From reading the most admired productions of genius, whether in poetry or prose, almost every one rises with some good impressions left on his mind; and though these may not always be durable, they are at least to be ranked among the means of disposing the heart to virtue. One thing is certain, that without possessing the virtuous affections in a strong degree, no man can attain eminence in the sublime parts of eloquence. He must feel what a good man feels, if he expects greatly to move or to interest mankind. They are the ardent sentiments of honour, virtue, magnanimity, and public spirit, that only can kindle that fire of genius, and call up into the mind those high ideas which attract the admiration of ages; and if this spirit be necessary to produce the most distinguished efforts of eloquence, it must be necessary also to our relishing them with proper taste and feeling.
The nature of our constitution makes eloquence more useful and more necessary in this country than in any other in Europe. A certain degree of good sense and knowledge is requisite for that as well as for everything else; but, beyond that, the purity of diction, the elegancy of style, the harmony of periods, a pleasing elocution, and a graceful action, are the things which a public speaker should attend to the most; because his audience does,and understands them the best,or rather, indeed, understands little else. The late Lord Chancellor Cowpers strength as an orator lay by no means in his reasonings, for very often he hazarded very weak ones. But such was the purity and eloquence of his style, such the propriety and charms of his elocution, and such the gracefulness of his action, that he never spoke without universal applause. The ears and the eyes gave him up the hearts and the understandings of the audience.
Eloquence is the language of nature, and cannot be learnt in the schools: the passions are powerful pleaders, and their very silence, like that of Garrick, goes directly to the soul: but rhetoric is the creature of art, which he who feels least will most excel in; it is the quackery of eloquence, and deals in nostrums, not in cures.
His eloquent tongue so well seconds his fertile invention that no one speaks better when suddenly called forth. His attention never languishes, his mind is always before his words; his memory has all its stock so turned into ready money that without hesitation or delay it supplies whatever the occasion may require.
I despair altogether of making any impression by anything I can say,a feeling which disqualifies me from speaking as I ought. I have been accustomed during the greatest part of my life to be animated by the hope and expectation that I might not be speaking in vain,without which there can be no spirit in discourse. I have often heard it said, and I believe it to be true, that even the most eloquent man living (how then must I be disabled!), and however deeply impressed with the subject, could scarcely find utterance if he were to be standing up alone and speaking only against a dead wall.
Lord Chancellor Erskine: Speech in House of Lords on Amendment to Address, 1819.
Method, we are aware, is an essential ingredient in every discourse designed for the instruction of mankind, but it ought never to force itself on the attention as an object apart; never appear to be an end, instead of an instrument, or beget a suspicion of the sentiments being introduced for the sake of the method, not the method for the sentiments. Let the experiment be tried on some of the best specimens of ancient eloquence; let an oration of Cicero or Demosthenes be sketched upon a Procrustes bed of this sort, and, if I am not greatly mistaken, the flame and enthusiasm which have excited admiration in all ages will instantly evaporate: yet no one perceives a want of method in these immortal compositions, nor can anything be conceived more remote from incoherent rhapsody.
Robert Hall: Discouragements and Supports of the Christian Minister.
Of the parliamentary eloquence of these celebrated rivals we can judge only by report; and, so judging, we should be inclined to think that, though Shaftesbury was a distinguished speaker, the superiority belongs to Halifax. Indeed, the readiness of Halifax in debate, the extent of his knowledge, the ingenuity of his reasoning, the liveliness of his expression, and the silver clearness and sweetness of his voice, seem to have made the strongest impression on his contemporaries. By Dryden he is described as
Of piercing wit and pregnant thought,
Endued by nature, and by learning taught
To move assemblies.
His oratory is utterly and irretrievably lost to us, like that of Somers, of Bolingbroke, of Charles Townshend, of many others who were accustomed to rise amidst the breathless expectation of senates and to sit down amidst reiterated bursts of applause. But old men who lived to admire the eloquence of Pulteney in its meridian, and that of Pitt in its splendid dawn, still murmured that they had heard nothing like the great speeches of Lord Halifax on the Exclusion Bill. The power of Shaftesbury over large masses was unrivalled. Halifax was disqualified by his whole character, moral and intellectual, for the part of a demagogue. It was in small circles, and, above all, in the House of Lords, that his ascendency was felt.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Sir William Temple, Oct. 1838.
In whom does it not enkindle passion? Its matchless excellence is applicable everywhere, in all classes of life. The rich and the poor experience the effects of its magic influence. It excites the soldier to the charge and animates him to the conflict. The miser it teaches to weep over his error, and to despise the degrading betrayer of his peace. It convicts the infidel of his depravity, dispels the cloud that obscures his mind, and leaves it pure and elevated. The guilty are living monuments of its exertion, and the innocent hail it as the vindicator of their violated rights and the preserver of their sacred reputation. How often in the courts of justice does the criminal behold his arms unshackled, his character freed from suspicion, and his future left open before him with all its hopes of honours, station, and dignity! And how often, in the halls of legislation, does Eloquence unmask corruption, expose intrigue, and overthrow tyranny! In the cause of mercy it is omnipotent. It is bold in the consciousness of its superiority, fearless and unyielding in the purity of its motives. All opposition it destroys; all power it defies.