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that, whatever the degree of capacity for oratory with which you may have been endowed by nature, you will never attain to proficiency in it without much training.
Doubtless you have shared the sort of hazy notion floating in the public mind, that if you can only pronounce the words properly you can read ; that if you have words you can speak; and that words will come, when they are wanted for a speech, as readily as they come in a tête-à-tête. I suspect you have formed no conception of the number and variety of the qualifications essential to good writing, right reading and effective speaking ; how, for reading, the mind must be cultivated to understand, the feelings to give expression, the voice to utter correctly, the taste to impart tone to the entire exercise ; and, for speaking, how the intellect must be trained to a rapid flow of ideas, the instantaneous composition of sentences, with the right words in the right places wherewith to clothe the thoughts, the voice attuned to harmony and the limbs trained to graceful action, so that the audience may listen with pleasure, while their convictions are carried, their feelings touched and their sympathies enlisted.
I hope you will thoroughly understand that it is not my purpose, in these letters, to play the part of a professor and teach you to write, read and speak, but only to put you in the way to teach yourself. My design is to impress upon you the absolute necessity for a formal study of the kindred Arts of Writing, Reading and Speaking, if you would attain to such a mastery of them as will be required in your Profession, and to point out to you the paths by which they are to be sought. And I must repeat, in my own justification for making the attempt, that there is a very great difference indeed
between knowledge and action. A man may well know precisely what should be done, and how it should be done, and even be enabled to impart that knowledge to others, without being able to do it. That is precisely my position. By devoting to the subject a great deal of time and thought, I have been enabled to learn something of what a writer, a reader and a speaker should do and should not do, what qualifications are required for each, and how their arts may be best cultivated and attained, but without ability perfectly to perform them myself; therefore it is that
these letters propose nothing more than to convey to you, in a short time, the information that it has taken me a long time to collect.
A perfect speaker would be almost a perfect man, so that there never was, and never will be, a perfect Orator. The best does but approach the standard of ideal excellence. Such great gifts of mind and body must combine to constitute an Orator that, when I detail them, you will cease to wonder that great orators are so few. I will first sketch the mental qualifications, for these, or some of them, are absolutely indispensable, and their presence will go far to compensate for the absence of many physical advantages.
The foremost care of a speaker is, to have something to say; his next is, to say it; and his third is, to sit down when he has said it. These may appear to you very commonplace requirements, and you will probably think that I needed not have taken the trouble to write long letters to you to tell you this. But in fact, like other golden rules, they are more easy to remember than to observe. Consult your own experience, and say how many of all the speeches you have ever heard, on any occasion whatever, gave utterance to thoughts, to ideas, to aught that painted a picture on your mind, influenced your judgment, or kindled your emotions. Were they not mere sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, sentences “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," or words that scarcely fell at all into sentences, insomuch that, when the speaker had concluded, you could not very distinctly say what he had been talking about ? And if this sort of speaker so abounds, how much more frequent still are they who never know when they have done, and how to sit down, having said what they desired to say. How many men, who are otherwise really respectable speakers, fail in this faculty of sitting down, are continually coming to a close and then beginning again, and when you mentally exclaim, “He is certainly going to finish now,” start off on a new topic, or repeat the thrice-told tale, and take a new lease of your ears, to the severe trial of your patience.
The first qualification for attainment of the art of speaking is, therefore, having something to say—by which I mean, that
you must have in your mind definite thoughts to which you desire to give expression in words. Wanting these, it is useless to attempt to be a speaker. Thoughts will not come just when you are pleased to call for them. It is
you should cultivate a habit of thinking clearly and continuously—of thinking, too, your own thoughts—and you must do this, not by vague fancies, but by trains of ideas logically arranged, and by accustoming yourself to think a subject through, instead of merely thinking vaguely about it.
For what is a speech but thinking aloud ? You pursue a train of thought, and, by putting it into words you seek to conduct the minds of your audience through the same train of thought to the same conclusion, and thus to make them share your emotions or convictions. To this end the aptest thoughts are nothing, unless they can be expressed in words as apt. This is an art; this does not come by nature. Nature contributes something to it by certain special capacities with which she favours a few, and she sometimes sets a ban upon others by positive incapacity to think consecutively, to find words readily, or to give them utterance in a pleasing manner. But even the most favoured by nature require sedulous cultivation of their faculties. Thought can only come from much observation, much reading and much reflection. Composition—by which I mean the choice of the fittest words, and the arrangement of them in the most correct and graceful sentences--can be mastered only by long study and much practice. Every man who aspires to be a speaker must laboriously learn the art of composition, for that is the second stone of the edifice.
I can give you no instructions for obtaining thoughts ; they must arise from the natural or acquired activity of your mind, gathering ideas from all accessible stores. You must keep your eyes and ears ever open to receive all kinds of knowledge from all sorts of sources.
Your information cannot be too diversified. Observation will supply the most useful materials ; reading, the most various; reflection, the most profound. But you must be something more than a mere recipient of impressions from without; these must be intimately revolved and recombined in your hours of reflection, and then they may be reproduced in other shapes as your own thoughts. Accustom yourself to think, and give yourself time to think. There are many portions of the day which can be devoted to reflection, without trying to make thought a business. If a man tells me that he habitually closes his book, or lays down his pen, turns his face to the fire with his feet upon the fender, and throws himself back in his easy chair to think, he may say that he is thinking, and perhaps flatter himself with the belief that he is thinking ; but I know better-he is only dreaming. The time for real reflection is when you are taking that exercise in the open air, which I trust you never neglect, and which is as needful to the accomplishment of a speaker as any other training. At such seasons, prepare yourself by reflection for that which is the next process in the acquisition of the art.
And that is, writing. You must habitually place your thoughts upon paper, first, that you may do so rapidly; and secondly, that you may do so correctly. When you come to set down your reflections upon paper, you will be surprised to find how loose and inaccurate they have been, what terrible flaws there are in your arguments. You are thus enabled to correct them, and to compare the matured sentence with the rude vision of it. You are thus trained to weigh your words and assure yourself that they precisely embody the idea you desire to convey. You can trace uncouthness of the sentences, and dislocations of thought, of which you
had not been conscious before. It is far better to learn your lesson thus upon paper, which you can throw.into the fire unknown to any human being, than to be taught it, in the presence of the public, by an audience who are not always very lenient critics.