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feeble tongue might win far greater glory than a Cicero or a Demosthenes.
Even within the last fifty years the multiplication of books has made a vast difference. There was a time when an eloquent speech would carry the whole House of Commons with it
. Now it is the rarest possible event for a vote to be turned by a speech. Most members have got up the subject from books, and come to a deliberate opinion before they enter the House, and the rest who lack industry or talents to do so, have pledged themselves blindly to follow their leader. Here we believe we have the chief cause for the decline of oratory. We live in a reading and not in a hearing age. There is less demand for the commodity in the market and consequently the supply is less.
But there are many who assign a far different reason. Education, they say, is at fault. A man is no more born an orator than he is a cobbler. For either profession he must be trained ; and a purely classical or mathematical education will not turn out an orator any more than sending a boy to the national school will make him a cobbler. Now, this is a very shallow view of the meaning of education; which has for its object, as we take it, not the making men lawyers, statesmen, or orators; but to turn out such machines as shall by subsequent training fulfil the particular functions for which they may afterwards be required. Facts have proved that a man who has received a general education and never opened a book on law till he has passed the age of twenty-three, will make a better lawyer than one who has worked at law from his infancy, and learned his alphabet out of Blackstone. This is the mistake into which the students of American Universities
we may believe one of their number, talk fluently on any given subject, at however short a notice, and are ready and willing to discuss philosophy, theology, or politics with the first stranger they meet; but a Yule man finds serious difficulty in translating Cæsar, and is completely floored by a sentence of Thucydides. In our English Universities we pursue an exactly different course. It is an axiom that classics and mathematics are the best means for developing the human mind. In these the highest rewards are offered, and the highest excellence is obtained. To the study of extraneous subjects, very properly, little encouragement is given. For if any one, after devoting his energies to these, fail to be successful, he will rarely, if ever, succeed in any other branch of learning. Moreover, distasteful as these may seem to some, what can be more useful than the moral as well as the intellectual training brought out in the mastery of them?
But to return to the point whence we started, we would fully admit that no man is born an orator.—Men of the highest genius have been incapable of expressing their thoughts fluently either publicly or privately, and the greatest orators have acquired their eloquence and mastery of language by slow and often painful efforts. We have seen a senior classic and high wrangler utterly dumb-foundered by a girl just escaped from the school-room, and we remember at a debate of the Cambridge Union Society one of the cleverest men of his year being made a laughing-stock of, without having a word to say
in his defence, by a man who afterwards failed to satisfy the very moderate requirements of a “poll” examiner. In the excellent life of George Stephenson there is a story told, illustrating very well how the stronger side is often beaten by the weaker through want of words. In an argument on the properties of coal with Dr. Buckland, Stephenson was decidedly worsted. Knowing that his was the true view of the case, and annoyed at being beaten, he explained what he meant to have said to Sir William Follett, in private, who agreed to be his spokesman. The subject was a second time brought on the tapis, and to Stephenson's immense joy Dr. Buckland was thoroughly silenced.
Since such are the disadvantages under which a man who is unable to speak in public labours, it is the height of folly to despise oratory, and assert that, because rhetoric is often used in a bad cause, it is unwise or wrong to use it in a good one. But we contend that self-education alone is wanted for this, and that it cannot be taught by any methodical process. First let a man have something worth telling, and then let, him see how best he may tell it: it is better to have a baré rock to stand on than a cloud-capped castle built on the sand; any one would choose rather to live on bread alone, than on all manner of sweets and dainties without bread. At both the Universities, and at some of the large public schools there are debating societies, in which, however low the standard of speaking may be, any one can acquire confidence, and the power of feeling the pulse of an audience, two indispensable requisites for a successful orator; and yet but a small number avail themselves of this advantage. Many men know that they will have to speak in after life, but the University not requiring them to speak in public, they defer their first attempt until they have, instead of an indulgent audience, a bench of rivals to hear them, and public opinion outside has to judge of their efforts. A man who is a moderately good classical scholar is already in possession of considerable advantages, since the immense amount of translation from the dead languages into English,