THERE seems to be an idea in England, which prevails with earnestness and enthusiasm throughout the length and breadth of the island, that the United States are the Atlantis of
lecturers; and that when any one has earned or acquired a modest portion of fame or notoriety, there remains for him but a tour through American cities lecturing upon American platforms. It is probably not expected that a third-rate novelist, for example, will be acknowledged as a first-rate novelist after his return and by reason of his absence. But it is beyond all question expected that his exchequer will be replenished, and that lodgings and clubs will be attainable thereafter, which had been only sighed for theretofore.
W. C. Brownell.
American journalist and critic.
It would be an anomaly certainly if there were not some foundation for this evidently widespread and as evidently fatuitous confidence. But it is hardly less an anomaly that this foundation should seem to bear an inverse proportion to the structure which has been built upon it. And that it does bear this inverse proportion is a matter not of conjecture at all, but of the last two or three winters' history. It consists simply of what precedent may be considered to have been established by the meagre success of the one and the abundant success of another English lecturer in the United States.
When a dozen years or more ago Thackeray had written the sketches which gave him popularity as a wit, and the book which above all his others brought him fame as a creator, and had, quite beyond the expectation of his friends and himself, "succeeded" as a popular lecturer in his own country, lie came to the United States, and barely escaped "failing" here. And when, long after the "American Notes" had ceased to be remembered, their author revisited this country, where he had made his name as familiar in every household as it was in England, the persons who were turned away disappointed from the doors of his readings were more numerous than those who gained admittance. The newspapers were full of what they called "ovations," and any one who "had not heard Dickens" was curiously viewed by the society of the day as lacking in some quality partly moral and partly mental. This success was
genuine; and it was beyond all precedent enormous. But it was evidently attributed on the other side of the water to causes very different from the true causes. It was manifestly considered that
Mr. Dickens owed his successful American tour to two
facts: first, that he was a Briton, and second, that his audiences were American. Stated in this way, these facts do not seem to afford a very good basis for generalization both wide and exact. But the contrary opinion prevailed very extensively, and very unworthy Elishas, imagining themselves clothed upon with the mantle of this Elijah, soared upon the east wind into our affrighted lyceum atmosphere, and there burst without much brilliancy and went out without much flickering.
Thackeray is reported to have said of Carlyle, after a remark which Carlyle's admirers will not consider complimentary, but will know how to appreciate, "But he wouldn't go around the country exhibiting himself for so much a night, as I am doing. "One can't help fancying that both Thackeray and Dickens understood very well that they were simply exhibiting themselves to American
audiences—much as the Siamese twins must have realized the nature of the process which brought them competence. One can't help fancying that neither of these gentlemen regarded his lecturing career as peculiarly creditable, or indeed as anything but a good way to earn not only a livelihood but something more. Still it would not be exactly
fair—perhaps it never is exactly fair—to prescribe to literary creators the governing rules by which their literary creations are guided. And so, when
Mr. Edmund Yates, whose heroes are influenced not at all by the motive of acquiring dollars, but solely by the motive of acquiring fame, concluded his arrangements with the American Literary Bureau, and began his American tour, it would be no more than
just to recognize that Mr. Yates undertook his venture simply as a pecuniary speculation.
It is in this light precisely that Mr. Yates, and the many English gentlemen who like him followed in the footsteps of
Mr. Dickens, should be
judged; and judged in this light, it is a little astonishing how thin the pretensions of
Mr. Yates and his English friends appear. Mr. Yates may be imagined to have set himself down and counted the cost of his undertaking
beforehand; in which event his soliloquy should have run somewhat as follows: "In a certain light I have been before the British public for a number of years, and in a somewhat dimmer light before the American public for a shorter period. I first brought myself into notice by writing a personal sketch of
Mr. Thackeray at a time when anything said about him was sure of being read by his hosts of friends and likewise by his many enemies. What I wrote the former called an uncivil lampoon and the latter a piece of youthful folly. At all events, it gave me, through a quarrel which it caused between Thackeray and Dickens, not a little notoriety. That notoriety has increased with nearly everything I have done. I have written a goodly number of candidly speaking third-rate novels, which have been fairly remunerative here, and fairly read in America. So as regards the first lyceum
requisite—notoriety—I am not badly prepared to lecture. As for subjects, my acquaintance with Dickens
will assuredly furnish me with an endless theme before a people which has calmly endured almost a year of
Mr. James T. Fields's recollections of the same author; and as a literary man I can certainly be presumed to know all about the peculiarities, professional and personal, of the literary men of the period. The hollowness of this presumption, speaking candidly again, no one realizes better than I do. But American audiences are notoriously not wise, and I can say that Charles Reade looks like a farmer, and that Bulwer was very aristocratic in his tastes, and that Collins 'lays himself out,' in American vernacular, on his
plots; and I can mention my quarrel with Thackeray with graceful contrition, and speak of places which he frequented and I have visited. Crowded into one lecture, or spread out rather over one lecture, that ought to 'take,' in American vernacular again. Then manifestly I can talk about Hood, and, having the opportunity of selection, about as well probably as many others who have done the same thing. My experience as a Parliament reporter suggests another theme,
and—on the whole, I think I'll try it." If
Mr. Yates had been a candid man, this is the way in which he would have arrived at a determination to lecture to American audiences. And philosophizing thus, he would have been mistaken in only one
point—the point which Mr. Yates and his English brethren are wont to take for granted a trifle too
easily—the supposed fondness of the average American audience for foreign if inferior
wares—disguised, in these gentlemen's view, it may be, but very thinly disguised, as "lack of discrimination," discernment, appreciation, or that quality which leads to the detection of and disgustful and indignant turning away from pinchbeck and tawdry display and all nonsense and superficiality, whether exposed for sale from the lyceum platform or from any other stand.
Mr. Yates found out his mistake very quickly, it is to be presumed. It is to be presumed, too, that his advice to his literary countrymen meditating a similar experiment was either dissuasive or malicious.
But apparently Mr. Yates's advice was not sought. Success was deemed too well assured. So a troop of literary gentlemen followed rather rapidly in
Mr. Yates's footsteps. Mr. George Macdonald was closest on his heels. And it is only fair to say that
Mr. Macdonald's claims upon lyceum audiences were to those of his predecessor as sunlight unto moonlight. He had not only endeared himself to a very large portion of novel-readers years ago, but had won most cordial commendation from critics who are ordinarily censors. The sturdy manliness and vigorous morals, and quiet
humour and peacefulness, which illuminate the pages of "Robert Falconer" and the "Annals of a Quiet
Neighbourhood," so remote from the flippancy which contemporary novelists had imported from France, and called freshness, so remote too from the other extreme of
dullness which is felt to threaten "Annals" of any sort of quiet neighbourhood—a complete avoidance of both these blemishes, while truthfully and hopefully lighting up the darkest struggles and deepest emotions of not Scotch nature or English nature only, but of human nature as
well—all this was not only true, but known to be true by nearly every novel-reader in
America; by everybody who could by any chance be relied upon to make an atom of a lyceum audience. And then, aside from his literary nearness to them,
Mr. Macdonald was in a sort endeared to Americans by qualities not at all literary, but entirely personal. The story of his struggles, toils, earnestness, the high standards by which he measured himself and others, his misfortunes, and his bravery in every kind of moral
conflict—all served in a sort to endear him to many if not to most of the readers of his books.
But Mr. Macdonald, it need not be said, was not brilliantly successful as a lecturer. Those who remember his lecture on Burns are not likely to forget that whatever were his qualifications for writing books, they were not identical with his powers as a lecturer, and that whatever merits of any kind he possessed, they were not made prominent, if at all apparent, on the platform. Not a person in the audience on that occasion probably got a better idea of Burns than that he before possessed. Neither was there much amusement in the "Sermon to Young Men" which
Mr. Macdonald preached at that time. It is not every lyceum audience which is pleased at the substitution of religious wares which it did not seek for literary wares which it did seek and which it had some sort of right to expect. And this is precisely what
Mr. Macdonald did. Apparently he did it because he considered that his mission was not so much literature as religion, and that for lyceum purposes one was as fit as the other. This last is of course untrue, and
Mr. Macdonald's failure to perceive that it is untrue is what may be called Mr. Macdonald's chief bar to success. To be sure there were other bars to his
success: an absence of grace, a bad arrangement, a hesitating delivery; a sort of uncouthness, which could not be confounded with his Scotch accent a gaunt presence, with none of the merits of elocution or other lyceum requisites which are sometimes made to do service as cloaks for other
defects—any of these almost fatal, perhaps, but none so completely fatal as the sermonizing tendency of his every sentence. People who had asked for something about Burns got in return a discourse for the most part on purity and
temperance—for how many such discourses has
poor Burns furnished the text! —and went away, the charitably disposed soliloquizing, doubtless, "What a big heart the man
has!" but no one much wiser or much amused. Mr. Macdonald may be considered to have found out for himself what beyond a doubt his hearers did, and what it is hard to think he did not all along
suspect—that there was nothing of the lecturer in him.
With quite other credentials from the rest of these gentlemen, Mr. James Anthony Froude came here to
lecture; and if Mr. Froude is to be believed, he came here for quite other ends. Briefly, he came preceded by a very great and very splendid reputation, and came not from pecuniary, but from missionary motives.
It would not be strictly true to say that Mr. Froude's course of lectures was a complete failure, but it would be strictly untrue to say that it was a moderate success. As everybody will remember, the passionate and plausible young Dominican father Tom Burke was lecturing or preaching on saintly and secular subjects all over the country at the time.
And partly from his own over-boiling enthusiasm for Erin, and partly egged on
not only by his constituency of cooks and cabmen, but his friends of family, he
was induced to put on the gloves with Mr. Froude. The contest was ostensibly a friendly one, as such contests are always
called; but the very partial success which attended Mr. Froude's lecturing venture may not unfairly be ascribed to the earnestness and even bitterness of it.
In other words, it added the interest of discussion to what even Mr. Froude's admirers must admit was not a juicy
subject; and when the newspapers took sides with some sharpness, and into a repetition of his lecture on O'Connell
Mr. Wendell Phillips infiltrated his view of British rule in Ireland, people's curiosity was aroused to a certain extent. But even then the Irishman drew very much larger if not so respectable audiences, and what there was worth calling excitement was at no time at fever heat, nor did it last
long; and when it subsided, Mr. Froude subsided too, so to speak, and, giving up the hope of converting America to an impartially English view of British atrocities in Ireland, went home with his course unfinished. The reasons for the brevity and the episodical nature of the brilliant historian's success are not far to seek. An audience, once satisfied with a look at a renowned historian, does not go again to hear him lecture if it makes up its mind that he is only a great historian and not at all a great lecturer.
Mr. Froude read his missionary lectures very rapidly and with no oratorical eloquence. The stenographers grumbled at the hurried and monotonous delivery, but their reports were good enough to make people prefer reading them to listening to the lectures. Even then they had no popularity.
They were elaborations of the most unpopular portion of Mr. Froude's
History—absolutely the worst portion he could have chosen to elaborate in a popular lecture series.
Probably their readers were fewer than Mr. Froude, disappointed as he acknowledged himself, would care to think.
Their subject was a special subject dealing with a history which all Mr. Froude's brilliancy could not make entertaining to more than a certain
class; and unfortunately for Mr. Froude, that class was not numerically important.
Long before the late Charles Kingsley thought of lecturing to Americans, Americans had been delighted and instructed by his books. Scarce a college student but had puzzled his professor with the metaphysics of Raphael Aben Ezra in the famous chapter of "Hypatia." Scarce a family library whose shelves did not contain well-thumbed copies of "Alton Locke" and "Sir Amyas Leigh," and the shorter sketches of
Mr. Kingsley. His discussions with Dr. Newman, and the general understanding that perhaps more than any other English writer he represented the conservative ground in the controversies between the scientists and the
religionists—endeavoured, that is to say, to find a foothold which men who were extremists on neither side could occupy in common with conscientiousness and
intelligence—all these things, if they did not endear
Mr. Kingsley to them, certainly commanded for him the respect and attention of educated Americans. Probably his recent death was lamented here almost if not quite as much as it was by the people among whom he lived and
Whatever Mr. Kingsley might write was certain of finding an American audience, not only intelligent and discerning but large. But this statement does not at all conflict with the statement that the American audiences which cared to hear
Mr. Kingsley lecture were not large enough to insure the financial success of his course, nor discerning enough to enhance his reputation. In other words, as it has all along been insisted, a writer of fame and a lecturer of reputation are not
always—as a matter of fact it might be said not
often—the same, and qualifications are needed in the lecturer quite other than those which insure the writer's
success; and these qualifications, it will not be strenuously denied, the late
Mr. Kingsley did not possess. His lectures were uttered in a kind of cathedral chant which made a humorously exaggerative person suspect him of the ritualistic and reprehensible practice of intonation, and of apparent absence of mind sufficient to mistake the lyceum audience for a church congregation. In no sense of the word was he an orator, which alone would be enough to explain his want of the success which, this apart, his admirers might have expected for him. Doubtless Canon Kingsley never claimed to be an orator. In that event it is only fair to say he did not realize the importance of oratory to a successful lecturer. But in the lectures themselves there was that which, from its constant iteration, has become unattractive to American ears when coming from Anglican mouths. It would be invidious and, unless a very strict standard were applied, unjust to call it conscious flattery on the part of the late
Mr. Kingsley. Very likely Mr. Kingsley was entirely sincere, and considered it a courteous compliment. Doubtless there is reason to attribute his expression of a desire to see some American entombed in Westminster Abbey to the same sincere fraternal regard which made it possible for Thackeray to look as he did upon the American Revolution, and to express the views he did so constantly and with so much admiration concerning the character of Washington. Nevertheless there did seem to be a difference between the kindliness of Kingsley
and the kindliness of Thackeray for American men and American institutions. Upon the whole, that of the former was not so
discriminating; very likely, to be sure, because no occasion occurred for Mr. Kingsley to offer his sincere opinions on the other and less favourable
side—no opportunity to write such a letter, for instance, as the famous epistles inscribed to Messrs. Broadway, Battery & Co., bankers. Still the rapture with which his listeners were led to infer the whole British empire would have looked upon a Westminster mural tablet celebrating the virtues of some American did seem somewhat overestimated. Neither was it quite possible to see how eyes that have beheld real cathedrals should look with delight upon the church architecture of New York. In his lecture on Westminster Abbey
Mr. Kingsley not only went so far as this, but went to the length of singling out as worthy of special admiration the architecture of Grace Church. Now, despite the very patent fact, which has been quite exultantly proclaimed by hostile and quite humbly acknowledged by friendly critics, that the church architecture of New York is something very near absolute. Poverty so far as the expression of either thought or beauty is concerned, there are churches here or hereabouts which are goodly to behold. But it is very certain that Grace Church is not one of them. If
Mr. Kingsley had expressed a genuine liking for Trinity, or had admired the Jewish Temple on Fifth avenue, for instance, it might have been said that his kindliness and charity had riveted his attention upon the exception rather than upon the
rule; which would have been very good of him. But when the wooden spire and sham interior of Grace Church are held up to special admiration, it is next to impossible not to draw the inference that
Mr. Kingsley's compliment was rather casual than discerning, although Mr. Kingsley may not have had much eye for beauty in form or much knowledge of architecture. To be sure, to many people this undoubtedly is trivial
criticism; and so too would be a criticism of Mr. Kingsley's ethnological wisdom when he astonished the Massachusetts hotel-keepers and dry goods population with the information that they were modern Berserkers and Northmen, so that as many as heard him marvelled greatly. All the same it is not
trivial; neither is it ill-natured. It would be impossible for any one to say an ill-natured thing about Charles Kingsley, living or dead. It is simply just to notice any and all manifestations of what since Thackeray's day has been the besetting sin of many English cousins. And so long as it is manifested in these ways, it will inevitably be detected and disliked by American sensitiveness. But, besides anything positively faulty in the lectures on the Northmen and on Westminster Abbey, neither of those subjects could well be made of absorbing interest to American
listeners; and in connection with Mr. Kingsley's lecture on "The Stage as it Was," there is a slender anecdote worth narration for the benefit of people who lecture, so to speak, in search of a subject. When
Mr. Kingsley delivered it on the first occasion in this
neighbourhood, an audience composed of old theatregoers, who had not in years missed a "first night," whose scrap-books were filled with newspaper notices of different performers and performances, and whose stacks of old play-bills were mountainous, assembled to listen to what they, inexcusably enough no doubt, presumed would be a talk about old plays and players thirty, forty, fifty, or a hundred years ago. And when the lecturer began to talk about the Greek drama, for which they cared absolutely nothing, and avoided all mention of the English stage, for which they cared absolutely everything, they very quietly and as decently as possible got up and went home. Really, literary fame does not seem to draw a second audience to a lecture which is uninteresting in its substance, its form, and its expression. So there is Canon Kingsley's experience also to indicate the wide difference between bookmaking and lecturing.
It is not, indeed, a necessary sequence that people who are interested in books should be interested in popular lectures also. But admitting that generally they are, it does not follow that they are interested in the lectures equally with the books of the same person. The somewhat brief and entirely uneventful visit of
Mr. Edward Jenkins demonstrated that. A few years ago nearly everybody was asking everybody else about his opinion of "Ginx's Baby," which book made the genuine sensation in this country that it did in England, and that fresh and pointed treatment of anything interesting to a great many people always does make. And when that clever satire was followed by another in the same vein, nearly everybody who had read about "Ginx's Baby" wanted to read about "Lord Bantam." But when the author of these clever satires came to the United States to lecture, they manifested no great desire to listen to what he had to say. There was no ground for supposing in the first place that he had anything to say. Possibly one person in two who had read
Mr. Edward Jenkins's clever satires knew that Mr. Edward Jenkins wrote them. Probably not one person in ten cared whether they were written by
Mr. Edward Jenkins or by Mr. John Jones. The claims of the author of "Ginx's Baby" to be read when he put forth "Lord Bantam" were very proper and very properly
honoured; but the claims of Mr. Edward Jenkins to be listened to when he appeared upon a lyceum platform were not understood in the first place and not acknowledged in the second. The "Saturday Review" not long ago demonstrated to
Mr. Jenkins that his qualifications for writing clever satires were not at all at one with his qualifications for astonishing the House of Commons with the clearness of his views or the eloquence of their expression.
Mr. Jenkins might have replied that his pretensions to Parliamentary fitness were by no means based upon his authorship of clever satires, though it is questionable if his electors would have agreed with him. Or, on the other hand, he might have claimed that the authorship of these particular clever satires was just ground for the supposition that the cause of the workingman would be greatly benefited by the election of
Mr. Jenkins to the House of Commons. Neither of these retorts would have been true, though either might have been sincere. But not only would both of them fail if applied to the justification of
Mr. Jenkins's lecturing career, but it is inconceivable that there should have been any justification of that career deemed possible by
Mr. Jenkins or by the admirers of Mr. Jenkins as a writer of clever satires.
A far more conspicuous illustration of the distinction between lecturing and literary genius is afforded in the disastrous result of
Mr. Gerald Massey's experiment in this country. Mr. Massey had had experience, and successful experience after a sort, in England. Among other things, he had lectured on spiritualism, and had had "crowded audiences" after a time. But lecturing on spiritualism in England and lecturing on spiritualism in the United States
Mr. Massey must have found to be separate and distinct performances. In the first place, spiritualistic phenomena are not regarded with much interest or curiosity in this country, because the educated and intelligent members of the radical classes are neither numerous enough nor otherwise important enough. In the second place, the persons who are interested in spiritualistic discussions, and who are at the same time respectable people, cared very little for what
Mr. Gerald Massey had to say on the subject. An accurate description of these people would not represent them as specially humble or specially receptive, so far as theories are concerned, however much they might be when strange and inconceivable happenings are regarded. Who was Gerald
Massey? And wherefore was it that he came down from London to New York to explain "Why God did not Kill the
Devil"? And when the liberal thinkers among whom he had fallen, and who did devote more or less of time and attention to him, heard him
endeavour to show that because he was a spiritualist he was not necessarily "a fool," instead of announcing boldly that because he was a spiritualist he was therefore a wise man, they lost interest in him too. Neither were
Mr. Massey's lectures on other than outlandish subjects listened to
largely; and they were disregarded, so far as they were disregarded, chiefly because
Mr. Massey was in no sort of sense a lecturer. An essay of Gerald Massey's on Charles Lamb might have had many American readers.
At all events, every one who knew something authentic, or had heard something
rumoured by Mr. Hepworth Dixon, about the struggles of Gerald Massey's literary experience, would have felt sure of finding something appreciative and sympathetic in such an essay. But why a
lecture? Why should a criticism upon the "Life and Writings of Charles Lamb" be delivered from a platform, to a small audience, rather than be published in a periodical or a book, to be read by a large audience, when the interest lies solely in the criticism and not at all in its
delivery? Why should Mr. Gerald Massey lose sight of the invention of printing, and forget that to be a rhapsodist nowadays means something more than that a man has a song to
sing; namely, that he can sing it in a better way than types can sing it for
him? Clearly Mr. Massey was the loser in doing this, and very likely very many people who would have read
Mr. Massey before he spoiled what he had to say by making an oration of it, will refrain from reading his production
now; confusing the merits of his writing with the demerits of his speechmaking.
It is quite fair to class Mr. Wilkie Collins with his countrymen who lectured here contemporaneously with his readings "from his own works." For though
Mr. Collins read and did not lecture, he read his own productions, and so differed not a whit from most of the gentlemen already spoken of, to whom reading a manuscript was delivering a lecture. Furthermore,
Mr. Collins essayed to do just what Mr. Dickens
did; and, equally with his lecturing countrymen, probably based his confidence of success upon the success which had attended the readings of
Mr. Dickens. But Mr. Collins was mistaken. In the first place, the lyceum was not what it was when Dickens delighted
it; and in the second place, Mr. Collins was very far from being as well qualified to delight it as was the author of "Pickwick." "A Strange Story" gained nothing when told by his lips that it did not possess when told by his
pen; whereas Mr. Samuel Weller appeared in a most astonishingly developed and effective way when his creator for the moment personated him. It is conceivable that many people who might have considered "going to hear Dickens" a snobbish way of putting "going to see Dickens," nevertheless formed part of his audience because they felt the entertainment would be worth the money. The reader was no
tyro; he had written about and lived among actors, had made the best of after-dinner speeches, had acquired whatever reputation it is possible to acquire in unprofessional theatricals, and moreover, had done before, and to everybody's delight, what he was expected to do on these occasions. Essentially
Mr. Collins was experimenting. Even had he been his predecessor's equal in elocution and eloquence, he could have expected nothing like the reward which the other reaped so easily. The masterpieces of construction, with which he had interested, even intensely, many Americans, had not earned for him anything of the feeling which Dickens's books earned for their author. They were entirely
objective—as such and in other respects models of artistic
novel-writing—nothing more. So that even the author of unquestionably the best plot ever developed in a finished
novel—the "Moonstone "—had nothing upon which to depend in his elocutionary experiment but
elocution; and elocutionary excellence Mr. Collins did not possess. As for the change in the lyceum, that is as explainable as it is pardonable. Its patience had worn out before
Mr. Collins had a chance to try it further.
The American experience of "the coming Cromwell," it should be said, was in that "great agitator's" opinion such as to warrant its repetition. But it cannot be truthfully said that it afforded very convincing proof that a prophet who is without
honour in his own country is certain to possess much of it elsewhere. It
is possible that Mr. Bradlaugh found more political friends in this country in a short experience than he has gained in England during an average lifetime. The different character of American institutions, the different way in which the people regard their rulers, may have been one reason.
The fact that it was not our system, but somebody else's, that Mr. Bradlaugh abused, very likely was another. But this last had also its disadvantages. Except in so far as another man is a personal friend or enemy, or another nation is intimately friendly or intimately hostile, a man or a nation is not particularly interested in seeing friends or foes hit over the head. And so, when "the coming Cromwell" lectured on "Republicanism in England" here, ill-informed Americans cared very little about it, and well-informed Americans cared less about what "the coming Cromwell" had to say about it.
For Mr. Bradlaugh, it need not be disguised, has never been much thought of in England. When he last ran for a seat in the House of Commons his name was at the bottom of the polls. And the British journals do not report his speeches, which it is folly to say they would not do if they were of moment, or that they are kept from doing it by reason of timorousness and prejudice. Americans well informed upon British politics are not interested in hearing of the strength or weakness of an entirely inconsiderable element in these politics.
And Mr. Bradlaugh of course did not show, because it is impossible for any one to show, that the Republican Party in England is other than a creation of his imagination, without substance or force. A country whose politics for centuries have remained essentially the same and have manifested no tendency toward a great popular revolution, whose government has been in the hands of one or the other of two parties from immemorial time, is not likely to be suddenly torn asunder and to witness in the general cataclysm a new and strange party arise bearing healing and Bradlaugh upon its wings.
Intelligent auditors of Mr. Bradlaugh, when he told them something of this sort, did not believe it, and his unintelligent hearers reflected, "Suppose it is true: what of
it?" Of his lecture on the "House of Brunswick" nearly the same statements may be made. Few people cared to be told scandal about the heir apparent to the English throne, or about the expenses of the present royal household. These were matters which interested Englishmen rather than anybody
else; and if accounts were true, they did not interest Englishmen very greatly, there being in Great Britain, as in other countries of age and experience, a good deal of loyal reverence for the position of "ruler and chief over them," if not much servile regard for an unworthy occupant of it.
Mr. Bradlaugh had these disadvantages to
labour against; but he had also this in his favour, that he was a good orator. He had a very effective and pointed way of putting things. He got on the right side of a certain sort of an audience. He found out and flattered its vanity, and scrupled at very little which lay in the path of his purpose at the time. Not rarely he was
eloquent—not eloquent like Phillips, for instance, or others of our native stock, but nevertheless very eloquent indeed compared with his own lecturing brethren. Essentially he was a demagogue, but a demagogue in by no means the worst
sense—rather, artistically speaking, in the best sense. So that it cannot be objected to him that he was in no way fitted for a lecturer, which cannot otherwise than be objected to the rest of these gentlemen. What can be objected to him has already been sufficiently indicated.
It can be summed up briefly in some lines recently quoted in a review of Mr. Bradlaugh's
vulgar book on "Atheism," and meant to refer to the "utter futility" of Mr. Bradlaugh's
visits to this country to lecture to American workingmen:
"It is the old, sad story;
But the demagogue makes things worse,
When for pay or for paltry glory
He acts as a travelling curse.
The man who rants and clamours and cants
Is a downright plague and pest;
Pity that fools who have failed in the East
Should carry the war to the West."
Not long after this, preceded in some small way by the praises of personal
friends, and at all events heralded to an appreciable extent by the newspapers,
one Dr. Porteous came to the United States. But for his evident confidence in his own success and for his failure, there would be little by which to associate him with the gentlemen who have been mentioned.
What of positive worth Dr. Porteous had done in his own country to advance his claims upon American attention was not set forth, or was only very dimly set
forth; but estimated by his cis-Atlantic performances, there is little in Dr. Porteous to commend his efforts either to careful consideration or to charity.
It has been suspected that the aims of Dr. Porteous were rather lofty than otherwise, and that the attitude of a martyr to ecclesiastical tyranny, which has apparently been forced upon him, was not unwelcome to that reverend
gentleman; that recognition as a "leader" of religious or secular "thought" had more charm for him than recognition as an ecclesiastic of a conservative church.
None of which things matter much save in partially explaining the motives and
expectations of Dr. Porteous in his somewhat spasmodic lecturing career. Notoriously that career was one of extreme insignificance. But it is worth remark nevertheless because it affords an illustration of Anglo-fatuity more conspicuous, if possible, than contemporary experiences.
Dr. Porteous not only had no grounds for putting forward the intimation that he was a good lecturer, but, to judge by his choice of subjects for his ornate treatment, there was nothing upon which he was specially qualified to lecture. It will probably not be gainsayed
that the attitude of the church toward popular amusements had no new light
thrown upon it by Dr. Porteous, or that the wit of England, Scotland, Ireland, and various other lands received no original exposition at his hands.
It may not have yet occurred to Dr. Porteous, but if he is ordinarily observant, or should set himself humbly and reverently to the task of examination, it could hardly fail to occur to him that there is rather an overplus of native twaddle in the lyceum, and that even an English cousin may miss the shelter of that unconscious charity which makes some of our native lecturers possible, and that sympathy which is sometimes considered consoling in the
absence of cash.
From the small army of misguided gentlemen it is cheerful to turn to the two English gentlemen of whom one immediately preceded and the other immediately followed
them: Mr. Tyndall, namely, and Mr. Proctor. It is probable that no more cordial appreciation and real enjoyment have ever been called forth from an American audience than was called forth by both of these gentlemen upon their every appearance. The people whose names are thought to lend dignity to public occasions, of however great merit, were in the front seats, and the large hall of the Cooper Institute overflowed into the street at each of the six lectures delivered therein by
Mr. Tyndall. One of the best scientists in this city said of Mr. Proctor: "I consider that
Mr. Proctor is the best example of a meritorious and at the same time a popular lecturer that it has ever been my good luck to listen to." The lecturer's audiences, in their size and in their substance, bore out the statement.
It has been pointed out with a superficial significance that of these eight English lecturers, the two whose experience in this country was successful lectured on scientific subjects, whereas the exact converse is true of those who lectured on literary
subjects; whence the deduction is sought to be conveyed that the American people are better pleased with science than with literature, and have a keener sense of the merits of the artisan than of the merits of the artist. Of course this is not true, and of course if it were true, the circumstance mentioned would be neither a proof nor an indication of its truth. There are many ways of explaining the genuine and indisputable success of
Mr. Proctor and Mr. Tyndall. But the most prominent and effective cause of their success lies in the circumstance that they had something to say and that they knew how to say it.
Of the other gentlemen heretofore mentioned, Mr. Froude only had anything to
say, and Mr. Bradlaugh only knew how to say anything. It is folly to pretend that because the American people went to hear
Mr. Tyndall, who taught as one having authority,
and refrained from going to hear Edmund Yates, who taught as the scribes, they cared more about the polarization of light than about the plays of
Shakespeare; or that when they neglected the lectures of Canon Kingsley and Mr. Froude, they were uninterested in English romance and English history.
Mr. Tyndall is by no means an indisputably greater man in his way than is Mr. Froude in his way. And the difference between the lectures of the two did not consist so much in the interest of what the latter had to
say—though it must be acknowledged that very few persons cared much for
it—as in the respective ways in which these two distinguished lecturers lectured.
Mr. Froude's way has already been described. Mr. Tyndall had the animation of a schoolboy, the enthusiasm of a student, the clearness of a teacher. He had all the electricity of a natural orator. His audience was not moved more by his brilliant experiments than by his explanation and application of them. The ordinarily arid wastes of optics, described by him, were green fields and pleasant pastures. In a more moderate way something like this may be said with equal truth of the lectures of
Mr. Proctor on astronomy. Both of these gentlemen might have had their
names emblazoned on the scrolls of fame in never so bold letters (as Mr. Froude
had his), and unless they had lectured in an entertaining way about an
entertaining subject (which Mr. Froude did not), people would have more or less
studiously refrained from listening to them as they refrained from listening to
Mr. Froude. Clearly, credentials of capacity to deal with any subject are of the least importance to the prospective lecturer.
Mr. Froude had these equally with Mr. Tyndall. What is needed after that is the capacity to deal with it before an audience.
Of that Mr. Froude had none at all. The added trouble with the other gentlemen was that they had neither the one nor the other.