With each generation there comes change and with each generation there are those who look back at their elders as being rather antiquated. Changes within the generations are often parallel with technological advancements, relegating the elders into the unintentional but often considered outdated group. As change has ambushed the populations of the world so have many of the once heralded skills that have now been relegated as something one either does not partake in or “picks up” as they go along…such is the art of “eloquence”. Ahhh, a term that presently has been modified to mean something other than its original connotation, “a skillful way with words.”
There was once a time when the fine art of speaking, oration, was eloquence; when writing was eloquence, and those who attributed their time and learning to “eloquence” were looked upon with great regard. Yet rarely do we hear speakers of such finesse that we would call he or she an orator, and rarely in our day’s occurrences do we read anything which could be identified with such a title as eloquence, for with its meaning too has its execution been diminished.
So, for those who yearn for eloquence they will have to look back in time for certainly in the sound bites of today’s world, your “eloquent writing” would be snipped before you even got started …for after all… 140 characters is all you are allocated in a “tweet”!
Today’s blog takes us into the 1700s with the esteemed thinker: David Hume (1711-1776)born in Edinburgh, he was a Scottish philosopher , historian, economist, and recognized by contemporary philosophers as precursor to cognitive science. He was considered a skeptic regarding philosophy and relentless critic of religion and metaphysics. Although best known for his Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and six volumes on The History of England (1754 -1762), Hume made two other major lasting contributions to economics. One is his idea that economic freedom is necessary condition for political freedom. The second is his assertion that “you cannot deduce ought from is”—that is, value judgments cannot be made purely on the basis of facts.
I now bring you the words of Mr. Hume who will expound further about “eloquence” and which was eloquently snipped from his essay, so aptly titled “Eloquence” (1742).
“…in many respects, of an opposite character to the ancient; and that, if we be superior in philosophy, we are still, notwithstanding all our refinements, much inferior in eloquence…In enumerating the great men, who have done honour to our country, we exult in our poets and philosophers; but what orators are ever mentioned? Or where are the monuments of their genius to be met with? There are found, indeed, in our histories, the names of several, who directed the resolutions of our parliament: But neither themselves nor others have taken the pains to preserve their speeches; and the authority, which they possessed, seems to have been owing to their experience, wisdom, or power, more than to their talents for oratory. At present, there are above half a dozen speakers in the two houses, who, in the judgment of the public, have reached very near the same pitch of eloquence; and no man pretends to give any one the preference above the rest. This seems to me a certain proof, that none of them have attained much beyond a mediocrity in their art, and that the species of eloquence, which they aspire to, gives no exercise to the sublimer faculties of the mind, but may be reached by ordinary talents and a slight application….
One is somewhat at a loss to what cause we may ascribe so sensible a decline of eloquence in later ages. The genius of mankind, at all times, is, perhaps, equal: The moderns have applied themselves, with great industry and success, to all the other arts and sciences: And a learned nation possesses a popular government; a circumstance which seems requisite for the full display of these noble talents: But notwithstanding all these advantages, our progress in eloquence is very inconsiderable, in comparison of the advances, which we have made in all other parts of learning…”
Second image: Oil portrait of Hume by David Ramsay (1776)