter being a happier situation.

YOU should next with Confidence recollect, both what you have heard from others, and what you may remember you yourselves have seen, how formidable a Power the Lacedaemonians not long since possessed, and how generously, how consistently with  the Dignity of your Character, you then acted; not in any one Partiuclar unworthy of the Republic, but supporting, in Defence of the common Rights of Greece, the whole Weight of the War against them. Why do I mention these Instances? That you may be convinced, O Men of Athens, that nothing is capable of alarming you, while you are attentive to your Interests; nothing, while you are thus thoughtlessly negligent, will succeed as you desire. As Examples of this Truth, consider the Power of the Cadedaemonians, which you subdued by paying a just Attention to your Affairs; consider the Insolence of this Man, by which you are now alarmed, only through your own exceeding Indolence.

YET whoever reflects upon the numerous Forces he commands; upon all the Places he hath wrested from the Republic, and then concludes, that Philip is not without Difficulty to be conquered, indeed concludes justly. Let him reflect, however, that we, O Men of Athens, were formerly Masters of Pydna, Potidaea, Methone, with all that large Extent of Country round them, upon the very Frontiers of Macedonia; that many of the Nations, now in Confederacy with him, were once governed by their own Laws; were absolutely free, and then greatly preferred your Alliance to that of Philip. Had Philip therefore at that Time entertained an Opinion, that it would be dangerous to enter into a War with the Athenians, possessed of Fortresses, from which they might make Incursions into Macedonia, while he himself was wholly destitute of Allies, he never had attempted what he hath since executed; he had never gained so formidable a Strength. But he was wisely conscious, O Men of Athens, that all these Countries were placed, as common Prize of War, between the contending Parties; that in the very Nature of Things, to the Present belong the Possession of the Absent; to them, who are willing to support the Labour, attempt the Danger, to them belong the Treasures of the Indolent. Acting upon this Principle, he universally subdues and takes Possession; sometimes by Right of Conquest; sometimes, under the Name of Friendship and Alliance. For all Mankind with Chearfulness [sic] enter into Alliances, and engage their whole Attention to those, whom they behold ready and resolute to act in support of their proper Interests.

IF, therfore, you could even now resolve to form your Conduct upon these Maxims, which you have never yet regarded; if every Man, according to his Duty, and in Proportion to his Ablilities, would render himself useful to the Republic, and without disguising or concealing those Ablilities, would act with Vigour and Alacrity; the rich, by a voluntry Contribution of his Riches; the young, by enlisting in the Army; or, at once, and simply to express myself, if you resolve to be Masters of your own Fortune; if every single Citizen will no longer expect, while he himself does absolutely nothing, that his Neighbour will do every Thing for him, then shall you preserve, if such the Will of Jupiter, what you now possess; recover what you have lost by your Inactivity, and chastise this Macedonian. For do not imagine, his present Success is fixed and immortal, as if he were a God. There are, even among those, who seem in strictest Amity with him, who hate, who fear, O Men of Athens, who envy him. Every Passion, incident to the rest of Mankind, you ought assuredly to believe inhabits the Bosoms of his present Allies. But all these Passions are suppressed by their not having whither to fly for Refuge and Protection, through your Indolence, your Dejection of Spirit, which, I pronounce, must be now laid aside for ever. For behold, to what Excess of Arrogance this Man proceeds, who neither gives you the Choice of Peace or War; who threatens, and, as it is reported, talks of you with utmost Insolence; who not contented with the Possession of what he hath blasted with the Lightnings of is War, perpetually throws abroad his Toils, and having on every side inclosed us, sitting here, and indolently forming some future Schemes of Conguest, now stalks around his Prey.

WHEN therefore, O Men of Athens, when will you act, as your Glory, your Interest demands? When some new Event shall happen? When, in the Name of Jupiter! some strong Necessity shall compel you? What then shall we deem our present Circumstances? In my Judgement, the strongest Necessity to a free People, is a Dishonour attending their public Measures. Or, tell me, do you purpose, perpetually wandering in the Market-place, to ask each other, “Is any Thing new reported?” Can any Thing new, than a Man of Macedon, conquering the Athenians, and directing at his Pleasure the Affairs of Greece? “Is Philip dead? Not yet, by Jupiter, but extremely weakened by Sickness.” His Sickness, or his Death, of what Importance to you? Should any Accident happen to this Philip, you yourselves would instantly create another, if such, as at present your Attention to your Affairs. For not so much by his own proper Strength has he grown to this exceeding Greatness, as by your Indolence. However, should some Accident really happen to him; should Fortune be so far propitious to us (she, who is always more attentive in her Concern for us, than we are for ouselves, and may she one Day perfect this her own Work) be assured, if you were near his Dominions, and ready to advance upon the general Disorder of his Affairs, you might dispose of every Thing according to your Pleasure. But in your present Disposition should some favourable Conjucture even deliver up Amphipolis to you, thus fluctuating in your Operations and your Councils, you could not receive the least Benefit from the Possession, with Regard to Macedonia. . . .


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Filed under 1750's, Ancient Greece, Greek/Roman Translations, Oratory, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Orations of Demosthenes Translated by Mr. Francis (1757)

Full Title: Orations of Demosthenes, Translated by the Rev. Mr. Francis, with Critical and Historical Notes. Vol. I. London: Printed for A. Millar in the Strand, MDCCLVII.




PERHAPS, never any one Form of Government appeard among Mankind, of which there was not some Resemblance among the States of Greece. An Argument of much Probability, that the Laws and Institutions of different Countries are generally founded upon the original Manners and Genius of their People. However, it may be not unentertaining, certainly not unuseful, to give a general Idea of their political History: the Principles, upon which their various Constitutions of Government were formed, and the Revolutions, to which they were liable, by the Nature of those Principles. Yet as a Knowledge of the Polity of Athens will be more necessary, than any other, with Regard to the follwoing Orations, we shall there fix our principal Attention.

In the earliest Period of their History, the Grecians are in general represented as Wanderers and Vagabonds, perhaps not unlike the Indians of America. They supported this miserable Life by Rapine and Plunder. The Sea-Coasts were infested with Pryracies, the inland Country with Robberies. Their Wars, however, were of short Continuance, for they had not yet learned, that to slaughter and enslave their Fellow-Creatures could be disquised with the Names of Conquest and Ambition.

But while Thessaly, Peloponnesus and the more fertile Parts of Greece were laid waste with perpetual Ravages and Depredations, the People of Attica enjoyed Tranquility and Security, for which they were indebted to the Barrenness of their Country. As Foreigners and Strangers very seldom resided among them, the original Inhabitants were more unmixed, and the Descent of Families more exactly preserved. From hence, perhaps, their best Claim to the Vanity of being created with the Sun, and Natives of the Soil. Undoubtedly, its natural Sterility obliged them to the Labours of Agriculture, with which the mechanical Arts have a necessary Connexion. These Arts exercised, improved, and enlarged their Understandings. The Passions began to unfold themselves in artifical Wants. A kind of Luxury, frugal indeed and temperate, introduced among them the first Sciences, that civilise Mankind. Industry now produced Ideas of Property; Laws were enacted for its Preservation, and the Possessors united in mutal Defence of each other, when invaded by any foreign Enemy.

This Account of Athenians, without any Compliment to their superior Genius, will support the Assertions of their Historians, who assure us, that this People first threw off the universal Barbarism of their Country. They formed themselves, probably under the parental Authority, into little Communities. These afterwards extended into Villages, which had, each of them, its own Magistrates and Laws, and Forms of Government, peculiar to itself and independent. In any common Danger or Invasion, the Man of supposed greatest Ablities and Integrity was chosen by general Consent, and intrusted, during the War, with whatever Power appeared necessary for the public Safety.

From hence their first Ideas of regal Authority. But their Kings were rather Generals in War, than Magistrates in Peace, until the Credit and Influence, gained in their military Character, by Degrees enlarged their Authority, and extended it to the civil Administration. They reigned, however, in Consciousness of having been promoted by the Affection and Esteem of their People. Whatever Prerogatives were annexd to their high Office were exercised with a Temper, which seemed to acknowledge, that Liberty can never, without apparent Absurdity, allow any Power to contradict or dispense with the Laws that were made for its Preservation.

In other Countries, Liberty rose occasionally from the abuse of Authority delegated to the Magistrate; from Tyranny, from Revolutions, in which the Rights of Mankind were successfully asserted. That of the Athenians was really, and without a Metaphor, a Native of the Soil. It sprung like their other Blessings, itself the greatest of all Blessings, from the Barrenness of their Lands. The Fertility of a Country is a Temptation to the Ambition and Avarice of its Neighbours. The Plains, in which alone this Fertility must exist, are open to their Incursions. The Inhabitants, enervated by Luxury, are easily conquered; they submit, and are enslaved. Thus by Folly of Mankind, the Countries, which Nature intended for our Happiness, are made the Scenes of Misery and Devastation. On the contrary, the Mountain-Nymph, sweet Liberty, if we may be permitted to use the Language of Poetry, and Milton, chooses to fix her Residence in barren, uncultivated Sands, or Mountains inaccessible to her Enemies, like those of Attica. Exercised by a necessary Industry, and inured to Labour, her People are already formed to the Fatigues of War; they are conscious of their own Strength; they feel the Courage, inspired by Independece, and as Liberty is their sole Good, the Preservation of it is the sole Object of their Attention.

To these Reflexions upon their first Situation, let us add a Zeal for Religion, and we shall finish the Character of the Athenians during this Period of their History. Cecrops, the Founder of Athens, was an Aegyptian, and he probably carried with him into Greece the Superstitions of his Country. He dedicated his new City to Minerva, and by the fabulous Contest between her and Neptune for the Honour of partronizing it, we may believe, that all the Influences of Religion were employed in the Dedication. The Athenians now saw themselves collected into one Body, and from thence conceived a formidable Idea of their own Strength. They enjoyed the Blessings of Society; grew civilized in their Manners, and cultivated the Arts and Sciences under a Spirit of Liberty best fitted to improve them, while all the other Nations of Greece continued in their original Barbarism. From this Period, therefore, we may date the high Ideas they ever afterwards entertained of their own superior Genius and Abilities, with that extravagant Opinion, which they maintained with so much Obstinacy, that they were destined to be the future Conquerors of the World, and that those Countries alone, where neither Corn, or Vines, or Olives grew, should be the Boundaries of their Empire.They imagined themselves the chosen, peculiar People of the Goddess, whose Name they had assumed; who presided over the Arts of Peace, and was worshippped as the Patroness of all military Virtues. . . .



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Filed under 1750's, Ancient Greece, Greek/Roman Translations, History, Oratory, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Gordon’s Sallust (1744)

Full Title:

The Works of Sallust, Translated into English. With Political Discourses upon that Author. To which is added, a Translation of Cicero’s Four Orations Against Catiline. [Trans. T. Gordon.] Printed in London for T. Woodward, and J. Peele, sold by J. Osborn at the Golden Bell in Pater-noster Row, 1744.

From the translator’s Introduction:

An able Writer not only gives, but enforces, his own Meaning: His Manner is as significant as his Words, and therefore becomes Part of his Sentiments. It is thus in Speaking as well as Writing: The liveliest Speech in the World, rehearsed by a heavy Man, will sound heavily. What moved, and fired, and charmed the Audience, out of one Mouth, would put them to Sleep out of another. An Oration of Demosthenes, repeated like a Lease by a Clerk; or one of Cicero‘s, pronounced by a Pedant; instead of Rage and Terror, would rouse Laughter and Impatience.

Who can discover the Ardour and Vivacity of Horace, in the Version of Monsieur D’Acier? Yet D’Acier knew, as well as any Man, the Meaning of every Word in Horace, with all his Figures, Allusions, and References.

Plutarch, the entertaining judicious Plutarch, is a dry Writer, as translated by the same D’Acier, though accurately translated: Plutarch, translated by Amyot, is an entertaining, a pleasing Author: Yet, in Amyot‘s Translation, there are numberless Mistakes: A French Critic, and a very learned Man, Monsieur Meziriac, reckons them at Two thousand, all very gross ones. D’Acier‘s is an exact Translation of Plutarch‘s Words: Amyot is a Copy of Plutarch himself; resembles his Author, and writes as well. Amyot is a Genius: D’Acier is a learned Man.

I am much concerned to see so learned and useful a Writer as Plutarch, make so ill a Figure in English: Most of his Lives are poorly Englished; nor is bad Language the worst Fault: They are full of egregious Blunders. Several of them are ill translated from Amyot, by such as understood not French. Many of the instructive Pieces, called his Morals, have fared as ill. A good Translation of all his Works would be a valuable Performance.

Who would not rather read a Discourse of Archbiship Tillotson‘s upon any ordinary Subject, though ever so full of Inaccuracies, than a learned Dissertation of the correct Mr. Thomas Hearn on the best Subject?

I doubt no Work of Genius can be well translated, but by an Author of Genius; and therefore, there can never be many tolerable Translations in the World. Cicero, in translating the noblest Greek Writers, has excelled them all: Cicero was a good Translator, because he was a great Genius.

Terence is only a Translator; but he had fine Taste, Politeness, and Parts, and a Genius for Comedy and genteel Conversation. This was his great Qualification: His Knowlege of the two Languages only helped him to shew it. He might have had great Skill in both, without success, or Fame, as a Comic Poet. Terence translated Comedy with Applause, becasue he had a fine Genius for Comedy. He himself is shamefully travestied by Sir Roger L’Estrange, and Dr. Echard, and much gross Ribaldry fathered upon so pure and polite a Writer.

Mr. Hobbes has translated the Historian Thucydides well; for Mr. Hobbes had equal Talents for History: But he has ill translated Homer, though he well understood Homer; for he had not equal Talents for Poetry. Mr. Dryden, with all his Faults, and many unwarrantable Freedoms, has mad a fine Translation of Virgil, because he was as great a Poet as Virgil; indeed, a great and various Poet: We have Poems of his, such as, I think, Virgil could not write; one Ode particularly, equal, if not superior, to any in Antiquity.

Many of the Speeches and brightest Passages in Lucan, are rendered by Mr. Row with an equal Force, in a Language so unequal, because he had a Genius as warm and poetical as Lucan; though Lucan, with infinite Sinkings, has infinite Elevation, and many glorious Lines.

I have often wished, that such a fine Genius as Dr. Burnet of the Charter-house, had translated Livy. He had grave and grand Conceptions, with harmonious flowing Periods, equal to those of the great Roman Historian. Sir Walter Raleigh would have still done it better, as he was a wonderful Master of such Subjects, and wonderfully qualified to represent them. Many Parts of his History of the World are hardly to be matched, never to be exceeded; particularly his Relation of the second Punic War; where he recounts the Conduct of the Roman and Carthaginian Commonwealths, and of their several Commanders, especially of Hannibal, with surprising Capacity, Clearness, and Force.

There occurs to me one Passage out of the English Livy, which will shew what Justice we have done that noble and elegant Writer. A great Officer says to a Roman General in the Field, (I think he calls him Sir, too) ‘Whilst you stand Shilly-shally here, as a Man may say, the Enemy will tread upon your Toes.’ Could a Groom of that General have used meaner Language to a Fellow Groom? I give the Passage upon Memory—-The Words are either Shilly-shally, or with your Hands in your Pockets, or both.

A Writer of Genius, translated by one who has none, or a mean one, will appear meanly. Even the Meaning of every Word may be conveyed, yet the Meaning of the Writer missed or mangled. It is in Translating, as in Painting: Where the Air, the Spirit, and Dignity of the Original are wanting, Resemblance is wanting. To be able to translate, a Man must be able to do something like what he translates.

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Filed under 1740's, Greek/Roman Translations, Oratory, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Roman Empire

Item of the Day: Cobden’s Sermon on Chastity (1749)

Printed in:

Sylvanus Urban, Gent., Editor. The Gentleman’s Magazine for March 1749. Printed by Edward Cave. Volume 19, 1750.

EXTRACT from a famed Sermon, preached before the King at St James‘s, on Dec. 11 1748, by Edw. Cobden, D.D. Archdeacon of London, and Chaplain in ordinary to his Majesty.

The Dr entitles his Sermon, A PERSUASIVE TO CHASTITY, and advertises the reader, that, it having given occasion to some unjust censures, he thought proper to publish it, hoping that nothing in the sentiment or expression, will be found unworthy of the sacred function of a preacher of the gospel, or of the serious attention of a christian assembly.

GEN. xxxix. 9. How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against GOD?

THESE words express the utmost abhorrence of the sin to which Joseph was tempted by his perfidious mistress; and what I intend from them, and from the example of his faithful conduct, is, a dissuasive from the sins of immodesty; which are risen, perhaps, to a greater height, and spread to a wider extent than was ever known in former ages.

It would not become me to mention some of those monstrous and unnatural obscenities with which our land hath been stained: they would be offensive, indeed, to the ears of a modest heathen. I shall therefore only insist on two, which are plainly and frequently condemned in scripture; nor any where more expressly than in these words: Whoremongers and adulterers GOD will judge. Heb. xiii. 4.

The heinous guilt and destructive consequences of adultery, appear so shocking at first sight, even to reason, unassisted by revelation, that, however frequent the commission of it may be, yet few, I am persuaded, are so hardened and irrational as to become advocates for it. But single persons are too apt to imagine that all obligations of chastity are confined to the marriage vow. —-Thus Abimelech thought it no crime to take Sarah for his concubine, when he imagined she was espoused to no other person: but no sooner was he informed of her being Abraham‘s wife, than he rejected his first design with abhorrence and disdain. But whatever notions the heathen world might have of these matters, we, who have received the more pure and perfect law of the gospel, are sufficiently and clearly instructed to avoid impurity of every kind.

If we consider fornication with the unprejudiced eye of reason, before the passions have corrupted the judgment, I am persuaded there are few sins which people condemn more in their own breasts; which they commit at first with more reluctance and recoilings of conscience; and which, upon cool reflection, fills them with more horror and keener censures of their own conduct. And, would a man give himself leave to reflect upon the irreparable injury done to the unhappy female partner in the iniquity, it would open such a scene of misery to his view, as would be sufficient to check the most inflamed appetite of the most abandoned libertine.—Alas! that virgin innocence, which was once her comfort and her glory, which was her brightest ornament, and most valuable dowry, is lost, irrecoverably lost; and *shame, guilt and sorrow are to be her continual attendants. The person who has been the occasion of her ruin, will hardly (tho’ obliged to it in duty) deal with her upon terms of honour. And who else will venture to take her for a companion for life, and believe she can be faithful to him, after having been thus flase to herself? ‘Tis well is she does not endeavour to screen herself from censure, by the commission of a more dreaful sin in the murder of a spurious infant; and discard the bowels of a mother, to avoid the scandal of being known to be one. The best and wisest course indeed she can take, is, to endeavour to wash away the stain she has contracted, with the tears of unfeigned repentance, and to take off her reproach in the eyes of the world, by giving the regularity of her future conduct, as an evidence fo the sincerity of her contrition. Would to God this method were, after so unhappy a step, more frequently taken! but alas! it is too often far otherwise. It is to be feared the first breach of chastity will be followed with a train of others, and that she will proceed on in iniquity, till she becomes totally abandoned: a situation almost as miserable in this present life, as that which these unhappy criminals must expect in the next. There is no reflecting on so wretched an object, without the deepest compassion for her miser, as well as the utmost detestation of her guilt. For however light these afflictions may be made of in the seat of the scorner, and however the lascivious debauchee may flatter himself that there was no injury done, because there was no violence used, as she was consenting, perhaps, to her own ruin: Alas! that very consent is the sting of her afflictions: and if his brutal appetites had not effaced every sentiment of humanity in his breast, he could not think of these things without a bleeding heart. Exceeding barbarous therefore and wicked must they be, who, for the sake of gratifying a low and vile inclination, shall tempt and persuade a thoughtless young creature, in an unguarded hour, to an act which is attended with such a train of miseries, and which so evidently leads to her absolute destruction. It is to be considered likewise, that young persons are the property of their parents; and let any man who has the least remains of reason and humanity, tho’ he should be void of all principles of religion, lay his hand upon his heart, and make the case of such a parent his own. Let him consider what indignation, what anguish he himself should feel under the weight of so afflicting, so irreparable an injury. Few parents, I am persuaded, but would rather, much rather, follow their children to the grave, than see them thus forfeit their own peace an happiness, and bring such an indelible stain of infamy upon their family.

But if the sensual libertine is regardless of the afflictions of others, yet, as honour is his boast, and pleasure his pursuit, he cannot, surely, be unaffected with what concerns the dignity of his nature, and the happiness of his life. Let him consider, then, that unrestrained and criminal indugencies of this kind peculiarly enervate the body, and debase the mind, and bring him upon a level brute beasts, that have no understanding: Reason, which was intended by the gracious creator to direct and govern in the human frame, is, by these practices, enslaved to the tyranny of the most contemptible of the passions. When men are given over to vile affections, their understandings become darkened; and it is seldom that they ever again recover the proper government of themselves. The insatiable appetite still rages through all the infirmities of a distemper’d body, and is not extinguished even by old age: If indeed (which is very uncommon) they should happen to arrive at that period.

The Preacher proceeds to display the sacred obligations of matrimony, and the cruel injustice of endeavouring to break them; and shows the turpitude of uncleanness and adultery, with such elegance, that we must copy the whole, or injure his arguments.

* Of this wretched state, a most lively and striking picture is exhibited in Roderick Random, which we have here copied as a warning to one sex, and a remonstrance against t’other.

Miss Williams, who had been betray’d into a course of vice, by the fraud and cruelty of a man of pleasure, is introduced relating the story of her own misfortunes:

“I have often seen (said she) while I strolled about the streets at midnight, a number of naked wretches reduced to rags and filth, huddled together like swine, in the corner of a dark alley; some of whom, but eighteen months before, I had known the favourites of the town, rolling in affluence, and glittering in all the pomp of equipage and dress.”

—And indeed the gradation is easily conceived; the most fashionable woman of the town is as liable to contagion, as one in a much humbler sphere; she infects her admirers, her situation is publick, she is avoided, neglected, unable to support her usual appearance, which however she strives to maintain as long as possible; her credit fails, she is obliged to retrench and become a night-walker, her malady gains ground, her complexion fades, she grows nauseous to every body, finds herself reduced to a starving condition, is tempted to pick pockets, is detected, committed to Newgate, where she remains in a miserable condition, ’till she is discharged because the plaintiff will not appear to prosecute her. No body will afford her lodging, the symptoms of her distempter are grown outrageous, she sues to be admitted into an hospital, where she is cured at the expence of her nose; she is turned out naked into the streets, depends on the addresses of the canaille, is fain to allay the rage of hunger and cold with gin, degenerates into a state of brutal insensibility, rots and dies upon a dunghill.—

“Miserable wretch that I am! perhaps the same horrors are decreed for me!—”

Some strokes of this kind appear also in Tom Jones, and in Mrs Philips‘s Apology.—Indeed as this subject is capable of very high colouring, almost every writer has exercised upon it his skill in painting. However, the loose images in these pieces perhaps incite to vice more strongly than the contrast figures alarm us into virtue.

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Filed under 1740's, Oratory, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Religion

Item of the Day: Castiglione’s The Courtier (1727)

Full Title:

Il Cortegiano, or The Courtier: Written by Conte Baldassar Castiglione. And a New Version of the same into English. Together with Several of his Celebrated Pieces, as well Latin as Italian, both in Prose and Verse. To which is prefix’d, The Life of the Author. By A.P. Castiglione, of the same Family. Printed in London by W. Bowyer, 1727.

[The text appears in Italian and English in facing columns.]

From Book II.

I have often, not without Wonder, reflected, whence an Error could arise; which one would be apt to think natural to old Men, since found in so many; viz. that they almost universally applaud the Times past, and blame the present; censuring those Modes and Practices with which their younger Years were not acquainted; lamenting the Decline of Virtue, the Degeneracy of Age, the Change of all Things from bad to worse. Now it seems a most unreasonable thing, and what we cannot but be surprized at, that an advanced Age, such as from its great Experience is wont in other Matters to pass the truest, the most exact Judgment, should in this so err, as not to perceive, that if the World daily grew worse, if the Parents were generally better than their Children, we should long e’er this have arrived at the highest Pitch of Vice, at a State, a worse than which would be impossible. Yet this Error we find, not only in our own, but also in ancient Times, prevailing over Persons of the Age we speak of: As is evident from many of the ancient Writers, and particularly the Comick, who give us a better idea of humane Life than any other.

The Reason of this wrong Judgment I take to be, that our Years, as they pass, carry away with ’em many of the Comforts of Life, and particularly occasion such a Decrease of the Animal Spirits, as effects a Change in our Constitution, and renders all those Organs weak through which the Soul exerts its Operations. Whence the sweet Flowers of Delight fall at that time of Life from our Hearts, as Leaves fall from the Trees in Autumn, and instead of gay and chearful Thoughts, a Train of dark and melancholy Apprehensions possess us, our Minds discovering a Weakness great as what we find in our Bodies: All that remains of our past Pleasures, is the Remembrance of the dear Time when they were enjoy’d, which seems such to us, as if Heaven, Earth, and universal Nature, had then put on their best Array, and afforded us the Entertainment of a delightful Garden, adorn’d with all the Beauties of the Spring. Hence perhaps it were to be wish’d, that in that cold Season, when the Sun of our Life is in his Decline, we might lose at once the Sense of Pleasure and its Remembrance, and that we knew Themistocles’s Art of Forgetfulness; because the Senses of our Bodies are so easily deceived, as to mislead the Determinations of the Mind.

I cannot therefore but regard old Men as in the same Condition with them, who fixing, as they sail out of a Haven, their Eyes of the Shore, think it to move, and the Vessel they are in, to stand still: When on the contrary, the Shore, like the Time, keeps its settled State, and we in the Bark of Mortality, are each after the other carried with a brisk Gale through that stormy Sea which devours all things, nor find it ever in our Power to regain the Haven; but always toss’d by the Fury of the Winds, have our Vessel dash’d at length against a Rock and split.

That the Minds then of the aged know not a Relish of many Pleasures, is, becasue they are not proper Subjects for them. As it is with one in a Fever, to whose vitiated Palate the most delicate Wines appear insipid and disagreeable: The very same it is with those in the Decline of Life; they feel an Inclination for Pleasure, yet whatever they pursue they find tastless, flat, and quite different from what they had formerly enjoy’d, though the Nature of the Pleasure continue still the same. Disappointed thus, they grieve and lay the Fault on the Times, as if they were grown worse; never perceiving the Change to be in themselves, not the Times. On the other hand too, reflecting on the Pleasures pass’d, they reflect likewise on the Time when they enjoy’d them, and commend it as seeming to carry with it a Taste of what they felt in it when present. The Truth is, we ever entertain an Aversion to all those things which have accompanied our Uneasynesses, as we do an Affection to whatever has attended our Joys.

Hence it is that a Lover often views with Pleasure a Casement when shut, and this, because he has at some time seen his Mistress there; so likewise a Ring, a Letter, a Garden, any Place or Thing that has been a Witness to his Happiness. On the contrary, an Apartment deck’d with all that can make it gay and delightful, shall be the Abhorrence of him who has suffer’d Imprisonment, or any other Uneasiness in it. I my self have known some that could never drink out of any thing which bore a Resemblance to what they had formerly taken Physick in. For as the Casement, Ring, or Letter, recall’d to the one the dear Remembrance of what had so much delighted him, seeming a part of what had given him Pleasure: So the very Place or Vessel are regarded by the other, as bringing with them the Imprisonment or Disease. On a Foundation like this, I believe it is, that the advanced in Age applaud the past Time, and inveigh against the present.

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Filed under 1720's, Culture, Education, Modern Language Translations, Oratory, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: The Port Folio (1804)

Full Title:  The Port Folio. By Oliver Oldschool, Esq.  Vol. IV. No. 44  Philadelphia, Saturday, November 3, 1804.




It has been observed, my dear S….., that eloquence is not the sole characteristic of the American senates; and I have had abundant reason to remark, that plain sense, strong judgment, ardent patriotism, predominate in the individual states, as in the national legislature.  But that best ‘harmony of sweet sounds,’ the graceful and persuasive rhetoric, which thrills the nerves, and seizes upon the passions of the hearer, which charms, while it instructs, and seems to commiserate, even while it condemns — that must be looked for among a people, more ancient, more affluent, better defined, and more accurately defining than the unpatronised and self-taught individuals of the new hemisphere.  If these observations be strictly applicable to the senatorial rank of the country, in considering another, and more accurately distinguished class of public speaking, forensic oratory, I am led to confess this appears to have been cultivated, with an assiduity, that indulges the hope, and speaks the promise of uniting, for its possessor, the luxury of wealth, with the aristocracy of power.  In fact, this people, so tenacious of their rights, and so clear-sighted in their political jealousy, have permitted the individuals of the bench and the bar almost to monopolize the high and lucrative offices and endowments of the state, as of the national government.  Thence, in my travels through the union, courts of law and justice have become the most important objects of my research, and the inevitable subjects of my impartial criticism.  I have, indeed, marked the forensic talent of the nation, and found it of a description, wholly dissimilar to the prominent trait of senatorial dignity.  I have heard eloquence, and discovered learning in the abodes of Themis, that might have stampt a new, and more sublime, character upon the American people.  Whence, I have ceased to wonder at that influence and ascendancy, which the distinguished pre-eminence of its professors has merited and obtained.

Upon my first arrival in Boston, appearances were, to my view, greatly inauspicious.  I found a large town, apparently devoted to trade, streets narrow, crooked, and not remarkably clean; fine houses, in wretched and almost inaccessible avenues, and commodious situations, disgraced by hovels.  Such were the conspicuous features that met the first coup d’oeil.  A further introduction taught me that these ill-situated mansions were the abode of hospitality, and within those humbler hovels oppression and misery were unknown.  I recognized more of the old English whig, in the character of the Bostonians, than in any state in the union.  Tolerating, liberal, and intelligent, yet marked by strong local prejudices, and inflexible animosities, while feeling freedom, and literally claiming independence, behind his counter the shopman inquires the news and arraigns the government; and the poorest mechanic reads the Gazette, reasons upon finance, and approves, or opposes, the diminution of taxes.  Among this people, so congenial to the best portion of my own countrymen, inquiry has been forcibly awakened, and my anxious attention constantly occupied.  Finding the supreme judicial court in session, I flew thither, with the solicitude of a mind, whose appetite for the new and the curious is never gratified to satiety.  There I found talents, that were respectable, and genius, that was extraordinary; yet I must impartially acknowledge my astonishment at the general irregularity and inattention to forms that prevailed.  Boys, just admitted as practitioners, were suffered, without reprimand from the bench, to indulge the vividness of their imagination, wandering, at will, through all the pleasant paths of romance, now pompous by soaring to bombast, then sinking to the pert simile, or the misapplied anecdote.  Further, it was to be remarked of this generally respectable body, that their total inattention to the decorum of dress, and external distinction, must awaken in every foreigner some unpleasant sensations.  The judges were dressed, or rather en deshabille, in plain coats; and the apparel of the gentlemen of the bar was as diversified, as the proportions and faculties of their minds — an endless variety, from the excellent and extraordinary, to the mean and flimsy.  However the philosopher may pretend to despise mere external effects, men of the world must be sensible of their importance, as it regards the senses, and attaches to the understanding; for the ludicrous, which upon the present occasion is by no means applied, having a certain tendency to counteract respect, must, of necessity, arrest usefulness.  Thence, I approve of a costume for all public characters, and think that the sanctity of an oath would be rendered more inviolable, under greater ceremony and solemnity, in the manner of its being administered.  People without understanding and destitute of the moral principle, may be influenced by their senses, and on their impression deterred from the commission of evil — Whence, allowing mere forms to be intrinsically important, they are at least relatively good, respectable for their utility, and honourable in their observance.

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Filed under 1800's, Newspapers, Oratory, Posted by Rebecca Dresser