This was the question debated in the “preface” to Cicero’s work, De Inventione (On Invention) translated into English in 1745.
I’ve provided the 1745 translation in full, below, including the original spelling and grammar (with minor corrections).
» » » It has been a subject that I have often and much thought upon, whether eloquence in its highest perfection, has been the source of more good or mischief to men and to states.
» » » For when I consider our own misfortunes, and recollect the calamities of old in the greatest republicks, I am convinced that no small inconveniences have been introduced by men of the first eloquence.
» » » But on the other hand, when history supplies my thoughts with transactions, which time has removed still farther from our memory; I find that many cities have been
constituted, many wars put an end to, and the firmest alliances and strictest friendships cemented, not only by reason and good sense, but more easily by eloquence.
» » » My own reason at last leads me to this determination, that wisdom without eloquence can be of little use to states; but eloquence without wisdom may frequently hurt them, and can never be of service to them.
» » » Wherefore if any one, regardless of the most upright and generous studies of reason and his duty, shall waste all his abilities in the practice of speaking; I call that man useless to himself, and pernicious to his community.
» » » But he who arms himself with eloquence, with a view never to oppose his country’s good, but to be able to make a stand for it; seems to me to be a man most conducive to his own and the publick welfare, and a true friend to his country.
» » » For if we were to consider the source of what we call Eloquence, whether it be a study,
or an art, the effect of practice, or the gift of nature; we shall find, that it owes its original to the most exalted principles, and its improvement to the most rational pursuits.
» » » For there was a time when men, after the manner of the brute-kind, wandered at large about the fields, and sustained their lives by theiri prey upon wild beasts.
» » » The rational faculties had then no share in their actions, but the strength of the body chiefly administered to their wants.
» » » The duties of religion and humanity were not yet cultivated: none knew the happiness of lawful marriage: no father could look upon his children as his own; nor had yet experienced the advantages that proceed from equitable laws.
» » » Thus through error and ignorance, the will, (that blind and headstrong tyrant of the mind) abused the powers of the body (pernicious ministers!) to its own gratification.
» » » At which time some truly great and wise man discovered what materials and
qualifications, and how great, were latently planted in the mind of man for the noblest ends, if they could be struck out into light, and improved by precept.
» » » His superior genius collected them into one place, from their wandering way of life, and their wild habitations in the woods; and prompting them to whatever was useful and honourable, though at first refractory for want of use, yet soon charmed with still attention by his wisdom and eloquence, he broke their brutal fierceness into gentleness and humanity.
» » » And indeed to me it seems, that silent and speechless wisdom, could never have had the influence to make such a sudden reformation in mankind from their bad habits, and gain them over to the various duties of a rational life.
» » » But farther, after the constitution of cities, how could it be brought about, that men should cultivate the virtues of justice and truth, inure themselves to pay a willing obedience to others, so as not only to endure toils, but even death itself, for the publick good:
I say, how could all this be brought about, without the aid of persuasive eloquence to inculcate the discoveries of reason?
» » » None surely; who by his strength could do mighty things; unless won by solid and sweet persuasion, would, without the interposition of force, have subjected himself to the restraint of laws: put himself upon a level with those to whom his strength made him superior, and willingly forsaken his beloved passions, to which habit had almost given the force of nature.
» » » This was the rise, this the progress of eloquence, which afterwards had much to do in the conduct of the greatest affairs, to the singular advantage of mankind.
» » » But when a sort of self-interest, under the mask of virtue, without any regard to what was right, attained the power of eloquence; then did knavery, supported by wit, begin to overturn cities, and corrupt the manners of mankind.
» » » Let us likewise explain the source of this mischievous effect, as we did of the other good one.
» » » It seems to be very probable, that there was a time when minors and men of low genius were not admitted to the publick affairs; nor did great and eloquent men interfere in private causes.
» » » But whilst the most important matters were conducted by the greatest men; others who did not want cunning, apply’d themselves to minuter controversies of private persons.
» » » In which controversies, falshood often prevailing against truth, the continual practice of speaking gave growth to impudence; so those great men were necessarily obliged, by the injuries of their fellow citizens, to resist these daring fellows, and every of them to take his respective friends into his protection.
» » » When therefore he, who regardless of wisdom made eloquence his only study, was often equal in speaking, sometimes superior, it happened, that in the opinion of the many, and his own conceit, he seemed a person worthy to govern the common-wealth.
» » » Hence it was, and not without reason, that when rash and audacious men were intrusted with the helm of government, great and miserable shipwreck ensued.
» » » By this means eloquence contracted so much hatred and envy, that the most ingenious men, made their retreat from this seditious and tumultuous way of life, to some quiet study, as it were out of a turbulent storm into a quiet haven.
» » » Whence afterwards, as I presume, other virtuous and generous arts being cultivated by great men in their retirements, shone forth; and eloquence being deserted by most, grew out of fashion, at a time when it ought to have been more strenuously retained, and more industriously improved.
» » » For by how much the more the rashness and boldness of fools and profligates, shamefully trampled upon this most honourable and virtuous art, to the great hurt of the community; so much the more strenuous, should have been the resistance and struggle for the publick-weal.
» » » Of which our own Cato was not insensible, nor Laelius, nor Africanus, who was indeed their disciple, nor the Gracchi, the grandsons of Africanus; men distinguished by the noblest virtues, and a dignity enlarged by the noblest virtues, with eloquence to adorn these advantages, and defend their country.
» » » Wherefore, in my opinion, it ought to be no discouragement to the study of eloquence, because it is perversely abused both in publick and private life; but rather a stronger inducement to the more vigorous prosecution of it, lest ill men should have it in their power to run their full lengths, to the great annoyance of the good, and the common ruin of all.
» » » Especially as this is the only art that concerns every part of life, both publick and private; by this life is render’d safe, by this honourable, by this illustrious, by this likewise it becomes pleasant.
» » » Hence, if wisdom the pilot of all events, be at hand to stear it, many advantages redound to the whole republick: To the
orators themselves, applause, honour, dignity; to their friends a sure and safe patronage and protection.
» » » To me it seems, that though mankind are inferior and more defective than brutes in many respects; yet their chief pre-eminence is, that they have the power of speech.
» » » Wherefore, I esteem it a most honourable attainment, to excell the rest of mankind in that, wherein mankind excell brutes.