Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER IX

THE MODERN ORATORS

HE need of orators is as great today as when John

Hampden spoke against the exactions of Charles I, James Otis argued against writs of assistance, or Daniel Webster expounded the Constitution of his country. The need is here, but where are the orators ? Questions of great moment now confront America and the world, but there is no Demosthenes to arouse men to the necessity of action, no Cicero to drive out the traitor Injustice, no Patrick Henry to consolidate the forces of Liberty. The power of the newspaper is great, and today it is doing noble work for progress; but this power can be used, and is being used, for evil as well as for good. A subsidized press is as dangerous as a Catiline or an Aeschines, and government by newspapers is as tyrannous as was the rule of Nero, Louis XI, or George III. The questions of the tariff, the trusts, finance, religion, education, and civic justice are burning, vital ones that closely affect the wellbeing of man on earth and his preparation for a larger existence in a hopeful spiritual future, and they should be plainly and honestly presented, clearly discussed, and justly settled. These results cannot be reached through papers that are owned by the great financiers and trust

magnates, and where the complaints and demands of the people receive scant consideration. Wherein, then, lie the hopes of the masses? In the power of the spoken word. All great reforms, through all ages, have been brought about by the voiced thoughts of men who not only knew their rights but had the courage that gave them the ability to enforce them. A band of noble missionaries should be created, composed of men and women who not only have ideas concerning the questions of today but who know how to express those ideas by word of mouth.

The eighteenth century produced oratorical giants that were undoubtedly equal in many cases to the orators of Greece and Rome in their palmiest days. Such men as the Earl of Chatham, Charles James Fox, Henry Grattan, Lord Brougham, Thomas Erskine, and William C. Plunket of Great Britain, and James Otis, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, and Richard Henry Lee of America, compare favorably with any group of ancient orators existing within a like period of time; while in behalf of the nineteenth century, America boasts of Pinkney, Prentiss, Wirt, Clay, Calhoun, Everett, Choate, Phillips, Lincoln, and Webster, and Great Britain points to Gladstone, Cobden, Curran, O'Connell, and Bright. The great rhetorician Burke is not placed among the foremost orators for the reason that he was a great constructor of speeches but not equally great in the art of delivery. His speeches are masterpieces of composition, and live today as such, but he was a poor speaker, and consequently should not be called an orator, because

an orator, in the true sense of the word, is primarily a speaker, whereas Burke's genius consisted of his masterly logic and his marvellous power of composition.

Today, America has many beautiful writers and clever constructors of speeches, but not one really great orator. Theodore Roosevelt and William J. Bryan are two representatives of the best this country can offer in the way

of orators, but neither of them measures up to the standard of Edward Everett, Wendell Phillips, or Daniel Webster. The main reason for the dearth of real orators is the lack of training in the art of delivery. Much attention is given to gaining a knowledge of the matter that is to be spoken, but little consideration is given to the delivery of that matter to the listener after once it has been gathered by the speaker. It is unfortunate that men like John Mitchell and Dr. Washington Gladden, who are standing up so nobly for the rights of labor, should be poorly equipped as speakers. Both these men possess noble thoughts which read impressively, but, when spoken, lack much force and power, on account of the poor delivery.

This point can be illustrated further by citing the manner and delivery of two men well known to the public of today - Andrew Carnegie and John H. Finley. Both have done considerable public speaking, and one is the president of a college.

On a night in 1911, the members of the Young Men's Bible Class of the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church of New York were addressed by these gentlemen. Both were at a considerable disadvantage from the fact that they had

been invited to address a “Young Men's Bible Class," and as they naturally concluded the class would be composed of young men, they arranged their speeches accordingly; consequently, their plans of address were upset on finding that the majority of the class was composed of men close to the half-century mark, and many beyond it; or, as Mr. Carnegie wittily stated it, “ with parts in their hair a lot wider than my own.”

However, no exception could be taken to the matter of either speaker, although both changed their themes on finding the audience more matured in years than they had expected, and both had to pocket their notes on the subjects upon which they had intended to talk, and to speak extemporaneously. Both speakers cleverly switched to matters upon which they were thoroughly informed Mr. Carnegie narrating events in his busy and influential life, and Dr. Finley discussing how to get the most benefit out of a twenty-four hour day. The matter of both was good, but the manner was unsatisfactory. Mr. Carnegie talked in a pleasant, conversational way which would have been most enjoyable had it not been that his delivery was slow. It took him a full hour to say what might have been easily said, without hurrying, in onehalf the time. His utterance was often so slow as to mar the expressive force of his good language. He also leaned on the reading desk in front of him, not because he needed physical support, he looked strong and rugged on the eve of his seventy-sixth birthday, but from the force of a bad habit.

He was perfectly at home before the audience, spoke in clear tones, at times with considerable force, particularly when quoting from Rev. John Home's tragedy of “Douglas," was winning in manner, took immediate hold of his audience, was witty in appropriate places, and would have been altogether delightful but for length and attitude. Mr. Carnegie was perfectly at home while facing the audience, and had his delivery equalled his matter, the speech would have been a most happy and effective one.

From Dr. Finley, because of his being President of the College of the City of New York, one might reasonably expect much in the way of delivery, but on this occasion the assembly received less than from the other speaker. He stood on the platform awkwardly, hands in pockets most of the time, and seldom did he utter a really smooth sentence, but separated his words in a manner to irritate the audience. He would say, for instance, “We have — been — progressing — upward — and — onward — for - millions-of-years

years —" as though he had only one word in his mind at a time, whereas the learned President's head was full of grand and glorious thoughts that only needed to be spoken in phrases and sentences, instead of single words, in order to make him a most instructive and entertaining speaker. Dr. Finley's matter was well arranged, his diction excellent, but his delivery was un

ortunate. The orators of old, with few exceptions, studied the art of delivery as faithfully as they studied rhetoric, as

« PreviousContinue »