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Orators of the Victorian Reign

Go of all the centuries in several

prominent respects of human progress was

the nineteenth. Greatest in science, greatest in invention, greatest in industrial evolution, it was, while not greatest in oratory, a great field for the outpouring of eloquence. And this was coupled with the fact that the art of stenography had so advanced that the preservation of the spoken words of the orator became an easy feat. In former centuries only those orators who carefully wrote out their speeches, and published them as literature, could count upon their transmission to posterity. The impromptu and extempore speaker could never look for a faithful preservation of his words. Much of the so-called oratory which remains to us from ancient times consists of speeches written by historians and attributed to their leading characters. In some cases these may have closely reproduced the actual speeches; in others they were probably largely or wholly imaginary. The loss of oratory in mediaeval times must have been large, but the difficulty of preserving it had been fully overcome by the nineteenth century, and there are more speeches put upon permanent record now in a year than there were in centuries of the past. The century in question has been prolific in British orators of fine powers, those of supreme eloquence being fewer, indeed, than those of the preceding century, yet such names as those of Gladstone, Bright, Brougham, O'Connell and some others give a high standing to the oratory of the Victorian age.

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GEORGE CANNING (1770-1827)


ANNING'S distinction as a wit was due to his contributions to C the “Anti-Jacobin,” a famous series of political satires, issued weekly, which some eminent critics consider one of the wittiest books in the language. Canning's best known contribution to it is “The Needy Knife-grinder,” one of his happiest efforts. As a broadminded legislator he is best known through his able administration of the office of Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in the Castlereagh Cabinet, from 1822 to 1827. Under him Great Britain stood out against the “Holy Alliance” of the despots of Europe and favored the American “Monroe Doctrine”; the independence of the South American Republics was recognized; Catholic emancipation was aided, and other important reform and diplomatic movements were carried out. 'anning, entering Parliament in 1794, won a reputation in 179S by his speeches against the slave-trade and the effort to make peace with the French Directory. He was an earnest supporter of Pitt in his hostility to Napoleon, and a member of his cabinet and of the succeeding Portland cabinet, in which he planned the seizure of the Danish fleet, which did so much to check the schemes of Napoleon. His oratory was marked by acuteness, wit and picturesque expression, and as a debater he was very forcible.


[In Canning's address at Plymouth in 1823, when presented with the freedom of the town, occurs the happy comparison of a fleet at rest yet ready for action to a nation in repose, which has been admired as his happiest oratorical hit. We give that

part of his speech which includes this comparison.] Our ultimate object must be the peace of the world. That object may sometimes be best attained by prompt exertions; sometimes by abstinence from interposition in contests which we cannot prevent. It is upon

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these principles that, as has been most truly observed by my worthy
friend, it did not appear to the government of this country to be necessary.
that Great Britain should mingle in the recent contest between France,
and Spain.
Your worthy Recorder has accurately classed the persons who would
have driven us into that contest. There were undoubtedly among them
those who desired to plunge this country into the difficulties of war, partly
from the hope that those difficulties would overwhelm the administration;
but it would be most unjust not to admit that there were others who were
actuated by nobler principles and more generous feelings, who would have
rushed forward at once from the sense of indignation at aggression, and who
deemed that no act of injustice could be perpetuated from one end of the
universe to the other but that the sword of Great Britain should leap from
its scabbard to avenge it. But as it is the province of law to control the
excess even of laudable passions and propensities in individuals, so it is
the duty of Government to restrain within due bounds the ebullition of
national sentiment and to regulate the course and direction of impulses
which it cannot blame. Is there any one among the latter class of per-
sons described by my honorable friend (for to the former I have nothing
to say) who continues to doubt whether the Government did wisely in
declining to obey the precipitate enthusiasm which prevailed at the com-
mencement of the contest in Spain 2 Is there anybody who does not now
think that it was the office of the Government to examine more closely
all the various bearings of so complicated a question ; to consider whether
they were called upon to assist a united nation, or to plunge themselves
into the internal feuds by which that nation was divided ; to aid in repel-
ling a foreign invader, or to take part in a civil war 2 Is there any man
who does not now see what would have been the extent of burdens that
would have been cast upon this country 2 Is there any one who does not
acknowledge that under such circumstances the enterprise would have
been one to be characterized only by a term borrowed from that part of
the Spanish literature with which we are most familiar—Quixotic; an
enterprise romantic in its origin, and thankless in the end ?
But while we thus control even our feelings by our duty, let it not be
said that we cultivate peace either because we fear, or because we are
unprepared for, war; on the contrary, if eight months ago the Government
did not hesitate to proclaim that the country was prepared for war, if war
should be unfortunately necessary, every month of peace that has since
passed has but made us so much the more capable of exertion. The
resources created by peace are means of war. In cherishing those
resources, we but accumulate those means. Our present repose is no

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