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TRICKS OF SPEAKING.
I should be departing from a very good habit, gentle reader, if I were to give you any inkling beforehand of what I am going to say. There are some people, indeed, of such a quick imagination, they guess how your sentence will end almost as soon as you begin it; and if you are conversing with them, they are sure to pop some of your own words into your mouth before you
have yet come to them. I, who have some little hesitation in my utterance, and a good deal of trouble in collecting my ideas at any time, hate all such word-midwives from the bottom of my heart. Every one should be allowed to tell his own story after his own manner. For why should one be obliged to call out, like Grumio, “ Tell thou the tale;" or with honest Fluellin, “ It is not well done, mark you now, to take tales out of my mouth ere it is made an end and finished.” But waving the incivility of such interruptions, they generally disappoint their own end, and keep the hearers the longer from getting at the marrow of the subject, as they sometimes learn to their cost. Of all hearers, by the way, your poets, with all due respect be it spoken, are the most impatient and troublesome, and this, I suppose, because the rules of their own art never permit them to commence themselves “ ab ovo.” Indeed the only exception I know is that famous poet“ of the north countrie," my worthy good friend, who most obligingly listened to one or two very long stories I told him a little while ago without interrupting
He is certainly the perfection of good-nature. To be sure I met with the stories afterwards in the “ Tales of my Landlord,” with all the circumstances of dress, and character, and scenery, exactly as I had described them. But could any thing be more flattering than such a proof, not only of his patience, but of his courteous attention? Next to the poets, the most abominable
personages to talk to are the lawyers. It seems as if they were always in such a hurry to begin their own speechifying, that they could not bear to hear any one else's tongue agoing. It was but the other day I went to consult one of them about prosecuting a rascally servant, who had stolen some of my plate." I had scarcely mentioned the word servant, when off goes my good friend of the long robe at a tangent; and,
by the by,” says he," what you are now telling me reminds me of an odd occurrence at the assizes some years ago. I remember my friend the Solicitor-General (he was then Mr. Serjeant Copley) was cross-examining a witness”---and so he went on for ten minutes with a long cock-and-bull story, but what it was, or what Mr. Serjeant Copley and the assizes had to do with my plate that was stolen, I could not learn then, nor can I now conceive, for the life of me. But I remember well I was out of
all patience with the foolish interruption. But all this, by-theby. What I was going to remark is, that after observing the ways of others, and studying what grave authors have written on the subject), I find that the best method of opening a matter is either to bounce bravely into the midst of it, or else to begin and go on with some other topic, as wide from the mark as may be, and then introduce, what you really wish to say, obiter, and by way of parenthesis.
For the first method, I know no better expedient than to fall to with a good round exclamation. It excites curiosity, and stirs a few questions in your hearers at first, but after a while they are heartily glad to listen. And in this particular it is surprising how entirely the instincts of mankind accord with the suggestions of art and experience. This very method is often pursued with great success by the vulgar- a fact of which Ben Jonson was well aware, and which he has happily illustrated in the following passage of his Tale of a Tub.
Puppy. Oh, where's my master ? my master? my master?
What's the matter, Puppy?
What of John Clay ? Clay. Oh, Lord! oh, me! what shall I do?
What of Clay?
He hath lost, he hath lost.
What of my daughter Awdry ?
Turfe. Where is she? What's become of her, I pray thee ? Puppy. Oh, the serving-man! the serving-man! the serving-man! Turfe. What talk'st thou of the serving-man? Where's Awdry ? Puppy. Gone with the serving-man, gone with the serving-man. Dame Turfe. Good Puppy, whither is she gone with him? Puppy. I cannot tell; he bade me bring you word, The Captain lay at the Lion, &c.
Every day, indeed, I find persons, whom I do my best to imitate, luckily setting out full sail, and with a strong current, into the midst of their narrative, in some such fashion as this : “ It. was the oddest thing, as I was observing to my friend Sir Benjamin yesterday, that whilst all this occurred I never chanced to turn round; for, you must know, it was twelve o'clock, and I had been talking to him more than an hour with my
hand twirled round his button. I did not turn round, as I mentioned, or else I think I should have discovered the droll trick I am just mentioning to you." And after this prelude on goes the story fluently enough, for the great art is to get once clearly afloat, and then, to be sure, when a man has sense, out it will needs come, and he finds himself giving information by wholesale, without well knowing by what cue he fell into such a communicative humour.
But to proceed in this downright manner is not always practicable; nor, if it were, would it be always desirable. Bacon wisely recommends a little preliminary excursion. “To use no circumstance at all,” says he, “ before one comes to the matter, is blunt.” And here, though persons in common life sometimes succeed tolerably well, yet they would advance much more if they would carefully study the modern orators. Sometimes the most trivial circumstance occurring at the moment may serve for a good introduction. Of such preludes one of the happiest instances occurs in the admirable speech of Mr. Curran for Justice Johnstone. There happened to be some degree
of silence, a thing very unusual indeed in an Irish court of justice, when Mr. Curran rose to speak. That mighty genius caught the opportunity, and burst forth thus : “ I am glad it is so; I am glad of this factitious dumbness; for if murmurs dared to become audible, my voice would be too feeble to drown them ; but when all is hushed, when nature sleeps--cum quies mortalibus egris---the weakest voice is heard. The shepherd's whistle shoots across the listening darkness of the interminable heath, and gives notice that the wolf is upon his walk, and the same gloom and stillness that tempt the monster to come abroad facilitate the communication of the warning to beware. Yes, through that silence the shepherd shall be put upon his guard yes, through that silence shall the felon savage be chased into the toil. Yes, my lords, I feel myself cheered and impressed by the composed and dignified attention with which I see you are disposed to hear me.
I am told that some of the imitators of this great orator have been still more successful than their prototype in catching a hint from the occasion. But I must confess it is
misfortune not to have familiarized myself sufficiently with their productions, to be able to vouch for this assertion myself, though I have not the slightest doubt it is strictly true, and that the passage I have extracted may have been completely eclipsed
in felicity by subsequent ebullitions in the same school of eloquence.
On state occasions, and particularly in cabinet conferences with the sovereign, Bacon very much approves of a little jesting, by way of introduction. I should have thought he had fallen into this practice out of accommodation to the queer humour of that learned prince James the First, if he had not mentioned that this system had been very successfully pursued by some grave counsellor in the time of Queen Elizabeth of blessed memory. Some, perhaps, may think that Polonius carries this system too far, in his way of introducing his solution of Hamlet's madness. But that witty play on words in the outset
“My liege, and madam, to expostulate
I will be brief,” &c.shews him to have been a complete master of the grace of insinuation.
I do not think it necessary to say much of cant phrases : the use of them is so ordinary and familiar, that every one is able to practise them without study. Johnson's way—“ Why yes, Sir,” “ Baw, baw, why no, Sir,” pronounced ore rotundo, had something grand and Brobdignagdian about it. Sir Thomas More's “Tilly tally, Mrs. More,” has its grace. But the usual forms, “God bless me, who would have thought it?-Only think-Well, as I am alive-Well, lack-a-day-As God's my hope,”—are somewhat energetic, and, doubtless, very expressive and proper at times, and by no means to be discarded, as they help to give a glibness to the tongue; and what is more important, are of great use in enabling you to seem ready, and to be going on, whilst, in fact, you are at a stand, and doing your best to rally your thoughts from a retreat.
But these plans are play-work, and of very vulgar merit when compared to the genuine parenthetic method, by which you may go round about the bush for ever, and at last you put in the principal story or argument, as it were, by a side blow. I remember one author who, to prove that Richard the Third's character had been misrepresented, goes off bolt into a set dissertation on the condition of the people in Russia. Every one knows that the finest heathen account of the system of the world, and of the age of Saturn, is contained in a dialogue, the gist of which is said to be to find out a definition of a true statesman. In like manner Warburton, in a noble sermon preached before the Society for the Propagation of Christianity, launches
forth in a grand invective, and dwells, during three-fourths of
then to other public speakers, and ask whether you may not listen for hours to those who have the gift of speech, without being able to form the slightest conjecture what is the subject in debate. It is the highest effort of art to keep itself disguised. In the courts of justice you sometimes have discussions on natural philosophy, history, morality, and politics ; and in the House of Commons you cannot make out what you have. A lawyer, indeed, would be justly despised if he gave you speeches containing merely facts and law. He would shew himself to be merely a lawyer. The proper way for him is to plunge off and make a display in some science unconnected with his profession; and if he shews himself master of what he never seemed likely to have studied, how can any one help giving him credit for understanding what he has always been supposed to study? As to statesmen, they have been noted, through all ages, for speaking off from the point. The ablest of them have been particularly praised for introducing strong arguments in a parenthetical manner. I need only mention Demosthenes, and Mr. Fox. But though they were very able in that respect, I think posterity will give the palm, in the parenthetic style, to a great minister of the present day, whose speeches are often in a parenthesis from beginning to end. He is certainly a complete master in that manner. Swift, whose character as a writer has been lately reduced to its proper standard, among other innovations by which he would have corrupted our language, wished very much absolutely to prohibit the interlacing and dovetailing one parenthesis within another. Now every Englishman laments that the English language should be so much excluded as it is from diplomacy; and yet here is a plan gravely proposed, which would castrate our language of one of the few political qualities it possesses, and absolutely incapacitate it for being ever applied to that noble science, for which so much ambiguity and perplexity are indispensably necessary.
The application of these remarks to other subjects of composition is obvious. Every one indeed knows, that a true playwriter has nothing to do with plot or incidents till he comes to the last act, and that the great art is to prevent the audience