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ONE evening, soon after the marriage of our old chum Benedict, during the honey-moon, as his dear Egeria and he were sitting enjoying the beatitude of his lonely chambers in the Paper buildings, the conversation happened to turn on public speaking, Benedict being at the time ambitious to acquire distinction in that department, the lady, like a fond and faithful Wife, did all in her power to encourage his predilections for the art.
- It has often been urged,” said she, “ as an objection against the study of eloquence, that it is a delusive art; unnecessary when it is employed on the side of truth and justice, which their own intrinsic weight and evidence will always sufficiently recommend ; and when found in opposition to them, as, from the variety and imperfection of human characters must frequently be the case, highly dangerous to society. In this objection, eloquence is considered as an engine for swaying the minds of men, not only independent of the moral character of the speaker, but of the truth or falsehood of the propositions he endeavours to inculcate ; and which may, with equal facility, be employed to give a gloss to false opinions, and to acts of treachery and injustice, as to enforce truth, or to support virtue. According to this view of the subject, there can be little doubt but that eloquence is an evil which ought to be banished from
the writings and discourses of men ; for though the advantages on both sides may seem equally balanced, as eloquence may as frequently be an auxiliary to truth as to error, yet truth and justice can much better support the absence of extrinsic ornament than falsehood and injustice, which never fail, when shewn in their true colours, to excite aversion and detestation.
“ It is, however, by no means clear that eloquence, or at least that noble and commanding species of it which we at present consider, is equally adapted to all characters and to all causes and circumstances. Eloquence, it would seem, depends, in a great measure, on the strength of the moral feelings; and I am strongly inclined to imagine that, wherever it produces its highest effects, it produces them only through the medium of those natural sentiments of equity and public spirit common to all mankind, which can seldom be excited but in a good cause. No man becomes eloquent but by having his mind roused and agitated by some ennobling sentiment or passion, which he communicates by sympathy to his hearers : but self-interest, however strongly it may urge a man to the accomplishment of his designs, wants power to excite that noble enthusiasm of mind which is essential to true eloquence. Even supposing this enthusiasm excited in the speaker's own breast, by what means is it to be conveyed to the minds of his audience ? It is only the generous and social affections that are communicable by sympathy, and which circulate with rapidity from breast to breast; interest, on the contrary, is a cold and solitary feeling, which shrinks from the eye of public
observation, and which every individual carefully conceals within himself.”
“ Your observations, my love," replied the Bachelor, 6 are exceedingly just as regards eloquence in general. In this country, however, where it is not used as an occasional engine, but is in fact one of the manufacturing machines of our multiform commerce, it is decidedly an art in which the power of persuasion consists in something distinct, both from the personal feelings and the personal character of the orator. Eloquence among us is the art of reasoning; we attain nothing, either at the bar or in parliament, by impassioned declamation, and scarcely more than a shout even on the hustings.”
You would imply by that, Benedict," replied the nymph, “ that eloquence is not among us so eminent a faculty as it was among the ancients."
“ It is so thought,” said he.
“ It is so said, I allow,” interrupted Egeria; “but how far justly is another thing. I am however in- . clined to think, that as it enters so much more largely into the management of public affairs in England than in any other country, either ancient or modern, it ought to flourish here in greater perfection than it ever did elsewhere.”
“ But confessedly it does not,” said the Bachelor. “ We have had no orator to compare either with Demosthenes or with Cicero ; and until we have such, we must bow the head of homage to their genius, and acknowledge our inferiority.”
“ I do not see the question in that light, my dear," replied the nymph. “We have had, it is true, no orators who exactly resemble them, but we have had
others, who, in their own line, were not less powerful. Besides, we have carried the art farther than ever it was carried, either among the Greeks, or the Romans, or any other people. In REPLY, the orators of England have no masters. It is from that department of oratory that the evidence of our attainments should be adduced. Can any thing be finer, or, if you like the term better, more impassioned, than that masterly reply of the Earl of Kildare to Cardinal Wolsey, as it has been preserved by Campion, the historian of Ireland ?-It appeared that the Earl of Kildare had been accused of treasonous partialities during his administration as the king's deputy in Ireland, for which he was summoned before the privy-council in England. On his appearance there, Wolsey attacked him with great vehemence.
“ I know well, my lord,” exclaimed the cardinal, “ that I am not the fittest man at this table to accuse you, because your adherents assert that I am an enemy to all nobility, and particularly to your blood. But the charges against you are so strong that we cannot overlook them, and so clear that you cannot deny them. I must therefore beg, notwithstanding the stale slander against me, to be the mouth and orator of these honourable gentlemen, and to state the treasons of which you stand accused, without respecting how you may like it. My lord, you well remember how the Earl of Desmond, your kinsman, sent emissaries with letters to Francis, the French king, offering the aid of Munster and of Connaught for the conquest of Ireland ; and, receiving but a cold answer, applied to Charles, the emperor. How many letters, what precepts, what messages, what threats, have been sent to you to apprehend him, and it is not yet done. Why? Because you could not catch him; nay, my lord, you would not, forsooth ! catch him. If he be justly suspected, why are you so partial ? If not, why are you so fearful to have him tried? But it will be sworn to your face, that, to avoid him you have winked wilfully, shunned his haunts, altered your course, advised his friends, and stopped both ears and eyes in the business; and that, when you did make a show of hunting him out, he was always beforehand, and gone. Surely, my lord, this juggling little became an honest man called to such honour, or a nobleman adorned with so great a trust. Had you lost but a cow or a carrion of your own, two hundred retainers would have started up at your whistle, to rescue the prey from the farthest edge of Ulster. All the Irish in Ireland must have made way for you. But, in performing your duty in this affair, merciful God! how delicate, how di. latory, how dangerous, have you been ! One time he is from home ; another time he is at home; sometimes fled, and sometimes in places where you dare not ven. ture. What ! the Earl of Kildare not venture! Nay, the King of Kildare ; for you reign more than you govern the land. When you are offended, the lowest subjects stand as rebels ; when you are pleased, rebels are very dutiful subjects. Hearts and hands, lives and lands, must all be at your beck. Who fawns not to you cannot live within your scent, and your scent is so keen that you track them out at pleasure.”