ORIGINALITY IN ORATORY
founded on nature an inexhaustible field in which to find it.
Genius is a glimpse of nature denied to others. Realism is
truth and newness. There would be more originality than there
is if, instead of following custom without thought, men went to
nature, the source of all surprises. Edmund Kean, who had
originality in him, augmented it by art. One day he saw Jack
Painter, the prize-fighter, raise his arm to strike when he could no
longer rise from the ground. When next Kean played Richard
III. he did that, and 'brought down the house.' When asked how
he came to think of expressing in that way undying valour, he said
Jack Painter gave him the idea by what he did when beaten. Men
wondered how Massillon, living in a cloister, could know the human
heart as he did. When asked how he came by such knowledge,
which exceeded that of other men, he answered: 'I learned it by
studying myself.' Locke tells us, says Lord Byron, that 'all
his knowledge of the human understanding was derived from studying
his own mind.' Emerson, who excelled in the quality, advised
him who would be original, thus:
'Insist on yourself never imitate. Your gift you can present
every moment, with the cumulative force of a whole life's
cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an
extemporaneous half possession. The way to speak and write
what shall not go out of fashion, is to speak and write sincerely.
Take Sidney's maxim: "Look in thy heart and write." He that
writes to himself writes to an eternal public'
Originality is reality, instead of stereotype
conventionalism. A dialogue between Bacon and Shakespeare ran
Bacon: He that can make the multitude laugh and weep as you
do, Mr Shakespeare, need not fear scholars. A head naturally
fertile and forgetive is worth many libraries, inasmuch as a tree is
more valuable than a basket of fruit, or a good hawk better than a
bag full of game, or the little purse which a fairy gave to
Fortunatus more inexhaustible than all the coffers in the treasury.
More scholarship might have sharpened your judgment, but the
particulars whereof a character is composed are better assembled by
force of imagination than of judgment. Although judgment
perceives coherences, it cannot summon up materials, nor melt them
into a compound with the felicity which belongs to imagination
Shakespeare: My Lord, thus far I know, that the first glimpse
and conception of a character in my mind is always engendered by
chance and accident. We shall suppose, for instance, that I am
sitting in a taproom, or standing in a tennis court. The
behaviour of someone fixes my attention. I note his dress, the
sound of his voice, the turn of his countenance, the drinks he calls
for, his questions and retorts, the fashion of his person, and, in
brief, the whole outgoings and incomings of the man. These
grounds of speculation being cherished and revolved in my fancy, it
becomes straightway possessed with a swarm of conclusions and
beliefs concerning the individual. In walking home I picture
out to myself what would be fitting for him to say or do upon any
given occasion, and these fantasies, being recalled at some after
period, when I am writing a play, shape themselves into divers
manikins, who are not long of being nursed into life. Thus
comes forth Shallow and Slender and Mercutio and Sir Andrew
An early commentator of Shakespeare's plays says it was
watching a meat dealer sharpening skewers that gave the great
dramatist the fine conception: 'There is a Providence doth shape our
ends, rough hew them as we will.' Thus doth imagination find
in the meanest things emblems of the loftiest.
In observation and experiment original information has its
source. But the conventionalisms of society repress its
manifestation. Lord Jeffrey has depicted its influence on
young men in a passage of great instruction:
'In a refined and literary community,' says he, 'so many critics are
to be satisfied, so many rivals to be encountered, and so much
division to be hazarded, that a young man is apt to be deterred from
so perilous an enterprise, and led to seek distinction in some safer
line of exertion. His originality is repressed till he sinks
into a paltry copyist, or aims at distinction by extravagance and
affectation. In such a state of society he feels that
mediocrity has no chance of distinction; and what beginner can
expect to rise at once into excellence? He imagines that mere
good sense will attract no attention, and that the manner is of much
more importance than the matter in a candidate for public
admiration. In his attention to the manner, the matter is apt
to be neglected; and in his solicitude to please those who require
elegance of diction, brilliancy of wit, or harmony of periods, he is
in some danger of forgetting that strength of reason and accuracy of
observation by which he first proposed to recommend himself.
His attention, when extended to so many collateral objects, is no
longer vigorous or collected; the stream, divided into so many
channels, ceases to flow either deep or strong; he becomes an
unsuccessful pretender of fine writing, and is satisfied with the
frivolous praise of elegance or vivacity.'
Young preachers, poetical from ardour, and enthusiastic from
passion, will often rush from libraries crammed with lore, with
which nobody else is familiar, and pour out before a congregation
what the speaker believes to be both sublime and impressive, but
which his hearers cannot understand. They grow listless and
restless, and he retires overwhelmed with a sense of failure.
On one occasion a young preacher of considerable promise, for
whom I had a great friendship, failed in this way. I sought to
console him by urging that failure with one of his quality should be
but a stepping-stone to success. Persons of eminence have
mostly failed many times before they succeeded. 'But why have
I not succeeded?' he asked. 'I can never hope to say better
things of my own than I have said to-night of others.' 'The
cause of your non-success is explicable. A young preacher who
had ascended the pulpit with great confidence, but who broke down in
the middle of his sermon, was met by Rowland Hill as he was rushing
from the pulpit. "Young man," said Rowland, "had you ascended
the pulpit in the spirit in which you descended, you would have
descended in the spirit in which you ascended." Something of
this kind will explain your case. At first, then, you should
address your hearers as though they were children, state your
arguments as though they were learners, and then assume them to be
well-informed men. On the threshold of a new subject men are
as children during its unfoldment they are learners; only when the
subject is mastered are they men with manhood's understanding.
To forget this is to be open to the sarcasm of Swift, who, when
Burnet said, speaking of the Scotch preachers in the time of the
civil war, 'The crowds were far beyond the capacity of their
churches, or the reach of their voices,' Swift added, 'And the
preaching beyond the capacity of the crowd. I believe the
church had as much capacity as the minister.'
Mr Justin M'Carthy, in his History of Our Own Times,
says that 'Cardinal Newman, like Mill, has the rare art that
dissolves all the difficulties of the most abstruse or perplexed
subject, and shows it bare and clear even to the least subtle of
readers. His words dispel mists. There are many passages
of his works in which he rises to the height of a genuine and noble
eloquence. In all the arts that make a great preacher or
orator, Newman was strikingly deficient. His manner was
constrained, ungraceful and even awkward, his voice was thin and
weak. His bearing was not at first impressive in any way.
A gaunt, emaciated figure, a sharp and eagle face, a cold,
meditative eye, rather repelled than attracted those who saw him for
the first time. Singularly devoid of affectation, Newman did
not always conceal his intellectual scorn of men who made loud
pretence with inferior gifts, and the men must have been few indeed
whose gifts were not inferior to his. Newman had no scorn for
intellectual inferiority in itself; he despised it only when it gave
itself airs. Mr Gladstone said of him:
'Dr Newman's manner in the pulpit was one which, if you considered
it in its separate parts, would lead you to arrive at very
unsatisfactory conclusions. There was not very much change in
the inflection of his voice; action there was none; his sermons were
read, and his eyes were always on his book; and all that, you will
say, is against efficiency in preaching. Yes; but you take the
man as a whole, and there was a stamp and a seal upon him, there was
a solemn music and sweetness in his tone, there was a completeness
in the figure, taken together with the tone and with the manner,
which made even his delivery such as I described it, and though
exclusively with written sermons, singularly attractive.'
The Cardinal's originality lay in his ideas. Like
Massillon he had a surprising knowledge of the human heart.
Like his famous brother, Professor Francis William Newman, he had a
musical voice, which, though not powerful, was expressive. A
university is mainly a school of learning. It matters little
to students how a professor speaks, it is what he says to which the
greedy ear of the learner is lent. It is not the manner but
the matter which is important to them. It is knowledge, not
voice or gesture, which wins the degree. John Henry Newman had
been lost or unregarded had he not had the good fortune to have for
hearers men to whom ideas were everything. Originality there
gave him his great fame.
Dr Channing had newness and boldness of thought where other
preachers were conventional. He was a lean man, quite fragile.
Americans, who always give the weight of their public men, and
partly estimate them by their avoirdupois qualities, found that Dr
Channing weighed only 100 lbs! But he was aided by a
marvellous voice. Men wondered how such tones as his could
proceed from so slender a throat. He cultivated this power,
which grew by practice. When he read the line of the hymn, ―
'Angels roll that stone away,'
Dr Robert Collyer told me the congregation thought they heard the
movement of the stone in the air.
Of the Lowell's Offering, published by Charles Knight
in his day, the Times said:
'It is the production of factory girls in Lowell the American
Manchester and we much doubt if all the duchesses in England could
write as much and so seldom offend against good taste. The
secret of these girls' success in writing arises from their writing
only about what they know common life and their own affairs!'
A frequent cause of failure with young lecturers is
neglecting to find a point of common understanding between
themselves and their auditors. They do not comprehend the use
of a brief explanatory exordium. We know that the geometer
would in vain reason with others unless axioms were previously
agreed upon for reference.
So with an audience. If they do not agree with the
speaker as to the premises from which he reasons, the audience have
no standard by which they can test his conclusions. Hence,
though he may confound them, yet he will never convince them.
It is in this sense only that those who would improve the
public must 'write down' to the public. They may, and they
ought to, elevate the public by their sentiments, but they must
found their reasoning on what the populace understand and admit, or
they reason in vain. The people must be taken at what they
are, and elevated to what they should be.
Thus the student may see that originality may be shown in
various ways. Lucidity in itself is one source of it. Be
plain, but not coarse. What is called plain speaking is
generally insolent speaking. Keep clear of charnel-house
terms, which appal the hearer, and turn him away. Be clear in
a salubrious sense. Hint as little as possible. An
innuendo is like scouring the doorstep with butter it makes it
slippery, not clean. Spare a general audience oyster ideas
that lie in the deep beds of a subject, and require a professional
knife to open them.
It is always pleasant to speak to a Scotch audience.
They always understand you. If you have a point they see it,
and if you have not a point they see that. They will forgive
you being dull if you mean something. Depend on ideas, and be
sure you have them. Ideas are the soul of speech.
A man sees best with his eyes well open. There are
somnambulist auditors who seem to walk into an assembly asleep.
The first thing which produces wakefulness on their part is the
discovery that something pertinent is being said, in which they are
concerned. A man who has expectations from his aunt looks at
the old lady in a much more wakeful way than he would had she
nothing to give. If the speaker is unknown, the mind of the
audience is a mere cold, hard surface, upon which an impression can
hardly be made. Then there is no help for the speaker but a
fiery statement, some flashing tone, some light of illustration
which has warmth in it which melts indifference into interest.
Then attention becomes as wax, upon which the deepest or most
delicate impression can be made and time, instead of effacing it,
hardens it into durability. It was said by Panchard that
Mirabeau was 'the first man in the world to speak upon a question he
knew nothing about.' That was because he had much general
knowledge and knew more than he was known to know. Besides, he
had confidence, self-possession and quickness of mind, which enabled
him to see what might, or ought to be said on a new subject as soon
as he heard it proposed. It might have been in reference to
Mirabeau that Lord Brougham said 'Know everything about something
and something about everything,' for Mirabeau's knowledge was far
wider and out of the way than Panchard knew. In nine years'
experience in the office of a public tutor in one of the
Universities, Paley found, in discoursing to young persons upon
topics of morality, that unless the subject was so drawn up to a
point as to exhibit the full force of an objection, or the exact
place of a doubt, before any explanation was entered upon, it was
labour lost. In other words, unless some curiosity was excited
before it was attempted to be satisfied, the labour of the teacher
was wasted. When information was not desired it was seldom, he
found, retained. Create in the mind of the audience a sense of
want of the knowledge you have to give, and they will attend to it
because they desire it. Paley had much original common sense
acquired by observation.
Absolute repugnance to a pursuit is no proof of incapacity
for excelling in it; the career of hundreds show they had the
greatest aversion to the profession circumstances compelled them to
follow. When a boy at a dame school, she boxed my ears for
three days because I would not try to make pothooks, of which I
believed myself entirely incapable. All the while I had form
in my blood, could make any letter, and had latent facility and
delight in inventing new forms, and I knew it not.
We know not what we can do till we have made the experiment,
and in mistrusting our powers we increase the difficulty we have to
surmount. Charles Reece Pemberton whose delineations of
Shakespeare's tragic heroes was second only to Macready's, avowed
that when he first saw a play performed he felt conscious that he
should never be equal to the duties even of a scene-shifter.
Julius Cζsar, naturally of a weak and tender constitution, was
determined, by exercise, inuring himself to exposure and other such
means, to improve it; even he, afterwards so renowned, shed tears on
reflecting that at his own age Alexander had done so much, whilst he
himself had done nothing. Genius is perceived in its sagacity
in attempting an untried course, and its singleness of purpose in
pursuing it; for general excellence is an impossibility, and it is
folly and dissipation of time to attempt it. Wellington
possessed scarcely any quality which the world recognises as genius,
save in purpose which he followed out. De Witt said, ' Do one
thing at a time.' We must not only have a purpose, but keep to
that purpose only, if we wish to succeed, for it is of no use having
a purpose, with aptitude and opportunity for carrying it out, if we
are deficient in the power of continuity. Excellence comes by
continuity. The strength of genius is measured by the amount
of perseverance used. Genius is a thing of degree; its
elements are common to all, and if all do all they can, though not
eminent, each will rise higher in the scale of power.
Demosthenes, Cicero, Cζsar, Napoleon, all worked hard. It is
this working hard which has made the man of mediocrity pass by those
to whom nature has been most prodigal of other gifts.
It is told of Frederic the Great, that being informed of the
death of one of his chaplains, a man of considerable learning and
piety, he desired that his successor should not be behind him in
these qualifications, and informed a candidate about to preach a
trial sermon at the royal chapel, that he would himself furnish him
with a text from which he was to make an extempore sermon. The
king arrived at the end of the prayers, and on the candidate
ascending the pulpit, one of his majesty's aides-de-camp presented
him with a sealed paper. The preacher opened it and found
nothing written therein. He did not, however, lose his
presence of mind, but turning the paper on both sides, he said, 'My
brethren, here is nothing and there is nothing; out of nothing God
created all things,' and he proceeded to deliver an admirable
discourse upon the wonders of the creation.
'Hic Rhodus; hic salta' (Here is Rhodes leap here).
Do not wait for a change of outward circumstances, but take your
circumstances as they are, and make the best of them. This
saying, which was meant to shame a braggart, will admit of a very
different application. Goethe has changed the postulate of
Archimedes, 'Give me a standing-place and I will move the world,'
into the precept, 'Make good thy standing-place if thou wouldst move
the world.' This is what he did throughout his life.
There are few problems of events which do not also bring
their solutions with them, were we cool enough to read them; but men
do not believe what they see, or will not see what is before them.
We make pre-conceived opinion, pre-determined judgment, overrule new
facts. We too often act the part of the man who is so much in
love with his boat that he never ventures to sail in it. An
orator should go to the rostrum mainly to announce conclusions, not
to form them. Let him take advantage of the tide of feeling,
temper and exclamations of the meeting; but unless he is firm in a
previous purpose, these things will take advantage of him, and carry
him away from his subject, instead of his carrying away the
audience. The main word or phrase should strike like a blow,
or pierce through the flesh and no words should precede or
accompany the term intended to strike, save those which like
feathers give wings to the arrow. All superfluous words are as
friction in the air, and impede the shaft, or act as buffers
mitigating its force, or protecting him against whom it is levelled.
Every aimless phrase or word which points elsewhere than the target
divert attention, so that no one sees when it is hit. Skill in
rhetorical, that is intellectual marksmanship (if there be such a
word), will win for a man the repute of originality without his
knowing how he came by it the quality not being common.
One day, when Frederick Douglas first appeared on the
platform, he was speaking against the northern 'dough-faces,' and
quoted against them the text, 'And the Lord God said unto the
serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all
cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt
thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all 'the days of thy life.'
Immediately arose the familiar hiss, and, drawing himself up to his
full height, Douglas, pointing to the sibilant creature, exclaimed,
'I told you so. Upon thy belly shalt thou go, dust shalt thou
eat, and hiss, all the days of thy life.' This was not
in the text, but it told all the same upon the serpents in the
There was a famous negress in America known as 'Sojourner
Truth' a name she gave herself, as she went from place to place
preaching, even when she was 100 years of age. Hearing, during
slavery days, Douglas lecture in despairing tone upon the
termination of slavery, Sojourner raised her tall form, rendered
more striking by her flowing grey hair, and exclaimed, with her
deep, loud voice, 'Frederick, is God dead?' Her short oration
evoked the hopes and enthusiasm of the assembly, who were astonished
at the splendid question. She had probably nursed the orator,
who was born in slavery, and called him Frederick, as in earlier
days. In a striking speech in the House of Commons, Mr
Stansfield said: 'The whole principle of the Home Rule Bill was to
find a modus vivendi between the two nations. The
geographical position of Ireland determined its political relations.
There must be a union but not too rigid and absolute a union, as
though the British and the Irish were monotonously one.'
Thus a phrase which has light in it makes the fortune of a speech.
Originality is like fortune a man may inherit it at birth,
or it may come to him after, with this difference: no one need wait
for originality being given; he may find it by looking for it.
When Turner wished to paint a storm he had himself lashed to the
mast of a ship and went out into the tempest to see what it was
like. When Massillon said he had studied his own heart, he
knew that strange knowledge was to be found there. Fielding
quotes the instructive saying, 'Man differs from man more than man
differs from the beast.' Thus sources of originality lie thick
wherever a man moves, if he gives his mind to observe them.
One thing has to be borne in mind. When Shakespeare
says 'To thine own self be true,' a man who acts on the injunction
should ask himself what his own self really is. Is it a base
self, or a noble self? his ignorant self, or his cultivated self?
Let not the appeal be to a base but to a best self.
Proportion of time, as well as proportion of parts, is
essential, both for the sake of the speaker's strength as well as
the hearer's patience. Whitfield is reported to have said that
a man with the eloquence of an angel ought not to exceed forty
minutes in the length of a sermon, and it is well known that Wesley
seldom exceeded thirty. 'I have almost always found,' says
another eminent preacher, 'that the last fifteen minutes of a sermon
an hour in length was worse than lost, both upon the speaker and
congregation!' There is practical wisdom in these remarks.
A man who determines to speak but a short time is more likely to
command the highest energy for his effort, and to speak with
sustained power. Half an hour is time enough for immortality.
Mirabeau achieved it by efforts of less duration. It is not
without reason that we keep the proverb, 'Brevity is wit.'
There is originality in that brevity which fully informs, but never
tires. The orator may wisely remember the lines of Mr E. E.
Bowen, sung at Speech Day at Harrow, when John Lyon approaches Queen
Elizabeth at Tilbury Fort, to plead for the School Charter
'Marry come up,' says good Queen Bess,
'Draw it shorter, and prose it less;
For speeches are things we mostly bless,
When once we've got them over.'
THE OUTSIDE MIND OF THE ORATOR
MANY people have
no outside mind (nor inside mind either), which deprives them of the
greatest gift of the gods that of 'seeing themselves as others see
them.' Few attain to that power; but what is more important,
rhetorically, is that the orator sees his subject as it may strike
others, and provides that it shall strike them rightly. It has
been told how Dr Burchard never thought how his fatal alliteration
of 'Rum, Romanism and Rebellion' would strike his Presidential
audiences. Sir William Follet, the nature of whose forensic
strength has been described, had no thought as to the outside
impression he might make against the justice and impartiality of the
law he was bound, as Attorney-General, to uphold and exalt. At
the trial of Thomas Cooper he was
so vindictive to the Chartist shoemaker at the bar that, despite
Cooper's reconversion to Christianity, and the divine forgiveness
which he preached, he never forgave Sir William Follet, who filled
the hearts of thousands of Chartists with hatred of Whig Government.
All the while, fair speech would have vindicated the law, and
increased respect for the party he represented. Half the
disaffection of the people in every nation is created by
well-meaning vindicators of order who have no outside mind, and who
betray the interests committed to them.
Very often a man betrays himself by not considering how
others may regard him, in consequence of what he says.
Professor H. Morley, in his introduction to 'Julius Cζsar,' 
shows that to continue to the death of Brutus was necessary to the
design Shakespeare had.
Here he might have said reasonably and effectively, 'The
reader who is of this opinion will think that the critics who have
said that the play ought to have concluded with the assassination
scene did not understand the theory on which the great tragedy was
evidently written.' Instead of words to this effect, Professor
'Shall we ask now where the wit lay under the wigs of critics who
wondered why Shakespeare did not end the play of "Julius Cζsar" with
the scene of the assassination?'
This is to say, now Professor Morley has spoken, there can be
no doubt under whose wig the wit lies. This was quite
apparent from his clear and instructive argument, without his
saying so and repelling the reader by his conceit.
A man may be the first to conceive an idea of mark, or to
discover a new method of public service an idea which nobody
thinks much of at the time a method which nobody acts upon.
Years after, somebody comes forward with the same thought, or the
same device, who obtains both credit and attention. He may
have originated the idea independently, and at a time when the
public were better inclined than before to entertain the conception,
or it may have been derived from the first promulgator, to whom no
reference is made. If, however, he who was first in the field
comes forward with clamorous or imputative claims for credit, he
rarely gets it, however much it may be his due. But if he
contents himself with expressing his pleasure at seeing views now
accepted coincident with those which long ago, at a certain time,
and in a certain way, were advanced by himself, but were then
unnoticed or unregarded the modesty of his reference will beget
public interest in the question. Many would be disposed to
admit his originality who would refuse assent to it if it were put
forward in a spirit of jealous and egotistical pretension. It
is important to an advocate and an orator not to forget that every
public question has an outside.
When I was a young man I was one of several lecturers engaged
in debating and explaining the principles of the Communistic
movement then advocated. It was our duty to report from time
to time to the New Moral World, the journal of the movement
(of which we were accredited missionaries), the proceedings in which
we took part. The most eminent of my colleagues, Mr Lloyd
Jones, never did this. When asked why no reports came from
him, he answered, 'How could he praise himself?' Of course he
could not usefully do so. Nobody wanted him to do it.
But what he might have done was to describe the quality and number
of the audiences whom he addressed, what adversaries appeared, the
point of what they said, and briefly, the purport of his replies.
This would be instructive to his colleagues elsewhere, and to the
readers of the journal in question. He was not required to
tell them how clever he was how successfully he silenced his
opponents or how brilliantly he acquitted himself. All this
would better appear in his arguments than in any eulogy he could
write of himself. Could he have looked outside himself in that
respect, as he did in many other things, he had been further useful
It was through the influence of Madame Maintenon that
Massillon was appointed to preach before Louis XIV. at the Advent,
1699. Louis XIV. was then at the height of his power and
glory; the military reverses which embittered his later years had
not begun; he was 'The Grand Monarch' of Europe, intoxicated with
flattery. It was customary for the court preachers to begin
with a compliment to him. The courtiers were keenly expectant,
as they watched the preacher's calm, rapt face as to how he would
turn his opening sentences. 'Blessed are they that mourn,' was
the unexpected text. And again he paused. 'Sire,' he said, 'if
the world were here speaking to your Majesty, and not Jesus Christ,
it would not address you thus. It would say to you, "Blessed
is the prince who has never fought but he has conquered; who has
imposed peace on the nations at his will; who has filled the
universe with his name; who through a long and flourishing reign has
enjoyed at his ease the fruits of his glory, the love of his people,
the admiration of his enemies, the wisdom of his laws, the noble
hope of a numerous posterity." But, sire, Jesus Christ speaks
not as the world speaks. "Happy," He saith to you, "not he who
wins the admiration of the present world, but who is chiefly
occupied with the world to come; who lives in forgetfulness of all
that passeth away because his conversation is in Heaven. Happy
not he whose reign will be immortalised in history, but he whose
penitential tears shall have blotted out the history of his sins
from the memory of God. "Yea, it is he who is happy."
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."'
A monk, who before this had been commanded to preach before
the king, began his sermon thus: 'Sire, I mean not to pay any
compliment to your Majesty I have found none in the Gospel.'
This monk was more intent on displaying his own cloistered
asceticism than on displaying the truth, and he never more had
opportunity of touching the conscience of the king. By
obtruding 'faithfulness' out of season he lost his chance of being
useful in season. Massillon was wiser. He knew that
truth does better to knock at doors than break them open. You
may indeed thrust truth through the splintered panels, but the
occupant of the house will kick it out again as soon as you are
gone. Violence begets contempt, except among cowards.
Once I had a house in which I designed to reside to the end
of my days, and in order that those days should not be unnecessarily
shortened, I spent £150 in making it entirely healthy. To be
sure of this, I called in a sanitary engineer. Only one thing
was wanting in the end a manhole of eleven feet in depth to the
main drain for access to a trap to be placed there. This I
wished made outside the house, and application was sent to the town
authorities for leave to do it. The answer was that they had
refused 11,000 applications, involving an operation on the footpath
where the shaft in question would be made. The builder who was
making my alterations himself an alderman said 'nothing could be
done; the shaft must be in the house, and he took up the floor of my
front room, and dug nine feet down, before I was aware of it.
I desired him to fill up the hole and replace the floor. I
consulted the mayor who happened to call upon me who said he was
afraid the permission I wanted could not be had. Seeing there
was an outside to this question, I wrote to the works committee the
following letter, with a view to show them how their refusal would
appear to the public if made known to them:
'Gentlemen, Word has come to me that you decline to permit me to
put a shaft outside my house. The town recently spent £1,000
in vindicating its salubriousness as a place where visitors may
come, or gentlemen reside, without having to make a preliminary
engagement with their undertakers. Believing this, I became a
resident, when I am informed that, if I desire to sink a shaft upon
my premises for sanitary purposes, it must be within my house.
Do you mean that I must ask my friends whether they will dine in the
"Front sewer-room" or in the "Back sewer-room"? It would cost
me less to have three burials from my house than the alterations for
salubrity I am making. But as I may be one of the three to be
buried, I object to this risk. True, I may let the house to a
tenant, but, if I know that the germs of death can percolate into
it, I should feel, if a death ensued, that I was a murderer.
Landlord law would permit me to do so, but I should not be less a
scoundrel if, for the sake of rent, I did it. What say you,
The Town Surveyor, a clear-headed officer, sent me the
permission I sought. Afterwards, the mayor asked me for a copy
of my letter which obtained for me this unexpected leave. I
gained this point from my habit of looking to see whether a question
has an outside. I cite this instance because a precept is
never sufficiently recommended until you show how it comes out in
practice. As far as my experience goes, the dialectic
injunction is true 'Know more than you use. Read and think
outside and all around.' Goldsmith, who greatly admired
Burke's skill in statement, in argument, and in quietly mastering
and crushing error, as a boa constrictor might, said 'Burke wound
into a subject like a serpent.' He must therefore have looked
outside to discover the most convenient aperture by which he could
many thousands of preachers of all denominations who address every
week more or less intelligent congregations, it would be conducive
to the public taste as well as pleasure if each preacher spoke well.
Mr Bright was of opinion that no one should be appointed to preach
who had not a tolerable voice, and some knowledge of the art of
expression. Soldiers of the cross, like other soldiers, should
be selected with reference to their capabilities for discharging the
duties of the service.
Oratory, the art of public persuasion, might exist in the
Church to a greater extent than we find it, but for its dread of
imitating the theatre. Art is mostly suppressed among the
Dissenters by the influence of evangelism; did this not exist, their
precarious pay would deter them from the pursuit of eloquence.
The bar is too full of business and too anxious for fees to reach
much distinction. The politician is generally indolent if not
dependent; and if necessitous, he has to struggle for himself when
he should be struggling for excellence. General Ludlow, whose
maxim the reader has seen, said a man 'should say what he means, and
mean what he says.' This is rhetoric, because it means
sincerity, and sincerity is persuasion to all who know no more than
the speaker. Sincerity is not errorless; the most honest man
may be mistaken, but the logician should never be mistaken.
Logic is the art of avoiding error, and should be one of the
attainments of every preacher. Cardinal Newman was of this
opinion. In a remarkable passage, he says:
'One main portion of intellectual education, of the labours of both
school and university, is to remove the original dimness of the
mind's eye, to strengthen and perfect its vision; to enable it to
look out into the world right forward, steadily and truly; to give
the mind clearness, accuracy, precision; to enable it to use words
aright, to understand what it says, to conceive justly what it
thinks about, to abstract, compare, analyse, divide, refine and
reason correctly. There is a particular science which takes
these matters in hand, and it is called logic; but it is not by
logic certainly not by logic alone that the faculty I speak of is
required. The infant does not learn to spell and read the hues
upon his retina by any scientific rule; nor does the student learn
accuracy of thought by any manual or treatise. The instruction
given him, of whatever kind, if it be really instruction, is mainly,
or at least pre-eminently, this a discipline in accuracy of mind.'
Mr Spurgeon, who made pleasantry popular in the pulpit, used
to tell young preachers how he went with a friend to the Crystal
Palace one day, and going to the rifle range his friend took a shot
and made a 'centre,' and he seemed proud of it. But there were
two targets, one on the right, and the other on the left, and the
man in charge said, 'Which target did the gent aim at?' His
friend answered, 'The right-hand one.' 'I thought so,' said
the man, 'for you hit the left one.' That was not a creditable
thing to a marksman, though he succeeded in hitting something.
Mr Spurgeon said it was no credit to a minister to win a soul by
inadvertence. He should aim, and learn the art of hitting what
he aimed at.
The principles of oratory, which conduce to secular
efficiency, are necessary to excellence in the spiritual sphere.
As the law of causation which reigns in matter extends to mind, so
the laws of rhetoric reign in divinity as well as in the drama.
A lecture, a speech, a sermon, or a conversation, is like a
city in which you seek a destination. Unless the pathway of
the meaning is clearly marked by relevant words, the listener will
never find his way to it. If you leave any nameless openings,
his thoughts will turn down there, and you will be at the end of
your argument before the mind of the hearer gets back to it.
Sometimes preachers so treat their hearers that they know not
what they are to get back to. Some years ago, I went to hear
the Rev. J. Guinness Rogers and the Rev. Dr R. W. Dale, when those
eminent ministers went through the land in exposition and
vindication of Nonconformity of the Congregationalist type.
But neither of them ever said what Congregationalism was. Its
aim, we understand, was to increase the life of the Church, and so
many of the great audience whom they attracted, who were of that
persuasion, doubtless knew all about it. These brilliant
propagandists appeared to assume that all the audience did.
Three-fourths of the assembly, to my knowledge, had not the remotest
idea of Congregationalism as a distinctive religious democracy.
The first thing a preacher should think of is that three-fourths of
a miscellaneous congregation have little knowledge of what he is
Though we must admit, that illiterate passion affects us more
than learning without it, we must keep in view that this passion is
the passion of conviction. All the rest is, to Englishmen,
rant. The passion of conviction is modest, manly and earnest.
If the conviction is manifestly founded on knowledge and reason, and
is seen to be based on what Grote happily called 'reasoned truth,'
it is omnipotent.
Massillon, like Demosthenes, won renown by virtue of
compression, coherency, energy of statement, and vigour of insight.
He had the penetration to see what others overlooked, and when he
showed to his auditors what all might but did not see, they were
astounded. How many profess to relinquish the things of this
world but how few do it.
'Where are they,' Massillon exclaims, 'who renounce, in good
faith, the pleasures, customs, maxims and hopes of the world?
All have made the promise who have kept it? We see many
people who complain of the world; who accuse it of injustice,
ingratitude, caprice; who inveigh bitterly against it; who speak
loudly of its abuses and errors; but in denouncing it they love it,
follow it, and cannot do without it; in complaining of its
injustices they are angry, but not disabused; they feel its evil
treatments, but do not recognise its dangers; they censure it, but
where are those who hate it? And by that may be very well
judged the people who make pretence to salvation. In fine, you
have uttered the anathema against Satan and his works; and what are
his works? Those which compose, well-nigh, the thread and
entire course of your life; the pomps, the plays, the pleasures, the
spectacles, the illusions of which he is the father, the pride of
which he is the model, the jealousies and the contentions of which
he is the artificer.'
Massillon understood that overdoing was undoing, and stopped
at the point of effect. It was Voltaire who, more than any
other writer, made the fame of Massillon. At passages like
these, and the one previously quoted, Voltaire said in the
Encyclopζdia, the audience were 'stirred by a sort of involuntary
motion, the whole assembly started up from their seats, and such
murmurs of surprise and acclamation arose as disconcerted the
speaker, though they increased the effect of his discourse.'
The business of a preacher is to represent his Master not
himself. His art is but the light by which the great picture
is seen. The purity and quality of that light is important.
It reveals everything, but never draws attention to itself.
Edward Irving was very desirous that Robert Hall should hear him
preach. This came to pass, and when Hall was asked what he
thought of Irving's impassioned eloquence, he answered, 'He
presented a magnificent picture, but stood too much in front of it
A story is told of Massillon which many have heard and
supposed to be of more recent origin. It is said that one day,
when he was preaching upon the Passion before Louis XIV. and all the
court, he so affected his hearers that everybody was in tears except
a citizen, who appeared as indifferent to what he heard as to what
he saw. One of his neighbours, surprised at such
insensibility, said to him, 'How can you refrain from weeping, while
we are all bathed in tears?' 'That is not astonishing,'
answered the citizen, 'I am not of this parish.' The eloquence
which I have endeavoured to describe would have included this man
also in the general weeping; just as the preaching of Whitfield
emptied the pockets of Franklin, the greatest utilitarian economist
who ever listened to him. Was it not Whitfield of whom it was
Grant some of knowledge greater store,
More learned some in teaching;
Yet few in life did lighten more,
Or thunder more in preaching?
The common impression is that Whitfield had revivalist rudeness and
passion. On the contrary, he had extreme grace of manner.
He had art as well as fervency, and the union made him irresistible
to his hearers, to whatever parish they belonged.
Having regard to the dreadful message the majority of
preachers have to deliver, which no art can render humane, which
must freeze the manner of the deliverer, the sincere preacher must
find his art more difficult than other speakers. The Duchess
of Buckingham, who had heard Whitfield's message, wrote to the
Countess of Huntingdon, who favoured his communion, saying,
'It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the
common wretch who crawls the earth. This is highly offensive
and insulting, and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should
relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and
No doctrine that is true ought to be deemed repulsive.
The object of the pulpit orator is to persuade the minds of men to
the acceptance of sacred truth. But to do this effectually, he
must not only choose times and seasons, but his audience. In
the earlier days of co-operation it suffered from neglect of this
precaution. Some earnest speakers delighted to make statements
which had the effect of an electric shock upon hearers. They
exceeded Prudhon, who said in his sharp, naked way, that property
was robbery, which represented all mankind as engaged in thieving.
If any one desirous of arresting the attention of certain passengers
in a crowded street should roll a skittle ball among them, all who
had India-rubber ankles might find, the percussion tolerable; but
those with tender shins would be so wounded and wroth that they
would, when they recovered, be disposed to kick the indiscriminate
gentleman who had attacked them so sharply. If a man could
pass an electric shock through a crowd, he might do good to some by
the excitement he would create, but a good part of the feebler sort
he would knock down. So it is when the shocks of logic are
sent indiscriminately through the human understanding; some minds
are knocked quite over by it, and never recover. This is too
little thought of in preaching. It is a serious thing to shock
the wrong persons. It may shatter them. The mind may be
splintered as well as a bureau, and never be good for anything
after. If we regard the process of treating conviction as a
science, then we must be reasonable in the use of reason.
Sterne cites it as a sign of Providence, that God tempers the wind
to the shorn lamb. Most persons who give attention to the art
of diffusing new opinions will quite agree that it is wise sometimes
to temper the fierce wind of logic to the nervous intelligence shorn
of robust strength. If the experienced eye is discerning
enough, it may see lying all around the fierce logician, prostrate
and shattered minds, in the last agonies of new ideas, which have
struck them mercilessly and fatally. Beyond all doubt there
are many persons whose notions are so heavy, dull and matted
together, that thought cannot move within them, and a vigorous
disintegrating shock is the best thing for them. Their minds
are loosened thereby, and they become able to think. But this
class of persons should be got together when addressed, and what is
said to them should not be reported, or that will happen which
Bishop Colenso relates. When he had explained to a Zulu chief
the minatory character of salvation, he did not contradict the
bishop, but answered like a gentleman, 'It may be true, but I would
rather not believe it.' It is a maxim in modern hydropathy
that what shocks, or pains, or creates revulsion, is wrong, and may
create new diseases. Pressnitz killed his own discovery by
severity in treatment. Smedley reanimated it by making
hydropathic healing agreeable. When Fox was canvassing
Westminster he asked a butcher in St James' market for his vote, who
answered, 'Sir, I admire your head, but damn your heart.' To
which Fox replied, 'Sir, I admire your candour, but damn your
manners.' There should be faithfulness and candour in the
pulpit, but it will be more effective if considerately expressed.
Though the clerical orator should not repel by austerity,
neither should he seek to advance his views by jocoseness. The
nature of religion demands a cheerful reverence but reverence in
language there must be. Mr Spurgeon sometimes stepped over the
boundary which separates pleasantry from buffoonery. When
Bishop Disney sent over to England some negro evangelists from
Canada, one sang 'The Old Sexton.' The lines
I gather them in! for man and boy,
Year after year of grief and joy,
I've builded the houses that lie around,
In every nook of this burial-ground;
Mother and daughter, father and son,
Come to my solitude, one by one.
But come they strangers, or come they kin,
'I gather them in, I gather them in,'
were sung with a pathos that moved every heart. Then came a
I'm born of God, I know I am.
And you deny it, if you can,
I want to go to heaven when I die,
To shout salvation as I fly.
There was no palpitating hope here, as to who would 'gather
them in' at the last day. The tone of the song was that of
singers, who would gather themselves in. All this took place
at the Mansion House in London. Merchants who had taken out
their cheques to give to the mission put them up again as these
jocose, irreverent songs proceeded. The Egyptian Hall
contained many of the first Christian families of London. How
could they be expected to subscribe for promoting theological
teaching of this description? There may be poor negroes to
whom this revivalist chatter has charms for their humble minds, but
these Canadian coloured men and women, who were singers, were
capable of nobler things, and gave proof how well they could sing
songs of tenderness and moving sentiment. Why were they not
advised to sing only such songs? Christianity should never be
comic. Yet many ministers who would not commit this fault
themselves will countenance it in others as good enough for the
multitude betraying their cause thereby.
But consistency is more difficult than decorum in piety.
Criticism, like competition, is sharper in these days, when
intelligence is more general, than heretofore; and the pulpit orator
should understand that his hearers find it hard to believe in the
sincerity of any man who tells you the words of the Lord are true,
and who knows he has said, 'My people shall not sow and another
reap, they shall not plant and another gather,' yet see this done
every day, and they aid and abet it, and act it themselves.
The pulpit orator who is the advocate of well-discerned Christian
consistency in social life would convince and conciliate adversaries
as no mere rhetoric can.
A good voice has an advantage in the pulpit as well as on the
platform, and he who is a master of sense as well as sound he will
command a high place in public opinion. But, as popular
education goes, voice will do more for a preacher than matter, since
a man who can be heard has a chance of attention, while he who is
not audible has none. Besides, people naturally like sounds
which come to them of their own accord, and need no effort to hear.
Moreover a hundred persons may be entertained and even satisfied by
cadence and vocalisation for ten who will be capable of intellectual
appreciation of what is said and whose enjoyment depends upon its
When a deputation of elders were sent from New York to
Chicago to invite Dr Robert Collyer to be their minister, they had
but one misgiving 'Would his voice fill the place?' 'If that
is all,' said the doctor, 'I shall do, for my voice is cramped in
Chicago.' His voice would reach across a prairie. If
John the Baptist spoke with his pleasant power I do not wonder that
the desert was crowded with hearers. Strong sense borne on a
strong voice is influential speaking. When weighty sense sets
out on a weak voice it falls to the ground before it reaches distant
Preachers have always had trouble with drowsy hearers of the
word. Even Puritan ministers had to have recourse to
'woodchuck' contrivances to keep their congregations awake. In
1646, the Rev. Dr Samuel Whiting was minister of Lynn,
Massachusetts. One Obadiah Turner kept a journal at that time.
The following is an extract:
'1646, June ye 3d. Allen Brydges hath bin chose to wake ye
sleepers in meeting, and, being much proud of his place, must needs
have a fox taile fixed to ye end of a long staff wherewith he may
brush the faces of them yt will have naps in time of discourse;
likewise a sharp thorn wherewith he may prick such as be most sounde.
On ye last Lord his day, as he strutted about ye meeting house, he
did spy Mr Tomkins sleeping with much comforte, his head kept
steadie by being in ye corner, and his hand grasping ye rail.
And soe spying, Allen did quickly thrust his staff behind Dame
Ballard, to give him a grievous prick on ye hand. Whereupon Mr
Tomkins did spring up much above ye floor, and with terrible force
strike his hand against ye wall, and also, to ye great wonder of
all, profainlie exclaim in a loud voice, "Curs the woochuch!" he
dreaming, as it seemed, yt a woochuch had seized and bit his hand.
But on comeing to know where he was, and ye great scandall he had
committed, he seemed much abashed, but did not speak. And I
think he will not soone again go to sleepe in meeting. Ye
women may sometimes sleep and none know it, by reason of their
enormous bonnets. Mr Whiting does pleasantli say yt from the
pulpit he doth seem to be preaching to stacks of straw with men
jotted here and there among them.'
Were there only natural art in reading Scriptures and
collects in the churches there would be no need of an Allen Brydges
the Waker to walk the aisles.
When in Washington, one of my delights was to wander into
negro churches. There was another church of coloured people, well to
do, and therefore more conventional in their worship. The humbler
church, to which I preferred to go, I found more genuine, and
therefore more entertaining and instructive.
The preacher who conducted the services was beyond the middle age,
and of sedate, honest aspect. His reading of the Scripture was the
only religious reading I heard on my visits to America. It was slow,
distinct, impressive, earnest, now hushed, now loud, now a cadence
of alarm. His tone changed with the sense, with natural dramatic
passion, as though the reader comprehended the words of Heaven, and
was reading them aloud for the first time. It was not like the
reading I had heard in the morning in the President's church, where
the lessons were read with what seemed to me a cold propriety, in
which all the tragic pathos of the sacred story was frozen in the
preacher's throat; it was earnestness in a refrigerator.
The negro sermon was in keeping with the reading. The coloured
gospel was not bad peculiar, but seldom extravagant. Its
discernment and candour would surprise any English hearer. 'My
brethren,' said the preacher, 'Christ bid us love our enemies. David
was a man after God's own heart, but David did not do this.' The
preacher said this, and left it as a thing to be noted, and not to
be explained away. 'We should have clean hands,' he remarked. 'Clean
hands do not mean hands merely clean according to nature, it means
clean souls.' The conclusion of his sermon was an exhortation, after
the manner of preachers, but in the vein of his race. 'My brethren,
pray! You can telegraph to God. You can telegram right away. The man
is always at the other end. You can telegram at midnight, the man
at the wheel is always awake. Always awake, my brothers and sisters. Pray! brothers, pray! The office is always open, the man is always
at the wheel. Brothers and sisters, telegram right away.' The
preacher had got his figures of speech a little mixed. He was
thinking of the ship when he spoke of the 'man at the wheel.'
Still, he managed his simile pretty effectively, and the comparison
between the speed of a telegram and a prayer was creditable to his
powers of illustration. He was quite understood. Some laughed, some
smiled, some made audible assent, especially two rows of dark
sisters dressed in resplendent blue dresses members of the
'Society of Moses.'
In days when only written books existed, those able to read them
must have been impressed by them in a degree unknown to us. Then men
knew less than now, but what they knew they knew better. When the
Bible was chained to the altar of the church, men must have hung
upon the lips of the reader as they heard for the first time what
they took to be the actual words of God. What curiosity, impatience
and astonishment were to be read in the faces of their auditors! What awe, what reverence, what pathos, what passion there would be
in the tones of the reader! If preachers had the genuine belief of
the coloured reader of Washington, and were to read as he read,
churches would have more frequenters than they have now. It is
recognised now that there is all the difference in the world between
a man feeling not that he must say something, but that he has
something to say. This is as true in the pulpit as Parliament.
The Rev. Dr Joseph Parker who, when a young preacher, had merely a
good presence, a good voice, facility and fervour of speech owes
all his distinction to himself, by the cultivation of strong natural
powers. He has given it as his opinion that, 'until there is better
hearing there will not be better preaching.' This may be true in one
sense. No preacher would think of delivering the same quality of
sermon before auditors of known intelligence which he would preach
to a congregation not known to have any. Dr Parker can hardly intend
to say that the hearers are to raise the preacher, whose duty it is
to raise his hearers. Dr Parker did not wait for this. He has made
his hearers. It is true that neither orator nor preacher can go much
further than his auditors can see; for then he is out of sight and
his influence ceases. A preacher is a leader, but he cannot lead
unless he is ahead of his hearers. When his subject is beyond their
range of knowledge he must be informing and explanatory. He need not
lower the truth, but raise the understanding of those to whom it is
addressed. If that be the preacher's endeavour he will do much to
elevate his hearers. Once I was the guest of a rector for whom I had
personal affection. For two Sundays I sat in his family pew. His
sermons had no relation to anything in the heavens above or the
earth beneath. Such sermons, however well intended, could not
elevate the parochial hearers in a century. Dr Parker is the only
divine who has advised what I thought I was alone in advising
years ago, namely that preachers who have to preach twice on a
Sunday should preach a sermon of the great orators of the Church
once in the day, and reserve their unwearied minds for their own
discourse. The sermons of the Fathers of the Church and orators of
the pulpit, from early times to the present, afford a mighty field
of selection. Wealth of illustration, felicity of expression,
splendour of ideas, and passion, lie there mostly unknown to
preachers and almost entirely so to modern, busy, narrow-minded,
uninformed congregations narrow-minded because ignorant of the
brilliant sermons with which the pulpit orators of every
denomination have enriched and delighted the minds of the generation
in which they lived. A preacher who knows how to read, has good
discernment of relevant passages, judgment not to make them too
long, and preface them by an account of who the preacher was, would
command grateful hearers, whom he would reform, gratify, and refine. A great play delights as often as it is well acted; why should not a
great sermon, when well spoken? Acquaintedness with great discourses
would often improve the preacher as well as his flock. As Butler
said long ago:
All smatterers are more brisk and pert
Than those that understood an art,
As little sparkles shine more bright
Than glowing coals that give them light.
Professor Francis William Newman, a man of wider information than
his brother, the cardinal, told me he deemed it beyond his power to
preach a sermon every week he who never spoke, or wrote any mean
or incomplete thing, measured a sermon by a standard of his own. One minister I have known, who, though always preaching, was always
fresh, was Henry Ward Beecher. His ideas were inexhaustible. The
Rev. Hugh Price Hughes's definition of the essential requisites of
modern preaching are 'simplicity, flexibility, spontaneity and
earnestness' qualities of his own preaching, aided by a voice
which travels like a bird over the audience and along the galleries. Ward Beecher had the four qualities above named, with the addition
of imagination; always bright and often poetical, when every
sentence was tinted with a hue of its own, as is the case with
sermons by the Rev. Stopford A. Brooke, which a connoisseur in
pulpit orations would know when he saw them quoted, though no
preacher's name was appended to them.
When a young man, I heard a sermon by the Rev. William Knibb, a
Baptist minister, whose life was wasted in Jamaica, begin with these
words, which I still remember, 'In the days when infantine
Christianity went forth to battle with the full-grown powers of
superstition and darkness.' His picturesque sentences continued to
the end, his unfaltering swiftness and distinctness, I have never
It was said of Morley Punshon, whom I sometimes heard a preacher
of renown in his day 'He did not create; he did not inform; he
did not reason; he did not criticise he set forth things vividly.' That was a great merit; he held the field but did not extend it.
'Parsons of York,' as he was called (as men spoke of Jay of Bath, or
Hall of Leicester preachers who are remembered as no one else of
those towns is) in later years, whatever may have been the case
earlier, broke up his sentences with a dry hacking cough for the
first fifteen minutes. Still the sentences went on their coherent
way. Afterwards he suffered no interruption when the stately
argument of his oration rose high before the hearer, who remembered
it long after as though he had seen a great sight. It was in
Whitfield Chapel, London, where I heard Parsons. Though unlike his
famous predecessor in that place, those who heard Parsons left him,
as men are said to have left Whitfield, with the impression that
they had heard a master of the pulpit.
Sydney Smith complained in his day of the cold decorum of the
pulpit. He said:
'The great object of modern sermons is to hazard nothing; their
characteristic is decent debility, which alike guards their authors
from ludicrous errors, and precludes them from striking beauties. Every man of sense, in taking up an English sermon, expects to find
it a tedious essay, full of common-place morality; and if the
fulfilment of such expectations be meritorious, the clergy have
certainly the merit of not disappointing their readers.'
Since his day, preachers of note have arisen in the church. Neither
Kingsley, nor Maurice, nor Bishop Magee were conventional in their
preaching. Still, too many Church preachers are dull. Many of them
are happily sent abroad. I have heard a colonial bishop so insipid
and unimpressive of speech, that he could not convert on his own
coast, where hearers had the advantage of knowing his tongue, much
less those to whom he would speak in a language foreign to them.
Preaching can never be what it might be, could the other side be
heard after the discourse. The clergyman who told a great lawyer
that his was a fascinating profession was answered, 'Preaching is
a better one, as the opposite party has no right of reply.' Ten
lawyers have more alertness, many-sidedness, and circumspection than
a hundred preachers. They know their learned brother lies in wait to
question every unprovable statement they make. The Catholic clergy
knew they lost weight by being all on one side, and invented the
Devil's Advocate that the other side might be heard. But this
advocate seldom puts in an appearance. Were he to attend, every
Sundays preaching would rapidly improve in truth, fairness and
force. Then a hearer would seldom have to say of a preacher, as an
observing woman did: In the first place he read his sermon; in the
second he did not read it well; and in the third it was not worth
As to the manner of preaching, Dr Leifchild's rules for preaching
would ruin any preacher
Go on slow;
When most impressed
At the end wax warm
And sit down in a storm.
A preacher would be ridiculous in a month who did this.
Shakespeare's advice to players is far wiser. Warmth will vary with
conviction, and energy with earnestness and the nature of the
subject. The close of a discourse should be better spoken than the
explanatory parts. It may end in resounding sentences, or, like a
farewell song of love, its last cadence may die in the air, leaving
an impression which will never die in the mind of the hearer.
If a preacher wants to know what he is going to say or, better,
wants to know what he ought to say let him write out his sermon,
not for the purpose necessarily of reading it to his congregation,
but for the purpose of reading it to himself. He will never discover
what links of argument he has omitted in an intended extempore speech
he will never become aware of the redundancies, contradictions,
undesigned repetitions and incoherences of arrangement without
order or sequence until he writes right off what is in his mind. When he has revised, pruned, amplified where necessary, and given
logical connection, let him make marginal notes of the purport of
each essential passage, and preach from these notes. Such was the
advice of Professor Hall to an American divinity class of which he
had charge. There is no better rule to follow. It fixes a
comprehensive outline of the intended sermon in the mind. Written
passages and illustrations will recur to the memory. There will be
confidence, flexibility and coherence audibility and earnestness
will do the rest.
NO one would
prefer a sermon or speech, poor in quality and incoherent in
texture, extemporarily delivered to a discourse or oration,
compact in expression and strong in sense read well. It is
bad reading which brings reading into comparative contempt or
dislike. Reading, like any other form of oratory, has its
conditions, which are seldom thought of.
Sometimes a speech or an address will be read from a quarto
book, written in a small hand, over which the reader stumbles.
The hearer counts the turning over of the monotonously-spoken pages
to calculate when the end of his misery will come, when, to his
utter dismay, he perceives that the pages are written at the back,
and when the end was thought to be in sight, the dreadful lecturer,
or speaker, begins to turn the leaves over and read the backs, when
the period of the hearer's release is indefinitely postponed.
I have seen a preacher read a sermon in small, badly-written,
interlined pages, which no one who once took his eyes off it could,
without delay, find the place again at which he was. I have
seen a prize paper read from a small printed pamphlet which did not
permit the reader once to look at his audience without missing a
sentence or two, and so rapidly and insipidly was it spoken, that an
audience from a penitentiary, would not listen to it to the end.
I have seen a Dean read an address in minute handwriting. He,
being near-sighted, had to hold the pages close to his face.
All the auditors could see was a bundle of white leaves and a bald
head behind it, and the voice issuing from the rear of the pages was
so indistinct and cadenceless that the words were all swallowed by
the persons three rows before him, for they reached no further, and
the audience at the back had to seek from those in front a
second-hand report of what was supposed to have been said, of which
no one was sure.
At the British Association I have seen a president read his
inaugural address from long proof slips, just as the printer sent
them. The president had to ask the secretary for his address,
of which the secretary had only one copy and that he could not
find when wanted. Nothing could be more humiliating to
president or audience than to read to, or to be read to, from
printers' slips, which takes all dignity out of the occasion, even
if the reading was fairly spoken. But the president, being a
professor, despised emphasis, inflection, or passion, as
unphilosophical. The audience had a bad time of it, and
applauded only when the address ended, and because it had ended.
Philosophers might be expected to do things better.
University reading is, as a rule, more insipid than clerical.
The professor's object is to say in a paper (when he reads one)
exactly what ought to be known. Students bent upon knowledge,
with their minds already occupied with the subject submitted to
them, and seeking information important to them bend a willing
ear, and are grateful for the ideas they want, and heed not, and
care not, how colourless and tame-toned are the words spoken.
Many professors, as I have seen, when they come before the public as
preachers or scientists, will deliver their message in the most
spiritless manner to an audience ignorant alike of its matter and
moment, whom they inspire not only with dislike but with resentment
against speaker and subject.
The pulpit or platform orator who cares only for the judgment
of the few, whose attainments give weight to their opinions, may
read anyhow, provided he has ideas which the few covet. But if he
calls together a miscellaneous audience, or connives at their being
assembled, and does not intend to entertain or instruct them, he
ought to be liable to indictment for obtaining attention under false
pretences. Some preachers affect not to read their sermons;
but they do it, and their congregations know it. If a man
cannot speak in pulpit or on platform from notes of the kind
described in the last chapter, he had better read openly; and if
done properly it will be effective.
The method is this. After writing out the speech or
discourse, twice or thrice if necessary, read it aloud to someone
whom you wish to interest in it. A reader gets thereby quite a
new idea of what he has written. If any part is not understood by
the listener, that part must be made clear. If any part or
phrase strikes the listener as not being in good taste, reconsider
it. One object in reading the discourse aloud is to note the
time it takes to read it with audibility. If it occupies an
hour it should be abridged until it can be easily read in
three-quarters of an hour. That allows one quarter for the
expansion of public reading, which will be slower, fuller in tone,
and allow for pauses between new paragraphs. No discourse, as
a rule, should exceed one hour.
When the whole statement intended to be made is satisfactory
as to terms and length, it should be copied out on large note-sized
paper, in a handwriting sufficiently bold to be easily read at a
distance from the eye. The initial capital letters should be
print capitals, so as to mark clearly the beginning of a new
sentence. Up strokes and down strokes should be short, so that
one line does not hang down into another, nor project above, causing
confusion or entanglement of words. The paper used should be
somewhat stiff, so that one page can be easily raised by itself.
The writing should be on one side only. The speaker or
preacher should write out the copy himself. He will know
better the words he himself has formed, and become so familiar with
the text as to know it almost by heart. Finally, he should
underline with a coloured pencil such words or sentences on which
the emphasis is to fall, just as the acting copy of a play is
under-scored. Then the speech is ready to be read. When
the time comes to deliver it, the pages should be held in one hand,
and by a careless movement let the auditors perceive that nothing is
written at the back, and as each page is read it should be laid on a
table at hand, so that the hearers may know that as the pages
decrease the end of their detention draweth nigh. Now, a
speech so prepared can be held at a distance from the reader.
He will know at a glance the contents of the page, and the part
marked for emphasis will tell him the important words. On
reading the beginning of a sentence he will often know the rest, and
feel himself free to look the audience in the face and use such
gestures as the sentiment suggests. Additions or explanations
amplifications of phrases he may feel to need, and illustrations
will come into his mind for which he has left himself time.
By holding his thumb at the sentence where he commenced to
interpolate, he can come back instantly to the place, and thus
acquire a freedom and spontaneity of delivery more effective than
ordinary extempore speeches, which lack vigour, relevance and
The Rev. Mr Bellew, though a sonorous and eloquent preacher,
delighted his congregation more by reading sermons than by preaching
them. Mr J. S. Laurie, in his Training of Teachers,
says, 'Reading aloud, in any sense other than the mere naming of
vocables, is an act of intelligence, and an act requiring an even
higher intelligence as the subject-matter of what is read grows in
subtlety and complexity. Even with the help of more
disciplined and better-informed minds, very few of the middle and
upper classes can read in a style that satisfies at once the
understanding and the ear of a cultivated listener. Probably
no accomplishment is more conclusive evidence that a boy has been
educated than the power of reading well.' Good reading
requires good judgment and good preparation, as oratory does.
This means trouble, and trouble is not taken save by those whose aim
is excellence. I remember a writer saying, 'I once spent the
night with a clergyman, an old friend, who had the habit of reading
his sermons. I asked him why he did so. He went on to
give me the reasons, and became animated. "Well," said I, "I
am tired to-night, but I have been very much interested in what you
said. Nevertheless, if you had read your remarks I
should have gone to sleep.'" That was because the rector was a
mere conventional reader. Had he read his sermons as he would
read a letter to his family giving them information of a legacy,
each bequest to each person would be read with congratulatory
emphasis, and none would go to sleep.
French and American audiences will accept written speeches.
The French read like an oration. The speeches which stirred
all the world in the French Convention were written and read.
Some Americans abuse the privilege of reading in the Legislative
Chamber, making their speeches too long for any human purpose, and
so reading them that nobody listens or ought to listen to them.
The French read papers and addresses often too long for lasting
impression, but then they do read them with an almost super-human
FIGURES OF SPEECH
IT is by similes
that ideas are made vivid, argument enlivened, and obscurity made
clear. The term above 'Figures of Speech' is used in the
sense of comparisons, similitudes, symbols, likenesses, and
generally such descriptions of things in which the imagination
discovers an instructive resemblance to the subject to be explained.
A figure of speech is a change in the subject without any change of
meaning. A simile is the comparison of another thing to the
one in question, the likening of two things which, though differing
in other respects, have strong points of resemblance. An
instance has already been given showing with what judgment these
resemblances should be selected. The one rule being, if the
object is to exalt a subject, to make a noble comparison. If
the purpose is to degrade a subject, the comparison made should
serve to lower it in the reader's estimation. Errors and
oversights in these respects are of daily occurrence. A
preacher to whom I often listened with pleasure in days when I was
an habitual hearer of the word, one day reproached Christians with
not using their minds for making sure of the grounds of their
convictions, adding, that they put out their thinking as people did
their washing, and got it done badly. This offended many of
his congregation, for some of them could think. The preacher's
simile implied that his congregation had dirty ideas for that, and
that alone, is why garments are sent to the laundry. The
laundress does not make garments, but merely cleans them; whereas,
what the preacher to his credit wanted, was that his hearers
should form ideas of their own, without which a man is mentally
naked or bedizened in second-hand clothes, and he should have sought
a simile which suggested this. The one he chose did not touch
the case. The congregation did not suffer from dirty ideas,
else he had badly instructed them. What they suffered from was
scantiness of ideas, which could only be worthily increased by their
Some time ago a noble lord, who, like his father before him,
had high regard for Mr Gladstone, told a public meeting of Liberals
that it might be said of Mr Gladstone in the words of Shakespeare:
He doth bestride this narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we, petty men,
Walk under his huge legs, and creep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Now, the bestriding man referred to was a dangerous tyrant. It
was a bad compliment to compare Mr Gladstone to him. Then it
follows also that the lesser Liberals are 'petty men, who creep
about to find themselves dishonourable graves.' So the speaker
smote Mr Gladstone and all his adherents hip and thigh by one
simile, of whose range and application he could have given no
thought. Had the speaker compared Mr Gladstone to the King of
Brobdignag, and his followers to men of good but lesser build; or by
other simile which suggested that Mr Gladstone was the Saul of his
party head and shoulders above any of them he had exalted him
whom he intended to exalt, and not called up adverse reflections.
It may serve to show with what circumspection similes should be
employed if I point out that the last one I have given is open to
objection on a political platform for Saul was mad sometimes, a
fact which a quick adversary would turn to good account.
Not long ago Lady Henry Somerset, in a much-applauded
address, said that a bear leader whom she saw in Switzerland told
her that when he wanted the bear to dance he kept pulling the
string. That was what 'the people of England must do with
their leaders in respect of temperance, and she was sure they would
dance.' This should have been said when the reporters had
left, as being better suited for private than for public
consumption. To tell public men you consider them street
bears, who will dance only when you pull the string round their
necks, is to do all you can to prevent leaders doing anything you
wish. It sets their self-respect against you. It is
smart speaking if you do not think of the result. Lady
Somerset is an engaging lady, and if she, or others like her, pulled
the string, no doubt there would be dancing if the dancers could
forget that she thinks them 'ears.'
There is an Australian weapon called a boomerang, which, when
thrown, comes back and hits the thrower. Beware of boomerang
arguments, or boomerang similes. For instance, if misled by
pessimist texts you should say all men are corrupt, your opponent
might say: 'As all men are so, so you must be. Thank you for
the admission of your conscious rottenness, of which it did not
occur to me to accuse you.' That was the reply I made to a Dr
Rowbotham who asked me to assist his advocacy, after declaring on a
London platform that all men had putrid principles. I thought
such principles did not require aid in development.
Robert Owen's principles have often been described but never
made so clear as by citing a simile of Victor Hugo. 'Men are
like nettles. Cultivation will turn them from noxious to
useful plants. There are no bad herbs or bad men; there are
only bad cultivators.' This is Robert Owen's philosophy in a
If kings were not better than they are supposed to be, they
would be worse than they are, breathing, as they do, the air of
fulsomeness. Royalty has always been a patient, and at times a
greedy, recipient of egregious adulation. It is Macaulay, I
think, who says the oratory devoted to James I., on his progress
through Scotland, was of no common cast. Officials who
addressed him at the various towns at which he arrived, 'put
together Augustus, Alexander, Trajan and Constantine. It was
supposed that even the antipodes heard of his courtesy and
liberality; the very hills and groves were said to be refreshed with
the dew of his aspect; in his absence the citizens were languishing
gyrades, in his presence delighted lizards, for he was the sunshine
of their beauty. At Glasgow, Master Hay, the commissary, when
attempting to speak before him, became like one touched with a
torpedo, or seen of a wolf; and the Principal of the University,
comparing his majesty with the sun, observed, to the luminary's
disadvantage, that King James had been received with incredible joy
and applause; whereas a descent of the sun into Glasgow would in all
likelihood be extremely ill taken. Hyperbole was not
sufficient the aid of the prodigies was called a boy of nine
years old harangued the king in Hebrew, and the schoolmaster of
Linlithgow spoke verses in the form of a lion.' That was
better than a good deal of adulation of royalty, which is often
presented in the form of an ass. When literature first became
common, rhetoric grew tawdry, and degenerated into what Dr Parker
calls the 'Berlin wool and fancy work' style of statement. A
strong simplicity is always force.
To preserve peace, and to do good, is an old maxim of
morality. Feltham thus enlivens it by this illustration:
'When two goats on a narrow bridge met over a deep stream, was not
he the wiser that lay down for the other to pass over him, rather
than he that would hazard both their lives by contending? He
preserved himself from danger, and made the other become debtor to
him for his safety. I will never think myself disparaged
either by preserving peace or doing good.'
Paine, whom I have heard
Ebenezer Elliot describe as the greatest master of metaphor he
had known, said of a certain body in America, who professed that
principle was higher than interest, were nevertheless 'hunting after
their own advantage with a step as steady as time, and an appetite
as keen as death.' Their insatiableness is rendered more
evident by these similes. Describing the illuminated
popularity of a political quack one Silas Deene Paine said, 'He
went up like a rocket and came down like the stick.' Mirabeau,
when asked to counsel an obstinate friend, answered, 'You might as
well make an issue in a wooden leg as give him advice.'
Emerson, at the soirιe of the Manchester Athenζum, expressing
the latent strength of Old England, said she 'had still a pulse like
a cannon.' Speaking elsewhere of the freshness of the style of
Montaigne, Emerson said his sentences were 'vascular and alive if
you cut them they would bleed.' The Cork Magazine says,
that the preface of Thomas Davis to the speeches of Curran is in
some parts as majestic as the orations which it prefaces; in others,
displaying a wild pathos, which 'strikes upon the ear like the cry
of a woman.'
Comparisons are implied by phrases. An instance occurs
in Cardinal Newman's works, where he says, 'Heresy did but
precipitate the truths before held in solution.' The allusion
is chemical and a happy one. Contempt for the men-millinery of
literature was forcibly expressed by Mirabeau 'My style readily
assumes force, and I have a command of strong expressions, but if I
want to be mild, unctuous and measured, I become insipid, and my
flabby style makes me sick.' Dumont, a friend of Mirabeau's,
recounting his own editorial experience in preserving brevity and a
wise directness in his journal, says, 'The most diffuse complained
of our reducing their dropsical and turgescent expressions.'
Grattan, comparing the Irish Parliament to a human career,
exclaimed, 'I have sat by its cradle and I followed its hearse.'
In the Auditor, Lord Viscount Barrington was described
as 'a little squirrel of State, who had been busy all his life in
the cage, without turning it round to any human purpose.' The
clearness attained by this simile needs no explanation. Edward
Vansittart Neale, when he wished to show how much the profits of
productive labour exceed those of commerce, likened the store to the
Which, whether he turns wood or wire,
Never gets an hair's-breadth higher,
while the workshop has unlimited possibilities before it. It
is of value to intercept the difference between wholesale and retail
prices. But the store moves between those two barriers.
Mr Neale's simile made clear the advantages of labour acting without
When Mr Mould, the undertaker in Martin Chuzzlewit,
speaks of Shakespeare, it is as the theatrical poet who was 'buried'
at Stratford. But it matters not whence the similes are drawn,
provided they are appropriate and elevating, which was not the case
in the sermon preached at Newgate after the escape of Jack Sheppard.
The clergyman discoursed to this effect:
'How dexterously did he pick the padlock of his chain with a crooked
nail, burst his fetters asunder, climb up his chimney, wrench out an
iron bar break his way through a stone wall, make the strong door
of a dark entry fly before him, reach the leads of the prison, fix a
blanket to the wall with a spike stolen from the chapel, descend to
the top of the turner's house, cautiously pass downstairs, and make
his escape at the street door.
'I shall spiritualise these things. Let me exhort ye, then, to
open the locks of your hearts with the nail of repentance; burst
asunder the fetters of your beloved lusts; mount the chimney of
hope; take thence the bar of good resolution; break through the
stone wall of despair, and. force the stronghold in the dark entry
of the valley of the shadow of death; raise yourself to the leads of
divine meditation; fix the blanket of faith with the spike of the
Church; let yourselves down to the turner's house of resignation;
descend the stairs of humility. So shall you come to the door
of deliverance from the prison of iniquity, and escape from the
clutches of that old executioner the devil.'
This style, once popular, might divert a gaol audience, but
would not be thought edifying now. Down to this chaplain's
days this was thought to be clever composition. The chaplain
ought to have been imprisoned for his effort. Its only excuse
could be that it amused his gloomy congregation. It could not
edify them, and was more likely to produce ridicule than reverence.
Prodigality of metaphors, like multitudes of superlatives,
confound meaning. 'It is an idle fancy of some,' says Felton,
'to run out perpetually upon similitudes, confounding their subject
by the multitude of likenesses, and making it like so many things,
that it is like nothing at all!'
The child, when he first learns to speak, will say anything,
thinking he accomplishes much in continuing to talk. So with
the public speaker when he first commences, and so with the early
efforts of the young writer. When he first rises above the
level of plain prose, he never knows when to descend to the earth;
and instead of finding an elevation whence he can show his readers a
wider landscape and new objects, he thinks he does enough by showing
Goodrich relates that a boy being rebuked by a clergyman for
neglecting to go to church, replied that he would go if he could be
permitted to change his seat. 'But why do you wish to change
your seat?' said the minister. 'You see,' said the boy, 'I sit
over the opposite side of the meeting-house, and between me and you
there's Judy Vicars and Mary Staples, and half a dozen other women,
with their mouths wide open, and they get all the best of the
sermon, and when it comes to me it's pretty poor stuff.'
It is doubtful whether any boy ever made this reflection.
The story must be pointed at those preachers whose voices are
confined to the listeners nearest to them. Nevertheless,
likening the sermon to something to be eaten, made vivid the
disadvantage of not being able to hear what is said.
A resemblance of one thing to another is often cited in
argument. It is then called an analogy. But it must be
remembered that an analogy is not an argument, only an illustration.
No two different things can be alike all through, and it is only the
points of the analogy cited, which should be taken notice of in
There is sometimes an argument of no mean force in a simile.
A soldier, sentenced for an attempt to leave his regiment on Indian
service, said in his defence, 'We are not all bad at bottom, but we
have at times fever and ague, and then the heart grows faint for
England, and we have Europe on the chest.' That soldier, had
he been educated, had been a great rhetorician who would have
convinced in a few words.
A negro woman, though possessing a scantier vocabulary, can
be more vivid of speech than her mistress: A Washington lady, much
surprised upon receiving notice from her dusky cook that she was
about to leave her service, in order to be married. 'Why,'
said the lady, 'I did not even know you had an admirer.' 'Oh,
yes'm, for some time.' 'Who is it, Mary?' 'Don't you
'member, Miss Lissie, that I 'tended a fune'l 'bout two weeks
ago? It's the corpse's husband!'
In using figures of speech care must be taken not to change
the simile in an incongruous way. There is the well-known
American example of the orator who, discovering the artfulness of an
opponent, exclaimed, 'I smell a rat I see it floating in the air
I nip it in the bud.' In two sentences he converted the rat
into a bird and a flower. The Irish have a gift for absurd
similes, which are excusable in them because of the humour in which
they excel. As when Sir Boyle Roche in affirming his loyalty
said, 'I stand prostrate before the Throne.' It was an
Hibernian prophet who announced
To-night's the day (I state it with great sorrow)
When all of us will be blown up to-morrow.
But it was an English cleric of confused memory who told his
congregation that 'sorrow may endure for a joy but night cometh in
the morning.' 'My brethren,' said an aspiring young preacher,
'such a man as I have described is like the captain of a crewless
vessel on a shoreless sea. Happy would such a man be to bring
his men to land.' There was a glamour of imagination in these
words, and it was only afterwards that the hearers reflected that a
crewless vessel had no men, and that on a shoreless sea there was no
land to put them on. These oratorical aberrations are confined
to no country, though more frequent in some than others. It
was only the other day that Herr Rickhert taunted the German
Ministry, saying, 'We hear nothing upon the Ministerial benches,
nothing, but profound silence.' This could not be better said
A practical design of these chapters, which are now nearing
their close which the reader will be glad to hear is to call
into life the latent power for excellence that every man has, and to
guard him against the easy errors into which one inexperienced or
uninformed may fall. Errors are forgiven on their first, or
even second committal, but the third time they cause distrust.
At Muzart Pass, over the Tian Shan Range, a marble monument bears
'He who comes this way once may be pardoned, as not knowing what he
is doing. He who comes twice is a fool. He who comes a
third time is hopeless as a Kaffir.'
The reader, familiar with the maxims of the preceding pages,
will be naturally and rightly desirous of illustrating his meaning,
when necessary, by some apt figure of speech. He will do well
to do so, provided he does it with taste, relevance and
circumspection, or he will, as Uncle Eben observes, 'after toiling
up the stairway of fame, slide down the bannister into obscurity.'
POETRY IN RELATION TO RHETORIC
ALL the public speaker necessarily has to do with poetry is to read
it, or speak it well. And he will be more likely to do this
effectively if he knows that what he cites is poetry, or at least so
felicitous in expression as to make vivid the idea he wishes to
enforce. For instance, to move men to speech it is necessary that
the speaker should know their nature. For human nature differs in
different places as climate does. Did not Dr Angus Smith show that
there are more than nineteen distinct climates in London. There are
more than nineteen distinct orders of men. How else could there be
so many distinct sects? One man believes in that which to another is
absolutely incredible. In every town and village the nature of men
is of a different texture. Doubtless there are general features in
which humanity agrees. But if the object is to show that those who
would master human nature had better study it he may show its
strange moods by quoting Mr Lecky's lines on one whose career was
inscrutable to his friends,
What was the charm that wrought the spell,
None but himself could see;
There's a door in every heart that leads to hell,
Could we but find the key.
Let us hope this is not true; but true or not they are striking
lines, and vividly call attention to the unexpected characteristics
of human nature.
Of great poets there are too few, and of minor poets too many some
say. But this is not a good judgment being unfair to the minor rhymers, as though they were permanently inferior; whereas, the
great poet was a minor one once, and some of them were very
unpromising minors. In his 'Hours of Idleness' Byron gave no
foretaste of the qualities of energy and fire which afterwards
astonished the world. No poem ever opened with more enchanting lines
than 'Endymion,' whose first words were
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness: but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams and health and quiet breathing.
The critics of Keats's day saw nothing in this as a presage of
power, but the power was there. It was the youthful muse of Tennyson
which produced the lines:
The roar of the wind is around me,
The leaves of the year at my feet.
It was only W. J. Fox who saw the poet in them.
The reader might not take for poetry the following lines, but he
would not make much of a mistake if he did:
He has forgotten the pathway to our door,
Something has gone from nature since he died.
If the Student looks for newness of thought and force of expression,
he will meet with passages which may be successfully quoted.
Some say if, when you have written verses, you find you can better
express the chief idea in prose your verses are not poetry. That
does not follow, because there is good poetry in prose. Carlyle, for
instance, was a poet who wrote in prose what he was entirely unable
to express in verse. If, however, a man who has made verses finds he
can better express himself in prose, he should put his ideas into
It is not easy to give a definition of poetry which shall enable
everyone to detect poetry when he meets it. But an ordinary person
who reads two stanzas of Rossetti's 'Blessed Damozel' would be
arrested by its beauty of expression and splendour of imagination:
It was the rampart of God's house
That she was standing on;
By God built over the sheer depth
The which is space begun;
So high, that looking downward thence
She scarce could see the sun.
It lies in heaven, across the flood
Of ether, as a bridge.
Beneath, the tides of day and night
With flame and darkness ridge
The void, as low as where this earth
Spins like a fretful midge.
There are astronomical objections to this vision, but Burke would
have given it a place in his unfinished book on the Sublime and
A passage of no mean beauty occurs in Shelley's 'Prometheus':
It seems to float ever, for ever,
Upon that many-winding river,
Between mountains, woods, abysses,
A paradise of wildernesses!
Till one in slumber bound
Borne to the ocean, I float down, around,
Into a sea profound, of ever-spreading sound.
The melody of the language alone would inform the reader that he was
in the hands of a master.
Sometimes a poet does not know his own beauty of expression, and
changes a term of beauty for one without it, as when Tennyson,
having written of Prince Albert dead
Thou silent father of our kings to be,
altered it into
Thou noble father of our kings to be.
'Silent' father has the dignity which no one challenges. 'Noble'
father is controversial.
It is good practice to write verse. He who attempts it may not
become a poet, but he will learn more of the terms, variety and
infinite meanings of his own tongue, or of any other tongue he uses,
than by any other means. Wordsworth, who was a master in song, wrote
once to Sir
'Again and again I must repeat that the composition of verse is
infinitely more of an art than men are prepared to believe, and
absolute success in it depends upon innumerable minutiζ, which it
grieves me you should stoop to acquire a knowledge of. Milton talks
of pouring "easy his
unpremeditated verse." It would be harsh, untrue and odious to say
there is anything like cant in this, but it is not true to the
letter and tends to mislead. I could point out 500 passages in
Milton upon which labour has been bestowed, and twice 500 more on
which labour would have been serviceable.'
Matthew Arnold, when he is not contemptuous, is instructive. If his
sweetness was intermittent, he did not lack light.
'Homer's movement, he says,
'is a flowing, a rapid movement. Milton's
is a laboured, a self-retarding movement. Milton charges himself so
full with thought, imagination, knowledge, that his style will
hardly contain them. He is too full-stored to show us in much detail
one conception, one piece of knowledge; he shows it to us in a
pregnant, allusive way, and then presses on to another. Homer is
quite different; he says a thing and says it to the end, and then
begins another, while Milton is trying to press a thousand things
into one. So that in reading Milton you never lose the sense of
laborious and condensed fulness; in reading Homer you never lose the
sense of flowing and abounding ease.'
Homer was a poet of life, Tennyson was mainly a poet of mind. Homer
sang of actions, Tennyson of ideas. Sir Walter Scott has more of the
Homeric quality than any other romance writer of renown. Poets and
writers of that mould are better to quote in an oration than a
metaphysical poet. Byron is better for the platform than Shelley. There are exceptions, of course, among the kaleidoscopic children of
song. All are human at times. Even Browning, who requires a Society
to explain him, has splendid flashes of nature, as witness these
All the breath and the bloom of the year in the bag of one bee:
All the wonder and wealth of the mine in the heart of one gem:
In the core of one pearl all the shade and the shine of the sea:
Breath and bloom, shade and shine wonder, wealth, and how
far above them
Truth, that's brighter than gem,
Trust, that's, purer than pearl
Brightest truth, purest trust in the universe all were for me
In the kiss of one girl.
Of prose which has all the qualities of poetry except the metrical
form, the reader may find in a passage of Professor Heeren:
'Persepolis rises above the deluge of years. Time sadly overcometh
all things, and is now dominant, and sits upon a sphinx and looketh
unto Memphis and Old Thebes; while his sister Oblivion reclineth
semi-sensuous on a pyramid, making puzzles of Titanian erections,
turning old glories into dreams. History sinketh beneath her cloud.
The traveller, as he passeth amazedly through these deserts, asketh
of her who builded them? She mumbleth something, but what it is he
The poet hath not often excelled Heeren. Instance Bryant on the same
Thou unrelenting Past!
Strong are the barriers round thy dark domain,
And fetters sure and fast
Hold all that enter thy unbreathing reign.
Mere rhyme often assists the memory, and, if nervous, it may better
strike the understanding than prose. Of this quality are some old
lines on Feasting and Fasting, beginning thus:
Accustom early in your youth
To lay embargo on your mouth;
And let no rarities invite
To pall and glut your appetite;
But check it always, and give it o'er
With a desire of eating more;
For where one dies from inanition
A thousand perish by repletion.
There is a mental repletion also enervating to intellectual health.
Dr Johnson, who had prose in his blood, sometimes put it into verse,
and though not poetry it was near to it by its vigour and sense. In
the prologue he wrote for Garrick on the opening of the Theatre
Royal, Drury Lane, describing the reign of pedantry and degeneracy
of the stage, he exclaims:
Then, crushed by rules, and weaken'd as refined,
For years the power of tragedy declined;
From bard to bard the frigid caution crept,
Till declamation roar'd whilst passion slept:
Yet still did virtue deign the stage to tread,
Philosophy remained though nature fled.
Pope, the greatest of our argumentative poets, has no passage more
striking than one logical stanza in Lord Byron's 'Childe Harold.' It
has vividness, felicity of phrase and condensation. It would be
impossible to say the same things in prose in such few words.
What from the barren being do we reap?
Our senses narrow and our reason frail,
Life short, and truth a gem that loves the deep.
And all things weighed in custom's falsest scale;
Opinion an omnipotence, whose veil
Mantles the earth with darkness, until right
And wrong seem accidents, and men grow pale
Lest their own judgments should become too bright.
And their free thoughts be crimes and earth have too
Another example, though devoid of the range of insight manifest in
Byron's lines, is the fine sonnet of Blanco White. As a poetic
imaginative argument for a future life it is unsurpassed. Literature
has no argument so brilliant that I can recall:
Mysterious night! When our first parent knew
Thee from report divine, and heard thy name,
Did he not tremble for this lovely frame,
This glorious canopy of light and blue?
Yet, 'neath a curtain of translucent dew.
Bathed in the rays of the great setting flame,
Hesperus with the host of heaven came.
And lo! creation widened in man's view.
Who could have thought such darkness lay conceal'd
Within thy beams, O Sun? Or who could find,
Whilst fruit, and leaf, and insect stood reveal'd,
That to such countless orbs thou mad'st us blind?
Why do we, then, shun Death with anxious strife?
If Light conceals so much wherefore not Life?
For passages of point and fire the orator must go, to the poets. One
of them exclaims:
Hereditary bondsmen, know ye not
Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.
An agitator may say that without much risk. That means numbers must
agree to act all together, and numbers are not given to agree; and
if numbers do agree they must keep one counsel if they are to
succeed, and numbers can seldom be depended upon to keep one
supplies much more dangerous lines:
Every bondsman in his own hands
Bears the means to cancel his captivity.
Let any man beware how he says these, to whom, and where.
The Talmud says, 'Life is but a shadow, not of a house, or of a
tree, but of a bird passing overhead; another moment both bird and
shadow are gone.' The simile is well conceived. For variety and
felicity of figure upon this subject nothing known to me excels the
following poem, ascribed to Dr Donovan, who made it, or took it from
an old Irish manuscript. The reader will see that the Irish poet is
a logician a rare thing in poets and sums up each stanza at its
conclusion, and each simile is as it were proven.
Like to a damask rose you see,
Or like a blossom on a tree,
Or like the dainty flower in May,
Or like the morning to the day
Or like the sun, or like the shade;
Or like the gourd, which Jonah made:
Even such is man, whose thread is spun,
Drawn out and out, and so is done.
The rose withers, the blossom blasteth,
The flower fades, the morning hasteth,
The sun sets, the shadow flies.
The gourd consumes, the man he dies.
Like to the grass that's newly sprung,
Or like the tale that's new begun,
Or like the bird that's here to-day,
Or like the pearled dew in May,
Or like an hour, or like a span,
Or like the singing of the swan:
Even such is man, who lives by breath.
Is here, now there, in life and death.
The grass withers, the tale is ended,
The bird is flown, the dew's ascended,
The hour is short, the span not long,
The swan's near death, man's life is done.
Like to the bubble in the brook.
Or in a glass much like a look.
Or like the shuttle in weaver's hand,
Or like the writing on the sand,
Or like a thought, or like a dream.
Or like the gliding of the stream:
Even such is man, who lives by breath.
Is here, now there, in life and death.
The bubble's out, the look forgot.
The shuttle's flung, the writing's blot.
The thought is past, the dream is gone.
The waters glide, man's life is done.
Like to an arrow from a bow,
Or like swift course of water flow:
Or like the time 'twixt flood and ebb.
Or like the spider's tender web.
Or like a race, or like a goal.
Or like the dealing of a dole:
Even such is man, whose brittle state
Is always subject unto fate.
The arrow shot, the flood soon spent.
The time no time, the web soon rent,
The race soon run, the goal soon won,
The dole soon dealt, man's life soon done.
Like to the lightning from the sky,
Or like a post that quick doth hie.
Or like a quaver in a song.
Or like a journey three days long,
Or like the snow when summer's come.
Or like a pear, or like a plum:
Even such is man, who heaps up sorrow.
Lives but this day, and dies to-morrow.
The lightning's past, the post must go.
The song is short, the journey so.
The pear doth rot, the plum doth fall,
The snow dissolves, and so must all.
The Student in search of similes may take up a basket from this
Nobody could mistake the hand of the poet, in strength of conception
and unchangeableness of terms, in Landor's lines:
Alas! how soon the hours are over,
Counted us out to play the over;
And how much narrower is the stage
Allotted us to play the sage.
But when we play the fool, how wide
The theatre expands! Besides,
How long the audience sits before us;
How many plaudits! What a chorus!
But of this the present writer as well as the student may take warning.
STYLE is the
manner in which ideas are expressed. Style is not in the mind
it is the mind. As Dr Johnson said of the wits of Charles
the Second's reign:
Themselves they studied as they felt they writ.
A bitter fountain cannot give forth sweet water. According to
the quality of the information in the treasure house of the
understanding will be the style scant or plentiful in words, clear
or confused in expression, vivacious or dull, yielding ideas leaden
or golden, gems of paste or diamonds rich and rare. When a man
can, like Cobbett, talk with his pen, his style is disclosed.
It is said of John Morley that the chief features of his style are
'perfect sanity and reasonableness.' Its special charm,
'simplicity and courtesy.' His hold upon his reader is his
'scholarship and sincerity.' He has 'urbanity and wit,' still
rare in literature.
Style is a quality peculiar to the writer, and where it has
excellence not time itself can efface its charm. Facts may be
forgotten, learning grow commonplace, truths dwindle into mere
truisms, but a magnificent style can never lose its freshness.
Someone has said, 'For style, even more than for his wonderful
erudition, is Gibbon admired; and the same quality, and that alone,
renders Hume a popular historian of England, in spite of his
imperfect learning, the untrustworthiness of his statements in
matters of fact, and the anti-popular caste of his opinions.'
Method, perspicuity, brevity, variety, harmony, are indeed separable
from sense, but no combination of such qualities will give life to a
book without sense. They are but the auxiliaries of meaning,
not the substitutes for it.
If any one would know what style is not and how it is not
acquired, let him read an article on Dickens in a quarter where
there should be guidance, the Dublin University Magazine, in
or about 1865. It said:
'Dickens has achieved a great thing he has created a style.
The singular circumstance in this case is that, by careful study of
previous styles, by imitation of them, this author has produced out
of the heterogeneous elements a compound essentially differing from
all its component parts, and claiming claiming justly the high
merit of being original. That such a result should follow such
a course ought to encourage writers who aim at true celebrity to
adopt this humble and painstaking initiatory system.'
Dickens would smile at this attempt to make a literary
alchemist of him, as one fusing all sorts of styles in his crucible
of composition, and bringing out quite a new metal. Present
society furnished him with materials; observation, freedom of
thought and confidence did the rest humour combined them and made
the style. Tindal said of Pitt's first speech that 'it was
more ornamental than the speeches of Demosthenes and less diffuse
than those of Cicero.'
'That it should have been so often quoted,' says Macaulay, '
is proof how slovenly most people are content to think. It would be
no very flattering compliment to a man's figure to say that he is
taller than the Polish dwarf, shorter than Giant O'Brien, fatter
than a skeleton, and more slender than
Daniel Lambert. No speaking can be less ornamental than that of
Demosthenes, or more diffuse than that of Cicero.'
Heldenmaier lays it down as a maxim of education, that
freedom is the all-essential condition of growth and power.
There can be no fervour while, in the language of Sam Slick, 'Talk
has a pair of stays, and is laced up tight and stiff.' It is
freedom which is the active element of all fresh and vigorous style.
Dr Gilchrist observes that 'What one of the ancient philosophers
said of laws may be truly said of rhetorical rules: they are like
cobwebs which entangle the weak but which the strong break through.
The first rule of good composition is, that the composer be free and
bold. Before a man can be a good thinker or a good writer he
must be free and bold . . . . Can servile composers in the harness
of rules, dreading the lash of criticism, limping upon quotations,
with their eye upon precedents and authorities, create a style at
once new and striking, yet just and proper? All real greatness
is the offspring of freedom: there may be absurdity, folly, cant,
hypocrisy, squeamish delicacy, finical politeness, sickly
sentimentality, mawkish affectation in every possible fantastic form
of fashion and variety; but there cannot be original, substantial
excellence without intellectual independence, manly thinking and
As soon as a man understands a subject, he is in a condition,
so far as ideas go, to write or speak about it. If he has also
courage to write himself in his words, he may be original. But
if he forget that fullness and freedom are both blind, and that
without the revealing lights of taste, perspicuity and brevity, he
may offend, bewilder and tire.
An old woman who showed a house and pictures at Towcester
expressed herself in these words: 'This is Sir Richard Farmer; he
lived in the country, took care of his estate, built this house and
paid for it, managed well, saved money, and died rich. That
is his son; he was made a lord, took a place at Court, spent his
estate, and died a beggar!'
A concise but striking account. The old exhibitor had
no doubt learned brevity by weariness of repetition and the desire
of giving satisfactory information in a few words difficult to
acquire; but they can be acquired, and a style marked by sentences
concise and short is no mean one. Butler, who knew so many
things, tells us:
As 'tis a greater mystery in the art
Of painting, to foreshorten any part,
Than draw it out, so 'tis in books the chief
Of all perfections to be plain and brief,
Douglas Jerrold wrote of the Bishop of Exeter: 'What a
lawyer was spoiled in that bishop! What a brain he has for
cobwebs! How he drags you along through sentence after
sentence every one a dark passage until your head swims!'
Jerrold, whose style was as bright as his mind, knew the darkness
which prevails where perspicuity is absent.
Brevity and precision are more manifest among our French
neighbours than among ourselves. The speeches made to mobs
the most hurried placards, abound in the felicities of condensation.
Europe has been agitated with communism before our time. Few
could tell you what was meant by it. Yet a century ago,
Morelly thus expressed it: 'It is the solution of this excellent
problem to find a situation in which it shall be nearly impossible
for man to be depraved or poor.' We have never on this side
the Channel exceeded the felicity of this description.
'The style of Bunyan,' says Macaulay, 'is delightful to every
reader, and invaluable as a study to every person who wishes to
obtain a wide command over the English language. The
vocabulary is the vocabulary of the common people. There is
not an expression, if we except a few terms of theology, which would
puzzle the rudest peasant. We have observed several pages
which do not contain a single word of more than two syllables.
Yet, no writer has said more exactly what he wanted to say.
For magnificence, for, pathos, for vehement exhortation, for subtle
disquisition, for every purpose of the poet, the orator, and the
divine, this homely dialect, this dialect of plain working men, was
In the first edition of Practical Grammar (by the
present writer), there was direction open to the charge of
vagueness. If remarks had to be made at the end of a
statement, it was directed that they should be neither 'too strong
nor top tedious.' But when he subsequently asked his class at
the City Mechanics' Institution at what point of effectiveness a man
might be said to be 'too strong,' it was agreed that there was error
somewhere. And the injunction not to be 'too tedious' was
found to imply that we might be tedious in some degree which
hardly seemed desirable. Then it was asked, What is strength?
Some answered power. What was power? Some said
effectiveness. But it was soon felt that these definitions
left us like Swift's definition of style, 'the use of proper words
in proper places.' What were proper words and proper places
still remained open questions. So, if power was strength, and
strength effectiveness, what was effectiveness was still unknown.
It was finally agreed that to be strong was to be just, and the
remedy of tediousness was brevity. We therefore agreed that,
'remarks just and brief was the proper expression to have used.
For what was just could never be 'too' strong, and what was brief
could never be 'too' tedious. From which we also learned that
strength of comment lay in just sentiments, and that tedium was the
tiresomeness of prolixity.
When Professor Huxley speaks or writes, his style seems the
product of an original mind dwelling in an atmosphere of realities.
His sentences are as fresh as bunches of grapes gathered the same
morning, the bloom is upon them.
The Rev. J. R. Green was one of the few writers of recent
years whose style is the envy and admiration of critics as well as
his readers. Mr Green had his own preferences as to who should
write about him. Whether Mr W. J. Loftie, 'the Historian of
London,' is one does not appear, but in the New Princetown Review,
he describes Green's ideas of style: 'A German in research, a
Frenchman in writing that was his formula; and a thorough
familiarity with French historians, and novelists too, had more to
do with the nervous, manly, graphic English of his works than is
generally supposed. I have heard him say that English history
should be written so as to be as entertaining as a French novel.
I remember one of his maxims about composition: 'Take the public,
as it were, into your confidence; write to them as if they knew as
much as you do yourself; but in your own mind assume that they know
nothing.' This is an intelligible, and therefore an
The loaded style never lasts in literature. Excellence
lies in the thought expressed, and not in ornate phrases. The
one thing the hearer or reader has to look to is the quality of the
idea sought to be conveyed to his understanding. If it comes
to him in terms which commend it or exalt it so much the better.
The idea should be presented bright and clear, all phrases which
merely glitter about it do but dazzle those who have to see it.
When the orator describes the
Wide, grey, lampless depth of time,
his simple language best depicts the impressive vision.
A column has been erected at Monte Pincio, in Rome, to the
memory of Galileo's imprisonment in the neighbouring palace of the
Medicis. It bears the following epigraph: 'The neighbouring
palace once the property of the Medicis, was the prison of Galileo-Galilei,
guilty of having seen the earth revolve round the sun.' He who
wrote this epitaph had a style worthy of Rome.
Joseph Barker was a man of slovenly power, and yet a moving
influence in his day. He found his way to the popular
understanding by a force of style all his own.
Ebenezer Elliot and other good
judges of rhetoric in Sheffield, told me Barker excelled all other
platform speakers they had known in the vigorous use of Saxon
English. He was always understood by the multitude; like Dr
Johnson (whom I do not think Barker ever read), he knew the literary
force of repeating nouns; unless a pronoun could be used near to the
noun. While the noun was in the memory of the crowd or
congregation before him he repeated the noun. The hearer,
therefore, had never to go back upon what he had heard. The
main noun being brought again before him, he always knew what the
matter in hand was. This practice gives amazing force and
clearness to popular speech. It is a mere mechanical element
of style which everyone might employ with great advantage of hearer
He who wants to know whether he has written what he wishes to
say, and as he ought to say it, let him read it aloud to himself.
Even his own voice will seem apart from him as that of an auditor.
Or let him do as the shrewd Moliere did, read his composition to his
cook, if no one else is at hand read it to any one who will listen
and the reader will at once become sensible of redundancies,
omissions, irrelevancies, and incongruities, of which his own wit
will never make him sensible. Even stupidity as an auditor
will improve style.
The text of a great writer resembles a piece of Gobelin
tapestry or some golden embroidery. Every page is from the
same loom. You know every sentence by the texture, the colour,
and the design. Some books are like calico prints, you read
them by the yard; the gay or gaudy pattern diverts or serves for
common use. In some books, insipid, glaring pieces of flimsy
meaning, without harmony or purpose stare at the reader in every
chapter. But in George Elliot's writing, for instance, every
portion is part of one well-woven fabric, strong, dainty, and
durable, and is as a wealthy garment of the mind.
All that is in the power of a student of style and who wishes
to make one for himself, are clearness, brevity, and the use of
relevant and vivid similes. 'Be clear' was the best thing
Napoleon said to his secretaries. Clearness of statement can
be acquired by anyone who has clear ideas. Brevity is almost a
mechanical attainment, since a man has only to stop when he has
written as much as his adversary would read if written to him or
would listen to if spoken to him. Meaning may be made clearer
and even enlivened by comparison. Alma-Tadema says, 'As the
sun colours the flowers, so does art colour life.' Comparisons
and similes are the sun of style and impart colour to it.
A painter or sculptor will acquire taste and finish by
studying the great masters of the twin arts; he may thus improve his
own style, but the turn and quality of his mind will remain his own.
In like manner, a rhetorician will profit by the study of great
writers. For vigorous transparency and classical grace, Grote
counted Mill's essay on Liberty to be the most striking
production of modern time. Let the student keep as clear as he
can of mean conversation or mean books. Buddha says:
'Let no one think lightly of evil, saying, in his heart, "It will
not come near me." Even by the falling of water drops a
water-pot is filled; and the fool becomes full of evil, even if he
gathers it little by little. Then let the good come near, and
little by little the heart will become full of excellence.'
A dinner cooked anyhow, a coat cut anyhow, without study of
the figure or kind of person to be clothed, would neither delight
the taste nor the sight. Style of speech means prevision and
adaptability to the occasion and to the end sought. In every
case, transparency and brevity are the permanent virtues.
Dean Swift, who saw further before him than any man in the
great day in which he lived, said he who makes two ears of corn grow
where only one grew before deserves well of mankind. The
contrary is true in literature. He who makes one sentence to
express a meaning, while another would employ two to do it, confers
a sensible benefit on all whom he addresses, and deserves the
gratitude of every reader.
WHAT HAS BEEN SAID
'WHAT am I going
to say?' is a question a speaker may usefully put to himself before
commencing his address. If he does not know, it will, in most cases,
be bad for the audience. It is the principal thing, or two or three
of the main things, which should be clear, distinct and uppermost in
the orator's mind. Whether he keeps to notes he may have made for
illustration will matter little if his distinctive objects are made
evident to the hearers. But as a speech nears its end the need for a
not less important interrogatory arises.
'What has been said? is the next question many a
speaker might put to himself before the conclusion of his speech. By
that time he ought to know what he has been talking about but may
not and it may be the audience are not quite sure themselves, so
that a brief incidental as it were, an unpretentious, but
nevertheless a salient recapitulation of the essential points of the
address will be useful. In cases where a statement made is clear,
strong, vigorous and coherent, a few impressive sentences at the
close are sufficient. If the speaker should has reason to
think his audience have not a clear conception of his subject he may
restate it clearly in a few words at the close. In no case
slavishly recapitulate all points made. Do no more than recall
the animating principles, which should be fixed in the hearer's or
reader's mind, as is sought to be done in this chapter. Let
the speaker not forget that many persons never think, though they
think they do.
The effectiveness of a speech is governed by its purpose.
That implies that a purpose must animate the orator. And for
effectiveness, unsurpassed clearness, if the speaker can attain to
it, is the main condition. How can a man be moved or guided by
what he does not see? It is like the large stone visible at
low water in a river in Cavan, on which is carved the notice 'When
this stone is out of sight it is not safe to ford the stream.'
But what traveller can read the warning when it is 'out of sight?'
The late Archbishop of York (Dr Magee) was so sensible of the
value of purpose in speech, or essay, or sermon, that he advised
young preachers when they had written a sermon and could not give a
name to it, to throw it away, decide upon a name, and write to that,
otherwise, 'a man who starts without a definite purpose is at the
mercy of his words.' Words, and not a fixed intent, have the
command of him. During the Mexican war one of the generals
said to Captain Bragg, 'The crisis has arrived fire.' The
Captain said to his lieutenant, 'You hear what the General said
"The crisis has come fire."' The lieutenant replied, 'But I
see nothing to fire at.' 'Then,' said Captain Bragg, 'fire at
the crisis.' No report states whether they hit it. But
the moral of the incident is relevant. The orator, like the
soldier, must aim at something, and have something to aim at.
In rhetoric, as well as in morals, the saying of the Mogul Sultan
Achar is true, 'I never knew a man lost on a straight road.'
'There are,' said the shrewd Archbishop Magee, 'three kinds
of preachers: First, the preachers you can't listen to.
Second, the preachers you can listen to. Third, the preachers
you can't help listening to.'
The last kind of preacher is one who acts on the wise maxim
of Vinet, and 'looks after himself as though he were somebody else'
as everyone must do who would become a successful public speaker.
He who would practise Vinet's rule must court debate and engage in
it, when he will learn that there are two sides, and sometimes more,
to every question. Not knowing this, causes many persons to be
blown about by every wind of doctrine, which confuses them when they
encounter it, because they have not known it, and, of course, have
not regarded it in forming their own judgment. Unfamiliar with
opposite views, they are afraid of them, and are unhinged by them.
William Black, the novelist, relates that it was by the merest
accident in reading the proofs of his novel of Wolfenberg, that he
discovered that the printer had made his heroine die by an 'overdose
of opinion.' More people die in this way than are imagined.
A well-informed man is never in danger from an overdose of opinion.
A prudent man seeks every kind of relevant opinion before he forms
his own. Dr Johnson, who was always for discussion, derided
the fear of rival views, saying, 'If contrariety of opinion would
poison a man, a politician would die in a day.' Contrariety of
reasoned opinion none others are entitled to attention are the
elements out of which a sound judgment is formed. He whose
mind is set on sureness as to facts will never go far wrong, nor
will he mislead others. 'If people,' says the Rev. Dr Edward
Everett Hale, 'would only stop talking where they stop knowing, half
the evils of life would come to an end.' He who takes the
trouble of personal investigation will avoid many errors. It
is when anyone relies, without suspicion or care, upon what he
learns from others, that the necessity for circumspection comes in.
Rumour seldom touches the fringe of truth. Reports are to be
distrusted and hearsay more so. Miss Edna Lyall's
Autobiography of a Slander is the most instructive little book
of the day, on careless, unintended, tragic mendacity of modern
days. Before anyone believes what he is told, he ought to ask
himself what is the teller's capacity for attentive hearing and
accuracy of memory? What opportunity had he of knowing the
truth of what he relates? What motives has he for telling it?
Is the tale-bearer a person of vigilant observation and habitual
veracity of mind? Has he prejudice, animus, or interest, which
may bias his impressions? If he merely tells what he has been
told, what is the character, qualifications and attainments as to
trustworthiness of that informant? Under what circumstance was
the thing said which he reports? Circumstances under which a
thing is said are like the context of a passage. The context
is a part of the story. Without due sifting of evidence on
which a man reasons, he may be deceived himself and, what is worse,
he may deceive all who trust to his judgment. For he who
retails as facts what he has taken no precautions to verify, and has
not warned hearer or reader to that effect, becomes himself
responsible for what error or mischievousness may be in them.
Of course, a man speaks in vain when the auditors cease to
attend to him. He must obtain and retain the ear of the
assembly, or he will fail to influence them. To this end he
must not lead attention down lanes of digressions, or it will lose
sight of the main line on which the train of argument moves.
Nor must the minds of the hearers be allowed to stumble at words
above their comprehension. Every speaker of sense will follow,
as far as the question under consideration will let him, that golden
rule of Caesar's 'To avoid an unusual word as one would a rock.'
In character, in manners, in logic, in style, the supreme excellence
George Sand tells us there is a good Goddess of Poverty.
If you have choice in Pagan deities, choose the good Goddess of
Lucidity, if there be one.
Lord Dalling, when Sir Henry Bulwer Lytton, showed a high order of
caution and precaution as a diplomatist. When trouble with
America arose on the question of 'indirect damages,' at the close of
the planter's war in defence of slavery, American statesmen drew up
a Treaty which was to close the affair, but opened it wider.
Lord Dalling found in it the terms 'growing out of,' which he said
'could hardly occur to anyone but a market gardener.' When he
had to prepare a counter treaty, he took the trouble of going over
all American Treaties, and in all important passages he only used
such words as they had used before, in the sense in which American
diplomatists had used them. To employ the language of Paley,
this 'could not be gotten over.' Common ground was found and
an international agreement came to pass.
On terms of imputation, Mr Serjeant Robinson, in his Bench
and Bar, gives curious legal opinions. He relates that an
action was brought before Mr Justice Maule by an attorney against a
defendant for calling him a thief, a rogue, and a fiend; and
as the plaintiff had no proof of any pecuniary special damage, he
had to rely on the injury that must necessarily be inflicted on him
in his professional capacity by the imputations of being a 'friend.'
In summing up, Maule said: 'As to the word thief, it is a
very ambiguous one, and does not necessarily impute what the law
considers an indictable offence. For instance, to steal a
man's wife, to steal away the affections of another, to steal a
march upon anyone, would be no crime in law. Wives, human
affections, and such things as marches are not at present the
subjects of larceny. Rogue is different; it might certainly
affect the plaintiff professionally, because a rogue ought not to be
allowed to practise as an attorney. But the same principle
does not apply to the term fiend. It may not be a
complimentary expression, but I do not think to be a fiend
disqualifies a man from being an, attorney. If the learned
counsel will point out to me any case where the Court has refused an
application to place a fiend upon the rolls, I shall be happy to
Contumelious epithets have the unpleasant tendency of
suggesting the character and associations of the user. A
cattle dealer of Berne being indicted for calling another in the
same way of business a 'swindler, a dirty dog and a convict,' the
Court held that such language was but the current expressions of the
cattle market, and below the dignity of notice.
John Addington Symonds, as remarkable for self-introspection
as for his great attainments, said 'he found a pleasure in
expression for its own sake, but he had not the inevitable touch of
the true poet, nor the unconquerable patience of the
conscious artist.' There is the genius of a great writer in
this sentence, which explains with penetration and fitness of phrase
the unregarded conditions of supreme excellence.
Paderewski is a famous master of his art, but his skill is
won and sustained by application, which is instructive to those of
indolent ambition who believe in off-hand excellence. On the
eve of Paderewski's first appearance in New York, he left his hotel
at nine at night, went direct to Steinway Hall, induced the watchman
to let him in, had the gas lighted, opened the biggest piano he
could find, and sat before it from ten at night till four the next
morning, with only the watchman for an audience. Then he went
home, and after ten hours' sleep astonished a large audience by what
most of them took to be spontaneous skill. The 'unconquerable
patience' commended by Symonds has its place in literature and
speech as well as music.
One who lately died Robert Louis Stevenson, whose praise
for mastery in writing every critic sang said: 'I can always tell
when an author does not write over and over again. His clauses
may be unmusical, his words colourless and inexpressive, yet, if the
order is perfect throughout, he will be a great writer.'
Absolute rightness of order gives new force and significance to
terms and expressions, which would be lifeless without it.
Stevenson's clauses had melody, colour and expressiveness, but the
rightness of order, which imparted to them splendour, he acquired
himself with 'infinite labour.' 
Yet the labour necessary to excellence is less than is
commonly imagined, if the aspirant confines himself to things
essential. Relevant knowledge is all that is required, and
relevance is limited. Excessive acquisition of many things is
as useless as excessive eating, and equally inconvenient for action.
There are learned persons who read themselves stupid. Hume, in
his wise way, said, 'A man's time, when well husbanded, is like a
cultivated field, of which a few acres produce more of what is
useful to life than extensive provinces, even of the richest soil,
when overrun with weeds.'
Mr Arthur W. Hutton, being for seven years a priest in the
Oratory at Birmingham, knew Cardinal Newman well. Mr Hutton
tells us that 'Dr Newman's two volumes of Catholic sermons were
written out and carefully corrected. But his spoken sermons
were, by comparison, deplorable apparently unprepared and without
plan or point; throughout he was rambling and dreary. He told
me himself, says Mr Hutton, 'that he never saw the congregation he
was addressing a fact which, I suppose, by itself shows that he
had no oratorical gift. But when he read with slow and musical
enunciation the exquisite sentences he had penned in the privacy of
his room, there was something almost magical in the effect.'
The noblest oration on oratory delivered in this century, so
far as is known to me, is that by Lord Lytton, then Sir Edward
Bulwer Lytton, on the occasion of his installation as Lord Rector of
the University of Glasgow. In one passage he said, 'Without
earnestness a man might be admired as a firework, but he would never
guide as a star.' Further, 'Though delivery no doubt is the
appropriate excellence of the mere orator, the three-fold gift of
the Parliamentary speaker is earnestness. Have but fair sense
and a competent knowledge of your subject, and then be thoroughly in
earnest to impress your own honest conviction upon others, and no
matter what your delivery, though your gestures shocked every rule
in Quinctilian, you would command the ear and influence the debates
of the most accomplished, the most fastidious, and, take it
altogether, the noblest assembly of freemen in the world.' A
man cannot be earnest at will. It is interest and conviction
which makes anyone earnest. But though earnestness on any
subject is not a quality at command, every man is in earnest about
something, and if his desire is to speak well let him confine
himself to questions in which he is sincerely concerned. A
speaker may be entertaining without sincerity, but cannot be
impressive without it.
Oratory is what Mr Goldwin Smith called it, 'the fusion of
argument and passion.' Reason animated by human interest new
truth endowed with new life.
The manifest sincerity with which Lord Lytton commended
maxims of oratory to the students of the University, served him
well. The 'outburst of long-continued cheering' which followed
its close, showed that. The brilliant sense of what he said
implied conviction as well as premeditation. An engaging
presence and physical power two important conditions of oratory
he had, but his manner was greatly against him. It showed an
entire lack of oratorical art. One who heard him said 'There
were no winning tones; his action was ungainly; he moved his arms
from his elbows; his voice was monotonous, and in the grander
passages of his address he had no better mode of indicating their
importance than by throwing himself into an extra erect attitude,
and pronouncing his words louder and with a greater drawl than
usual.' I have heard him speak in the House of Commons in the
same way, when he charmed all who listened to what he said, and were
unregarding how he said it. It was his audibility and sense
which saved him. Ever true is the saying of Buddha, who held
that 'pleasant speech and the word that is well spoken are great
For all students one rule holds good not having all the
talent you desire, nor all the genius you covet, cultivate what you
have. None know what that is till they give their powers fair
play, full play and reiterated play. Jenny Lind said, 'If I
had nothing in the world but music it would be enough. I
become a different thing when I sing different body different
soul.' But she did not know this till long after she began to
When Professor Arminius Vambιry was asked by the Empress
Eugιnie how he travelled through Asia with a defective foot, he
answered, 'Oh, your Majesty, one does not walk on his feet, but on
his tongue.' Oratory is the education of the tongue, with that
befitting accompaniment of gesture and manner which lend life to
language. All the while the merit of eloquence lies in its
use. The valid use of the art of public speaking and debate is
the protection of unfriended truth, and the vindication of
imperilled right. Poets tell us that
Ever the right comes uppermost,
And ever is justice done.
Beware how you believe that. The right never comes
'uppermost ' unless some one helps it up. 'Justice is seldom
or never done,' unless strong argument compels men to do it.
Adolphe Fischer tells us you 'cannot kill a principle,' but the
people can be killed who assert it, and that is sufficient.
The principle is suppressed for generations. Truth is said to
be 'immortal.' Let us hope it is, but I have seen its voice
silenced through the intimidation of those who vindicated it.
What is the good of dumb truth? This is why bigotry,
intolerance and persecution are so hateful. They can and do
suppress truth and right. To resist these seemingly eternal
agents of evil, all the arts of eloquence and reason are required.
Speech and pen are brilliant weapons, by which the victory over
error and injustice can be won.
The object of instruction in any art is to enable the
student, in his hour of practice of it, to be master of all his
powers. Could the minds of men be made palpable in bodily
form, few would be found complete. The arras and limbs would
be shrunken in some from want of due exercise in many, the head
would be entirely missing. As a man is himself the measure by
which he judges other men, he will form a defective estimate of
others who is defective himself.
Thus, to aim at excellence is to increase the power of
understanding others. The quality of that self-knowledge, on
which all efficiency is built, the Arabian proverb teaches us in the
saying, 'Men are Four,' which is now put into English verse. 
The man who knows not that he knows not aught
He is a fool; no light shall ever reach him.
Who knows he knows not, and would fain be taught
He is but simple; take thou him and teach him.
But whoso, knowing, knows not that he knows
He is asleep; go thou to him and wake him.
The truly wise both knows, and knows he knows
Cleave thou to him, and nevermore forsake him.
The succeeding chapter is as it were a summary of the maxims
and suggestions of preceding pages as illustrated in the
characteristics of legislative orators.
IT does not as I
have said require an orator to write of oratory else I should not
take this subject. To live in the atmosphere of eloquence is
not to acquire it. A man may be a good musical critic and be
quite unable to play like Paganini, or sing like Malibran. An
art-critic may appraise Leonardo da Vinci who could never paint the
'Last Supper.' Many have criticised 'Hamlet,' but none of them
have written a better play. He who witnesses a boat-race can
see which oarsman will come in first, though were he in the boat
himself he would come in last. For myself, I have known a
sufficient number of orators to become a connoisseur of oratory.
But though I have lived near the rose, I have not myself acquired
Two things are mistaken for oratory eloquence and splendid
speaking whereas stimulant eloquence alone is oratory, and is
known by readiness, fitness, fire and velocity of speech.
Splendid speaking is description touched with colour, as may be seen
in Huxley, Goldwin Smith, and Green, the historian. George
Dawson was a speaker of repute in his day the greatest platform
talker known in this century. He not only rewarded your
attention, he engaged it. The difference between the speaker
and the orator may be seen in this:
A good speaker is one who explains things with distinctness,
terseness, and lucidity.
An orator displays energy, compression, and passion.
The object of the speaker is to give information the object
of the orator is to incite to action. The speaker illumines
the understanding the orator impels and directs the passions.
The speaker is a guide, the orator is a master. A speech is
light an oration is force. Europe heard it in Gambetta's
voice of storm, thunder, and fire. The second Sir Robert
Peel's voice stands next in my mind for volcanic force, summoning
attention and holding it. He who considers what the qualities
of the public speaker are, will better understand what the qualities
of the orator are. Pitt in the last century, and Chamberlain
in this, are notable examples of commanding speakers. Romilly,
in his Dialogue with Percival, says 'Pitt, who could speak
fluently three hours together, came about us like the tide along the
Lancashire sands, always shallow, but always just high enough to
drown us.' Chamberlain who singularly resembles Pitt in
personal features, is not 'shallow' save intermittently, but he has
Pitt's overcomingness in his clearness and directness, lacking
Pitt's commanding voice and dignity of gesture. I was present
a few years ago in an assembly at which Mr Chamberlain spoke, as did
also several other distinguished persons. A stranger who knew
none of them would say that Mr Chamberlain was the most gentlemanly
speaker of them all, save Mr Gladstone, in readiness,
undemonstrativeness, in resolution of tone and directness of
expression; displaying not the force of passion, but the force of
will, which are characteristics of the gentlemanly speaking, I go no
further. Other qualities of the gentlemanly manner are
considerate courtesy, which is modest before genius, and which never
wounds the susceptibility of the humblest by contemptuousness or
disparagement attainments which do not always accompany gifts of
The good speaker is the Light-giver. I once asked the
late John Stuart Mill as to the qualities of the late Lord Derby,
then Lord Stanley; he said, 'Lord Stanley is the only young nobleman
I know who thinks it necessary to give reasons for the opinions he
holds.' Logic is the light of speech. John Arthur
Roebuck was the most mathematical speaker in Parliament in his time.
He knew that the shortest distance between one point and another was
a straight line, and he took it. Sitting at his table one day,
he told me what he was going to say at Salisbury, where, at the
Bishop's request, he was to deliver prizes to students. A
fortnight later, I read a report of his speech in the Times,
which, so far as I remembered, was word for word what he had said to
me. The reason was that the words of a perfect statement are
not changeable. If any term can be changed for the better it
means that a wrong word has been used. Thus, to a trained
mind, understanding is in place of memory. The chosen words
recur to the speaker because they are inevitable; none others will
express the sense intended.
John Stuart Mill was a speaker of similar quality. He
had principles, which guide the politician (as the Pole star does
the mariner) through the tumultuous sea of party questions, which to
other minds are trackless. A principle is a magnet which draws
particles of sense, like steel, from all quarters to itself.
He had also promptness in repartee, which always commands admiration
in Parliament. When Lord Cranbrook, then Mr Gathorne Hardy,
whom Mr Justin M'Carthy describes as 'fluent as the sand in an
hour-glass, and stirring as the roll of a drum but often as dry as
the sand and empty as the drum' when he (Mr Hardy) taunted Mr Mill
with saying that the Tories were the 'stupid party,' Mr Mill at once
rejoined: 'The honourable member misunderstands me. I never
said that every Tory was stupid what I said was, that if a man was
stupid he was sure to be a Tory.'
Lord Cranbrook was a type of the explosive speaker. His
father was an ironmaster, and Lord Cranbrook always spoke like a
blast furnace. He produced common-places red hot, and spoke
them with a red face, as I have often seen him. He would have
been leader of the House when his party was in power but for his
Lord Sherbrooke, when Mr Lowe, displayed a classical
clearness and brightness of speech. When he was contemptuous
his sentences had teeth in them, which left their mark upon the
mind. In the grey of a morning in 1868, when the Liberals had
deserted Mr Gladstone, and left him with only a majority of five on
a question of State, Mr Gladstone, with his usual high spirit, at
once resigned. The alarmed deserters thought they might
reassure him by a vote of confidence in him, and as Mr Lowe emerged
into the lobby they asked his opinion of the idea. His answer
was, 'I think, gentlemen, that you cannot unpull a man's nose,'
which ended that project.
Lord Derby was not a fluent speaker, but he excelled in
vigorous lucidity. The hearer came to see exactly what Lord
Derby saw, and what otherwise he would not see the common-sense of
a contested question, which only few persons ever do perceive.
In ease, in grace, in silvery tones, in the confidence he
created that he could say, and continue to say, whatever he willed
to say, no speaker, save one, in his parliamentary days exceeded
Lord Westbury had in him the making of a Lord Chancellor, of
the quality of Lord Bacon. All the details of the most
complicated subject lay open before his mind, in clear order.
Never from a form so lusty and bucolic in appearance did words
proceed so low, so continuous, so pellucid, so keen, and so
unerring. His sentences were as clear cut as though turned out
of one of Sharp and Roberts' lathes. I once heard him plead a
case, when the court adjourned for lunch as he arrived at the word
sesquipedalian. He had got only 'sesqui' pronounced.
When the court returned he went on with 'pedalian' as though no
interruption had occurred. He never lost the continuity of his
argument. In reply in the House of Lords to the Bishop of
Oxford, then unfairly known as 'Soapy Sam,' Lord Westbury remarked,
'I will now answer the saponaceous oratory of the right reverend
Of all the great speakers of our time none have been more
instructive or more self-possessed than Cobden. He was the
greatest master of statement in Parliament or on the platform.
Demands of agitation left him too little time to predetermine what
he would say, but he determined it while he was saying it.
Like Bunyan who saw principles like men walking in the streets
so Cobden saw sentences as palpable things. He saw his words
in the air before him as they left his lips. If he had put a
proposition in terms redundant he restated it with retrenchment
that it might be more clearly seen. If the terms used were too
brief he supplied those lacking lest his argument might be
incomplete. If a phrase went too far he qualified it, so that
when he left it ignorance could not misunderstand his meaning, nor
malignity pervert it. When it was proposed in the House of
Commons to go to war with America to procure cotton, so that our
Lancashire weavers might not starve, Mr Cobden answered to the
effect that war is not proposed by any honourable members from
hatred to the American people no one professes that; nor from love
of war no one had the inhumanity to avow that. The
contention is that war would save us expense in supporting our
unemployed weaver population by bringing cotton from the South.
'Since economy is the reason,' said Cobden, 'it might be well to
observe that it would be far cheaper to feed all our unemployed
people on turtle soup and champagne than go to war for cotton.'
It would be better for the weavers, and neither make bad blood
between kindred nor shed good blood in fratricidal battle.
Such is good public speaking whose qualities are that it
gives light, information, and direction without wasting time by
prolixity or perplexing the public understanding by ambiguity, or
depraving the public ear by verbiage.
The orator is of a different order. He is a speaker
inspired by purpose and passion. He has a torrid fervour
energy, action the power of seeing the essential parts of his
subject, velocity and fitness of expression, presenting an impelling
argument with a directness that cannot be mistaken, and a force that
cannot be evaded. Sometimes a single burst of scorn is a
speech, as when Henry Clay, in his abolition days, made the famous
retort to the slave-owners who tried to drown his voice by hisses,
by exclaiming, 'That is the sound you hear when the waters of truth
drop upon the fires of hell.'
There are six names in the memory of most persons which
illustrate the characteristics of parliamentary oratory Shiel,
O'Connell, Beaconsfield, Cowen, Bright and Gladstone.
Shiel was a small man with a small voice, two disadvantages
which only genius can cancel. He had a voice which squealed,
but his sentences had a flame in them which scorched the adversary
they touched. At other times, as Hawthorne said, 'He spoke
with a strange wild sound like a language half blown away by the
wind.' Shiel had Irish fervour of speech and French vivacity
of action. There may be those who remember seeing Stella Colas
as Juliet, in the garden scene with Romeo, throw herself forward as
though she would fall out of the window; so Shiel threw his body
across the table of the House of Commons in uttering his famous
reply to the Duke of Wellington, who had said the Irish were aliens
in race, blood and religion. His accents were in his hair, his
eyes, in his arms, in every limb. He was alive all over, and
from this confluence of action proceeded a piercing stream of
sentences of scorn and fire.
O'Connell had the three greatest qualities of an orator, (i)
a commanding figure his words came from above you; (2) a voice
which could be heard by everyone, without which the entire audience
cannot be moved; (3) the sagacity to say things which most
interested those who heard them. O'Connell, besides a majestic
stature, had a three-fold voice: one of persuasiveness in the law
court, one of dignity in Parliament, another of resounding raciness
on the platform. He told us at a meeting in London how the
birth-rate in Dublin had decreased 5000 a year for four years,
adding, 'I charge the British Government with the murder of those
20,000 infants who never were born.' He saw nothing absurd in
it, nor under his magical voice did his hearers, until the next day.
An Irish schoolmaster, of Birmingham, who was present, was more
self-possessed. Mr Sam Timmins told me that the discerning
schoolman prodded a friend near him and said, 'That is worthy of my
Addressing the Newhall Hill meeting in Birmingham, at which
200,000 persons were computed to be present, O'Connell observed a
compact mass of 400 women from Rowley Regis, who had marched to
Birmingham in the early morning. Grim and stalwart, with lusty
arms, they maintained their position against the pressure of the
vast throng. O'Connell's quick eye rested upon them for a
moment and began his oration, exclaiming, 'Surrounded as I am by the
fair, the gentle, and the good.' They might be 'good' the
Black Country industries did not make women 'fair,' and had they
been 'gentle' they had never been in that turbulent throng, but the
intrepid compliment told. The women cheered, and cheered
afterward everything he said. The men cheered because the
women did, and the crowd behind cheered because those before them
cheered, and so the fortune of the great oration was made.
Anyone can read how it was done in the first Lord Lytton's New
Timon, where he says:
Once to my sight the giant thus was given,
Walled by wide air and roofed by boundless heaven.
Beneath his feet the human ocean lay,
And wave on wave flowed into space away.
Methought no clarion could have sent its sound
Even to the centre of the hosts around;
And as I thought arose the sonorous swell,
As from church tower swings the silver bell.
Aloft and clear, from airy tide to tide
It glided, easy as a bird may glide,
To the last verge of that vast audience sent.
It played with each wild passion as it went.
No member of Parliament in my time won in so short a time the
reputation of an orator as
Joseph Cowan. This came to pass by his speech in the House
of Commons on the Bill for giving the title of Empress to the Queen.
The house, impatient for the vote, was filled with cries of 'Divide,
divide,' when he rose for the first time to address it. All
that could be seen was his dark, luminous eye, for his stature is
short; all that could be heard was a new voice of manifestly honest
tone. His argument was historical, compact, brief, in which
three things were said never before or since heard in that House.
He spoke of the Prince Napoleon as 'the son of a usurper;' he said
'the divine right of kings was killed on the scaffold with Charles
I.;' and declared that 'the superstition of royalty had never taken
deep hold on the people of this country.' All this was unusual
and bold. Of all the sentences none were weak, and their
impetuous rush never ceased until the end and Mr Cowen acquired
the fame of an orator in a single night.
If regard be had to the triumphs of public speaking, Lord
Beaconsfield might be described as the greatest orator of our time.
Race, religion, fortune, and character were against him but he had
the instinct and art of expression, and was the only man in Europe
who had climbed on phrases to power. He did not study
principles he studied men, whom he labelled with disabling phrases
as a professor would a plant, a shell, or a bird. His voice
was an organ of policy, not of feeling. He might have been
sincere in a way of his own but he never gave the impression, even
by accident, that he believed what he said. He was no more
English in his mind than Napoleon the Corsican was French, whom
Madame de Stael said was 'a man of unknown nature.' Disraeli
was as distinct in his ideas as though he belonged to another world.
But he understood this world; he influenced men like a master.
He advanced himself as only the unfriended can by being of service
to his employers or his party. He had audacity and his courage
never forsook him. His ambition was to dazzle men. He
bewildered others, but never lost himself. Once when he was
overcome, not by what he felt but from what he had taken, he could
not stand at the Treasury table without clutching it, when he
exclaimed that 'he was thankful there was a table between him and Mr
Gladstone, or that right honourable and impetuous gentleman might
spring up and attack him personally.' All he meant was that he
might, but for the table, fall into the- arms of his adversary.
Thus he gave the public to believe that he needed protection, when
all he needed was support. His merit was that he introduced
pleasantry into politics. His wit stood him in the place of
principle. He touched public affairs with a light hand; and
being without prejudices or preferences, he often stated with
admirable force the case to which he was opposed, when it did not
interfere with the purpose in hand. As Cobden once said of
Palmerston, he was entirely impartial, he had no bias not even
towards the truth.
Disraeli's oratory was based on a Jewish craving for effect,
an instinct of speech, and early knowledge of himself. In
Vivian Grey he described himself as he always remained
gracious to those who aided his ambition, vindictive to any who
opposed him. Mr Stansfeld, who had no mean power of his own,
early expressed in Parliament that contempt for Disraelian
principles, which Lord Salisbury when Viscount Cranbourne
published a Review to expose. After Stansfeld's speech,
Disraeli said to a friend, 'I will do for that educated mechanic;' a
well-chosen phrase of hatred and malice. Soon after, he
commenced nightly attacks on Stansfeld, as a friend of Mazzini,
saying there was an underground passage between Thurloe Square,
where Mazzini visited Stansfeld, and the Treasury bench on which
Stansfeld then sat. This continued until ended by Bernal
Osborne, with his Jewish wit, often as effective as Disraeli's, but
with a generous vein in it. Sir Richard Strachey, whose
elongated visage was blue, rendered so by some gunpowder explosion,
abetted the attack. After this had gone on for a month,
Osborne broke in, 'Mr Speaker, I think this farce has gone on long
enough. Here, every night towards twelve o'clock, in stalks
the honourable member for Norwich, like a tragedy king, with his
dagger and his poisoned bowl; and he not only acts the character, he
looks it.' This hit at Sir Richard's blue visage extinguished
him in ridicule and laughter. He probably disposed of his
dagger and bowl in Wardour Street, for it no more appeared in the
House. Thus wit succeeded where reason had failed.
Whoever stood in Disraeli's way he stabbed with words as a bravo
would with a dagger. Lord Beaconsfield was the most polished
gladiator Parliament has known since the days of Canning, and he
would have been the first of orators had he cared for anything save
the effect of it on his own fortunes.
We now turn to him whom Mr Beresford Hope described as the
'White Lion of Birmingham' Mr Bright, who had the voice of an
organ, at once strong and harmonious, which swelled but never
screeched. A resolute face, and a resolute tone, gave him a
commanding manner; this, united to a stately way of thinking, gave
him ascendency in oratory. Disregarding details, he puts the
relevance of a question so strongly that it was difficult to express
in other words the same idea with equal force. As I have said
elsewhere, take this passage in one of Bright's orations, in which
you see his passion for justice and his method of speech. He
'I believe there is no permanent greatness in a nation, except it be
based on morality. I do not care for military greatness or
military renown; I care for the condition of the people among whom I
live. There is no man in England less likely to speak
irreverently of the crown and monarchy of England than I am; but
crowns, coronets, mitres, military displays, pomp of war, wide
colonies and a huge empire, are, in my view, all trifles light as
air, and not worth considering unless with them you can have a fair
share of comfort, contentment, and happiness among the great body of
the people. Palaces, baronial castles, great halls and stately
mansions do not make a nation. The nation in every country
dwells in the cottage.'
Here is the Homeric trend of simplicity and power, not among
metaphysical abstractions (which flit before the mind like shadows)
but among men and things, palpable to every one, and touching living
interests. But let anyone turn to the record of Mr Bright's
speeches in the Anti-Corn Laws days, and compare the recurrence of
famous figures of speech thirty years later, and he will see that
the crude form of the earlier day and the finished expression of
later years, is as different as the flint-headed spear of the Mongol
from the rapier of Toledo. A famous statue is not cut out of
the first block the sculptor lays his hands upon, nor is an oration
perfected except by many efforts.
In the clearness and melody of a far-reaching voice, in
spontaneity of expression, in fertility of thought, begotten by the
subject while speaking upon it in action animated by the sense of
mastery and conviction, Mr Gladstone excels all living orators.
He poises himself on words as an eagle poises himself in the air.
When the Opposition speakers in Parliament have unexpectedly
collapsed, Mr Gladstone (when leader of the House) is suddenly
called upon by the Speaker to close the debate. To reply at
once on what has not been said, as well as upon what has, requires
consideration. I have heard Mr Gladstone on such occasions
speak for several minutes without saying anything. What you
hear is a well-woven texture of articulation an unbroken
continuity of argumentative mist an almost infinite and coherent
extension of glittering vapour. The circumambient air is thick
with words, all connected with nothing. An Italian poet has
described exactly what takes place:
I certainly beheld (nor do suppose
My sight deceived me aught) that in the air,
A fume or vapour thin and subtle rose,
And by the wind began revolving there:
Thence to the topmost clouds its sprays it throws,
But of a substance so exceeding rare,
That scarce the naked eye its form could see;
It seemed as like the clouds composed to be.
All at once the cloud is cleared away with a sudden gesture
and you hear the words 'Mr Speaker.' The orator then has made
up his mind as to the scope of his reply, and then follows a stream
of sentences direct, compact, and pungent crisp as the curling
wave, definite as the bullet. Mr Gladstone is the greatest
orator of our time, who can be serious and humorous, earnest without
being heavy, vehement without imputation a very rare attainment.
In all the hurricane of personalities, at one time blown upon him
from every quarter, only one charge of imputation was brought
against Mr Gladstone, and that was that he had described an opponent
as a 'certain' person. It is not giving a political but a
rhetorical opinion to say that there is no example on record of any
speaker of Mr Gladstone's eminence who has displayed his abstinence
from personal imputation the easiest and most popular of all the
arts of oratory. Invective relieves the speaker of the trouble
of proof, and delights the auditor who ceases to think of the
question at issue, and does not know that it is withdrawn from his
mind. Outraged partisans then appear upon the scene and
Of the two great orators of whom I have spoken Mr Gladstone
has the subtler reason Mr Bright had the stronger fire. Mr
Gladstone is moved by a sense of duty, which seeks for reasons and
waits for occasions. Mr Bright was incited by a sense of
justice, which is impetuous and acts from indignation. Mr
Bright's eloquence was more volcanic and imposing; Mr Gladstone's
more resembles lightning greater in vividness, and revealing under
its flashes a greater extent of hidden country. Mr Bright
seemed to take just the quantity of words upon the platform which he
required, and, like parts of a well-fitting structure, each word
fell into its place as the mighty oration proceeded. With Mr
Gladstone it is as though he took upon the platform with him vast
piles of the English language, from which he takes, with a swift
hand, whatever he requires for the purpose of the moment; words of
strength, or beauty, or brightness of light, or shade, or force,
until each passage is perfect. When a sentence is begun, you
cannot always foresee how Mr Gladstone will end it. But the
great artist never fails. His eye sees all the while the
fitting word lying by his side, and he dashes it in with the
spontaneity of a master, and light is diffused all over the
argument, as in a picture which has just received the final touch of
genius. That is Parliamentary oratory. The audience is
the most cultivated and critical in the world. The finish
which is applauded in the Senate would seem tameness on the
In that arena where distinction won reaches to posterity,
there are discerning plaudits for those felicities of speech which
Tennyson describes in Virgil:
Landscape-lover, lord of language, more than he that
Works and Days,
All the chosen coin of fancy flashing out from many a
Thou that singest wheat and woodland, tilth and
vineyard, hive and
horse and herd.
All the charm of all the Muses often flowering in a
The qualities of the noblest style are all comprised in this
splendid praise. But the House of Commons, though fastidious,
is not foolish neither is it impatient to do right; as a rule, it
is not impatient to do anything, but it likes to know what it is
doing. It thinks with Mark Antony
Who tells me
Tho' in the tale lie death,
I hear him as he flattered.
And the working-class member who, like Mr Burt, is diffident
without being afraid and intelligent without being presumptuous, may
gain the ear of the House. It may be charmed by a picturesque
phrase, as it was by the Irish member who praised the whisky of his
country above all other 'because it went down the throat like a
torchlight procession.' The House gives ear to an honest
voice. There are some members of Parliament in whose voice
there is an accent of petty larceny. But he who, speaking with
sincerity of manner, gives information upon subjects which he knows
and is known to know, he is listened to, however unpretending or
vernacular may be the language in which he tells his story.
I omit many high names and many illustrations of the
distinction other speakers and orators have attained which would
interest the readers as much as those I have cited. I omit
them lest by too great variety I distract attention from the nature
of oratory, which it is my duty to make clear and keep clear in the
reader's mind. Most of us hope that the English Parliament may
maintain its ascendency as the first political assembly in the
world. Most of us hope that its members will always so comport
themselves in dignity and excellence as to challenge the imitation
of public men. Whatever time may be given to increase public
interest in the high character of Parliament, or inspire any who may
go there with the desire to sustain it, is of the nature of
One merit always remains to Parliament. What a man says
is more regarded than how he says it. Landor warned one,
inattentive to this, who had brilliance without purpose:
Here lies our honest friend, Sam Parr,
A better man than most men are.
So learned, he could well dispense
Sometimes with merely common-sense;
So voluble, so eloquent,
You little heeded what he meant.
The speaker and the orator alike must mean something, and
something distinctive. All men cannot be orators, but every
man will speak better and write better by knowing the qualities
which go to make the orator. Lord Brougham defined oratory in
the sense in which he himself excelled in it, as the power of
seeing, when you begin a sentence, all through it, and of knowing at
the opening what the end is to be.
Protracted and parenthetical as Brougham's sentences often
were, there was never confusion in them; they always terminated
intelligibly. The parenthesis, when limited and direct, is a
sign of mastery, showing that the speaker never looses sight of his
subject. Concentration and directness make the force of
speech. Too many objects presented to the mind prevent the
points essential being seen. Too much said means something
relevant hidden by a crowd of words, which essential something
should stand distinct, clear, open, alone, and endowed with the
glory of space. Economy in words, stopping at sufficiency,
implies mastery of statement. Captain Cuttle said 'his power
to put his hands on a few words whenever he wanted them came from
his not wasting them as some do.' Walter Savage Landor, who
himself equalled Plutarch in the vigour which comes of terseness,
'Phocion conquered with few soldiers, and he convinced with few
words. I know not what better description I could give you
either of a great captain or a great orator.'