« PreviousContinue »
iv. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ORATORY
decision of his own intellect, taken captive by the personal powers of the speaker. To learn what the oration really contains, and what force it has as a pure expression of human thought, it must be read and weighed by the mind of the auditor when in a cool and critical state. Under such conditions the verdict is often changed and the weakness and emptiness of what may have seemed irrefutable arguments are exposed. For this reason it may be held that no one should decide as to the true merit of an oration until he has read it, and the really great orations can be enjoyed by the reader centuries even after they were delivered.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS WORK
In the present work an effort has been made to do justice to the orator, as far as possible, from both points of view. While carefully chosen selections from notable speeches have been made, in evidence of the quality of thought and mode of expression of each person dealt with, there has also been an endeavor to give a living impression of his personality. For this purpose a detailed portrait gallery of orators has been presented to the reader, that he may see them “in their habit as they lived ’’; the special occasion which gave rise to each oration is cited ; and a sketch is given in the instance of each orator of the qualities and circumstances to which he owes his fame and his characteristics as a man. It is hoped in this way to give a degree of vital personality to each of the several persons dealt with, and as fully as possible to put them on the stage before the reader; enabling the latter, while enjoying the eloquence of each member of our galaxy of orators, at the same time, in some measure, to behold him in person, to catch him, as it were, in the act of delivery.
Aside from the endeavor here indicated, it is the purpose of the editor of this work to offer examples of oratory selected from the choicest orations on record in every field ; chosen alike from the stars of the first magnitude in this art and those
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ORATORY W
of lesser yet considerable brilliancy. It need scarcely be said that oratorical efforts of the finest quality exist in several of the leading fields of human thought, such as those of the parliamentary chamber, the political rostrum the bar, the pulpit, the lecture platform and the social hall. But many of these lack interest to the general reader. In making selections from the store at command the subject as well as the manner needs to be carefully considered, matters of local or temporary character losing their force and potency as time goes on, however effective they may have seemed when the occasion served. The legal oration, for example, is usually of passing interest, rarely appealing even at the time to more than a few persons, and seldom having a message to deliver to the world. The parliamentary oration, on the contrary, which deals with the great questions of government, political and national relations and the inherent rights of man, is apt to have a perennial hold upon the human mind, keeping its interest fresh even after centuries have passed. These are the two extremes between which it is necessary to choose. A DISTINCTIVE FEATURE OF THIS BOOK
It may further be said that in many cases the orator owes his fame largely to some one supreme effort, some grand display of his powers which throws all others into the shade, and yields us the product of his intellect and force of expression at their highest elevation. This is, as a rule, a result of the incitement of some stirring contingency, some mighty crisis which can be justly dealt with only by the highest powers of thought and which is apt to arouse the orator to the utmost exercise of his faculties. In our selections we have been guided in a measure by this fact, choosing from the more famous examples of oratory, for the double reason that these present the orator at his best, and usually deal with subjects of permanent interest in themselves—those great occasions or events of history which never grow dull or stale, but retain their freshness through the ages.