Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

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were the most culpable being on earth " ; and which made
Philip say of Demosthenes, "Had I been there he would
have persuaded me to take up arms against myself."

The orator has a present practical purpose to accomplish.
If he fail in that he fails utterly and altogether. His object
is to convince the understanding, to persuade the will, to
set aflame the heart of the audience or those who read what
he says. He speaks for a present occasion. Eloquence is
the feather that tips his arrow. If he miss the mark he is
a failure, although his sentences may survive everything else
in the permanent literature of the language in which he
speaks. What he says must not only accomplish the pur-
pose of the hour, but should be fit to be preserved for all
time, or he can have no place in literature, and but a small
and ephemeral place in human memory.

The orator must know how so to utter his thought that
it will stay. The poet and the orator have this in common.
Each must so express and clothe his thought that it shall
penetrate and take possession of the soul, and, having pene-
trated, must abide and stay. How this is done, who can
tell? Carlyle defines poetry as a "sort of lilt." Cicero
finds the secret of eloquence in a "lepos quidam cele-
ritasque et brevitas," * to borrow his words in the "De Ora-
tore." One living writer, who has a masterly gift of noble
and stirring eloquence, finds it in "a certain collocation of
consonants." Why it is that a change of a single word,
or even of a single syllable, for any other which is an
absolute synonym in sense, would ruin the best line in
Lycidas, or injure terribly the noblest sentence of Webster,
nobody knows. Curtis asks how Wendell Phillips did
it, and answers his own question by asking how Mozart
did it.

* Wit, animation, and terseness.


I have had great opportunities for hearing the best
public speaking for the last fifty years. I have heard the
great American orators at the pulpit and bar, in the Senate,
and before political assemblies, and on literary occasions.
I have heard Palmerston and Lord John Russell, and John
Bright, and Gladstone, and Disraeli, each on great field
days in the House of Commons, and I have heard Spurgeon
and Guthrie in the pulpit. I have heard Webster, and
Choate, and Kossuth, and Wendell Phillips, and James
Walker. So possibly my experience and observation, al-
though it came perhaps too late for my own advantage,
may be worth something to others.

Every American youth, if he desire for any purpose to
get influence over his countrymen in an honorable way, will
seek to become a good public speaker. That power is essen-
tial to success at the bar or in the pulpit, and almost indis-
pensable to success in public life. The rare men who have
succeeded without it are the men who value it most.

The eye and the voice are the only and natural avenues
by which one human soul can enter into and subdue an-
other. When every other faculty of the orator is acquired,
it sometimes almost seems as if voice were nine-tenths and
everything else but one-tenth cf the consummate orator.
There are exceptions, of which Charles James Fox, the most
famous debater that ever lived, is the best known. But it
is impossible to overrate the importance to the orator's
purpose of that matchless instrument, the human voice.

In managing the voice, the best tone and manner for
public speaking is commonly that which the speaker falls
into naturally when he is engaged in earnest conversation.
Suppose you are sitting about a table with a dozen friends,
and some subject is started in which you are deeply inter-
ested. You engage in an earnest and serious dialogue with
one of them at the other end of the table. You are per-
fectly at ease. You forget yourself, you do not care in the
least for your manner or tone of voice, but only for your
thought. The tone you adopt then will ordinarily be the
best tone for you in public speaking. You can, however,
learn from teachers or friendly critics to avoid any harsh or
disagreeable fashion of speech that you may have fallen into
and that may be habitual to you in privat~ conversation.


Next, never strain your vocal organs by attempting to
fill spaces which are too large for you. Speak as loudly
and distinctly as you can do easily, and let more distant
portions of your audience go. You will find in that way
very soon that your voice will increase in compass and
power, and you will do better than by a habit of straining
the voice beyond its natural capacity. Be careful to avoid
falsetto, either in tone or style. Shun imitating the tricks
of speech of other orators, even of famous and successful
orators. These may do for them, but not for you. You
will do no better in attempting to imitate the tricks of
speech of other men in public speaking than in private

Never make a gesture for the sake of making one. I
believe that most of the successful speakers whom I know
would find it hard to tell you whether they themselves
make gestures or not, they are so absolutely unconscious
in the matter. But with gestures as with the voice, get
teachers or friendly critics to point out to you any bad
habit you may fall into. I think it would be well if our
young public speakers, especially preachers, should have
competent instructors and critics among their auditors after
they enter their profession, to give them the benefit of such
observation and appropriate counsel as may be suggested.
If a Harvard professor of elocution could retain the respon-
sibility for his pupils five or ten years after they get into
active life, he would do a good deal more good than by his
instruction to undergraduates.

So far I have been talking about mere manner. The
matter and substance of the orator's speech must depend
upon the moral and intellectual quality of the man. The
great orator must be a man of absolute sincerity. Never
advocate a cause in which you do not believe, or affect an
emotion you do not feel. No skill or acting will cover up
the want of earnestness. It is like the ointment of the
hand which bewrayeth itself.

In my opinion, the two most important things that a
young man can do to make himself a good public speaker
are: (i) Constant and careful written translations from
Latin or Greek into English. (2) Practise in a good debat-
ing society.


It has been said that all the great parliamentary orators
of England are either men whom Lord North saw, or men
who saw Lord North ; that is, men who were conspicuous
as public speakers in Lord North's youth, his contempora-
ries, and the men who saw him as an old man when they
were young themselves. This would include Bolingbroke
and would come down only to the year of Lord John Rus-
sell's birth. So we should have to add a few names, espe-
cially Gladstone, Disraeli, John Bright, and Palmerston.
There is no great parliamentary orator in England since
Gladstone died. A good many years ago I looked at the
biographies of the men who belonged to that period who
were famous as great orators in the Parliament or in court,
to find, if I could, the secret of their power. With the
exception of Lord Erskine and of John Bright, I believe
every one of them trained himself by careful and constant
translation from Latin or Greek, and frequented a good
debating society in his youth.

Brougham trained himself for extemporaneous speak-
ing in the Speculative Society, the great theater of de-
bate for the University of Edinburgh. He also improved-
his English style by translations from the Greek, among
which is his well-known version of the " Oration on the

Canning's attention while at Eton was strongly turned
to extemporaneous speaking. They had a debating society
in which the Marquis of Wellesley and Charles Earl Grey
had been trained before him, in which they had all the forms
of the House of Commons Speaker, Treasury benches,
and an Opposition. Canning also was disciplined by the
habit of translation.

Curran practised declamation daily before the glass,
reciting passages from Shakespeare and the best English
orators. He frequented the debating societies which then
abounded in London. He failed at first, and was ridiculed
as " Orator Mum." But at last he surmounted every diffi-
culty. It was said of him by a contemporary: " He turned
his shrill and stumbling brogue into a flexible, sustained, and
finely modulated voice ; his action became free and forcible ;
he acquired perfect readiness in thinking on his legs; he
put down every opponent by the mingled force of his argu-


ment and wit, and was at last crowned with the universal
applause of the society, and invited by the president to an
entertainment in their behalf." I am not sure that I have
seen, on any good authority, that he was in the habit of
writing translations from the Latin or Greek. But he studied
them with great ardor, and undoubtedly adopted, among
the methods of perfecting his English style, the custom of
students of his day of translating from these languages.

Jeffrey joined the Speculative Society in Edinburgh in
his youth. His biographer says that it did more for him
than any other event in the whole course of his education.

Chatham, the greatest of English orators, if we may
judge by the reports of his contemporaries, trained himself
for public speaking by constant translations from Latin and
Greek. The education of his son, the younger Pitt, is well
known. His father compelled him to read Thucydides into
English at sight, and to go over it again and again until he
had got the best possible rendering of the Greek into

Macaulay belonged to the Cambridge Union, where, as
in the society of the same name at Oxford, the great topics
of the day were discussed by men, many of whom afterward
became famous statesmen and debaters in the Commons.

Young Murray, afterward Lord Mansfield, translated
Sallust and Horace with ease; learned great part of them by
heart ; could converse fluently in Latin ; write Latin prose
correctly and idiomatically, and was specially distinguished
at Westminster for his declamations. He translated every
oration of Cicero into English, and back again into Latin.

Fox can hardly be supposed to have practised much
in debating societies, as he entered the House of Com-
mons when he was nineteen years old. But it is quite
probable that he was drilled by translations from Latin and
Greek into English ; and in the House of Commons he had
in early youth the advantage of the best debating society^
in the world. It is said that he read Latin and Greek as
easily as he read English. He himself said that he gained
his skill at the expense of the House, for he had sometimes
tasked himself during the entire session to speak on every
question that came up, whether he was interested in it or
not, as a means of exercising and training his faculties.


This is what made him, according to Burke, "rise by slow
degrees to be the most brilliant and accomplished debater
the world ever saw."

Sir Henry Bulwer's "Life of Palmerston" does not tell
us whether he was trained by the habit of writing trans-
lations or in debating societies. But he was a very eager
reader of the classics. There is little doubt, however, con-
sidering the habit of his contemporaries at Cambridge, and
the fact that he was ambitious for public life and represented
the University of Cambridge in Parliament just after he
became twenty-one, that he belonged to a debating society,
and that he was drilled in English composition by translat-
ing from the classics.

Gladstone was a famous debater in the Oxford Union,
as is well known, and was undoubtedly in the habit of writ-
ing translations from Greek and Latin, of which he was
always so passionately fond. He says in his paper on Arthur
Hallam that the Eton Debating Club, known as the Society,
supplied the British Empire with four prime ministers in
fourscore years.

The value of the practise of translation from Latin or
Greek into English, in getting command of good English
style, can hardly be stated too strongly. The explana-
tion is not hard to find. You have in these two languages,
especially in Latin, the best instrument for the most pre-
cise and most perfect expression of thought. The Latin
prose of Tacitus and Cicero, the verse of Virgil and Horace,
are like a Greek statue or an Italian cameo. You have
not only exquisite beauty, but also exquisite precision.
You get the thought into your mind with the accuracy
and precision of the words that express numbers in the
multiplication table. Ten times one are ten, not ten and
one one-millionth. Having got the idea into your mind
with the precision, accuracy, and beauty of the Latin ex-
pression, you are to get its equivalent in English. Sup-
pose you have knowledge of no language but your own.
The thought comes to you in the mysterious way in which
thoughts are born, and struggles for expression in apt
words. If the phrase that occurs to you does not exactly fit
the thought, you are almost certain, especially in speaking
or rapid composition, to modify the thought to fit the


phrase. Your sentence commands you, not you the sen-
tence. The extempore speaker never gets, or easily loses,
the power of precise and accurate thinking or statement,
and rarely attains that literary excellence which gives him
immortality. But the conscientious translator has no such
refuge. He is confronted by the inexorable original. He
cannot evade or shirk. He must try and try and try again
until he has got the exact thought expressed in the English
equivalent. This is not enough. He must get an English
expression, if the resources of the language will furnish it,
which will equal, as near as may be, the dignity and beauty
of the original. He must not give you pewter for silver, or
pinchbeck for gold, or mica for diamond. This practise
will soon give him ready command of the great riches of
his noble English tongue. It will give a habitual nobility
and beauty to his own style. The best word and phrase
will come to him spontaneously when he speaks and thinks.
The processes of thought itself will grow easier. The ora-
tor will get the affluence and abundance which characterize
the great Italian artists of the Middle Ages, who astonish
us by the amount and variety of their work as by its ex-
cellence. The value of translation is very different from
that of original written composition. Cicero says :

" Stilus optimus et praestantissimus dicendi effector ac magister."

Of this I am by no means sure. If you write rapidly
you get the habit of careless composition. If you write
slowly you get the habit of slow composition. Each of
these is an injury to the style of the speaker. He cannot
stop to correct or scratch out. Cicero himself in a later
passage states his preference for translation. He says that
at first he used to take a Latin author, Ennius or Gracchus,
and get the meaning into his head, and then write it again.
But he soon found that in that way, if he used again the
very words of his author, he got no advantage, and if he
used other language of his own, the author had already
occupied the ground with the best expression, and he was
left with the second best. So he gave up the practise and
adopted instead that of translating from the Greek.

It is often said that if a speech read well it is not a good


speech. There may be some truth in this. The reader can-
not, of course, get the impression which the speaker con-
veys by look, and tone, and gesture. He lacks that mar-
velous influence by which, in a great assembly, the emotion
of every individual soul is multiplied by the emotion of
every other. The reader can pause and dwell upon the
thought. If there be a fallacy, he is not hurried away to
something else before he can detect it. So also, his more
careful and deliberate criticism will discover offenses of
style and taste which pass unheeded in a speech when
uttered. But still the great oratoric triumphs of literature
and history stand the test of reading in the closet, as well
as of hearing in the assembly. Would not Mark Antony's
speech over the dead body of Caesar, had it been uttered,
have moved the Roman populace as it moves the spectator
when the play is acted, or the solitary reader in his closet?
Does not Lord Chatham's " I rejoice that America has
resisted" read well? Do not Sheridan's great peroration
in the impeachment of Warren Hastings and Burke's read
well? Does not " Liberty and union, now and forever,"
read well? Does not " Give me liberty or give me death "
read well? Does not Fisher Ames' speech for the treaty
read well? Do not Everett's finest passages read well?

There are a few examples of men of great original genius
who have risen to lofty oratory on some great occasion who
had not the advantage of familiarity with any great authors.
But they are not only few in number, but, as I said before,
the occasions are few when they have risen to a great height.
In general, the orator, whether at the bar or in the pulpit
or in public life, who is to meet adequately the many de-
mands upon his resources, must get familiar with the images
and illustrations he wants, and the resources of a fitting dic-
tion, by soaking his mind in some great authors who will
alike satisfy and stimulate the imagination and supply him
with a lofty expression. Of these, I suppose the best are,
by common consent, the Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton.
To these I should myself by all means add Wordsworth.
It is a maxim that the pupil who wishes to acquire a pure
and simple style should give his days and nights to Addi-
son. But there is a lack of strength and vigor in Addison,
which, perhaps, prevents his being the best model for the


advocate in the court-house or the champion in a political
debate. I should rather, for myself, recommend Robert
South to the student. If the speaker, whose thought has
weight and vigor in it, can say it as South would have said
it, he may be quite sure that his weighty meaning will be
expressed alike to the mind of the people and the appre-
hension of his antagonist.




Inaugural Address. (Delivered March 4, 1797} . i

The Jubilee of the Constitution. (Before the New

York Historical Society in 1839) ... 8
On the Constitutional War Power over Slavery. (In

the House of Representatives, May 25, 1836} . 1 7


American Independence. (In the State House, Phila-

delphia, August i, 1776} . . . .21

Against Crowning Demosthenes. (Delivered in

Athens, B.C. 330} ..... 38


On the British Treaty. (In the House of Representa-

tives, April 28, 17^6} . . . . -43

Character and Capacity of the Filipinos. (In the

United States Senate, 1901} . . . -77


The Porto Rico Tariff. (In the United States Senate,

Feb. 27, 1900) . ^__ . . . .84


On the Boer War. (Address to his Constituency at

Manchester, Jan. 8, 1900) . . . -99


The Political Career of Andrew Jackson. (Delivered

at Washington, June 27, 1845} .no



On the United States Army. (Before the Phi Beta

Kappa Society, at Harvard, June 28, 1877*) . 134


On Conservatism. (A t Manchester, April j, 1872) . 143


Socialism and Assassination. (In the Reichstag, Nov.
2, 1898, on the Assassination of the Empress of
Austria} . . . . . . . 159


Raising the Flag over Fort Sumter. (Delivered April

14, 1865} "'-."> l8


Education, the Corner-Stone of Republican Govern-
ment. (Delivered before the Free Schools of New
Orleans, 1845) - .200


The Political Career of Andrew Jackson. (In the

United States Senate, Dec. 4, 1834) . .208


The March of the Flag. (In Indianapolis, Sept. 16,

1898) . . . . . ... . 224


War and Armaments in Europe. (A Speech Made in

the Reichstag, Feb. 6, 1888) .... 244


A Century of Protection. (In New York, Sept. 29,

1888) ... .259


Free Silver. (In the House of Representatives, June

20, 1890} . .' 273


Address to His Army in the Italian Campaign. (De-
livered March, 1796) . . . . .290
Proclamation to his Army. (Dated M ay i, 1796) . 290



To his Soldiers, on Entering Milan. (Made May 15,

1796} . .291

To his Soldiers, During the Siege of Mantua. (Made

Nov. 6, 1796) . . . . . 292

To his Soldiers, on the Conclusion of the Italian Cam-
paign. (Made March, 1797} .... 292

To his Soldiers, After the War of the Third Coalition.

(Made Oct., 1805) . ..... 293

To his Soldiers, on Beginning the Russian Campaign.

(In May, 1812) . . ,* 2 94

Farewell to the Old Guard. (Uttered, April 20, 1814) 295


Address Preceding Removal of Senate. (In the

United States Senate in 1858} . . .296


The " Trent" Affair. (In Rochdale, Dec. 4, 1861) . 303


On the Sumner Assault. (Delivered in the House of

Representatives, July 14, 1856) . . .328


Against Pitt and War with America. (In Liverpool,

Oct. 8, 1812) . 333

Speech on Negro Emancipation. (In the House of

Lords, Feb. 20, 1818} . . . . . 338


On the Income Tax. (In the House of Representa-
tives, Jan. jo, 1894) . . . . . 350


Conciliation with America. (Delivered in the House

of Commons, March 22, 1775} . . . 368


Massachusetts and Sumner. (In the House of Repre-
sentatives, June 21, 1856) . . . .429




EDMUND BURKE .... Frontispiece

Photogravure after a painting by Sir Joshua Rey-

JOHN ADAMS ........ 6

Photogravure after a painting


Photogravure after a photograph from life

GEORGE BANCROFT . . . . . . .no

Photogravure after a painting


Photogravure after a painting


Photogravure after a photograph from life


Photogravure after an engraving

Photogravure after a photograph from life



[John Adams, second President of the United States, was born in
Massachusetts in 1735. He graduated at Harvard and entered the
profession of the law. The passage of the Stamp Act stirred him to
revolt against the absolutist policy of the British government, and from
that time he played a conspicuous part in the movement that resulted
in independence. He was elected to the State Legislature, and in 1774
to the First Continental Congress. From the first he favored throw-
ing off all allegiance to Great Britain, and he made a brilliant speech
in support of Richard Henry Lee's motion for independence. When
war with Great Britain came he played a conspicuous part in arrang-
ing its details on the patriotic side. He was sent as commissioner to
France to enlist the sympathies of that country, and with Franklin and
Jay he negotiated the preliminaries of peace with Great Britain. He
was made minister to the last-named country when independence had
been won, and when the national Constitution had been adopted he be-
came Vice-President of the United States, filling the office eight years.
When Washington retired John Adams was elected President. He
died on the fiftieth anniversary of American independence, July 4, 1826,
his political rival, Thomas Jefferson, expiring on the same day. The
following address was delivered at his first inauguration as President
of the United States in 1797.]

WHEN it was first perceived, in early times, that no
middle course for America remained between un-
limited submission to a foreign legislature and a total inde-
pendence of its claims, men of reflection were less appre-
hensive of danger from the formidable power of fleets and
armies they must determine to resist, than from those con-
tests and dissensions which would certainly arise concerning
the forms of government to be instituted over the whole,
and over the parts, of this extensive country. Relying,
however, on the purity of their intentions, the justice of
their cause, and the integrity and intelligence of the people,


Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 2 of 43)