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The World’s Famous Orations.
Greece (432 B.C.–324 B.C.). 1906.


THE AGE of oratory has not passed; nor will it pass. The press, instead of displacing the orator, has given him a larger audience and enabled him to do a more extended work. As long as there are human rights to be defended; as long as there are great interests to be guarded; as long as the welfare of nations is a matter for discussion, so long will public speaking have its place.

There have been many definitions of eloquence. Daniel Webster has declared that it consists in the man, in the subject, and in the occasion. No one can question the truth of his statement. Without the man, the subject and the occasion are valueless, but it is equally true that, without a great subject and a proper occasion, a man speaks without effect. The speaker, moreover, is eloquent in proportion as he knows what he is talking about and means what he says. In other words, knowledge and earnestness are two of the most important requisites of successful speaking.

While oratorical ability has, at times, manifested itself in several generations of one family, it can not be said that heredity is an element of importance, for nearly all the great orators of the world have appeared with little or nothing in a preceding generation to give promise of prominence. An orator is largely a product of his environment. One who is born into a great conflict, or is surrounded by conditions which compel study and investigation, and who becomes enthused with a great purpose, soon attracts attention as a speaker. He is listened to because he has something to say; because he himself feels he makes others feel. Because he conceives that he has a mission, he touches and moves those whom he addresses. Eloquent speech is not from lip to ear, but rather from heart to heart.

While it is absolutely necessary for the orator to master his subject and to speak with earnestness, his speech can be made more effective by the addition of clearness, brevity and apt illustrations.

Clearness of statement is of very great importance. It is not sufficient to say that there are certain self-evident truths; it is more accurate to say that all truth is self-evident. Because truth is self-evident, the best service that one can render a truth is to state it so clearly that it can be comprehended; for a truth once comprehended needs no argument in its support. In debate, therefore, one’s first effort should be to state his own side so clearly and concisely as to make the principles involved easily understood. His second object should be so to divest his opponent’s argument of useless verbiage as to make it stand forth clearly; for as truth is self-evident, so error bears upon its face its own condemnation. Error needs only to be exposed to be overthrown.

Brevity of statement also contributes to the force of a speaker. It is possible so to enfold a truth in long-drawn-out sentences as practically to conceal it. The epigram is powerful because it is full of meat and short enough to be remembered. To know when to stop is almost as important as to know where to begin and how to proceed. The ability to condense great thoughts into small words and brief sentences is an attribute of genius. Often one lays down a book with the feeling that the author has “said nothing with elaboration,” while in perusing another book one finds a whole sermon in a single sentence, or an unanswerable argument couched in a well-turned phrase.

The interrogatory is frequently employed by the orator, and when wisely used is irresistible. What dynamic power, for instance, there is in that question propounded by Christ, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Volumes could not have presented so effectively the truth that he sought to impress upon his hearers.

The illustration has no unimportant place in the equipment of the orator. We understand a thing more easily when we know that it is like something which we have already seen. Illustrations may be drawn from two sources—nature and literature—and of the two, those from nature have the greater weight. All learning is valuable; all history is useful. By knowing what has been we can better judge the future; by knowing how men have acted heretofore we can understand how they will act again in similar circumstances. But people know nature better than they know books, and the illustrations drawn from every-day life are the most effective.

If the orator can seize upon something within the sight or hearing of his audience—something that comes to his notice at the moment and as if not thought of before—it will add to the effectiveness of the illustration. For instance, Paul’s speech to the Athenians derived a large part of its strength from the fact that he called attention to an altar near by, erected “to the Unknown God,” and then proceeded to declare unto them the God whom they ignorantly worshiped.

Classical allusions ornament a speech, their value being greater of course when addressed to those who are familiar with their source. Poetry can often be used to advantage, especially when the sentiment is appropriate and is set forth in graceful language. By far the most useful quotations for an orator, however, are those from Holy Writ. The people are more familiar with the Bible than with any other single book, and lessons drawn from it reinforce a speech. The Proverbs of Solomon abound in sentences which aptly express living truths. Abraham Lincoln used scripture quotations very frequently and very powerfully. Probably no Bible quotation, or, for that matter, no quotation from any book ever has had more influence upon a people than the famous quotation made by Lincoln in his Springfield (Ill.) speech of 1858,—“A house divided against itself can not stand.” It is said that he had searched for some time for a phrase which would present in the strongest possible way the proposition he intended to advance—namely, that the nation could not endure half-slave and half-free.

The object of public speaking usually is to persuade. Some one, in describing the difference between Cicero and Demosthenes, remarked: “When Cicero spoke people said: ‘How well Cicero speaks!’ but when Demosthenes spoke they said, ‘Let us go against Philip.’”—the difference being that Cicero impressed himself upon the audience, while Demosthenes impressed his subject upon them. Whether or not this comparison be a fair one, it at least presents an important truth. It is a compliment to a public speaker that the audience should discuss what he says rather than his manner of saying it; more complimentary that they should remember his arguments, than that they should praise his rhetoric. The orator should seek to conceal himself behind his subject. If he presents himself in every speech he is sure to become monotonous, if not offensive. If, however, he focuses attention upon his subject, he can find an infinite number of themes and, therefore, give variety to his speech.

In reading great orations one not only learns something of the mental methods and style of the orator, but obtains an epitome of the history of the times. As each important speech is virtually a product of the entire life of the speaker, so the speeches delivered at great crises in national history have been products of the conditions that called them forth. Nowhere is so much information crowded into the same number of words as in a memorable speech. The greatest of all the orations that have come down to us from the past is the one by Demosthenes, known as “The Oration on the Crown,” which is included in the volume on Greece in this series. It possesses every requisite. It is persuasive; it is argumentative, and the arguments are so skilfully arranged as to produce the greatest effect; it is clear in statement; it is eloquent and contains passages that can not be surpassed in invective; and it abounds in definitions and distinctions which are as valuable to-day as when they were uttered.

The reader will note the appeal which Demosthenes made to the sense of justice, to which all arguments should be addressed. He called attention at the beginning to the well recognized fact that his own risk was greater than that of Æschines; for while the latter could, at most, suffer some disappointment at failure in the prosecution, he (Demosthenes), if he lost would forfeit the regard of his people. And as he appeared in his own defense, he reminded them that people take more pleasure in hearing invective and accusations than in hearing a man praise himself; and yet if he, himself, did not set forth the arguments to be made in his own behalf, he would be without defense.

The definition which Demosthenes gives of the statesman is worth remembering. He says:

  • “Yet understand me. Of what a statesman may be responsible for I allow the utmost scrutiny; I deprecate it not. What are his functions? To observe things in the beginning, to foresee and foretell them to others,—this I have done: again, wherever he finds delays, backwardness, ignorance, jealousies, vices inherent and unavoidable in all communities, to contract them into the narrowest compass, and, on the other hand, to promote unanimity and friendship and zeal in the discharge of duty. All this, too, I have performed.”

Statesmanship not only requires a knowledge of the principles that control human beings, but it also requires moral courage. Demosthenes understood the demands upon a statesman and satisfied his audience that he had been equal to these demands.

In the discussion of bribery Demosthenes presented a thought which may well be borne in mind: “But by refusing the price of corruption I have overcome Philip; for as the offerer of a bribe, if it be accepted, has vanquished the taker, so the person who refuses it and is not corrupted, has vanquished the person offering.” No one has ever thrown a stronger light on the subject of bribery, or more accurately stated the relation between the man who gives and the man who accepts a bribe.

When I was a young man I bought a ten-volume set of orations in order to obtain one speech, and that speech was valuable to me because it contained one sentence. The speech referred to was the one by Pericles, on those who had died in the Peloponnesian War. The sentence reads: “It was for such a country then that these men, nobly resolving not to have it taken from them, fell fighting; and every one of their survivors may well be willing to suffer in its behalf.”

Having described the glories of Greece and the advantages of the government, he pointed out that her people, recognizing the blessings of citizenship, were willing to die rather than surrender those blessings. He thus states, in a few words, the secret of a nation’s strength—love of country, justified by the government’s care for the welfare of the people.

One of the speeches of Socrates as reported by Plato contains a noble paragraph which rebukes the worldly-minded of to-day. It presents a lofty ideal of life and deserves to be committed to memory:

  • “O Athenians, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you; and as long as I breathe and am able I shall not cease studying philosophy and exhorting you and warning any one of you I may happen to meet, saying, as I have been accustomed to do, ‘O best of men, seeing you are an Athenian of a city the most powerful and most renowned for wisdom and strength, are you not ashamed of being careful for riches, how you may acquire them in greatest abundance, and for glory and honor, but care not nor take any thought for wisdom and truth, and for your soul, how it may be made most perfect?’”

The speeches of Cicero rank next to those of Demosthenes in their wealth of lessons to the student of oratory. All the vast learning of the great Roman was used to illumine his forensic efforts. The speech against Verres, which will be found in the volume devoted to Roman speeches, is generally regarded as the one which best displays his varied talents.

As my object has been to make this collection as useful as possible, I have included the fragments that have come down to us of the memorable speeches of the Gracchi and the defense of his own humble birth made by Caius Marius to the people of Rome. The following from Tiberius Gracchus gives a glimpse of the conditions that called forth the eloquence of the Gracchi and show also how largely a man’s work is shaped by the times in which he lives:

  • “The wild beasts of Italy have their caves to retire to, but the brave men who spill their blood in her cause, have nothing left but air and light. Without houses, without settled habitations, they wander from place to place with their wives and children; and their generals do but mock them when, at the head of their armies, they exhort their men to fight for their sepulchers and the gods of their hearths: for among such numbers, perhaps there is not one Roman who has an altar that has belonged to his ancestors, or a sepulcher in which their ashes rest. The private soldiers fight and die, to advance the wealth and luxury of the great; and they are called masters of the world, without having a sod to call their own.”

More than one of those who peruse these volumes may have had occasion to make a defense similar to that of Marius, but it is doubtful whether one better his was ever offered. It includes the following words:

  • “They despise my humbleness of birth; I contemn their imbecility. My condition is made an objection to me; their misconduct is a reproach to them. The circumstances of birth, indeed, I consider as one and the same to all; but think that he who best exerts himself is the noblest. If the patricians justly despise me, let them also despise their own ancestors, whose nobility, like mine, had its origin in merit. They envy me the honor that I have received; let them also envy me the toils, the abstinence, and the perils by which I obtained that honor.”

If space permitted quotations might be made from other speeches here given, for each has its own distinctive merits. In Sheridan’s speech at the trial of Warren Hastings, the reader will find some excellent examples of invective. I must quote a single passage from that speech:

  • “If a stranger had at this time [in 1782] gone into the kingdom of Oude, ignorant of what had happened since the death of Sujah Dowlah, that man who with a savage heart had still great lines of character, and who with all his ferocity in war, had still with a cultivating hand preserved to his country the riches which it derived from benignant skies, and a prolific soil—if this stranger, ignorant of all that had happened in the short interval, and observing the wide and general devastation, and all the horrors of the scene—of plains unclothed and brown—of vegetation burnt up and extinguished—of villages depopulated and in ruin—of temples unroofed and perishing—of reservoirs broken down and dry—he would naturally inquire, What war had thus laid waste the fertile fields of this once beautiful and opulent country? What civil dissensions have happened thus to tear asunder, and separate the happy societies that once possessed those villages? What religious rage had, with unholy violence, demolished those temples, and disturbed fervent, but unobtruding piety in the exercise of its duties? What merciless enemy had thus spread the horrors of fire and sword? What severe visitation of Providence had thus dried up the mountains, and taken from the face of the earth every vestige of green?—or rather, what monsters had crawled over the country, tainting and poisoning what the voracious appetite could not devour? To such questions, what must be the answer? No wars have ravaged these lands and depopulated these villages—no civil discords have been felt—no religious rage—no merciless enemy—no affliction of Providence, which, while it scourged for the moment, cut off the sources of resuscitation—no voracious and poisoning monsters—no; all this has been accomplished by the friendship, generosity and kindness of the English nation. They have embraced us with their protecting arms—and, lo, these are the fruits of their alliance.”

There is much that the public speaker can study to advantage in the orations of Burke, O’Connell and Gladstone. The parliamentary struggles of Great Britain and Ireland have naturally resulted in the development of many masters in the art of speech, but the nations of Continental Europe have not been overlooked in the selections here made. It has been the intention to give both sides in every contest fairly. The speech of Æschines against Demosthenes is given, as well as the unrivaled defense offered by the greatest orator of ancient Greece. Cicero’s speech against Catiline is accompanied by extracts from the speeches of Catiline. So, too, are given the speeches of Cæsar and Cato for and against the punishment by death of the Catiline conspirators.

The same rule has been followed in English and American politics. Particular care has been taken to present both sides of a great controversy in the speeches of representative men. Burke, Chatham and Mansfield represent the divided English sentiment in the American Revolution; Pitt and Fox, English sentiment as to treating with Napoleon as First Consul; Gladstone and Beaconsfield, their respective parties in England’s own affairs; while Mr. Chamberlain speaks for the conservative government recently overthrown; and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman outlines the policy of the new Liberal government.

I have thought it wise to include by his permission, as representing the present Prime Minister still further, the speech delivered by Sir Henry at the opening of the recent London session of the Interparliamentary Union. That speech is not only characterized by lofty ideas, but presents a strong argument in favor of peace and moreover it contains one of the most thrilling sentences uttered by a statesman in office in modern times. Representatives of the Russian Duma were present at this session of the Interparliamentary Union, but the Duma had been dissolved after they left home. In referring to the fact that this dissolution had been accompanied by the promise of a new election, the Prime Minister paraphrased a sentence long used in reference to Kings and Emperors and declared, “The Duma is dead; long live the Duma.” The audience which was then assembled in the Royal gallery of the British House of Lords rose as one man, the cheers indicating that the speaker had touched a responsive chord.

It has been impossible to include in three volumes all the American orations which might be deemed worthy of a place, but important periods have been covered, and the main issues presented. Hearing is given to Jefferson, and to his political opponent Hamilton, the two representing opposite schools of political thought. The speeches of Webster and Hayne, on the right of a state to secede, are given, as well as speeches from Webster, Clay and Calhoun on the Compromise of 1850. The slave issue is defined by its ablest representatives. For example, the speech of Charles Sumner which provoked the assault of Preston Brooks and the speech of Brooks in justification of himself have been included. We have been careful to reproduce the speeches made in the first of the series of joint debates in Illinois between Lincoln and Douglas which are the most celebrated political debates in history. The subject of the debate was one which stirred the nation to its very depths, and the participants became only two years later, opposing candidates for the highest office within the gift of the people.

As orators the two men were well matched, altho they were entirely different in style and method; they spoke to immense crowds, and their speeches were accepted as the best statements of their respective sides. Lincoln had an advantage, in that he could oppose the principle of slavery without threatening interference with it where it already existed under the Constitution; and yet so strong was Douglas’s presentation that he defeated Lincoln in the senatorial contest then pending, only to be defeated by him two years later in the contest for the Presidency. Every student of oratory should secure a complete copy of the debates between these two giants. The debate selected for this collection being the first (the one at Ottawa), gives a fair example of the oratory of each. The first inaugural address of Lincoln and the farewell addresses of Jefferson Davis and Robert Toombs when they withdrew from the Senate reflect the attitude of the North and South at that time.

The tariff question is discussed in the speeches of Speaker Crisp, and ex-Speaker Reed, each a well-equipped champion of his party, while the money question finds worthy exponents in Senator John Sherman and Congressman Richard P. Bland, who for nearly twenty years were the leaders of the opposing forces on this subject.

Among the American orations is one by the great historian, Bancroft, on “The people in Art, Government and Religion.” So far as my reading goes, this is the most splendid tribute ever paid to the common people in an oration. It is full of sentences that could be quoted as texts.

Only two living American orators have been included—these being ex-President Cleveland and President Roosevelt, who are in a class by themselves. By his permission, Mr. Cleveland’s first inaugural address and his remarks to the students of Princeton University on the assassination of President McKinley are given. President Roosevelt is represented by his inaugural address and by his speech at the Mothers’ Congress, the selection of the latter having been made after consultation with him.

Paris, August 13, 1906.