Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/22

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14
Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

Effect of reporting.But by far the greatest change that has been wrought in Parliamentary conditions, as they affect speaking, has been the result of verbatim reporting in the Press. At the time when Chatham thundered and Pitt lightened, reporting was treated as a gross breach of privilege by the House of Commons—a law which was constantly reasserted, and only evaded by surreptitious note-takers skulking in the galleries and reconstructing the speeches afterwards from such aids as their imperfect notes or memory might afford. In these circumstances the speaker, unconscious of Hansard and undeterred by the fear of the morrow's Times, could give the free rein to his imagination; could amplify, repeat, embellish, and adorn with impunity. But now that every word is taken down and that the speaker, particularly the prominent or Front Bench speaker, knows that he is addressing, not a private club, but a gathering that may embrace the whole nation, and in the case of Foreign Office debates a much wider audience still, he must walk delicately and measure his paces; he cannot frisk and frolic in the flowery meads of rhetoric; he dare not "let himself go" as Chatham or Fox could afford to do. As Lord Rosebery has epigrammatically remarked, "eloquence and stenography are not of congenial growth," and "as reporting improves eloquence declines."[1]

Effect of the daily Press.These changes in the House have been the reflex of corresponding and even greater movements outside. The prodigious expansion of the Press and the universal empire of the telegraph have rendered the populace indifferent to Parliamentary debates. When they can get their politics served up hot and steaming along with the morning teacup in the leader of their favourite organ, why bother about Parliament? Why read the finest speech even of an orator or of a leader when the descriptive paragraph

  1. There is perhaps something to be said on the other side. James Grant, who was a Parliamentary reporter, and wrote a book entitled The Newspaper Press, said that the temporary absence of reporters from the House of Commons in 1833, when they were excluded by the action of O'Connell, had a most deplorable effect on the eloquence of members, whose speeches became short, spiritless, and dull. Possibly, however, this was a Press Gallery point of view.