Page images

science. The material world is the object of our daily contact. Every sense brings in from it some intelligible information. But the soul demands a kind of study to which we do not readily submit. Though within us, it eludes our notice. We cannot fasten upon it; we cannot analyze it; we cannot decompose it. Its ethereal essence mocks our instruments. It affords the orator the most appropriate kind of discipline. Every successful artist must be acquainted with the instruments by which he works, and with the material upon which he works. If the chemist can have no hope of success without an acquaintance with the alkalis and gases, nor the sculptor without a knowledge of the marble and the chisel, much less has he, who would influence mind, a chance of success, if he be not familiar with the powers of mind. He deals not with matter which can be subjected to experiment, with fixed lines, with acids or earths, but with living men, active like himself, prejudiced, ignorant. He must know the nature and power of those spiritual weapons which will allay turbulent passions, remove prejudice, blunt the edge of ridicule, convince the obstinate, persuade the unwilling.

There are two powers upon which the success of the orator mainly depends; the power of reasoning and the ability to move the passions. He must convince or persuade. His argument must be enlivened by fancy, his fancy restrained by truth. Some speakers, studiously avoiding all warmth of feeling, unfold their subject with a beautiful felicity of demonstration, which will not allow a reply. They force assent. They weave close the tissue of the argument, till the careless opponent finds himself, unawares, bound in meshes which he can neither escape nor despise. It is said of an eloquent casuist of ancient times, that the gates of the eternal city were closed against him, lest, by ill directed argument, he should corrupt the youth. The sophist of our day puzzles the honest man by subtle though worthless reasoning, from the evils of which the heart only, stronger and truer than the head, may save the timid victim; but the heart cannot save him from a disturbed and fearful existence. Let not the orator despise that power, by which he can bind his opponent, by which he can successfully untwist from his own limbs the chains of false argument.

A study of the mind affords an appropriate kind of knowledge. We are told that when the great revolutionary orator of Virginia, in one of the unpromising vicissitudes of his early life, became joint owner of a shop, he was not so intent upon selling his small

wares to the needy countrymen who came for a weekly supply, as in prompting and listening to their discussions, or in working upon their feelings by tales of wonder and sorrow. This was the school in which he studied. Here he learned the secret which gave him such unheard of mastery over his audience,the power to petrify them with fear, to make their cheeks burn with indignation, or to be suffused with tears,—the power of sweeping along with him, in one impetuous torrent, jury and court.

The orator must know himself; for his own heart is the epitome of every heart, He would move the crowd, he must seek to move himself. He inquires after the character of men, and, for an answer, unrolls the mystic scroll of his own heart, and reads it there. Others are but the reflection of himself, with the shades a little brighter or darker. In his most secret spirit are inclosed the dispositions of the world. Circumstances, occasion, education have wrought some change in the development,-a blessed spirit, it may be, has guided his destiny, has cherished the good, has repressed the bad; but if he examines with patience and sincerity, he will recognise in himself the elements which have variously unfolded themselves in others. Whence but from this comes the value of the γνωθι σεαυτον ?

He who is master of the secrets of his own bosom is master of the secrets of others. He who confidently trusts the suggestions of his own heart, fearlessly rests upon them, careless of timid proprieties—he it is who will make his way directly to the hearts of others. He bears with him the true charm at which all the environments of conventional reserve will fly asunder. Men are in search of reality, however they suffer themselves to be cheated by phantoms; and many a time have they sat unmoved amidst a grand display of what, according to the rules, ought to have been eloquence, and have melted down at a homely but honest story, at an artless appeal, which they knew was not eloquent, or rather which they thought nothing about. Let a man but exhibit the elements and essence of his own char

The study of mind enlarges the grasp of the mind. “Acuteness in little things is sometimes attended with incapacity as to great." The faculties are plastic. Habitual intercourse with sinall things reduces the intellect to corresponding dimensions. Familiarity with great things rarely fails to evolve its powers to the utmost. It is the characteristic of some orators that they do not produce an impression by a single stroke, nor by the exaggerated development of a single mental power ; neither by wit alone, nor by rapid and conclusive argument, nor overpowering declamation; but rather by an aggregation of good qualities by richness, grandeur and dignity of thought, fertility of illustration, and a just and full exhibition of truth. The works of the greatest orator are remarkable for this virtue. We are disappointed, if we seek for beautiful clauses, which, without much harm to themselves, or much injury to the oration, may be taken as a specimen of his manner, or to adorn an album. A fragment from the cornice of the Parthenon would give a fuller notion of the majesty and symmetry of that matchless temple, than a loose figure or clause from the Philippics, of the power of the distinguished Greek. Each thought in the orations is bound in intimate union with every other thought. The whole evolves itself from the germinal idea, as a tree from its seed. We have not a disconnected catalogue of facts, but a living chain of discussion and argument. It was not the comparing Æschines to “old sprains and fractures, which again become sensible when any new malady has attacked the body,”—not the invectives against “ that miscreant,'

,” “ that abject scrivener,” “ that vile player,” — not the taunts of " low origin,” “ menial services,” * clamorous howling,”—not the narration of his own public services,—not the oath by the souls who fought at Marathon, at Platæa, at Salamis, at Artemisium,—not that earnest peroration, that solemn prayer, that daring imprecation of vengeance,no one of these emphatic particulars alone vindicated his own innocence, and banished his rival: but the combined impression of all, acting on minds wrought up to high excitement by still other arguments, other invectives, other prayers.

I can mention but one other favorable influence which the study of mental philosophy will have upon the orator.-its re

reformations must be effected. The day of conflict in the world is not past. The disturbed waters have not yet found their level. Society will undergo changes. Old things will give place to new, the new, perhaps, yield again to the old. The world of mind is even now something like the world of matter during the long birth-day of our earth. Happy he, who, in the tumultuous changes which must come, shall have some fixed star to guide his perilous course. Happy he, who attempts to guide the minds of the people, if his feet be planted on a rock in the clear light of heaven. Oh, if we could but seize the true principle, and reconcile the conflicting elements in society, in morals, in religion! Oh, that one might do in the moral sciences, as Newton did in the natural sciences, when, as was finely said of him,“ by the aid of a sublime geometry, as with the rod of an enchanter, he dashed in pieces all the cycles, epicycles and crystal orbs of a visionary antiquity, and established the true Copernican doctrine of astronomy on the solid basis of a most rigid and infallible demonstration."

Ad istinction has been taken—is it not a true one ?-between the orator and the debater. The debater is familiar with the arts of parliamentary discipline, has learned the signs and artifices of the place, judges as by instinct of the temper of the house, seizes the happy moment for urging the question, is dexterous and successful in attaining his object, but that object may not be a generous nor a wise one. His influence does not extend far beyond the occasion which called it into existence. His virtue is audacity in attack, courage in action, skill in defence, elasticity in defeat. It is not so much the deep forethought and broad plan of a wise general, as the devices of a cool, ready, active, fearless partisan. It is the virtue of Marion compared with the virtue of Washington. I cannot but think that the orator moves in a higher sphere. If he would exert an extensive influence, he must possess that true philosophy which will give unity to his multifarious acquisitions, afford him a central point, about which he may move in his appointed orbit.In this consisted the immense superiority of Burke over his great rivals and coadjutors. Fox argued as well, debated better; Sheridan poured forth as rapid, if not as copious a flood of illustration and invective; Pitt equalled, perhaps excelled him, in sarcasm and lofty declamation; but in profoundness of thought, in gathering from the amorphous mass of disjointed facts the law in virtue of which great events were produced, in separating the true and important from the accidental and worthless, in disclosing the principles of political action, and the rules which ought to govern the nation, there is none of his gigantic contemporaries but must do him homage. These, and others like these, are the virtues which make him still the oracle of British statesmen, of statesmen everywhere. His speeches, sometimes indeed“ too refined for his hearers,” sometimes too warm for their excite ment, yet oftentimes as effective as any ever delivered, are the great store-house of political truth. It is true that the accused governor-general confessed, perhaps honestly, certainly very adroitly, that “for half an hour he looked at the orator in a reverie of wonder, and during that space actually felt himself the most culpable man on earth.” It is true that the refined and intelligent assembly, not unaccustomed to the display of oratorical ability, was shaken throughout, that men were convulsed with horror and affright, that women sobbed and screamed and fainted. It is also true that men have judged that orator the wisest man of his time,-his genius, prophetic; his political knowledge, boundless. In all matters with which he was conversant, his place, as has been well remarked, is “among the first three.”

There is another study, so congenial in its influence with that just mentioned, that I suggest it here. History has been called the “letter of instructions which the old generations write and posthumously transmit to the new,—the message which all mankind deliver to every man,—the only articulate communication which the Past can have with the Present." It teaches us the wisdom and folly of our race,-of ourselves; for we are only wiser or less foolish than our fathers, because we are their sons and not their progenitors. In all matters of policy, we know the effect of measures only by experiment. It is given to an age, to a nation, to develop fully the operation of certain principles, in order that the next age, and other nations may be wiser. It was necessary that our fathers should have been driven from the house of bondage, in order that their sons might rejoice in the inheritance of freedom. It was needful that the privy council of Scotland should have enacted,“ that, whereas the boots were the ordinary way to explicate matters relative to the government, and that there is now a new invention and engine, called the thumbikins, which will be very effectual for the purpose and intent aforesaid,—the lords of his majesty's privy council do therefore ordain, that whenever any person shall be, by their order, put to the torture, the said boots and thumbikins,

« PreviousContinue »