Ancient Oratory and Large Mantles

Laurence Sterne

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (3.14):

It is a singular stroke of eloquence (at least it was so, when eloquence flourished at Athens and Rome, and would be so now, did orators wear mantles) not to mention the name of a thing, when you had the thing about you in petto, ready to produce, pop, in the place you want it. A scar, an axe, a sword, a pink’d doublet, a rusty helmet, a pound and a half of pot-ashes in an urn, or a three-halfpenny pickle pot—but above all, a tender infant royally accoutred.—Tho’ if it was too young, and the oration as long as Tully’s second Philippick—it must certainly have beshit the orator’s mantle.—And then again, if too old,—it must have been unwieldy and incommodious to his action—so as to make him lose by his child almost as much as he could gain by it.—Otherwise, when a state orator has hit the precise age to a minute——hid his BAMBINO in his mantle so cunningly that no mortal could smell it——and produced it so critically, that no soul could say, it came in by head and shoulders—Oh Sirs! it has done wonders—It has open’d the sluices, and turn’d the brains, and shook the principles, and unhinged the politicks of half a nation.

These feats however are not to be done, except in those states and times, I say, where orators wore mantles——and pretty large ones too, my brethren, with some twenty or five-and-twenty yards of good purple, superfine, marketable cloth in them—with large flowing folds and doubles, and in a great style of design.—All which plainly shews, may it please your worships, that the decay of eloquence, and the little good service it does at present, both within and without doors, is owing to nothing else in the world, but short coats, and the disuse of trunk-hose.——We can conceal nothing under ours, Madam, worth shewing.

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