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accustomed to such eloquence, it seemed very strange that Mr. Webster should sometimes speak for several minutes without making a gesture. In spite, however, of his usual want of action, he kept the attention of his auditors, and his speeches had that most remarkable quality, that when one looked back to them, from week to week, they seemed to stand out more prominently, and loomed in the distance.
Mr. Choate presented a most remarkable contrast to Mr. Webster. When I first entered Congress I was told this story: Mr. Choate, as a member of the House, arose to make his first speech. Ben Hardin, of Kentucky, got up from his seat, saying that he had heard enough of the declamation of maiden orators, and that he would go out of the way until Choate had finished. As he opened the door to pass out of the hall, the singular intonation of the speaker arrested his attention, and he paused to listen to one sentence. But he held the door open till a second sentence was finished, and continued standing thus for some minutes, and then returned to his seat and heard the speech through. So peculiar were Mr. Choate's intonations, and so nervously animated were his looks and gestures that he could, even in a law argument, rivet the attention of every person present.
Early in 1844, in the Senate, he spoke on the Oregon question. Several Democratic Senators, following in the debate, assailed his speech with remarkable vehemence. It was evident that they intended to make party capital by attacking Great Britain. Conspicuous among them were Messrs. Benton, Silas Wright and Buchanan. Though, however, denouncing the pretensions, the arrogance and the insolence of Great Britain, they disclaimed any purpose to go to war with her. While these speeches were being made, one evening at a social party, on meeting Mr. Choate, I said, "Why has not your speech on the Oregon question been published?" He replied, "I have not yet made a speech on the Oregon question, but I mean to make one." Soon after he delivered probably the finest effort of his Senatorial career. After discussing, for perhaps a couple of hours, the merits of the question with an earnestness, a beauty and an eloquence seldom equaled, he turned his attention to the Senators who had assailed him. Quoting in succession the words of each one denouncing the oppressions, the insolence and the arrogance of Great Britain, "but the Senator wishes for no war with her," with consummate skill he repeated Marc Anthony's oration over Cæsar's body, drawing a parallel between each Senator and one of the conspirators. "Great Britain had always been our enemy, she was arrogant, domineering, and insolent, but the Senator wishes for no war with her." "Here the well beloved Brutus stabbed, but Brutus is an honorable man." Another Senator quoted, and then the exclamation, "See what a rent the envious Casca made, but he, too, is an honorable man." So admirably had Mr. Choate prepared the minds of the auditors, that it is difficult to give an idea of the effect of these quotations. As one looked over the Senate, it seemed ready to burst into laughter; but, in fact, every one restrained his feelings, lest he might lose some of the speaker's words.
The effect on the Senators arraigned was not less striking. Whilə Mr. Benton strove to throw it off, with an awkwardly put-on air
between indifference and defiance, Mr. Buchanan hung his head with the sheepish look of one who had been detected in a shallow stratagem. After getting through with his adversaries, Mr. Choate drew himself up to his full height, with an air of great dignity, and said, "But, Mr. President, there is one great and striking difference between Anthony and these honorable Senators, and it is due to their high character, as well as to the courtesy of the Senate, that I shall state it." As he uttered these words in a fine, manly tone of voice, and with an air of generous courtesy, the Senators raised themselves up in their seats with a countenance and manner which seemed to say, "Well, he has hit us rather hard, but he is about to make amends handsomely." Mr. Choate said, with striking emphasis, "Anthony was a villain; Anthony was a hypocrite; these honorable Senators are perfectly sincere." Had he swept the chamber with the keen cymeter of Saladin, it would seem that heads could not have sunk more suddenly.
When the speech was concluded Senator Foster, of Tennesse, and George W. Summers, of Virginia, both fine speakers and orators, with whom I happened to be standing, began to express their admiration most warmly. "If that man," said one of them, "only had the manner of Clay or Webster or Calhoun, he would universally be regarded as the greatest orator in the world." "I differ with you," I said, "it is his fine manner that in a great degree makes him so impressive, but his ideas are not in themselves as large as theirs, and are not calculated to make so great an impression." They, however, reiterated their opinions with much emphasis. Some weeks later, on speaking to them again, I found that the effect had been greatly diminished.
Why did the impression of Choate's speeches fade with the lapse of time, while Webster's thoughts retained their place in the mind, or even seemed to grow larger? When our feelings are strongly excited a mental perception will make an impression, that will be diminished as the feeling subsides. How different is the effect made on the mind. by the songs of Burns or Moore when well sung, from that produced by merely reading the words. Choate's speeches were characterized by fine thoughts, great earnestness and animation, and such a combination of feelings as might be the result of the action of poetry, music, and eloquence all joined together. But after these emotious passed away, the impression faded as does that of Highland Mary or the Last Rose of Summer without the thrilling accompaniment of the song. Though Patrick Henry, by his impassioned eloquence, completely carried his audience along with its torrent, yet Mr. Jefferson said that after he had finished, one could not remember what he had said. On the other hand Mr. Webster's speeches were heard with little elation of feeling, the thoughts were great and striking in themselves, and being clearly presented to the intellect, in its calm moments, they held their place in the mind, and as other things faded from the memory, they seemed rather to swell in their proportions.
I regard Mr. Webster's greatest effort, as that delivered on the 7th of March, 1850. No mere report of it will give one an idea of its greatness, without such a knowledge of the circumstances under which it was made, as perhaps, none but those, then present, could realize.
Intense anxiety prevailed in Washington in the minds of men of all shades of opinion. The shadows of those events, which occurred a dozen years later, seemed to oppress the minds of all present. With this anxiety, there was a hope that Mr. Webster might solve the difficulty.
He spoke to such an audience as never had previously been assembled in the Senate Chamber. All felt the truthfulness of Senator Walker's words, when in moving to postpone the subject on which he had the floor, to take up that on which Mr. Webster was to speak, he said there was But one man in America who could have drawn that audience together, and he alone could satisfy it." It was not merely that all the sitting and standing room in the Chamber was filled with a brilliant throng of ladies and gentlemen, but the distinguished character of the persons assembled was most remarkable. Being fortunate enough to get a seat on the arm of Mr. Corwin's chair, who kindly lent forward to give me room, and thus being quite near the position of Mr. Webster, I had a fair view of every countenence, turned as they were to the orator. There appeared in every look, anxiety and intense. earnestness. When he arose,
Drew audience and attention still as night,
Or Summer's noontide air."
He had been speaking for nearly an hour on the subject, in general terms, before he indicated the position he meant to take. Every look retained its intense anxiety of expression, until, at the close of one of his sentences, he said in an emphatic manner, "I will not vote for the Wilmot." There seemed at once a sense of relief in the audience, accompanied by a slight rustling sound caused by the relaxation. He proceeded, and fully met the public expectation and hope. It was a purely intellectual impression made on the minds of all present, and yet the effect was greater than any mere oratory alone could have produced. I never witnessed such a sense of relief in the public mind. He had drawn from the dark cloud, the lightning which seemed ready to burst on the country. But for this effort, we should probably have had, with what result cannot now be known-the collision which occurred a dozen years later.
Of those resembling Mr. Webster in the largeness and power of their thoughts, I can recall no one so remarkable as George McDuffie. I once asked Colonel Wm. C. Preston, of South Carolina, whom he regarded as the greatest orator he had ever heard. He instantly replied, "McDuffie." Of Colonel Preston himself, it is but just that I should say, that after hearing him under favorable circumstances, I have never doubted that he was by far the greatest orator that I ever listened to. His thrilling voice, his whole action, suited to his impassioned eloquence, his bright and noble sentiments, his wonderful and imposing attitudes, placed him far in advance of any orator that I ever knew. When for the first time in Rome my eyes fell on that colossal statute of Pompey, the base of which was bathed with the blood of the great Dictator as he expired under the thrusts of Senatorial daggers, I was instantly
reminded of some of Preston's attitudes. As often as I afterwards looked on it, the same impression would strangely come over me. After the torrent of Preston's impassioned eloquence was fairly under way, he had a complete control over his auditors. When, for example, warmed with the vehemence of his action as graceful as it was impetuous, he would sometimes, as it were, unconsciously take off his wig with his left hand, and place it beside him, so as to expose his head entirely bald, there was to be seen in the audience no more tendency to smile, than when Chatham, for the third time, pronounced the word "sugar!" McDuffie, with the largeness of thought which characterized Webster's speeches, possessed the earnestness of Choate, and a vehemence and force immeasurably superior. The array of his arguments was most powerful, and his denunciation of wrong absolutely terrific. He had not the poetry of Choate, and lacked the polish of Webster, but his massive thoughts, thrown out with tremendous energy, seemed to fall among his auditors like thunder bolts. His whole manner was that of a man calling into action every faculty he possessed, not to save his own life, for a brave man could not plead earnestly for himself alone, but as one who was making a dying struggle for the life of his country, or for truth itself. It would be interesting for one to compare Mr. Webster's speech delivered in the House of Representatives in 1824 against the tariff, with one of McDuffie's on the same subject, made in 1832.
McDuffie's speech against the removal of the deposits, delivered in 1834, bears marks of a higher degree of finish and greater polish in its language, than most of his efforts show. It is, however, less forcible
and vehement than some others.
His great idol, Mr. Calhoun, was wholly unlike him in manner as a public speaker. He had as much earnestness, and at times nearly as much vehemence, but they seemed to be the result of pure mental and nerve force. Like Mr. Webster, he would sometimes stand erect for many minutes without a gesture, but when it did come, unlike the slow and often languid movement of Mr. Webster, it seemed rather the result of an electric thrill through his frame. Instead of Mr. Webster's calm, deliberate, and seemingly studied words, Mr. Calhoun's thoughts appeared to flow so rapidly that he had not time for gesticulation. His great propositions followed each other so logically, and so swiftly, that his mind seemed to be carried forward with the directness and speed of a cannon ball in its flight. As great a metaphysician as Aristotle himself, his propositions were stated with a clearness, a logical sequence and a grandeur perhaps scarcely ever equaled.
Towards the close of his life he spoke more calmly, but always with great impressiveness. As he usually addressed not the presiding officer, but his fellow-senators, there was a frankness, a dignity and a nobleness in his bearing, that carried one's mind back to the scenes when Tully or Julius Cæsar stood before a Roman Senate.
Entirely different from any of these speakers was Henry Clay. When in the meridian of his power, his voice was perhaps unequaled. Both in the richness and melody of its fine tenor, and in the grandeur of its deep bass, it seemed capable of indefinite modulation and expan
sion. Perhaps the nearest approach to it in excellence and compass, that I can call to mind, was that of Gentry, of Tennessee. But even his voice, remarkably musical, rich and varied in its tones, was scarcely equal to Mr. Clay's in compass; was not so emphatic; could not strike with as much force; nor was it capable of so great expansion in its deep organ tones. Though Mr. Clay was tall, and usually stood very erect, he never seemed stiff, as often Mr. Calhoun appeared. His jesture was abundant, easy, appropriate, very impressive, and yet always graceful as well as dignified. He never strove as some speakers do, to make an impression by the exhibition of bodily force. He was always animated, often impassioned. Whether he seemed to be addressing himself wholly and earnestly to the presiding officer, or threw the glances of his bright blue eyes over the audience, by his animated, varied, and earnest tones, and by his graceful and sometimes commanding gesticulation, he held the undivided attention of his hearers. He appeared like a champion in battle, delivering his blows right and left, and enlisted the feelings of his auditors on his side so completely, that they seemed to regard it as their own fight, and were ready to shout over each success won.
Mr. Clay was perhaps least felicitous when he attempted to utter merely handsome things, and make poetical quotations. He did not use well such prettinesses as Sargent S. Prentiss would cull from poets and novelists, and with them entertain an audience, without ever producing a deep impression on it. Mr. Clay appeared to the greatest advantage when repelling personal attacks, or when discussing topics directly connected with the honor, the safety, or the liberties of the country. His high sense of personal honor, his dauntless courage, and at times haughty daring, with his great public spirit and ardent patriotism, rendered him often imposingly grand.
It was not the possession of these powers alone, remarkable as they were, that made him the greatest parliamentary man in the world. He was a good fighter, and could take care of himself in every kind of debate. That he was at times as great an actor as Lord Chatham himself, will be evident to one who merely reads his eloquent and patriotic appeal to Mr. Van Buren in 1834, to use his influence with President Jackson, to induce him to restore the deposits, or, at a later period, his description of the interview between the Democratic Senators and John Tyler. Those men, whom he could not drive by force, he often won by his unrivaled tact and address. He, however, lost nothing in the estimation of the country by the occasional exercise of these powers, for his perfect frankness, high courage, and his public spirit, relieved him from all censure. Such means, when used at times. to secure great and honorable objects, were viewed merely as we do the efforts of a skilful horseman, who to manage a fiery steed, is equally ready to use the spur, or to coax the animal. He probably concealed as few of his thoughts as any one I ever knew, and no man ever lived who was more prompt to repel all that was not alike honest, honorable and manly.
So great was his ascendancy over his admirers, and so boundless his popularity, that they were not in the least impaired by his want