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ARE, BY PERMISSION,
THE MOST SINCERE RESPECT
AND AFFECTION OF THEIR
BY JOHN FINLAY, ESQ.
THE Speeches of PHILLIPS are now for the first time offered to the world in an authentic form. So far as his exertions have been hitherto developed, his admirers, and they are innumerable, must admit, that the text of this volume is an acknowledged reference, to which future criticism may fairly resort, and from which his friends must deduce any title which the speaker may have created to the character of an orator.
The interests of his reputation impose no necessity of denying many of those imper. fections which have been imputed to these productions. The value of all human erer. tion is comparative ; and positive excellence is but a flattering designation, even of the best products of industry and mind.
There is, perhaps, but one way by which we could avoid all possible defects, and that is, by avoiding all possible exertion. The very fastidious, and the very uncharitable, may too often be met with, in the class of the indolent; and the man of talent is generally most liberal in his censure, whose industry has given him least title to praise. Thus defects and detraction are as the spots and shadow which, of necessity, adhere and attach to every objectof honourable toil. Were it possible for the friends of Mr. Phillips to select those defects which could fill up the measure of unavoidable imperfection, and at the same time inflict least injury on his reputation, doubtless they would prefer the blemishes and errors natural to youth, consonant to genius, and consistent with an obvious and ready correction. To this description, we apprehend, may be reduced all the errors that have been imputed through a system of wide-spreading and unwearied criticism, animated by that envy with which indolence too oft regards the success of industry and talent, and subsidized by power in its struggle to repress the reputation and importance of a rapidly rising young man, whom it had such good reason both to hate and fear. For it would be ignorance not to know, and knowing, it would be affectation to conceal, that his political prineiples were a drawback on his reputation ; and that the dispraise of these speeches has been a discountable quantity for the promotion of placemen and the procurement of place.
This system of depreciation thus powerfully wielded, even to the date of the present publication, failed not in its energy, though it has in its object; nay, more; it has succeeded in procuring for him the beneficial results of a multiplying réaction. To borrow the expression of an eminent classic, “the rays of their indignation collected upon him, served to illumine, but could not consume;" and doubtless, this hostility may have promoted this fact, that the materials of this volume are at this moment read in all the languages of Europe ; and whatever be the proportion of their merits to their faults, they are unlikely to escape the attention of posterity.
The independent reader, whom this book may introduce to a first or more correct ac. quaintance with his eloquence, will therefore be disposed to protect his mind against these illiberal prepossessions thus actively diffused, on the double consideration that some defects are essential to such and so much labour, and that some detraction may justiy be accounted for by the motives of the system whose v ces he exposed. The same reader, if he had not the opportunity of hearing these speeches delivered by the author, will make in his favour another deduction for a different reason.
The great father of ancient eloquence was accustomed to say, that action was the first, and second, and last quality of an orator. This was the dictum of a supreme authority; it was an exaggeration notwithstanding ; but the observation must contain much truth to permit such exaggeration ; and whilst we allow that delivery is not every thing, it will be allowed that it is much of the effect of oratory.
Nature has been bountiful to the subject of these remarks in the useful accident of a prepossessing exterior; an interesting figure, an animated countenance, and a demeanour devoid of affectation, and distinguished by a modest self-possession, give him the favourable opinion of his audience, even before he has addressed them. His eager, lively, and sparkling eye melts or kindles in pathos or indignation ; his voice, by its compass, sweetness, and variety, ever audible and seldom loud, never hurried, inarticulate, or indistinct, secures to his audience every word that he utters, and preserves him from the painful appearance of effort.
His memory is not less faithful in the conveyance of his meaning, than his voice : unlike Fox, in this respect, he never wants a word ; unlike Bushe, he never pretends to want one; and unlike Grattan, he never either wants or recalls one.
His delivery is freed from every thing fantastic—is simple and elegant, impressive and sincere ; and if we add the circumstance of his youth 10 his other external qualifications, none of his contemporaries in this vocation can pretend to an equal combination of these accidental advantages.
If, then, action be a great part of the effect of oratory, the reader who has not heard him, is excluded from that consideration, so important to a right opinion, and on which his excellence is unquestioned.
The ablest and severest of all the critics who have assailed him, (we allude of course to the Edinburgh Review,) in their criticism on Guthrie and Sterne, have paid him an involuntary and unprecedented compliment. He is the only individual in these coun. tries to whom this literary work has devoted an entire article on a single speech; and when it is recollected that the basis of this criticism was an unauthorized and incorrect publication of a single forensic exertion in the ordinary routine of a professional business, it is very questionable whether such a publication afforded a just and proportionate ground-work for so much general criticism, or a fair criterion of the alleged speaker's general merits. This criticism sums up its objections, and concludes its remarks, by the following commending observation,—that a more strict control over his fancy would constitute a remedy for his defects.
Exuberance of fancy is certainly a defect, but it is evidence of an attribute essential to an orator. There are few men without some judgment, but there are many men without any imagination; the latter class never did, and never can produce an orator. Without imagination, the speaker sinks to the mere dry arguer, the matter-of-fact man, the calcu. lalor, or syllogist, or sophist; the dealer in figures; the compiler of facts; the mason, but not the architect of the pile; for the dictate of the imagination is the inspiration of oratory, which imparts to matter animation and soul.
Oratory is the great art of persuasion ; its purpose is to give, in a particular instance, a certain direction to human action. The faculties of the orator are judgment and imagination: : and reason and eloquence, the product of these faculties, must work on the judge ment and feelings of his audience, for the attainment of his end. The speaker who addresses the judgment alone, may be argumentative, but never can be eloquent: for argument instructs without interesting, and eloquence interests without convincing; but oratory is neither; it is the compound of both; it conjoins the feelings and opinions of men; it speaks to the passions through the mind, and to the mind, through the passions; and leads its audience to its just purpose by the combined and powerful agency of human reason and human feeling. The components of this combination will vary, of course, in proportion to the number and sagacity of the auditory which the speaker addresses. With judges it is to be hoped that the passions will be weak; with public assemblies it is to be hoped that reasoning will be strong; but although the imagination may, in the first case,