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Just such artificiality and power combine in the famous climax of Webster's reply to Hayne, delivered in that same 1830:
"I have not allowed myself, sir, to look beyond the Union, to see what might be hidden in the dark recess behind. I have not coolly weighed the chances of preserving liberty when the bonds that unite us together shall be broken asunder. I have not accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short sight, I can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him as a safe counsellor in the affairs of this government, whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union may be best preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it should be broken up and destroyed. While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that in my day, at least, the curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonoured fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honoured throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as 'what is all this worth?' nor those other words of delusion and folly, Liberty first and Union afterwards; ' but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart, Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and
It was such oratory as this, in Congress, in the courts, and at all sorts of public meetings alike, which for more than thirty years sustained Webster's commanding influence. To call it artificial is perhaps a mistake. The man spoke and wrote in a way which to him, as well as to the public of his time, seemed the only fit one for matters of such dignity as those with which he had to deal; and he wrote and spoke with
a fervid power which any one can recognize. All the same, his style is certainly more analogous to Dr. Johnson's published prose than to those idiomatic utterances recorded by Boswell which have made Johnson immortal. If Webster's power is beyond dispute, so is its essentially histrionic character. There used to be a saying that no human being was ever really so great as Daniel Webster always looked; he had, in fact, that temperamental tendency to pose which you generally find in actors, and often in preachers. And this he enforced, in a manner which was thoroughly acceptable to the America of his time, by an extremely elaborate rhetoric based partly on the parliamentary traditions of eighteenth century England, and partly, like those traditions themselves, on the classical oratory of Rome and Greece.
Such highly developed oratory as Webster's is a kind of thing which never grows into existence alone. Like Shakspere before him, he was only the most eminent member of a school which has left many other memories, in their own day of almost equal distinction; and the fact that he retained so many traces of his far from eminent New Hampshire origin makes him somewhat less typical of the Boston orators of his time than were some natives of Massachusetts.
Of these none was more distinguished than Edward Everett. Born in 1794, the son of a minister, but not sprung from a family which had enjoyed high social consideration before the Revolution, he took his degree at Harvard in 1811, and two years later he became for a while minister of the Brattle Street Church in Boston. A year or so later, having been appointed professor of Greek at Harvard, he went abroad, to prepare himself for his academic duties, and was among the earliest of American scholars to study at a German university. The effect which he produced on his return from Europe has been vividly described by Emerson :
"There was an influence on the young people from the genius of Everett which was almost comparable to that of Pericles in Athens.
He had an inspiration which did not go beyond his head, but which made him the master of elegance. If any of my readers were at that period in Boston or Cambridge, they will easily remember his radiant beauty of person, of a classic style, his heavy large eye, marble lids, which gave the impression of mass which the slightness of his form needed; sculptured lips; a voice of such rich tones, such precise and perfect utterance, that, although slightly nasal, it was the most mellow and beautiful and correct of all the instruments of the time. The word that he spoke, in the manner in which he spoke it, became current and classical in New England. He had a great talent for collecting facts, and for bringing those he had to bear with ingenious felicity on the topic of the moment. Let him rise to speak on what occasion soever, a fact had always just transpired which composed, with some other fact well known to the audience, the most pregnant and happy coincidence. . . . In the lecture-room, he abstained from all ornament, and pleased himself with the play of detailing erudition in a style of perfect simplicity. In the pulpit (for he was then a clergyman) he made amends to himself and his auditor for the self-denial of the professor's chair, and, with an infantine simplicity still, of manner, he gave the reins to his florid, quaint, and affluent fancy.
"Then was exhibited all the richness of a rhetoric which we have never seen rivalled in this country. Wonderful how memorable were words made which were only pleasing pictures, and covered no new or valid thoughts. He abounded in sentences, in wit, in satire, in splendid allusion, in quotation impossible to forget, in daring imagery, in parable and even in a sort of defying experiment of his own wit and skill in giving an oracular weight to Hebrew or Rabbinical words: . . . feats which no man could better accomplish, such was his self-command and the security of his manner. All his speech was music, and with such variety and invention that the ear was never tired. This was a triumph of rhetoric. It was not the intellectual or the moral principles which he had to teach. It was not thoughts. But his power lay in the magic of form; it was in the graces of manner; in a new perception of Grecian beauty, to which he had opened our eyes. In every public discourse there was nothing left for the indulgence of his hearer, no marks of late hours and anxious, unfinished study, but the goddess of grace had breathed on the work a last fragrancy and glitter."
If this sketch of Emerson's gives the impression that Everett was a mere rhetorician, as distinguished from a man of power, the facts of his career should suffice instantly to correct it. Among other phases of his later activity, he was
an editor of the "North American Review;" for ten years he was a member of Congress; for four years he was governor of Massachusetts; for four more he was Minister to England; he succeeded Webster as Secretary of State; he was president of Harvard College; he was senator from Massachusetts; and in 1860 he was nominated for the vice-presidency of the United States by the party which bravely tried to avert secession. In person he embodied that dignified grace which marked the Whig gentry of Massachusetts; and if his distinction of feeling and his formality of manner prevented him at once from popularity and from unrestrained fervour of utterance, no man of his time has been remembered with more admiration
or respect. What makes Emerson's sketch noteworthy, then, is not so much its critical acuteness as the precision with which it reminds us that a career so brilliant and useful as Everett's was based on consummate mastery of rhetoric.
Everett's published works consist of four volumes, entitled "Orations and Speeches," beginning with an address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard College on "The Circumstances Favourable to the Progress of Literature in America," delivered in 1824; and closing with a brief address at Faneuil Hall in aid of a "Subscription to Relieve the Suffering People of Savannah," delivered on the 9th of January, 1865, less than a week before his death. Throughout these four volumes, comprising the utterances of more than forty years, every paragraph seems a studied, masterly work of art. Everett's natural feeling was warm and spontaneous; but he had acquired and he unswervingly maintained that incessant self-control which his generation held among the highest ideals of conduct. So whatever he publicly uttered, and still more whatever he suffered himself to print, was deliberately considered to the minutest detail.
His familiar description of the voyage of the Mayflower, from his oration at Plymouth in 1824, will show his oratory in its earliest stage:
"Methinks I see it now, that one solitary, adventurous vessel, the Mayflower of a forlorn hope, freighted with the prospects of a future state, and bound across the unknown sea. I behold it pursuing, with a thousand misgivings, the uncertain, the tedious voyage. Suns rise and set, and weeks and months pass, and winter surprises them on the deep, but brings them not the sight of the wished-for shore. I see them now, scantily provided with provisions, crowded almost to suffocation in their ill-stored prison, delayed by calms, pursuing a circuitous route, and now, driven in fury before the raging tempest, in their scarcely seaworthy vessel. The awful voice of the storm howls through the rigging. The labouring masts seem straining from their base; the dismal sound of the pumps is heard; the ship leaps, as it were, madly from billow to billow; the ocean breaks, and settles with ingulfing floods over the floating deck, and beats with deadening weight against the staggered vessel. I see them, escaped from these perils, pursuing their all but desperate undertaking, and landed at last, after a five months' passage, on the ice-clad rocks of Plymouth, weak and exhausted from the voyage, poorly armed, scantily provisioned, depending on the charity of their ship-master for a draught of beer on board, drinking nothing but water on shore, without shelter, without means, surrounded by hostile tribes. Shut now the volume of history, and tell me on any human probability, what shall be the fate of this handful of adventurers. Tell me, man of military science, in how many months were they all swept off by the thirty savage tribes enumerated within the boundaries of New England? Tell me, politician, how long did this shadow of a colony, on which your conventions and treaties had not smiled, languish on this distant coast? Students of history, compare for me the baffled projects, the deserted settlements, the abandoned adventures of other times, and find the parallel of this. Was it the winter's storm, beating upon the houseless heads of women and children? was it hard labour and spare meals? was it disease? was it the tomahawk? was it the deep malady of a blighted hope, a ruined enterprise, and a broken heart, aching in its last moments at the recollection of the loved and left, beyond the sea? was it some or all of these united that hurried this forsaken company to their melancholy fate? And is it possible that neither of these causes, that not all combined, were able to blast this bud of hope? Is it possible that from a beginning so feeble, so frail, so worthy, not so much of admira tion as of pity, there have gone forth a progress so steady, a growth so wonderful, a reality so important, a promise yet to be fulfilled so glorious?"
The close of his address at the inauguration of the Union Club in Boston, delivered on the 9th of April, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, typifies his eloquence at the end :—