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Phelps comments on the above thus : “In this strain the orator proceeds. Mark now the quality of this style as related to the professed aim of the whole speech. What was that aim? The ships of the merchants of Boston and Salem and Newburyport and New London and New York were rotting in their harbors. The aim of the legislation advocated by Mr. Quincy was to remove the embargo, and send those ships to sea. Was his mind intent on that in the passage here quoted ? Did this passage assist that aim, or could it naturally do so ? Not at all. The paragraph is vivacious ; its metaphors are novel ; its diction is compact and clear ; it is a specimen of what passed in those days for fine oratory. But it was quite too fine for the sober and rather rough work which the orator had before him. His interest just then, all the enthusiasm of his mind in the business, was expended on the embellishment of his style. He was thinking of it as a work of art. He was speaking to Harvard College and its environs, not to the Southern Congressmen whom it was his business to win over to the commercial interest of New England. If his own fortunes had been embarked in one of these rotting ships, and he was intent with his whole soul on saving it by a vote of the Congress, he would have found something to say more to the purpose than courting sea nymphs on the rocks.”
The practical object of the discourse should hold everything in control from beginning to end. What is known as natural eloquence arises from the speaker's being caught up by the inspiration, the power of an aim. An intense aim is creative ; the result a natural growth, not mechanical contriving. Thought and language grow to and fit the striving soul within. Hence, sincerity is the secret of naturalness, the greatest charm of discourse.
Thus always must the composer be controlled by the genuine impulse of the effect to be produced. The message to be delivered must be the all-absorbing consciousness in the delivery. One is not in condition to speak or write till he has an idea which disturbs him into utterance. The urgency of the idea — the end, the effect, the purpose — must be the informing power which orders and organizes every element of thought, and gives harmony and color to every feature of style. Every discourse, like a plant or an animal, is the product of a vital force; and it cannot take the form of life by external carpentry. Composition is not primarily a putting together; but the outgoing of a unitary impulse which divides itself into a multiplicity of ideas, thoughts, and language forms in the process of reaching unity again in the mind addressed. It begins and ends in unity. One cannot learn to compose by putting words together into sentences, and sentences together into paragraphs, and paragraphs together into discourse. The impelling idea creates and determines the elements and forms needed for its realization in the mind of the reader or hearer.
Hence the most searching standard of criticism which can be applied to any discourse is whether it is produced under the full and undivided impulse of the idea for which the discourse purports to stand. For instance, al other standards for criticising a popular lecturer are rendered useless when it is observed that he is conscious of beautiful similes, superb gestures, of the fact that he is the lecturer of the evening, etc. Then nothing is to be expected of him but a performance, which is always disposed of by the single criticism that it is hollow and purposeless. Self-consciousness in some form, replacing the consciousness of the message, is a general. source of weakness in all kinds of stage performers.
There are plenty of exceptions to this, but it is true to such an extent that lecture committees often avoid the employment of professionals, seeking those who are earnestly engaged in solving life's problems and in elevating humanity. Efficient service comes, not from those who seem to think it a nice thing to speak in public from the stage and compose pieces for that purpose, but from those who are earnest seekers after living truth, and who are called and sent to the platform to say what needs to be said to fallen humanity. It is not strange that revolutionary and antislavery times produced orators. It was the rugged, earnest business in hand that made Patrick Henry and Wendell Phillips speak with tongues of fire. The secret of Moody's success lies not in any external elocution—for he has none of it — but in his simple, direct, and earnest effort to help his brother man. It is said that after Bishop Simpson had finished a sermon in Memorial Hall, London, a professor of elocution was asked by a friend what he thought of the Bishop's elocution. "Elocution,” he replied, “that man does n't need elocution ; he's got the Holy Ghost.”
This remark of the elocutionist suggests the application of the standard of genuine motive to his own art. In this there is decidedly too much reliance on externals; and not enough, we may say, on the “Holy Ghost.” Usually his choice selection is that which enables him to display his art; and this is not the selection which of itself produces the deepest and truest effect, but one which requires action, gesticulation, grimaces, contortions, and the full diapason of the vocal cords. For this purpose, the gravedigger's scene in Hamlet is much to be preferred to Portia's tribute to mercy; and yet the latter has in it far more potency for good -- more of genuine effect on the hearer; but we are most frequently favored with the former, because, perhaps, the reciter can best impress himself, if not the greater truth, upon the audience. The selection is to display his art; not his art the selection. And such, again, is a reversal of means and end in discourse; for what was presumably written to be a means to an end in the hearer, is used as a means to an end in the reciter. The true elocutionist understands this, and seeks artistic delivery through the merit and inspiration of what he delivers. His impelling motive is to make the thought and spirit of the selection go for all they are worth, not for his sake, but for their own.
And thus it is in all fine-art and literary criticism ; the first standard to apply is that of a genuine motive in the production. In tracing the history of literature the student may thus part off productions into two great classes, differing more or less in the fundamental requirement of discourse. Chaucer will be found to be hearty, genuine, sincere, — "so genuine that he need not ask whether he were genuine or no, so sincere as quite to forget his own sincerity.” Lowell again pays Chaucer a great tribute when he says, “With Chaucer it is always the thing itself and not the description of it that is the main object.” Passing to Spenser, the accomplished gentleman and scholar, a peculiar form of insincerity may be detected in his “Faery Queen.” Spenser at heart was a poet, filled with fine emotions and beautiful imagery ; but in his day writings that did not carry on their face a distinct moral purpose were supposed to be idle and useless. Spenser yielded to this and tried to expound a system of ethics in a poem ; whereas, if he had been true to his own instincts and impulses his Faery Queen would have had living interest to the general reader, and not merely historic value to the antiquary. Pope said that Shakespeare did not write correctly; and avowed his own purpose to be that of correct writing. He thus became conscious of his style and not his message; while Shakespeare searched the heart, seemingly unconscious of his art ; yet in the mere matter of style he far excelled all the critical school which followed him, and which made style the conscious object of direct concern. Thus in all literary study, the student must make his first, most general, and most fundamental estimate in terms of the motive creating the selection.