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By impassioned bursts, by overwhelming invectives, "by the terrors of his beak, and the lightning of his eye," he would make those who were far his superiors cower before him.
William Murray, then Lord Mansfield, was also in his decline at the opening of this distinguished period. He was great only in reply, as Chatham was great only in attack. His was the connected argument, given with some of the best graces of style and manner. He is represented as having all the Ciceronian accomplishments, handsome in person, melodious in voice; in the phrase of Pope, "the silvertongued Murray."
Lord North, who for many years stood the shock of that most formidable of all oppositions that have ever arisen in the British Parliament, possessed very considerable powers of debate. He showed great facility and command of language; being always clear in statement, often powerful in argument, but never rising to the impassioned. He is represented as a rather corpulent man, of imperturbable equanimity, of casy good nature, abounding in wit and humor. It is said that the thrusts of his mighty antagonists "seemed to sink into him like a cannon-ball into a wool-sack." He was favored with another shield in a constitutional somnolency, which would overtake him even on the Treasury bench; so that it would sometimes happen that while the opposition were stabbing, the minister would be snoring. The only man who could really succeed in stinging the minister was the waspish, sarcastic Colonel Barre. With a huge, rough voice, a savage countenance, one eye gone and the other going, he drove at his object with a directness and personality which it was sometimes hard to bear.
Burke spoke with rapidity and vehemence, with a strong Irish accent, and an undulating motion of the head, in splendid language, with apt classical allusions, with pathos, with humor sometimes, with caustic severity when provoked, with burning indignation; but not at the time with any marked effect, because he spoke so multifariously. He was oppressed and embarrassed by the profusion and variety
of his resources; he was enticed away from the point by the opening visions of his imagination. Hence his comparative failure in his place.
Charles James Fox has been called the greatest debater the world has ever see. He was always prepared, because he could speak without any preparation; at once mighty in argument and slovenly in arrangement; rude often in style, because too quick in the delivery of his thoughts for their proper clothing, so that they jostled, struggled, crowded, almost quarrelled, to get forth, while he rushed forward in his track of vehement reasoning and appeal, trampling down as he went all mere flowers of fancy.
Mr. Pitt, the illustrious rival of Fox, affords an example of altogether another sort. He kept more to the subject, and was sooner through, disposing of an attack in two hours which Fox stood three hours in making. In him the closeness of the argument, all to the point; the perfection of the style, every word as it should be; the smooth, beautiful flow, harmonizing with the melody of a deep, sonorous voice, set off by a trained and dignified action, together, held the attention and produced a fine, sometimes powerful, effect.
Sheridan was the great declaimer of that arena. He was flowery, gorgeous, overwrought in many of his passages. Yet he could paint scenes; could work argument in passion, and give to his speech a dramatic turn and brilliancy; at one time amuse his hearers by strokes of humor, and then overwhelm them with the torrents of his heated, high-wrought declamation.
Grattan, another of the great orators of the time, was simple, though an Irishman; vituperative, antithetic, at times terribly effective. He sought point in every thing — in his thought and expression, in his argument, his ornament, and his passion. Point was at once his power and his blemish.
Erskine was pre-eminent particularly as an advocate. A peculiarly fascinating eye which held to itself every other eye; a singular lightness and grace of motion and action;
matter and argument precisely adapted to the minds and hearts before him, clothed in a diction of almost unequalled harmony and beauty; these formed a combination often. well-nigh irresistible.
With Dundas, the main supporter of Pitt, from the same country, Scotland, it was plain, sterling sense without embellishments of style; and with Dunning it was close, rapid argument, and little else; yet both were heard and felt in their place. Windham and Wilberforce were both prominent speakers in the latter part of the period in question; the one opposing the abolition of the slave-trade, the other the leading advocate of the measure; the former destroying his power by his violence and extravagance, the latter wonderfully aiding his by purity and goodness. This most remarkable period of British eloquence pretty much closed up with the eighteenth century; though Pitt and Fox, Windham and Wilberforce, and one or two others, lived a few years into the present.
There were great speakers in America at this periodJohn Adams, with his short, direct, business-like urgency; James Otis, fitly termed a flame of fire; at once intensely heated and severely logical; Patrick Henry, who uttered his plain, common-sense views in such tones of passion, and significance of manner, with a force throughout so rousing and astringent, that the nation was braced up by it to the desperate purpose of resistance, to the stern alternative, "liberty or death"; Fisher Ames, who, in 1796, on the subject of the British treaty, so moved and agitated the house, that objection was made to taking the vote under the excitement of such appeals.
We find three periods rather decisively marked in the history of British parliamentary debate. First, in Walpole and Bolingbroke's time, the eloquence of diplomacy, “partaking," as one remarks, "a good deal of a state-paper detail." Secondly, the great period, the eloquence of passion, the conflict of excited and gigantic talent, when great torrents were poured forth and were seen fiercely dashing
against each other. The third, that which we have witnessed since, the more sober period, the eloquence of argument and business. This last has been a dull period as compared with the preceding. But few speakers have appeared who, probably, could have succeeded highly on the great arena. Of these, we think, Canning and Brougham could have figured then. Canning reached after the Ciceronian roundness and elegance. He was a struggling, ambitious speaker, a speaker for rhetorical effect. It is said he would huddle up and hasten by the business part of his speech, and expand where there was room for show and passion and appeal. Brougham was the opposite, both in politics and taste. The latter took to the Grecian, as the former to the Roman models. Brougham steeped his mind in the great Grecian master, and caught his fire, but not a particle of his simplicity of structure and movement. He was a coarse, harsh, involved speaker; in frequent instances keeping the sense suspended through long and complex paragraphs; and in some of which, it is not known to have fallen even to this day. He was an uncivil speaker. If addressing an enemy, he knocked him down with a huge and knotted club of mingled argument and invective. If a friend, he seized him by the collar, and dragged him along in the way he chose to have him go.
It would be interesting to trace the leading speakers to the countries where they originated, and ascertain whence came the most and the greatest; and whether different sections have imparted any peculiar characteristics. Murray, Erskine, Dundas, came from Scotland; the two former taking their place in the first rank; none provincially marked, except Dundas, who to the last held on upon the broad Scotch accent.
Burke, Sheridan, Grattan, Barre, Plunkett, came from Ireland. The two first fall into the first rank. The Irish eloquence, as most know, has a very distinct character. It is impassioned and poetical, often extravagant, in the attempted loftiness of its conceptions, in the swell and pomp of its language, and the crowded and dazzling brilliancy of
its figures. The foundation of this school was unquestionably laid in the splendid and prolific genius of Burke. He went in this direction to the very outer limits of propriety, sometimes overstepping those limits. Curran, with his vigorous but often rioting imagination, went further than Burke. Charles Phillips exceeded Curran, and with some really good, gave some of the very worst specimens of this style and school.
Pulteney, Chatham, Fox, Pitt, Canning are distinctively English; and in the English line, I suppose, we are to look for the standard specimens. Here, probably, it should be acknowledged, is to be found, on the whole, the highest order of eloquence.
America, also, has furnished many illustrious names in this line. Otis, Henry, Rutledge, Ames, Adams, Pinckney, Wirt, Clay, Webster, Calhoun,—these are specimens. If the comparison had been made within the last twenty years, the American eloquence, I think, would not suffer much as placed by the side of the English. We should have felt safe in placing Webster against Brougham; Clay against Peel; Choate against Macaulay; Calhoun against O'Connel. Certainly a real encounter between those social and moral antipodes; Calhoun and O'Connel, would have been a sight worth witnessing,- the proud uncompromising conservative on the one hand; the unsparing denouncer and agitator on the other; both at home in hurling the hot and scathing bolts. The American eloquence has unquestionably great strength and excellence. The leading fault chargeable upon it is that there is apt to be too much of it. Sometimes it seems as though it would never come to an end. There is some truth in the caricature which one of our own countrymen gives. He says, "We will take nothing for granted. We must commence at the very commencement. An ejectment for ten acres reproduces the whole discovery of America. A discussion about a tariff, or a turnpike, summons from their remotest caves the adverse blasts of windy rhetoric; and on those great Serbonian bogs, known in political geog