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storm at sea, when all others on board were in fear for their lives, Curran was found reading Virgil by himself and crying over the fate of Dido. He perfected himself in French, so 66 as to speak like a native," and mastered all the wealth of English and French literature.
Chatham was perfectly familiar with Demosthenes, and “turned and returned" the Oration on the Crown into English. He also translated every oration of Cicero, then, after an interval, re-translated his English translation into Latin. He mastered in succession, ethics, Roman civil law, international law, the feudal law, and the municipal law of England.
Pitt the younger studied with close attention the Greek, Latin, and English poets, and wove into his speeches, with telling effect, many choice passages he had memorized.
The mind of Fox, as his biographer says, was "steeped in classical literature." The pages of Homer, Euripides, Virgil, and Ovid were perused till the day of his death. Euripides, "the argumentative dramatist," Fox used to say, was, "without exception, the most useful classic for a public speaker."
The speeches of Burke are likewise studded with poetical gems from the classics; Horace, Lucan, Juvenal, and especially Virgil, being contributors. Says his biographer:
"Burke disclaimed superior talent, and always appealed to his superior industry. . . . By incessant labor, he could
at last soar at any moment to his highest elevation, as though it had been his natural level. His innate genius was wonderful, but he improved it to the uttermost. By reading and observation he fed his rich imagination; to books he owed his vast and varied knowledge; from his extensive acquaintance with literature he derived his inexhaustible command of words; through his habit of incessant thought he was enabled to draw the inferences which have won for him the renown of being the most sagacious of politicians; and by the incessant practice of composition he learned to embody his conclusions in a style more grandly beautiful than has ever been reached by any other Englishman with either the tongue or the pen."
Lord Brougham was an enthusiastic advocate of classical learning and translation, and also of classic imitation as a help to the orator. In a letter addressed, in 1823, to Macaulay's father, he says:
"I know from experience that nothing is half so successful in these times (bad though they be) as what has been formed on the Greek models. I use a very poor instance in giving my own experience; but I do assure you that, both in courts of law and Parliament, and even to mobs, I have never made so much play (to use a very modern phrase) as when I was almost translating from the Greek. I composed the peroration of my speech for the queen, in the House of Lords, after reading and repeating Demosthenes for three or four weeks, and I composed it twenty times over at least; and it certainly succeeded in a very extraordinary degree, and far above any merits of its own."
Wirt was also diligent and laborious. He seemed perfectly familiar with Bacon, Boyle, Hooker, Locke, and the other masters of English literature, and, among the ancients, with Quintilian, Seneca, and
Horace; a pocket edition of the latter, well thumbed and marked, was upon his journeys his constant companion.30
Choate was a tireless student and translator of the classics. It is said that in his busiest days he would find time to read his chosen author, Tacitus. Pulpit orators, too, have been faithful workers in the fields of classical lore. Chrysostom enriched his mind with the spoils of all ancient learning. The British pulpit of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries quoted Greek and Latin authors with a freedom that to us seems pedantic. Barrow was a philologist and mathematician, Greek professor at Cambridge, and predecessor of Newton in the chair of mathematics. He was as familiar with the writings of Chrysostom as with the literature of his mother tongue. Fénelon was so well acquainted with Cicero that he could almost repeat the entire De Oratore. The royal style of Bossuet had a classical basis. Homer, Tacitus, and Thucydides were as well known to him as the standard French authors. His passion for Homer was so great, that he is said to have talked the Iliad in his sleep.
Such, the past. We are, of course compelled to recognize the fact that the times have changed. With the exception of Gladstone, who introduces a bit of Virgil into every fresh speech, no English nor American orator, at the present day, "adorns his speeches with jewels from the ancient classics."
The age being more scientific, and more given to business enterprise than to classical literature, has
demanded a change, and the orator must govern himself accordingly. He must be scientific and enterprising; he must deal with such questions as agitate the popular mind.
Some of the ancient recommendations, however, remain in force.
For instance: the study of human nature is no less important to-day than when urged by Plato.31 The lawyer must be able to read even the thoughts of the witnesses and jury. The statesman, if he is an orator, must know men, or he will be without influence. And no more damaging criticism can be passed upon the preacher than to say, he does not understand human nature.
The most common recommendation for acquiring knowledge in this field is, to study man in the ordinary walks of life. It was in this way that Burke, Fox, and Mirabeau gained their knowledge of men. Burke talked with men by the roadside and in woodsheds, made them understand his speech, then transferred their thoughts and speech to the halls of Parliament. "I dined with Burke and others at the Ton," says Rogers. "At dinner Burke was missed, and was found at a fishmonger's, learning the history of pickled salmon."
Likewise introspection, the study of biography, conversation with all classes, the study of the higher types of fiction, especially Shakespeare, and acquaintance with the Bible, will contribute rapidly to a man's knowledge of human nature.
The study of history, as well as of human nature,
was enjoined in every ancient treatise on oratory, and is at present no less important. History is one of the most substantial things a modern speaker can stand on; the data of history are solids. "History is human nature in relief;" it is philosophy and poetry illustrated. It is a rare thing to find a great oration or impressive sermon destitute of historic illustrations and allusions.
The great orators, with marked uniformity, have also been men well versed in the current literature of their time. Choate mentions two benefits resulting from acquaintance with literature. (1) It furnishes knowledge. "In literature," he used to say, "you find ideas. There one should daily replenish his stock. The whole range of polite literature should be vexed for thoughts." (2) It affords an antidote for what he regarded an unfortunate modern tendency: "All the discipline and customs of social life, in our time, tend to crush emotion and feeling. Literature alone is brimful of feeling."
The speech of the well-read man, other things being equal, will be the most interesting, impressive, and profitable. Compare pp. 33.
And, further, the drift of the present age is so thoroughly scientific, that the public speaker cannot afford to be ignorant of the results of the latest scientific investigations. Perhaps no class of orators need this more than preachers. "Chalmers met the infidel astronomers upon their own ground, and silenced them." Let each new generation of infidels be met and silenced in the same way.