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T is a truth of impressive significance that enthusiasm for civil and religious liberty has been, in all ages of history, the leading motive of oratory. Men to whom the gift of eloquence had been vouchsafed seemed almost invariably to be inspired to put forth their greatest and most memorable efforts in the cause of God, or of freedom. Demosthenes, in the porticos and Senate chambers of ancient Greece, attained his sublimest height when urging his countrymen to resist the aggressions of Philip of Macedon, who meditated the overthrow of Grecian republicanism. At a later day, Marcus Tullius Cicero thundered forth his denunciations of the conspirator Catiline, because he knew that the success of that conspiracy meant the ruin of Roman institutions. No other cause could so have fired the spirit of these men; and many of the great national tragedies of history have been due to the fact that the people who heard them speak turned aside from their warnings and arguments, and followed the lower paths of material expediency and selfishness.
In early Christian and mediaeval times the occasions of oratory were mainly religious; for the doctrines of Christianity were then more absorbing than political ones: mankind, indeed, having fallen under the dominion of temporal tyranny in all civil affairs, and therefore finding their best consolation in aspirations toward spiritual emancipation. Arguments on points of theological controversy also assume a prominent position in the recorded eloquence of those days; because the true interpretation of ambiguous questions of this kind seemed to the contestants to involve matters of pre-eminent import to the welfare
of the life beyond the grave. But when, a thousand years ago, the beginnings of a nation first assembled in the little island of Britain, and the Saxons and Angles and Danes and Norsemen were becoming welded together into something like a homogeneous people, the instinct for freedom of speech and self-conduct once more took a foremost place in men's minds; and the prayers of John Knox, the dying address of Thomas Cranmer at the stake, the dauntless declaration of John Eliot and of many another, bore witness to the fact that the men of England were destined to be the political orators of the modern world. Here was a nation which must needs be free; and prophets arose among them, able and resolute to give noble and memorable utterance to the vague tendencies of the masses. Their words became the framework on which the fabric of the future constitution of the empire was to be erected: and each period of their eloquence meant the enfranchisement and felicity of myriads still unborn. It was not until after Magna Charta had been wrung from John's reluctant pen, however, and Parliament had taken its place as the true court of appeal and forum of the nation, that British eloquence attained any considerable and continuous volume. The House of Commons became, inevitably and spontaneously, a permanent school of oratory: in which were educated, and where contended, not a few of the greatest masters of human speech that have ever lived. The addresses of Oliver Cromwell, unobservant though many of them seem of the classic canons of public utterance, have within them an iron force and intensity of purpose that give them a controlling influence upon the mind: while Lord Digby's speech against Strafford, and the latter's wonderful reply, show that the art of eloquence was having a new birth after the sleep of ages. The persuasiveness of Taylor and Leighton and the burning conviction of Bunyan and Barrow served to enlarge and deepen the sphere of oratorical activity; the homely ardor of John Wesley recalled the heavenly earnestness of the early Christian epochs; and at length the questions arising upon the disaffection and revolt of the American colonies had the effect of breeding a company of parliamentary giants, whose achievements, when at their best, have seldom been equalled, and perhaps never have been surpassed, in any epoch, ancient or modern. At no time, certainly, were so many sons of thunder gathered together in one place; and in perusing the records of their addresses we shall always find that the worthiest in art, as well as in purpose, are those which speak for human liberty, and against the counsels and machinations of its enemies. No more patriotic men have lived than were Pitt, Burke and Fox; yet they were the most powerful and persistent champions of their kin across the sea, who were suffering from maladministration of the principles which had made England free, and from betrayal, by members of the government, of trusts and promises whose preservation was vital to any kind of political prosperity. The great attack of Sheridan upon Warren Hastings, again, was a plea against injustice and tyranny in India: and such outbursts as that of Curran for liberty of the press, and of Grattan in behalf of the rights of his down-trodden countrymen, indicate how at all points and in all circumstances the power of oratory was put forth in vindication of the emancipation of man. From these stirring and heroic days we come through the portals of the nineteenth century to our own epoch. We find William Pitt contending against the ominous power of Napoleon, and the marvellous Irishman, Daniel O'Connell, pleading with matchless power for justice to men of the Catholic faith. The speech of Robert Emmet against the unrighteous sentence passed against his life is one of the most stirring protests ever heard from human lips against the iniquity and the blindness of despotism. Meanwhile, in the field, little cultivated hitherto, of letters and the humanities, men like Brougham and Derby were rivalling the performances of the old Greek Isocrates. Newman, by his exquisite discourses, kept alive the traditions of religious appeal; and Lytton spoke convincingly in the cause of education. But about the middle of the century a handful of men, most prominent among whom were Palmerston, Bright, Disraeli and Gladstone, appeared in the areña, and the echo of their accents is still in our ears to-day. Palmerston was the man of the world in politics, and his addresses are chiefly in the line of expediency, compromise, or what modern argot would characterize as bluff. But Bright was a strict political moralist; Disraeli was the statesman of imagination and far-reaching ambition; and Gladstone, whose grand figure, growing constantly