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WENTY-EIGHT years ago, in 1863, Wendell
Phillips yielded to the solicitations of his friends, and revised for publication a selection of his Speeches, Lectures, and Letters.
The moment was well chosen. On the one hand public interest in the Antislavery question, the constant burden of the orator's utterance, had widened and deepened with the progress of the war, and had reached its height when the Emancipation Proclamation appeared; and on the other hand, the personal popularity of Mr. Phillips was steadily rising throughout the North and the West.
Both these changes account in part for the welcome the volume at once received. But its permanent place among the records of American eloquence is due to deeper and intrinsic reasons. The classic is always contemporary. If the immediate occasion and subject of the speaker pass, the truth and conviction which inspire his appeal are not lost; and while the charm of voice and action may die with the moment, or survive only as a tradition, there is a deeper grace of form which makes the speech, as well as the poem, an eternal possession. And the student of oratory will find no better or safer model than Mr. Phillips, if he would seek direct, incisive speech, abundance and felicity of illustration, skill in applying truth to present needs, and, above all, the union of the highest gifts of eloquence with lightness of touch, a conversational reality of tone, and language level to the understanding of every hearer. Such mastery of invective also, keen and graceful as a Damascus blade, it has well been said, lends new meaning to the term "philippic."
Repeated calls have been made for other speeches of Mr. Phillips. At the time of his death he not only had a further selection in mind, but had revised certain lectures, and had promised a second volume to the present publishers. This collection, therefore, is intended as a partial fulfilment of his own purpose, no less than as an answer to the popular demand. It illustrates the wide range of time and topic covered by his interest and his eloquence. It begins with the earliest of his speeches, delivered nine months before the famous Lovejoy address which stands first in the other volume, and closes with his last public utterance, his tribute to the memory of Harriet Martinean. An interval of over forty-six years separates the two addresses.
A glance at the table of contents shows how wide a variety of subjects has been treated. Beside his recognized leadership in the Antislavery movement, he stands forth as an early champion of other reforms,—Woman's Suffrage, the Labor Agitation, Temperance, and Penal Legislation. The lighter play of his genius is seen in his "Letter from Naples" and his "Address to the Boston School Children." His literary lectures are given large prominence, and the book closes with six personal tributes from his lips.
The present volume forms part of a larger plan. The history of Mr. Phillips's relation to the Antislavery movement, the growth of his views and sentiments, and the development of his power and fame as an orator are reserved for another work. It will be illustrated by a series of speeches and selections not included in either of the volumes already published. It will follow his steps through contumely and hatred to honor and triumph such as few orators have known. It will set in strong relief the pure and lofty ideal of conscience and citizenship which he maintained to the end, untouched by flattery and undaunted by threats. In connection with these earlier volumes, it will prove, it is hoped, a full and trustworthy record of the orator and agitator, and an enduring monument to his work and fame.
The editor and publishers return their grateful acknowledgments to Mr. J. M. W. Yerrinton, the lifelong friend of Mr. Phillips, to whose skilful pencil the abiding memory of his eloquence is so largely due.
The likeness of Mr. Phillips in this volume is taken from the portrait painted by Mr. Frederick P. Vinton, now in the possession of Mr. J. Reed Whipple, of Young's Hotel, whose kindness and courtesy in allowing its use will be appreciated by the readers as well as by the publishers.
THEODORE C. PEASE.
Boston, April, 1801.