Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/28

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Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

over the speaker who requires notice. Perhaps also the one gift appears to connote sincerity, while the other suggests artifice. Nevertheless, behind all this lurks the solid and incontrovertible fact that on great occasions men still prepare and write out at length, and trust largely either to memory or to notes.

I have now summarised the principal characteristics that seem to me to differentiate the modern practice of public speech in this country from that of an earlier date. I have shown that the condition of the House of Commons, the education and life of members, the exigencies of the party system, the requirements of the constituencies, all tend insensibly to a lowering of the old standards and to the disparagement of speaking as an art. Perhaps there is in this state of affairs no more than an inevitable reflex of what is sometimes called the spirit of the age. It is a temper quick, impatient, practical, business-like, distrustful of periphrasis, scornful of superfluous embellishment, eager to arrive at the goal. Speed and directness have ousted leisure and circumambulation. Just as the steamer has superseded the sailing ship, the railway the stage-coach, the taxicab the hansom, and the motor the cart, so must the speaker get more quickly to his destination; he may not halt to drink at Pierian fountains or to wreathe his head with Delphian bay.

Forensic and ecclesiastical eloquence.I am not sure that a similar decline is not observable in the two other great fields of British eloquence, the pulpit and the bar. It would take me far afield were I to attempt to investigate these phenomena this evening. But I suspect that the same causes, mutatis mutandis, are producing similar effects, and that the eloquence of a Mansfield or an Erskine, an Atterbury or a Wilberforce will be less and less likely to be evolved from the conditions of the future.

General level
of speaking.
And yet, while admitting this decline in the highest level and anticipating its continuance, there are two opposing considerations which it is fair to name. The first is this, that while the highest