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which listen to General Gordon and Henry Watterson have not lost their old interest and enjoyment.
Those who have reached the age which naturally praises the days gone by still look back on the old lecture platform as the golden time of oratory in the New World. The men who laid the foundations of American literature in those days shed their light from many eminences all over the land, and taught high thinking and clean living to eager listeners not yet wedded to the pursuit of wealth, and not yet yearning for unwilling empire. They spoke to audiences which longed for the ideal life of the saints and sages, and made possible the dream of that freedom for all which Jefferson put into words in the Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln put into the deeds which preceded and followed his second inaugural. But, in this crowded world, when the work is done the instrumentalities pass away, for the earth does not long allow itself to be encumbered by the ruins of even its loftiest temples or its most sumptuous palaces. When the worship has ceased and the King is dead, time, the devourer, does his work, and institutions perish as well as the men who made them. Only vitality itself, the living germ, can resist decay, and even that must pay the homage of a new incarnation into a life not always loftier or more noble.
The oratory of Congress has certainly increased in volume, and for aught we know, has increased in ability, but, like all things else in a republic grown from three to seventy-six millions, it has lost its old proportion, and now struggles in vain for an audience as wide as of yore. No metropolitan paper publishes even a synopsis of the debates, and a member acquainted with its business cannot tell what is going on after a three days’ absence. Each paper gives room to the doings of its own legislature, and erases Congress to give place to what used to seem to be smaller things. Probably the Record, the official publication, is to blame for this, and the member, to insure his appearing at full length in one place, has surrendered his chance to appear in all places. Nevertheless, a speech suitable for a campaign, and delivered at the proper time, may still have wide circulation and a three months’ immortality.
Commencements have not lost their liking for orations, and as the number and size of colleges and universities have greatly increased, with them has also increased the desire for the spoken word. Whoever has reputation enough of any kind to make people anxious to see him will not lack invitations to appear before fine audiences and enforce whatever ideas he may have of life and duty. Of course, from all this effort on the part of orators and all this endurance on the part of the people, there comes much diffusion of knowledge and a spread of thought and of new ideas which would wait long if only the printed word were at the service of the world. Parker and Phillips poured a great part of their noble work into these channels and were able to make men think as they did by the fact that the magic of their presence supported and sustained the magic of their words.
The funeral oration must have had, and did have, its origin in far antiquity. No time has ever been, and no time can ever be, when the closing of life will cease to be its great event. What it means to him who has passed away only revelation or fancy can depict. What, however, it is to him it will also be to all of us. We tread the path with no consciousness of companionship, and yet we know that all the countless generations of the myriad years of the past and of all the years of the future are our sure companions. To us, then, who survive, there comes a certain tenderness of heart which has never come before. The rival is a rival no longer. His hopes and ambitions have fallen by the wayside. In like manner ours will surely fall. If we have been foes our greatest longing in the first revulsion of feeling is to call oblivion down upon the fierce fights of the past; our first desire is to atone for the selfish greed of power or money or place which led to the long and bitter contentions and the cruel enmities now ended forever. Before an audience thus disposed it is not difficult to stir to its depths the human soul. Here we tell the truth with all its warmth and none of its coldness. Our sentences may be well rounded, for they need not be strictly just.
Where we are at liberty to limit no adjective and curtail no sentence there results a beauty of diction, a tenderness of phrase, a full recognition of the hopes of an unknown world beyond, whose peace seems to be on us with the benedictions of the eternal. When we think of the foundation of the funeral oration, for the foundations of all moving speech must be in the audience, we cease to wonder that the most beautiful phrases, the loftiest sentiments and the richest recognitions of immortal life, were the productions of an age which to-day the world, still wicked and still far from the glory of God, looks down upon as an age of gilded sin fitly followed by the butcheries of Parisian mobs and the swift-running guillotine. When you read the beautiful discourse of the “Eagle of Eloquence,” whose name rises at once to your lips as you speak of the funeral oration, you know, if you know history at all, that you must forget the real lives of those whom Bossuet so lovingly praises in death if you are at all to be moved by the hope of triumphant glory which he depicts for those whose reverence for the Ten Commandments could have begun only after their death. The funeral oration, however, has not yet passed away, nor will it ever pass away until the last man has taken his place in the innumerable caravan. Families and friends love to treasure up the words spoken of their dead companions and to hold for truth forever the outbursts of kindly enthusiasm which death has ushered in. In Congress the funeral oration still survives, and much eloquence still pervades the halls when death comes. Of course, there is much uttered which makes the judicious smile, but there is also much that is worthy of the themes, which, after all, are themes that involve all of this world and all of its achievements with all the possibilities of the land across the barriers of which the dead man has been borne. Mankind, however, has been trying to phrase these great conditions which embrace all the past and all the future, ever since the world began. In conflict, therefore, with all past history the oration can have little hope of originality, and the temptation to borrow has sometimes been found to be irresistible. If we ever learn to treat the living with the tenderness with which we instinctively treat the dead, we shall then have a civilization well worth distributing. The sermon may seem not to fully belong to the domain of the oration, which, in its ordinary acceptation, means a discourse against adversaries and involves immediate conviction and persuasion. As we think of an oration we think of a discourse which seems to be the sudden and consecutive outpouring of a full mind at that moment aroused to action by the opponent who stands before the speaker. The sermon, however, may have all those characteristics, and then become a pulpit oration, subject to the same laws of criticism. Such certainly were the sermons of Martin Luther and of John Knox. If it should be said that any sermon has to encounter the great adversary of the human race, or, if the preacher does not recognize the personality of Satan, that he at least has to encounter human nature, our greatest adversary, I presume I should have to admit that perhaps the difference is only one of degree, and that the sermon resembles all oratory, and that, in being more sober and using fewer arts, it in that very way accomplishes the work of persuasion. Usually, however, the sermon is wholly or largely written out, and lends itself to the informing rather than the stirring of the audience. It can have little recourse to those enlivenments which come from wit and humor, though much has been permitted in these modern days which even so recently as Henry Ward Beecher's time shocked the religious mind. Dean Swift, himself a wit almost without an equal, cautions his young clergyman to avoid the endeavoring at wit, not only because the chances were little less than a million to one that he had none, but because he had better not use it in a sermon, even if he did have it. A sermon, the famous Dean seemed to think, was a means of permanent improvement of the human soul, and that, therefore, it was out of place in the pulpit to use what he calls the “pathetic” or temporarily moving expedients of oratory. The victories of righteousness should be the permanent results of pitched battles, and not the display of the banners of the army and the sound of its trumpets. The after-dinner speech, the antipodes of the funeral oration, has, like that, equal date with Andes and with Ararat. Hardly had the family relation been well established before the guild began. So far back as we know anything of the history of any people, we find them associating in groups of a character more or less permanent as the cause of association was temporary or persistent. With the association came the cementing influence of the banquet, with food and flowing bowl. To watch at any dinner now the gradual exhaustion of talk between neighbors, and the gradual extension of conversation to those farther off, is to understand in some measure the yearning for speeches which takes possession of any large assembly. Either speeches or dispersion the multitude must have, and so people with the most honest intentions as to silence break forth into sound. To-day associations to protect rights and insure liberty are not so much needed, but the old habits prevail, and the after-dinner speech has, next to the banquet, become the main object of the festival, if, indeed, the interest in it does not exceed that of the main purpose, the banquet itself. Societies, the demand of which for comradeship arises from common nationality and common origin of any kind, have so multiplied in the land that every great city and many small ones renew every year the tribute of grateful memories to the land of birth and to the associations of the old home. Here can be easily seen great opportunities for the “pathetic” and for “wit,” occasions where Dean Swift's young clergyman might solace himself for the abstention which the pulpit enjoins, where the statesman might, even in talking of public affairs, relieve himself from too sober a presentation of his cares, and where the lawyer might free himself from his duties to his client and find an audience who had not heard the facts which limit his eloquence at the bar. Here there is room for all, and more than room for all, that are fit, for the demand for such oratory far exceeds the supply. | The popular notion is that this display of wit and eloquence is an easy task. But there is no audience more critical than the one which greets the after-dinner speaker. No party spirit helps him, and he has only the sympathy he himself creates. It is true that he cannot be too serious, but he may preach a serious discourse if he lights up the sombre background by the