English Eloquence And Debate -- By: George Shepard

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 029:113 (Jan 1872)
Article: English Eloquence And Debate
Author: George Shepard


English Eloquence And Debate

George Shepard

I propose in this Lecture to speak of eloquence as it has appeared in connection with the English tongue. The Grecian and Roman eloquence is often treated, and greatly praised. The question presents itself, Is there not something in the records of our own language and race which, at least, approaches these renowned specimens of antiquity? I think we can show that there is. Something, at least, worthy our study, our admiration, and imitation.

I shall confine myself very much to the eloquence of debate, and shall, in the first place, attempt a very rapid sketch of eloquence in the English field, giving prominence to the conflicts and progress of debate on the parliamentary arena; giving also certain facts in the history of leading speakers, and deriving from the whole certain principles and lessons such as may be profitable to those who aspire to anything in the same line.

In glancing over the field of English eloquence, as I propose to do first, we find but little that is satisfactory in parlia-

mentary speaking only a century back of the present time; and at two centuries, all is exceedingly dim and uncertain. How fittingly and well the learned Coke was accustomed to speak, whom Bacon reproaches with speaking too much; how Selden talked in Parliament who talked so well at the table; how Elliott uttered the intensity of his conviction, or Phillips poured forth the boiling fervor of his passion; what the force and point Waller, so skilled in verse, gave to his prose when he pleaded for his own head; what the spirit and structure of Stafford’s final words, when he stood before his inexorable judges; how Cromwell could wield the weapon of argument, who could cut his way to conclusions with the sword; we know, indeed, something, but only in general. We know enough,, however, to satisfy us that these, and other men of their times, uttered themselves with great strength and effectiveness.

The first considerable cluster of eloquent men under the British constitution we find in the vicinity of 1640. There gathered here a great conflict and crisis. Men’s liberties were touched, and their passions were stirred, and their energies profoundly roused and tasked. Pym and Hampden stood forth at this time as the great leaders, and the master spirits of debate. The eloquence of the period, doubtless, resembled its literature. The latter part of the sixteenth and the early part of the seventeenth century, are justly regarded as the great creative period of English literature. The mind was then in its productive freshness; the field of thought and imagery all untouched before it. Men of wonderful powers came forw...

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