There is no better way for you to improve your own public speaking than to analyze and study the speeches of successful orators.
First read such speeches aloud, since by that means you fit words to your lips and acquire a familiarity with oratorical style.
Then examine the speaker's method of arranging his thoughts, and the precise way in which they lead up and contribute to his ultimate object.
Carefully note any special means employed -- story, illustration, appeal, or climax, -- to increase the effectiveness of the speech.
John Stuart Mill
Read the following speech delivered by John Stuart Mill, in his tribute to Garrison. Note the clear-cut English of the speaker. Observe how promptly he goes to his subject, and how steadily he keeps to it. Particularly note the high level of thought maintained throughout. This is an excellent model of dignified, well-reasoned, convincing speech.
"Mr. Chairman, Ladies, and Gentlemen, -- The speakers who have preceded me have, with an eloquence far beyond anything which I can command, laid before our honored guest the homage of admiration and gratitude which we all feel due to his heroic life. Instead of idly expatiating upon things which have been far better said than I could say them, I would rather endeavor to recall one or two lessons applicable to ourselves, which may be drawn from his career. A noble work nobly done always contains in itself not one but many lessons; and in the case of him whose character and deeds we are here to commemorate, two may be singled out specially deserving to be laid to heart by all who would wish to leave the world better than they found it.
"The first lesson is, -- Aim at something great; aim at things which are difficult; and there is no great thing which is not difficult. Do not pare down your undertaking to what you can hope to see successful in the next few years, or in the years of your own life. Fear not the reproach of Quixotism or of fanaticism; but after you have well weighed what you undertake, if you see your way clearly, and are convinced that you are right, go forward, even tho you, like Mr. Garrison, do it at the risk of being torn to pieces by the very men through whose changed hearts your purpose will one day be accomplished. Fight on with all your strength against whatever odds and with however small a band of supporters. If you are right, the time will come when that small band will swell into a multitude; you will at least lay the foundations of something memorable, and you may, like Mr. Garrison -- tho you ought not to need or expect so great a reward -- be spared to see that work completed which, when you began it, you only hoped it might be given to you to help forward a few stages on its way.
"The other lesson which it appears to me important to enforce, amongst the many that may be drawn from our friend's life, is this: If you aim at something noble and succeed in it, you will generally find that you have succeeded not in that alone. A hundred other good and noble things which you never dreamed of will have been accomplished by the way, and the more certainly, the sharper and more agonizing has been the struggle which preceded the victory. The heart and mind of a nation are never stirred from their foundations without manifold good fruits. In the case of the great American contest these fruits have been already great, and are daily becoming greater. The prejudices which beset every form of society -- and of which there was a plentiful crop in America -- are rapidly melting away. The chains of prescription have been broken; it is not only the slave who has been freed -- the mind of America has been emancipated. The whole intellect of the country has been set thinking about the fundamental questions of society and government; and the new problems which have to be solved and the new difficulties which have to be encountered are calling forth new activity of thought, and that great nation is saved probably for a long time to come, from the most formidable danger of a completely settled state of society and opinion -- intellectual and moral stagnation. This, then, is an additional item of the debt which America and mankind owe to Mr. Garrison and his noble associates; and it is well calculated to deepen our sense of the truth which his whole career most strikingly illustrates -- that tho our best directed efforts may often seem wasted and lost, nothing coming of them that can be pointed to and distinctly identified as a definite gain to humanity, tho this may happen ninety-nine times in every hundred, the hundredth time the result may be so great and dazzling that we had never dared to hope for it, and should have regarded him who had predicted it to us as sanguine beyond the bounds of mental sanity. So has it been with Mr. Garrison."
It will be beneficial for your all-round development in speaking to choose for earnest study several speeches of widely different character. As you compare one speech with another, you will more readily see why each subject requires a different form of treatment, and also learn to judge how the speaker has availed himself of the possibilities afforded him.
The speech which follows is a fine example of elevated and impassioned oratory. Judge Story here lauds the American Republic, and employs to advantage the rhetorical figures of exclamation and interrogation.
As you examine this speech you will notice that the speaker himself was moved by deep conviction. His own belief stamped itself upon his words, and throughout there is the unmistakable mark of sincerity.
You are impressed by the comprehensive treatment of the subject. The orator here speaks out of a full mind, and you feel that you would confidently trust yourself to his leadership.
"When we reflect on what has been and what is, how is it possible not to feel a profound sense of the responsibilities of this Republic to all future ages? What vast motives press upon us for lofty efforts! What brilliant prospects invite our enthusiasm! What solemn warnings at once demand our vigilance and moderate our confidence! The Old World has already revealed to us, in its unsealed books, the beginning and the end of all marvelous struggles in the cause of liberty.
"Greece! lovely Greece! 'the land of scholars and the nurse of arms,' where sister republics, in fair processions chanted the praise of liberty and the good, where and what is she? For two thousand years the oppressors have bound her to the earth. Her arts are no more. The last sad relics of her temples are but the barracks of a ruthless soldiery; the fragments of her columns and her palaces are in the dust, yet beautiful in ruins.
"She fell not when the mighty were upon her. Her sons united at Thermopylae and Marathon; and the tide of her triumph rolled back upon the Hellespont. She was conquered by her own factions -- she fell by the hands of her own people. The man of Macedonia did not the work of destruction. It was already done by her own corruptions, banishments, and dissensions. Rome! whose eagles glanced in the rising and setting sun, where and what is she! The Eternal City yet remains, proud even in her desolation, noble in her decline, venerable in the majesty of religion, and calm as in the composure of death.
"The malaria has but traveled in the parts won by the destroyers. More than eighteen centuries have mourned over the loss of the empire. A mortal disease was upon her before Caesar had crossed the Rubicon; and Brutus did not restore her health by the deep probings of the senate-chamber. The Goths, and Vandals, and Huns, the swarms of the North, completed only what was begun at home. Romans betrayed Rome. The legions were bought and sold, but the people offered the tribute-money.
"And where are the republics of modern times, which cluster around immortal Italy? Venice and Genoa exist but in name. The Alps, indeed, look down upon the brave and peaceful Swiss in their native fastnesses; but the guaranty of their freedom is in their weakness, and not in their strength. The mountains are not easily crossed, and the valleys are not easily retained.
"When the invader comes, he moves like an avalanche, carrying destruction in his path. The peasantry sink before him. The country, too, is too poor for plunder, and too rough for a valuable conquest. Nature presents her eternal barrier on every side, to check the wantonness of ambition. And Switzerland remains with her simple institutions, a military road to climates scarcely worth a permanent possession, and protected by the jealousy of her neighbors.
"We stand the latest, and if we fall, probably the last experiment of self-government by the people. We have begun it under circumstances of the most auspicious nature. We are in the vigor of youth. Our growth has never been checked by the oppression of tyranny. Our Constitutions never have been enfeebled by the vice or the luxuries of the world. Such as we are, we have been from the beginning: simple, hardy, intelligent, accustomed to self-government and self-respect.
"The Atlantic rolls between us and a formidable foe. Within our own territory, stretching through many degrees of latitude, we have the choice of many products, and many means of independence. The government is mild. The press is free. Religion is free. Knowledge reaches, or may reach every home. What fairer prospects of success could be presented? What means more adequate to accomplish the sublime end? What more is necessary than for the people to preserve what they themselves have created?
"Already has the age caught the spirit of our institutions. It has already ascended the Andes, and snuffed the breezes of both oceans. It has infused itself into the life-blood of Europe, and warmed the sunny plains of France and the lowlands of Holland. It has touched the philosophy of Germany and the North, and, moving onward to the South, has opened to Greece the lesson of her better days.
"Can it be that America under such circumstances should betray herself? That she is to be added to the catalog of republics, the inscription upon whose ruin is, 'They were but they are not!' Forbid it, my countrymen! forbid it, Heaven! I call upon you, fathers, by the shades of your ancestors, by the dear ashes which repose in this precious soil, by all you are, and all you hope to be, resist every attempt to fetter your consciences, or smother your public schools, or extinguish your system of public instruction.
"I call upon you, mothers, by that which never fails in woman, the love of your offspring, to teach them as they climb your knees or lean on your bosoms, the blessings of liberty. Swear them at the altar, as with their baptismal vows, to be true to their country, and never forsake her. I call upon you, young men, to remember whose sons you are -- whose inheritance you possess. Life can never be too short, which brings nothing but disgrace and oppression. Death never comes too soon, if necessary, in defense of the liberties of our country."
You can advantageously read aloud many times a speech like the foregoing. Stand up and read it aloud once a day for a month, and you will be conscious of a distinct improvement in your own command of persuasive speech.
W. J. Fox
The following is a specimen of masterly oratorical style, from a sermon preached in London, England, by W. J. Fox:
"From the dawn of intellect and freedom Greece has been a watchword on the earth. There rose the social spirit to soften and refine her chosen race, and shelter as in a nest her gentleness from the rushing storm of barbarism; there liberty first built her mountain throne, first called the waves her own, and shouted across them a proud defiance to despotism's banded myriads, there the arts and graces danced around humanity, and stored man's home with comforts, and strewed his path with roses, and bound his brows with myrtle, and fashioned for him the breathing statue, and summoned him to temples of snowy marble, and charmed his senses with all forms of eloquence, and threw over his final sleep their veil of loveliness; there sprung poetry, like their own fabled goddess, mature at once from the teeming intellect, gilt with arts and armour that defy the assaults of time and subdue the heart of man; there matchless orators gave the world a model of perfect eloquence, the soul the instrument on which they played, and every passion of our nature but a tone which the master's touch called forth at will; there lived and taught the philosophers of bower and porch, of pride and pleasure, of deep speculation, and of useful action, who developed all the acuteness and refinement, and excursiveness, and energy of mind, and were the glory of their country when their country was the glory of the earth."
An eloquent speech, worthy of close study, is that of William McKinley on "The Characteristics of Washington." As you read it aloud, note the short, clear-cut sentences used in the introduction. Observe how the long sentence at the third paragraph gives the needed variation. Carefully study the compact English style, and the use of forceful expressions of the speaker, as "He blazed the path to liberty."
"Fellow Citizens: -- There is a peculiar and tender sentiment connected with this memorial. It expresses not only the gratitude and reverence of the living, but is a testimonial of affection and homage from the dead.
"The comrades of Washington projected this monument. Their love inspired it. Their contributions helped to build it. Past and present share in its completion, and future generations will profit by its lessons. To participate in the dedication of such a monument is a rare and precious privilege. Every monument to Washington is a tribute to patriotism. Every shaft and statue to his memory helps to inculcate love of country, encourage loyalty, and establish a better citizenship. God bless every undertaking which revives patriotism and rebukes the indifferent and lawless! A critical study of Washington's career only enhances our estimation of his vast and varied abilities.
"As Commander-in-chief of the Colonial armies from the beginning of the war to the proclamation of peace, as president of the convention which framed the Constitution of the United States, and as the first President of the United States under that Constitution, Washington has a distinction differing from that of all other illustrious Americans. No other name bears or can bear such a relation to the Government. Not only by his military genius -- his patience, his sagacity, his courage, and his skill -- was our national independence won, but he helped in largest measure to draft the chart by which the Nation was guided; and he was the first chosen of the people to put in motion the new Government. His was not the boldness of martial display or the charm of captivating oratory, but his calm and steady judgment won men's support and commanded their confidence by appealing to their best and noblest aspirations. And withal Washington was ever so modest that at no time in his career did his personality seem in the least intrusive. He was above the temptation of power. He spurned the suggested crown. He would have no honor which the people did not bestow.
"An interesting fact -- and one which I love to recall -- is that the only time Washington formally addrest the Constitutional Convention during all its sessions over which he presided in this city, he appealed for a larger representation of the people in the National House of Representatives, and his appeal was instantly heeded. Thus was he ever keenly watchful of the rights of the people in whose hands was the destiny of our Government then as now.
"Masterful as were his military campaigns, his civil administration commands equal admiration. His foresight was marvelous; his conception of the philosophy of government, his insistence upon the necessity of education, morality, and enlightened citizenship to the progress and permanence of the Republic can not be contemplated even at this period without filling us with astonishment at the breadth of his comprehension and the sweep of his vision. His was no narrow view of government. The immediate present was not the sole concern, but our future good his constant theme of study. He blazed the path of liberty. He laid the foundation upon which we have grown from weak and scattered Colonial governments to a united Republic whose domains and power as well as whose liberty and freedom have become the admiration of the world. Distance and time have not detracted from the fame and force of his achievements or diminished the grandeur of his life and work. Great deeds do not stop in their growth, and those of Washington will expand in influence in all the centuries to follow.
"The bequest Washington has made to civilization is rich beyond computation. The obligations under which he has placed mankind are sacred and commanding. The responsibility he has left, for the American people to preserve and perfect what he accomplished, is exacting and solemn. Let us rejoice in every new evidence that the people realize what they enjoy, and cherish with affection the illustrious heroes of Revolutionary story whose valor and sacrifices made us a nation. They live in us, and their memory will help us keep the covenant entered into for the maintenance of the freest Government of earth.
"The nation and the name Washington are inseparable. One is linked indissolubly with the other. Both are glorious, both triumphant. Washington lives and will live because of what he did for the exaltation of man, the enthronement of conscience, and the establishment of a Government which recognizes all the governed. And so, too, will the Nation live victorious over all obstacles, adhering to the immortal principles which Washington taught and Lincoln sustained."
The following extract from "The Foundation of National Character," by Edward Everett, is a fine example of patriotic appeal. Read it aloud, and note how the orator speaks with deep feeling and stirs the same feeling in you. This impression is largely due to the simple, sincere, right-onward style of the speaker, -- qualities of his own well-known character.
It will amply repay you to read this extract aloud at least once a day for a week or more, so that its superior elements of thought and style may be deeply imprest on your mind.
"How is the spirit of a free people to be formed, and animated, and cheered, but out of the storehouse of its historic recollections? Are we to be eternally ringing the changes upon Marathon and Thermopylae; and going back to read in obscure texts of Greek and Latin, of the exemplars of patriotic virtue?
"I thank God that we can find them nearer home, in our own soil; that strains of the noblest sentiment that ever swelled in the breast of man, are breathing to us out of every page of our country's history, in the native eloquence of our mother-tongue, -- that the colonial and provincial councils of America exhibit to us models of the spirits and character which gave Greece and Rome their name and their praise among nations.
"Here we ought to go for our instruction; -- the lesson is plain, it is clear, it is applicable. When we go to ancient history, we are bewildered with the difference of manners and institutions. We are willing to pay our tribute of applause to the memory of Leonidas, who fell nobly for his country in the face of his foe.
"But when we trace him to his home, we are confounded at the reflection, that the same Spartan heroism, to which he sacrificed himself at Thermopylae, would have led him to tear his own child, if it had happened to be a sickly babe, -- the very object for which all that is kind and good in man rises up to plead, -- from the bosom of his mother, and carry it out to be eaten by the wolves of Taygetus.
"We feel a glow of admiration at the heroism displayed at Marathon by the ten thousand champions of invaded Greece; but we can not forget that the tenth part of the number were slaves, unchained from the workshops and doorposts of their masters, to go and fight the battles of freedom.
"I do not mean that these examples are to destroy the interest with which we read the history of ancient times; they possibly increase that interest by the very contrast they exhibit. But they warn us, if we need the warning, to seek our great practical lessons of patriotism at home; out of the exploits and sacrifices of which our own country is the theater; out of the characters of our own fathers.
"Them we know, -- the high-souled, natural, unaffected, the citizen heroes. We know what happy firesides they left for the cheerless camp. We know with what pacific habits they dared the perils of the field. There is no mystery, no romance, no madness, under the name of chivalry about them. It is all resolute, manly resistance for conscience and liberty's sake not merely of an overwhelming power, but of all the force of long-rooted habits and native love of order and peace.
"Above all, their blood calls to us from the soil which we tread; it beats in our veins; it cries to us not merely in the thrilling words of one of the first victims in this cause -- 'My sons, scorn to be slaves!' -- but it cries with a still more moving eloquence -- 'My sons, forget not your fathers!'"
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams, in his speech on "The Life and Character of Lafayette," gives us a fine example of elevated and serious-minded utterance. The following extract from this speech can be studied with profit. Particularly note the use of sustained sentences, and the happy collocation of words. The concluding paragraph should be closely examined as a study in impressive climax.
"Pronounce him one of the first men of his age, and you have yet not done him justice. Try him by that test to which he sought in vain to stimulate the vulgar and selfish spirit of Napoleon; class him among the men who, to compare and seat themselves, must take in the compass of all ages; turn back your eyes upon the records of time; summon, from the creation of the world to this day, the mighty dead of every age and every clime, -- and where, among the race of merely mortal men, shall one be found who, as the benefactor of his kind, shall claim to take precedence of Lafayette?
"There have doubtless been in all ages men whose discoveries or inventions in the world of matter, or of mind, have opened new avenues to the dominion of man over the material creation; have increased his means or his faculties of enjoyment; have raised him in nearer approximation to that higher and happier condition, the object of his hopes and aspirations in his present state of existence.
"Lafayette discovered no new principle of politics or of morals. He invented nothing in science. He disclosed no new phenomenon in the laws of nature. Born and educated in the highest order of feudal nobility, under the most absolute monarchy of Europe; in possession of an affluent fortune, and master of himself and of all his capabilities, at the moment of attaining manhood the principle of republican justice and of social equality took possession of his heart and mind, as if by inspiration from above.
"He devoted himself, his life, his fortune, his hereditary honors, his towering ambition, his splendid hopes, all to the cause of Liberty. He came to another hemisphere to defend her. He became one of the most effective champions of our independence; but, that once achieved, he returned to his own country, and thenceforward took no part in the controversies which have divided us.
"In the events of our Revolution, and in the forms of policy which we have adopted for the establishment and perpetuation of our freedom, Lafayette found the most perfect form of government. He wished to add nothing to it. He would gladly have abstracted nothing from it. Instead of the imaginary Republic of Plato, or the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, he took a practical existing model in actual operation here, and never attempted or wished more than to apply it faithfully to his own country.
"It was not given to Moses to enter the promised land; but he saw it from the summit of Pisgah. It was not given to Lafayette to witness the consummation of his wishes in the establishment of a Republic and the extinction of all hereditary rule in France. His principles were in advance of the age and hemisphere in which he lived.... The prejudices and passions of the people of France rejected the principle of inherited power in every station of public trust, excepting the first and highest of them all; but there they clung to it, as did the Israelites of old to the savory deities of Egypt.
"When the principle of hereditary dominion shall be extinguished in all the institutions of France; when government shall no longer be considered as property transmissible from sire to son, but as a trust committed for a limited time, and then to return to the people whence it came; as a burdensome duty to be discharged, and not as a reward to be abused; -- then will be the time for contemplating the character of Lafayette, not merely in the events of his life, but in the full development of his intellectual conceptions, of his fervent aspirations, of the labors, and perils, and sacrifices of his long and eventful career upon earth; and thenceforward till the hour when the trumpet of the Archangel shall sound to announce that time shall be no more, the name of Lafayette shall stand enrolled upon the annals of our race high on the list of pure and disinterested benefactors of mankind."
I have selected these extracts for your convenient use, as embodying both thought and style worthy of your careful study. Read them aloud at every opportunity, and you will be gratified at the steady improvement such practise will make in your own speaking power.