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remains to make men say fifty years after his death that he merits not only a statue but lasting remembrance? Is it to be found in his success as a great advocate and lawyer, the acknowledged head of his profession? There is nothing which demands or calls forth greater intellectual powers or larger mental resources than the highest success at the bar, and yet no reputation is more evanescent. The decisions of judges remain and become part of the law of the land, lasting monuments of the learning and the thought which brought them forth. But the arguments which enlightened courts, which swayed juries, upon which public attention was fixed in admiration, fade almost in the hour, while the brilliant lawyer who uttered them soon becomes a tradition and a memory
We must look beyond his triumphs at the bar to find the Webster of history. Beyond his work as a lawmaker, also, for, although he had a lion's share in the legislation of his time, it is not as a constructive statesman that he lives for us to-day. In the first rank as a lawmaker and as a lawyer, something very great must remain behind if we can readily and justly set aside such claims as these and say the highest remembrance rests on other grounds.
Yet such is the case, and the first, but the lesser, of these other grounds is his power of speech. Eminent as a legislator, still more distinguished as a lawyer, Webster was supreme as an orator. I had occasion some years ago to make a very careful study of Webster's speeches and orations. I read with them, and in strict comparison, all that was best in Greek, Latin, French, and English oratory, and all that is best and finestI do not say all that is fine and good—is is to be found in those four languages. Webster stood the comparison without need of deduction or apology. I do not
think that I am influenced by national feeling, for my object was to exclude the historical as well as the personal valuation, and to reach a real estimate.
When all was done, it seemed to me that Webster was unequalled. I am sure that he is unsurpassed as an orator. There was no need for him to put pebbles in his mouth to cure stammering, or to rehearse his speeches on the seashore in conflict with the noise of the wave. He had from the hand of nature all the graces of person and presence, of voice and delivery, which the most exacting critic could demand, and these natural gifts were trained, enhanced, and perfected by years of practice in the Senate, the court room, and before the people.
In what he said he always had distinction-rarest of qualities and he had also the great manner, just as Milton has it in verse.
To lucid statement, to that simplicity in discussion which modern times demand for practical questions, to nervous force, he added, at his best, wealth of imagery, richness of diction, humor, and pathos, all combined with the power of soaring on easy wing to the loftiest flights of eloquence. Above all he had that highest quality, the "OROVðatórny or high and excellent seriousness which Aristotle sets down as one of the supreme virtues of poetry, and without which neither oratory nor poetry can attain to supremacy.
Charles Fox was the author of the famous aphorism that no good speech ever read well.” This is the declaration in epigrammatic form that the speech which is prepared like an essay and read or recited, which, in other words, is literature before it is oratory, is not thoroughly good, and of the soundness of the doctrine there can be, I think, no doubt. But this proposition is not without its dangers.
Charles Fox lived up to his own principle. He was, in my opinion, the greatest of English orators at the moment of speech, but he is little read and seldom quoted now. What he said has faded from the minds of men despite its enchanting, its enormous effect at the moment.
On the other hand, the speech which is literature before it is spoken is ineffective or only partially effective at the moment, and if it is read afterwards, however much we may enjoy the essay, we never mistake it for the genuine eloquence of the spoken word. Macaulay is an example of this latter class, as Fox is of the former. Macaulay's speeches are essays, eloquent and rhetorical, but still essays, literature, and not speeches. He was listened to with interest and delight, but he was not a great parliamentary debater or speaker.
The highest oratory, therefore, must combine in exact balance the living force and freshness of the spoken word with the literary qualities which alone ensure endurance. The best examples of this perfection are to be found in the world of imagination, in the two speeches of Brutus and Mark Antony in the play of Julius Cæsar. They are speeches and nothing else—one cool, stately, reasonable; the other a passionate, revolutionary appeal, hot from the heart and pouring from the lips with unpremeditated art, and yet they both have the literary quality, absolutely supreme in this instance, because Shakespeare wrote them.
It is not the preparation or even the writing out beforehand, therefore, which makes a speech into an essay, for these things can both be done without detracting from the spontaneity, without dulling the sound of the voice which the wholly great speech must have, even on the printed page. The speech loses when the literary quality becomes
predominant, and absolute success as high as it is rare comes only from the nice balance of the two essential ingredients.
You find this balance, this combination, in Demosthenes and Isocrates, although I venture to think that those two great masters lean, if at all, too much to the literary side. In Cicero, although in matter and manner the best judges would rank him below the Greek masters, the combination is quite perfect. One of his most famous speeches, it is said, was never delivered at all, and none the less it is a speech and nothing else, instinct with life and yet with the impalpable literary feeling all through it, the perfect production of a very beautiful and subtle art.
Among English orators Burke undoubtedly comes nearest to the union of the two qualities, and while the words of Fox and Pitt are unread and unquoted, except by students, Burke's gorgeous sentences are recited and repeated by successive generations. Yet there is no doubt that Burke erred on the literary side, and we find the proof of it in the fact that he often spoke to empty benches, and that Goldsmith could say, of him:
“ Too deep for his hearers, still went on refining,
And thought of convincing while they thought of dining." Burke was a literary man as well as an orator and a states
Webster was not a literary man at all. He never wrote books or essays, although, in Dr. Johnson's phrase, he had literature and loved it. He was an orator, pure and simple; his speeches, good, bad, or indifferent, are speechesnever essays or anything but speeches—and yet upon all alike is the literary touch. In all is the fine literary quality, always felt, never seen, ever present, never obtrusive. He had the combination of Shakespeare's Brutus or Antony, of
Demosthenes or Cicero, and when he rose to his greatest heights he reached a place beyond the fear of rivalry.
Would you have a practical proof and exhibition of this fact, turn to any serious and large debate in Congress, and you will find Webster constantly quoted, as he is in every session, quoted twenty times as often as any other public man in our history. He said many profound, many luminous, many suggestive things; he was an authority on many policies and on the interpretation of the constitution. But there have been others of whom all this might be said ; there were kings before Agamemnon, but they are rarely quoted, while Webster is quoted constantly.
He had strong competitors in his own day and in his own field, able, acute, and brilliant men. He rose superior to them, I think, in his lifetime, but now that they are all dead Webster is familiar to hundreds to whom his rivals are little more than names. So far as familiarity in the mouths of men goes, it is Eclipse first and the rest nowhere. It is the rare combination of speech and literature; it is the literary quality, the literary savor, which keeps what Webster said fresh, strong, and living. When we open the volumes of his speeches it is not like unrolling the wrappings of an Egyptian mummy, to find within a dried and shrivelled form, a faint perfume alone surviving to faintly recall the vanished days, as when
“Some queen, long dead, was young."
Rather it is like the opening of Charlemagne's tomb, when his imperial successor started back before the enthroned figure of the great emperor looking out upon him, instinct with life under the red glare of the torches.
Let us apply another and surer test. How many speeches to a jury in a criminal trial possessing neither political nor