Page images



he committed it to the future; that future which, by its appreciation, reverence, and love, has justified his lofty


Paradise Lost was followed in a few years by Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes; and now nothing is left to the great bard but to die. He has sung an immortal strain, and lived a life worthy of such a singer; and his death rounds and completes the whole. As we stand by the open grave in St. Giles's, Cripplegate, with the small party of his contemporaries who are here to pay him the last sad tribute of respect, we repeat the words which he used of his own blind hero:

"Samson has quit him

Like Samson, and heroically has finished
A life heroic.

Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail,

Or knock the breast; no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame; nothing but well and fair."

As we look around upon the strife of little souls, and mark the petty prizes for which they are contending; as we hear upon all hands the wails of discontent and complaint, and feel how few are the mighty and the noble to cheer us with the light of their presence, and the inspiration of their example and their words, we are strongly tempted to join in the grave reproach of Wordsworth's sonnet:

"Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour,
England hath need of thee; she is a fen

Of stagnant waters; altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower
Have forfeited their ancient English dower

Of inward happiness. We are selfish men.
O raise us up; return to us again,

And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heaven, majestic, free.

Yet didst thou travel on life's common way
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay."

Thus have I attempted to show by these examples, how men have struggled, with undaunted front, against the severest misfortune and privation, making head against calamity, revealing the latent resources of our nature, vindicating the compensations which God has made to wait upon every condition of man's life. We have seen men, without the light, achieving eminence in abstract and natural science, in history and poetry, performing feats which would be esteemed well-nigh prodigies even for those who possessed their vision.

There is one department, however, wherein I am obliged to record the inferiority of the blind. I mean that of spoken eloquence. There is a popular fallacy that this is a profession wherein the blind may readily excel; to which Mr. Wirt's celebrated description of the Blind Preacher, in his letters of the British Spy, has given still greater currency. I will not charge that distinguished person with intentional extravagance; but his picture is an exaggeration. His own mind was in a morbid and excited state; profoundly impressed by the Sabbath-like stillness of the forest; the grassy turf illumined by flashes of sunshine, and speckled by the twinkling shadows of the leaves; while through the trees appears the modest country church. Brooding over a youth misspent, haunted by the phantoms of remorse and despair, he crosses the threshold of the house of God, to hear if any word can be spoken that will dispel his gloom. An aged man stands in the desk. Silvery locks fall down his shoulders. His voice is tremulous from age. His manner of simple fervour betokens the deepest earnestness. As the hearer looks more narrowly, he perceives



that the speaker is blind. His own condition, the scene, the sightless apostle of the truth, all combine to arouse him to a pitch of enthusiasm; and he pronounces Waddell the most eloquent of men.

That Mr. Wirt on this occasion may have found him so, I do not question. But that the audience under ordinary conditions would have been affected to the same or to an approaching degree, I cannot believe. Excel as the blind may in literature, the magic wand of the great orator cannot be given to them. Shall I demonstrate my position? When you are engaged in conversation, is it not requisite, in order to the fullest interest and animation, that you have the tribute of your companion's eye? Is it possible for you to sustain a prolonged and exciting conversation in a dark room? Can you make a friend or intimate of any person who, when you speak to him, averts his glance? No, is the unmistakable answer to this question. You come to your deepest acquaintance with others' sensibilities, whereby your own are kindled, through their eyes and your own. The sweetest and mightiest tie which binds us to each other-sympathy-whose glow kindles our enthusiasm, whose magic power enables us to transfer our life into another's life, to pervade our own imagination with another's being, reveals itself, not through the poor ministry of ds, but in the divine expression of the human face, which concentrates and glorifies itself in the electric flashing of the eyes. These orbs are the mirrors of the soul; the lights which kindle the fires of friendship and affection.


Again you are a public speaker. Suppose you are called upon to address an audience from behind a screen; or with your face turned to the wall; or with a bandage across your eyes. Would your words have power, or your nature inspiration? Picture Demosthenes or Clay ad

dressing an audience, they hanging breathless on his lips, when suddenly the lights go out. No poise of character, no self-possession, no absorption of the speaker in his theme is equal to such a crisis. No spell of eloquence is mighty enough to hold an audience together under such circumstances. There can be neither speaking nor hearing in the dark.


What is the secret of the richest, greatest eloquence? Neither in finish of style, nor in force of logic, nor affluence of diction, nor grace of manner, nor pomp of imagination, nor in all of these combined, is it to be found. may be accompanied by these-it may be destitute of them. It is in the man-feeling his theme, feeling his audience, and making them feel the theme and himself. He pursues the line of his thought; a sentence is dropped which falls like a kindling spark into the breast of some one present. The light of that spark shoots up to his eyes, and sends an answer to the speaker. The telegraphic signal is felt, and the speaker is instantly tenfold the stronger; he believes what he is saying more deeply than before when a second sentence creates a response in another part of the house. As he proceeds, the listless are arrested, the lethargic are startled into attention, tokens of sympathy and emotion flash out upon him from every portion of the audience. That audience has lent to him its strength. It is the same double action which characterises every movement of the universe; action and re-action; the speaker giving the best that is in him to his hearers, they lending the divinest portion of themselves to him. This tidal movement of sympathy, this magnetic action, awakening and answering in the eyes of speaker and hearer, by which he is filled with their life, and they pervaded by his thought, is to me the secret and the condition of real eloquence; and clearly this condition is



one unattainable by a man destitute of sight. His audience may yield him their deepest, holiest sympathies, yet how can he be made aware of this? Between himself and them a great gulf is fixed, over which no man may pass. His discourse is a soliloquy spoken to his own ear; his imagination the only gauge which he possesses of the appreciativeness of his audience. His words may be

beneath them, or above them; his thoughts may be lofty, almost divine; his convictions may reach to the very roots of his being; his voice may be sweet as thrilling music, and yet, so far as the last and highest requisite of eloquence is concerned, he might as well be speaking to the trees. His audience is not a reality, but only the product of his imagination. He is wholly incompetent to appreciate or receive any sympathetic response which they may be disposed to render him. Such inspiration as he may have is the influence of his subject upon his own mind and heart. The answer of the human eye, the mightiest quickener of eloquence, is for ever withholden from him. Therefore, I have said that this sphere of power and distinction is shut up against him. The blind may achieve the laurel of the poet, the fame of the historian, but his hand can never wield the wand of enchantment which is given to the great orator.

Cheerfully do I turn me now to look upon some of the compensations which underlie and bless the lot of those who sit in darkness. Forlorn indeed, and wretched, does their state at first sight seem. Shut out from vision of mountains and oceans, without a message from sun or star; cheered by no pleasant sight of corn-fields, or meadows dotted with flocks and herds; unused to the dreamy twilight of the deep forest, or the silvery gleam of the brook as it breaks into sunshine; untaught in any alphabet by which to interpret the craft of the builder, or the

« PreviousContinue »