Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/9

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MODERN PARLIAMENTARY ELOQUENCE


A year and a half ago the Master of the most famous College in this illustrious University, your own Dr. Butler, himself a speaker of unsurpassed grace and felicity, came over to my University of Oxford to deliver the Romanes Lecture on Lord Chatham as an Orator. He confessed in his opening remarks that it had at first been his intention to deal with the history and influence of British Oratory during the century and a half from Chatham to Gladstone, but that second thoughts had induced him to curtail the range of his ambition and to confine himself to a single exemplar, though perhaps the noblest of all. There were many who regretted the self-restraint of the lecturer, and who felt that a unique opportunity had been lost of hearing judgment passed on one of the foremost of arts by one of its most gifted exponents.

Scope of address.In accepting the invitation of your Vice-Chancellor to come to Cambridge and deliver to you the Rede Lecture this afternoon, I do not presume to handle the bow from which even Dr. Butler shrunk. But I take up the subject at the other or modern end, and I shall endeavour to present to you some analysis, however imperfect, of contemporary British eloquence as it has appeared to one whose public life, though by no means long, has yet enabled him to hear all the greatest speakers from Gladstone, Disraeli, Bright, to the present day, and to whom the comparison between the public speaking of the past and present has always appealed as a subject of more than ephemeral interest. By Modern Parliamentary Eloquence I mean the eloquence of the past fifty years—the speaking which men still living can remember to have heard. It will be my endeavour to examine the conditions under which this phase