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ant advantages in the management of a question are entirely lost through the speaker's ignorance of some form of procedure, or the operation and effect of some rule of order.
In the event of one's being elected to preside over the deliberations of a meeting or society, nothing can exceed the wasting, exhausting, mortifying process of laboring to govern and direct without knowing how.
On the contrary, if qualified in this respect, whether he figure on the floor in the capacity of a debater, or occupy the chair of the presiding officer, the order of proceeding, being fully understood, is made subservient to its legitimate purposes, the dignity of the assembly is duly maintained, and the interests at stake in the discussion carefully protected and promoted.
7. Last of all, as, indeed, first of all, he must be a good extemporaneous speaker. This, in fact, has all along been implied, and is absolutely essential to the character of a good debater.
Let no one, however, on this account be discouraged; as though nature had thrown in his way obstacles insurmountable. Excellency of speech is no exclusive gift of genius; but always, more or less, the fruit of practice. This fact is so important as to call for a separate consideration, and, accordingly, the following Section is devoted to that subject alone.
H1WO opinions, equally plausible and equally errone-*- ous, are entertained in relation to extemporaneous speaking. One is, that this power, wherever possessed, in any eminent degree, is the peculiar gift of nature, and, therefore, absolutely unattainable, except by a favored few. The other is, that whether natural or acquired, confined to a few, or accessible to all, its frequent exercise is not only attended with no adequate benefit, but is, generally speaking, a positive injury; since it generates in the speaker himself habits unfavorable to close thinking and accurate composition.
The error underlying the first of these opinions seems to be, that of confounding two things essentially distinct—thinking and speaking. He that carefully attends to the operations of his own mind, will not be long in discovering, that when he speaks confusedly and obscurely, there is in his thoughts, at the time, a correspondent want of order and clearness.
This confusion and obscurity of thought may be due to a variety of causes. It is not always traceable to ignorance of the subject, to want of premeditation, or to an ill-disciplined mind; though these will be found to be the real causes of almost all abortive attempts at extemporaneous speaking.
Many a man who has a complete mastery of his subject, and who, in the retirement of his study, would readily clothe his thoughts upon it in appropriate and even elegant language, finds in the mere presence of a numerous audience an overpowering cause of derangement in his ideas, and a consequent inability to deliver a connected discourse. This result is sometimes experienced from the presence of particular individuals whom we dread as critics, sometimes from a contemptuous bearing in our opponents,* sometimes from an overweening vanity in the speaker himself, rendering him over-solicitous about the appearance he is making in the assembly, sometimes— But further enumeration is unnecessary. It is enough that the sources of failure in all these and similar cases, lie, not in the absence of natural endowment, but in causes quite removable by care, study and effort.
* A striking instance of this kind is recorded of Lord Erskine. In the commencement of his maiden speech in the House of Commons, "Pitt," says Croly in his Life of George IV., "evidently intending to reply, sat with pen and paper in his hand, prepared to catch the arguments of his formidable adversary. He wrote a word or two. Erskine proceeded; but, with every additional sentence, Pitt's attention to the paper relaxed, his look became more careless, and he obviously began to think the orator less and less worthy of his attention. At length, while every eye in the House was fixed upon him, with a contemptuous smile he dashed the pen through the paper, and flung them on the floor. Erskine never recovered from this expression of disdain; his voice faltered, he struggled through the remainder of his speech, and sank into his seat dispirited."
Thus Erskine, an orator of pre-eminent ability at the bar, whom talents of the highest order in an opponent would rather have encouraged than disheartened, was utterly disconcerted by the power of contempt
In asserting, however, that the power of extemporizing is the gift, not of a few only, but rather of the race generally, we are, by no means, to be understood as affirming the natural equality of all mankind in this respect. Indeed, the great mequality found among men, in facility of expression, is what gives plausibility to the opinion, that while some few possess it in a high degree, to the many it is altogether denied.
What we hold is, that all are, by nature, in possession of this faculty; that it is, nevertheless, more prominent in some than in others; but that, like all other faculties, it is capable of indefinite improvement. What a man understands and as he understands, he will be able to express; whether gracefully or awkwardly, forcibly or feebly, elegantly or otherwise, depends more upon previous culture and discipline than upon any natural endowments whatever.
The history of eloquence, in all ages and countries, teems with examples in favor of the position, that not only the power of extemporaneous speech, but all the other qualities engaged in the composition of a genuine orator, derive their perfection from study and practice. Such was the confidence of the celebrated Grorgias Leontinus in the efficacy of mental training, as the means of forming a fluent speaker, that he did not hesitate to pledge himself to qualify his pupils to speak extemporaneously on any subject whatever.
Undoubtedly his pretensions were too high. Doubtless he deserved much of the ridicule heaped upon him by Plato. But, after all, we must remember, that lie was a man of extraordinary ability, that Plato was his rival, and, moreover, that both in Khetoric, which unfolds the principles, and in Oratory, which displays the practice of speaking well, he was confessedly pre-eminent. His testimony, therefore, in the matter under consideration, must be regarded as decidedly valuable.*
The toils and trials of Demosthenes in the effort to overcome the obstacles lying in his way to oratorical eminence, are familiar to every reader of ancient history. What he did, and what he suffered, and what, finally, he came to be, in consequence of thus doing and suffering, taken all together, serve admirably to show, among other things, the true source of skill in extemporaneous speaking. Demosthenes was, indeed, for the most part, laborious in his preparations; so much so as to elicit from Py theas, one of his rivals, and from others, the taunting remark, that "allhis arguments smelled of the lamp"f But, when the occasion demand
* None of the early rhetoricians had a "wider reputation than Gorgias. Among his pupils was the celebrated Isocrates; from whose school, says Cicero, as from the Trojan horse, issued a host of heroes. When sent by his countrymen, the Leontinians, at the head of an embassy, to seek the alliance of Athens against the encroachments of Syracuse, Gorgias so charmed the Athenians by the power of his* eloquence, that he found no difficulty in securing the end of his mission. All Greece, it is said, united in erecting a golden statue of him in the temple at Delphi.
f It is recorded of Demosthenes by his distinguished biographer, that he held it to be a duty which he owed to the people, not, as a general thing, to undertake to address them, without duly considering beforehand what he should say. Of Pericles, also, the same writer says, that " such was his solicitude, when he had to speak in public, that he always first addressed a prayer to the gods, * that not a word might unawares escape him unsuitable to the occasion.*" The