In Praise of Eloquence

samuel daniel

Samuel Daniel’s The Civile Warres (1595–1609), a history of the Wars of the Roses, influenced Shakespeare’s Richard II and Henry IV, at least according to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

Despite intervening centuries, old poems can be easy to read. This one is over 400 years old, and yet once you remove the veil of archaic spellings, its meaning is clear. I came across Samuel Daniel, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, in an introductory book on poetry.

Here are some lines from Musophilus: Containing a General Defence of Learning (The image on the left is from another work):

Power above powers! O Heavenly Eloquence!
That with the strong rein of commanding words
Dost manage, guide, and master the eminence
Of men’s affections, more than all their swords!
Shall we not offer to thy excellence,
The richest treasure that our wit affords?

Thou that canst do much more with one poor pen,
Than all the powers of princes can effect;
And draw, divert, dispose, and fashion men,
Better than force or rigour can direct!
Should we this ornament of glory then,
As the unmaterial fruits of shades, neglect?

I sometimes wonder about the relevance of eloquence in today’s world, dominated as it is by memes and viral videos. The power of images — to the detriment of words — has ascended in our society, said media theorist Neil Postman, and I agree.

Eloquence needs to be reinstated. Let us reintroduce its presence in our lives. Let us seek it out, so that we, too, can attain the loftiest heights of expression.

Thou that canst do much more with one poor pen,
Than all the powers of princes can effect ;
And draw, divert, dispose, and fashion men,
Better than force or rigour can direct !

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