A Great Orator
( Originally Published 1902 )
GENERAL HARRISON was a great orator as well as a great lawyer. He was an exception to the rule that the best judges are not the ablest speakers. There were men who had more fire and magnetism and overmastering power in their address, but in clearness of thought, purity of literary style, strength of argument in the matter of the discourse, and in gracefulness and dignity in its delivery he had few equals. Good critics considered him the best orator in the United States at the time of his death. His speeches to the delegations that visited him at Indianapolis during his Presidential canvass were marvels of wisdom and of eloquence. This is a sample, taken from his talk to the railroad men : " Heroism has been found at the throttle and at the brake, as well as on the battlefield, and as well worthy of song or marble. The trainman crushed between the platforms, who used his last breath not for prayer or message of love, but to say to the panic-stricken who gathered around him, ` Put out the red light for the other train,' inscribed his name very high upon the shaft where the names of the faithful and brave are written." No one who was present at the opening session of the great Missionary Conference in Carnegie Music Hall, New York, April 21, 1900, will ever forget the scene. Fastened to the wall back of the platform was a large map of the world. Over the centre of it was the following: " The field is the world, the good seed are the children of the Kingdom." Over the Western Hemisphere was, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation." Over the Eastern Hemisphere was, " And they went forth and preached everywhere." Upon the platform were missionaries from every land, and in the audience there were delegates from seventeen nationalities. The hall was crowded. Benjamin Harrison, who had been selected to preside over the meetings during the conference, arose to make the opening address. With hair and beard white, he stood like a sage—like a veritable prophet of God. The great audience was held spellbound by the charm of his eloquence, and was swept by a gust of human and divine enthusiasm as he closed with the following words : " The Bible does not draw its illustration wholly from the home or the field, but uses also the strenuous things of life—the race, the fight, girded soldier, the assault. There are many fields, there are diverse arms ; the battle is in the bush, and the comrades that are seen are few. A view of the whole army is a good thing; the heart is strengthened by an enlarged comradeship; it gives promise that the flanks will be covered and a reserve organized. After days in the bush the sense of numbers is lost. It greatly strengthens the soldier and quickens his pace when he advances to battle, if a glance to the right or left reveals many pennons and a marshalled host, moving under one great leader to execute a single battle plan. Once, in an advance of our army, the commander of a regiment could see no more than half of his own line, while the sup-ports to his right and left were wholly hidden. To him it seemed as if his battalion was making an unsupported assault. The extended line, the reserve, were matters of faith. But one day the advancing army broke suddenly from the bush into a savannah—a long, narrow, natural meadow—and the army was revealed. From the centre far to the right and left the distinctive corps, division, brigade and regimental colors appeared, and associated with each of these was the one flag that made the army one. A mighty spontaneous cheer burst from the whole line, and every soldier tightened his grip upon his rifle and quickened his step. What the savannah did for that army this world's conference of missions should do for the church." Lord Chief Justice Coleridge, of England, on reading a volume of Mr. Harrison's speeches, said: " These speeches give me a very high idea of Mr. Harrison. It is pleasant to be brought face to face with any one so manly and high-minded as he shows himself to be in the book."