How To Get Material For The Speech
( Originally Published 1922 )
Josh Billings somewhere makes a remark to the effect that "there ain't no use in knowin' so many things that ain't so." It may well be that there is no use of talking so much when one has nothing to say. But, on the other hand, there are many things in this world that are so, and that are worth knowing and telling. The bottom thing in a speech is subject matter. We can make no headway until we have ideas and facts. There is no use going to mill if we have no grist to grind.
All life is just one endless process of picking up facts and storing up wisdom. The most useful and interesting orators are those who have seen most and thought most and experienced most. You are to get matter for speeches and debate every-where. And you are so young now; your senses are so alert; your minds are so eager and so filled with curiosity; your memories so plastic ("wax to receive and marble to retain") that it will be a very simple matter for you to pick up and pack away vast stores of information.
I. Original Thought
It is natural for everyone to want to be an original thinker. We should like to utter only such thoughts as are brand new. And this is a good thing; for, surely, each human soul must have some new inlet of truth from the vast silence and mystery that encircles us. And we owe it to ourselves and to our fellow men to utter the best truth that has been given to us. No one has ever spoken on this point to the minds and hearts of young people more eloquently than Emerson in his essay on Self-Reliance.
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power that resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. . . . Trust thyself : every heart vibrates to that iron string.
But after all, the great truths of life that make for the weal or woe of humanity have been pretty well known for ages. So it is only rarely that the most gifted person finds a brand new truth about nature or human nature. This ought not, of course, to discourage the desire for intense and independent thought, since no matter how old a truth may be, it has meaning for you, and comes to life in your soul only when you have thought it out for yourself; and in a sense it is new knowledge; for now for the first time in history it has a new lodging place; a fresh angle
of reflection; and no one can foresee what may be born out of this contact of an old truth with a fresh mind. At least you remint it; it takes the color of your personality; and you clothe it in your own word and phrase. So men are on safe ground when they toil and sweat to bring fresh ideas into the world.
Perhaps, in the long run, no subject matter will prove so useful as that which is drawn from experience. Here is a source of knowledge that is both fresh and true. The word experience comes from a Latin word that means to try, or test, or pass through. What you have tried and tested for yourself you can rely upon. It is practical, that is, you have practised it yourself by going through it. Such facts as are gotten in this way almost always have weight and force. And when you refer to things in a speech that you have yourself seen, heard, tested, or had a hand in, you feel so certain of what you say that it
convinces those who hear because of its solid reality.
Indeed, it is only what we have passed through that fully lives for us. Life is the truest and biggest teacher of all. So the boy who wants to be a force in the world should not be afraid to live, and to live richly. He must do and dare. He must not shrink from pain and hardship and danger. Of course there is no merit in simply being reckless; and he will draw back in horror from any act or deed that his moral sense tells him is wrong. But he will welcome hard knocks in a good cause. He will handle life with bare hands. He will scorn soft ways, and will let no one coddle him. He will make courage and prompt action a habit. For fear and bravery are, after all, habits.
Broad experience is very important because it enables us to lay up a store of material to draw on in the future. Think of what such men as Roosevelt, and General Leonard Wood, and Frederick Palmer, the war correspondent, have lived through! To say nothing about the physical sensations that came to them in their hardy boyhood days of games and tramps: cuts, bumps, bruises, cold, wet, heat, motion, tense muscles, sore bones, hunger, exhaustion — and, afterward, relaxed muscles, square meals, hot baths, a snug corner by the evening fireside with a good book to read and warm beds and dreamless sleep — to say nothing about these experiences of healthy boyhood — think what they have seen and felt and heard and dared during their brave, eager, active lives! There is scarcely a rugged physical sensation they have not known, from mud, and ice, and snow, and the salt spray of the sea in their faces, to the kick of a rifle, the jolt of a rough horse, the swift motion of an airplane through space, the fierce onslaught of clouds of mosquitoes, the burning torture of tropical fever, and the sharp sting of cold lead or keen steel. When such men speak, they speak of what they know, and they know very many things indeed. How could such men be at a loss for something to say? And how could their words fail to interest and to carry weight? What such men say goes like a bullet to the mark. Their words are blood-red with life and reality.
So, in your class work and during your schooldays, draw upon your own experience. Talk about things that interest you. If they truly interest you, they will interest other people. Anything that is sincere and human is good enough to talk about. You know about things that others do not know about. They seem very commonplace to you because they are so humble and familiar. But to others they may seem new and strange. At least these simple things well told, plus the warmth and flavor and color of your personality, will interest and instruct others. Two of the wisest and best books printed in America during the last quarter of a century are Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull House and Booker Washington's Up from Slavery. No American boy or girl should grow up ignorant of these two stories. The writer reads and re-reads these great autobiographies with constant relish; and the chief lesson he draws from them — next to the impress made upon him by the strength and goodness of the authors — is the fact that the richest material that goes to the making of these books is taken from the humblest, most obscure, one might almost say the meanest and most distasteful things that enter into life. But the tender heart of Jane Addams and the stout heart of Booker Washington overflowed with love for the foreign people and the black people with whom they labored; and the result is we are led to love these people too, and the desire is created within us to labor with them and for them, and to share the wealth of common humanity that shines out so strangely in the dark and lowly places of earth.
Observation is, of course, a form of experience. It is what we have seen with our eyes, rather than what we have felt. It has to do with things outside of ourselves — the acts and ways of other people, the habits of animals, and the doings of Nature. To be a good observer one must have an alert mind and keen, quick eyes. One must care for life, too; must take an interest in everything. It is hard to be patient with a stupid person one who is too dull to care what is going on about him. A man's success and popularity depends very much upon the number of interests he has. If we have few and petty interests it is our business to wake up and get new and larger ones. Indeed, we can make no better test of the extent of a person's education or culture than by inquiring how many vivid points of contact he has with the world about him. Education is a waking-up process; and the best educated boy or girl is the one who is awake to the largest number of good things in life.
You may be sure that the bright eyes of Louisa M. Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Frances Willard, and Jane Addams let no valuable fact of life slip by them when they were school girls. The little ugly and common-place things about us are not to be overlooked. They, too, are a part of life; and since so many people in this world are ugly, and since the warp and woof of life is all made up of the commonplace, we cannot grip life and make our speeches convincing unless we have a firm hold upon the everyday sights and scenes and happenings. Lincoln, you know, said that God must love the common people or he would not have made so many of them.
There are two kinds of observation — one that comes as a habit of storing away for future use, and one that searches out matter for use at once. Students should early enter upon the practice of always being on the lookout for facts, incidents, anecdotes, and illustrations that will prove useful at some later time. We cannot afford to get our subject matter for speeches the way a tramp gets his living — from hand to mouth, day by day. The great orators have been far-sighted and thrifty. They look ahead to the sudden demand that may come next week or next month or next year. Some of the great passages that seem like flashes of inspiration have been thought out and written out. Daniel Webster once told a friend that "the most admired figures and illustrations in his speeches which were supposed to have been thrown off in the excitement of the moment were, like the hoarded repartees and cut-and-dry impromptus of Sheridan, the result of previous study and meditation." Hamilton Mabie, in his book, Essays on Books and Culture, writes as follows of a famous speaker: "He habitually fed himself with any kind of knowledge which was at hand. If books were at his elbow, he read them; if pictures, engravings, gems were within reach, he studied them; if nature was within walking distance, he watched nature; if men were about him, he learned the secrets of their temperaments, tastes, and skills; if he were on shipboard, he knew the dialect of the vessel in the briefest possible time; if he traveled by stage, he sat with the driver and learned all about the route, the country, the people, and the art of his companion; if he had a spare hour in a village in which there was a manufactory, he went through it with keen eyes and learned the mechanical processes used in it."
When a speaker is on the lookout for special facts and incidents to illustrate a speech he is to make soon, he will throw out feelers in every direction. The mind must quest eagerly here, there, and everywhere and lay hold of whatever promises to be of use. He must not be content with a "Mr. Micawber sort of mind, waiting for something to turn up," he must have "a mind intent, a mind that goes to its windows and looks out and longs, and thrusts forth its telescope to find something. A mind thus intense, investigatory, and practically beseeching, amounts to a tremendous lodestone in the midst of the full-stocked Creation. . . ." And he must have a general idea of what one is in search of, otherwise he could not recognize it as just what he is after, and seize and claim it for his particular purpose. Says Emerson: "He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry out the wealth of the Indies."
It is important to form the habit of seeing things accurately. Most people have hazy notions of what they see. They cannot be trusted to give exact reports. Yet truth and fairness demand exactness; and a public speaker must build up a reputation for keeping close to fact. The temper of the orator is likely to lead him to overcolor events and overstate facts. The mood of the scientist is cool and cautious; that of the orator is likely to be hot and hasty. But the orator, as well as the scientist, must first see his fact clearly in cold, hard outline, no matter how warm and glowing he makes it later with the play of imagination. because of his intense feeling about it. So it will be a good thing for the public speaker to take lessons from the scientist and the lawyer and the realistic story writer. Writers like Hawthorne and Stevenson are noted for their ability to see things clearly and report them exactly. Even in boyhood and youth they made a practice of jotting down descriptions of objects and aspects of nature. A boy is not more earnest and eager to get a sure bead on a squirrel he is trying to bring down with his rifle than they were to see and present the object exactly as it appeared. This passage from Hawthorne's notebook is a good example of his power to report what he saw:
A walk yesterday through Dark Lane, and home through the village of Danvers. Landscape now wholly autumnal. Saw an elderly man laden with two dry, yellow, rustling bundles of Indian corn stalks, a good personification of Autumn. Another man hoeing up potatoes. Rows of white cabbages lay ripening. Fields of dry Indian corn. The grass has still considerable greenness. Wild rose-bushes devoid of leaves, with their deep, bright red seed-vessels. Meeting house in Danvers seen at a distance, with the sun shining through the windows of its belfry. Barberry bushes the leaves now of a brown red, still juicy and healthy; very few berries remaining, mostly frost-bitten and wilted. All among the yet green grass, dry stalks of weeds. The down of thistles occasionally seen flying through the sunny air.
The poets, too, have been amazingly accurate observers; and if a poet can see straight and keep his eyes free from rainbow mists of imagery, surely the orator can. One who knew the poet Browning well gives this account of Browning's open eyed habits as a young man: "His faculty of observation at that time would not have appeared despicable to a Seminole or an Iroquois; he saw and watched everything, the bird on the wing, the snail dragging its shell up the pendulous woodbine, the bee adding to his golden treasure as he swung in the bells of the campanula, the greenfly dartling hither and thither like an animated seedling, the spider weaving her gossamer from twig to twig, the woodpecker heedfully scrutinizing the lichen on the gnarled oak-bole, the passage of the wind through leaves or across grass, the motions and shadows of the clouds, and so forth." The poet Wordsworth set out early in his career to record minute forms and impressions of nature that had hitherto been overlooked. He would brood and gaze by the hour at the outline of a flower, or the color effects of the clouds, or the pranks of a rabbit, or bird, in order that he might set down what he saw as clearly as a camera would print it. Of course poets and orators do not rest satisfied with a bare description of what they have seen so clearly. They look deep into the inner life of the thing, seize its secret charm, and render that in bright, warm images. That is what proves them to be poets and orators rather than lawyers and scientists. But they must first see the outward object with starlike keenness of vision.
A wealth of material may be secured from travel. One need not travel far to learn. He need not be a rolling stone. The fact is, not much sticks to a rolling stone. Kipling has a character who no matter where he may be, says,' "Well, I am due on the other side of the world." Such a world tramp may see a good deal, but he will not garner much that is useful. David Thoreau, Emerson's friend, was of a very different type. He said once, "I have traveled a great deal chiefly in Concord." But, though his travels did not take him far, they usually netted him something worth while, and few men have ever lived who observed nature to better advantage. A companion with whom he was walking one day near Concord, said, "I do not see where you get your Indian arrow-heads." Thoreau threw his keen eye upon the ground, and a moment later stooped and said, "Here is one." Nature could hide nothing from him, and the animals told him all their secrets. "He could guide himself about the woods on the darkest night by the touch of his feet," writes Robert Louis Stevenson. "He could pick up at once an exact dozen of pencils by the feeling, pace distances with accuracy, and gauge cubic contents by the eye. . . . His knowledge of nature was so complete and curious that he could have told the day of the year within a day or so, by the aspect of the plants. He pulled the woodchuck out of its hole by the tail; the hunted fox came to him for protection; wild squirrels have been seen to nestle in his waistcoat; he would thrust his arm into a pool and bring forth a bright, panting fish, lying undismayed in the palm of his hand."
If possible, it is well to travel far, and into strange lands if one knows what to see and how to see it. We should read, though, before we travel, and should have some idea before-hand of what we are going to see. Geography becomes very real to the traveler; and history unfolds its pictures before his mind with strange vividness and power as he stands just where some great deeds of the past took place. We grow broad by travel. As we see the manners and customs of other peoples and notice not only how they differ from us but in how many ways they excel us, it leads us to make comparisons, takes away some of our egotism, and broadens our sympathies. Travel quickens and trains our taste. America is young, and is some-what lacking yet in examples of great painting and sculpture and architecture. We are not destitute of these things; but Europe is a storehouse of art treasures. And there are hundreds of colleges, palaces, castles, and cathedrals that thrill the heart of an American youth with their age, their beauty, their dignity, their associations with the heroic and romantic past. Monuments and inscriptions are to be seen everywhere in Europe; and the lessons they teach are often deep and true and inspiring. They point out and interpret for us the great lessons of history on spots made sacred by human sacrifice and at moments when we are most alive to receive and cherish their teaching. Often we find summed up in a brief inscription upon a statue or a tomb the guiding motive of a world hero, or the inner meaning of a struggle that drenched the world in blood.
So far we have mentioned only such facts and truths as come directly from our own inner or outer life pure thought, first-hand contact with life, observation and travel. But we are not limited to what we ourselves have thought and seen and felt. If such were the case, you high school boys and girls might be a little short of material, for it is early morning with you. You stand at the foot of the mountain with your kit on your back, and your stout staff in your hand, with the climb, and the views, and the bumps, and the adventures mostly before you. What you have already picked up is not to be despised. It. is such stuff as boys and girls ought to have, and you ought to draw upon it, and make use of it in your speeches, since it is your very own. If the matter bears your imprint and design in clear bright colors, if it glows with your own true conviction, it will be interesting; it will be valuable; and people will listen to what you say gladly.
But other people, and older people will be glad to share their knowledge with you; and the total amount of information lodged in the minds of your neighbors no matter where you live is vast and varied. When you add together all that is known by the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, and then pile on top of this the knowledge that is stored up in the minds of the doctor, the lawyer, the banker, the minister, the carpenter, the plumber, the mason, the cowboy, the farmer, the miner, and then ransack through the cellar and garret of the movie man, the chauffeur, the policeman, the railroad man, the barber, the blacksmith, the cobbler, the soldier, the sailor, and the traveling man, you will not be at a loss for facts and figures and illustrations upon any subject you may have to treat. Here is what Mr. J. Ogden Armour, a hard-headed business man, has to say about this art of asking questions:
Almost anyone can learn from books. Many have attained the knack of learning from things by observation. Few have acquired all there is to the art of learning from other people.
Yet almost everyone you meet has something important to teach you, tell you, or show you, if you know how to ask intelligent questions, and if you are genuinely interested in learning. Some will give you information, some will teach you wisdom, some will show you the right manner of delivering a smile or a handshake. The man who would grow must be a human interrogation point.
You can get the subject matter you want simply by asking help from the people about you. When you have a subject you want to work up, and you have put the best you can into it from your own thought and experience, the next step would naturally be to ask your parents and your teachers and your older brothers and sisters what they know about( it. Then it would be well to pick out four or five neighbors or citizens who have special knowledge on the subject you are to speak about, and ask them if they will let you call and talk over the matter a few minutes with them. If your topic has to do with civics, very likely you will want to interview the mayor, or your councilman, or the chief of police, or some lawyer, or the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, or of the Associated Charities, or some well-known, respected citizen who always keeps posted on civic matters. If your topic is one that has to do with child welfare or public health, you will desire to talk with the school or district nurse, the public health officer, one or two leading doctors, some of the social and welfare workers, two or three mothers who are known to be deeply interested in seeing that pure milk is provided for all babies in the city as well as for their own, who are interested in community sanitation and clean living as well as in keeping their own homes bright and clean and pure. It may be that you are going to make a speech to arouse interest in a community pageant.
After you had thought things out for yourself as well as you could, you would talk it over in the family circle, and get as many suggestions as you could there. Next, you would talk with one or two of your teachers about it — especially the teachers in charge of history, of English, and of dramatics. Most important and interesting of all, though, would be the inquiries you would make among the pioneers and old settlers in your town. Here you would get not only facts but glowing enthusiasm and stirring stories of early days, and little, lively, snapshots that would give zest and color to your speech. No doubt you will be timid at first about going to busy people whom you do not know, especially if they are public officers, or men and women in high places. But if you are in earnest, and are tactful, and know what you want, and go after it at once without waste of time, and know how to quit and get up and leave when you are through, you will be surprised to find how kind and helpful the greatest person will be. The best citizens are always proud of their high school boys and girls. They are glad you are interested in local and city affairs, for they know you will soon have to take your due share of the burdens of civic life. Then, too, such conversations will afford you excellent practice in several ways. First, they will lead you to think hard and closely yourself on the subject you are going to inquire about. Second, they will force you to draw up a list of questions before you hold your interviews, and so will provide you with the outline for your speech. Third, they will give you practice in putting your thoughts into words. It will be a form of public speaking, and having talked thus at close range with person after person, you will feel that you can talk to a number of people together. It is said that Napoleon, when a feeling of panic would come over him at the thought of speaking to a great crowd, would regain his courage by reminding himself that he could talk to any single person in the audience without the slightest fear — and, if to each one alone, why not to these same men and women when they were together? And, fourth, when you come to draw up, and think out, and deliver your speech you will have confidence that what you have to say is worth while, since it has been drawn directly from life — from the street, and shop, and home — and from the men and women who know most about the things under discussion and have first-hand knowledge of them. No one can go behind your facts and your information. You have been to the sources.
Not only can we add to our own best thought the experience and wisdom and knowledge of our parents and friends and our neighbors; but through books we may find an open door into the minds of the greatest men and women of all ages and countries. The best thinking of the world has been preserved and written down in books. So what anyone in the world has known, we may know if we make earnest inquiry. We cannot always find the book we want when we want it. Yet it is almost true as George MacDonald says, that "As you grow ready for it, somewhere or other, you will find what is needful for you in a book." It is strange, too, how the alert and hungry mind will find something to feed on, even though it may not be the food it most needs or that is most to its taste. When I think how little chance such boys as Benjamin Franklin and Lincoln had to get at the best books at just the time they most needed them, yet how they fed their minds and grew in wisdom in spite of the mental hardships they had to undergo, I am reminded of the hardy cattle on the plains and in the mountains of the West. I have seen cattle in Arizona browsing on bear grass and mesquite and even cactus. They go through the whole year with nothing better to eat than what they can find thus on the mesa and in the mountains, yet they come through the winter in fairly good condition. Of course it takes skill to use books. But skill comes with practice; and here, once more, parents and teachers are willing helpers. The librarians, too, will be glad to give an earnest boy or girl expert help. No one need be afraid to ask them to help find what he needs. They are fond of their work; they know their books; they know how to use them; and they have means of finding material and of running down facts that outsiders know nothing about. So let the student pry into books. Let him make all the use of them he can.
We can scarcely realize how great a debt we owe to books. Books are our most constant and accessible source of wisdom. Parents and teachers we cannot always have with us; and sooner or later, at last, we find to our surprise that there is a horizon line beyond which the knowledge of the dearest parent, the most honored teacher, does not go. We can ask questions of books at will. We never feel timid or abashed when we display our ignorance to them, or reveal to them the secret or trivial interest that urges us to seek information. They never smile at our ignorance; they never rebuff us; they never refuse to tell us all that they know. How shall we estimate to what degree we have from books coined our diction, formed our manners, fashioned our taste, found subject matter for agree-able conversation, drawn the ideals that have guided us in the choice of our business or profession, and secured the hints that have decided our action at crucial moments of our lives?
Reading is of two kinds: general reading, for the sake of enriching and broadening the mind and taste; and specific reading for the purpose of getting facts and ideas to use in a speech that is to be made very soon. Little need be said here about reading up for a special speech, since that will be taken up pretty fully in a later chapter. It was general reading that Bacon had in mind when he wrote, "Reading maketh a full man." By this kind of reading we lay up stores of knowledge for future use. For this purpose we read all kinds of books. Nothing comes amiss. Even though we are reading anecdotes, fiction, nonsense verse for pure delight, we are often gaining riches that will prove of value to us unexpectedly in times to come. It may surprise some to know that even Mother Goose rhymes, fairy stories, Uncle Remus, Alice in Wonderland, Robinson Crusoe, and many other books of this kind, will prove current coin in the world when speeches are to be made at banquets and in law courts and colleges and churches and legislatures. Very, very often, we hear allusions made to Alice in Wonderland by speakers of the greatest fame. So let us not suppose that we are wasting time when we read choice books of any kind that we really enjoy.
Among the most useful books for general reading are histories and biographies, books of travel, and essays. In these books we learn about men's struggles and progress, as well as their blunders and follies and crimes. We learn about the deeds of famous men and women, and see how they acted at moments of tragic crisis and human need. We see the world through their eyes; are brought face to face with great choices and great deeds, great weaknesses and great temptations. Books of travel acquaint us with the manners and customs of other peoples; give us pictures of distant and noted cities; inform us about the crops and industries, and methods of travel in foreign and remote lands; and give us some insight into the racial traits and mental habits of dwellers in other parts of the world. Essays such as those of Bacon, Emerson, Addison, Macaulay, Stevenson, Carlyle, Lamb, and Hazlitt tell us about nature and cities, and gardens, and pictures, and architecture, and travel, and books, and eloquence, and theaters, and colleges, and everything else that has been dear to the spirit of man.
Some people read too much and think too little. Think as you read, and think afterward about what you have read. Boys and girls who read all the time just for the sake of filling up the hours, or getting thrills from' the words and deeds of brave heroes and lovely heroines will find that their minds are getting weak and flabby. A passion for reading of this kind is little better than a passion for drinking and gambling. We fly a kite by running against the wind; and so you will rise in your thought and strengthen your soul by matching thought against thought as you read. You will not want simply to be wafted along on the strong breeze of interest and excitement as you read. It will be well once in a while to stop and ask, How about this? Where is this going to take me? After all, is that true? Would any one have acted that way? Or, say to yourself, That statement does not seem to convince me. I want to think a little more about that situation. Or again, It teems to me that the author is trying harder to be witty than he is to be true. Well, I don't agree with the author there. That's something I should like to talk over with Father or Mother; it's too deep for me. For example, if you read Emerson's English Traits compare what Emerson says with what Hawthorne says in Our Old Home. You will find, sometimes, that one historian takes a position almost contrary to that held by another writer. Why is this? Which writer are you to accept? Or how are you to get at the truth of the matter? The answer is by thought, by comparing and testing with independent judgment accounts that differ.
In some such ways as these you can keep your mind wide-awake and growing. At the same time you are gathering the rich fruits of thought from all climes. You are exerting your own thought and calling upon your own experience; and in case you do harvest this or that choice idea you are doing so only after it has taken the trade-mark of your own private conviction. Do not fail to apply your memory to what you read. You will want to refer again to certain noble passages, or deep truths, or startling statements of fact. Try to impress memorable books, pages, and passages vividly upon your mind so that you may find your way back to them, and so that you can lay hold of them at need. Mark lines and passages that are especially fitted for quotation; and commit to memory before you lay the book aside, any notable line, couplet, stanza, or passage that thrills you with its force or beauty and seems to you once for all to sum up a truth that all men ought to know.
VII. Growth of the Speech
When one has to make a speech at a certain time it is well to fix upon the exact topic or theme just as early as possible so that it may take root and grow in the mind even when no special thought is being given to it. For, by some strange law, our ideas do expand and throw out fibers here and there without particular effort on our part. If the topic about which we want to gather material is a live one and we are interested in it, and if we keep it warm, and once in a while let our thoughts play about it, bits of fact, and scraps of quotation and apt anecdotes will gather about it just as a magnet draws fragments of steel and iron filings to it. Perhaps another figure of speech will make still clearer what the writer means. The topic that has been fixed firmly in the mind is like a stake that has been driven down in the middle of a stream. Pretty soon one thing after another on the surface of the stream begins to gather about the stake that has been planted. Now a straw lodges, and again a leaf or a twig. Before very long quite a collection of drift will form there. And the larger the mass becomes the more rapidly it will grow because it is exposing more and more surface each hour. It is just so that straws of thought and twigs of quotation, and bright, flashing blossoms of imagery, and now and then a good sound stick of illustration, swept along on the current of thought, are gathered about the idea that has been set up in the mind.
One is often amazed to see how material collects about an active idea held in the mind. As likely as not the first news-paper you pick up will have an editorial or some scrap of comment that bears exactly on your subject. You will talk with some one at the dinner table or on the train, and to your surprise the stranger will drop some remark that just fits into your topic. You go to church or to a lecture, and before the hour is over some magic spring is touched, and out there flashes a ray or even a flood of light on your topic. Some day you read a novel, and here again a certain character says something or a certain situation arises that seems as if it had been made to order for your speech. This law of mental attraction that is always working in your interest will be of more and more value to you as you grow older. The time will come when you have to make many speeches. Perhaps you will have to keep three or four centers of interest alive at once on very different subjects. But no matter whether you have to make a speech at a banquet tonight on Going Over the Top, and another one tomorrow night on Law Enforcement at a civic meeting, and another one next week on The Boy Scout Movement, and still another a little later on School Loyalty each topic will grow and ripen in its own way; and useful matter will come drifting in to you from various sources to attach itself to the proper topic it has natural kinship with. The speaker who is in constant demand, and the speaker who must face the same audience day after day and week after week, would fall by the wayside if he had not learned this habit of alertness, of waiting, of meditating beforehand.