William Ewart Gladstone

第9章 ORATOR(2)

Of the swift resourcefulness of his mind, something has been said already.In debate it shone out with the strongest ray.His readiness, not only at catching a point, but at making the most of it on a moment's notice, was amazing.Some one would lean over the back of the bench he sat on and show a paper or whisper a sentence to him.Apprehending its bearings at a glance, he would take the bare fact and so shape and develop it, like a potter molding a bowl on the wheel out of a lump of clay, that it grew into a cogent argument or a happy illustration under the eye of the audience, and seemed all the more telling because it had not been originally a part of his case.Even in the last two years of his parliamentary life, when his sight had so failed that he read nothing, printed or written, except what it was absolutely necessary to read, and when his deafness had so increased that he did not hear half of what was said in debate, it was sufficient for a colleague to whisper a few words to him, explaining how the matter at issue stood, and he would rise to his feet and extemporize a long and ingenious argument, or perhaps retreat with dexterous grace from a position which the course of the discussion or the private warning of the "whips" had shown to be untenable.No one ever saw him at a loss either to meet a new point raised by an adversary or to make the most of an unexpected incident.Sometimes he would amuse himself by drawing a cheer or a contradiction from his opponents, and would then suddenly turn round and use this hasty expression of their opinion as the basis for a fresh argument of his own.In this particular kind of debating power, for the display of which the House of Commons--an assembly of moderate size, which knows all its leading figures familiarly--is an apt theater, he has been seldom rivaled and never surpassed.Its only weakness sprang from its superabundance.He was sometimes so intent on refuting the particular adversaries opposed to him, and persuading the particular audience before him, that he forgot to address his reasonings to the public beyond the House, and make them equally applicable and equally convincing to the readers of next morning.

As dignity is one of the rarest qualities in literature, so elevation is one of the rarest in oratory.It is a quality easier to feel than to describe or analyze.We may call it a power of ennobling ordinary things by showing their relation to great things, of pouring high emotions round them, of bringing the worthier motives of human conduct to bear upon them, of touching them with the light of poetry.Ambitious writers and speakers incessantly strain after effects of this kind; but they are effects which study and straining do not enable a man to attain.Vainly do most of us flap our wings in the effort to soar; if we rise from the ground it is because some unusually strong or deep burst of feeling makes us for the moment better than ourselves.In Mr.Gladstone the capacity for feeling was at all times so strong, the susceptibility of the imagination so keen, that he soared without effort.His vision seemed to take in the whole landscape.The points actually in question might be small, but the principles involved were to him far-reaching.The contests of to-day seemed to interest him because their effect would be felt in a still distant future.There are rhetoricians skilful in playing by words and manner on every chord of human nature, rhetoricians who move you indeed, and may even carry you away for the moment, but whose sincerity you nevertheless doubt, because the sense of spontaneity is lacking.Mr.Gladstone was not of these.He never seemed to be forcing an effect or assuming a sentiment.To listen to him was to feel convinced of his own conviction and of the reality of the warmth with which he expressed it.Nor was this due to the perfection of his rhetorical art.He really did feel what he expressed.Sometimes, of course, like all statesmen, he had to maintain a cause whose weakness he knew, as, for instance, when it became necessary to defend the blunder of a colleague.But even in such cases he did not simulate feeling, but reserved his earnestness for those parts of the case on which it could be honestly expended.As this was true of the imaginative and emotional side of his eloquence altogether, so was it especially true of his unequaled power of lifting a subject from the level on which other speakers had treated it into the purer air of permanent principle, perhaps even of moral sublimity.

The note of genuineness and spontaneity which marked the substance of his speeches was no less conspicuous in their delivery.Nothing could be more easy and graceful than his manner on ordinary occasions.His expository discourses, such as those with which he introduced a complicated bill or unfolded a financial statement, were models of their kind, not only for lucidity, but for the pleasant smoothness, equally free from monotony and from abruptness, with which the stream of speech flowed from his lips.The task was performed so well that people thought it an easy task till they saw how immeasurably inferior were the performances of two subsequent chancellors of the exchequer so able in their respective ways as Mr.

Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry

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