MANY years ago I
printed an outline book on this subject (Public Speaking and
Debate) for the use of persons who found learned treatises on
oratory uninteresting or too profound to be intelligible.
Though dealing alone with the Rudiments of the art, it was reprinted
in America, and in 1853 the New York Tribune described it as
being 'unpretentious and practical.' After the experience of
forty years, I write a new book, and trust the reader will find the
same qualities in it.
In 1862, the Rev. Mr Vickers of Boston, America, then
visiting England, informed me that he took up, in a New York
book-shop, a copy of a work entitled, Public Speaking and Debate,
by John Bower. Upon opening it he found that it was an
American edition of Public Speaking and Debate, by G. J.
Holyoake, with the name of the author borne by another. This,
I hope, may be taken as proof that the book was thought useful by
the new author.
But a testimony of which I have always been proud was that of
Wendell Phillips whom Mr Bright said had the most eloquent voice
which ever spoke the English tongue. Mr Phillips sent me word
that he had lent 'his well-thumbed copy of Public Speaking and
Debate until he had lost it, upon the theory [he benevolently
held] that he who most needed a book had the greatest right to it.'
Upon that principle, Mr Phillips certainly did not require it.
Still, I sent him another copy. It was probably the ethical
theory of debate contained in it, upon which we had had personal
controversy,  which interested
The earliest and most generous of English critics was the
Rev. Dr Joseph Parker, who, when he edited the Pulpit Analist,
said to young preachers: 'There is Mr Holyoake's Rudiments of
Public Speaking and Debate. Get this book if you can.
I am afraid it is out of print. It is full of wise and
practical counsel, and rich with allusion and quotation of the best
kind,' in illustration of which a passage of two pages was cited.
Considering that Dr Parker's belief differed widely from mine, of
which he was well aware, seeing that we had held a public debate
thereupon for several nights, I cite his words (though it will seem
egotistical to do it), since they exceed anything I could think of
saying myself, to the end of engaging the attention of the reader to
these pages, which I suppose to be the object of all introductions.
Another motive, higher than egotism, induces me to inscribe
this book as the reader sees I do. When Mr Allsop proposed to
supplement an annuity given me, Dr Parker sent a subscription and
wrote a letter to the Daily News, intended to be of service
to the fund. I cannot agree where I would were coincidence
of belief a matter of willbut an act of kindness I never forget,
and I am glad when I can acknowledge it.
As respects the texture of the following pages, the reader
will discern that it has no merit save incitement, if indeed it has
What is called a 'systematic treatise' is what is usually
looked for on the subject of public speaking. But I have found
those who have followed such have rarely become speakers of mark,
until they have freed themselves from the 'system' and trusted to
themselves. A system is a sort of machine, and one reared in
it is apt to be entangled in wheels within wheels, when the time
comes for action; or he finds that the machine, though of most
excellent construction, will not work just when it is most wanted to
do it. Now, a series of chapters on the essential parts of
public speaking not chained together, but capable of independent
use on emergency, with a springing board in each of them from which
a speaker of moderate activity can throw himself at will, as it
were, into the heart of an argument will best serve the practical
student. The execution may not equal the design, but this is
the rule on which these pages are written.
Whatever may conduce to improvement in the art and character
of agitation, as it is the hope of the Author this book will do, may
be of public service, seeing what an increase of voices will be
heard in the land, as sure-footed democracy advances.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, being apparently only
acquainted with the bad meaning of the term, lately spoke
contemptuously of 'agitators,' whereupon the Rev. Stewart Headlam
justly asked, 'Were not Paul, and even our Lord Himself, agitators?
Surely it depends upon what you agitate for, and how you agitate, as
to whether an "agitator" is to be condemned or praised.' Mr
Headlam might have asked, where would the Archbishop be but for that
superb agitator Luther? Not thought much of by the archbishops
of his day.
Just-minded agitation prevents the putrefaction of opinion,
which is as fatal to States as to Truth. Cowper wrote:
Winds from all quarters agitate the air,
And fit the limpid element for use.
THE SOCIAL AND PUBLIC USES OF RHETORIC
IN this country,
where the political genius of the people lies in self-government,
where liberty depends upon the capacity of stating its claims, the
art of public speaking has public importance.
To be able to take a subject well in hand, like a stagecoach
driver does his horses, to hold the reins of argument firmly, to
direct and drive well home the burden of meaning, is a power useful
to every man who rises to address a congregation or a council, or
stands up in Parliament to persuade, or on a platform to convince, a
Perfect expression is ever an indispensable household
acquisition a social charm, an economy in explanation, and hourly
ministers to good understandings. In public, a good speech,
well-spoken, is part of the necessary defence of truth and right.
In one of his famous letters to Mr Delane (1864), Mr Cobden
'It is known that I am not in the habit of writing a word
beforehand of what I speak in public. Like other speakers,
practice has given me as perfect self-possession in the presence of
an audience, as if I were writing in my closet. Now, my
ever-constant and over-ruling thought while addressing a public
meeting the one necessity which long experience of the arts of
controversialists has impressed on my mind, is to avoid the
possibility of being misrepresented, and prevent my opponents from
raising a false issue a trick of logic as old as the time of
Aristotle. If I have, as some favourable critics are pleased
to think, sometimes spoken with clearness, it is more owing to this
ever-present fear of misrepresentation than any other cause.'
This remarkable autobiographical passage shows how the
practice of rhetoric had trained great natural powers to
explicitness and mastery in their use.
Progression is a series of stages individuals first, then
groups, then classes, then nations are raised. You can no more
introduce the people at once to the highest results of philosophy
than you can take them to the summit of a monument without ascending
the steps, or reach a distant land without travelling the journey.
But it is possible to impart method in classification, coherence in
inferences, and inculcate justice in invective. The people are
not waiting for new discoveries in thought; there is more wisdom
extant than they master, more precepts than they apply. The
scaling-ladders of the wise, which they, having mounted the citadel
of wisdom, have kicked down, are yet of service to those who are
below. The author has picked one of these ladders up, and
reared it in these pages for the use of those who have yet to rise.
In the ancient state of society, war was the only trade,
force the only teacher, and the battle-axe the only argument.
A transition has, indeed, taken place; the times, and means, and
ends are changed. The struggle now is for income and
intelligence, and men are engaged in a double battle against want
and error. Provided the literary sword will cut, few will
quarrel about its polish. If the blade has good temper, he who
needs it will put up with a plain hilt.
A poor man cannot rival the rich in luxury of life, but he
can in luxury of knowledge. He cannot furnish his house as the
wealthy can, but he can furnish his head. He cannot found a
house of note, but he may found a mind of mark. Though some
kingdoms may be adorned or afflicted with kings, learning has always
been a republic, where all are equal who know.
CHAPTER III .
THE NATURE OF RHETORIC
definition of rhetoric is still bright and suggestive; namely:
'Rhetoric is the art of persuading the minds of men.' Rhetoric
is commonly regarded as a pretentious, superfine, or ornate way of
presenting an argument; whereas rhetoric merely means the art of
speaking to a purpose. A rhetorician originally meant a public
speaker, whose object was orally to influence opinion in courts, in
council, or in public meeting. The highest effort of public
speaking is seen when the object of the speaker is to persuade the
minds of men to accept some great principle, or adopt some just
policy in public affairs.
There were two Herberts of mark in literature George (1581)
and Edward (1593). Edward is commonly spoken of as Lord
Herbert of Cherbury. It is he who likens rhetoric to 'a
diamond which is of small use until it is cut and polished, when its
angles send forth flashes of light which arrest and delight every
By reasoning we satisfy ourselves, by rhetoric we satisfy
others. The rhetorician is commonly, but unwisely, considered
most perfect who carries his point by whatever means. 'Men
like to see the man who is a match for events, and equal to any
exigency.' But it is plain we must make some distinction as to
the manner in which a point is to be carried. We may as well
say that a man may carry the point of life by any means, that is,
fill his pockets by any means, as influence men by any means.
A low appeal to the passions we call claptrap. Dr Johnson, who
put morality into his definitions, said, 'Oratory is the power of
beating down your adversaries' arguments, and putting better
in their places.'
It implies force and individuality of mind when a man desires
to reason out things for himself. Most men prefer to be told
what to think; they are perplexed, and find themselves lost in a
maze of feeling, prejudice and interests; they cannot see far, nor
appreciate what is near. They might have a commanding view of
the field of difficulty from an eminence, but eminences are not to
be attained without exertion, and most men are disinclined to
exertion. They are therefore grateful to anyone who will climb
the mount and tell them what he sees. But if he can do more
can tell them not only what they should do and why they should do it
he opens their minds, satisfies their judgment, and inspires them
with a new and, let us hope with Dr Johnson, a right purpose.
He who satisfies by right reason the conscience of others, commands
them without fraud or force. He teaches no unmanly subjection
of the understanding; he neither invokes nor needs submission to
authority; he represents the only leadership consistent with
progress the leadership of ideas commended by reason. Such
are the just aims of honest rhetoric.
WHAT IS MEANT BY ELOCUTION
meaning of elocution is 'to speak out.' Dictionaries and
writers on rhetoric define elocution as that pronunciation which is
given to words when they are arranged into sentences and form
discourse. This conception of it confines it to articulation,
whereas elocution includes accurateness, distinctness and natural
modulation of words, in private as well as public life.
Modulation comes by nature and emotion, but accuracy and
distinctness come by art.
The object of public speech is persuasion. It ought to
be the object of private speech also. To persuade by public
speech requires a voice articulate and audible. That is the
beginning of effectiveness and influence in elocution. A man
will speak all his life and never think that words are merely
sounds. Accustomed to see words in books, he forgets, or does
not realise, that words are merely sounds to the hearer. The
difference between the foreign language and the English consists
only in a different set of sounds. A man wonders, when he
stands by a telegraph clerk, how he turns ticks into words, and does
not know that the ticks are sounds of words made by a machine.
Chicago is a fine Indian word, sounding as though written
She-car-go. If anyone should pronounce it Chick-a-go, nobody
would understand what place he meant; or should he at dinner,
wanting tomΰtoes, pronounce the word tom-a-toes, the waiter would
not know what to give him.
A speaker must use his ears to learn what sounds he should
make, and be alert with his ears to note what sounds others make.
People will listen to one who can be easily heard. The dear,
strong speaking man can command a hearing. He who fills the
ear carries weight. Few have minds to fill all have ears.
A letter addressed as follows was a puzzle to the best
readers in the Post Office for some time: 'Serum Fridavi, Londres;'
when, by reading the address aloud, with the French as well as the
English sound of the vowels, it was found to be 'Sir Humphry Davy,
At one Anti-Corn Law meeting held in Glasgow, in 1845, I sat
at half-distance from the platform. As my name had been given
to the Lord Provost, I was uncertain whether I should not be called
upon to take part in the proceedings, and therefore anxious to hear
all that was said. It was at this time that I first felt
perfectly the annoyance of indistinct speaking. At the Newhall
Hill meetings in Birmingham I had been accustomed to hear
Warwickshire orators vocal, but in Glasgow I found they only spoke,
and spoke as though they were paid for the sound they made, and did
not get a good price for it. At length the Rev. Dr King arose,
who spoke with strong deliberateness words well conceived and well
delivered. The syllables fell on the ear like the steady
tolling of a bell. His voice was the relief of the night.
Whenever I go to a public meeting, I pray that one of the speakers
may have Dr King's quality.
There are two ways of speaking one from the throat, the
other from the chest. The chest voice is louder, and lasts
longer. The stage voice is a chest voice, whose uniformity and
peculiarity everyone knows. Both actors and singers inflate
the chest to deepen, strengthen, and prolong the tones.
Most grammars give a list of about twenty-two words beginning
with h in which the h is not sounded. These have
to be spoken as though they began with a vowel. All other
words beginning with h must have that letter distinctly
heard. In illustration of this neglect of aspiration 
where proper, teachers of elocution say that if the Indian swallows
the sword we (h)eat the poker. Care in speaking the aspirate
words, and in not aspirating words where the h is silent, nor
in words beginning with a vowel, will disappoint novelists who,
unable to delineate character in which the person is identified by
his mind, invent peculiarities of manners or of speech.
Writers of small knowledge delight to sneer at those who have less,
and write the names of Harriet and Harry without the H. Rapid
utterance and a slovenliness of speaking, habitual with those who
have not thought upon the intention of speech, make it difficult to
them to aspirate when they should and avoid doing it when they
should not. To speak the aspirate at will, or to omit it at
will, comes easy to those who speak deliberately. Vowels
should have a bold open tone a slight, short, mincing
pronunciation of the unaccented vowels is a fault to be well
Audibility depends chiefly on articulation, and articulation
depends much on the distinctness with which we hear the final
consonants. They need attention as well as vowels.
W. J. Fox, the great preacher of South Place Chapel, whose
voice was neither loud nor strong, was heard in every part, and all
over Covent Garden Theatre, when he made Anti-Corn Law orations
there, by the clearness with which he pronounced the final
consonants of the words he spoke.
I must myself have failed in this respect when speaking at
the Walsall Literary Institute, and comparing the speaking of Pitt
and Mr Chamberlain as having the same quality of 'overcomingness.'
The report in the papers represented me as charging Mr Chamberlain
with 'over-cunningness,' which was a sinister imputation neither in
my mind nor on my tongue but the error was owing to defect of the
reporter's ear, or more probably to indistinctness in my
TO speak or
debate to any advantage, a person must possess some knowledge of the
laws of speech. This means a practical idea of grammar
practical in the sense of being on a level with the average capacity
of mankind. As I have said elsewhere, no department of
knowledge is like grammar. A person may conceal his ignorance
of any other art but every time he speaks he publishes his
ignorance of this. Other arts may be practised occasionally,
but the art of speaking must be practised continually. Is it
not strange that what all must do hourly, few care to do correctly?
There can be no greater imputation on the intelligence of any man,
than that he should talk from the cradle to the tomb, and never talk
It is as necessary to get knowledge as to eat and drink.
You would not ask another to eat and drink for you. All are as
well able to learn as to eat, and it is quite as needful. Lord
Herbert, heretofore quoted, tells us that 'between grammar, logic
and rhetoric there exists a close and happy connection, which reigns
through all science and extends to all the powers of eloquence.'
Everybody knows what representation means in politics.
A little thought will save a man from ordinary error. To make
things plain in speech it only needs that a man makes up his mind as
to what he is talking about. If he reasons, let it be not upon
hearsay, or rumour, or imagination, but upon ascertained facts, and
he will seldom go wrong. What is called grammar is the same
thing as the Franchise Bill. It is simply the full
representation of the facts of speech. Daily talk is of a man,
or of a woman, or of a thing and of something they do. If when
we speak of the man we allude to the man as he, if we refer
to a woman we take care to say she, or if we speak of a thing
we allude to the thing as it, we accord each fair
representation. What a man or woman, or a thing does is
expressed by a verb. If one person does a thing we say he
does it. If two persons do a thing we say they do
it. If it be a thing which acts, as the sun, we say it
shines. Just as every voter at the poll says, 'That is my
house on the register, and I pay the rent there,' so in grammar all
men and women and things have pronouns and verbs and delegate words
which belong to them, and by which alone they can be identified and
represented, and whoever gives them their proper representation
makes his meaning plain to all men. Grammar is but the
universal suffrage of common sense.
Inattention to conditions and care is expressed in an epigram
of sensible if not elegant lines:
He started with lect'ring and ended with verse,
And from first to last got gradually worse;
He wrote without spelling, and spoke without rule,
Long declaimed without knowledge, and ended a fool.
How different another, who thinks night and day,
Deciding what will best become him to say,
And how best to say it when he has made up his mind!
A contrast more useful is not easy to find.
The way in which nouns (which signify names) are represented
by pronouns (or fornouns) is shown in an admirable sentence of Dr
'Pope was not content to satisfy; he desired to excel, and
therefore always endeavoured to do his best; he did
not court the candour, but dared the judgment of his reason,
and expecting no indulgence from others, he showed none to
Without the employment of pronouns the sentence would read,
with many unpleasant repetitions, thus: Pope was not content to
satisfy; Pope desired to excel, and therefore always endeavoured to
do Pope's best; Pope did not court the candour, but dared the
judgment of Pope's reader, and expecting no indulgence from others,
Pope showed none to Pope's self.
There is the same kind of representation in verbs.
Every verb is connected with or actuated by some noun or pronoun,
expressed or understood.
Example: 'Hazlitt looked with despairing wonder on Burke's
style. Year after year he tried to write a single essay that
should please himself.'
If we inquire here who looked? the answer is Hazlitt.
Who tried? Hazlitt. Whenever a verb is found, the actor must
be found and both examined, to see if the two agree, for every verb
must be of the same number, and of the same person, as the noun or
pronoun with which it is connected, whether it be expressed or
When this representation is observed, a person is said to
speak grammatically. Representation is grammar.
There may be good speaking and writing with a moderate
knowledge of grammar. One who has authority in these matters
asks, 'How would some of our fashionable writers stare if they
could read Thucydides or Plato! The best authors had no
authority before them. Pascal and Madame de Sιvignι wrote
before there was any French grammar, I believe; Demosthenes and
Cicero before there was a Greek or a Latin one.'
When I conducted classes at Crutched Friars, about 1845, I
wrote and printed an Act of Parliament for enforcing the Queen's
English. Its clauses prescribed the rules of representation I
Nor did I find any difficulty in teaching little children to
write little letters to their parents in a week. As soon as a
child can make a round O and a straight line it can make all
the letters of the alphabet. A is composed of three
straight lines, B of a line and two halves of O.
A line and half O makes D. G is O
left open with a short line. EFHIKLMNTVWXYZ are all
made of straight lines. J is a line and half an O.
P is made the same way. R is two lines and half
an O. Q is an O and short line.
S is two halves of O up end on end. U is
made by half an O and two upright lines. There you have
the whole alphabet, with which a child will cpell its mother's name
in an hour. A Child's First Writing Book I published,
made this plain and easy to hundreds of children fifty years ago.
A child will go forward himself as soon as his teacher finds for him
a beginning, which the little learner can see, understand, and feel
to be within his power. It is the same with older students on
the threshold of a new subject.
LOGIC OF EVERY-DAY LIFE
speaker requires to know something of the rudiments of reasoning,
which we may call the logic of everyday life. Logic is the
basis of oratory, for no sensible man is moved to action unless he
sees a reason for it. Genius in argument consists in seeing
relevancies and in enabling others to see them.
Natural pride in the distinction of learning and the passion
for superiority, from which the learnθd are not exempt, lead them to
decry all capacity outside their own, so that common sense is
belittled and discouraged, and many never use or cultivate the
natural power they have, and cease to have confidence in themselves.
All the while, common sense is the natural sense of mankind.
It is the product of common observation and experience. It is
modest, plain and unsophisticated. It sees with everybody's
eyes and hears with everybody's ears. It has no capricious
distinction, no perplexities, and no mysteries. It never
equivocates and never trifles. Its language is always
intelligible. It is known by its clearness of speech and
singleness of purpose. The most prudent of all the children of
fact, it never forsakes nature or reason. Some outline laws
for its employment in reasoning if they can be indicated must be
better than its distrustful, aimless and desultory use.
Why, in speaking, should not anyone express himself with
grammatical coherence and a certain bold perspicuity, if not able to
reach refinement and elegance? Why, in pronunciation, should
persons not speak with a certain manly openness of vowel sound and a
distinct articulation, if not with all elocutionary modulation?
Why should not their discourse be expressed in brief, clear
sentences? If their punctuation went no further than placing
capital letters at the commencement of sentences and of proper
names, and periods at the conclusion of sentences, it would render
their writing more intelligible than are half the communications
they now send to the press. If they mastered only brevity and
abrupt directness, and learned to omit tedious prolixity, they would
command a hearing in many cases where now they are denied one.
If in logic they made a shrewd mastery of plain facts being as
sure as they could, when once set on surety, eschewing conjecture
and supposition if they followed the methods of nature and good
sense, where the elaborate methods of art are hidden from them, who
will not admit that they would be more intelligible than now,
exercise power, and extort attention and esteem where now they
excite compassion, or outrage plain taste? The people would be
enabled to do these things, but that so many who prepare treatises
for their guidance alarm them by the display of abstruse
dissertation above their powers, their means, their time, and their
There is less occasion to speak of the utility of logic than
to show it to be easy of acquisition. John Stuart Mill
'We need not seek far for a solution of the question so often
agitated respecting the utility of logic. If a science of
logic exists, or is capable of existing, it must be useful. If
there be rules to which every mind conforms in every instance in
which it judges rightly, there seems little necessity for discussing
whether a person is more likely to observe those rules when he knows
the rules, than when he is unacquainted with them.' 
Certainly people are not so much prejudiced against logic on account
of its supposed uselessness as on account of its supposed
difficulties. Logic has always had a good reputation.
The popular impression has uniformly been in its favour. It
has been valued like the diamond but considered, like that
precious stone, to be of very uncertain access and difficult to
polish, save by experts.
Common sense the exercise of the judgment unaided by
scholastic rule being the best sense the untutored have, they
wisely use it, and no wonder if they laud what they are constrained
to employ. Doubtless they perceive that common sense would be
the better for being made orderly, as a spirited horse is the fitter
for use after it has been 'broken.' If common sense can be
rendered disciplined sense, it will have all the advantage of the
trained soldier over the raw recruit.
A few years ago, England was interested in an American
teacher of equine rhetoric, Mr Rarey, who won both money and renown
by giving lessons in the art of persuading the minds of horses.
Dean Swift, in his Gulliver's Travels, shows that the kingdom
of horses is in many respects a more rational kingdom than the
kingdom of man. The horse is simple in its taste, temperate in
its habits, graceful in its movements, proud in spirit, and wary in
conduct which is much more than can be said of many men. Mr.
Rarey showed that he believed in the reasoning power of horses, and
that it is possible to persuade their minds to good conduct.
If horses can learn to reason, why not men?
Reasoning is a simple business. To reason is to state
relevant facts in support of a proposition. Reason is the
faculty of perceiving coherences. Effective reasoning is
stating them so that others cannot but see them too. Reasoning
on the abstrusest questions consists in arriving at a remote truth
by discovering its coherence with the preceding facts in the same
A syllogism is a peculiar form of expression, in which
every argument may be stated. It consists of three
1. Whoever have their heads cut off ought to be allowed to
ask the reason why.
2. Women have their heads cut off.
3. Therefore women ought to be allowed to ask (politically)
the reason why.
This is an argument of Madame de Stael in the days of the
first Napoleon, in allusion to the beheading of women in France,
without allowing them any voice in making the laws which determine
the offences for which they suffered.
A syllogism is constructed upon the principle (known as the
Dictum of Aristotle) that whatever is affirmed or denied universally
of a whole class of things, may be affirmed or denied of anything
comprehended in that class. Thus, the first proposition
introduces the class of persons who have their heads cut off.
Of this class it is affirmed that they ought to be allowed to ask
the reason why. But women are included in the class of persons
who have their heads cut off, and consequently that may be affirmed
of them which is affirmed of the whole class that they should be
allowed to ask the reason why.
Logic may be defined as the art of recognising, stating and
testing truth. To make a truth plain it is put in the form of
a syllogism. All men have common sense. Peter Luton is a
man. Therefore, Peter Luton has common sense. Now Peter
may be a known idiot, but the syllogism is true. The logic of
the schools has nothing to do with the truth of the facts, opinions,
or presumptions, from which an inference is derived; but simply
takes care that the inference shall certainly be true if the
premises be true. But the chief premise in the syllogism given
is not true that all men have common sense, and therefore the
inference is not true that Peter Luton has common sense.
This is the point that the reader should consider. It
was Sir James Mackintosh, I think, who said that 'men fall into a
thousand errors by reasoning from false premises to fifty they make
by wrong inferences from premises they employ.' The late
Professor Jowett is reported to have said that 'logic is neither an
art nor a science, but a dodge' It is little better than a
'dodge' when it is confined to making inferences from premises not
known to be true. An assertion that represents things as they
really are, is a truth an assertion that represents things as in
reality they are not, is a falsehood. Truth, in
sculpture, means an exact similitude of some living form, chiselled
in stone or marble. Truth, in painting, is a natural
representation on canvas, or otherwise, of some person or object.
In the same manner, moral truth is an exact image of things set
forth in speech or writing. The logical definition of truth is
given in these words: 'Truth is that which admits of proof,' that
is, an assertion or denial which can be substantiated by facts.
Tyranny, says Cobbett, has no enemy so formidable as the pen.
Why? 'Because the pen pursues tyranny both in life and beyond
the grave.' How is it proved to be the most formidable enemy
of tyranny? From the fact that tyranny has no enemy so
formidable as that which assails not only its existence, but its
reputation, which pursues it in life and beyond the grave.
Such interrogatories and replies generate the expository syllogism.
1. Tyranny has no enemy so formidable as that which assails
not only its existence, but its reputation, which pursues it in life
and beyond the grave.
2. The pen pursues tyranny in life and beyond the grave.
3. Therefore, tyranny has no enemy so formidable as the pen.
Syllogism need not begin with a universal proposition.
But care must be taken not to draw an infinite conclusion from
In the following syllogism the chief proposition is limited:
Aristides was virtuous,
Aristides was a pagan,
Some pagan was virtuous.
The inference is limited. The proof is that some one pagan was
Induction a mode of logic which Bacon established means
reasoning from facts. A proposition is concluded to be true
when the number of facts relevant to it and in favour of it greatly
exceed all the known facts against it. But the quality of the
facts as well as the number must be carefully weighed. When a
lady once consulted Dr Johnson on the degree of turpitude to be
attached to her son's robbing an orchard 'Madam,' said Johnson,
'it all depends upon the weight of the boy. I remember my
school-fellow, Davy Garrick, who was always a little fellow, robbing
a dozen orchards with impunity, but the very first time I climbed up
an apple tree, for I was always a heavy boy, the bough broke with
me, and it was called a judgment. I suppose that is why
Justice is represented with a pair of scales.' This may not be
the precise reason why Justice has a pair of scales, but the point
goes to the root of the matter. Without weighing there can be
neither justice nor fair induction. When Ali Pacha was at
Janina, the case of a poor woman, who accused a man of the theft of
all her property, was brought before him; but the plaintiff having
no witnesses, the case was discharged, as the man asserted his
innocence, and insisted, as a proof, that he had not a farthing in
the world. On their leaving his presence, Ali ordered both to
be weighed, and then released them without further notice. A
fortnight afterwards he commanded both into his presence, and again
weighed them; the woman had lost as much as the man had gained in
weight, and Ali decided that the accusation was just. Ali
Pacha was the Burlamiqui of justice; Burlamiqui was a writer on
logic, who insisted on attention being given to the preponderance of
In the case of the Leigh Peerage a number of witnesses were
examined in the House of Lords as to the existence of a certain
monument in Stonely Church 'The first witness described the
monument as being black; the second spoke of it as a kind of
dove-colour; the third said it was black and white; the fourth said
it was originally white, but dirty, when he saw it; the fifth,
differing from the others, said it was blue; the next witness
described it as a light marble, but said it had a dark appearance as
if it had been bronzed; and the last witness spoke of it as being of
a light grey colour. Then, as to the form of the monument, the
first witness said it was oblong; the next said it was square at the
top, and came down narrower to the bottom, and there rested on a
single truss; the third witness described it as being square at the
bottom, resting upon two trusses, and went up narrower and narrower
to a point at the top; the fourth witness said it was angular at the
top; the next said it was square at the bottom, was brought to a
point in the middle, and was then curved into a sort of festoon; the
sixth witness stated that it was square at the top and bottom, and
had a curve; and the last said it was square at the top and bottom.
As to the language of the inscriptions, the first witness stated
that the names of Thomas and Christopher Leigh were in English; the
next said the inscription was not in English; the third said there
was a great deal in English; the fourth witness said the whole (with
the exception of the name Christopher Leigh) was in a language which
be did not understand; the next witness stated that the inscription
was all in English, except the words Anno Domini; and the
last witness said it was not in English.'
All these witnesses agree as to the fact in dispute, but
their variances in testimony illustrate the common inattention of
observation and indistinctness of memory; and this case further
admonishes us that if such differences may exist as to a question of
fact, little wonder that differences exist as to matters of opinion,
where intellectual capacity and information are so various.
If a man looks well to the truth of the premises from which
he reasons he will never go far wrong. When Pope, in a moment
of aberration, wrote,
Be not the first by whom the new is tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside,
it only wants common sense and not much of that to see that if
all men act on this advice, no one will ever try a new thing or
leave off an old one, and the world would stand still.
A few years ago, a distinguished clergyman of the
Universalist denomination was accused, while in Lowell, of
'violently dragging his wife from a revival meeting, and compelling
her to go home with him.' He replied: 'Firstly, I have never
attempted to influence my wife in her views, nor her choice of a
meeting; secondly, my wife has not attended any of the revival
meetings for any purpose whatever; thirdly, I never on any occasion
forbade my wife to attend a revival meeting; fourthly, neither my
wife nor myself have any inclination to attend those meetings; and
fifthly, I never had a wife.'
This is a fair example of confutation without creating
satisfaction. The clergyman gave a technical answer.
The, questioner assumed that the lady they had in their minds was
his wife. She may have been his sister, or niece, or
housekeeper, or relative in his house, over whom he had control
and used it. He would have been more instructive and given
more satisfaction had he denied having interfered or sought to
control anyone attending the meeting in question. Though he
had 'no desire to attend' such place, he may have been there all the
same. He merely fenced with his reply, which is clever but not
Imagine a tramcar director, waited upon by persons who wanted
to know whether the new car would leave at the usual time, and take
up passengers at the usual places, who should answer: Firstly, we
have no 'new car,' and never had; secondly, we do not leave at the
'usual time'; thirdly, we do not 'take up passengers,' that is the
business of the police; fourthly, we have no 'usual places.'
This would be a good technical reply of the official type. But
having regard to the interests of the company, he would explain that
they had taken over the rolling stock of another company, and had
built no 'new car' themselves; the 'usual time' was now a quarter of
an hour earlier; that passengers 'step up' into the car, are not
'taken up'; and that they now stop for passengers wherever hailed.
The representative of an interest is communicative, why not the
representative of truth?
The schoolmen, by teaching that logic has only to do with
inferences, and that if the inference is true, the thing reasoned
upon has to be accepted, have caused great superstitions to have
long life in the world. He who begins to reason without
knowing what from, is trying to get a living inference out of dead
premises. Be sure your premises are alive, or your inferences
will smell like stale fish when brought into the market of debate.
Man should begin with himself. He loves truth it is
the first impulse of his nature. He loves justice the bandit
on the throne, as well as the bandit in the forest, respects justice
in some form or other. Man loves cheerfulness it is the
attribute of innocence and courage. He loves fraternity it
knits society together in brotherhood. These are standards.
His codes of life and judgment arise from these aspirations.
That which accords with these principles is reasonable.
Whatever develops these principles in conduct is moral. These
sentiments are to be confirmed by his own observations. His
experience in connection with these rules is the light with which he
may examine religions, creeds, books, systems, opinions.
Pope, one of the few poets who had logic in his bones,
Say first of God above or man below,
What can we reason but from what we know?
Definition is the soul of argument, and therefore attention
must be paid to it. Definition originates in accurate and
comprehensive observation. 'There cannot be,' says Mill,
'agreement about the definition of a thing, until there is agreement
about the thing itself. To define a thing is to select from
among the whole of its properties those which shall be understood to
be designated and declared by its name; and the properties must
be very well known to us before we can be competent to determine
which of them are fittest to be chosen for this purpose.'
To define a thing, says Dr Watts, we must 'ascertain with
what it agrees, then note the most remarkable attribute of
difference, and join the two together.' In fact, a true
definition selects that particular in which the thing in question
differs from every other. So that it cannot be confounded with
Every man of common sense can tell upon reflection what
course of conduct would be useful if all men followed it. At
least, in affairs of daily life men can tell this, and in affairs of
public life considering the effect of a thing upon society is a good
guide. Dumont puts this very clearly in the following
'What is it to give a good reason for a law? It is to show the
good and the evil which that law tends to produce; so much good, so
much argument in its favour; so much evil, so much argument against
'What is it to give a bad reason? It is to allege for or
against a law, any other thing than its effects, whether good or
'Nothing more simple; yet nothing more new. It is not the
principle of utility which is new; on the contrary, it is of
necessity as ancient as the race of man. Whatever there is of
truth in morals, whatever there is of good in law, proceeds from
There are five things which young logicians mistake for
reasons: (1) Antiquity of a thing is not reason, because mankind
were never infallible. (2) Religious authority is not reason,
for in every nation it has often been in the wrong. (3)
Disowning innovation is not reason, for to reject all innovation is
to reject all improvement. (4) Arbitrary definition is not
reason, for using a word in a sense it has not been used in before,
bewilders the reader or hearer by an appearance of depth and
subtlety which is unreal. (5) Metaphor or analogy is not
reason, they illustrate an argument but do not make one.
There are three maxims in law which may be usefully
remembered in reasoning: (1) Words spoken of one thing ought not
to be perverted to another. (2) He who does not truly speak
the truth is a betrayer of truth. (3) Contradictions cannot be
brought into being.
primarily to ease, audibility, and expressiveness of speaking. Expressiveness includes fervour and gesture. But fervour and gesture
belong to natural passion rather than to care and skill.
Delivery is a carrier's term, and sounds too mechanical for
elocution; nevertheless, a speech is a delivery of information or
incentive, and the manner of it is important. Delivery is, in fact,
elocution in practice. Vigorous, sonorous delivery is called
declamation. The speech of Brutus, defending the assassination of Cζsar, or that of Anthony denouncing it, are declaimed on the stage. Declamation is also applied to speech pompously spoken without
adequate force of sense to propositions daring in sound but meek
in proof. Oriental speech is generally graceful and fascinating
declamation ornament without profit. Paul's famous declamation on
charity includes no reason why anyone should have charity. Many
contrive to do very well without it. Its beauty, its eminence as a
virtue, the apostle excels in setting forth. It remained for Richard
Hooker sixteen centuries later to show how much more any man needs
the charity of all men than that all men need the charity of any one
man, and that it is therefore prudent to establish a claim to the
good-will of the world by showing good-will towards it. This is the
reason which commends charity as a civil policy, were it not a
principle of justice.
So much describes declamation intrinsically as regards matter. As
respects manner, declamation means the loud, vigorous, impetuous
utterance of resounding sentences. But force in delivery may be
obtained in other ways where there is mind behind the words.
The Rev. Robert Hall, whose talent for speaking was such that, when
eleven years old, he was set up to preach extempore to a
select auditory of full-grown men, says of himself: 'To me to speak
slow was ruin. You know, sir, that force or momentum is conjointly
as the body and the velocity; therefore, as my voice is feeble, what
is wanted in body must be made up in velocity.' This is a
mathematical figure of speech, and is more true of dynamics than
rhetoric. Hall's remark has misled many young speakers. Unless there
is strength of voice to sustain the momentum imparted,
indistinctness and alternations of screechings and whispers will be
Some years ago, we had in Parliament a momentum speaker of no mean
repute. It is said of Mr Macaulay (I think by Francis, in his
Orators of the Age), that when an opening is made in a
discussion in the House of Commons, he rises, or rather darts up
from his seat, and plunges at once into the very heart of his
subject without exordium or apologetic preface. In fact, you have
for a few seconds a high-pitched voice, monotonous and rather
shrill, pouring forth words with inconceivable velocity ere you have
become aware that a new speaker, and one of no common order, has
broken in upon the debate. A few seconds more and cheers, perhaps
from all parts of the house, rouse you completely from your apathy,
compelling you to follow that extremely voluble and not very
enticing voice in its rapid course through the subject on which the
speaker is entering, with a resolute determination, as it seems,
never to pause. You think of an express train which does not stop
even at the chief stations. On, on he speeds, in full reliance on
his own momentum, never stopping for words, never stopping for
thoughts, never halting for an instant even to take breath, his
intellect gathering new vigour as it proceeds, hauling the subject
after him and all its possible attributes and illustrations, with
the strength of a giant, leaving a line of light on the pathway his
mind has trod, till, unexhausted and apparently inexhaustible, he
brings this remarkable effort to a close by a peroration so highly
sustained in its declamatory power, so abounding in illustration, so
admirably framed to crown and clench the whole oration, that
surprise, if it has even begun to wear off, kindles anew, and the
hearer is left prostrate by the whirlwind of ideas and emotions
which has swept over him. A man may take this liberty with elocution
if he has genius to compensate for it. That member must beware who
attempts to charm the House of Commons by a monotonous tone without
Macaulay's wit, his power of enlightenment and amazing fecundity of
In some persons real power of speaking is marred by a physical
peculiarity, as in the case of the late Lord Derby, which cannot be
overcome by any device. A weak voice may be made stronger by
exercise; stammering may be mitigated as it is said Demosthenes did
it, by declaiming with stones in his mouth; but a husky voice is
Lord Rosebery remarks of Pitt that 'unfriendly critics said that his
voice sounded as if he had worsted in his mouth; but the general
testimony is that it was rich and sonorous.' Pitt's voice when
animated rose to sonorousness, but he must have had worsted moments. Not even 'unfriendly critics' would invent a peculiarity which would
be confuted five nights a week. Such a voice is not a defect of
oratory; where it exists, it is a defect of nature still a
disadvantage. Mr Goschen speaks as though he had once been a pedlar
of worsted, and had accidentally swallowed a ball; or had suffered
from a cold in the throat when young, and the flannel intended to
encase it had been inadvertently put inside instead of out. This filamentariness of speech imparts a woollen effect to many wise
things he says. There are times when Mr Goschen's impassioned tones
expand into the volume of the fog-horn, when their impressiveness
effaces all sense of defect.
Others have natural advantages. Lord Coleridge had deliberateness of
speech, and, like Lord Westbury, was unresting and unerring in his
choice of terms. When Lord Coleridge, then Sir John Duke Coleridge,
first spoke in the Commons, his tones filled the House with the
silvery accents of a lute. Sir John Bowring says, 'The Chinese shoot
arrows to which a musical pipe is attached, and when launched, sing
in the air.' That describes Lord Coleridge's sentences.
Some orators of mark on the political platform suffer their voice to
fall at the closing words of a sentence though in the last words
lie the whole point they intend. Great is the disappointment of
hearers who lose interest in an argument incompletely made known to
them. The cleverer a speaker is the more surely the sting of his
meaning will be in the tail of sentences of importance. What does he
speak for save to make that word clear? Yet he will drop his voice
just there. Just as a man seldom writes his own name plainly
because, knowing it himself, he concludes all other persons know it. Yet a proper name obscurely written, like an argument whose
culmination is undisclosed, no one can certainly make out. This
negligence in speaking is counted defective elocution. There is a
vanishing point in art, but none in sentences.
Droll misapprehensions through indistinctness of utterance or
neglect of emphasis, are familiar to every reader. There is the case
of the archdeacon, whose housemaid gave notice to leave because she
was held up to detestation every day in the morning prayers. The
archdeacon read with the slovenly indistinctness common with some
Churchmen, the words, 'O Lord, who hatest nothing that Thou hast
made,' sounded thus; 'O Lord, who hatest nothing but the shousmaid;'
and Mary, with her honest red elbows, said she would stand it no
A clergyman, who denied that emphasis was proper in the pulpit, one
day found his mistake by the smiles of his congregation, on his
reading the text: 'And he spake to his sons, saying, "Saddle me, the
ass, and they saddled him."' He would have made the meaning clear
had he, instead of 'saddled him,' said 'saddled the ass.' A man whom
he reprimanded for swearing, replied that he did not see any harm in
it. 'No harm in it?' said the minister. 'Why, do you not know the
commandment "Swear not at all?'" 'I do not swear at
all,' said the
man, 'I only swear at those who annoy me.'
The emphasis which is suggested by the sense is the best guide. Let
a person make sure of the sense and his emphasis will be natural and
varied. By natural is meant giving the chief force to those words
upon which the meaning turns. For instance, in so simple a phrase as
'Come here.' If you wanted the person to come, and he would not, the
speaker would throw a tone of entreaty into the word come; but if
the person spoken to did not understand where he was to come to, and
the speaker wanted him where he stood, he would put distinctness and
force into the word here. But more of this in another chapter.
'Sufficient unto the place is the evil thereof.'
Attracted by the pretensions of a placard, adorned by a testimonial
from the Times, I went, in Glasgow, to hear some professional
recitations. One of them was the 'Story of a Broken Heart.' The
unfortunate girl, of whom it was told, did not die immediately, but
it struck me she would have done so had she heard Mr Wilson recite
her story. The subject was that piece of graceful effeminacy, in
which Washington Irving has told the story of the proud love of the
daughter of Curran for the unhappy and heroic Emmet.
No one can recite with propriety what he does not feel, and the key
to gesture as well as to modulation is earnestness. No actor can
portray character with truth unless he can realise it, and he can
only realise it by making it for a time his own. It is said of one
of the Kembles that his daughter had been forbidden to marry an
actor, and her father was inexorable at her disobedience; but after
he had seen her husband upon the stage, he relented, and forgave
her with this observation, 'Well, well! I see you have not disobeyed
me after all; for the man is not, and never will be, an actor.'
The prompting of Lucio to Isabel, when pleading before Angelo for
the life of her brother, as rendered by Shakespeare in 'Measure for
Measure,' is one of the happiest practical lessons in the art of
persuasion on record. As a piece of preceptive teaching, neither the
rhetoric of modern or of ancient times has produced anything so
wise, so concise, and yet so comprehensive, as Hamlet's directions
to his players. It is a manual of delivery in miniature.
Do manners matter? is a question a public speaker should put to
himself. In social life, those who affect to despise manners as too
superfine for persons of their manly taste, forget that every man
has manners good or bad. A good manner is but art in doing what
you have to do with consideration for others. A tone means much. Even laughter is an art. Some women laugh like joy. Some laugh like
a peal of bells. Others laugh and you feel worse for having heard
them. Is there such a thing as tone in the world? One would think
not when we hear men cry 'Matter not manner.' A man shall hate his
friend, not for what he says but for the imperious tone in which he
says it. How many malevolent purposes have been changed by a kindly
spoken word; how many hearts have been broken by unkind tones.
There are tones, whatever their purport may be, so enchanting that
no ear would willingly forget them. Yet tone is a matter of manner.
All manner is but policy in the sense of being a chosen line of
action. Manner is the half of life. Without some refinement of
manner life would not be worth having. Dress to the gentleman, skill
to the workman, discipline to the soldier, knowledge to all is
manner. Grammar is manner of speech; poetry is manner of expression;
rhetoric the manner of the passions; art the manner of genius.
Daily watchfulness in speech is of the greatest importance. Ordinary
conversation should be well and clearly spoken whether a question,
an answer, or an anecdote; every word should be carefully said. Lord Wolseley wisely counselled English officers in command of Zulu or
Indian troops, not to conclude that they were stupid or wilful
because they disobeyed orders, unless they were quite sure the
soldiers understood what was said to them. The stupidity might be on
the part of the officer who was incapable of making himself
Habitually audible and accurate speech will make it easy to speak in
public. What anyone does well in daily life, he will do well in
public, and have confidence that he can do it well. Well or ill,
everybody is making short speeches in business or conversation, and
a public speech is but the expansion or multiplication of short
No one has a right to speak unless he has something to say, and he
has no right to say it publicly unless it is publicly important, and
what it is publicly important to say should be said so distinctly
and audibly that the public present can hear it.
Deliberation in delivery is more difficult to acquire or maintain
than in former times. The world has been hurried by railways. They
have originated a murderous punctuality in order to accelerate
business. More deaths occur at railway stations through hurry to
arrive there than on all the coaches by the old and tardy traffic.
Public meetings, as a rule, have neither order nor limit. Everybody
is held to have a right to speak now a meeting may number 30,000, as
everyone had when a public meeting seldom numbered 300. Now, too
many resolutions are proposed, and speaking is hurried.
Lord Palmerston was a speaker who knew the value of taking time. Once, at Tiverton, a vehement electoral opponent inquired whether he
would give a plain answer to a plain question. To this Lord
Palmerston assented. The question was Would he vote for a Radical
measure of reform? Palmerston at once answered: 'I will' pausing,
while the Liberals cheered then adding, 'not,' whereupon the
Conservatives applauded; waiting until they had done, Palmerston
continued, 'tell you; ' when the wily and evasive candidate retired
amid laughter and distrust all round.
Without deliberateness, self-possession is unattainable, and
self-possession sometimes makes the fortune of a speech; and if it
does not, it conduces to the development of the speaker.
I have seen Mr John Stuart Mill in the House of Commons pause in an
argument until the sequence occurred to him. The House would wait,
as Mill's words were chosen. I have noticed Lord John Russell pause
when the word he wanted did not occur to him. One night his son,
Lord Amberley, paused twice in a short, wise speech, for the same
reason. Being acquainted with him, I congratulated him upon the
promise he gave of being a Parliamentary speaker, through
self-possession, and the courage which waited for accuracy. A
speaker should provide
less to say than you might say at your ordinary rate of speaking, so
that you must fill the time allotted to you by more deliberation
and emphasis. Between deliberate, full-toned, and energetic
speaking, and feeble, indistinct and spiritless utterances, there is
the difference of live and dead oratory. A certain energy in
delivery which prevents drawling, and a slowness that avoids
whirling accents, or clipping half the sounds away, as hasty
speaking does are conditions of elocution. Take time to utter
well, speak trippingly without tripping. If you must be extreme,
better be heavy than hasty. A slowness carried too far would produce
tedium, but without a certain slowness there can be no distinctness,
nor will there be time for the speaker to think and for the auditors
to apprehend the speaker's meaning.
It could never be meant that people should rush through this world,
seeing how many advantages wait on those who take time to consider
before they precipitate themselves into action. Difficulties, which
seem insuperable to the beginner, vanish before those who have the
wisdom to observe
Learn to speak slow all other graces
Will follow in their proper places.
The graces may not follow then, but it gives them a chance of doing
it if they have a mind to. Nevertheless, deliberation is the
beginning of power in speech. The limit of slowness is drawling.
Without a certain energetic slowness there can be no certain effect,
and seldom any effect at all.
One who knew the House of Commons well has said:
'Fellows who have
been the oracles of coteries from their birth who have gone
through the regular process of gold medals, senior wranglerships,
and double firsts who have nightly sat down amid tumultuous
cheering in debating societies, and can harangue with an unruffled
forehead and an unfaltering voice, from one end of a dinner-table to
the other who on all occasions have something to say, and can
speak with fluency on what they know nothing about no sooner rise
in the House than their spells desert them. All their effrontery
vanishes. Common-place ideas are rendered even more uninteresting by
a monotonous delivery; and keenly alive, as even boobies are in
those sacred walls, to the ridiculous no one appears more
thoroughly aware of his unexpected and astounding deficiencies than
the orator himself. He regains his seat, hot and hard, sultry and
stiff, with a burning cheek and an icy hand repressing his breath
lest it should give evidence of an existence of which he is ashamed;
and clenching his fist that the pressure may secretly convince him
he has not as completely annihilated his stupid body as his false
This passage has discouraged more persons than it ought. If a man
goes into Parliament to make a demonstration at sight he will
commonly fail. But if he modestly gives it information, and speaks
when a sense of duty comes over him, upon what he understands, he
will succeed according to what is in him.
One who acquired great reputation for capacity, Thomas Paine,
confesses that the world (when he first came to America) could not
have persuaded him that he should be either a soldier or an author. 'If I had any talents for either,' said he, 'they were buried in
me, and might have ever continued so had not the necessity of the
times dragged and driven them into action.' He was unconscious of
his powers, as most persons are; hence, trusting yourself to events
is good. It is prudent in men not to guess their abilities, but
determine them by enterprise and achievement. The first step to
success is to try. There is no learning to swim without going into
the water. Had Hamlet contemplated being an orator, his soliloquies
would have run thus:
To spout, or not to spout, that is the question:
Whether 'tis better for a shamefaced fellow
(With voice unmusical and gesture awkward)
To stand a mere spectator in this business,
Or have a touch of Rhetoric? To speak to spout
No more; and by this effort, to say we end
That bashfulness, that nervous trepidation
Displayed in maiden speeches 'twere a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To read to speechify
Before folks perhaps to fail: ay, there's the rub;
For from that ill success what sneers may rise,
Ere we have scrambled through the sad oration,
Must give us pause. 'Tis the same reason
That makes a novice stand in hesitation,
And gladly hide his own diminished head
Beneath some half-fledged orator's importance,
When he himself might his quietus make
By a mere recitation. Who could speeches hear,
Responded to with hearty acclamation,
And yet restrain himself from holding forth
But for the dread of some unlucky failure,
Some unforeseen mistake some frightful blunder
Some vile pronunciation or inflection,
Improper emphasis or wry-necked period,
Which carping critics note, and raise the laugh,
Not to our credit nor so soon forgot?
We muse on this! Then starts the pithy question:
Had we not best be mute, and hide our faults.
Than spout to publish them
Spout and publish them without hesitation if you wish to cure them. Had Raphael feared to daub, he had never been Raphael. Had Canova
feared to torture marble, he had never been a sculptor. Had Charles
Kean feared to spout, he had never been an actor. If you stammer
like Demosthenes, or stutter like Curran, speak on. He who hesitates
to hesitate will always hesitate.
GESTURE MEASURED BY CONVICTION
AS genius in
ideas will compensate for the neglect of elocutionary art in
utterance, so earnestness and commanding thought will produce
eloquence of effect without gesture in delivery. At the same
time, fitting gesture which grows out of personal animation, is an
advantage. To underdo it, rather than overdo it, is a safe
rule. If the arm moves from the shoulder, rather than from the
elbow, angularity of action, which is never well received, will be
avoided. It is better to commence a speech with moderate
action and leave it to the natural fervour of conviction to do the
As a rule, a chaste, concise and energetic style is more
effective than a florid, turgid and prolix one; so the judicious
employment of moderate gesture is more effective upon the genius of
the English people, who love moderation, than any possible
amplification of spasmodic attitudes or redundancy of facial
changes. He who commences with moderate gesture may increase
it without danger of falling into exaggeration, while he who begins
with affluence of action exhausts his resources of motion before the
moment for supreme effect arrives.
Robert Hall had no oratorical action, scarcely any kind of
motion, excepting an occasional lifting or waving of the right hand;
and in his most impassioned moments an alternate retreat and advance
in the pulpit by a short step. Nor had W. J. Fox much gesture.
His hands were crossed before him. One or other arm was raised
(I do not remember to have seen both raised at once) and pointed
towards, rather than at, the audience. The action seemed more
effective from its moderation. Mr Bright had impressive
gestures, which were moderately used. Mr Gladstone's animated
gestures are one of the charms of his oratory. Gambetta was a
master of gesture: but it was slow, imposing, sustained by his
mighty voice and well-chosen words. He excelled in vigorous
sentences, which none other could express with like luminousness.
His gestures illustrated his sense; they were not, as with many
animated speakers, a substitute for sense.
Sincerity is not always elegance, nor is earnestness always
grace; nevertheless, earnestness is the best schoolmaster of
gesture. Awkwardness and angularity of movement is forgiven to
the sincere. In some, grace of gesture comes by nature, some
acquire it by dancing. Grace mostly comes by training, but
those who have it not should confine themselves to few motions.
Awkwardness will not be so apparent then. Besides, there is
another compensation a little gesture goes a long way when there
is manifest conviction behind it. However, gesture is but the
outward and visible ornament of inward sources of effectiveness.
To venture upon imitating Italian or French gesture, the speaker
needs Italian grace and French animation.
CONDITIONS OF EFFECTIVENESS
effectiveness which relates to manner of delivery, there is the
effectiveness which depends upon the mind. Effectiveness is the
chief aim in oratory. So far as it can be compassed it can be
compassed more or less by calculation in statement. There may be
effectiveness without calculation, and effects unpremeditated are
sometimes marvellous. But a wise speaker does not depend on chance
his aim is to foreknow. Manifest sincerity in speech may be depended
upon to create a good impression on an audience. Earnestness is a
quality which on the platform might degenerate into emotionalism,
which, lacking self-possession, would be fatal to public effect. Sincerity is a manly, self-contained sentiment, less pretentious
than earnestness. Nevertheless, earnestness, when good sense
controls it, is a noble quality. Yet not even sincerity is
everything. It does not imply the truth of what is said. That still
requires to be proved. Some think sincerity is errorless. Once
everybody, save a few philosophers, believed it to be a sign of
truth. Robespierre was sincere: he was a man who made sincerity
terrible. Some of his speeches, not all, read like a murder. There
was a guillotine in them. His sentences dripped with blood. No
genius, no talent, no sincerity is to be trusted or praised unless
it conduces, and is intended to conduce, to the welfare of others.
Nevertheless, with all its limitations, sincerity and capacity
annihilate personal disadvantages. I knew a rotund orator, who
appeared on the platform as Charles James Fox must have appeared in
Pitt's days like a sugar hogshead on two props, yet upon whom the
audience looked with admiration while he spoke. Louis Blanc was
diminutive in stature, but he was so entirely a man, and his
speaking was so sonorous, pregnant and animated, that his small
stature seemed an advantage to him. Robert Hall was a preacher who
had ideas, as well as precision and energy of style, yet the
spiritual and intrinsic charm of his speech was its earnestness. Foster said of Hall, 'Truth (to him) was a universal element, and to
enforce its claims was his constant aim. Whether he attempted to
engage the reason, the affections, or the fancy, all was subsidiary
to this end. He was always in earnest,' as to the necessity of
discerning truth, explaining it, and vindicating it.
Effectiveness lies also in proportion. Not in the beauty of a
pillar, or the finish of a frieze, but in the command which the
whole building has over the spectator not in the brilliance of a
passage, but in the coherence of the whole lies the effectiveness of
a speech or a book.
One conspicuous element of effectiveness is a defined purpose. Better say nothing than not to the purpose. No part should attract
the main attention entirely to itself. The chief merit of any part
is its subserviency to the whole design. When parts are praised, a
speaker is said to have brilliance; when the whole impresses, he is
said to have power. In a speech, as in a drawing on a reduced scale,
all the proportions have to be there. If a subject is too extensive
for an ordinary speech, present a distinct portion which shows the
quality of the whole. Hierocles carried a brick in his pocket as a
specimen of the house he wanted to sell. It gave no idea of its
situation, or convenience, but it proved his confidence in the
quality of its material.
Lucidity of arrangement is intent made evident to an assembly, and
is no mean element of effectiveness. As reasoning proceeds from
axioms which cannot be lost sight of without confusion so an
argumentative speech has a foregone object which must be disclosed
to the hearers, or they will be unable to follow the speaker
intelligently. The Encyclopζdia Metropolitana has explained clearly
the advantages of this course in the following terms:
'In purely argumentative statement, or in the argumentative division
of mixed statements, and especially in argumentative speeches, it is
essential that the issue to be proved should be distinctly announced
in the beginning, in order that the tenour and drift that way of
everything that is said may be the better apprehended; and it is
also useful, when the chain of argument is long, to give a forecast
of the principal bearings and junctures, whereby the attention will
be more easily secured and pertinently directed throughout the more
closely consecutive detail, and each proposition of the series will
be clenched in the memory by its foreknown relevancy to what is to
These are well-known rules, which it were superfluous to cite,
except for the instruction of the young. But examples may be
occasionally observed of juvenile orators who will conceal the end
they aim at until they have led their hearers through the long chain
of antecedents, in order that they may produce surprise by forcing a
sudden acknowledgment of what had not been foreseen. The
disadvantage of this method is that the hearer is apt to resent
being trapped into assent. It puzzles and provokes the hearer during
its sequence, confounds him in the conclusion, and gives an
overcharged impression of the orator's ingenuity on the part of
those who may have attended to him sufficiently to have been
convinced. It is a method by which the business of the argument is
sacrificed to ostentation in the conduct of it, and the ease and
satisfaction of the auditors sacrificed to the vanity of the arguer. The novelist or dramatist will often conceal the secret of his plot
to allure the reader to the end, and take him by surprise then, if
he can. In that case the story has to be entertaining up to that
point, or the reader will not hold on till he reaches it. Unless a
speaker is sure of enchanting his audience as he goes along, hearers
will not wait for the point of his argument, which has been
concealed from them. Besides, there is this difference between a
novel and an argument. The novel is intended to amuse, the argument
to convince, and when a link is lost, by ignorance of its relevance,
the chain of proof is disconnected.
Yet though the aim of an argument must be divulged, the drift of an
illustration, if brief, may be kept back. In one of the
Anti-Corn-Law orations of W. J. Fox in Covent Garden Theatre, there
occurred a striking example of this. He commenced by stating the
case of certain poachers, related in the newspapers of that day, who
had been sentenced at Ashby-de-la-Zouch to considerable terms of
imprisonment. When to this punishment was added the loss and
privation to which the families of the prisoners were subjected, the
penalty was serious. No one foresaw the relevance of the story, but
which the orator did not long withhold. He demanded to know 'if this
shall be done to the poor man who steals the rich man's bird, what
shall be done to the rich man who steals the poor man's bread?' I
know of no first words of any speech which produced so great an
effect. The argument was as a match applied to a funeral pyre where
the fallacies of protection were burned before the meeting.
An appeal to experience is a force in due place. 'The argument,'
says Emerson, 'which has not the power to reach my own practice, I
may well doubt will fail to reach yours. I have heard an experienced
counsellor say, that he never feared the effect upon a jury of a
lawyer who does not believe in his heart that his client ought to
have a verdict.' Samuel Bailey, in his Review of Berkeley's 'Theory
of Vision,' says:
'Many years ago, I held what may be styled a derivative opinion in
favour of Berkeley's Theory of Vision, but having in the course of a
philosophical discussion had occasion to explain it, I found, on
attempting to state in my own language the grounds on which it
rested, that they no longer appeared to me to be so clear and
conclusive as I had fancied them to be. I determined to make it the
subject of a patient and dispassionate examination. The result has
been a clear conviction in my own mind of its erroneousness, and a
desire to state to the philosophical world the grounds on which that
conviction has been formed.'
This is an interesting instance of the truth of the observation that
that statement only is fit to be made public which you have come at
in attempting to satisfy your own curiosity.
An editor of Shelley's posthumous poems apologises for the
publication of some fragments in a very incomplete state, by
remarking, 'how much more than every other poet of the present day,
every line and word he wrote is instinct with beauty.' Let no man
sit down to write with the purpose of making every line and word
beautiful and peculiar. Sir Henry Taylor thought 'the only effect of
such an endeavour will be to corrupt the judgment and confound the
Augustine Birrell, in a criticism wise in a new way, like many other
criticisms of his, remarks that 'Emerson writes like an electrical
cat, emitting sparks and shocks in every sentence. The lights
irradiate the forest, but disclose no path.' The same critic
explains what many have felt.
'You never know what Emerson will be at. His sentences fall over you
in glittering cascades, beautiful and bright, and for the moment
refreshing. But after a very brief while the mind, having nothing to
do on its own account but to remain wide open and see what Emerson
will send it, grows first restive and then torpid. Admiration gives
way to astonishment, astonishment to bewilderment, and bewilderment
As a rule, men are not much in danger of being too brilliant. Happily for orators, occasional phrases of power are sufficient for
effect and reputation. Brightness and force are attainable by him
who, knowing what he wishes to say, knows why it should be said. Telling the audience the reason which has convinced the speaker is
that explanation which produces impression. It fulfils Mr J. R.
Green's rule it takes the public into the speaker's confidence,
who are addressed as though they knew as much as the speaker
himself. An orator will be all the more explanatory, interesting and
engaging, if he assumes in his own mind that his hearers know
nothing upon the subject. A painting all white or all black allures
no eye. It is light and shade that make the picture. A fixed beacon
light is not seen at sea as far, nor as well, as a revolving light.
To be effective, study simplicity; abjure affectation and be
natural. The natural voice is heard the farthest, and the natural
effects the soonest. 'The costly charm of the ancient tragedy is
that the persons speak simply, speak as persons who have great good
sense without knowing it.' Nothing astonishes men so much as common
sense and plain dealing. Sincerity and simplicity carry all before
them. On Thiers's first appearance in the French Chamber he
experienced an almost universally unfavourable reception. He was
diminutive with an expression of countenance though intellectual,
reflective, and sarcastic far from possessing beauty. The
face itself, small in form, was encumbered with a pair of spectacles
so large that, when peering over the marble edge of the long narrow
tribune whence all speakers address the Chamber, he was described as
appearing suspended to the two orbs of crystal. With such ah
exterior M. Thiers, full of the impassioned eloquence of his
favourite revolutionary orators, sought to impart those thrilling
emotions recorded of Mirabeau. The attempt provoked derision, but
only for a time. In his new sphere, as in the others he had passed
through, he soon outshone competition. Subsiding into the oratory
natural to him simple, vigorous and rapid, he proved himself one of
the most formidable of Parliamentary champions.
Have a clear meaning and never obscure it. A wit may leave his words
open to two interpretations if he intends to amuse and not to
deceive. Dryden, a great poet, and Otway a poet also, but of lesser
magnitude, lived in the same street in houses facing each other. One
morning Otway wrote in chalk on Dryden's door the line:
Here lives Dryden, a poet and wit.
Dryden, on coming out, saw it, and wrote underneath it:
Written by Otway opposite.
It has never been settled to this day whether Dryden meant merely to
say that the line of praise his neighbours would see written on his
own door about him, was not written by himself but written by a
person living opposite; or that Otway was the opposite of 'a poet
But in matters of moment, which will affect themselves and others,
men like to know, and have a right to demand, with General Ludlow,
that a speaker's words shall not only be such as can be understood,
but such as cannot possibly be misunderstood.
For effectiveness in speech or writing, keep clear of philosophical
fogginess and common-place sentiment. Avoid as far as possible
abstract terms, abstract questions, and abstract ideas. Keep to
palpable things, and such as pass before the auditors in daily life. It is very well to entertain Utopian ideas it implies an outside
mind; but it is not necessary to act on Utopian principles till you
are in Utopia.
Beware of the transition epoch in argument, so common and so false,
by which so many alarm the public at what they call the decay of
faith, which is being superseded by the evolution of higher truth.
Transition is no new thing; it has been going on ever since time
began. Transition is the step of eternal progress. Its determined
and ceaseless tread is heard in every epoch. Transition is the
change-bringer of time. The hills, the ocean, the climate, society,
men and creeds are changing hourly and always. It is an open
question whether a particular change is good or bad. It is
reasonable to reason about it. But to talk of the present time as
one of transition, which the speaker has found out, is no novelty of
discovery. It is older than the hills. Transition is eternal.
Men so well-informed, and so self-conscious of infallibility as
Carlyle was, could say in the days passing over him, 'Few men have
seen more impressive days of endless calamity, disruption,
dislocation, confusion worse confounded. If they are not days of
endless hope too, then they are days of utter despair.' Public men,
priests and politicians before the days of Noah, and ever since,
have said the same thing. It is the common jargon of Parliament. I
have seen the sun of England set for ever annually for sixty years,
according to the predictions of our public Cassandras. It weakens
public respect for a man's judgment to hear him talk thus. Foolishness destroys effectiveness.
No more should be said at any time than can be said well. Brevity is
the instinct of art. If anything is prolonged it must be varied and
perfect in every part. It is a mistake to try to say everything
which can be said upon a subject. Confine yourself to so much as
will make a distinct impression. Enough is as good as a feast and
better, and too much is worse than a fast.
Against multitudes of words the poets have given many warnings. One
who knew exclaims:
Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
There are those who, like Talleyrand, regard words as given to us to
conceal our meaning. But where the intention is to make it clear, we
must give heed to Moore's suggestion
The wise men of Egypt were secret as dummies,
And e'en when they most condescended to teach,
They packed up their meaning, as they did their mummies,
In so many wrappers, 'twas out of one's reach.
Co-operators ought to be good speakers; their study being economy,
and economy in words is the source of effectiveness in speech. Economy is honourable in war. Wellington was a greater general than
Napoleon, inasmuch as he compassed greater effects with a smaller
expenditure of men; as he is the greatest speaker who accomplishes
conviction with the smallest number of words.
We can do without any article of luxury we never had, but when once
obtained, it is not in human nature to surrender it voluntarily. Of
twelve thousand clocks left on trial by Sam Slick, only ten were returned.
'We trust to soft sawder,' said Sam, 'to get them into the house,
and to human nature that they never come out of it.' Yet how many
persons expect to produce effects upon assemblies of men who never
bestow half the time upon the study of their natures as was given by
our American clock-seller.
The young speaker will do well to notice that morality is better
understood, at least in theory, than in former days, and that the
public like sincerity on the part of a speaker. A life which shall
illustrate what the orator seeks to enforce will add materially to
his influence. Some will ask May not a recommendation be a good
one though the giver of it be bad? Yes; but is it not an advantage
when both are worthy? The public may accept good advice from men who
will not take it themselves. But is it not the object of a wise
rhetoric to increase the number of men who act on sound advice? If
the public should be composed of men who hear only and never
practise, who does not see that we may give over all exhortations of
amendment? Mankind reason that that which is good for the public is
good for individuals, since individuals make up the public. And when
it is seen that a man does not follow his own advice, it is
concluded that either he is a simpleton, and consequently is not to
be heeded, or that he is secretly conscious of some inapplicability
in his own recommendations, and therefore to be suspected.
The moral existence of men is made up of a few trains of thought,
which, from the cradle to the grave, are excited and re-excited
again and again. These leading ideas rule despotically over conduct,
and, whoever awakens these, influence those whom he addresses. It is
in these leading ideas that we see the source of character. These
features the rhetorician studies. When Napoleon in Egypt was
threatened by his disaffected generals, he vanquished them by an
appeal to the three traits in their character their pride, their
honour and their bravery. Walking among them, he exclaimed: 'You
are too many to assassinate me, and too few to intimidate me.' The
fury of the men was subdued to admiration, and they turned away,
exclaiming 'Damn him, how brave he is.' It is said the heart has no
avenue so open as that of flattery, which, like some enchantment,
lays its guards asleep. But flattery which succeeds with the
intelligent requires art. If honest, it is excellent. A famous
politician, at a Royal Academy dinner, listening to insincere praise
which others called 'clever,' he answered, 'I call it hellish.'
Youth should lay the foundation of eloquence on character and
honesty. Let him speak for the right; let him not borrow the
language of idle gentlemen or scholars, much less that of
sensualists, absorbed in greed of purse and palate; let him speak
for the absent, defend the friendless, the poor, the slave, the
prisoner and the lost. Let him look upon opposition as opportunity;
he is one who cannot be defeated or put down. Let him feel that it
is not the people who are in fault for not being convinced, but the
speaker who cannot convince them.
LAWS OF DEBATE
DEBATE is a
larger question than is generally understood. Every man is
debating daily, either with himself or someone else. A man
debates questions with his household or with friends. Whenever
a difference of opinion arises between two persons, they
instinctively debate it together. This term has, also, a
public signification, and is applied to discussions in Parliament
and formal debates on public platforms. Correspondence in
newspapers, reviews and periodicals often takes the form of
controversy. All forms of controversy, where one person seeks
to justify his opinion against the differing opinion of another, is
debate; for intellectual life is a perpetual discussion.
Conversation is a friendly debate. Error of idea is everywhere
Some people are so disquieted by contrariety of opinion that
they fear the fate of the Catholic and Jew, who debated together the
grounds of their faiths, and ended by the Jew becoming a Catholic
and the Catholic a Jew. Some fear discussion because they are
like the judge who said he understood a case when he had heard only
one side it was the other side which perplexed him. The risk
of this perplexity he must undergo who would be wise.
Before taking part in debate, a man has to vindicate to
himself the uses of debate.
1. It creates two-sided people.
2. It instils toleration.
3. It proves truth which may be
4. It puts into the mind the sense of
5. It sows the seeds of new truth.
Those who object to these things may as well keep clear of
debate, for they will misuse it and distrust it.
The first rule to be observed in taking part in debate is:
1. To state your case.
2. To clear your case.
3. To prove your case.
4. And then sit down.
There was once an old doctor, the lecturer on logic and
rhetoric at a Scotch university, who received the fees from the
pupils on entering, who used to say to them, when they had finished
their term, that there were only two rules to follow 'One was,
when you have anything to say, say it in as few words as you can;
the other is, when you've said it, hold your tongue.'
General Ludlow held that a man should say what he means and
mean what he says. This is as true in debate as in morals.
In debate, you must not only say what you mean but know
what you mean. The audience will soon find out if you do not
1. The speaker must state his case that the
hearers may understand to what he asks their attention; without this
information they cannot judge what his object is, nor tell when he
is relevant or when he digresses. In stating your case give
the other side of the case if you know it. The contrast will
make your meaning clear, and show that you know what your case is.
There is a fine instance in the writings of Toulmin Smith 
'Decentralisation or administration by localities, is that system
of government under which the greatest number of minds, knowing most
about the special matter in hand, having the greatest opportunities
of knowing about it, and having the greatest interests in its
well-working, have the management of it or control over it.
Centralisation or administration by departments is that system of
government under which the smallest number of minds, knowing the
least about the special matter in hand, having the fewest
opportunities of knowing about it, and having the smallest interest
in its well-working, have the management of it or control over it.'
2. Then the speaker must clear his case show
plainly what he is aiming at, making his question quite distinct,
that it may not be mixed up with something likely to be advanced by
another disputant. He must free his main terms from ambiguity,
so that ignorance cannot mistake what he intends, nor an adversary
pervert his meaning. On a certain occasion a witness said he
knew the accused 'the moment he obtained a full-faced view of his
back.' A back may have its peculiarities, but a 'full-faced'
view of it is difficult to obtain. General Grant said of his
rival for the presidency (General Hancock) that, sitting behind him,
'you knew when he was pleased, for you could see him laugh behind
his ears.' I have seen other Hancocks do this.
3. A speaker must next prove his case, so that the
reasons of his argument may be evident. Here he should adduce
facts which cannot well be disputed in support of his contention,
and employ, if he can, such illustrations as make his meaning
4. Having done all he can to put the hearer in
possession of his case he gives place to his adversary within the
allotted time if the time be prescribed.
A barrister will occasionally state a complex case to the
jury before him, beginning with the simplest circumstances,
continuing with the more difficult, arranging the facts in such
order that the series throw light on the most obscure points that
the whole case may be fully understood. When he feels this to
be accomplished he returns, recapitulates, selects those points he
wishes to have most weight, puts them before the jury prominently
and as forcibly as he can. If his brief affords it, and he has
no scruples, he can, like Charles Phillips, in his defence of
Courvoisier for the murder of Lord William Russell, seek to fix the
guilt on an innocent man; or, like Sir Fitzroy Kelly, shed tears to
attest his belief that Tawell was innocent, whom he knew to be
guilty. But he who does this loses evermore the confidence of
those who know him.
In debate, it is a great point to have the main point in
mind, and never to lose sight of it. An argument is like a
picture which has a point to which all lines converge. It was
O'Connell who said an orator should always know what he is aiming
at, for when a man aims at nothing he is almost sure to hit it.
Young debating societies have a tendency not to know what the
point is, and to wander from it when they do know it. Upon the
chairman is cast the trouble of discerning what the main points are
in the mind of the person who opens the debate, and if this has not
been made clear to the chairman, he should ascertain what the main
points meant to be debated are, and state them himself to the
meeting before the discussion commences. Having once made the
question unquestionably plain, he should remind every speaker of it
who forgets it, and point out to him when he is wandering therefrom.
But a chairman should not use much strictness in doing this, because
some speakers cannot see a point, and cannot keep to it if they do.
Therefore, if they were strictly called to order they would be
incapable of speaking at all. But though it might be
desirable, for the sake of affording young speakers practice, and of
training a society in the habits of debate, to allow disputants to
speak in the best way they can, the meeting should be incidentally
kept informed when the question is getting mixed up with something
else. In a debate, if speakers introduce irrelevant subjects,
the good or evil of these different subjects will be entered upon.
Other speakers arise and combat what other speakers have said upon
these subjects, and in less than half an hour hardly anybody
remembers what the actual subject before the meeting was. Now,
the business of disputants is to discuss the speech of the opener of
the debate, rather than the speeches of each other. What other
speakers say should only be referred to incidentally, and so far as
it relates to the topic before the meeting. Discussion is
excellent discipline in the art of discovering what a point is and
what relates to it. Discussion is always valuable, inasmuch as
it elicits contrariety of opinion that nobody could suspect, and
misconceptions which nobody could imagine. No person can be
said to entirely understand any subject until he has debated it with
sharp-witted people. In the art of seeing all round a
question, a night in a discussion room will do more for a man than a
month in a library, that is, supposing the president has sufficient
knowledge of the speakers before him to bring their various powers
into play, and at the same time supposing that the speakers have
powers which the president can elicit and bring into action.
No opponent should be accepted whose sincerity cannot be
assumed, since it ought not to be questioned in debate. To
give an adversary credit for good faith is economy in reasoning,
since you have only to refute his principles not himself which
leaves you all your time and force for the greater and more useful
task. Find no fault with his grammar, manner, intentions,
tone. Attend only to the matter. Hear all things without
impatience and without manifest emotion. Let your opponent
fully exhaust his matter. Encourage him to say whatever he
thinks relevant. Many persons believe in the validity and
magnitude of their positions, because they have never been permitted
to state them to others and when they have once delivered
themselves of their opinions, they often find for the first time how
insignificant they are. There are some persons whom nobody can
confute but themselves. When you distinguish such, your proper
business is to let them do it. Learn to satisfy yourself and
to present a conclusive statement of your opinions, and when you
have done so, have the courage to abide by it. If you cannot
trust your statement to be canvassed by others if you feel anxious
to add some additional remark at every step suspect your knowledge
of your own case and amend it on further reflection. Master as
completely as you can your opponent's theories, and state his case
with manifest fairness, and, if possible, state it with more force
against yourself than your opponent did. The observance of
this rule will teach you two things your opponent's strength or
weakness, and your own also. If you cannot state your
opponent's case you do not know it, and if you do not know it you
are not in a fit position to argue against it. If you dare not
state your opponent's case in its greatest force, you feel it to be
stronger than your own, and in that case you ought not to argue
The course here suggested will be as useful to truth as to
the disputant. Great prejudice may often be disarmed by daring
it. In this manner, Gibbon delivered his argument in favour of
an hereditary monarchy. 'Of the various forms of government
which have prevailed in this world, an hereditary monarchy seems to
present the fairest scope for ridicule. Is it possible to
relate, without an indignant smile, that, on the father's decease,
the property of a nation, like that of a drove of oxen, descends to
his infant son, as yet unknown to mankind and to himself; and that
the bravest warriors and the wisest statesmen, relinquishing their
natural right to empire, approach the royal cradle with bended knees
and protestations of inviolable fidelity? Satire and
declamation may paint these obvious topics in the most dazzling
colours, but our serious thoughts will respect a useful prejudice
that establishes a rule of succession independent of the passions of
mankind; and we shall cheerfully acquiesce in any expedient which
deprives the multitude of the dangerous, and indeed the ideal power
of giving themselves a master.'
In Gibbon's days the discovery of a removable master had not
Debate should have for its object the vindication of some
truth seriously disputed. The Dutchman regarded debate as a
duty, who, being pressed as to the value of a dog for whose loss he
had brought an action, said, 'Nothing; but let him pay for it.'
When his adversary was asked whether it was true that he killed the
dog, he said, 'To be sure I did, but let him prove it,' which was
foolish, but not more silly than many disputants of pretension, who
will dispute for disputation sake, where there is nothing real or
useful to contend for.
For the adjustment of a difference a man should understate
his case should make no material assertion unaccompanied by the
proof make the fairest allowance for his rival's excitement (if he
be excited), put a fair interpretation on his words and acts.
All whose suffrages are worth having will make just judgment.
The reason of so many departures from this rule is the want of
courage, or the want of sense. It is the opinion of the
ignorant that if a man does not bluster and retort, he is deficient
in spirit. This apprehension often betrays weak men into
violence, and to prove themselves independent they become rude and
insolent whereas courage pursues its own way without ostentation,
preserves its independence, corrects misrepresentation, repairs any
injury it may have unwittingly done, and answers slander (if there
be slander) with the truth. No wise man answers a fool
according to his folly. He shows that it is folly, and
abandons it to die by its own hands.
Hamilton's Parliamentary Logic gives maxims, which
that experienced tactician had treasured up, observed, or invented,
many unworthy, some shrewd:
'State what you censure by the soft names of those who would
apologise for it.
'In putting a question to your adversary, let it be the last thing
'Distinguish real from avowed reasons of a thing. This makes a
fine and brilliant fund of argument.
'Upon every argument consider the misrepresentations which your
opponent will probably make of it.
'If your case is too bad, call in aid the party: if the party is
bad, call in aid the cause. 
'Nothing disgusts a popular assembly more than being apprised of
your intention to speak long.'
Having had experience in the ways of adversaries the
unscrupulous and the fair I noticed the rules they ordinarily
followed, and found, as Wordsworth's little girl said of her
brothers and sisters, 'We are seven,' which were these:
1. To show that the objection made against what
you have said is wrong, and that you were in the right. For
this course to succeed one must be very clear upon the subject, and
make it very clear to others that it is the objector alone who is in
error. If this cannot be done, the matter requires some
2. Not to take any notice of the objection
raised; but if he who advances it is a person whose opinion has
weight, his objection will have force, and tell against you, whether
you take notice or not.
3. To notice the objection made, and affect to see
nothing in it. But it is necessary to bear in mind that, if
other people happen to see something in it, your want of penetration
will not serve you.
4. To admit there is 'something in it,' but
maintain that it is a mere misapprehension of your meaning. In
that case, you must explain what your meaning was, or that expedient
will not answer.
5. To allege that your own statement is open to
two distinct interpretations, and argue that your critic has adopted
the wrong one. This course, however, is attended with some
risk; since it is the duty of a speaker to be aware of double
meanings, to choose one, and leave the hearer in no manner of doubt
which sense was intended, and to fix that sense so that the meaning
could not be intelligently misunderstood.
6. Admit that your statement was open to some
objection, making light of it, giving the hearer the impression it
was very unimportant, and that your critic could not have anything
very serious on his mind to make so 'much ado about nothing' by
which means the unobservant hearer will be hardly sensible that you
have fallen into any error at all, and even be disposed to regard
the objector to what you have said, as a trivial and captious
commentator'. But the intelligent observer will distrust you.
7. The remaining course open is to admit frankly
you were in the wrong. Careless phraseology, an inaccurate
argument, or a conflicting statement (whether fallen into unawares
or not), is an imposition upon the mind of the hearer, and a waste
of language, since it weakens and obscures the proper argument.
Therefore, the right thing is to express yourself under obligations
to an auditor who pays you the great compliment of considering what
you have said, and takes the trouble to amend what has been
unwittingly left defective.
Persons, really honest-minded, do often find a difficulty in
frankly admitting that they have made a mistake; but it is far
better to cultivate the habit of admitting an error, which you see
to be such, than to foolishly persist that you are right, and to
persist in the foolishness of the mis-statement which everybody sees
to be so, and which you ought to see yourself. To try to
create the impression that you are never in error, is to pretend to
infallibility it is to pretend that you know everything, that you
know it always, and that you are so perfect that you never forget it
or overlook it. Everybody knows that there never was any
person of this description; and to pretend to be, or to imagine that
you are, such a person is to betray to every reflecting reader that
you are ignorant as well as conceited. A real lover of truth
is glad to have any error into which he may have fallen pointed out,
that he may avoid it in the future.
PERSONALITIES THE DIGRESSIONS OF DEBATE
CONTROVERSY, though the pathway to, and final test of truth, is an
unwelcome word in many ears. This is because it is so often protracted
and unsatisfactory. It is protracted through digression, and
unsatisfactory, being so often disfigured by personalities, which
mainly cause digression and ill-feeling. Things evil, as well as
things good, do not come by chance. Disease as well as health has
its conditions; and personalities, however capricious and irregular
they may seem, have their laws. These are briefly to be explained. St Jerome said: 'If an offence come out of the truth, better the
offence come than that the truth be concealed.' There is no natural
offence in truth. The offence is generally put into it by personalities, which cause digressions from the truth into the
hateful and dishonouring imputations.
The Edinburgh News lately turned to the file of London papers as
they existed in the pure and happy days of a fourpenny tax, and
found a licence of speech quite edifying. Thus the Times calls its
neighbour, the Morning Chronicle, 'that squirt of filthy water,' and
the Chronicle, not to be behind, calls the Post 'that slop-pail of
corruption.' The Standard describes the Globe as 'our blubber-head
contemporary.' The Morning Herald accosts its neighbour, the
Courier, as 'that spavined old hack,' while the Morning Advertiser
hurls its wrath against the Times as 'that bully of Berkshire and
braggadocio of Printing House Square.' The Times, not to be outdone,
commenced one of its leaders on the 13th of June 1835, with 'The
Liberal liars,' and then turning on the Chronicle, continues, 'A
disgraceful morning print, which actually feeds on falsehood and
lies'; then going into the subject, it adds, 'The smaller rascal,
Mr Gingall, copies the paragraph from the larger blackguard.' The
Times of the same date, elsewhere referring to its opponent, says,
'The community must be shocked to know that there are such beings as
these scribblers out of the treadmill, and because every exposure of
the ragamuffins gives to foreigners an additional proof that there
have crept into the press of this country a number of scoundrels,
who not only are unfit for the society of gentlemen, but who would
be a disgrace to the vilest coteries of Europe.' To this the
Standard retorts, 'It can scarcely be doubted that the habits of
writing down to the ignorance and below the brutality of the rabble,
which the Times has acquired by long experience, acting, of course,
upon original ignorance and intuitive brutality, has rendered this
journal a more powerful organ of excitement than a whole workshop of railers.'
This was the way in which 'gentlemen wrote for gentlemen' in those
days; and all agreed in one thing, that the abolition of the fourpenny stamp would lower the press, as though it could fall into
a lower depth than that in which the fourpenny tax writers burrowed. The press has been freed from all taxation, and the standard of the
cheap press is far higher than in its dearest days. The
working-class have found a better way of expression. Nevertheless,
the political and ecclesiastical controversy of our 'betters' still
presents samples of the old manner.
Literature has not always had a civil tongue in its head, and was
ready to assist political animosity. Bute pensioned Dr Johnson and
Dr Shebbeare, which caused the wits to say he had pensioned a
He-bear and a She-bear. Dr Shebbeare had been in the pillory and
lost his ears, which was the
point of the lines
Witness, ye Hills, ye Johnsons, Scots, Shebbeares,
List to my call, for some of you have ears.
Byron and Shelley disagreed widely on several questions, but that
made no difference in their regard for each other. Byron had hatreds
Shelley had fanaticisms. Vegetarianism was one. Byron did not
hesitate to deny outright Shelley's cereal ideal. Byron sang
Man's a carnivorous production.
And must have meals; at least one meal a day.
He cannot live, like woodcocks, upon suction,
But, like the shark and tiger, must have prey;
Although his anatomical construction
Bears vegetables in a grumbling way,
Your labouring people think, beyond all question,
Beef, veal and mutton better for digestion.
Shelley, walking down Bond Street, composing a poem and munching a
new roll for his dinner, would be likely to produce dyspeptic verse
that day. Shelley wrote no line of malice in reply to Byron. But
then these poets were gentlemen.
One way to disarm personalities when they come is to brave them. To
court them is fatal to yourself; to retaliate fatal to union. The
partisan of a cause ought to be able to dare all opinions. And all
opinions might be dared by those in the right. There can be no
quarrel unless two parties engage in it. And it is always in the
power of one party to prevent a quarrel by refusing to be a party to
it. No man can quarrel with another without the other's consent. Hence the veto of peace, if not of amity, is always in the hands of
one of the disputants. It is often a duty; it is often
indispensable to notice individual error. But the discharge of such
a duty would not be so distasteful to the public as it now is, were
it not for the personally disparaging manner in which it is
generally done. If, when objections to a public man must be made,
the points were well selected and singly urged, without ill-will,
the criticism would be felt to be useful and tolerable. Instead of
this course a miscellaneous fire is often extended to every
imaginable fault, and conjectures called in when facts are
exhausted, until what was, or should be, public instruction becomes
a gratification of private resentment.
Malevolence is not necessary on the platform, nor in the press. Canadian journalists told me that Mr Goldwin Smith, by showing in
his own writing how a man of genius could be effective without
employing dishonouring epithets, had raised the character of the
whole Canadian press.
It is not just to refer to a man's lameness of body; but lameness
of mind may be complained of, because that is remediable. A lame,
man would not enter himself in a public race with agile men, and if
he enters into public controversy he must be assumed to have mental
nimbleness. But, if he is always behind in his argument, his
deficiency in pace may be ascribed to natural causes to lameness
of understanding. Misfortunes of nature are unlawful allusions. Canning has not been forgiven for alluding to a Parliamentary
opponent as the 'revered and ruptured Ogden.' The permanent reason
for avoiding outrage is that the mugwumps who can imitate nothing
else, can imitate unpleasantnesses.
The debater should keep a sharp eye on an opponent who introduces
personalities. It is the device by which an astute adversary allures
his assailant from his gun so that he is not at hand to discharge
it when the enemy is in front of it.
Civilisation has imposed laws on contests. An invading army must not
poison the wells of the enemy; a duellist must stand at the assigned
distance before he fires; a prize-fighter, is forbidden to hit
below the belt; neither man, nor horse, nor boat is allowed to foul
a competitor in a race. But in controversy there is no law, save
that of honour, to prevent an adversary assailing an opponent by
Once, in the United States Assembly, a member in audience, being
weary of listening to the member in possession of the House, rose and
said, 'Mr Speaker, I should like to know how long that blackguard
is to go on tiring me to death in this manner.' In the Irish House
of Commons, Mr Grattan said of Mr Corrie, 'I will not call him
villain, because he is a Chancellor of the Exchequer; I will not
call him liar, because he is a Privy Councillor; but I will say of
him, that he is one who has taken advantage of the privileges of
this House to utter language to which, in any other place, my answer
would have been a blow.' A duel was the immediate result. And if a
duel was intended the language was well chosen for the purpose.
De Morgan relates that the late Professor Vince was once arguing at
Cambridge against duelling, and some one said, 'Well, but,
Professor, what could you do if anyone called you a liar?' 'Sir,'
said the fine old fellow, 'I should tell him to prove it, and if he
did prove it, I should be ashamed of myself, and if he didn't he
ought to be ashamed of himself.'
The obvious laws to be observed in controversy seem to be these:
1. To consult the improvement of those opposed to you and to this
end argue not for resentment, or gratification, or pride, or vanity,
but for their enlightenment.
2. When surmising motives do not surmise the worst, but adopt the
best construction the case admits.
3. To distinguish between the personalities which impugn the
judgment and those that criminate character, and not to advance
accusations affecting the judgment without distinct and indisputable
proof; and never to assail character (where it must be done) on
suspicion, probability, belief or likelihood.
4. Never make an imputation unless some public good is to come out
of it. It is not enough that a charge is true, it must be useful to
prefer it before a wise publicist will meddle with it.
5. Be so sure of your case as to be able to defy the judgment of
mankind, and when assailed, maintain self-defence, self-respect, not
forgetting justice to those to whom you are opposed.
Leigh Hunt prophesied long ago that the old philosophic conviction
would revive among us, that 'the errors of mankind arise rather
from the want of knowledge than the defect of goodness.' Stupidity
can be informed, ignorance can be enlightened, but the collision of
interest and passion, self-will and self-opinion, can destroy
association, until men acquire justice in speech, and equity towards
The necessity of enforcing this most practical part of rhetoric (the
Rhetoric of Dispute), which is taught in no Mechanics' or Literary
Institution, is evidenced in the fact that an impartial, impersonal
and dispassionate tone is in many eyes almost fatal to prosperity in
newspaper and periodical literature. To the uneducated populace
nothing that is just seems spirited. He who is not offensively
personal is pronounced tame. The rancorous are most relished. The
reason is that most men, when stung by a sense of injury, are
naturally precipitated from extreme to extreme. Their opinions, when
sincere, are not produced by the ordinary law of intellectual
births, by induction or inference, but are equivocally generated by
the heat of fervid emotion, wrought upon by some sense of unbearable
oppression. But all this changes with the growth of knowledge. Art
discards the gaudy colours of the savage; so rhetoric discards
savage invective. Civilisation is a sense of proportion.
Personalities, even those which relate to defects of understanding,
are allowable within the limits of not impugning sanity; but not
personal allusions which relate to defect of honour, or veracity. If
you call a man an idiot, you pass the limit of allowable
personalities of the mind. He who thinks another an idiot, should be
silent with regard to him. If a person be an idiot it is of no use
arguing with him. He is incapable of reasoning. To use such a term
towards an adversary is to stop debate if you believe what you
say. The moment this word is said the friends of the alleged
imbecile are up in arms to resent the insult to his understanding,
and probably the 'idiot' himself leaps up to retort upon his
accuser. Then there is an end of the subject in debate. Everybody
digresses from it to join in the vindication of the assailed, or of
The moment one person accuses another of want of honour or veracity,
the reply is a blow, or a duel, which are held to be justifiable. If
the term is believed it destroys the accused, and he feels justified
in destroying his accuser. He who intends to make dishonouring
charges should go before a magistrate. A term of personal dishonour
is a breach of the peace, and the law court, and not the platform,
is the proper place to make the charge. To introduce offensive
accusation is to terminate debate by a pernicious digression, and
arouses recrimination and passion, through which the rays of truth
penetrate not. This consequence is so well understood that he who
causes such digression may be suspected of intending it.
The mischief of personalities which offend is that persons who
cannot argue can recriminate. A hundred persons can make imputations
for ten who can reason. The discovery of truth in the maze of words
and diversity of view requires concentration of attention. But
irrelevancies require no
thought and are popular with the majority of hearers who have not
thought on these things, or to whom irrelevancies are a relief.
POLICY OF DEBATE
THERE are three
points of policy in debate.
1. The first is the search for the truth its recognition when
found, whether in the mouth of your adversary, or your own. As Dr
Johnson says in his 'Irene':
Be virtuous ends pursued by virtuous means,
Nor think the intention sanctifies the deed.
No talent, no genius is entitled to esteem, except as the use to
which it is put is conducive to the welfare of others.
2. Since the adversary is the friend of truth, he should never be
outraged or humiliated, or he will withdraw himself from the arena,
or his friends will if he does not. Then debate is ended and
discredited in public estimation.
3. Because discussion is the agency of establishing truth, the
credit of debate should always be in the minds of both disputants. Do not be contemptuous or impatient of those whose faculties are not
'on sight,' or perhaps non-existent. I would listen a reasonable
time to a madman. 'Light is still light, whether it pass
through coloured glass or even a cracked window.'
Whether ridicule and satire may be employed in debate, are questions
of judgment as well as rule. 'Cicero condescended to employ ridicule
against certain chimeras.' 'Condescended' is Gibbon's word,
admitting or implying that ridicule is at best but one of the lower
forms of argument. Satire, in the hands of Lucian was, Gibbon
thinks, a much more adequate as well as a more efficacious weapon. Shaftesbury regarded ridicule as 'one of those principal lights'
under which things are to be viewed in order to their full
recognition. Truth, it is supposed, may bear all lights. So it will,
but the holders of the ridiculed truth will not. Most things, owing
to time or circumstance some intrinsically have an absurd side.
But it requires great dexterity to show it without giving offence. In politics it requires consummate art to employ ridicule without
outraging those held up to laughter. In religion it is never
successful, if the object is conversion. Instructive ridicule is so
difficult; and foolish ridicule is so easy, and commonly coarse and
buffoonish, that, without the instinct and cultivation of art,
ridicule should not be attempted. One rule is clear a cause in a
minority should never ridicule the cause of the majority. The wise
profit by Coleridge's warning: 'Truth is a good dog, but beware of
barking too closely at the heels of error, lest you get your brains
kicked out.' Those in the majority, political and ecclesiastical,
employ ridicule against the minority, without scruple or mercy, but
are furious when it is employed against themselves, and resent it
dangerously. It is said by omniscient and self-complacent writers,
that 'to argue with folly is to make it feel important.' But what
one may deem folly may be matter of honest and serious conviction on
the part of others. The subject of our ridicule, or satire, may be
sacred to them: and there is neither sense nor self-respect in
inflicting pain, outrage or humiliation upon sincere persons,
however foolish we may deem them. A master in advocacy, John Stuart
Mill, held that, 'in general, opinion contrary to those received,
can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language and the
most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they
hardly ever deviate, even in the slightest degree without losing
ground.' Sarcasm is mocking, and when without bitterness is
enlivening. Ridicule holds persons or things up to laughter or
contempt. Satire is less offensive, since it reflects on the
intellectual oversight of adversaries. Ridicule is more common,
because malice may inspire it. Satire is more difficult, since it is
futile without wit. Satire, like a polished razor keen, wounds with
a touch which is scarcely felt or seen. Sarcasm, ridicule and satire
have always been regarded as bright weapons of controversy, but they
require to be used with judgment and, above all, with good temper.
It is well to avoid words which may mean more than you can prove. Be
chary of saying a thing is 'very' good or 'very' exact, when it may
be merely good, and perhaps not that: its exactness may hardly come
up to the average, when looked into. 'Most ' is as dangerous as
'very.' It requires wide knowledge to say a thing is 'most'
excellent. The words 'none' and 'all,' 'every' and 'always,' should
be used very warily. It may require you to go over all mankind, over
all time, and every event to justify such wide-reaching terms.
If you invite opposition, do it with circumspection. The value of
free speech is too great to be trifled with. Seek conflict only with
sincere men. Concede to your opponent the first word and the last. Let him appoint the chairman. Let him speak double time if he
desires it. Debate is objected to as an exhibition in which
disputants try to surprise, outwit, take advantage of, and discomfit
each other. To obviate this objection, explain to your opponent the
outline of the course you intend to pursue, acquaint him with the
books you shall quote, the authorities you shall cite, the
propositions you shall endeavour to prove, and the concessions you
shall ask. And do this without expecting the same at his hands. He
will not now be taken unawares. He will be pre-warned and pre-armed. He will have time to prepare, and if the truth is in him it ought
to come out.
If you feel that you cannot give all these advantages to your
opponent, suspect yourself and your side of the question. Every
conscientious and decided man believes his views to be true, and if
consistent he believes them to be impregnable. Neither in minutes,
months nor years are they to be refuted. Then a man so persuaded may
concede advantages to his adversary, and enable him to arm himself
In another particular discussions were esteemed unsatisfactory. When
statement and reply have been made, then came the reply to the
reply, and then the reply to that, till the cavil seemed perplexing,
tiresome and endless.
Now, the object of discussion is not the vexatious chase of an
opponent, but the contrastive statement of opinion. Therefore
endeavour to select main points, to state them strongly and clearly,
and when your opponent replies be content to leave his arguments
side by side with your own, for the judgment of the auditors. Do not
disparage an opponent, mis-state his views, or strain his words,
and thus, for the sake of a verbal triumph, produce ill-feeling. Your sole business is with what he says, not how he says it, nor why
he says it. Your aim should be that the audience should lose sight
of the speakers, and be possessed with the subject; and that those
who come the partisans of persons shall depart the partisans of
principles. The victory in a debate lies not in lowering an
opponent, but in raising the subject in public estimation. Controversial wisdom lies not in destroying the adversary, but in
destroying his error not in making him ridiculous, but in making
the audience wise.
A principle is a path. Deviation is error and waste of time. Intellectual courtesy to persons is consideration for others; it is
conceding to others the right of acting on their convictions. But
courtesy does not apply to giving up your own conviction nor in
concealing it. He who is without principle is
without any guide, not knowing what to do himself. Relinquishing or
concealing personal principle is being useless to others, who are
instructed by knowing their neighbours' path as well as knowing
Never invent opponents never invent the opinions of opponents. Take real ones. The dangerous preference of imagination to reality
is perhaps nowhere so apparent as in the construction of
controversial books. Authors satisfy themselves with inventing the
arguments of their opponents, when the easiest and most satisfactory
course is to extract the most powerful reasoning the other side has
produced. By this course real objectors can be answered instead of
A perpetual device, or error of controversialists, is to state as a
fact against an adversary their inference from his doctrines, and
declare that he means what they say. After a while, if the
assailants have a powerful party on their side, they will assert
that the very terms used, in such inference, were the original
language of their adversary. This used to be constantly done with
applause in political, ecclesiastical and sectarian controversy. The
practice has not wholly died out yet. The late Mr Delane inferred
from Mr Cobden's expressed opinion in favour of land reform, that he
would parcel out the land of the country among the people, and said
in the Times that Mr Cobden advised this course which was never in
Mr Cobden's mind nor in his words. Mr Delane put forth his own
inference as Mr Cobden's actual avowal, which he indignantly and
successfully repudiated in letters which became famous.
Controversialists make much ado about the onus probandi, meaning
the burden of proof, which rests with him who makes an assertion. He
who denies what is asserted is often, without reason, called upon to
prove his negative. Beyond remarking that it is the province of the
assertor to prove, accept the logically unfair demand and give the
reasons why you hold the negative opinion. This meets the case as
far as a negationist can meet it. It continues the discussion, and
compels it to proceed, and gives the negationist the opportunity of
becoming the assailant by request of his adversary.
Debate requires self-possession a power to think on your legs. But
even in debate the victory is oftener with the foregone than with
the impromptu thinker. A man who knows his subject well will be
forearmed. He alone can distinctly see the points in dispute, and
the nature of the proof or disproof necessary to settle the
Two persons of opposite opinions often mistake the way of coming to
a common understanding; as, for instance, when one speaks at the
other instead of explaining his own views to him. Each expects the
other to come over to him, which neither is inclined to do, nor
intends to do. A, in
expecting B to come to him, assumes that on the part of his opponent
there exists a predisposition for his views. This should never be
assumed. It is the first endeavour of a wise propagandist to create
it if it does not exist, and strengthen it if it does and whether
it exists or not, he should
always reason as though it did not. The business of A, the
converter, is to meet B on the platform B stands upon, to examine
his principles, study his views and turn of thought until he finds
some common ground of faith, morals, opinion, or practice, with
which he can identify himself.
There is no easier method of commencing a conversation than by
asking a question. There is no safer introduction to an argument
than by asking an opponent what he means, where his meaning is
doubtful. Time and circumstance have given new usage, new senses,
and new associations of idea, to words that once had but one
meaning. Most words have now many meanings. Where the sense in which
a word is used is open to doubt do not assume a meaning, but
inquire the sense in which an opponent employs it.
The Socratic method of disputation or artful questioning (of which
Zeno the Eleatic was the author), by which an opponent is entrapped
into concessions, and thus confuted, is rather fit for wranglers and
sophists than reasoners.
There is too much reason to believe that Socrates condescended to
this course often at the expense of ingenuousness. It is said in his
defence that he did it not as the sophists, for the sake of
confounding virtue, but for the purer purpose of confounding
dexterous vice. It is, however, beneath the dignity of a reasoner to
betray his opponent into the truth.
Questioning, however, is an essential instrument. A high authority,
Dr Arnold, has put this in a useful light:
'An inquiring spirit is not a presumptuous one, but the very
contrary. He whose whole recorded life was intended to be our
perfect example, is described as gaining instruction in the temple
by hearing and asking questions the one is almost useless without
the other. We should ask questions of our books and of ourselves;
what is its purpose by what means it proceeds to effect that
purpose whether we fully understand the one whether we go along
with the other do the arguments satisfy us do the descriptions
convey lively and distinct images to us do we understand all the
allusions to persons or things? In short, does our mind act over
again from the writer's guidance what his acted before? do we reason
as he reasoned, conceive as he conceived, think and feel as he
thought and felt? or if not, can we discern where and how far we do
not, and can we tell why we do not?'
Questioning has also a place in rhetoric as well as in research. Frankly conducted, it is a mode of conviction without offence. To
whatever an opponent urges, with which we do not agree, of course we
have some objection. Put this objection incidentally, or ask as a
question, what answer can be given to it? This is a good
conversational mode of debate, where the improvement of an opponent,
rather than a triumph over him, is the object. It is not showy, but
it is searching.
In a similar way confidence may be acquired by diffident speakers. A
novitiate conversationalist is shy of taking part in debating a
topic, lest he should not be able to sustain himself. To such I have
said put your argument in the form of an objection which some
would urge, and beg some one of the company to tell you what he
would say in reply. If to this answer you have an objection further,
put that also in the questioning form; for a man would be able to
ask a question who would never be able to make a speech. Wise
members of Parliament know this. Once in conversation, the diffident
will speak freely enough perhaps too freely. A coward will fight
when he grows warm in strife. By questioning a novice may learn the
best answers others can give to his own argument, and without
exposure learn his own weakness or strength, or that of others.
In interpreting the words of an adversary, he who replies has to put
some construction upon it. It is safest to put the best. He is
nearly always wrong who puts the worst, whether in debate or in
daily life. To put the best construction possible on a proposition
in dispute is to raise debate to a higher level and maintain it
DEFENCE OF DEBATE
SPEAKING a few
years ago at a Liverpool college, Mr Gladstone, who is always for
fairness to adversaries, said: 'The day had gone by when reticence
or railing at opponents was regarded as a sufficient defence of
opinion.' Assailants of religious tenets must be met by reason
and not by railing. In words to this effect he counselled that
adversaries should be met by argument. Mr Gladstone is as much
an ecclesiastical as a political authority, and no one of his
eminence as a Christian has, in my time, justified reasoning
controversy. It is only those who, consciously or
unconsciously, lack confidence in the truth of their opinions who
decry honest discussion. To him who believes he has the truth,
opposition is his opportunity. He who understands that the
sincere adversary is the friend of truth will find debate a great
advantage. Your opponent may be the enemy of your opinions,
but he is the friend of your improvement. The more ably be
confronts you the more he serves you. The gods, it is said,
have not given to mortals the privilege of seeing themselves as
others see them; but, by a happy compensation in human affairs, it
is given to adversaries to supply what the gods deny. They
afford that indispensable light of contrast which enables you to
discover the truth if hidden from you, or the opportunity to display
the truth if you possess it. 'A good writer,' says Godwin,
'must have ductility of thought that shall enable him to put himself
in the place of his reader, and not suffer him to take it for
granted, because he understands himself, that every one who comes to
him for information will understand him. He must view his
phrases on all sides, and be aware of all the senses of which, they
are susceptible.' But this facility can nowhere be so
certainly acquired as in debate.
A master of debate amid orators of renown Edmund Burke,
said: 'He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens
our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. This amiable
conflict with difficulty obliges us to an intimate acquaintance with
our object, and compels us to consider it in all its relations.
It will not suffer us to be superficial.'
Discussion commences without prepossession, and ends without
dogmatism when each disputant is more anxious to explain than defend
his opinions. As an established truth is that which is
generally received after it has been generally examined, it is
evident that, though truth may be discovered by research, it can
only be established by debate.
The only verification of truth possible, is when propositions
supposed to be true are subjected to criticism. The most
competent writers (as Samuel Bailey, to wit) on the means of
ascertaining Truth, agree that, while true things are true in
themselves, and may come to be accepted without controversy, no one
can be sure of the truth of very important propositions until they
have been openly, freely, and universally discussed in, a fair field
of inquiry. All Milton asked was 'a free and open encounter'
for truth, and no one could doubt its victoriousness. Like all
intrepid advocates of a cause in a minority, Milton was too
sanguine. A 'free and open' encounter is not enough it
should be a fair encounter also. If disputants are unequally
matched as to powers of expression, extent of knowledge or means of
obtaining it, or leisure for preparation for the encounter truth
for that time may not obtain the advantage. People seem not to
think that debaters should be as equally matched as may be. A
savage undrilled against a soldier trained a racer lame against
one swift of foot a village spouter against a London actor a
pedagogue against a professor would be no fair encounter however
'free and, open' it might be.
That is no fight as everybody knows
Where only one side deals the blows,
And the other merely bears them.
It is because common-sense conditions of fairness are
overlooked in discussion that many decry debate as uninstructive or
disappointing. The sureness of a truth is known only when it
obtains acceptance after every competent person has been heard, who
has anything to say against it. Freedom of thought, and the
free and equal criticism of it, is a condition of truth and
progress. It is the well-understood interest of every
community to permit, to encourage, and to give every man who can
think a chance of adding to the sum of Truth. At the same
time, no person can hope to obtain from men of thought that
indispensable criticism which they can give unless the advocate of
truth is himself studiously fair and friendly in speech.
Every man, said Walpole, and later, Pitt, has his price.
Whether either had sounded the venality of patriotism and fixed the
market price of his own virtue I know not. If Pitt was
incorruptible, as is believed, he should not have said what he did.
But with more truth and less offensiveness it may be said that every
man has his reason, which, when once presented to him, will sway
him; and to find this out is the problem rhetoric has to solve.
I am not more favourable than Hood to the plan of 'dropping truth
gently as if it were china, and likely to break.' But if a
fair case be so stated as not to mortify others by arrogance, no
annoy by ceaseless importunity, nor disgust by seeming vanity, but
accompanied by evident indications of disinterested sincerity, it
will generally prove acceptable. It is not the truth men hate,
but the disagreeable auxiliaries which so often attend its
enunciation. Bacon, I think it is, who says in his regal
'Whosoever has his mind fraught with many thoughts, his wits and
understanding do clarify and break up, in the communicating and
discoursing with another; he tosseth his thoughts more easily; he
marshalleth them more orderly; he seeth how they look when they are
turned into words; finally, he waxeth wiser than himself; and that
more by an hour's discourse than by a day's meditation.'
Very few people are capable of charity without compromise, or
can distinguish between them. Charity recognises how a man may
come by his error without being conscious of it. Compromise is
suffering some error to remain, out of courtesy or expediency, in
order to obtain co-operation in carrying into practice a portion of
truth which would otherwise be rejected.
It is of no use saying you cannot find a common ground for
debate. He who cannot find it, cannot convert. How can
persons, any more than bodies, cohere, who never touch? So
long as each denies to the other a share of reason on his side so
long as each maintains an infallibility of pretension to complete
truth they both assume what is contrary to the nature of things,
and exclude the common ground which must be established between
them, where truth and error can join issue. There is no
impassable gulf between contending men or contending opinions but
that dug by pride and passion. We all have a common starting
point. We have a common consciousness of impression a common
nature to investigate a common sincerity to actuate us truth is
our common object, and we have a common interest in discovering it.
Nature made us friends: it is mostly false pride or false
impressions that make us enemies. A common ground exists
between all disputants. This is a relevant fact too little
attended to, or, indeed, too little understood. The common
ground which exists is not one which policy makes, but one that
These remarks regard conviction as depending upon truth, not
upon forms of procedure. Nothing is recommended here which is
inconsistent with truth no cunning questioning, no sophistical
entrapment. The sole precepts are those of condescension and
contrast. Find a common ground of agreement, and you find a
common point of sight, from which all objects are seen in the same
light; and a clear plane is obtained on which principles can be
drawn, and a perfect outline of truth and error displayed. He
who has the truth will make it plainer by relevant elucidation.
Differences are often made wider by irrelevant, repulsive debate.
Differences which did not exist are often created in this way.
All honest men desire the truth, and there is a way in which all can
find it. The understandings of men commonly run in a given
channel each thinker looks as it were through a telescope of his
own. It is only in debate that he sees it through the
telescope of his opponent, which clarifies his own views. Let
no man conclude because no immediate change of opinion is manifest
in debate, that none has taken place. The life of thought may
be begun. Seed brought from Egypt was found to grow more than
eighteen centuries after it was garnered.
The supreme advantage of debate is that it compels a man to
think. A man is not a man unless he is a thinker he is a
fool having no ideas of his own. If he happens to live among
men who do think, he browses, like an animal, on their ideas.
He is a sort of kept-man, being supported by the thoughts of others.
He is what in England we call a pauper, who subsists upon out-door
relief allowed him by men of intellect. Nevertheless, there
are persons in every assembly who, like Curran, have powers and know
it not; or, like Macklin, who was more than forty years old before
he knew that he
Was the Jew
Whom Shakespeare drew.
Thousands have powers unsuspected by themselves or others.
They may be compared to that daughter of the first Duke of
All nature's charms in Sunderland appear,
Bright as her eyes, and as her reason clear;
Yet still their force, to men not safely known,
Seems undiscovered to herself alone.
The defence of debate like that of national education is
that it discovers and trains latent talent for the service and
exaltation of the nation.
Oral examination surpasses all other forms. Discussion
after many addresses would be of great public value. The
argument against it, that it would lead to strife and discord, is
one reason why it should be practised. Men are childish
intellectually, while in that state in which debate must be
prohibited. If they be children, train them in the art of
debate until they are translated into men. To admit debate
after an address, it is said, enables factious individuals to
destroy the effect of what has been said. It is often the
fault of the speaker if anyone is able to efface the effect of his
As a general rule, discussions, set and accidental, are good.
A twofold reality by their means is brought to bear on the public
understanding, more exciting than that of any other intellectual
agency. An opinion that is worth holding is worth diffusing,
and to be diffused it must be thought about; and when men think on
true principles they become adherents but only those adherents are
worth having who have thought on both sides, and discussion alone
makes them do that. True, men may read on both sides; but it
seldom happens that men who are impressed by one side care to read
the other. In discussions they are obliged to hear the other
side. If men do read both sides, unless they read a
'discussion,' they do not find all the facts on one side specially
considered on the other. In a discussion read, unless read at
one sitting, the strength of any impression and the clearness of the
argument on one side is partly lost before the opponent's side is
perused. But in an oral debate, the adaptation of fact to fact
is more complete the pro and con are heard successively, the light
of contrast is full and clear, and both sides are weighed at the
same time, when the eye of the mind is sharply fixed on the balance.
If the disputants are intellectual gladiators so much the better,
provided they are in earnest. The stronger they are, the
mightier and the more instructive the conflict. It is said
that people come out of such discussions as they go into them, that
the same partisans shout or hiss on the same side all through.
This is not always true, and no matter if it is. The work of
conviction is often done though the audience may not show it.
They may break your head, and afterwards own you were right.
Human pride forbids the confession, but change is effected in spite
of pride. But if an audience remain the same at night, they
will not be the same the next morning. Conviction is begun in
discussion which is not ended there. He who hastily changes
his views is to be suspected of weakness or carelessness; or
caprice. The steady, inquiring and deliberate thinker is the
It is a maxim of the schoolmen that we never really know what
a thing is, unless we are also able to give a sufficient account of
its opposite. This is the maxim of contrast that enters into
all effective persuasion. Professor Bain, in his 'Essay on
Early Philosophy,' remarks:
The essence of the Dialectic Method is to place side by side with
every doctrine and its reasons, all opposing doctrines and their
reasons, allowing these to be stated in full by the persons holding
them. No doctrine is to be held as expounded, far less proved,
unless it stands in parallel array to every other counter-theory,
with all that can be said for each. For a short time this
system was actually maintained and practised; but the execution of
Socrates gave it its first check, and the natural intolerance of
mankind rendered its continuance impossible. Since the
Reformation, struggles have been made to regain for the discussion
of questions generally philosophical, political, moral and
religious, the two-sided procedure of the law-courts, and 'perhaps
never more strenuously than now.' Remember that
Through mutual intercourse and mutual aid,
Great deeds are done, and great discoveries made;
The wise new wisdom on the wise bestow,
Whilst the lone thinker's thoughts come slight and slow.
Persons whom you take to be wise and are bound to think
honest, will arrest discussion and conceal their own ignorance by
insisting that the point in dispute is a mere affair of terms.
'What's in a name?' they say. Everything. Truth is in
the right name. The wrong name misleads. Difference in
terms means difference of ideas. To one who says he means the
same as you, only under a different name, ask him to take your name
and thus indicate the unity of his idea. He will do nothing of
the kind, and you will soon see there is a difference in his mind.
But for debate he would go on believing there was none.
It is no mean excellence in debate that it alone relieves a
man of honourable conscience of responsibility. How can anyone
bear the idea of putting forth opinions for which others, who adopt
them, must in this life or the next be answerable and he accords
them no opportunity of the self-defence of debate? He who is
not infallible must often be in error, even where he is most
earnest, and he is answerable for whatever he says or does which
influences the life of others. Discussion alone can save him
from the consequences of his advocacy, so far as it may be