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are not few in number, the loudest and perhaps the most frequent is the want of orators: why is it, we hear on all sides, that while we have good poets, good historians, good novelists, there is no such thing as a good public
speaker? In vain we adduce Lord Derby, Gladstone, Lord Brougham, and Bright as proofs to the contrary; what are they, we are asked, when compared with the orators of the last generation, with Burke, Pitt, Fox, or even Sheridan; and, even allowing their title to celebrity, what are they among so many? Now although it is a vulgar error to exaggerate the past and depreciate the present, on the principle of "omne ignotum pro mirifico," yet there is very rarely a popular cry wholly without foundation. Madame de Sevigné with much pointedness says, “Mon ami le public a bon nez, et ne se méprend guère. Allowing the fact then that oratory is on the decline, we propose shortly to examine into the causes of this decline.
In the ancient times of Greece and Rome any one who had the slightest pretensions to literary or political fame was necessarily more or less an orator. Even a general had but a poor chance of success, if he lacked the art of carrying a popular assembly with him. Demosthenes (the general), Cleon, Pericles, Alcibiades, were all orators, and a hundred other instances might be added. Had not Homer been able to recite as well as compose his divine verses, we should have been ignorant even of his name. Those were the days when the sausage-seller Cleon and the tallow-chandler Hyperbolus flourished;—the cleverness and wit of Themistocles were preferred to the probity and justice of Aristides, and a stammerer was a synonym for a fool. Demosthenes, had he lived in the present day, would have held his tongue, or contented himself with writing for the Saturday Revier. As it was however, his ambition drove him to conquer his natural defects and to devote himself to public speaking, as the only way in which distinction was to be attained.
Great was the change produced by the invention of printing. A new and widely different channel was opened for genius,—a channel in which men of stammering lips and of forble timgue 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 ít. 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 run. They can, if we may believe one of their number, talk fluently on any given subject, at however short a notice, and are really and willing to discuss philosophy, theology, or politics with the first stranger they meet; but a Yule man finds acrious 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 å 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 bare 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, and vice versa, which he has performed, will of itself give a sufficient command of words. Lord Brougham has said that it was his custom to translate aloud from Demosthenes daily, and the likeness which his speeches bear to those of that orator, shews what advantage he thus gained.
The want of orators in England may be justly a source of regret, but, in at least one point of view, it is a fault on the right side, and we should be very loath to exchange our English σιγής ακίνδυνον γέρας for French garrulity or American effrontery.
the sentiments which have of late been popular with respect to the social benefits which war is supposed to confer: and the hope now often expressed of the effect which the tone of our popular action might receive from a conflict such as that in which we have been lately engaged. It is not easy, nor is it always practicable, to scrutinize narrowly the results of
any one set of circumstances on the character of a people: it is hopeless to do so when the total effect is considerably overrated: but when it is intimated in quarters which command respect and secure attention, that a modern European war will awaken a nation from a lethargy of dishonest hypocrisy, and produce a healing impulse almost in private character; and this so much even that the consummation, in spite of its attendant horrors, is one devoutly to be wished; it is time honestly to enquire what foundation these expectations have: what will remain over and above in the way of social improvement, when such a war has ended: what we have left to us of durable reinvigoration when our friends are wounded in Russia, and our purses exhausted by the income-tax.
It was once the dream of the poet, and the prophet's most confident hope, that the days of war should cease. The prevailing passion for paradox would naturally lead us to expect that our bards of to-day will pray for the death of peace. There are many circumstances which remove from ourselves the horrors of war. The scene has not been laid in our land for many generations; we have forgotten the look of the ruined village and the desolated champaign; we can only guess at the real hue of mangled limbs and bleeding wounds. Nor is this all; the sober current of national life flows evenly in a clear-hewn channel; the wheels of the car of state follow quietly the beaten groove. We have leisure to mark the social blots, we descry easily the shallow thought and heartless life, we long for a grand passion, a stirring impulse which shall rouse us to know ourselves and one another better, and live more as men and fellow-citizens should. And such we sometimes conceive, might be found in the excitement of war. And yet somehow our armies have fought and perished, and our coffers have been emptied, and all our state energies aroused for combat; and we find still that chicory is mixed