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WRITING, READING AND
You have asked me for some hints to help you in your studies of the Art of Oratory. I readily comply with your request, and I will endeavour to throw together my thoughts upon the theme, in a shape that may possibly be useful to others also. It is a subject to which I have given some attention, and on which I hope that I
may be enabled to convey to you a little information not to be found in existing treatises.
But I must take the liberty of changing one part of its name. I do not like the title-oratory—because it has a pretentious sound. We do not think or talk of a man as an Orator, unless he excels in the art; we look upon an oration as something higher and grander than a speech. If a man were to call himself “an orator,” we should call him vain; but he might call himself “a speaker" with
out reproach to his modesty. So, if I were to profess to give you hints for the study of oratory, I should be reasonably met by the objection that I am not myself“ an orator,” and therefore have no right to appear as a teacher of oratory. But by the requirements of my Profession I am compelled to be a speaker”—an indifferent one, I know—and therefore I may venture, without incurring the charge of presumption, to tell to others so much as I may
chance to have learned about thie art of speaking. But there are two other accomplishments,-Arts so intimately allied to the Art of Speaking, that I could not treat fully and satisfactorily of the one, without treating more or less of the others. I propose, therefore, to enlarge the main subject, and embracing the allied Arts of Writing, Reading and Speaking, to treat of each separately, but with more particular reference to the connection of the Arts of Composition and of Reading with the Art of Speaking.
And this title, indeed, exactly expresses my design. I contemplate nothing more than to convey to you the lessons taught to me by my own experience, reading and reflection, relating to the arts by which a man is enabled publicly to give utterance to his own thoughts, and the thoughts of others, so that his audience may hear him without pain and his readers understand him without difficulty.
Writing is a necessary part of the education of everybody and Reading ought to be so. Oratory is the business of the Bar and of the Church: it is only the accomplishment of other callings. Unless
you are content to subside into the chanıber counsel, or to sit for ever briefless in the courts, you must learn to think aloud, to clothe your thoughts in appropriate language, and so to utter them that your audience may listen to you willingly. To do this is not wholly a gift of nature, though many of nature's gifts are needed for its accomplishment. It is an art, to be learned by careful study and laborious practice. I do not assert that it can be acquired by all who may desire its attainment; on the contrary, it is certain that many are by nature disqualified from even tolerable proficiency in it. But if you possess the qualifications, mental and physical, requisite for the work, it is certain that you may advance to much greater proficiency in the art by pursuing it as an art, instead of leaving it, as is the too frequent practice, to be developed by accident and cultivated by chance.
When I was entering, as you are now, upon the study of my Profession, conscious of the necessity for acquiring the art of speaking, I sought anxiously in the libraries for a teacher. I found many books professing to elucidate the mysteries of elocution, and each contained some hints that were useful, amid much that was useless. supplied the information I wanted. One was great upon inflexions of the voice; another was learned upon logic; a third discoursed eloquently on rhetoric; and a fourth 'professed to teach the composition of a sentence. All were illustrated by extracts from plays, poems, sermons, and stock speeches of long past parliamentary oracles. There was no harm in all this, it is true—it was not wholly worthless; but it did not supply what I required. I wanted to be told what I was to do, how to do it, and how to learn to do it. After pondering over the pages of my many masters, I did not feel myself better qualified to stand up and make a speech ; on the contrary, I was perplexed by the multitude of counsellors, and the variety and often the contradictions of their
counsel, and I felt that if it was necessary that I should, while speaking, think of a twentieth part of the propounded rules, I should have no time to think what to say. I turned the key of my door and attempted to put those rules into practice where failure would not be ruin, and I found that neither language, nor voice, nor gesture, as prescribed in the books, was natural, or easy—but pedantic, stiff and ungainly. After patient trial, I threw aside the books and sought to acquire the art of speaking by another process—by writing, to give me facility and correctness of expression ; and by reading aloud, to give me the art of utterance.
Success was, however, but partial. No practical guidance in the arts of writing or of reading could be obtained from the works that professed to teach them. I had to grope my way to the object, halting and stumbling, moving on and trying back, but nevertheless making some progress.
I learned as much (or more) from failures as from successes, for thus I was taught what not to do. Assistance was eagerly sought in every quarter whence help could come. I read books and listened to lectures, “sat under ” eloquent preachers, watched famous actors, frequented public meetings, political and religious, and even practised in a small way to worthy and independent electors who were too tipsy to be critical. From all this I gathered a great deal of information, not to be found in scientific treatises, of the manner in which a man must talk if he would persuade his fellow-men. Subsequent experience has much enlarged that knowledge. The requirements of my Profession provided me with almost daily opportunities for seeing and hearing orators of all ranges and skill, observing audiences of all classes and capacities, and noting the treatment of sub
jects of infinite variety to kindle the speaker and attract the hearers. When I was a listener, the question was ever present to my mind, “How are we, the hearers, affected by this ? Are you, the speaker, going to work in the right way to effect your purpose ? If it was a failure, I have asked myself, wherefore it was so ? If a success, what was the secret of it?
My personal experiences have not been large, but they have been very valuable to me as means for making trial of suggestions gathered from listening to the efforts of others. They have been still more useful by proving to me, that it is one thing to know what ought to be done, and another thing to do it.
Diligent study had taught me a great deal of what I ought to do, but I could achieve only partial success in the doing of it. Performance fell very far indeed short of knowledge. I made the unpleasing discovery-that faults which are personal are not removed by mental recognition of the right. I felt painfully, from the first, that I could not act up to my own intentions nor put into practice that which I was able to present accurately in theory.
I state this that you may understand wherefore I presume to teach what I confess myself incompetent to practise ; and why, being but an indifferent speaker, I venture to treat of the art of speaking. Plainly, then, it is in this wise. From my youth up I have devoted much
I time and thought to the subject. By observation, reading, experience and reflection, I have obtained some practical knowledge how the art of speaking may be studied and should be practised, which, collected and arranged and set forth as clearly as I can, may, perhaps, save you much of the labour that was lost to myself for