Page images
PDF
EPUB

HENRY WARD BEECHER

(1813-1887)

ENRY WARD BEECHER, one of the most remarkable pulpit orators of

the nineteenth century, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, June

2d, 1813. After completing his studies at Amherst College and Lane Theological Seminary he began his professional career as pastor at Lawrenceburg, Indiana. From that town he removed successively to Indianapolis (1839) and to Brooklyn (1847). His great reputation as a pulpit orator was made as pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, in Brooklyn, where he remained until his death, March 8th, 1887. He wrote on many subjects. Among his best books are his «Star Papers » and his “Lectures to Young Men.” On May 29th, 1876, he delivered, before the National School of Elocution and Oratory, at its third annual commencement (Philadelphia) an address on Oratory,” which has been republished and widely circulated. The extract here made is by permission from the copyrighted text of the Penn Publishing Company (Philadelphia, 1893).

1

HOW TO BECOME AN ORATOR

N REGARD to the training of the orator, it should begin in boyhood, and

should be part and parcel of the lessons of the school. Grace; posture; force

of manner; the training of the eye, that it may look at men and pierce them, and smile upon them, and bring summer to them, and call down storms and winter upon them; the development of the hand, that it may wield the sceptre, or beckon with sweet persuasion,- these things do not come artificially; they belong to man. Why, men think that nature means that which lies back of culture. Then you ought never to have departed from babyhood; for that is the only nature you had to begin with. But is nature the acorn forever? Is not the oak nature? Is not that which comes from the seed the best representation of the divine conception of the seed? And as men we are seeds. Culture is but planting them and training them according to their several natures; and nowhere is training nobler than in preparing the orator for the great work to which he educates himself, – the elevation of his kind, through truth, through earnestness, through beauty, through every divine influence.

But it is said that the times are changing, and that we ought not to attempt to meddle with that which God has provided for. Say men, «The truth is before you; there is your Bible; go preach the word of God.” Well, if you are not to meddle with what God has provided for, why was not the Bible sent instead of you? You were sent because the very object of a preacher was to give the truth a living form and not have it lie in he dead le

to its simplicity and as to its beauty, I confute you with your own doctrine; for, as I read the sacred text,

[ocr errors]

it is, (Adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” We are to make it beautiful. There are times when we cannot do it. There are times for the scalpel, there are times for the sword, and there are times for the battle-ax; but these are exceptional “Let everyone of us please his neighbor for his good to edification » is a standing command, and we are to take the truth of every kind, and, if possible, bring it in its summer guise to men.

But it is said, “Our greatest orators have not been trained.” How do you know? It may be that Patrick Henry went crying in the wilderness of poor speakers, without any great training; I will admit that now and then there are gifts so eminent and so impetuous that they break through ordinary necessities; but even Patrick Henry was eloquent only under great pressure; and there remain the results of only one or two of his efforts. Daniel Webster is supposed in many respects to have been the greatest American orator of his time; but there never lived a man who was so studious of everything he did, even to the buttons on his coat, as Daniel Webster. Henry Clay was prominent as an orator, but though he was not a man of the schools, he was a man who schooled himself; and by his own thought and taste and sense of that which was fitting and beautiful, he became, through culture, an accomplished orator.

If you go from our land to other lands; if you go to the land which has been irradiated by parliamentary eloquence; if you go to the people of Great Britain; if you go to the great men in ancient times who lived in the intellect; if you go to the illustrious names that every one recalls, — Demosthenes and Cicero- they represent a life of work.

Not until Michael Angelo had been the servant and the slave of matter did he learn to control matter; and not until he had drilled and drilled and drilled himself were his touches free and easy as the breath of summer, and full of color as the summer itself. Not until Raphael had subdued himself by color was he the crowning artist of beauty. You shall not find one great sculptor, nor one great architect, nor one great painter, nor one eminent man in any department of art, nor one great scholar, nor one great statesman, nor one divine of universal gifts, whose greatness, if you inquire, you will not find to be the fruit of study, and of the evolution that comes from study.

It is said, furthermore, that oratory is one of the lost arts. I have heard it said that our struggles brought forth not one prominent orator. This fact reveals a law which has been overlooked, namely, that aristocracy diminishes the number of great men, and makes the few so much greater than the average that they stand up like the pyramids in the deserts of Egypt; whereas, democracy distributes the resources of society and brings up the whole mass of the people, so that under a democratic government great men never stand so high above the average as they do when society has a level far below them. Let building go up on building around about the tallest spire in this city and you dwarf the spire, though it stand as high as heaven, because everything by which it is surrounded has risen higher.

Now, throughout our whole land there was more eloquence during our struggles than there was previously; but it was in far more mouths. It was distributed. There was in the mass of men a higher method of speaking, a greater power in addressing their fellow-men; and, though single men were not so prominent as they would have been under other circumstances, the reason is one for which we should be grateful. There were

men at a higher average, though there were fewer men at an extreme altitude.

Then it is said that books, and especially newspapers, are to take the place of the living voice.

Never ! never ! The miracle of modern times, in one respect, is

more

cease.

the press; to it is given a wide field and a wonderful work; and when it shall be clothed with all the moral inspirations, with all the ineffable graces, that come from simplicity and honesty and conviction, it will have a work second almost to none other in the land. Like the light, it carries knowledge every day round the globe. What is done at St. Paul's in the morning is known, or ever half the day has run round, in Wall Street, New York. What is done in New York at the rising of the sun, is, before the noontide hour known in California. By the power of the wire, and of the swift-following engine, the papers spread at large vast quantities of information before myriad readers throughout the country; but the office of the papers is simply to convey information, They cannot plant it. They cannot open the soil and put it into the furrow. They cannot enforce it. It is given only to the living man, standing before men with the seed of knowledge in his hand, to open the furrows in the living souls of men, and sow the seed, and cover the furrows again. Not until human nature is other than it is, will the function of the living voice -- the greatest force on earth among men — Not until then will the orator be useless, who brings to his aid all that is fervid in feeling; who incarnates in himself the truth; who is for the hour the living reason, as well as the reasoner; who is for the moment the moral sense; who carries in himself the importunity and the urgency of zeal; who brings his influence to bear upon men in various ways; who adapts himself continually to the changing conditions of the men that are before him; who plies them by softness and by hardness, by light and by darkness, by hope and by fear; who stimulates them or represses them at his will. Nor is there, let me say, on God's footstool, anything so crowned and so regal as the sensation of one who faces an audience in a worthy cause, and with amplitude of means, and defies them, fights them, controls them, conquers them.

Great is the advance of civilization; mighty are the engines of force, but man is greater than that which he produces. Vast is that machine which stands in the dark unconsciously lifting, lifting,- the only humane slave — the iron slave – the Corliss engine; but he that made the engine is greater than the engine itself. Wonderful is the skill by which that most exquisite mechanism of modern life, the watch is constructed, but greater is the man that made the watch than the watch that is made. Great is the press, great are the hundred instrumentalities and institutions and customs of society; but above them all is man. The living force is greater than any of its creations,- greater than society, greater than its laws. «The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” saith the Lord. Man is greater than his own institutions. And this living force is worthy of all culture,- of all culture in the power of beauty; of all culture in the direction of persuasion; of all culture in the art of reasoning.

To make men patriots, to make men Christians, to make men the sons of God, let all the doors of heaven be opened, and let God drop down charmed gifts, – winged imagination, all-perceiving reason, and all-judging reason. Whatever there is that can make men wiser and better — let it descend upon the head of him who has consecrated himself to the work of mankind, and who has made himself an orator for man's sake and for God's sake.

From «Oratory,) by Henry Ward Beecher. By permission of

the Penn Publishing Company, Philadelphia.

HERBERT SPENCER

(1820 - )

VERYTHING said by Spencer in his celebrated essay on « The Phi

losophy of Style” applies to eloquence in speaking as aptly as it

does to correct expression in writing. It is a philosophical analysis of the principles which govern the mind in its attempts to express its own ideas and to comprehend the expression of the ideas of others.

Its author, one of the greatest thinkers of the nineteenth century, was born at Derby, England, April 27th, 1820. His father, who was a schoolmaster at Derby, educated him carefully, and, in 1837, "articled him to a civil engineer. A few years later, however, the future philosopher gave up engineering for literature, to which his life has been devoted. Philosophy of Style,” which is one of the most noted of his essays, appeared in 1882, and two years later he published «The Man Versus the State," a work which is characteristic of his political individualism. Among other widely read books written by him are, “The Data of Ethics,” “The Principles of Biology,” «The Principles of Sociology,» « Justice,» «Progress, Its Law and Cause,” etc.

« The

THE PHILOSOPHY OF STYLE

The PRINCIPLE OF ECONOMY APPLIED TO Words

OMMENTING

[ocr errors]

on the seeming incongruity between his father's argumentative powers and his ignorance of formal logic, Tristram Shandy says: “It was

a matter of just wonder with my worthy tutor, and two or three fellows of that learned society, that a man who knew not so much as the names of his tools, should be able to work after that fashion with them.” Sterne's intended implication that a knowledge of the principles of reasoning neither makes, nor is essential to, a good reasoner, is doubtless true. Thus, too, it is with grammar. As Dr. Latham, condemping the usual school-drill in Lindley Murray, rightly remarks: «Gross vulgarity is a fault to be prevented; but the proper prevention is to be got from habit, not rules. Similarly, there can be little question that good composition is far less dependent upon acquaintance with its laws, than upon practice and natural aptitude. A clear head, a quick imagination, and a sensitive ear, will go far towards making all rhetorical precepts needless. He who daily hears and reads well-framed sentences, will naturally more or less tend to use similar opes.

And where there exists any mental idiosyncrasy; where there is a deficient verbal memory, or an adequate sense of logical dependence, or but little perception of order, or a lack of constructive ingenuity, no amount of instruction will remedy the defect. Nevertheless, some practical result may be expected from a familiarity

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

with the principles of style. The endeavor to conform to laws may tell, though slowly. And if in no other way, yet, as facilitating revision, a knowledge of the thing to be achieved, a clear idea of what constitutes a beauty, and what a blemish, cannot fail to be of service.

No general theory of expression seems yet to have been enunciated. The maxims contained in works on composition and rhetoric are presented in an unorganized form. Standing as isolated dogmas,- as empirical generalizations,— they are neither so clearly apprehended, nor so much respected, as they would be were they deduced from some simple first principle. We are told that «brevity is the soul of wit.” We hear styles condemned as verbose or involved. Blair says that every needless part of a sentence « interrupts the description and clogs the image”; and again, that long sentences fatigue the reader's attention.” It is remarked by Lord Kames, that to give the utmost force to a period, it ought, if possible, to be closed with the word that makes the greatest figure.» That parentheses should be avoided, and that Saxon words should be used in preference to those of Latin origin, are established precepts. But, however influential the truths thus dogmatically embodied, they would be much more influential if reduced to something like scientific ordination. In this, as in other cases, conviction will be greatly strengthened when we understand the why. And we may be sure that a comprehension of the general principle from which the rules of composition result, will not only bring them home to us with greater force, but will discover to us other rules of like origin.

On seeking for some clue to the law underlying these current maxims, we may see shadowed forth in many of them the importance of economizing the reader's or hearer's attention. To so present ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental effort, is the desideratum towards which most of the rules above quoted point. When we condemn writing that is wordy, or confused, or intricate; when we praise this style as easy, and blame that as fatiguing, we consciously or unconsciously assume this desideratum as our standard of judgment. Regarding language as an apparatus of symbols for the conveyance of thought, we may say that, as in a mechanical apparatus, the more simple and the better arranged in its parts, the greater will be the effect produced. In either case, whatever force is absorbed by the machine is deducted from the result. A reader or listener has at each moment but a limited amount of mental power available. To recognize and interpret the symbols presented to him, requires part of this power; to arrange and combine the images suggested, requires a further part; and only that part which remains can be used for realizing the thought conveyed. Hence, the more time and attention it takes to receive and understand each sentence, the less time and attention can be given to the contained idea, and the less vividly will that idea be conceived.

How truly language must be regarded as a hindrance to thought, though the necessary instrument of it, we shall clearly perceive on remembering the comparative force with which simple ideas are communicated by signs. To say, “Leave the room,” is less expressive than to point to the door. Placing a finger on the lips is more forcible than whispering, "Do not speak.) A beck of the hand is better than, «Come here.) No phrase can convey the idea of surprise so vividly as opening the eyes and raising the eyebrows. A shrug of the shoulders would lose much by translation into words. Again, it may be remarked that when oral language is employed, the strongest effects are produced by interjections, which condense entire sentences into syllables. And in other cases, where custom allows us to express thoughts by single words, as in “beware,» « heigho, «fudge,” much force would be lost by expanding them into specific propositions. Hence, carrying out the metaphor that language is the vehicle of thought, there seems reason to think that in all cases the

« EelmineJätka »