Page:Lord Chatham as an Orator.djvu/41

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
36
Lord Chatham as an Orator

he said: 'I thank God that I have been enabled to come here this day to perform my duty, and to speak on a subject which has so deeply impressed my mind. I am old and infirm—have one foot, more than one foot, in the grave. I have risen from my bed to stand up in the cause of my country, perhaps never again to speak in this House.'

So he began. As to the effect, two things are known to us.

One is—who does not even now feel it?—the reverent stillness of the House—'if any one had dropped a handkerchief, the noise would have been heard.'

The other is the testimony of his friend and former Chancellor, Lord Camden, who writes, 'He was not like himself. His speech faltered, his sentences were broken, his mind not master of itself. His words were shreds of unconnected eloquence and flashes of the same fire which, Prometheus-like, he had stolen from heaven.'

And then the closing words, the last ever to be uttered articulately by one who had for more than thirty years been the pride and the spokesman of England: 'I am not, I confess, well informed of the resources of this kingdom, but I trust it has still sufficient to maintain its just rights. My Lords, any state is better than despair. Let us at least make one effort, and if we must fall, let us fall like men.'

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, I should scarcely venture to offer any comment of my own on this solemn scene. But one Oxford memory comes over me which you, and perhaps others, will, I think, pardon.

I know not whether the Roman History of Dr. Arnold is still read and respected in his own University, but I do know that as far back as 1840 he wrote some words in his second volume which, more than sixty years ago, deeply moved one young Harrow and Cambridge man.