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Blupete's Weekly Commentary

November 15th, 1998.

"On Oratory."

"He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the stable of his argument."
(Shaks.: Love's L. Lost.)

In Rome people went to the oratorium to pray, oro. At the oratorium a Roman citizen gathered, likely with others, there to speak to the Gods. In time there developed Rules for Oratory. To study these rules might bring a rich reward, especially to those who wish to sway today's Gods: public opinions. If one aspires to be an orator then much practice is required; and, so, too, study. To study the Roman Rules for Oratory; so, too, to study the lives of the great orators of history would bring rich rewards. For me: I have carried out no such study, -- so, I am unable to comment on the rules and the finer techniques of oratory, or of those throughout history who put them into practice. But, I do have a few ideas on the subject.

A public speaker should not calculate to carefully, or deal too exclusively with abstract principles: you must, simply, appeal to the crowd's instincts. "... people are not to be calculated into contempt or indignation on abstract grounds; ... they must see and feel instinctively, or not at all."1

A speaker should never be too quick, or too clever. The crowd will more readily take to the person who has a slight defect; it will identify with the speaker. And the speaker should never overshoot his mark; better he should fall short an inch, then go over. The speaker should never be stretched to the end of his tether; one must always hold some of his fire in reserve. A shrewd piece of information in the speaker's possession might best be left there; it could mar his cause, or it could be needed as a fresh point in retort.

William Hazlitt had politicians in mind when he compared Irish oratory with that of Scottish oratory:

"Irish oratory ... is always going up in a balloon, and breaking its neck, or coming down in the parachute. It is filled full with gaseous matter, with whim and fancy, with alliteration and antithesis, with heated passion and bloated metaphors, that burst the slender silken covering of sense; and the airy pageant, that glittered in empty space and rose in all the bliss of ignorance, flutters and skins down to its native bogs! If the Irish orator riots in a studied neglect of his subject and a natural confusion of ideas, playing with words, ranging them into all sorts of fantastic combinations, because in the unlettered void or chaos of his mind there is no obstacle to their coalescing into any shapes they please, it must be confessed that the eloquence of the Scotch is encumbered with an excess of knowledge, that it cannot get on for a crowd of difficulties, that it staggers under a load of topics, that it is so environed in the forms of logic and rhetoric as to be equally precluded from originality or absurdity, from beauty or deformity. The plea of humanity is lost by going through the process of law; the firm and manly tone of principle is exchanged for the wavering and pitiful cant of policy; the living bursts of passion are reduced to a defunct common-place; and all true imagination is buried under the dust and rubbish of learned models and imposing authorities."2


1 Hazlitt in his work, The Spirit of the Age at p. 210.

2 The Spirit of the Age at p. 223.

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Peter Landry

November, 1998 (2011)