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How to Master the Spoken Word
THE MAKING OF ORATORY
THE MEANS EMPLOYED BY GREAT ORATORS
HE question is often asked, How can I become a
public speaker? This might be aptly answered by putting another question, How did other men become public speakers ? because by a careful study of the means they employed, others may become equally proficient. From the beginning of oratory down to the present day orators have made their effects in composition and delivery by the selfsame means, and if men of today will apply themselves to a mastery of those means with perseverance and intelligence equal to that of the men of the past, there is no reason why they should not meet with equal proficiency.
Let us go back to Gorgias, the Greek rhetorician and teacher of oratory, who was born about the year 483 B. C., and study the manner of his workmanship.
In his speech “The Encomium on Helen,” he arranges his words in masterly style, making use of all the forms of construction that we possess at this time.
ploys the series, the contrasts (single, double, and triple), the conditional, the negative, the positive, and, in fact, all the known forms of arranging words so as to make them best express the orator's meaning. Here is an effective concluding series he uses: “A city is adorned by good citizenship, the body by beauty, the soul by wisdom, acts by virtue, and speech by truthfulness," and he follows this sentence with the following one: * But the opposites of these virtues are a disgrace.” Note how effective he makes the first thought by immediately contrasting it with one that rivets the attention to the graces of good citizenship, beauty, wisdom, virtue, and truthfulness, by stating that the reverse of these things are disgraces. Then follows a series of contrasts: “Man and woman, word and deed, city and government” which,
we ought to praise," and then qualifies this positive with the conditional,“ if praiseworthy," and then makes a strong contrast by stating, “and blame” which he qualifies by adding the conditional “if blameworthy." He then makes a statement very strong by employing a double contrast, “For it is equally wrong and stupid to censure what is commendable, and to commend what is censurable.” After this clear reasoning comes another statement : “Now I conceive it to be my duty in the interest of justice to confute the slanders of Helen, the memory of whose misfortunes has been kept alive by the writings of the poets and the fame of her name." He ends his statement with this strong concluding series, “I propose, therefore, by argument to exonerate her
from the charge of infamy, to convince her accusers of their error, and remove their ignorance by a revelation of the truth.” Now read the entire paragraph:
A city is adorned by good citizenship, the body by beauty, the soul by wisdom, acts by virtue, and speech by truthfulness. But the opposites of these virtues are a disgrace. Man and woman, word and deed, city and government we ought to praise if praiseworthy, and blame if blameworthy. For it is equally wrong and stupid to censure what is commendable, and to commend what is censurable. Now I conceive it to be my duty in the interest of justice to confute the slanders of Helen, the memory of whose misfortunes has been kept alive by the writings of the poets and the fame of her name. I propose, therefore, by argument to exonerate her from the charge of infamy, to convince her accusers of their error, and to remove their ignorance by a revelation of the truth. This is a masterly passage, clear in its statement, logical in its argument, and sound in its conclusion, making a splendid model for a student of oratory to follow. True, the mere faculty of arranging words will not constitute an orator, but it is one of the essentials that go to the making of one; and this power of arranging words, and the capacity for selecting the appropriate theme, and judgment in adopting the proper delivery are the principal means that men have possessed in all times for the making of orators. It is essential that the arts of construction and composition should be diligently studied by speakers, for it is as impossible to have oratory without men who understand the rules of composition as it
is to have orators without oratory. Matter that is to be spoken must not merely be well written, it must be constructed according to the rules of oratory in order that it may sound well. Literature is to be read, oratory is to be spoken; consequently words intended to be spoken must be arranged in such a manner as to make them more effective when uttered by the living voice than when they are set in dead type; and this can only be done by gaining a mastery of the rules of oratory and applying them correctly. We are now dealing with the creation of oratory; later, we will consider the making of orators. The example of Gorgias' oratory cited here gives a clear illustration of the effective use of words, and in order to emphasize this important point of the value of words according to their location, other examples follow.
William H. Seward in his “Plea for the Union this sentence:
If the constellation is to be broken up, the stars, whether scattered widely apart or grouped in smaller clusters, will thenceforth shed forth feeble, glimmering, and lurid lights. He opens with a conditional phrase, “If the constellation is to be broken up” and then commences his statement with “ the stars ” which he interrupts to interject the parenthetical phrase“ whether scattered widely apart or grouped in smaller clusters,” goes back to his main thought with the words “ will thenceforth shed forth feeble, glimmering, and lurid lights." "Feeble, glimmering, and lurid” constitute a commencing series qualifying "lights," and thus is brought about an effective close to a well-knit sentence.