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thoughts, and the incompetency to present any of them in the most efficient form, would reduce the speaker to the level of an ordinary talker. His diction is sure to be clumsy and incorrect — unlimited in quantity, but of no real value.
“Such a speaker is never in want of a word, and hardly ever has one that is worth hearing. 'Sine hac quidem conscientia,' says Quintilian, speaking of the habit of written composition,
illa ipsa extempore dicendi facultas inanem modo loquacitatem dabit, et verba in labris nascentia.' It is a common error to call this natural eloquence. It is the reverse:
It is neither natural nor eloquent."
If public men in every grade would but take to heart this advice of Lord Brougham, the quantity would be reduced and the quality enhanced of what commonly passes by the name of eloquence. It is not that the age of oratory like that of chivalry has passed away, but that the necessity for study and the discipline it exacts is not sufficiently recognized.
The untaught speaker [continues Lord Brougham] who utters according to the dictates of his feelings, may now and then achieve a success.
But in these instances he would not be less successful if he had studied the art, while that study would enable him to succeed equally in all that he delivers. Herein, indeed, consists the value of the study: It enables a man to do at all times what nature teaches only on rare Occasions."
We cannot value too highly these opinions of Lord Brougham. The eloquence of the untrained and uncultivated is elicited only by special occasions. It is not at command. The speaker does not master his powers, but is mastered by them. When wanted, they are not always at hand, and when drawn forth by emergencies, they often transport him beyond his mark. As Archbishop Whately once said, "he has but
? Without this consciousness that very power of extempore speaking will give merely an empty loquacity and words stringing forth from the lips.
the same command of language' that the rider has of a horse that has run away with him." But the eloquence of the trained and cultivated speaker is a power, though often dormant, yet always ready for use; when summoned it appears, though there be no favoring circumstances. It can speak even to reluctant ears, and compel an audience.
The story of Demosthenes, whose orations, according to Hume, present to us the models which approach the nearest to perfection, is well known to every schoolboy. How he was nick-named "& Batalós” or “the stammerer;" how he cured his stuttering by speaking with pebbles in his mouth; how he strengthened his weak lungs by repeating verses of the poets as he ran up hill; how he declaimed on the seashore in stormy weather to accustom himself to the tumult of the Athenian popular assemblies; how his first oratorical effort was received with ridicule these and other statements may, perhaps, not be literally true, but at any rate they attest the tradition of antiquity that he labored hard and successfully to overcome his natural deficiencies for public speaking. In spite of the severe discipline which he underwent to master the art of rhetoric, and notwithstanding the faculty of speech which he must have acquired by persistent practice, it is related of him that, like Pericles, whom he so greatly admired, he had an unconquerable aversion to extemporaneous addresses. He was unwilling to “trust his success to For tune," that is, to the uncertain inspiration of the moment.
By a detailed examination of the repetitions that occur in some of his finest orations, Lord Brougham has enabled us to appreciate the progressive workmanship of many striking passages. We are thus, as it were, let into the secret of their composition, almost as if the rough draught had been preserved. As Moore has pointed out in his “Life of Sheridan”
that many of his soi-disant spontaneous witticisms — the hoarded repartees and matured jests with which Pitt taunted him — had passed through numerous editions on paper before they charmed the social circle or electrified the House of Commons; so Lord Brougham shows that some of the most admired sentences of Demosthenes, when he wished to adapt them to new occasions, were invested with fresh beauty by happy variations in expression which had been suggested subsequently to their original delivery.
Passing over the incredible labors of Cicero, which he has fully described in his various works on oratory, let us select some "modern instances," all tending to prove the value and necessity of incessant toil. When Woodfall, a tolerably good judge of public speaking, had heard Sheridan's maiden speech in Parliament, he said to him discouragingly: “I am sorry to say that I do not think this is your line; you had much better have stuck to your former pursuits.”
"It is in me, however,” said Sheridan, after a short pause, " and, by God, it shall come out.”
This has been called a case of the intuitive consciousness of latent power; but, if Brougham is correct in his estimate, Sheridan's genius for oratory fell far short of his assiduity in cultivating it. Some defects, we are told, he never could eradicate. A thick and indistinct mode of delivery, and an inability to speak without the most careful preparation characterized him to the end; but by excessive labor he verified his own prediction, and as an orator eventually attained to excellence rarely equalled, and, if we are to judge by the verdict of his contemporaries, never, with all his faults, eurpassed.
When Burke brought forward in the House of Commons the various accusations against Warren Hastings, the charge
relating to the spoliation of the Begums was allotted to Sheridan. His speech was made on February 7, 1787, and occupied nearly six hours in delivery. When the orator sat down, the whole house as if fascinated with his eloquence burst into an involuntary tumult of applause. It was the first time, we are told, that any speech in Parliament had ever been received with cheers.
Burke declared it to be the most extraordinary effort he had ever witnessed; while Fox said, “all that he had ever heard, all that he had ever read, when compared with it, dwindled into nothing, and vanished like vapor before the
Even Pitt, who had frequently satirized the dramatic turns and epigrammatic points of Sheridan, acknowledged “that it surpassed all the eloquence of ancient and modern times, and possessed everything that genius or art could furnish to agitate and control the human mind."
Twenty years afterward Windham asserted that “the speech deserved all its fame, and was, in spite of some faults of taste, such as were seldom wanting in the literary and parliamentary performances of Sheridan, the greatest that had been delivered within the memory of man.”
It should not be forgotten that the debate was adjourned when the speech was concluded, in order that the House might have time to recover their calmness and collect their
As Lord Lytton describes the scene in his poem of “St. Stephen's:
“He who had known the failure, felt the sneer,
Smit burning brows in muttering, 'It is here!
This effective oration, though written out in full, and committed accurately to memory, was never published. The author preferred trusting his fame to the tradition of its effects rather than to the production itself. In so doing he probably acted wisely. He never, says Moore, made a speech of any moment of which a sketch was not found among his papers, with the showy parts written two or three times over. His memoranda show the exact place where the involuntary exclamation, “Good God, Mr. Speaker," was to be introduced, and exhibited elaborate “ burst of passion," into which it was his intention to be “ hurried.” Lord Brougham has thus recorded the means by which after a most unpromising beginning Sheridan finally attained his prodigious
“What he wanted in acquired learning and natural quickness he made up by indefatigable industry. Within given limits toward a present object no labor could daunt him. No man could work for a season with more steady and unwearied application. By constant practice in small matters, or before private committees, by diligent attendance upon all debates, by habitual intercourse with all classes of dealers in political wares, he trained himself to a facility of speaking absolutely essential to all but first-rate genius, and all but necessary even to that. By these steps he rose to the rank of a first-rate speaker, and as great a debater as want of readiness and need for preparation would permit.”
The case of Benjamin Disraeli bears some resemblance to that of Brinsley Sheridan. In 1837 he was elected member for Maidstone. On December the seventh of that year his maiden speech in the House was deservedly cut short by a burst of inextinguishable laughter, and he ended it with the memorable words: “I am not at all surprised at the reception which I have experienced. I have begun several times