Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/39

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Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

for which he pleaded. Though it is no part of the business of an orator to mount a pulpit, John Bright preached to his countrymen with the fervour of a Savonarola and the simplicity of a Wesley. Many of his illustrations (e.g. the Shunammite woman and the cave of Adullam) were drawn from the Bible, which he was said to know better than any other book. In general literature he was not deeply versed, nor did he give any evidence of a wide knowledge or profound reasoning. There can never have been any speaker who more successfully practised the maxim Ars est celare artem. Though he was known to shut himself up for days before he delivered a great speech, when he was inaccessible even to his family, though his purple passages, as they would now be called, were committed to memory[1] and his perorations written down, neither his manner nor his diction suggested artifice, while his high character and patent sincerity opened the door of every heart. I will not repeat here the well-known passages from his most famous orations, but I will give one extract only from the speech that he made at a public breakfast given to William Lloyd Garrison, the American abolitionist, in June, 1867—a speech that was thought by many of his friends to have been the highest achievement of his art.

"Then came the outbreak which had been so often foretold, so often menaced: and the ground reeled under the nation during four years of agony, until at last, after the smoke of the battlefield had cleared away, the horrid shape which had cast its shadow over a whole Continent had vanished, and was gone for ever. An ancient and renowned poet has said

'Unholy is the voice
Of loud thanksgiving over slaughtered men.'

It becomes us not to rejoice, but to be humbled, that a chastisement so terrible should have fallen upon any of our race; but we may be thankful for this that this chastisement at least was not sent in vain. The great triumph in the field was not all; there came after it another great triumph, a triumph over passion; and there came up before the world the spectacle, not of armies or military commanders, but of the magnanimity and mercy of a powerful and victorious nation."

  1. He told Mr. George Russell that his method of constructing a speech was to divide his subject into compartments, to each of which he supplied what he called an island, i.e. a carefully prepared key sentence. Then he would swim from island to island, until he landed on the best island of all, which was, of course, the peroration.