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ART. I.-1. Eloquence of the United States. Compiled by
E. B. Willison. 5 vols. 8vo. Middletown, Conn., 1827. 2. Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry. By
William Wirt, of Richmond, Virginia. Ninth edition, cor
rected by the Author. Philadelphia, 1838. 3. Orations and Speeches on various occasions. By Edward
Everett. Boston, 1836. 4. Speeches and Forensic Arguments. By Daniel Webster.
2 vols. Boston, 1838. THE Rev. Sydney Smith once wrote an article in the · Edin1 burgh Review' (re-published amongst his works), proving, to the entire dissatisfaction of the Americans, that they had produced no names in art, science, or literature, since they became a nation, capable of standing a minute's competition with those produced by England within the same period. This was a little too much ; and one of their crack reviewers was commissioned to answer the divine. After a little preliminary castigation, he proceeded to demolish him by a set of searching interrogatories, commencing somewhat in this fashion:
• Has this writer never heard of Jared Sparks, or Timothy Dwight ? Has he never heard of Buckıninster, Griscom, Ames, Wirt, Brown, Fitch, Flint, Frisbie, and Silliman ?
Now it is most assuredly no matter of boast; for many of the writers on the list were men of undoubted talent, and have since obtained well-merited celebrity ; but we much fear that Mr. Sydney Smith never had heard of one of them. If he had, he would certainly have been proportionally in advance of the great majority of the reading English public at the time. We have since done a little towards supplying our deficiencies in this respect; but if we were put through the same sort of catechism, most of us should still betray a lamentable degree of ignorance as to the indigenous literature of the United States,—and not less as to their oratory. During Mr. Webster and Miss Sedgewick's visit to England last spring, it was quite amusing to watch the puzzled faces of the company on the announcement of their names in a drawing-room; for notwithstanding the reprint of Miss Sedgewick's Tales,' and the constant mention of Mr. Webster by the VOL. LXVII. NO. CXXXIII.
Genevese Traveller' of the Times,' nine persons out of ten in the élite of English society had about as accurate a notion of their respective claims to celebrity as Lord Melbourne of Mr. Faraday's, when it was proposed to add that gentleman's name to the pension-list.
To prevent the recurrence of such scenes when Mr. Clay, Mr. Calhoun, or Mr. Everett, shall honour us with a visit, we propose, in the present article, to bring our readers acquainted with the leading orators in the United States, by short sketches of their career and characteristic passages from their speeches,—to play, in short, the • Timon' of America; and any comparison we may afterwards choose to institute as to the respective excellence of the two countries in this branch of intellectual exertion, will at least not expose us to the reproach of having selected a field in which the advantage is necessarily on the side of the mothercountry. Seventy years of democratic institutions may not be sufficient to form a style or perfect a school of art, but they are enough, in all conscience, to show what a nation can do in eloquence and statesmanship.
The eloquence of the Americans, like that of the French, dates from their revolution; but they started under widely different auspices. When the National Assembly was first called together, the members were utterly unacquainted with the forms of business, or the tactics of debate. Dumont tells us that the only orators who possessed any talent for improvisation were Maury, Clermont-Tonnerre, Barnave, and Thouret; and of these Barnave alone was capable of extemporising an entire speech of any length. Mirabeau clearly was not; and most of his best passages are short, rapid, and electrical, flashing out from between the trains of argumentation laboriously prepared for him, like lightning through clouds. In North America, on the contrary, the habit of public speaking was as familiar as in the mothercountry at this hour : each provincial assembly was a school; and the very first Congress conducted their debates and carried their resolutions in as orderly and business-like a manner, as if the contending parties had been led by the leaders of our House of Commons, with Lord Canterbury to preside ; indeed, in a much more orderly and business-like manner than since the excitement of the crisis has passed away. Unluckily their most momentous sittings were held with closed doors : newspaper reporters did not come into existence as a class, even in England, till full twenty years afterwards; and the vanity of publication had no influence in such a crisis on men whose lives and fortunes were at stake. General descriptions of the principal speakers (Adams, Lee, Dickenson, Hancock) have come down to us; but the one orator who had fire and force enough to stamp his very words and image upon the memory, and blend them indissolubly with the best traditions of the land, was Henry.
come * According to Mr. Wirt, John Henry' is said to have been a nephew in the matemal line to the great historian, Dr. William Robertson' Had this been so, he must also have been cousin-german to the mother of Lord Brougham. But dates are awkward things. Dr. Robertson was born in 1721. There may have been some connection.
Demosthenes left corrected copies of all his best speeches. Demades left none. For aught we know to the contrary, therefore, Theophrastus might have been quite right in saying, as reported in Plutarch, that Demosthenes was worthy of Athens, and Demades above it. But when a speaker takes his fair chance with his fellows, and his thoughts and expressions are laid up in cedar for no other reason than from their being of a kind that the world would not willingly let die, the bare fact is decisive of his claims. If, for example, we knew nothing of Lord Chatham's eloquence but what is recorded by Walpole, we should entertain no doubt of his superiority to Fox or Pulteney; and the few genuine fragments of Mirabeau which have been preserved-preserved only by constant repetition at the time—are more conclusive than volumes; for if the specimens do not entirely come up to the traditional reputation of the man, we are rather tempted to suppose that the thought or expression has lost something of its original brightness on its way to us, than that the concurrent voices of his contemporaries spoke false.
Applying the same criterion to Henry, we cannot well err in placing his name at the head of our list. His authenticated remains consist merely of a few insulated passages, enchased in the note-book of some zealous admirer, or handed down from mouth to mouth; but what are called · Henry's speeches' form the favourite subjects of declamation in the schools; and the traditionary accounts of the effects produced by his voice and manner, with all those other nameless attributes which Demosthenes included under the word action, transcend most things of the kind recorded in history; except the consummate acting of Lord Chatham, who folded his flannels round him like a toga, and awed his adversaries into silence by a sweep of his crutch. Jefferson, no mean authority, declared Henry to be the greatest orator that ever lived; and a firm conviction of the justice of this estimate has been the means of obtaining for him so distinguished a biographer as Mr. Wirt.
Patrick Henry was the second son of Colonel John Henry, a Scotch settler, who emigrated prior to 1730.* Patrick was born in May, 1736, at 'the family seat' called Studley, in Virginia, but
was raised and educated' (to borrow the precise expression of Mr. Wirt) at another seat' in the same colony. Colonels and seats, however, are good cheap in America, as Blackstone said of gentlemen in England; and there is nothing in Patrick Henry's 'raising' that Kears token of aristocracy. He picked up a little Latin and less Greek, with a smattering of mathematics, under the direction of his father, who, it is rather enigmatically stated, “had opened a grammar-school in his own house;' but he manifested a decided aversion to study, and when the hour for it arrived, was generally to be found in the woods with his gun, or by the river with his fishing-rod. The melancholy Jaques, however, not Nimrod, was his prototype; and the sports of the field were little better than a pretence to get away from books and men, and enjoy the solitary luxury (or vice) of day dreaming. His person at that period was coarse, his manners awkward, his dress slovenly, his conversation rude, and if he gave any indications of future excellence, they were not of a sort to attract the attention of his friends. A fondness and aptness for the observation of character were the only creditable peculiarities they saw in him. At the age of fifteen he was placed behind the counter of a merchant (Anglicè, shopkeeper), and after a year's novitiate was set up in business for himself, in partnership with his brother William, whose habits closely resembled his own. The result may be guessed, and was not long in coming. The firm failed within a year; but its illsuccess had one good effect on Patrick; it drove him first to music, then to books, as a relief; he learnt to play well on the flute and violin, and acquired, for the first time, a relish for reading. He had also found out one mode of turning his customers to account. When they met to gossip in his store, he availed himself of the opportunity to pursue his favourite study of character; and it was subsequently remembered that, so long as they were gay and talkative, he generally remained silent, but whenever the conversation flagged, he adroitly recommenced it in such a manner as to bring their peculiarities of mind and disposition into play. At eighteen he married, and turned farmer, but he was as little fitted for agriculture as for trade. After a two years' trial, he gave up his farm, and re-commenced shopkeeping, which soon reduced him a second time to insolvency. Part of the abundant leisure, however, in which he uniformly indulged himself, had been devoted to books, and whilst his farm was going to rack and ruin, or his customers were waiting to be served, he was deep in a translation of Livy, whose eloquent harangues particularly attracted him.
It was now that, all other experiments having failed, he resolved to make trial of the law, but his confirmed habits of idleness had