« PreviousContinue »
OF all the studies which can engage industry, or allure genius, perhaps that of eloquence is the most enchanting. To this delightful occupation the Editor has devoted some of his time, and all his zeal. The result of his labours is now laid before the publick, and though he may receive but limited applause for the execution, yet, he hopes that the design may escape censure.
He presumes, but not vainly, that he has not been forestalled in this literary undertaking. Notwith standing the choice and variety of materials, the enterprise and judgment of booksellers, and the liberal curiosity of enlightened readers; notwithstanding national pride and individual vanity, no ample specimen of forensick and parliamentary eloquence has ever appeared even in the metropolis of the British Empire.
Distinguished as Ireland certainly is, by glorious efforts of the most impassioned oratory, she has been supinely negligent of her fairest fame, and the busy curiosity of Dublin, and the more judicious inquisitiveness of her University, have been satisfied with the garbled and meagre reports of the speeches of Malone, of Flood, of Burgh, and of Grattan.
Scotland, a region abounding with acute and eloquent speakers, and conspicuous alike for her Faculty of Advocates, and her General Assembly, has also been careless to preserve the monuments of her eloquence.
Even in France, so memorable for the vivacity and copiousness of her rhetorick, we might inquire in vain for some of the most brilliant effusions of her Parliament and her Convention.
In short, though in many sections of Europe, single speeches in fugitive pamphlets may have been accidentally, gratuitously, or venally preserved, nothing like a collection has hitherto been compiled by Industry, or selected by Taste.
The Editor, trusting to diligence alone, hopes, not without anxiety, that by the publication of this work he is rendering an acceptable service to the republick of letters. With the volumes now presented to the publick, he completes that portion of the work which is appropriated to the eloquence of Europe. He may, at a future period, not too remote, add to the collection a volume of American
speeches; and if he receive adequate encouragement, he will cheerfully, at proper intervals, continue the series. Eager to vindicate the insulted Genius of his native land, he is sensible that in no way can it be done more successfully than by exhibiting its eloquence. For, if our writers form but a small company, the regiment of our speakers is full. It may be safely affirmed, that since the Athenian democracy, with no people has the talent of publick speaking so generally prevailed. Eloquence of the highest order, and the purest species, we may not have attained. But though we have not emulated those lofty strains and brilliant effusions which the ancient specimens display, or are to be seen in some of the spirited harangues that the momentous events of modern Europe have inspired, yet in that style of oratory, which shines without dazzling, and charms rather than excites astonishment, or kindles enthusiasm, we are extensively gifted and eminently excel. There have been, perhaps, brighter luminaries, but not a greater constellation. Collectively, we are entitled to boast of as much eloquence as has been exhibited in any age or country.
A well grounded conviction of the value of a compilation like the present, induced the Editor to take a wide survey of the Rhetorick of Europe. His researches, though sometimes baffled, have, on the whole, been rewarded with a success very disproportioned to the moderate expectations with which he commenced his task. From the cabinets of the curious, and from the hoards of "literary misers" he drew indeed such a profusion of materials as to have ultimately imposed upon him rather the
perplexity of selection than the toil of gleaning. But, still, some speeches which he has studiously endeavoured to procure, have eluded his inquiries, and he fears are irretrievably lost.* Nevertheless, the Editor pronounces with some degree of confidence that his collection will be found to contain not a few of the noblest specimens of eloquence which at the bar, or in the senate, have delighted, roused, defended, or governed mankind.
The volumes now published, embrace the whole of the revised speeches of Burke which are contained in the recent edition of his works; more than has before appeared of Chatham's; many of the speeches of Fox and Pitt; several of Mansfield's; the two memorable speeches of Sheridan on the trial of Hastings; all of the pleadings of Erskine and of Curran which are faithfully reported; the best speeches on the Slave Trade; Mc'Intosh's celebrated defence of Peltier, besides a large selection of Irish eloquence, and some speeches of the "olden time."
This catalogue, so rich and so various, surely requires only to be exhibited to give a pledge, at once,
* Although the Editor has omitted no practicable mode of research; though he has availed himself of the very valuable assistance of one of the most diligent inquirers among the Literati of Great Britain, and publickly advertised, and privately written for the necessary documents, he has been disappointed in his attempts to obtain the speeches of Lord Lyttleton the younger, the famous Harangue of William Gerard Hamilton; the speeches of Charles Townsend; the pleadings of Murray, Thurlow, Wedderburne, Dunning, and Anthony Malone!
of the value of the work, and of the care and exertion with which it has been prepared.
In the collation of the contents of these volumes, the editor, rejecting vague reports, and newspaper authority, has been particularly solicitous to select such orations and pleadings, as have undergone the revision, or been published under the superintendance of the author. He has been sedulous to follow with fidelity the text, nor ever presumed foolishly, if not flagitiously, to interpolate the copy; a practice, which of late, has become a sort of fashion in America, to the confusion of authors, and to the prejudice of learning.
He has made indisputable evidence of the genuineness of every speech, the criterion of his choice, and has admitted no one into the work, which is not distinguished either by importance of matter or brilliancy of diction.
Without hazarding a decision of his own, on the question of theǝdns riority of ancient or modern eloquence, he trusts that this compilation will not be thought to weaken the opinion that, were a collection of the best specimens of the latter to be formed, it might fearlessly challenge a comparison with the celebrated exhibitions of Grecian and Roman oratory.
Of the pretensions of the work to publick favour the Editor conceives little more need be said.
It is an attempt, and the only one, to perpetuate Modern Eloquence.