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Another direction, which has often been given, but which cannot be too earnestly inculcated, is to ascertain precisely the aim of the question, and keep it always steadily in view. Digression is the ignis fatuus of discussion. It misleads by the appearance of utility: luring the mind into devious paths, and dissipating its powers in idle pursuit. We should guard against it in ourselves, because it is hostile to the best exercise of the reasoning faculty. We should guard against it in others, because it wastes time, fatigues an audience, and—sometimes by chance, sometimes by design— defeats the only proper end of discussion—the elicitation of truth.
The language of the question being clear, and clearly understood, and the precise point of investigation fairly before the mind, the next thing is to consider carefully what may be said on both sides. Assume, for the time being, the position of an opponent; endeavor to produce and appreciate at its full value, every argument likely to be employed against you, and so compare in detail the strength and resources of your own side with those of your adversary.
This will prevent you from being suddenly surprised by the presence and power of unexpected arguments, and give you all the advantage of seeming to know beforehand what is coming out on the opposite side. It will inspire respect in your adversaries, and impart caution to their modes of attacking your positions, and so leave on the minds of the audience the silent, but strong impression of probability, as belonging to what you affirm.
If it be necessary to elucidate, or confirm your views by reference to history, geography, statistics, or anything else derivable from books, be accurate, to the last degree, in whatever yon quote or state, as matter of fact. This is a most important precept. Minute accuracy begets confidence. It lends to the speaker the charm of reliability. Many a man who has no other merit scarcely, is always heard with decided interest, because he is known to be scrupulously exact in his statements.
Having duly considered the question, and collected all the materials which you propose to employ in the debate, the next thing is to arrange them to the best advantage. "Every mind," says an able writer, "instinctively requires order," and to this we add, that no man can ever succeed, as an orator, who disregards this instinct of our nature. What particular order, however, shall, in any given case, be adopted, must, as a matter of course, be left to your own discretion. Whatever it is, let it be clear; and, when once indicated, adhere to it throughout. This will enable your hearers to follow you with ease, to remember your positions, and measure accurately the force of your arguments.
Another direction, that will be found extremely useful, if duly regarded, is, always to treat the arguments of your opponents with fairness and courtesy. Nothing is ever gained by affecting to treat what is said by those opposed to you, with disdain, or by perverting their views, or by seeking to undervalue their force.
The better way always is to allow what is due to the opposite side, and show, if possible, its weakness by clear, forcible, and convincing argumentation. There is force in fairness; for it implies a love of truth. There is power in politeness; for it moves the heart, and begets the impression of a generous adversary.
The last precept which we shall here endeavor to inculcate, is always to seem sincere in the search after truth. In order, however, to seem sincere, you must really he so ; for sincerity is a coin hard to be counterfeited. Be the copy ever so skillfully executed, it will always fall far short of the original, and always, consequently, be more or less liable to detection.
Every hollow profession, when once fairly detected, is justly treated as an act of imposition. Even the suspicion of insincerity is prej tidicial, in the highest degree, if not absolutely fatal, to the influence of a public speaker. In debate, therefore, as in all the other transactions of life, the maxim is fully verified,—" Honesty is the best policy."
But a most serious hinderance to the virtue which we are here commending, is found in obstinacy,—a quality usually in close alliance with ignorance and vanity. Goldsmith's country schoolmaster is a character which, in the feature now under notice, is often realized in all human circles and professions :—
"In arguing, too, the parson owned his skill,
DEBATES IN FULL.
UNDER this head we here insert a couple of debates, for the purpose of affording a sort of practical illustration of the mode of conducting a public discussion. They are, however, in no sense set up as models, in respect to style, expression, or logic. Theirs is an humbler, though a useful aim. They are designed simply to impart, or indicate something of the form and spirit of those real transactions which almost daily occur in deliberative assemblies. They are merely suggestive.
These debates may be used as exercises in declamation, each speaker being represented by a different person. In such case, moreover, the speakers might be encouraged to add to, or amplify the arguments and illustrations in their several parts, and so give a sort of original interest to the exercise. Especial care should be taken to preserve the formalities and the decorum proper to the occasion; for these are things that become familiar only by practice.
WHICH IS THE MORE PERNICIOUS CHARACTER, THE SLANDERER OR THE FLATTERER?
Mr. President,—It will not, I hope, be thought captions in me, if I venture to intimate my doubts about the wisdom of proposing such a question, as that which is to form the topic of this discussion. If, in so doing, I should be considered as intentionally impugning the judgment, or wounding the feelings of those whose province it is to furnish us with subjects of debate, I should be sadly misinterpreted. I beg leave, therefore, in the outset, to disclaim any and every purpose of disparagement, that might be inferred from the position which I take on the present occasion.
Evil speaking, sir, which is the Bible expression for slander, is a crime of the darkest character; so much more heinous than flattery, that it seems almost like sharing in the guilt of slander to assume, as this question does, that the two things differ from each other so slightly, as to make it difficult to determine their comparative iniquity and enormity.
Slander, Mr. President, is among the most cruel, as it certainly is among the most criminal things in the world. It justly ranks, in the common estimation, with theft and with murder; and often, therefore, in metaphor, does it bear these odious names. Nothing, accordingly, is more common, even in prose, to say nothing of poetry, than such expressions as, "to rob one