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Scale, with the assaulting host, the rampart's height,
So shalt thou frame a lay
That haply may endure from age to age,
What witchery hangs upon this poet's page!
sway from mood to mood the willing mind!
In an account of the Civic Banquets, at which he had been present in London, while filling the office of United States Consul at Liverpool, the author gives the following amusing description of the oratorical ordeal through which he had to pass at one of the Mayor's dinner-parties.
See in Index, ANOTHER, BUOYANT, GARRULOUS, IMPROVISE, NOTHING, PRACTICE (vb.) or PRACTISE, SERGEANT, SUGGEST, HAWTHORNE. See re marks on the narrative and colloquial styles, §§ 48, 52.
1. WHILE I was occupied in criticising my fellowguests, the Mayor had got up to propose another toast; and, listening rather inattentively to the first sentence or two, I soon became sensible of a drift in his Worship's remarks that made me glance apprehensively toward Sergeant Wilkins. "Yes," grumbled that gruff personage, shoving a decanter of Port toward me, "it is your turn next"; and seeing in my face, I suppose, the consternation of a wholly unpracticed orator, he kindly added, "It is nothing. A mere acknowledgment will answer the purpose. The less you say, the better they will like it."
2. That being the case, I suggested that perhaps they would like it best if I said nothing at all. But
the Sergeant shook his head. Now, on first receiving the Mayor's invitation to dinner, it had occurred to me that I might possibly be brought into my present predicament; but I had dismissed the idea from my mind as too disagreeable to be entertained, and, moreover, as so alien from my disposition and character that Fate surely could not keep such a misfortune in store for me.
3. If nothing else prevented, an earthquake or the crack of doom would certainly interfere before I need rise to speak. Yet here was the Mayor getting on inexorably, and, indeed, I heartily wished that he might get on and on forever, and of his wordy wanderings find no end.
4. If the gentle reader, my kindest friend and closest confidant, deigns to desire it, I can impart to him my own experience as a public speaker quite as indifferently as if it concerned another person. Indeed, it does concern another, or a mere spectral phenomenon, for it was not I, in my proper and natural self, that sat there at table or subsequently rose to speak.
5. At the moment, then, if the choice had been offered me whether the Mayor should let off a speech at my head or a pistol, I should unhesitatingly have taken the latter alternative. I had really nothing to say, not an idea in my head, nor, which was a good deal worse, any flowing words or embroidered sentences in which to dress out that empty Nothing, and give it a cunning aspect of intelligence, such as might last the poor vacuity the little time it had to live.
6. But time pressed; the Mayor brought his remarks, affectionately eulogistic of the United States and highly complimentary to their distinguished representative at that table, to a close, amid a vast deal of cheering; and the band struck up "Hail Columbia," I believe, though it might have been "Old Hundred," or "God save the Queen" over again, for anything that I
should have known or cared. When the music ceased, there was an intensely disagreeable instant, during which I seemed to rend away and fling off the habit of a lifetime, and rose, still void of ideas, but with preternatural composure, to make a speech.
7. The guests rattled on the table, and cried, "Hear!" most vociferously, as if now, at length, in this foolish and idly garrulous world, had come the long-expected moment when one golden word was to be spoken; and in that imminent crisis, I caught a glimpse of a little bit of an effusion of international sentiment which it might and must and should do to utter.
8. Well; it was nothing, as the Sergeant had said. What surprised me most was the sound of my own voice, which I had never before heard at a declamatory pitch, and which impressed me as belonging to some other person, who, and not myself, would be responsible for the speech: a prodigious consolation and encouragement under the circumstances!
9. I went on without the slightest embarrassment, and sat down amid great applause, wholly undeserved by anything that I had spoken, but well won from Englishmen, methought, by the new development of pluck that alone had enabled me to speak at all. "It was handsomely done!" quoth Sergeant Wilkins; and I felt like a recruit who had been for the first time under fire.
10. I would gladly have ended my oratorical career then and there forever, but was often placed in a similar or worse position, and compelled to meet it as I best might; for this was one of the necessities of an office which I had voluntarily taken on my shoulders, and beneath which I might be crushed by no moral delinquency on my own part, but could not shirk without cowardice and shame. My subsequent fortune was
11. Once, though I felt it to be a kind of imposture, I got a speech by heart, and doubtless it might have been a very pretty one, only I forgot every syllable at the moment of need, and had to improvise another as well as I could. I found it a better method to pre-arrange a few points in my mind, and trust to the spur of the occasion, and the kind aid of Providence for enabling me to bring them to bear.
12. The presence of any considerable proportion of personal friends generally dumbfounded me. I would rather have talked with an enemy in the gate. Invariably, too, I was much embarrassed by a small audience, and succeeded better with a large one, the sympathy of a multitude possessing a buoyant effect, which lifts the speaker a little way out of his individuality and tosses him toward a perhaps better range of sentiment than his private one.
13. Again, if I rose carelessly and confidently, with an expectation of going through the business entirely at my ease, I often found that I had little or nothing to say; whereas, if I came to the scratch in perfect despair, and at a crisis when failure would have been horrible, it once or twice happened that the frightful emergency concentrated my poor faculties, and enabled me to give definite and vigorous expression to sentiments which an instant before looked as vague and far-off as the clouds in the atmosphere.
14. On the whole, poor as my own success may have been, I apprehend that any intelligent man with a tongue possesses the chief requisite of oratorical power, and may develop many of the others, if he deems it worth while to bestow a great amount of labor and pains on an object which the most accomplished orators, I suspect, have not found altogether satisfactory to their highest impulses. At any rate, it must be a remarkably true man who can keep his own elevated conception of truth when the lower feeling of a multitude is assail
ing his natural sympathies, and who can speak out frankly the best that there is in him, when by adulterating it a little, or a good deal, he knows that he may make it ten times as acceptable to the audience.
LXXXIII. THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE.
Constantine Pa-le-ol'ogus, the last of the Greek emperors, was slain in battle in bravely defending Constantinople against the Ottoman leader, Mahomet II., who, in 1453, besieged the city with three hundred thousand men. Byzan'tium is another name for Constantinople. Vesuvio is the Italian name of Vesuvius.
See in Index, ENGINE, SCIMITAR or CIMETER, STREW, MOSLEM, HE
Delivery. The repose described in the opening lines is soon changed for the alarm and din of battle. There should be a corresponding change in the modulation. Parts of the poem require high pitch, loud force, and a somewhat rapid rate of utterance; but in the concluding stanza there should be a transition to slower time and more subdued tones.
HUSHED is Byzantium now!— the olive shades
The soft winds breathing through each Grecian vale.
Red from its vintage, at thy gates! his sail
Upon thy waves! his trumpet in thine ear!
- Awake and summon those, who yet, perchance, may hear!
Wake, wake! The foe from sea and shore, ascending