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men have the freest field of exertion, where important affairs are transacted by the people, wherever man can acquire most power over man by means of popular oratory-which certainly is the case under a republican system—there we are justified in supposing that it must be of the highest advantage and be best understood. Take it for granted, speaking generally, that the press has been gradually tending to supersede the offices of eloquence, more particularly in tranquil periods, yet history and experience inform us of its infinitely beneficial effects in comparatively recent times : orators have arisen of surprising energy and influence, fitted for the temper and circumstances of their age, whose efforts have conferred lasting and deepfelt services upon their country and mankind;-witness the Patrick Henrys, the Rutledges, the Adamses in America; the Mirabeaus in France; the Chathams and Burkes in England. Such names as these undeniably prove that true oratory, whether made a subject of study or not in the individual instances, had not lost, in the emergencies that called it forth, its legitimate use and influence. And on what just grounds are we warranted in concluding that any adequate exigency a few years later would be attended with a different result? Nay, we have palpable proof, in our own times, that it would not. Even Miss Martineau herself will allow that the nullification question, wherein South Carolina sought a disjunction of the Union on account of the tariff laws, owes its peaceable settlement mainly to the light thrown upon it from the resources of a masterly and searching eloquence. If the Union still remains unshaken on its foundations, it is principally owing to the irresistible power of argument, the noonday light of illustration, which were shed by some of its most eminent orators upon the great principles of the Federal constitution in that fearful crisis.
We cannot therefore entirely coincide in some of the opinions that have elicited these remarks, nor, we have reason to believe, do even the more reflecting of our transatlantic friends. What indeed was it that caused Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster to be welcomed and caressed with a sort of civic triumph in their respective visits to the east and west of the United States some few years ago? What, but a due sense of the unspeakable services rendered by their speeches in Congress and elsewhere,
more particularly on the doctrine of nullification ? for-to adopt the expressions of Chancellor Kent, at the dinner given to Mr. Webster in the city of New York, soon after his celebrated reply to Mr. Hayne, the nullifier of South Carolina, which exactly embody our own views of the continued need there is of the public speaker's function (and this is another reason for our citing them)—“the consequences of that dis“cussion have been extremely beneficial. It turned the at“ tention of the public to the great doctrines of national rights 6 and national union. Constitutional law ceased to remain “ wrapped up in the breasts, and taught only by the responses “ of the living oracles of the law. Socrates was said to have “ drawn philosophy from the skies, and scattered it among “ the schools. It may with equal truth be said that consti“tutional law, by means of those senatorial discussions, and “ the master-genius that guided them, was rescued from the “ archives of our tribunals and the libraries of lawyers, and “ placed under the eye, and submitted to the judgement, of the “ American people."
David Hume, in his endeavour to account for the inferiority of modern to ancient oratory, attributes it, in as far as the English are concerned, to a peculiarity of temper and genius disadvantageous to the progress of eloquence, which renders all attempts of that kind more dangerous and difficult among them than among any other nation. He represents that it is their good-sense and modesty which causes them to be very jealous of any attempts to deceive them by the flowers of rhetoric and elocution. Dr. Blair partly coincides in these sentiments of Hume, but observes, that what we fondly ascribe to our correctness and good-sense, is owing, in a great measure, to our phlegmatic disposition and natural coldness. But besides these national considerations, he is of opinion that the peculiar circumstances of the three great scenes of public speaking have proved disadvantageous to the growth of eloquence among us. Though the parliament of Great Britain be one of the noblest fields at this day afforded to a public speaker, yet eloquence has never been so powerful an instrument there as it was in the popular assemblies of old. Under some former reigns the high hand of arbitrary power bore a violent sway, and in latter times ministerial, party or class influence has generally prevailed. The power of speaking, though always considerable, yet has been often found too feeble to counterbalance any of these, and, of course, has not been studied with so much zeal and fervour as when its effect on business was irresistible and certain. It is unquestionably this partyspirit, besides the alleged effectiveness of the press, that constitutes one chief impediment to the more earnest cultivation and successful exercise of genuine eloquence among us. There can be no call for its legitimate display where it would be unavailing. Nothing, therefore, beyond mere debating seems now to be countenanced. In our houses of parliament such is the predominance of this spirit, that- inasmuch as each member makes up his mind beforehand in reference to most of the great questions and important measures that transpire -the exertions of oratory become, for the most part, powerless and vain. This spirit of faction may indeed prevail in other countries as well, and in America not the least; but there it is of a somewhat different kind; there, though it be even more acrid and rampant for the nonce, it is more capricious and pliable ; here it is hereditary oftentimes, and doggedly inveterate. For reasons already stated, the democratic orator has then more scope and more encouragement, as he addresses less sophisticated, inflexible and prejudiced minds.
And among the individuals of distinction as orators and statesmen that have ever appeared or are now living in the United States, few or none are more conspicuous, or have acted their parts with greater integrity and ability, than the subject of this article. Daniel Webster is the son of a New Hampshire farmer, and was born in 1782. At the usual age he was sent with his elder brother to Dartmouth college in Vermont, where he was considered a very dull youth, indicating, as in the case of Dryden and Swift, and some other great names, none of that strong intellectual development that afterwards appeared; while his brother (who is now, we believe, or was a few years ago, an inferior state judge) was the first scholar of his year, took the first honours, and was introduced into the world as a man of irresistible talent. Daniel returned home in disgrace, and went to work in his father's woods like a common labourer. After two or three
years thus passed, a “change came o'er the spirit of his dream.” To the surprise of everybody, and against the wishes of his family, he betook himself to the study of the law; and at length by industry, great intellectual powers—which, hitherto dormant, now began to develope themselves—and some few fortunate accidents, he rose into notice, employment and eminence. He entered Congress in 1812, and distinguished himself in the debates on the currency question. In 1816 he removed to Boston, where, devoting himself entirely to the profession of the law, he carried everything before him. He is conservative in his politics, and was the leader of the Federal party when Jackson succeeded in obtaining the presidency. From that time to the present he has remained firm to his principles and party, that for years were on the losing side; however, through all, he retained his hold upon the people, and is still considered throughout the Union the first statesman and the most gifted speaker. During successive sessions of Congress he distinguished himself by his masterly expositions of the constitution; but his great triumph was his exposure of the nullification doctrine in 1830–33. Since that time he has maintained his influence in Congress by virtue of his great talents and eminent services. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the office of President when Van Buren was elected. Now that the tide has turned in favour of his party, by the election of the late General Harrison to the executive, Mr. Webster has been called to fill a high and responsible office in the administration *.
Since his visit to this country, it would seem hardly necessary to describe his person to some of our readers. As others, however, who have not enjoyed the advantage of his company, may feel interested in knowing something of his exterior physique, we may observe that, like Mr. O'Connell, Webster is of Herculean strength and build. He is dark, with black hair, a high and broad forehead, large deep-set eyes that sparkle lustrously when he is animated, black overhanging eyebrows, a mouth of a kind of sculptured strength, yet of great beauty, faultless teeth, and a voice of extraordinary power and compass. The tout ensemble of his personal appearance is singularly impressive and imposing; and his unaffected simplicity and perfect modesty are combined with a remarkable dignity of carriage in society.
* Mr. Webster has been appointed Secretary of State.
As Coleridge says of Southey," he possesses but is not possessed by his genius.” No man ever had his powers more completely under command. At a moment's warning the vast stores of his mind are ready, and the most impromptu speech rolls from his tongue in perfect composition. He is always logical in conversation--this is his great characteristic-enchains the attention of every listener by the driest argument, and has a manner of the most singularly-mixed grace and power. His eloquence, when he warms, is perfectly overpowering, and then he bursts out with a flow of poetry, which would hardly be thought possible from the severe cast of his mind. Miss Martineau, who met him at a dinner-party at the British legation at Washington, says there is no merrier man. She describes him as leaning back at his ease on the sofa, shaking it with burst after burst of laughter, telling stories, cracking jokes, or smoothly discoursing to the perfect felicity of the logical part of one's constitution. Such is his private boon companionship. Abroad, however, he is the stern, plain-dressed, grave republican; and the common man who passes him in the street thinks he can read the cares and responsibilities of the whole United States' government on his great brow.
As a lawyer, pursuing his professional avocations in the judicial courts, and as a member of the senate, he forms a striking character. At the time that Mr. Stuart visited America, in 1827-28, he had been for some time at the head of the New England bar. In the Supreme Court of the Union, where he frequently pleads before the judges, and in which many of those masterly forensic arguments were delivered that constitute a considerable portion of the volumes before us, he is described by an eye-witness* as sometimes standing firm as a rock while listening to the Chief Justice
* Miss Martineau, to whom we are mainly indebted for the following delineation of Mr. Webster's professional habits.