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Leaders in the Lecture Field
T is not alone in the legislative hall or the pulpit
that oratory flourishes. It is also to be found in
the field of forensic argument, and the lecture field. In the former of these, while rare displays of eloquence are ot times given, their subject is usually one of local and passing interest, which fact renders them unsuitable for popular reading. In the latter, while the topic is usually of an educational character, this is by no means always the case. The lecturer's purpose may not be to teach, but to convince and reform. Of such character are the many addresses on the subjects of temperance, woman's suffrage, industrial oppression, and numerous other topics in which some wrong is to be righted, some evil to be overcome. At the present day the lecture is a widely-prevailing form of the oration. In the absence of stirring causes for legislative eloquence, even the political speech verges towards this form. In a nation that is entirely peaceful and prosperous, with no vital difference of opinion between its citizens, the oration will become more and more of the lecture character, its purpose being to instruct, interest or amuse, rather than to cure the political or social evils of the age. In the past many lecturers of fine powers have appeared, and English and American literature contains numerous readable and inspiring examples in this field. We shall here give extracts from some of the more eloquent and famous of these public favorites.
JOSEPH STORY (1779=1845)
JURIST AND COLLEGE LECTURER
UDGE STORY, appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of
the United States in 1811, when thirty-two years of age, had
the honor of being the youngest man who had ever held so high a judicial position either in America or England. He continued to hold that office until his death in 1845. He had previously been a member of the Legislature of Massachusetts, and of Congress, and for many years during his judicial term was at the head of the Law School of Harvard University. Throughout his life he pursued an active literary career, beginning as a jurist and devoting himself after 1804 to legal study. His subsequent treatises upon the law were of the most profound character, his writings being more voluminous than those of any other lawyer of great eminence. “For learning, industry, and talent,” says Chancellor Kent, “he is the most extraordinary jurist of the age.”
As an orator Judge Story won wide esteem, and his lectures upon the dry themes of the law were delivered with such an enthusiasm, and were so richly embellished with anecdotes and illustrative episodes, that they gained the piquancy of literary lectures. No educator ever had a stronger hold upon his students or a more unbounded influence over their minds, and he was great and popular alike in the college hall and on the judicial bench.
THE DESTINY OF THE INDIAN [Of Judge Story's oratory, the best known and most picturesque example is the often quoted passage npon the melancholy fate of the American Indians. This formed part of his discourse, before the Essex Historical Society, upon the first settlement of Salem, Massachusetts. No uobler specimen could be chosen of his oratorical style, it being a gem of literary finish and sympathetic eloquence.]
There is, indeed, in the fate of these unfortunate beings, much to awaken our sympathy, and much to disturb the sobriety of our judgment; much, which may be urged to excuse their own atrocities; much in their characters which betrays us into an involuntary admiration. What can be more melancholy than their history ? ) By a law of their nature, they seem destined to a slow but sure extinction. Everywhere, at the approach, of the white man, they fade away. We hear the rustling of their footsteps like that of the withered leaves of autumn, and they are gone forever. They pass mournfully by us, and they return no more. Two centuries ago, the smoke of their wigwams and the fires of their councils rose in every valley, from Hudson's Bay to the farthest Florida, from the ocean to the Mississippi and the lakes. The shouts of victory and the war-dance rang through the niountains and the glades. The thick arrows and the deadly tomahawk whistled through the forests; and the hunter's trace and the dark encampment startled the wild beasts in their lairs. The warriors stood forth in their glory. The young listened to the songs of other days. The mothers played with their infants, and gazed on the scene with warm hopes of the future. The aged sat down ; but they wept not. They should soon be at rest in fairer regions, where the Great Spirit dwelt, in a home prepared for the brave, beyond the Western skies. Braver men never lived ; truer men never drew the bow. They had courage, and fortitude, and sagacity, and perseverance, beyond most of the human race. They shrank from no dangers, and they feared no hardships. If they had the vices of savage life, they had the virtues also. They were true to their country, their friends, and their homes. If they forgave not injury, neither did they forget kindness. If their vengeance was terrible, their fidelity and generosity were unconquerable also. Their love, like their hate, stopped not on this side of the grave.
But where are they? Where are the villages and warriors and youth; the sachems and the tribes; the hunters and their families? They have perished. (They are consumed. The wasting pestilence has not alone done the mighty work. No-nor famine, nor war. There has been a mightier power, (a moral canker, which hath eaten into their heartcores, a plague which the touch of the white man communicated, poison which betrayed them into a lingering ruin. The winds of the Atlantic fan not a single region which they may now call their own. Already the last feeble remnants of their race are preparing for their journey beyond the Mississippi. I see them leave their miserable homes-the aged, the helpless, the women and the warriors—“ few and faint, yet fearless still.” The ashes are cold on their native hearths. The smoke no longer curls round their lowly cabins. They move on with a slow,
unsteady step. The white man is upon their heels, for terror or despatch; but they heed him not. They turn to take a last look of their deserted villages. They cast a last glance upon the graves of their fathers. They shed no tears ; they utter no cries; they heave no groans. There is something in their hearts which passes speech. There is something in their lool's, not of vengeance or submission, but of hard necessity, which stifles both; which chokes all utterance; which has no aim or method. It is courage absorbed in despair. They linger but for a moment. Their look is onward. They have passed the fatal stream. It shall never be repassed by them-no, never. Yet there lies not between us and then an impassable gulf. They know and feel that there is for them still one remove farther, not distant nor unseen. It is to the general burial-ground of their race.
HASTY WORK IS PRENTICE WORK It was a beautiful remark of Sir Joshua Reynolds that “Great works, which are to live and stand the criticism of posterity, are not performed at a heat.” “I remember,'' says he, “when I was at Rome, looking at the Fighting Gladiator in company with an eminent sculptor, and I expressed my admiration of the skill with which the whole is composed, and the minute attention of the artist to the change of every muscle in that momentary exertion of strength. He was of opinion that a work so perfect required nearly the whole life of man to perform."
What an admonition! What a melancholy reflection to those who deem the literary fame of the present age the best gift to posterity! How many of our proudest geniuses have written, and continue to write, with a swiftness which almost rivals the operations of the press! How many are urged on to the ruin of their immortal hopes by that public favor which receives with acclamation every new offspring of their pen! If Milton had written thus, we should have found no scholar of our day, no Christian Examiner, portraying the glory of his character with the enthusiasm of a kindred spirit. If Pope had written thus, we should have had no fine contests respecting his genius and poetical attainments by our Byrons and Bowleses and Roscoes. If Virgil had written thus, he might have chanted his verses to the courtly Augustus; but Marcellus and his story would have perished. If Horace had written thus, he might have enchanted gay friends and social parties; but it would never have been said of his composition : decies repetita placebit.
SERGEANT S. PRENTISS (1808-1851)
THE CICERO OF THE SOUTH
MONG the natural orators of America, the men to whom the
gift of fluent speech is part of their very being, there have
been none to surpass Sergeant S. Prentiss, a son of Maine, but for many years a resident of the South. In the words of one of his contemporaries : “His most striking talent was his oratory. We have never known nor read of a man who equalled Prentiss in the faculty of thinking on his legs, or of extemporaneous eloquence. He required no preparation to speak on any subject, and on all he was equally happy. We have heard from him, thrown out in a dinner speech, or at a public meeting, when unexpectedly called on, more brilliant and striking thoughts than many of the most celebrated poets and orators ever elaborated in their closets."
Born at Portland, Maine, an opportunity for a lucrative tutorship took him from college to Natchez, Mississippi, and it was in this city and in New Orleans that he afterward resided, obtaining in each a very large legal practice. Elected to Congress in 1837, his seat was contested, and he addressed the House in support of his claim in a most admirable burst of oratory. His reputation as an orator had preceded him, and the House was crowded with those who desired to test the quality of his eloquence. Rarely has Congress heard an abler or more telling address. Webster said, on leaving the hall, “Nobody could equal it.” Ex-President Fillmore remarked : "I can never forget that speech. It was certainly the most brilliant that I ever heard.” Prentiss did not remain long in Congress. A parliamentary career was not to his taste. But his brief stay there was one of brilliancy and success, his few speeches winning him public applause and firmly establishing his tame as a statesmanlike orator. He continued, how