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British Orators of the Middle Period FROM the days of the decadence of classic ora
tory to those of the famous orators of Eng
land, France and the United States who gave lustre to the latter part of the nineteenth century, a period elapsed of many centuries in duration, during which the voice of the orator was, no doubt, abundantly heard, yet few examples of what he had to say were put upon record, and these much more largely in the Church than in legislative or judicial halls. That in so extended a time many orators of marked ability must have arisen can scarcely be questioned, though we do not possess many animated examples of the art. One important occasion for its exercise was the Puritan Revolution in England, when the halls of Parliament rang with the voices of such ardent patriots as Eliot, Pym and their fellows. Some of the speeches of these have been preserved, and forensic oratory also has left us some interesting examples. \Vhile, as above said, the great sum of the oratory of the long period in question has vanished, some of it has found a foothold in literature. In England these examples chiefly extend from the Elizabethan reign down to the great renaissance of oratory after the middle of the eighteenth century. The records are not extensive. We have not a word, for instance, from an orator of the fame of Lord Bolingbroke. Yet others have been more fortunate in the preservation of their speeches, and selections from some of the more notable of these may be fitly given, as specimens of the driftwood of oratory which has reached us from the past centunes.
SIR JOHN ELIOT (1590—1632)
MONG the famous statesmen and orators of the Parliaments of A Charles I. Sir John Eliot occupied a high position, and was a leader among those who protested against the arbitrary acts of the King. The impeachment of the Duke of Buckingham was due to a powerful speech made by him, and for this he was imprisoned for a time in the Tower. Again, in 1629, he offended the King by remonstrating against his acts of tyranny, and was once inore sent to prison for his boldness. Here, as he refused to retract, he was confined in a dark and cheerless apartment which ruined his health.
As an orator Eliot had remarkable powers] “He had,” says Forster, “ some of the highest qualities as an orator—singular power of statement, clearness and facility in handling details, pointed classical allusions, keen and logical argument, forcible and rich declama
[On the 3d of June, 1628, Eliot delivered a bold speech in the House of Commons, in support of the “ Petition of Right,” in which he brought severe and daring charges against the delinquency of the Government, attacking it in a strenuous manner, which strongly recalls that of Demosthen es. We give his eloquent pcroration.]
The exchequer, you know,is empty, and the reputation thereof gone; the ancient lands are sold; the jewels pawned; the plate engaged; the debt still great; almost all charges, both ordinary and extraordinary, borne up by projects 1 What poverty can be greater ? \Vhat necessity so great? What perfect English heart is not almost dissolved into sorrow for this truth?
For the oppression of the subject, which, as I remember, is the next particular I proposed, it needs no demonstration. The whole kingdom is a proof; and, for the exhausting of our treasures. that Very oppression
here, where we have to do with him in the one aspect of orator. For this rele the great soldier was not well equipped by nature. He was much better adapted to face an army in the field than an audience from the rostrum. Carlyle says that his speeches “ excel human belief in their unlikeness to all other speeches, in their utter disregard of all standards of oratory and logical sequence of thought. . . . But the time was when they had as much weight in England as theymost polished orations of Demosthenes in Athens.” But as this might come less from the character of thezgpeecbes than from the position of the speaker we must suffice ourselyes with a brief example of his style. _
T HE story of Cromwell’s life is too well known to need any record
[We quote from Cromwell’s speech in 1657 before the Committee of Ninetynine, nt Whitehall. It is characteristic in its careful avoidance of sentiments that would commit him to a fixed conclusion. As in the older case of Caesar, the Puritan conqueror was offered the title of king. Some of his reasons for refusing it are here indicated. He declined less from his own inclination, than from the hostility to the name of king 1mong the Puritan soldiery.]
I will now say something for myself. As for my own mind, I do profess it, I am not a man scrupulous about words, or names, or such things. I have not hitherto clear direction, but as I have the Word of God, and I hope I shall ever have, for the rule of my conscience, for my information and direction, so truly, if men have been led into dark paths through the providence and dispensations of God—why surely it is not to be objected to a man. For who can love to walk in the dark ? But Providence doth often so dispose, and though a man may impute his own folly and blindness to Providence sinfully, yet this must be at a man’s own peril. The