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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.
GEORGE CANNING (1770-1827)
A DISTINGUISHED ENGLISH ORATOR AND WIT
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 REPOSE YET IN READINESS
[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
GEORGE CANNING 511
these principles that, as has been most truly observed by my worthy
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