Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/13

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5
Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

I shall judge—we can only judge—by the impression produced upon those who hear him. Oratory, for our purposes, is the vehicle of persuasion, not of prophecy or instruction or even of truth.[1]

Scott, in Marmion, sings of the happy time:

"'Twixt boy and youth
When thought is speech, and speech is truth."

The Art of persuasian.Parliamentary eloquence lives and breathes in no such age of innocence. It ought always to spring from thought, but it has no necessary connection with truth. As early as the fifth century B.C. Isocrates defined rhetoric as the Science (a very curious word, typical of the Greek attitude) of persuasion. Aristotle only so far varied this definition as to lay down that the function of rhetoric was not to persuade, but to discover the available means of persuasion. Neither of them contended that it was an instrument for the propagation of truth.

Effect on the audience
is the test.
In the same light and as a vehicle of persuasion must we still regard it. Of the three audiences whom the speaker has to face—the hearers of the moment, the readers of the morrow, and a remote posterity—the first are those in whose hands his fame as an orator really lies. It may be that the highest form of eloquence is the eloquence that can be read with as much pleasure as it was originally heard, and that the greatest masterpieces are those which live again as prose. Burke, indeed, who is commonly regarded as the foremost of our literary orators, was actually heard with much less enjoyment than that with which he was afterwards read. But while the orator who is to enjoy an enduring fame must subscribe to the double test, as did Pitt and Daniel Webster and Macaulay and Bright, he is not necessarily less an orator because he fails, for whatever reason, to satisfy the second requirement We have not

  1. Machiavelli said of the speaking of Savonarola: "The secret of oratory lies, not in saying new things, but in saying things with a certain power that moves the hearers."