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Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

Latin,[1] but since his day it may be almost said, except in the case of popular tags, to have passed into the limbo of the unknown.[2] Our own poets, even Shakespeare, cut no great figure. There is too much reason to fear that quotation, except from an opponent's speeches, is a moribund accomplishment. And yet it is one of the most hallowed and effective implements of oratory.

And literary adornment.The same argument applies to imagery, metaphor, antithesis, alliteration, trope—all the once popular adjuncts of the rhetorical art. When heard they are regarded with a mixture of suspicion and amused surprise. I sometimes wonder what sort of a reception would be given by the present House of Commons to the famous image of the junction of the Rhône and Saône (a far from rhetorical passage) employed by the elder Pitt to describe the coalition of Fox and Newcastle in 1754:

"At Lyons I was taken to the place where the two rivers meet; the one gentle, feeble, languid, and though languid, of no great depth; the other a boisterous and impetuous torrent. But different as they are, they meet at last."

So simple is the language, so natural is the beauty of this simile, that I am inclined to think it would pass muster even now. But I am not so sure of the more daring image applied by the younger Pitt to the later coalition between Fox and North in 1783, when he denounced the inauspicious union, and in the name of his

  1. recalls to me another which was told me by Sir William Harcourt. That statesman, who had a great admiration for Lord Beaconsfield, visited him in his declining years at Hughenden. His host showed him round the library, and pointing with pride to one set of shelves said that they contained the two branches of literature from which he had derived throughout life the greatest consolation, namely, Theology and the Classics!

  2. The most famous case in his later years was the quotation from Lucretius (ii. 646) which appeared in the noble speech on the Affirmation Bill (the Bradlaugh case) on April 26th, 1883. It is reproduced in Morley's Life.
  3. Bright's one attempt at a Latin phrase was a notorious fiasco. In a debate in July, 1869, he spoke of Disraeli as entering the House crinis (vice crinibus) disjectis. Mr. Gladstone almost bounded from his seat with horror.