Front Page Titles (by Subject) AMPLIFICATION. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. III (Philosophical Dictionary Part 1)
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AMPLIFICATION. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. III (Philosophical Dictionary Part 1) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. III.
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It is pretended that amplification is a fine figure of rhetoric; perhaps, however, it would be more reasonable to call it a defect. In saying all that we should say, we do not amplify; and if after saying this we amplify, we say too much. To place a good or bad action in every light is not to amplify; but to go farther than this is to exaggerate and become wearisome.
Prizes were formerly given in colleges for amplification. This was indeed teaching the art of being diffuse. It would, perhaps, have been better to have given the fewest words, and thus teach the art of speaking with greater force and energy. But while we avoid amplification, let us beware of dryness.
I have heard professors teach that certain passages in “Virgil” are amplifications, as, for instance, the following:
If the long description of the reign of sleep throughout all nature did not form an admirable contrast with the cruel inquietude of Dido, these lines would be no other than a puerile amplification; it is the words At non infelix animi Phænissa—“Unhappy Dido,” etc., which give them their charm.
That beautiful ode of Sappho’s which paints all the symptoms of love, and which has been happily translated into every cultivated language, would doubtless have been less touching had Sappho been speaking of any other than herself; it might then have been considered as an amplification.
The description of the tempest in the first book of the “Æneid” is not an amplification; it is a true picture of all that happens in a tempest; there is no idea repeated, and repetition is the vice of all which is merely amplification.
The finest part on the stage in any language is that of Phèdre (Phædra). Nearly all that she says would be tiresome amplification if any other was speaking of Phædra’s passion.
It is quite clear that since Athens showed her her proud enemy Hippolytus, she saw Hippolytus; if she blushed and turned pale, she was doubtless troubled. It would have been a pleonasm, a redundancy, if a stranger had been made to relate the loves of Phædra; but it is Phædra, enamored and ashamed of her passion—her heart is full—everything escapes her:
What can be a better imitation of Virgil?
What can be a finer imitation of Sappho?
These lines, though imitated, flow as from their first source; each word moves and penetrates the feeling heart; this is not amplification; it is the perfection of nature and of art.
The following is, in my opinion, an instance of amplification, in a modern tragedy, which nevertheless has great beauties. Tydeus is at the court of Argos; he is in love with a sister of Electra; he laments the fall of his friend Orestes and of his father; he is divided betwixt his passion for Electra and his desire of vengeance; while in this state of care and perplexity he gives one of his followers a long description of a tempest, in which he had been shipwrecked some time before.
In this description we see the poet wishing to surprise his readers with the relation of a shipwreck, rather than the man who seeks to avenge his father and his friend—to kill the tyrant of Argos, but who is at the same time divided between love and vengeance.
Several men of taste, and among others the author of “Telemachus,” have considered the relation of the death of Hippolytus, in Racine, as an amplification; long recitals were the fashion at that time. The vanity of actors make them wish to be listened to, and it was then the custom to indulge them in this way. The archbishop of Cambray says that Theramenes should not, after Hippolytus’ catastrophe, have strength to speak so long; that he gives too ample a description of the monster’s threatening horns, his saffron scales, etc.; that he should say in broken accents, Hippolytus is dead—a monster has destroyed him—I beheld it.
I shall not enter on a defence of the threatening horns, etc.; yet this piece of criticism, which has been so often repeated, appears to me to be unjust. You would have Theramenes say nothing more than Hippolytus is killed—I saw him die—all is over. This is precisely what he does say; Hippolyte n’est plus! (Hippolytus is no more!) His father exclaims aloud; and Theramenes, on recovering his senses, says:
and adds this line, so necessary and so affecting yet so agonizing for Theseus:
The gradations are fully observed; each shade is accurately distinguished. The wretched father asks what God—what sudden thunder-stroke has deprived him of his son. He has not courage to proceed; he is mute with grief; he awaits the dreadful recital, and the audience awaits it also. Theramenes must answer; he is asked for particulars; he must give them.
Was it for him who had made Mentor and all the rest of his personages discourse at such length, sometimes even tediously; was it for him to shut the mouth of Theramenes? Who among the spectators would not listen to him? Who would not enjoy the melancholy pleasure of hearing the circumstance of Hippolytus’ death? Who would have so much as three lines struck out? This is no vain description of a storm unconnected with the piece; no ill-written amplification; it is the purest diction, the most affecting language; in short, it is Racine. Amplification, declamation, and exaggeration were at all times the faults of the Greeks, excepting Demosthenes and Aristotle.
There have been absurd pieces of poetry on which time has set the stamp of almost universal approbation, because they were mixed with brilliant flashes which threw a glare over their imperfections, or because the poets who came afterward did nothing better. The rude beginnings of every art acquire a greater celebrity than the art in perfection; he who first played the fiddle was looked upon as a demigod, while Rameau had only enemies. In fine, men, generally going with the stream, seldom judge for themselves, and purity of taste is almost as rare as talent.
At the present day, most of our sermons, funeral orations, set discourses, and harangues in certain ceremonies, are tedious amplifications—strings of commonplace expressions repeated again and again a thousand times. These discourses are only supportable when rarely heard. Why speak when you have nothing new to say? It is high time to put a stop to this excessive waste of words, and therefore we conclude our article.