« PředchozíPokračovat »
information; in the retentive powers of his memory, which enabled him to keep in constant view, not only all he had formerly read and reflected on, but everything said at the moment, and even at other times, by the various persons whose arguments he was to answer ; in the faculty of spreading out his matter so clearly to the grasp of his own mind, as to render it impossible he should ever fail in the utmost clearness and distinctness to others; in the exuberant fertility of his invention, which spontaneously brought forth his ideas at the moment, in every possible shape by which the understanding might sit in the most accurate judgment upon them; whilst, instead of seeking afterwards to enforce them by cold, premeditated illustrations, or by episodes, which, however beautiful, only distract attention, he was accustomed to repass his subject, not methodically, but in the most unforeseen and fascinating review, enlightening every part of it, and binding even his adversaries in a kind of spell for the moment of involuntary assent.
“The reader must certainly not expect to be so carried away by the sketches now before me. Short-hand alone, secured too at the moment, against the numerous imperfections inseparable from following the career of so rapid and vehement an elocution, could have perpetuated their lustre and effect; but still the correct, and often the animated, substance remains, which preserves from oblivion more that is worthy of preservation, than by such means would apply to almost any other speaker in the world. Eloquence which consists more in the dexterous structure of periods, and in the powers and harmony of delivery, than in the extraordinary vigour of the understanding, may be compared to a human body, not so much surpassing the dimensions of ordinary nature as remarkable for the symmetry and beauty of its parts. If the short-hand writer, like the statuary or painter, has made no memorial of such an orator, little is left to distinguish him; but in the most imperfect relics of Fox's speeches THE BONES OF
A GIANT ARE TO BE DISCOVERED.
“This will be found more particularly to apply to his speeches upon sudden and unforeseen occasions, when certainly nothing could be more interesting nor extraordinary than to witness, as I have often done, the mighty and unprepared efforts of his mind, when he bad to encounter with the arguments of some profound reasoner, who had deeply considered his subject, and arranged it with all possible art, to preserve its parts unbroken. To hear him begin on such occasions, without method, without any kind of exertion, without the smallest impulse from the desire of distinction or triumph, and animated only by the honest sense of duty, an audience who knew him not, would have expected but little success from the conflict; as little as a traveller in the East, whilst trembling at a buffalo in the wild vigour of his well-protected strength, would have looked to his immediate destruction when he saw the boa moving slowly and inertly towards him on the grass. But Fox, unlike the serpent in everything but his strength, always taking his station in some fixed, invulnerable principle, soon surrounded and entangled his adversary, disjointing every member of his discourse, and strangling him in the irresistible folds of truth.
“This intellectual superiority, by which my illustrious friend was so eminently distinguished, might nevertheless have existed in all its strength without raising him to the exalted station he held as a public speaker. The powers of the understanding are not of themselves sufficient for this high purpose.
Intellect alone, however exalted, without strong feelings, without even irritable sensibility, would be only like an immense magazine of gunpowder, if there were no such element as fire in the natural world. It is the heart which is the spring and fountain of eloquence. A cold blooded, learned man might, for anything I know, compose in his closet an eloquent book; but in public discourse, arising out of sudden occasions, could by no possibility be eloquent.
“To carry on my ideas of oratory, by continuing to identify it with Fox, he possessed, above all men I ever knew, the most gentle and yet the most ardent spirit_a rare and happy combination! He had nourished in his mind all the manly and generous sentiments which are the true supports of the social world ; he was tremblingly alive to every kind of private wrong or suffering ; and from the habitual and fervent contemplation of the just principles of government, he had the most bitter and unextinguishable contempt for the low arts of political intrigue, and an indignant abhorrence of every species of tyranny, oppression, and injustice."*
Horace Walpole says: "Fox had not the ungraceful hesitation of his father, yet scarce equalled him in subtlety and acuteness. But no man ever excelled him in the closeness of argument, which flowed from him in a torrent of vehemence, as declamation sometimes does from those who want argument.” Burke has called him “the greatest debater the world ever saw ;" Mackintosh “the most Demosthenean speaker since Demosthenes.” We must be content with these testimonies. Of eloquence it has been eloquently said : Eloquentia sicut flamma, materie alitur, motu excitatur, urendo clarescit." Mr. Pitt thus happily rendered the passage : "It is of eloquence as of a flame: it requires matter to feed it, motion to excite it, and it brightens as it burns.” But it also wastes like a flame. The bright stars of poetry shine to us in the heavens as they shone to our fathers three thousand years ago; the flames of oratory have, in too many cases, blazed like earthly fires, scorching and consuming in the hour of their fierceness ;
* “Fox's Speeches,” vol. i. Letter of Lord Erskine.
pale and glimmering when that hour is past and their work is done. But in the work itself orators have their true fame. Those who, like Pym and Hampden, have withstood a despotic Court—who, like Somers, have restored the liberties of their country—who, like Chatham, have exalted its reputation-or who, like Fox, have placed on a height their beacon to save the wandering friends of freedom from destruction,--may be content to let their speeches moulder in the dust of libraries, while their names are hallowed in the temples they have founded, adorned, and preserved.