« AnteriorContinua »
Of the Nature and Use of TOPICS.
LL the kinds of compofition may be reduced to two, viz. NARRATION and ARGUMENTATION. For either we propofe fimply to relate facts, with a view to communicate information, as in Hiftory, natural or civil, Travels, &c. or we lay down fome propofition, and endeavour to prove or explain it.
With respect to Narration of any kind, it is fuperfluous to say much about it under the firft head of Recollection, or Invention, except fo far as facts are wanted for the purpose of argumentative difcourfes. The chief affistance that those who compose only in the narrative style can expect from the art of oratory, is in digefting and adorning their compofitions; and these articles will be confidered in the fecond and third parts of these lectures.
The whole business, therefore, of artificial recollection muft, in a manner, be confined to the use of those who compofe argumentative difcourfes, whofe minds are previously furnished with every argument and obfervation proper to be introduced into them; but who may not be able to find them so readily as they could wish. To fuch persons the following directions and observations may not be unuseful.
RECOLLECTION comprehends whatever is proper to be faid upon any subject; that is, all the thoughts or fentiments that make up the body of a discourse. These, which may be called the nerves and finews of a compofition, may all be confidered as arguments in proof of what is advanced. Now every argument that can with propriety be brought as a proof of a propofition, fhould bear fome kind of relation to both the terms of it. For, according to logicians, every proposition afferts the agreement or difagreement of two ideas, or things, which are called the fubject and predicate, or attribute of the proposition. If the agreement or difagreement of thefe do not appear at firft view, we make use of another idea, called a middle term, which, being feverally applied to them both, will, by informing us of the relation they both bear to it, enable us to judge of the relation they both bear to one another. But unless this third idea bear fome relation to both the others, it will be impoffible to compare them together by the help of it..
I fhall illuftrate these obfervations by the example of the following propofition: Every good man is a wife man. It may not apparent, at first view, that the subject and attribute of this propofition do really coincide, as is afferted in it. In order to show that, notwithstanding this, they really do agree, I introduce another idea, viz. the making use of the means of happiness; and by confidering that a good man is one who lives and acts in fuch a manner as will fecure his greatest happiness, which is also the object of the trueft wisdom; I fee that the description of a good man intirely agrees with that of a wife man, and that they are the fame perfon, which the propofition afferts. But I could not have made ufe of this intermediate idea, in order to fhew the relation of the terms to one another, unless it had borne fome relation
lation to them both, and had thereby been capable of being compared with them.
In this case, the relation that means of happiness bears to goodnefs is that of effect; goodness being the fource of those actions which tend to produce true happiness; as the relation that the idea of the means of happiness bears to wisdom is that of means, or inftrument, which wisdom employs to effect her purpose. And it is not improbable but that if a perfon had confidered the natural effects of virtue and goodness, and what cause of actions a wife man would be led to adopt, he would have hit upon this idea, which furnishes fo clear an argument in proof of the propofition in question. Or again, the fame idea might have occurred to a person who had carefully confidered the definitions of the terms of his propofitions; fince he would have found that property of goodness connected with those ideas which form the characteristic of wisdom. So that either the relation of cause and effect, that of means and end, or the definition of terms might have led the mind of the composer to the idea he wanted. These are called COMMON PLACES, TOPICS, or GENERAL HEADS, under which arguments of all kinds may be claffed, and an attention to them may fuggeft the arguments that fall under them.
It belongs to the art of oratory to point out these topics, common places, or general heads to which all arguments may be reduced; that, whenever we undertake to prove any thing, by running over the titles of them in our minds, our thoughts may be directed to what fuits our purpose. To make the use of these topics ftill more intelligible and eafy, I fhall illustrate each of them by an example or two.
All propofitions, or things to be proved, metaphyfically confidered, may be reduced to the fame form; as being a declaration of the coincidence of the subject and attribute of them. Thus if I say, that man is mortal, I mean that my idea of man coincides with my idea of a mortal being, or a being subject to death; or if I fay, Alexander conquered Darius, I mean that my idea of Alexander, and of the perfon who conquered Darius, are the fame. We fhall, however, find it most convenient, in the business of popular oratory, to quit this general idea, and confider all propofitions, or fubjects of discourse, as fubdivided into two kinds, viz. univerfal, and particular propofitions.
Univerfal propofitions are those which have no relation to particular persons, times, or places, but are at all times, in all places, and with regard to all perfons, true or false; as these, man is mortal; virtue makes the happiness of man; the three angles of every right-lined triangle are equal to two rectangles. This head includes all metaphyfical and mathematical fubjects.
Particular propofitions are those which have relation to, and are limited by, particular perfons, times, or places; as Alexander conquered Darius; France is larger than England; Carthage was founded before Rome, &c. This head comprehends all historical debates, geographical, and chronological knowledge, confultations about the intereft of particular ftates at particular times, judicial inquiries into the actions of particular persons, and all perfonal panegyric, or invective.
I divide all fubjects of difcourfe into these two kinds, because the topics of argument fuited to each are very confiderably diftinct; though things which relate to particular persons, times, or places, may often, with propriety, be introduced into a discourse upon a propofition that is univerfally true, or univerfally false, с without
without respect to any particular perfon, time, or place; and, fince every thing that is particular is comprehended in that which is univerfal, arguments relating to particular perfons, places, and times, may be fetched from those topics, which are peculiarly adapted to univerfal propofitions.
Convenient topics for univerfal propofitions are the following: Definition, Adjuncts, Antecedents, Confequents, Means, Analogy, Contrariety, Example and Authority.
Before I explain these topics, I would obferve, that it is not very material, with refpect to the real use of them, whether the diftribution be metaphyfically exact; particularly, whether fome of them, ftrictly speaking, be not fuperfluous, as being comprised under others; as, for example, whether it might not have been fufficient to have comprised example under the head of confequents. It is fufficient if, by attending to them, the mind be led to proper arguments. The table may be too scanty, but can hardly be too full. Notwithstanding this, a great deal of the redundancy of other tables is retrenched in this.