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ORA TOR Y.
BY G. M. WHARTON.
If there be one attribute of man, which, more than any other, establishes the supremacy of his nature, it is that of oratory. The pleasures of sight, however varied or enticing ; all the illusions of the eye; even the enchanting strains of music ; are feeble in their effects upon the imagination, compared to the soul-inspiring, spirit-stirring emanations of " eloquence divine." The first are but the impressions of the external world—the next, however imposing or delightful, convey no stamp of intellect; but the latter mark triumphantly the mind within. It is the better part of man-his spirit-gleaming through his clay, and attesting his claim to something higher than a material world. Eloquence is the mightiest engine with which man can act upon his fellow-its effects, whether for good or ill, have been attested from the fearful moment when the seductive tongue of the “ arch-enemy” darkened the fortunes of our first parents; and the glorious results of its impassioned voice, when exerted in the cause of the violated rights of our race, stand prominent on the page of history. We have almost all felt, and some of us have beheld it, in the suppressed breath, the heaving chest, the lightning of the eye. The history of eloquence (we refer now to the theatre for its display), is a subject of the deepest interest. From the rude eloquence of the savage-man
speaking to man with the voice of pure and unaffected nature, and rich with her imagery-to the debates of popular assemblies
among nations we have been accustomed to venerate as classical, and yet, in many respects, rude ; upward to the contests of argument, wit, refinement, and passion, which have graced the deliberative assemblies of Britain and our own country-every step in the
progress teems with instruction and interest. We behold in such a picture the advance of mind—the play and the strife of the intellect. It is a field eminently free for talent to put forth her strength—unaided by factitious importance-unimpeded by the cobwebs of fashion. Native genius at once assumes her propor rank ; she wields a weapon, against which no armour yields protection, and from which no subtlety can escape. If there be a spectacle in this world more imposing than another, it is the victory of talent in a contest with which physical power is entirely disconnected, and where the forces and the arms are wholly intellectual.
With some splendid exceptions of individual efforts, even national partiality must admit, that the British Parliament has been the body the most graced by oratorical display. For a long series of years, the halls of St. Stephen's have resounded with the voice of eloquence. It has been a great arena, where the wit, the sarcasm, and the feeling of the British nation have contended for superiority. It has been a mighty school, where the youthful talents for debate of her aspiring citizens have been developed and disciplined ; where proud presumption has been humbled ; and overweening arrogance taught a useful lesson : and where, in fine, hearty and unfeigned applause has ever been bestowed upon successful exertion. British oratory would seem to have attained the utmost height to which eloquence can reach : polished, nervous,
witty, sensible, yet impassioned. The eloquence of savage nations is too metaphorical to please a chastened ear. We meet in it with much that charms us by its ingenuousness and simplicity, and engages our attention by the striking truth of its comparisons—but its images are all material, derived from the external world : we of course look in vain for the logic of argument or the reflections of philosophy. It may be considered a literary heresy to breathe aught against the supremacy of Grecian and Roman eloquence; but it would seem to us, that the human mind has profited little by extended civilisation and Christian knowledge, if their influence has not raised the character of human eloquence-if men's views have not been enlarged as their information has expanded—and if this improvement were not visible in their mental exercises. Again ; but two great names present themselves among the orators of the illustrious people we have mentioned : blot out the memories of Demosthenes and Cicero, and Grecian or Roman eloquence would not be mentioned in connection with their music, their statuary, their painting, their architecture, and their poetry. On the contrary, in modern Europe, we can point to a splendid galaxy, who have exhausted in every department of oratorical effort, the brightest intellectual endowments.
Let us not be supposed to underrate the eloquence of our own country, or to deny that a field, even fairer (because more extended) than England affords, is not opened to our own citizens. A word upon this subject may not be out of place here.
The condition and circumstances of our land, natural and political, are well known, and therefore need not be dwelt
upon here. But we are not aware that they have been noticed in connection with her eloquence. Here, the climate, the soil, and the character of the people are
favourable to rapid, precocious, and vigorous growth of natural and intellectual products. Plants shoot up to an enormous size-population swells in an unexampled degree-magnitude isa feature of the country; and the same may be said of the speeches of the people. The length of American orations is their primary characteristic : it is so obvious a mark, and one so much of the essence of an harangue, that it cannot escape
notice. It is in some measure the evidence of want of due precision of idea and expression, and certainly of an uncorrected taste. It is the sign of an exuberance of ideas, which would be pruned by careful preparation and education, that would suggest the propriety of not starting in every discussion ab ovo, and of presuming the previous knowledge of certain first principles. The remark is of equal force and truth, when applied to legal arguments, judicial opinions, legislative, literary or popular discourses. Of all and each it may be said, “ they drag their slow length along."