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CRISES The student of public speaking is impressed with the fact that from the earliest time wide periods have separated the occasions upon which great orations have been given to the world. Upon the stage of human affairs have come from time to time little groups of men who have wrought mightily with their ringing eloquence. When for many years mediocrity has marked the utterances of the public forum, the statement has often been made that the golden age of oratory was gone, never to return. But another group has always arisen to give the lie to this pessimistic assertion. The occasional recurrence of surpassing eloquence, the long periods of dreary utterance, suggest the fact that it is the occasion rather than the man which produces the spoken classic. Speakers may charm with the grace of their utterance, with their flights of fancy, with their brilliant word pictures, but unless the cause for which they plead is one of surpassing import to the people at large, they and their contemporaries will not find place in the Hall of Fame. The spoken word will ever have its effect upon the stage and from the pulpit and in the courts of law: but only when a great issue is to be met, a great wrong righted, a great truth vindicated, will that spoken word
rise to the dignity of oratory. It is the soul sob of an oppressed people; the battle cry of an aroused nation; the struggle for release from fetters of unrighteousness, which will ever sound through the tone of the real orator. Among all the great orations of the world, we find none which proclaims the trivial issue; none has lived whose author was not obviously sincere.
The last profound crisis through which this country passed was that culminating in the Civil War. It was likewise our last great oratorical period. Abraham Lincoln, master of the English language that he was, could not have produced a Gettysburg address under conditions less moving than that which brought it into being. Henry Ward Beecher, Wendell Phillips, Stephen A. Douglas and all the rest of that great group have lived in history because of the opportunity afforded by the times in which they worked. Back of the Civil War period we have to go to our Revolutionary days to find another great school of speakers, led by Patrick Henry in America and Edmund Burke in Great Britain. And so down through history we pass to Robespierre and Mirabeau of the French Revolution, back to Demosthenes of crumbling Athens: only to find that the great occasion has ever produced the great orator : that for every mighty human cause there has been “A Voice crying in the wilderness.” Even the great cause of Christian religion shows its progress in these periodic groupings surrounding critical events.
National crises, particularly wars, have always produced great orations. It is reasonable to assert that the present conflict, involving as it does, not two, but a score of nations, and having at root issues which affect human happiness everywhere, will stimulate in this country and throughout Europe public utterances of a commanding strength. Therefore it is safe to assume that some of the addresses chosen in the collection herewith presented will find place among the oratorical classics of all time. Be that as it may, they all deserve careful study because each is the product of a leader in the great struggle, each illuminates in some manner the great Drama in which all mankind has a part.
In his “Memories and Portraits” Robert Louis Stevenson says: “Whenever I read a book or a passage that particularly pleased me, in which a thing was said or an effect rendered with propriety, in which there was either some conspicuous force or some happy distinction in the style, I must sit down at once and set myself to ape that quality. I was unsuccessful, and always unsuccessful; but at least in these vain bouts I got some practice in rhythm, in harmony, in construction and the coördination of parts. ... That, like it or not, is the way to learn to write: whether I have profited or not, that is the way. It was so Keats learned, and there was never a finer temperament for literature than Keats. It is the great point in these imitations that there still shines, beyond the student's reach, his inimitable model. Let him try as he please, he is still sure of failure; and it is an old and very true saying that 'Failure is the high road to suc
To him who has reveled in the glorious word pictures of Treasure Island, David Balfour, and Kidnapped, no other proof need be presented that the great novelist's method was effective, to all beside, the place which Stevenson holds in the world of letters will be assurance enough that he knew whereof he spoke. And if it be true that through the study and imitation of acknowledged masters, there comes proficiency in the written word, vastly more must such a method be valuable where skill in vocal expression is sought. The essayist may spend hours locating the word which brings out the exact shade of meaning he wishes to convey. The speaker must have the needed expression at his instant command. Thus it follows that the student of public speaking should make his own the best examples of oral phraseology available. He should bear in mind that the vocabulary of speech, must have qualities unnecessary and even undesirable in written composition; and that his hearer has but a fleeting moment to grasp the thought, where the reader may pause to ponder over the hidden meaning of some involved sentence. He must study those compositions which have stirred listening audiences. It is for the student of this class that the addresses contained in this brief work are presented.
It is well to familiarize one's self with the standard orations of all times, but the greatest good will come from the study of present-day examples. A century ago the speaker thought only of the audience before him: to-day, if he is a distinguished man, the “breakfast table audience” with the morning paper will be far larger than that within the sound of his voice. And so the style of oratory has changed, become more restrained and less verbose. That it has lost in this process none of its force and charm will be evident to all who read this collection of addresses bearing on the great war. It is not too much to say that in clarity of expression and felicity of phraseology some of the speeches of Woodrow Wilson will rank with those of his