Yes, and I believe England in her dumb way remembers that too. And "the Traitor Peel" can very well afford to let innumerable Ducal Costermongers, parliamentary Adventurers, and lineal representatives of the Impenitent Thief, say all their say about him, and do all their do. With a virtual England at his back, and an actual eternal sky above him, there is not much in the total net-amount of that. When the master of the horse rides abroad, many dogs in the village bark; but he pursues his journey all the same.
[May 1, 1850.] No. V. STUMP-ORATOR.
It lies deep in our habits, confirmed by all manner of educational and other arrangements for several centuries back, to consider human talent as best of all evincing itself by the faculty of eloquent speech. Our earliest schoolmasters teach us, as the one gift of culture they have, the art of spelling and pronouncing, the rules of correct speech; rhetorics, logics follow, sublime mysteries of grammar, whereby we may not only speak but write. And onward to the last of our schoolmasters in the highest university, it is still intrinsically grammar, under various figures grammar. To speak in various languages, on various things, but on all of them to speak, and appropriately deliver ourselves by tongue or pen,--this is the sublime goal towards which all manner of beneficent preceptors and learned professors, from the lowest hornbook upwards, are continually urging and guiding us. Preceptor or professor, looking over his miraculous seedplot, seminary as he well calls it, or crop of young human souls, watches with attentive view one organ of his delightful little seedlings growing to be men,--the tongue. He hopes we shall all get to speak yet, if it please Heaven. "Some of you shall be book-writers, eloquent review-writers, and astonish mankind, my young friends: others in white neckcloths shall do sermons by Blair and Lindley Murray, nay by Jeremy Taylor and judicious Hooker, and be priests to guide men heavenward by skilfully brandished handkerchief and the torch of rhetoric. For others there is Parliament and the election beer-barrel, and a course that leads men very high indeed; these shall shake the senate-house, the Morning Newspapers, shake the very spheres, and by dexterous wagging of the tongue disenthrall mankind, and lead our afflicted country and us on the way we are to go. The way if not where noble deeds are done, yet where noble words are spoken,--leading us if not to the real Home of the Gods, at least to something which shall more or less deceptively resemble it!"
So fares it with the son of Adam, in these bewildered epochs; so, from the first opening of his eyes in this world, to his last closing of them, and departure hence. Speak, speak, oh speak;--if thou have any faculty, speak it, or thou diest and it is no faculty! So in universities, and all manner of dames' and other schools, of the very highest class as of the very lowest; and Society at large, when we enter there, confirms with all its brilliant review-articles, successful publications, intellectual tea-circles, literary gazettes, parliamentary eloquences, the grand lesson we had. Other lesson in fact we have none, in these times. If there be a human talent, let it get into the tongue, and make melody with that organ. The talent that can say nothing for itself, what is it? Nothing; or a thing that can do mere drudgeries, and at best make money by railways.
All this is deep-rooted in our habits, in our social, educational and other arrangements; and all this, when we look at it impartially, is astonishing. Directly in the teeth of all this it may be asserted that speaking is by no means the chief faculty a human being can attain to; that his excellence therein is by no means the best test of his general human excellence, or availability in this world; nay that, unless we look well, it is liable to become the very worst test ever devised for said availability. The matter extends very far, down to the very roots of the world, whither the British reader cannot conveniently follow me just now; but I will venture to assert the three following things, and invite him to consider well what truth he can gradually find in them:--
First, that excellent speech, even speech _really_ excellent, is not, and never was, the chief test of human faculty, or the measure of a man's ability, for any true function whatsoever; on the contrary, that excellent _silence_ needed always to accompany excellent speech, and was and is a much rarer and more difficult gift.
_Secondly_, that really excellent speech--which I, being possessed of the Hebrew Bible or Book, as well as of other books in my own and foreign languages, and having occasionally heard a wise man's word among the crowd of unwise, do almost unspeakably esteem, as a human gift--is terribly apt to get confounded with its counterfeit, sham-excellent speech! And furthermore, that if really excellent human speech is among the best of human things, then sham-excellent ditto deserves to be ranked with the very worst. False speech,--capable of becoming, as some one has said, the falsest and basest of all human things:--put the case, one were listening to _that_ as to the truest and noblest! Which, little as we are conscious of it, I take to be the sad lot of many excellent souls among us just now. So many as admire parliamentary eloquence, divine popular literature, and such like, are dreadfully liable to it just now: and whole nations and generations seem as if getting themselves _asphyxiaed_, constitutionally into their last sleep, by means of it just now!
For alas, much as we worship speech on all hands, here is a _third_ assertion which a man may venture to make, and invite considerate men to reflect upon: That in these times, and for several generations back, there has been, strictly considered, no really excellent speech at all, but sham-excellent merely; that is to say, false or quasi-false speech getting itself admired and worshipped, instead of detested and suppressed. A truly alarming predicament; and not the less so if we find it a quite pleasant one for the time being, and welcome the advent of asphyxia, as we would that of comfortable natural sleep;--as, in so many senses, we are doing! Surly judges there have been who did not much admire the "Bible of Modern Literature," or anything you could distil from it, in contrast with the ancient Bibles; and found that in the matter of speaking, our far best excellence, where that could be obtained, was excellent silence, which means endurance and exertion, and good work with lips closed; and that our tolerablest speech was of the nature of honest commonplace introduced where indispensable, which only set up for being brief and true, and could not be mistaken for excellent.