Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/12

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Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

make a speech in their native tongue. Upon such an iron time has the art fallen. Truly would the Attic or Roman orator think that we live in a mad world if his spirit, reincarnated for a brief hour, could flit from the banks of the Ilissus or the Tiber to those of the Isis or the Cam.

Meaning of term Eloquence.But bidding good-bye to this conception of an oratory that has passed away, and reverting to our own more modest claims, the question may still be asked: "What, for the purposes of this address, is the scope and meaning to be attached to the title that I have taken?" When I use the word "Eloquence," let me say, then, that I do not allude to the talent of mere facility or glibness of speech, or even of rhetoric in its later application—the talent to which a speaker refers when he says, "After the eloquent remarks to which we have just listened, there is nothing for me to add." No, by Eloquence I here mean the highest manifestation of the power of speech, of which—in an age where oratory is no longer recognised or practised as an art public speakers are still capable. For it will be a part of my argument—paradoxical as it may appear—that while oratory, strictly so-called, has passed under a cloud, and the orator, if haply he does emerge, is almost regarded as suspect—yet never was eloquence, i.e. the power of moving men by speech, more potent than now; though it has never been less studied as an art, yet never was it more useful, or I may add, more admired as an accomplishment.

While, therefore, I have no new definition of oratory or eloquence to offer—for the secret of the finest speaking is in itself undefinable—I shall yet be describing that which all men understand when I say that such and such a man was a real orator, or that such and such a speech was an example of true eloquence. We refer when we use such phrases to no ordinary or commonplace gift. We mean that upon the head of such a man tongues as of fire have descended from heaven; that the silver of ordinary speech is turned into gold on his lips; that he strikes a chord in our heart which thrills as though it had been touched by celestial fingers. And in forming this opinion