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An experience of eight years as an instructor of elocution, as well as of other branches, in a military school at West Point, in Geneva College, and in the discharge of duties, among which is the teaching of oratory in the department of History and BellesLettres of the New York Free Academy, having induced the belief that the selections in the leading books upon this subject are mostly too hackneyed to be used with great benefit in our colleges and schools, the determination was formed to prepare a collection of newer material, and the present volume is offered as the result of that undertaking. A great part of the selections which are here submitted to the public, appear for the first time in a book of this character; and an important feature of the work is to present specimens of the eloquence of the more recent living as well as deceased statesmen from all parts of the Union, which has not been attempted, it is believed, in any other similar collection.
The compiler's experience in the use of other works has been, also, that most of the articles are too long for the wants of students, and he has endeavored to digest the material here presented with great care, omitting all parts of the extracts which are unnecessary to the development of their leading ideas, or which would render them too prolix. Many of the best specimens of our literature will therefore be found so abridged, with special reference to their convenient length as exercises in oratory in colleges and schools, and, it is believed, without essentially marring their beauty. He trusts that his labor in select
ing, abbreviating, and arranging the extracts, will be appreciated by instructors and students, as it is his own opinion that brevity, adaptation, and variety are the main requisites in a work like the present.
As to the amount of instruction in oratory which is generally given in our seminaries of learning, there can be but little doubt that the subject does not receive the attention which it merits. Very much can be done, by careful teaching in youth, in cultivating the habit of expressing one's ideas well by the lips; and oratory is a more important branch of study, and more efficient means of educational training, than it has of late been considered. The greatest masters of eloquence whom the world has ever seen, flourished among the ancients, with whom education consisted so much in the study and practice of oratory, that it formed, in their schools, almost the main object of instruction. Other studies, indeed, as philosophy, mathematics, science, and history were pursued, but they were chiefly subordinate to oratory. The most accurate division of labor prevailed in oratorical instruction, one rhetorician giving his whole attention to vocal force, another to modulation, and another to inflections. No man could hope for distinction among them, in the camp or forum, without oratorical skill. Their generals ruled as well by the rhetorical talent they had acquired in youth, as by military sway. All their great men submitted to long and laborious discipline to attain a mastery of this art. They practised frequently before their equals, and before their teachers, who criticised, reproved, rebuked, excited emulation, and left nothing undone which perseverance could accomplish.* Cicero passed nearly thirty years in the study of oratory under the chief masters of his time. The story of Demosthenes is well known; and Cicero, Quintilian, Isocrates, Aristotle, and others have left treatises
upon the best modes of oratorical instruction, which give evidence of the attention bestowed upon it.
* See an article by William Wirt, p. 157.
Such was the importance ascribed by the ancients to practice in expressing their own thoughts in their mother tongue as a means of education; but, in later times, other subjects have been cultivated at the expense of a proper attention to our own language. The recent discussions, however, in the leading reviews of England, and the popular demand in this country, show that the study of the English language, in its origin, its synonyms, and, above all, by practice in its use in writing and speaking, is destined henceforth to become an important feature in education. Such study will make practical, ready, and thinking men in a greater degree than is possible under other systems. Of this practice in the use of the English language, oratory forms a valuable part. Exercises in oratory, under the criticism of an instructor, tend even more than the study of mathematics and the languages to discipline all the mental faculties in harmonious proportion. Such exercises impart power of thought, cultivate enunciation and pronunciation, store the memory with a rich fund of words, develop a knowledge of our own language, and in every manner give a readiness in originating and expressing ideas.
The system of rehearsals adopted in the Free Academy is, it is believed, unlike any which prevails in our colleges, and, for excellence, is probably surpassed by no other. The instructor gives each student, individually, careful discipline upon the speech which he is to recite, explaining its meaning, correcting his faults of enunciation, pronunciation, emphasis, gesticulation, or other errors, and imparting a delivery which shall give the most perfect expression of the ideas that are to be conveyed. During the first part of his period of study the pupil gives recitations of extracts, which exercise receives a searching criticism at the rehearsals; and in the latter portion of his course, he delivers original orations and discussions, subject to the same discipline. There can be but little doubt that if this system shall be fully carried out, it will furnish more finished speakers and writers and well-disciplined thinkers than can be produced if undue prominence is given to other branches of study.
The compiler of this volume acknowledges his indebtedness to the Honorable Messrs. Cass, Benton, Berrien, Butler, Hunter, Seward, Dickinson, Winthrop, Jefferson Davis, Hilliard, and Mayor Seaton, of Washington, for valuable assistance in furnishing and collecting speeches for his use, of which he has fully availed himaself.
For an able discussion of the principles of oratory, he refers to the work of the Rev. Henry Mandeville, D.D., which may be obtained from the enterprising publishers of this collection.
An abridgment, styled “ The First Book of Oratory," containing about one-half of the extracts here presented, has been prepared for the use of schools, and of those persons who wish a volume of moderate price.
NEW YORK FREE ACADEMY, APRIL, 1881.