Page:Lord Chatham as an Orator.djvu/44

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39
Lord Chatham as an Orator

More than sixty years ago the taunt was levelled against a great Minister, once the Member for your University, that 'his life had been one vast Appropriation Clause'. The sarcasm, utterly unmerited by that high-minded Statesman, appears to your Romanes Lecturer of to-day exactly to hit off his own very humble performance. It is one long undisguised 'appropriation' of the brains and pens of others, one long, he fears tedious, plagiarism.

The ethics of plagiarism have never, so far as I know, been reduced to a system. The thief does not stand high in public estimation, or perhaps in his own, but his motive is sometimes leniently judged. Many of my hearers, those especially whose recent memories or dawning hopes are closely linked with Oxford Moderations, will remember the crowning scene in the Knights of Aristophanes, where poor Cleon, convicted at last by his own confessions of too glaring obligations to the public treasury, attempts to soften hearts and to stay immediate execution by the pathetic apology,

'Well, if I stole, 'twas for the public weal.'[1]

That, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, is my own humble and most respectful plea.

I thought, nay I knew, that I could best serve you by reminding some, and perhaps informing others, what had been the verdicts of the best judges of your great Oxford orator of the eighteenth century. It is easy to belittle oratory, to contrast Rhetoric with Philosophy, to contend that it is the automatic weapon of the charlatan as well as of the patriot.

My object, rather than my hope, has been to re-awaken, however faintly, some echoes of the kingly voice of a

  1. ΔΗΜ. ὦ μιαρέ, κλέπτων δή με ταῦτ' ἐξηπάτας;
    ἐγὼ δέ τυ ἐστεφάνιξα κἀδωρησάμαν.
    ΚΑ. ἐγὼ δ' ἔκλεπτον ἐπ' ἀγαθῷ γε τῇ πόλει.Eq. 1224–6.