Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/77
Modern Parliamentary Eloquence
and dishevelled, and, until excited, spoke with a shrill and piping voice; Grattan indulged in very violent gestures and swayed his body to and fro, till "at last his genius carried all before it, and, as in the oracles of old, the contortions vanished as the inspiration became manifest." Peel, though gifted with a very handsome presence, had a trick of putting his hands under his coat tails while speaking which somewhat detracted from his dignity. Lord Macaulay went off at the speed of an express train, his action was ungainly, and his voice loud and without modulation. Sheil not only screamed, but did it in almost unintelligible accents. Lord John Russell was notoriously insignificant.
Two things are clear. With the decline of oratory, all attempts to make a study of action, manner, or even delivery, have been abandoned. Secondly, as speaking becomes less dramatic and more business-like, even unstudied action falls every day into greater disuse. The foreigner who is accustomed to see a French or Italian orator declaiming in the tribune, rushing up and down, waving his arms, beating the desk, and throwing his body into violent postures, is astonished at the spectacle of the English Parliamentarian standing almost motionless at the table, his hands clinging to the lapels of his coat, or perhaps toying with a pince-nez, his most violent action being in all probability a mild castigation of the brass-bound box in front of him. As to what would happen if a British orator indulged in the supplosio pedis, or stamping of the feet, which was one of the most restrained of the gestures prescribed in the Greek school of rhetoric, I shudder to think.
The answer then appears to be that orators make their own gestures; that gesture of any sort is dying out; and that while a great orator is doubtless aided by a handsome exterior and graceful action, it does not matter very much even if he happens to be ugly and awkward. Anyone who saw or heard the late Bishop Magee would realise how little dependent upon physical accessories it is possible for successful orators to be.