Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/27

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Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

exquisite when unpremeditated, but leaving when he died the manuscript of an undelivered speech written out entirely in his own hand; Grattan, marvellous in both styles. Sheridan, on the other hand, preparing and learning everything, even his jokes;[1] Macaulay, writing out his great speeches, and repeating them such was his almost miraculous memory without the omission of a word; Brougham, redolent of the lamp; Canning always suggesting the actor and the rhetorician. Later on we shall see which method has been favoured by the great speakers of our time. But enough has been said to show that no distinction in merit can be laid down, while if it were, it would be at once discounted by the fact that the same speakers practise and excel in both.

Modern vogue.That extemporaneous speaking, however, is now thought to be a higher form of the art appears to be certain from the plaudits that are lavished upon the successful rejoinder as compared with the most polished introduction, and from the attempts that are made to simulate it even by expert performers. Why this should be so, it is not altogether easy to say. Professor Jebb, in a bold generalisation, attributed it to the Hebraic basis of education in modern Christendom, which identifies the supreme afflatus with inspiration from above. I am inclined to think that the explanation is both more simple and less flattering. The number of those who can extemporise with power and brilliancy is always greatly inferior to the number of those who can compose and prepare; and men rate more highly the rarer attainment. Secondly, for the purpose of modern politics, the one is a much more serviceable asset than the other. The occasions of speech in our public life have so enormously multiplied, parliamentary business lies so much more in debate than in exposition, there is so little leisure on the part, either of speaker or of audience, for sustained display, that the speaker who can improvise has a great advantage

  1. When he died his note-books were found with the carefully prepared jokes in them which he intended to fire off (and in many cases had fired off) when the moment and the victim came.