Page images

indeed a great task and enterprise for a person to undertake and profess that while every one else is silent, he alone must be heard on the most important subjects, and in a large assembly of men; for there is scarcely any one present who is not sharper and quicker to discover defects in the speaker than merits; and thus whatever offends the hearer effaces the recollection of what is worthy of praise. I do not make these observations for the purpose of altogether deterring young men from the study of oratory, even if they be deficient in some natural endowments. For who does not perceive that to C. Caelius, my contemporary, a new man, the mere mediocrity in speaking which he was enabled to attain was a great honor? Who does not know that Q. Varius, your equal in age, a clumsy uncouth man, has obtained his great popularity by the cultivation of such faculties as he has?

But as our inquiry regards the complete orator, we must imagine in our discussion an orator from whom every kind of fault is abstracted, and who is adorned with every kind of merit. But if the multitude of suits, if the variety of causes, if the rabble and barbarism of the forum, afford room for even the most wretched speakers, we must not for that reason take our eyes from the object of

our inquiry. In those arts in which it is not indispensable usefulness that is sought, but liberal amusement for the mind, how nicely, how almost fastidiously, do we judge? For there are no suits or controversies which can force men, though they may tolerate indifferent orators in the forum, to endure also bad actors upon the stage. The orator, therefore, must take the most studious precaution not merely to satisfy those whom he necessarily must satisfy, but to seem worthy of admiration to those who are at liberty to judge disinterestedly. If you would know what I myself think, I will express to you, my intimate friends, what I have hitherto never mentioned, and thought that I never should mention. To me, those who speak best and with the utmost ease and grace, appear, if they do not commence their speeches with some timidity, and show some confusion in the exordium, to have almost lost the sense of shame; though it is impossible that such should not be the case: for the better qualified a man is to speak, the more he fears the difficulties of speaking, the uncertain success of a speech, and the expectation of the audi


But he who can produce and deliver nothing worthy of his subject, nothing worthy of the name of an orator, nothing worthy the attention of his audience, seems to me, though he be ever so

confused while he is speaking, to be downright shameless; for we ought to avoid a character for shamelessness, not by testifying shame, but by not doing that which does not become us. But the speaker who has no shame (as I see to be the case with many) I regard as deserving not only of rebuke but of personal castigation. Indeed, what I often observe in you I very frequently experience in myself; that I turn pale in the outset of my speech, and feel a tremor through my whole thoughts, as it were, and limbs. When I was a young man, I was on one occasion so timid in commencing an accusation, that I owed to Q. Maximus the greatest of obligations for immediately dismissing the assembly as soon as he saw me absolutely disheartened and incapacitated through fear." Here they all signified assent, looked significantly at one another, and began to talk together; for there was a wonderful modesty in Crassus, which however was not only no disadvantage to his oratory, but even an assistance to it, by giving it the recommendation of probity.




Henry Clay, "the great American," was born in Ashland, Hanover County, Va., April 12, 1777, and died in Washington, D. C., July 29, 1852. He was a convincing orator, a wonderful parliamentarian, a commanding presiding officer, and a great statesman. Henry Clay was the son of a poor Baptist clergyman, and in his youth possessed only scant advantages, but was blessed with a determination that enabled him to overcome the many obstacles that stood between him and renown. His speeches should not be judged from the brief fragments handed down to us by inadequate reports, but from their influence in shaping the destiny of his country. We know that his oratory was convincing and powerful, and by its means he exerted a tremendous influence over his party, holding its leadership for many years, which even a man of Webster's genius was unable to shake. Henry Clay was broad-minded and liberal, a firm believer in liberty, but in favor of its spread by constitutional means only, and a genuine American at all times and in all stations and positions of life.

ROM 1806, the period of my entrance upon


this noble theatre, with short intervals, to the present time, I have been engaged in the public councils, at home or abroad. Of the services rendered during that long and arduous period of my life, it does not become me to speak; history, if she deign to notice me, and posterity, if the recollections of my humble actions shall be transmitted to posterity, are the best, the truest, the most impar

tial judges. When death has closed the scene, their sentence will be pronounced, and to that I commit myself.

During that long period, however, I have not escaped the fate of other public men, nor failed to incur censure and detraction of the bitterest, most unrelenting, and most malignant character; and, though not always insensible to the pain it was meant to inflict, I have borne it, in general, with composure, and without disturbance, waiting, as I have done, in perfect and undoubting confidence, for the ultimate triumph of justice and of truth, and in the entire persuasion that time would settle all things as they should be, and that, whatever wrong or injustice I might experience at the hands of men, He to whom all hearts are open and fully known, would, by the inscrutable dispensations of His providence, rectify all error, redress all wrong, and cause ample justice to be done.

But I have not, meanwhile, been unsustained. Everywhere throughout the extent of this great continent, I have had cordial, warm-hearted, faithful, and devoted friends, who have known me, loved me, and appreciated my motives. To them, if language were capable of fully expressing my acknowledgments, I would now offer all the return I have the power to make for their genuine, disin

« PreviousContinue »