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himself, a habit of readiness and fluency, at the expense of careful investigation and accurate reasoning.1 A work requiring these qualities—such as, for instance, a sound treatise on Political Economy—' might better be expected,' says Lord Macaulay, 'from an apothecary in a country town, or a minister in the Hebrides, than from a man who, from the age of twenty-one, had been a practised debater in public.'
For sound reasoning, on the other hand, when opposed to existing prejudices, writing has a corresponding advantage over speaking. Some plausible, though insufficient, objection to what has been urged, may at once start up, as soon as the argument meets the ear or the eye; and in an oral discussion this may seem to have finally disposed of the matter, and the whole may pass away from the mind. But written words remain, as it were, staring you in the face, and are virtually repeated over and over again each time of re-perusal. It must be a really satisfactory refutation that can set the mind quite at ease in this case. For this is the converse of the case of the speech above alluded to. Sound arguments appear stronger and stronger each time they are re-considered.
Oral discussion has this advantage in favour of the disingenuous and crafty—that something may be conveyed by the tone of voice, looks, and gestures, which cannot be accurately reported, or at least so as to be satisfactorily proved; and thus contempt, or suspicion, or incredulity, or disapprobation, &c., may be so conveyed as not to commit a man. And even words actually spoken may be denied; or some (alleged) explanation of them may be added; and it will be difficult to bring homo to a man conclusively what he did, or did not, say; because few witnesses will be prepared to make oath as to the very words spoken. What is written, on the other hand, is a standing witness, and cannot be so easily explained away.
There is an advantage, again, in requiring of candidates for the Ministry a written subscription to certain fixed Formularies, in preference to the system alluded to in Annotation (1) to Essay III. It is true, indeed, that a man may explain away in 'a non-natural sense ' what he has subscribed to; according to the principle avowed by a certain Party, and practised not only by them, but by some of their opponents also. But it is plain that it must be much more easy to back out of what has passed in a mere oral discussion.
1 Oral translation from a foreign language, it is remarked by Dr. Arnold, gives fluency of opeech without carelessness of thought.
There is this difference again between speaking and writing; that there is no use in saying anything, however reasonable and forcible, which you are sure will have no weight with the persons you are speaking to. For there are persons whom to attempt to convince by even the strongest reasons, and most cogent arguments, is like King Lear putting a letter before a man without eyes, and saying, 'Mark but the penning of it!' to which he answers, ' Were all the letters suns, I could not see one.' But it may be well worth while sometimes to write to such a person much that is not likely to influence him at all, if you have an opportunity of showing it to others, as a proof that he ought to have been convinced by it.
As for speeches in public, they may be considered as partaking of both characters; for, as they are taken down by the reporters, and priDted, they are, so far, of the character of written compositions.
Bacon remarks in his Essay 'On Cunning,' that when there are two persons only conferring together, it is impossible to make it clear which of them said what. If either of them is trying to back out of something he has said, or practising any other kind of craft, he will be likely to say, 'I understood you to say so and so;' or 'You misunderstood me. I did not say so and so.' And when both parties are honest, there will be sometimes a real misapprehension of what passed orally; which is so frequent a cause of quarrels, that the very word 'misunderstanding ' has come to be used in that sense.
It is to be observed that when the, expressions in dispute are not merely what lawyers call 'obiter dicta'—something hastily and incidentally thrown out,—but contain the very drift and general tenor of a full and leisurely discussion of some matter, it is much more likely—other things being equal—that A. should have forgotten what he said, than that B. should have imagined what never took place. Yet there are some persons who, without any disingenuous design, but merely from a groundless confidence in the infallibility of their own memory, will insist on it that another has totally mistaken the whole drift of their discourse, and that they never said anything at all like what he distinctly remembers—though it is what he closely attended to—and what made a strong impression on his mind. In such a case, he might fairly reply, 'Well, it cannot be denied to be possible that one man may mistake another, to any extent, and under any circumstances; but if this is the case with me, there is no use in your speaking to me at all, now or at any time. For if I am unable to understand aright the general drift of a discussion in plain English, and to which I paid the closest attention, how can I bo sure that the sense I understand your words to convey at this very moment, may not be something quite as different from your real meaning, as that which I formerly understood you to say? There must be an end therefore of all oral conference between us. Anything that you wish to communicate, you must put down on paper, and let me, on reading it, express, on paper also, in my own words, what it is that I understand from it; and then these must be shown to one or two other persons, who must declare whether I have rightly understood you or not; and must explain my mistake if I have made any.'
For people who are slippery, either from design or from treacherous memory, there is nothing like writing.
But it may be remarked generally, that a person who is apt to complain of ' not being understood,' even by such as possess ordinary intelligence and candour, is one who does not well understand himself.
A remark of Dr. Cooke Taylor, in The Bishop, bears upon this subject:—'Much judgment is required to discriminate between the occasions when business can be best done personally, and when best by letter. One general rule may be noted:—disagreements will be best prevented by oral communications, for then each man may throw out what occurs to him, without being committed in writing to something from which he would be ashamed to draw back. There is room for mutual explanation—for softening down harsh expressions—for coming to an understanding about common objects, which very probably are not inconsistent so long as the elements of discord retain the vagueness of spoken words. Litera seripta manet.1
1 Bre Annotation on Essay III. p. 30.
'When, however, disagreements actually exist, the opposite course must be pursued. In such a case conversation has an inevitable tendency to become debate; and in the heat of argument something is likely to be thrown out offensive to one side or the other. Adversaries generally meet, not to end a dispute, but to continue it; not to effect reconciliation, but to gain a victory; they are, therefore, likely to remember differently what is said, to put very varied interpretations on tones and looks, and to find fresh aliment of strife in the means employed for its termination. Even when adversaries meet for the express purpose of being reconciled, they are very apt to slide insensibly into the opposite course, and thus to widen the breach which you are anxious to have closed. It would be an odd way of preventing a fight between game cocks to bring them into the same pit.'
It is important to observe, that where there are a number of persons possessed with some strong prejudices which you wish to break down, you have a much better chance by dealing with them one by one, than together; because they keep each other in countenance in holding out against strong reasons to which they can find no answer; and are ashamed—each in presence of the rest—to go back from what they have said, and own conviction. But if you untie the faggot, you may break the sticks one by one.
And again, if you wish to make the most of your station and character, so as to overbear superior reasons on the other side, do not bring them together, lest some of them should press you with arguments or objections which you cannot answer, and the rest should be ashamed to decide, through mere deference to you, against what each feels must be the general conviction; but if you take them one by one, each will probably be ashamed of setting up himself singly against you; you will be likely to prevail at least with each one who cannot himself refute you; and these will probably be the majority.1
1 Some Reviewer, if I recollect rightly, takes for granted that I am here describing my own practice. On the same principle he would, ono may suppose, if ho heard of some anatomist, who had pointed out the situation of the vital parts of the human frame, where a wound was likely to prove mortal, conclude that the man must be an atsumn!
It is not perhaps wonderful that a person of low moral principle should infer— judging from himself—that one who hnmes of some crafty trick will be wire to practise it . But any one of even a moderate degree of acutenesa, will perceive that a person who does practise such tricks, is not very likely to publish a description of them. Burglars do not send word to the master of a house at what point they design to break in.
But, on Uic other hand, if there are some prevailing prejudices that are on your side, and cool argument would weigh against you, then, according to what has been said just above, you can more easily manage a number of men together, than each singly.
It is told of the celebrated Wilkes, that at some public meeting he sat next to a person who, being ill-pleased with the course matters were taking, kept exclaiming, 'I cannot allow this to go on! I must take the sense of the Meeting on this point.' Whereupon WTilkes is said to have whispered to him, 'Do so, if you will; I'll take the nonseme of the Meeting against you, and beat you.'
Some persons have an excessive dread of following in the wake of another; wishing to be accounted the originators of any measure they advocate. In dealing with a man of this character, you must be ready (supposing you are more anxious to effect some good object, than to obtain the credit of it) to humour this kind of vanity, by allowing him to take the lead, and to fancy, if he insists on it, that the view he adopts was a suggestion of his own. Many a man's co-operation may be purchased at this price, who would have disdained the thought of favouring another person's scheme. You must be prepared, therefore, if you are acting with true singleness of purpose, to say, with the hero in the iEneid,
. . . . 'haec dire meo dum vulnero peatia
In dealing with those who have prejudices to be got over, and whose co-operation or conviction you wish for, it is well worth remembering that there are two opposite kinds of disposition in men, requiring opposite treatment. One man, perhaps intelligent, and not destitute of candour, but with a considerable share of what phrenologists call the organs of Firmnm, and of Combativeness, will set himself to find objections to your proposals or views; and the more you urge him to come to an immediate decision on your side, and own himself overcome by your arguments, the more resolutely he will maintain his first position, and will at length commit himself irrecoverably to