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ed, lie had a'habit of mind, derived from the severe discipline to which it had been subjected, which enabled him, upon the spur of the moment, "to speak," says Plutarch, "as from a supernatural impulse," and equally to delight and instruct by his extemporaneous effusions.
In modern times, also, numerous cases have occurred in which, after decided failures in the first attempts at extemporaneous discourse, men have, by resolution and perseverance, equally surprised themselves and their friends in the success which has attended their efforts in this direction. It is well known that even Sheridan, from whom so much was expected, on account of the brilliancy of his career in another sphere, came, in his first speech in the House of Commons, amazingly short of those anticipations that had been raised in relation to the figure he would make in a deliberative assembly. But his reply to Woodfall, whose opinion he had solicited respecting the merit of this his first attempt, and who frankly told him, "I donH think this is your line: you had better have stuck to your former pursuits" is one that announces, with peculiar force, the truth which we are here anxious to impress. "It is in me," said he, "and it shall come out of me!" And come out of him it did; for at it he went, with something of Demosthenian spirit, and his perseverance was ultimately crowned with something of Demosthenian success.
This declaration and resolution of Sheridan, so briefly and so forcibly expressed, should arrest the attention of every young man, who finds himself vacillating between hope and fear in his aspirations after oratorical ability. Let him accept, with unwavering faith, the doctrine taught in the first clause,—" It is in me ;" let him take with cool deliberation the resolve expressed in the second,—u and it shall come out of me;" and, thereafter, let neither zeal flag, nor energy fail, nor perseverance yield, till that which is within, shall have shown itself without in the form of a ready and effective debater.
conduct of these great men, in this respect, is, or ought to be, not a little instructive. Especially should it be remembered, that their solicitude was chiefly about the thoughts, not about the words.
In relation to the second opinion, cited at the commencement of this section, and there pronounced erroneous, it should, in the outset, be observed, that whatever influence extemporaneous speaking may be supposed to have in producing habits of indolence, or inaccuracy, it is certain that the practice of writing out discourses beforehand is no necessary safeguard against these unfortunate tendencies. He that is habitually careful and diligent, is not likely to have his habits broken up, but rather strengthened by the exercise of his powers, as an extemporaneous orator; while he, in whom carelessness and idleness have fixed their abode, has in him two evil spirits, too powerful to be exorcised by the mere practice of penmanship.
Written speeches ought, we should say, to give infallible evidence always of care and assiduity; but he is certainly a listless looker-on in any of the various fields of public speaking, who is not often forced to wonder how people who evidently think so loosely and so lazily, can ever prevail upon themselves to undergo the mechanical exertion necessary to write out a speech. Men often write what is not worth writing, just as they often speak what is not worth speaking.
Extemporaneous speaking is not, therefore, to be discouraged, because some persons seem, by the practice of it, to acquire habits of idleness and carelessness in the matter of literary composition. Eather let it be the more earnestly cultivated, in order to the avoidance of these very evils; for, when well executed, it assuredly argues higher and better culture, and consequently, greater industry and accuracy, than belongs, or ever can belong, to the race of literary drones.
But the opinion which we are here combating, however erroneous, is certainly plausible. Its plausibility, moreover, is due, undoubtedly, to the experienced fact, that those speakers who are in the habit of seeking improvement in the power of expression, by exercising themselves often in written composition, are always found to be the most ready and effective extemporizers. This testimony in favor of the influence of written upon oral exercises in composition, we cheerfully accept, and cannot find language strong enough to commend it to those who are ambitious to excel as debaters; for we are here only guarding people against the error of supposing that, because writing conduces, in the highest degree, to accuracy in composition, that, therefore, extemporaneous speaking is to be relinquished altogether. Indeed, one of the most valuable precepts for the acquisition of skill in extemporizing, as we shall presently see, is systematic practice in reducing our thoughts to writing.
But our object, in this part of the present work, is not so much to consider and refute objections to the practice of declaiming extemporaneously, as to offer suitable directions for the cultivation of that useful art. We hasten, therefore, to direct attention to the following precepts; not, however, as embracing every item of instruction applicable to the case, but simply as embodying the most prominent and available guidance in this line of intellectual exertion.
In delivering these instructions, it is of course assumed, that the party receiving them has an earnest desire to become a good extemporaneous speaker, and is, therefore, willing and ready, as far as may be practicable, to follow them out in a spirit of zeal and perseverance. This is an indispensable preliminary to any sort of success in the matter; for no idle aspirations, no lazy wishes, unaccompanied by resolution and industry, can ever achieve a position worth occupying in the arena of public debate.
The first rule which we shall here lay down, as conducive, if rightly followed, to skill in the use of extemporaneous language, is—Endeavor always to think clearly and methodically.
Thinking and speaking, as before intimated, are things correlative. They stand in the relation of cause and effect. When, therefore, it is the settled habit of the mind to think in an orderly and perspicuous manner, it follows naturally that the tongue, which is under the guidance of the mind, should utter words in a corresponding style.
In order to the efficient application of this rule, let the young speaker often assume, as an intellectual gymnastic, some debatable subject for the exercise of his mental powers. Let him then deal with it as with a thing of reality, a question of real life. Let Mm acquire an interest, an enthusiasm, if possible, in its management. Let him survey it as a whole, study it in detail, detect its deficiencies, bring out its excellencies, and hold it up to the light in all possible aspects. Let him consider in how many ways the point which he wishes to make can be presented and defended, and, among these, which is the most likely to be fully understood, and fairly appreciated.
When all this is done in the mind, let him try the experiment of putting the whole process into extemporaneous language. The result will be the measure of his proficiency in the art; and, if rightly regarded, cannot fail, at every repetition of the exercise, to prove a healthful stimulus to renewed exertion.
The second rule is—Be in the constant habit of seeking the best possible language for the expression of your ideas, even in ordinary conversation.
As the best school of practical morals is the society of moral people, so the best exercise in oral expression is conversation with refined and educated persons. The converse of this statement is also painfully true. "Evil communications corrupt good manners," says the Apostle; and some one has aptly added—" and good language too /"
He, therefore, who aims to be a good deliberative orator, must be ever equally on the alert to catch what is choice and correct, and to avoid what is vulgar and inaccurate, in his daily intercourse with others. It is not enough to exercise particular care on particular occasions. It must be a thing of habit, growing out of a settled purpose to be superior in the power of speech.