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Oration And Oratory

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


An experienced public speaker, unless in a time of unusual excitement, begins his address with his body at rest, with his tones uttered deliberately, with the pitch of his voice one that is natural to conversation, and with the range of his thoughts not raised much above the level of those of his hearers. In other words, he starts where the audience are, with no more of vehemence, rapidity, or brilliancy than is justified by the condition of thought in their minds at the time. He begins in the plane of ordinary, dignified inter-course, making no statement with which he has not reason to suppose that most of them will agree. But as he advances, his gestures, tones, language, and ideas gradually wax more and more energetic, striking, and original, till he reaches his climax. In the oration, perfect in form, in-tended to produce a single distinct and definite impression, this final climax, though often preceded by many another of less importance, stands out preeminently in advance of them. In it all the man's powers of action and of language, and the influence of all his separate arguments that now for the last time are summed up into a unity, seem to be concentrated like rays of light in a focus, and flashed forth for the enlightenment or bewilderment of those before him. But the most artistic oration does not end with the climax. At least, a few sentences and sentiments follow this, through which the action, voice, and ideas of the speaker gradually, gracefully, and sympathetically descend to bear the thoughts of his audience back again to the plane from which they started. That is to say, the artistic oration has an end as well as a beginning and a middle. It is a representation in complete organic form of the whole range of experience natural to discussion, from the time when a subject is first broached in ordinary conversation to the time when, having been argued fully and in such ways as to produce a single effect, the mind in exhaustion sinks back, once more, to the level of the conversation that suggested it.—The Genesis of Art-Form, VI.


Artificiality, in speaking, invariably results from paying attention, and, therefore, giving importance to something that should be treated as if of little or no importance.—Essay on Elocution in the Theological Seminary.


Oratory involves some of the representative characteristics not only of elocution but also—and here it is at one with rhetoric—of poetry. Like the latter, both oratory and rhetoric result in an external product. But, counteracting this latter fact, is another which causes both to differ not only from the dramatic art but equally from music, poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture. It is the fact that, at its best, neither public address nor rhetoric is attributable, as we have found to be true of the effects of these arts, to the satisfaction derived from elaborating a form of expression as a thing of beauty aside from an end of utility. Oratory invariably springs from a desire to influence, in certain definite directions, the thoughts and feelings of those to whom it is addressed. This fact makes its rhetoric differ from poetry no less than its delivery does from acting. Anything that attracts attention merely to the manner of expression, to form as form, is injurious both to oratory and to rhetoric per se. But it is often essential to the effects of the actor and the poet. Art in Theory, IX.


Emotion influencing mainly the feelings, leads to music; influencing the thoughts to poetry; influencing the will to oratory. The orator strives to give expression to feelings or thoughts not for the sake of their own intrinsic worth or beauty, but for their influence upon others. As already pointed out, oratory is not so much an aesthetic as a practical art. As soon as the speaker loses all hope of causing others to agree with him, he ceases to harangue them.—Idem, XIX.


The orator who, with the least appearance of effort, could produce the most satisfactory effects both of time and of modulation was Wendell Phillips. He could measure off his rhythm without any suggestion of monotony in recurrence; and could pass over all the notes of two octaves so subtly that half of his audience would be willing to take oath that he had not varied his intonations by more than two or three intervals. If a natural effect be the perfection of art, then he was the most artistic elocutionist of his day.—The Representative Significance of Form, XXIII.


The late Dr. Tyng, formerly rector of St. George's Church, New York, said that the secret of his success as a public speaker was his imagining everyone before him to be a numskull to whom every little statement must be explained. Essay on the Function of Technique.


When a man turns from conversation to public address, he has departed from the conditions of nature; and unless he have that rare artistic temperament which enables exceptional minds to recognize instinctively the new relationships and proportionments, each to each, of the elementary elements of expression, he cannot restore these conditions except as he acquires skill through following the directions of some instructor who has such a temperament.

Successfully changing private speech into public speech involves much the same process as turning a bug into a bird through the use of a microscope. If you merely put one edge of the glass over his head, or tail, or wing, this appears too large for the rest of his body. Only when you hold your microscope so as to magnify every part of him alike is the result natural. When a man begins to talk in public, he necessarily departs from the conditions of nature by using a louder and higher tone and more breath. As a result, he feels a tendency, at the end of every long sentence, to lessen his force, lower his pitch, and cease to vocalize all his breath. But if he yield to this tendency, which now, as you notice, has, in the changed conditions, become what, in one sense, may be termed natural, he produces, as in what is called the ministerial tone, a series of intonations entirely different from those which, in a far more important sense, can be termed natural.—Essay on the Function of Technique.


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