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THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ORATORY

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RATORY is, in its essential elements, the oldest of the

arts, for it is one that requires, for its ordinary exercise,

no other equipment than fluency of speech and some degree of self-confidence on the part of the speaker. It has, therefore, been practiced for ages past, as well among savage and barbarous tribes as among civilized peoples, in evidence of which may be mentioned the striking examples of native oratory attributed to the American Indians. This being the case, it might naturally be conceived that the literature of civilization would be overflowing with oratorical productions of high merit. Yet such a conclusion would be by no means a safe

When we come to consider the abundant examples of oratory on record, it is to find the pure gold of eloquence often sadly alloyed. The orations of supreme merit, those which have won a position in the world's best literature, are few in number, and the list of world-famed orators is less extended than in almost any other field of human art.

From this fact we can but conclude that the necessary equipment for the higher type of oratory demands far more ihan mere readiness in speech, grace in gesture, and fluent command of language. Back of these accomplishments must rest superior powers of thought, logical consistency in reasoning, quickness and brilliancy of conception, control of rhetorical expedients, and much of what is known as personal magnetism,

JUN 3 · 1959

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THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ORATORY

the ability to sway the feelings of hearers by sympathetic warmth of utterance. To these there must be added, for eminent success upon the rostrum, rich and full powers of voice, large training in the effective use of language, graceful and commanding attitudes and gestures, and all those personal qualities which give a living force to spoken words. The orator should have the art of the poet as well as the force of the reasoner, be capable of clothing his thoughts in a brilliant cloak of words and phrases, of controlling the feelings as well as appealing to the judgment of his hearers, in short, of employing all the expedients of which language is susceptible, all the attraction of which the voice and person are capable, and all the powers of thought with which the intellect is furnished.

THE EFFECT OF ORATORY

An oration, to be fully appreciated, must be heard, not read. Much of what gave it force and effect is lost when it is committed to print. The living personality is gone—the flashing eye, the vibrating voice, the impetuous gesture, the passionate declamation, the swaying and sweeping energy of eloquence which at times gives to meaningless words a controlling force. Much is lost, but by no means all. The real flesh and blood of the oration is left—its logic, its truth, its quality as a product of the intellect. When thus read, apart from the personal influence of the orator and with cool and judicial min the sophistry, the emptiness, of many showy orations become pitifully evident, while the true merit of the really great effort grows doubly apparent. No longer taken captive by the speaker's manner and the external aids to eloquence, the reader can calmly measure and weigh lis words and thoughts, with competence to reject the vapid example of speech-making and give its just pre-eminence to the truly great oration.

From what is above said it should be evident that the powers of the orator are not alone those of pure reasoning, of logic reduced to its finest elements. No example of oratory

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ORATORY

should be judged from such a point of view. An orator is essentially a partisan. He takes sides almost necessarily, and is apt to employ any means at his command to give the supremacy to his own side of the question at issue. He is the counterpart, not of the judge—who calmly and logically weighs the two sides of the case to be decided and seeks to avoid preference to either—but of the advocate, whose aim it is to convince the jury that his own side is the correct one, and who does this by employing every sophistry, every trick of speech and argument, every device to add to the strength of his client's case and lessen that of his opponent. But ordinarily the orator, partisan though he may be, has a wider audience than a jury, and a higher sense of duty to himself and his hearers than is usually to be found in a jury trial. Though it may be his purpose rather to convince than to prove, and though he may not hesitate to help his side of the argument by oratorical devices and skillful deceptions, he must have an earnest belief in the strength and cogency of his own cause or he can scarcely hope to succeed. No man can serve God and Mammon. The great oration must come from the heart and not from the lips. Yet it is not enough for a man to believe in his cause ; his cause as well as his belief must be strong. The speech which does not ring true to a judicious reader is defective either in its cause or its advocate. Sophistry may weigh well on the platform, but it becomes hollow and empty in the cabinet, and the merit of no oration can be justly decided upon until it has been put to the test of the reader's mind.

While, therefore, the idea is widely entertained that an oration must be heard to be truly appreciated, this conception is far from correct. There are two things to be considered in judging every oration; the real quality and merit of the thought expressed, and the effect of delivery—the speaker's powers of elocution and the magnetic influence of voice and personality. The latter has often an immense effect, and the hearer frequently leaves the presence of the orator convinced against the

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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

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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

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

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