James Bryce Bryce.

University and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain online

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of Silence and denounced the growing tendency to talk
in public. Since then the habit has increased, is increas-
ing, and seems most unlikely to decrease. It may be
true that everything worth saying has been said.
Nevertheless, orations will go on as long as men are
willing to listen.

You whom I see here present will join some of you
have already joined the great army of orators, so it is
natural that you should desire to have a few hints
given you on the subject, even if they claim no other
authority than that which fifty years of observation
here and in Europe may seem to confer. They shall
be put in the form of a few short maxims of a severely
practical character. Most, perhaps all, of these
maxims will appear obvious, but I give them not be-
cause they are novel, but because they are so con-
stantly neglected as to be worth repeating.

i. Always have something to say. The man who
has something to say and who is known never to speak
unless he has, is sure to be listened to, especially in a
deliberative assembly or wherever there is business to



be done, while the man of mere words carries no sort of
weight. Try to have an idea, or if you cannot find
one ideas are none too common have two or three
relevant facts. You may tell me that sometimes a man
is forced to speak when there is nothing to be said. This
does not often happen, because if you think a little be-
fore you rise, you will almost always find something bear-
ing on the matter in hand, even if the occasion be a
purely ornamental one. There is a well-known speech of
Cicero's in which he had to present a legal case on behalf
of a poet. He evidently knew that the legal case was
weak, so he passed quickly and lightly over it, but made a
graceful and eloquent discourse upon poetry in general.
The theme was not very novel then, and is still less novel
now, but the discourse was so finished in its language
that it can still be read with pleasure. So when you
have to propose the health of some one of whose personal
merits you know nothing, you may say something
about the importance of his office if he is a state
governor or a mayor, or the services rendered by his
profession if he is a surgeon, or if he is a newspaper
reporter, Milton's Areopagitica with its stately argument
on behalf of the liberty of unlicensed printing may sug-
gest something appropriate. If you can find nothing
at all to say, don't say it. Your silence will not harm
you in the long run.

Lord Brougham, who was a power in his day, though
his eloquence does not suit our modern taste, advised
young speakers to begin by acquiring fluency as the


one indispensable thing, and William Pitt the younger
is said to have acquired his marvellous command of
words by having been trained by his father to trans-
late rapidly at sight from Latin authors. Nevertheless
there is such a thing as a fatal fluency. Whoever follows
Brougham's advice ought to beware the habit of think-
ing more of the words than of the sense.

2. Always know what you mean to say. If possible,
consider beforehand what you are going to say, and
make your own mind perfectly clear what is the argu-
ment which you want to put, or the facts you want to
convey. If your own mind is muddled, much more mud-
dled will your hearers be. Bring your thoughts to a
point, reject whatever is irrelevant, and be content if
you have one good point and can drive it home. It is
pitiable to see how often a man who really has some
knowledge of his subject goes groping or stumbling
about, trying to get somewhere, but not getting any-
where, not for want of words, but because he cannot
put his ideas into the form of definite propositions.
In trying to discover what it is that you mean,
you may discover that you mean nothing. If so,
the sooner you know it the better. Sometimes one
hears a speech in the course of which the speaker gets
his own mind clear, and comes at last to know what
he means, but when it is too late to get hold of the
audience. If he had thought the thing out beforehand,
all would have gone well.

3. Always arrange your remarks hi some sort of order.


No matter how short they are to be, they will be the
better for having a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Nothing pleases an audience more than the sense
that they are being led along a path towards a definite
goal by a man who knows his way. It gives them
confidence that the speaker understands what he is
about and will bring them out all right somewhere.
Do not, however, let your arrangement be so obtru-
sively elaborate as to alarm them. It used to be the
fashion of Scottish preachers to divide their subject into
three or four "heads" with a "firstly," a "secondly,"
a "thirdly," and so forth, under each head, so that
the listener knew what a long road he had to travel. I
remember one sermon in which a venerable minister
got as far as nineteen thly under the second head. The
process of classifying facts and arguments and placing
them in their right order in one's own mind helps
to clarify it, while it adds strength to the argument.
It might almost be said that a well-arranged speech is
seldom a bad speech, because in the process of arrange-
ment a man of any sense is sure to find out the
deficiencies in his facts . or the weak points in his
arguments in time to cure them.

4. At all hazards, Be Clear. Make your meaning,
whatever it is, plain to your audience. Though
obscure speech is usually due to obscure thought, this is
not always so. Some persons who think clearly have not
learned to express themselves clearly, because they are
nervous in public, or have an insufficient command of


words. In such cases it may be better to resort to
the expedient, otherwise to be deprecated, of reading a
speech from manuscript rather than confuse the audience.
You have, moreover, to think not of the form thoughts
take in your own mind, but of the form in which they
will be comprehensible by your audience. Do not imi-
tate the bishop who, preaching in a village church,
told Hampshire rustics that "Nature herself shall be
the palimpsest on which Omnipotence shall inscribe the
characters of a rejuvenated humanity." Let the con-
struction of your sentences be simple enough for the
hearers to follow, and the words such as they cannot fail
to understand. To find themselves puzzled over your
meaning, and while they are still puzzling over your
last sentence, to be unable to attend to the next one,
annoys your hearers and lessens the chance of pleasing
or persuading them. Though obscurity of expression
is mostly due to obscurity of thought, it sometimes
happens that people whose thought is clear enough
insist on wrapping it up in vague and cloudy rhetoric.
To the rule that lucidity is the first of merits, there
is one exception, viz., where a speaker feels himself
driven to the shelter of obscurity. I have seen astute
debaters, compelled by their position to speak, unwill-
ing to be untruthful, yet forbidden by considerations
of prudence to speak out frankly all they thought, de-
liberately involve themselves in a web of words where
each sentence seemed to have a meaning, but the hearers
were left to wonder what the whole speech meant.


But such contingencies are rare ; you may go through
life without getting caught in one.

5. In controversial speaking, as, for example, in
conducting a lawsuit or arguing a proposal in a delibera-
tive body, think always of what your opponent will
say, and so frame your speech as to anticipate his
answers and give little opening for his criticism.
The grounds of this rule are too obvious to need
illustration. Add to it the old maxim that in replying
you ought to meet and counter your adversary's jest
by earnest, and his earnest by jest. Aristotle said it,
but mother wit has taught it to many a man who
never heard of Aristotle.

6. Always reflect beforehand upon the kind of
audience you are likely to have, for even in the
same country or in the same section of the country
audiences are by no means the same, and what
suits one may not suit another. I have known
practised speakers throw overboard the speech they
had intended to deliver and substitute something
different when they looked from the platform over the
faces beneath. If your hearers are mostly educated
men and women, you may assume much as already
known which it would be proper to explain to persons
of scantier knowledge. But it is safer to proceed on
the assumption of ignorance (so long as you do not let
the audience think you are talking down to them) than
to assume knowledge. We are all of us more ignorant
than other people know, or indeed than we know our-


selves. If the audience are disposed to be hostile,
you will begin by putting them in good humour
and trying to excite their curiosity as to the line you
will take. If they are already wearied by the ha-
rangues of your predecessors, you will go at them with
quick, sharp, bright, bold sentences, and will let them
feel that you do not mean to detain them long. And
you will watch them as you go along just as you would
watch your fly on the surface of the water you are

7. Never despise those whom you address, whatever
you may think of their intellectual attainments. Give
them the best you have to give. You need not talk
over their heads, as I once heard an eminent English
historian, when he was candidate for a seat hi Parlia-
ment, discourse to agricultural labourers upon the
Landesgemeinde of the Forest Cantons of Switzerland.
But you will find it politic as well as polite to respect
them, and you must never think that your best thoughts,
expressed in the fittest words, are too good for them.
Though noisy and empty rhetoric will often draw cheers,
still the masses of the common people almost always
appreciate solid and relevant facts, sound and useful
thoughts, stated in language they can understand,
and there will probably be among them those who
would perceive and resent any indication that you
were talking down to their inferior capacity.

8. Be sparing of literary ornament, except in
speeches that are of a frankly decorative kind, such


as those made after dinner, or panegyrics of some notable
person whom it is wished to honour. Just as an ornament
should seem when used in architecture, to be an orig-
inal and essential part of the whole design, so in oratory
the decorative parts should be connected with, and
naturally grow out of, the substance of the matter in
hand, and should help to make the speech more vivid
and telling, rather than seem stuck on in order to please
the ear without strengthening the sense. Abraham
Lincoln rendered a great service to American eloquence
when he renounced the florid or tawdry style that
prevailed in his day, and set an example of speaking
that was plain, direct, and terse. Be sparing with
superlatives; reserve them for occasions where they
will really tell. Take pains to choose the strong and
simple words, and the words that exactly fit the case.
Even an audience that is not itself very cultivated
feels the charm of choice and pointed diction, and of
words that have some touch of colour in them, such as
apt metaphors. A well chosen metaphor often clinches
an argument, or becomes an illustration of it in

9. As respects humorous anecdotes, and jokes in
general, these are eminently matters of individual
taste, in which each man will please himself, and few
general counsels can be given. Though we all envy the
speaker who has plenty of merry jests, he needs to be-
ware of abusing his gift. There is a tendency to-day to
make after-dinner speaking a mere string of anecdotes,


most of which may have little to do with the subject
or with one another. Even the best stories lose their
charm when they are dragged in by the head and
shoulders, having no connection with the allotted theme.
Relevance as well as brevity is the soul of wit, for a
good speech is a work of art, in which every part
should have an organic relation to every other part.
And when you tell a story, take some pains with the
form of it. The late Mr. James Russell Lowell, whom
we in England admired as the best after-dinner speaker
of his day, was a master in that line. The classical
felicity of his diction set off and gave a charm to the
smallest anecdote he told.

10. Never, if you can help it, be dull. It is a fault to
have too many flowers or too many fireworks, but it is a
worse fault to be tedious. An eminent Oxford teacher
of my undergraduate days, who is now a learned and
distinguished English writer, coined for his pupils a
phrase which had a great vogue in the university: "It
is better to be flippant than to be dull." This audacious
advice, meant for young writers, is even more applica-
ble to young speakers, because, bad as dulness is in
print, it is still worse when you cannot escape from
it without quitting the dinner table. Many are the
causes of dreariness in a speech. One is lack of good
matter, for it often happens that the less a man has
to say, the more he spins it out. A still commoner
one is confused thinking, which makes the speaker
lose himself in vague and pointless phrases. Another


is monotony in language, the frequent repetition of
the same words, because the speaker's vocabulary is
scanty and he can command no others. You may
ask how dulness can be avoided when the subject is
not a lively one. Well, some subjects are dry. The
treasurer of a city, or even of a baseball club, who is
presenting his accounts, cannot make them fascinating.
But dryness is not the same thing as dulness. The least
promising subject may be treated with a conciseness and
precision and lucidity which allow one the pleasure that
good workmanship gives. A speech with those merits
will not be dull. Though it may be dry, it will stand
out sharp and clear, like a bare mountain peak in the
desert of Arizona, and even to the driest topics you
can impart a little variety by a lively simile or an
apt illustration. Dulness is often the result merely of
monotony in voice and manner : and this brings me to
another maxim.

ii. Remember the importance of Delivery. De-
mosthenes, greatest of all orators, is reported to have
said when asked what was the chief quality in oratory,
Delivery; and when asked what was the second and
again what was the third, to have made the same reply.
It is related that his own elocution and manner were at
first poor, and were improved by incessant study
and practice. And though a rich or sweet or sonorous
and resonant voice is a gift of nature, care and training
can do much to get good results out of a mediocre organ.
Articulation, modulation, and expression may all be


cultivated. To listen to words clearly and finely spoken,
and to sentences in which the voice adapts itself to
the subject, adds greatly to whatever pleasure a speech
can give. However, the four suggestions I make to you
are applicable to all, be their voices good or bad. First,
Be sure you are heard. Better be silent than be in-
audible. Secondly, Do not shout. It is not necessary.
Take the measure of the room, look at the man in the
last row, throw your voice out so as to reach him,
watching his face to see if the words get there, and trust
not so much to loudness as to clearness of enunciation
and a measured delivery. Thirdly, Beware of exhaust-
ing your voice. Do not strain it, however large the
room, to its utmost power, at least until near the end
of your speech. Fourthly, Vary now and then the key
or pitch of your voice. It relieves the listener, and
to suddenly raise or lower the voice when there is any
change in the topic often helps the sense of the words.
A speech seems twice as long when it is delivered in a
monotone, and most speeches are too long already.

Were I addressing an English audience I should add a
fifth suggestion. Speak slowly. But the fault of going
too fast is far less common here than in Britain; in-
deed, some of your speakers tend to the opposite error
of going too slow. Dr. Phillips Brooks is the only
great American to whom I have ever listened who
spoke very rapidly. It may interest you to know that
John Bright, who was on the whole the greatest English
orator of the last half century, told me that when he


first began to speak in public his utterance was so rapid
that on one occasion a newspaper reported an address
he had made at a political meeting in the following
words: "The next speech was made by our young
townsman, Mr. John Bright, but he spoke so fast that
our reporter was quite unable to follow him." When
and after Bright had reached his prime, the measured
deliberation with which he delivered his sentences made
them tell like the blows of a hammer.

12. Never read from manuscript if you can help
it, unless when the occasion is one of such exceptional
solemnity or dignity that a long and highly finished
piece of composition is expected. As for notes, the
fewer the better, but if you find that you cannot trust
your memory to supply the order of the topics and the
particular points you wish to make, or illustrations you
wish to intersperse, it is better to refer to your notes
for these than to miss the points altogether. There
are speakers whose habit it is to carry notes in their
pocket even when they hope not to use them. It gives
confidence, and saves them from such a fiasco as I have
seen befall even practised debaters in the House of Com-
mons, when, having suddenly lost the thread of their
discourse, they were obliged to sink sadly to their seats,
amid the crushing commiseration of their opponents.

13. Whether you use notes or not, always have ready
two or three sentences with which to sit down. You
need not be either flowery or sublime in your closing
words, but some sort of a peroration you ought to have


at command, so as not to bungle and hesitate when
the time for ending comes. How often do we see an
unhappy fellow-creature go maundering or floundering
helplessly along, amid the growing contempt of the
audience, having already said all he had got to say,
and yet unable to stop because he feels that a closing
sentence is needed and he cannot find one.

14. Lastly and this is a maxim which is of universal
application, Never weary your audience. If they are
tired before you rise to speak, cut your speech short,
unless you feel able to freshen them up and dispel their
weariness. Just as physicians say that a man ought to
leave off eating while he is still hungry enough to go
on eating, so let your hearers wish for more food from
you, rather than feel they have had too much already.
Consider the hour of the evening and human weakness.
One of the most successful speeches I remember to have
heard of was made by a famous engineer at a great
public dinner of the British Association for the Ad-
vancement of Science. He came last; and midnight
had arrived. His toast was Applied Science, and his
speech was as follows: "Ladies and Gentlemen, at this
late hour I advise you to illustrate the Applications
of Science by applying a lucifer match to the wick of
your bedroom candle. Let us all go to bed."

It might be rash to say that a short speech is never a
bad speech, for I have known a man grieve his friends
and rum his case in five minutes. But for ten speeches
that are too short there are a hundred that are too long.


A lecture ought not to exceed fifty minutes, a sermon
twenty-five minutes, an after-dinner speech (unless of
course it is meant to be the chief address of the even-
ing) fifteen minutes. For speeches in law-courts or
legislatures, where a mass of facts may have to be ex-
pounded and commented on, limits cannot be fixed,
but all speeches, everywhere, gain by compression.
Mr. Bright, like Chatham and most of our great
orators, seldom spoke for more than an hour. Mr.
Gladstone, like Edmund Burke, did not so restrict him-
self, and both these illustrious men suffered from their
copiousness so far as the audience of the moment was
concerned, though no one could wish Burke's magnifi-
cent orations, as we now have them in print, to be
shorter by a sentence. Like Daniel Webster's, they
are good all through.

The maxim not to tire or bore your audience is
part of a wider precept; viz., to remember the main
purpose of a speech. Most speakers are beset, espe-
cially in their earlier days, by a temptation from which
even those of longer experience are not exempt, the
temptation to regard a speech as the opportunity for
displaying talent rather than as a means to an end.

The aims or ends of speaking are commonly classed
as two. One is to Persuade. The other is to Delight.
In order to persuade a court or a jury you must think
not of showing off your theoretical gifts, but of getting
the judgment or the verdict. The best speech is the
speech that convinces court or jury. In a legislative


body, the best speech is that which draws votes, or,
if that be impossible, which puts heart into your own
party. When the speech is meant not to persuade,
but to give delight, there are three quarters in which
pleasure may be felt; the person in whose honour the
speech is made, the audience, and yourself. It is a
common error to think too much of the last and too
little of the second. So long as you are mindful to say
nothing unworthy of yourself, nothing untrue, nothing
vulgar, you had better forget yourself altogether and
think only of the audience, how to get them and how to
hold them. Keep your mind fixed upon your hearers
and upon the end in view, whether it be to please
or to convince. Appreciation will come if it is deserved,
and will come all the more if you do not too obviously
play for it.

You will sometimes make failures, for nobody is
always at his best. Do not be discouraged. The
fault may not be your own, for much depends on con-
ditions you cannot command. But when you feel you
have fallen below the best that you can do, ask your-
self why, and if the fault is in yourself, try to correct
it next time.




YOUR University looks back to-day upon thirty-five
years of educational work which has been of permanent
significance for all the seats of learning and study in
the English-speaking countries of the world. The
conception of creating a University which should
provide in various branches of knowledge advanced
courses to be taken by men who had completed
their general liberal education, was then a compara-
tively novel one in those countries ; and it requires
an effort to carry oneself back to a time when the
now elaborate machinery of post-graduate courses,
which has been spreading itself through the leading
universities in the United States, did not exist. To the
Johns Hopkins University belongs the honour of having
first put into practice this fertile conception, and of
having carried it out with a thoroughness to which its
diffusion and its success are very largely due. The
name of your late admirable President will always be
associated in the educational history of North America
with this epoch-making " new departure," and the



University has always since lived up to the standard
of thoroughness, and preference of real work to dis-
play, from which it started. Its adherence to that
standard, its continued embodiment of the ideal of
scientific perfection, have given it the position of in-
fluence and dignity which it now occupies in the

A remarkable feature of the thirty-five years over
which you look back is the wonderful development of
many departments of human knowledge, and espe-
cially of those which are concerned with the sciences
of nature, into special branches, each of which has been
tending to become more distinct from the others. So
far from finding ourselves approaching the end of
knowledge, we find that the more we know the more

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Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceUniversity and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain → online text (page 16 of 24)