Page:Lord Chatham as an Orator.djvu/13

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Lord Chatham as an Orator

enjoyed the dictum of his great and gruff contemporary. Boswell, with his usual candour, tells us that he once said to Johnson, 'Do you think, Sir, that Burke has read Cicero much?' The obvious growl in reply answers, if it does not silence, many such futile questions. 'I don't believe it, Sir. Burke is neither like Cicero, nor like Demosthenes, nor like any one else, but speaks as well as he can.'

As well as he can. If this means as well as he could do after much thought and much preparation, I doubt whether Johnson's dictum, undoubtedly true of Burke, can be held to apply to Chatham; for all accounts agree that he less than almost any first-rate English speaker knew when he rose what he meant to say.

Doubtless in early years he had thought much on the art of speaking and even the choice of words, but his applications of the art seem to have been in the strictest sense ex tempore, as little expected by himself as by his hearers.

Let me offer you just a few fragments or pickings from what some of our best modern critics have reported. Mr. Lecky speaks of 'the blasting fury of his invective, the force, fire, and majesty of a declamation which thrilled and awed the most fastidious audience'. His speeches 'usually took the tone of a singularly elevated, rapid, and easy conversation'. Another critic uses this same word, 'a kind of conversation, not a speech, for he never came with a prepared harangue.' Mr. Lecky again says, 'there was something in the speaker immeasurably greater even than his words.... He delighted in touching the moral chords, in appealing to strong passions.'

Macaulay's testimony, in the first of his two famous Essays, is well known. 'He was no speaker of set speeches. His few prepared discourses were complete