The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

II. Historians, Biographers and Political Orators

§ 77. Daniel O’Connell

But, from the point of view of popular effect—effect exercised not upon this or that assembly only, but upon the nation as a whole, the name of every other Irish orator—perhaps that of any orator of whatever people or age—pales before that of Daniel O’Connell. There is little if any exaggeration in this statement, albeit exaggeration was his element. He told Jeremy Bentham that, in his opinion, it was right to speak of one’s friends “in the strongest language consistent with truth”; and, as to his adversaries, from Wellington and Peel downwards—apart from the magnificent scurrilities which he hurled at such offenders as lord Alvanley and Disraeli—the vituperative habit had, as we read, grown upon him in ordinary talk till such words as “rogue,” “villain,” “scoundrel,” had, in the end, lost all precise significance for him. But, as an orator, he had his vocabulary as he had the whole of his armoury of action under control; nor was there ever a demagogue so little led away either by his tongue or by the passion within him. Rude, when it suited him to be rude, and coarse, when coarseness was expected from him, he was irresistible as an orator, first, because he never lost sight of his purpose, and, secondly, because he was never out of sympathy with the whole of his audience—indeed, speaker and audience were one. That he should have remained true both to the aspirations of the Irish people and to his principle of excluding illegal means or violence from the action which he urged, was, perhaps, the greatest triumph of his oratory. It was forensic in both origin and features; but the orator, like the man—his wit, his ardour, his impudence, his piety—were racy of the soil to which he belonged by blood and indissoluble congeniality, and, though he held his own against the foremost debaters of the house of commons, he was at his best, from first to last, in his native surroundings, in law courts or city hall, or facing the multitudes at Limerick or on Tara hill.