Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/11

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Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

shall again revert, in the contrast that it indicates with more modern conceptions, that the oratory of the Greeks and Romans was essentially the oratory of art, and therefore of preparation. Though it is on record that Demosthenes was an effective extemporaneous speaker, yet neither he nor any other of the ancient masters of the art improvised if they could possibly avoid it. It was inconsistent with the conception of their art, an infringement of its canons, a blot upon its perfection, to do so. Had they been told that the best speaker in later times would be regarded as the man who could extemporise most readily, or most adroitly conceal the degree of his preparation, they would have been shocked at so grave an affront to Rhetoric. They wrote their speeches with as solemn a deliberation as Milton, in imitation of them, wrote his famous discourse on freedom of speech; they sometimes wrote speeches which were never delivered at all, but which were published by their authors, without a vestige of self-consciousness, as artistic masterpieces to be studied and admired; they wrote speeches to be delivered by other people; and, indeed, when the actual texts of their orations were not forthcoming, other people re-wrote their speeches for them.[1] It cannot, I imagine, be doubted that the celebrated Funeral Oration of Pericles was the work far more of Thucydides, re-composing the speech from the ideas of Pericles and from such data as survived, than it was of Pericles himself.

Modern academic practice.The Greek and Roman conception of Oratory as an art to be studied reappeared in the Universities of the Middle Ages, both in England and on the Continent, Modern where rhetorical exercises and disputations practice. were a part of the prescribed curriculum. They have long since vanished from an academic world which offers annual prizes to its students for futile declamations in Latin and erudite compositions in Greek, but which never dreams of teaching them how to

  1. A variation on this method was that of the French orator Mirabeau, who used to deliver speeches composed for him by friends. They saved him the trouble by composing the text, and he turned the dull metal into gold by his own genius and individuality.