Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/29

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21
Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

standard is lower than it was, the ordinary standard is higher. It cannot, I think, be doubted that though fewer speakers speak with the voice of angels than of yore, more speakers speak like intelligent men. In the House of Commons the general level of speech is certainly higher than it was fifty years ago the direct consequence of the practice acquired on the platform and in the hard mill of contested elections. It is scarcely to be conceived that so wretched a speaker as Castlereagh could ever again lead the House of Commons that he should have been preferred to the brilliant Canning is to this hour one of the puzzles of history. I doubt even whether the Duke of Wellington, who had no pretensions to be an orator, could be called either by the favour of the Sovereign or the confidence of the country to the presidency of an administration. The gift of speech in political leaders has become a greater necessity it is really a condition of existence.

Influence of modern eloquence.The second consideration is this, that though oratory may be shorn of much of its ancient reverence, the power of speech is in no wise dethroned. It still sits aloft and holds the keys of fortune in its lap. It may be that "fragments of the mighty voice" less often "come rolling on the wind"; but, with a humbler and less sonorous utterance, eloquence still sways the hearts of men. and opens the doors to influence and power. The man who aspires to a seat on the Front Bench of the House of Commons will find his best passport in speech. A Cabinet Minister must be able to expound his policy and defend his department. The man who would lead the people and control the State may not perhaps succeed without character; but he will undoubtedly fail if he has not the gift of tongues. On the lower rungs of the political ladder it is in the debating society, at the street corner, in clubs, and on platforms that the ambitious artisan acquires the training which takes him from the secretaryship of his Union to the Town Council, from the latter to the House of Commons, and from the back benches to the front. Never was there a