The Art of Public Speaking Part 69

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There is no question about it. We must teach that men are great only on their intrinsic value, and not on the position that they may incidentally happen to occupy. And yet, don't blame the young men saying that they are going to be great when they get into some official position. I ask this audience again who of you are going to be great?

Says a young man: "I am going to be great." "When are you going to be great?" "When I am elected to some political office." Won't you learn the lesson, young man; that it is _prima facie_ evidence of littleness to hold public office under our form of government? Think of it. This is a government of the people, and by the people, and for the people, and not for the office-holder, and if the people in this country rule as they always should rule, an office-holder is only the servant of the people, and the Bible says that "the servant cannot be greater than his master." The Bible says that "he that is sent cannot be greater than him who sent him." In this country the people are the masters, and the office-holders can never be greater than the people; they should be honest servants of the people, but they are not our greatest men. Young man, remember that you never heard of a great man holding any political office in this country unless he took that office at an expense to himself. It is a loss to every great man to take a public office in our country. Bear this in mind, young man, that you cannot be made great by a political election.

Another young man says, "I am going to be a great man in Philadelphia some time." "Is that so? When are you going to be great?" "When there comes another war! When we get into difficulty with Mexico, or England, or Russia, or j.a.pan, or with Spain again over Cuba, or with New Jersey, I will march up to the cannon's mouth, and amid the glistening bayonets I will tear down their flag from its staff, and I will come home with stars on my shoulders, and hold every office in the gift of the government, and I will be great." "No, you won't! No, you won't; that is no evidence of true greatness, young man." But don't blame that young man for thinking that way; that is the way he is taught in the high school. That is the way history is taught in college. He is taught that the men who held the office did all the fighting.

I remember we had a Peace Jubilee here in Philadelphia soon after the Spanish war. Perhaps some of these visitors think we should not have had it until now in Philadelphia, and as the great procession was going up Broad street I was told that the tally-ho coach stopped right in front of my house, and on the coach was Hobson, and all the people threw up their hats and swung their handkerchiefs, and shouted "Hurrah for Hobson!" I would have yelled too, because he deserves much more of his country than he has ever received. But suppose I go into the High School to-morrow and ask, "Boys, who sunk the Merrimac?" If they answer me "Hobson," they tell me seven-eighths of a lie--seven-eighths of a lie, because there were eight men who sunk the Merrimac. The other seven men, by virtue of their position, were continually exposed to the Spanish fire, while Hobson, as an officer, might reasonably be behind the smoke-stack. Why, my friends, in this intelligent audience gathered here to-night I do not believe I could find a single person that can name the other seven men who were with Hobson. Why do we teach history in that way? We ought to teach that however humble the station a man may occupy, if he does his full duty in his place, he is just as much ent.i.tled to the American people's honor as is a king upon a throne. We do teach it as a mother did her little boy in New York when he said, "Mamma, what great building is that?" "That is General Grant's tomb." "Who was General Grant?" "He was the man who put down the rebellion." Is that the way to teach history?

Do you think we would have gained a victory if it had depended on General Grant alone? Oh, no. Then why is there a tomb on the Hudson at all? Why, not simply because General Grant was personally a great man himself, but that tomb is there because he was a representative man and represented two hundred thousand men who went down to death for their nation and many of them as great as General Grant. That is why that beautiful tomb stands on the heights over the Hudson.

I remember an incident that will ill.u.s.trate this, the only one that I can give to-night. I am ashamed of it, but I don't dare leave it out. I close my eyes now; I look back through the years to 1863; I can see my native town in the Berkshire Hills, I can see that cattle-show ground filled with people; I can see the church there and the town hall crowded, and hear bands playing, and see flags flying and handkerchiefs streaming--well do I recall at this moment that day. The people had turned out to receive a company of soldiers, and that company came marching up on the Common. They had served out one term in the Civil War and had reenlisted, and they were being received by their native townsmen. I was but a boy, but I was captain of that company, puffed out with pride on that day--why, a cambric needle would have burst me all to pieces. As I marched on the Common at the head of my company, there was not a man more proud than I. We marched into the town hall and then they seated my soldiers down in the center of the house and I took my place down on the front seat, and then the town officers filed through the great throng of people, who stood close and packed in that little hall.

They came up on the platform, formed a half circle around it, and the mayor of the town, the "chairman of the Selectmen" in New England, took his seat in the middle of that half circle. He was an old man, his hair was gray; he never held an office before in his life. He thought that an office was all he needed to be a truly great man, and when he came up he adjusted his powerful spectacles and glanced calmly around the audience with amazing dignity. Suddenly his eyes fell upon me, and then the good old man came right forward and invited me to come up on the stand with the town officers. Invited me up on the stand! No town officer ever took notice of me before I went to war. Now, I should not say that. One town officer was there who advised the teacher to "whale" me, but I mean no "honorable mention." So I was invited up on the stand with the town officers. I took my seat and let my sword fall on the floor, and folded my arms across my breast and waited to be received. Napoleon the Fifth!

Pride goeth before destruction and a fall. When I had gotten my seat and all became silent through the hall, the chairman of the Selectmen arose and came forward with great dignity to the table, and we all supposed he would introduce the Congregational minister, who was the only orator in the town, and who would give the oration to the returning soldiers. But, friends, you should have seen the surprise that ran over that audience when they discovered that this old farmer was going to deliver that oration himself. He had never made a speech in his life before, but he fell into the same error that others have fallen into, he seemed to think that the office would make him an orator. So he had written out a speech and walked up and down the pasture until he had learned it by heart and frightened the cattle, and he brought that ma.n.u.script with him, and taking it from his pocket, he spread it carefully upon the table. Then he adjusted his spectacles to be sure that he might see it, and walked far back on the platform and then stepped forward like this.

He must have studied the subject much, for he a.s.sumed an elocutionary att.i.tude; he rested heavily upon his left heel, slightly advanced the right foot, threw back his shoulders, opened the organs of speech, and advanced his right hand at an angle of forty-five. As he stood in that elocutionary att.i.tude this is just the way that speech went, this is it precisely. Some of my friends have asked me if I do not exaggerate it, but I could not exaggerate it. Impossible! This is the way it went; although I am not here for the story but the lesson that is back of it:

"Fellow citizens." As soon as he heard his voice, his hand began to shake like that, his knees began to tremble, and then he shook all over.

He coughed and choked and finally came around to look at his ma.n.u.script.

Then he began again: "Fellow citizens: We--are--we are--we are--we are--We are very happy--we are very happy--we are very happy--to welcome back to their native town these soldiers who have fought and bled--and come back again to their native town. We are especially--we are especially--we are especially--we are especially pleased to see with us to-day this young hero (that meant me)--this young hero who in imagination (friends, remember, he said "imagination," for if he had not said that, I would not be egotistical enough to refer to it)--this young hero who, in imagination, we have seen leading his troops--leading--we have seen leading--we have seen leading his troops on to the deadly breach. We have seen his shining--his shining--we have seen his shining--we have seen his shining--his shining sword--flashing in the sunlight as he shouted to his troops, 'Come on!'"

Oh, dear, dear, dear, dear! How little that good, old man knew about war. If he had known anything about war, he ought to have known what any soldier in this audience knows is true, that it is next to a crime for an officer of infantry ever in time of danger to go ahead of his men. I, with my shining sword flashing in the sunlight, shouting to my troops: "Come on." I never did it. Do you suppose I would go ahead of my men to be shot in the front by the enemy and in the back by my own men? That is no place for an officer. The place for the officer is behind the private soldier in actual fighting. How often, as a staff officer, I rode down the line when the Rebel cry and yell was coming out of the woods, sweeping along over the fields, and shouted, "Officers to the rear!

Officers to the rear!" and then every officer goes behind the line of battle, and the higher the officer's rank, the farther behind he goes.

Not because he is any the less brave, but because the laws of war require that to be done. If the general came up on the front line and were killed you would lose your battle anyhow, because he has the plan of the battle in his brain, and must be kept in comparative safety. I, with my "shining sword flashing in the sunlight." Ah! There sat in the hall that day men who had given that boy their last hard-tack, who had carried him on their backs through deep rivers. But some were not there; they had gone down to death for their country. The speaker mentioned them, but they were but little noticed, and yet they had gone down to death for their country, gone down for a cause they believed was right and still believe was right, though I grant to the other side the same that I ask for myself. Yet these men who had actually died for their country were little noticed, and the hero of the hour was this boy. Why was he the hero? Simply because that man fell into that same foolishness. This boy was an officer, and those were only private soldiers. I learned a lesson that I will never forget. Greatness consists not in holding some office; greatness really consists in doing some great deed with little means, in the accomplishment of vast purposes from the private ranks of life; that is true greatness. He who can give to this people better streets, better homes, better schools, better churches, more religion, more of happiness, more of G.o.d, he that can be a blessing to the community in which he lives to-night will be great anywhere, but he who cannot be a blessing where he now lives will never be great anywhere on the face of G.o.d's earth. "We live in deeds, not years, in feeling, not in figures on a dial; in thoughts, not breaths; we should count time by heart throbs, in the cause of right."

Bailey says: "He most lives who thinks most."

If you forget everything I have said to you, do not forget this, because it contains more in two lines than all I have said. Bailey says: "He most lives who thinks most, who feels the n.o.blest, and who acts the best."



Delivered at the Funeral of Balzac, August 20, 1850.

Gentlemen: The man who now goes down into this tomb is one of those to whom public grief pays homage.

In one day all fictions have vanished. The eye is fixed not only on the heads that reign, but on heads that think, and the whole country is moved when one of those heads disappears. To-day we have a people in black because of the death of the man of talent; a nation in mourning for a man of genius.

Gentlemen, the name of Balzac will be mingled in the luminous trace our epoch will leave across the future.

Balzac was one of that powerful generation of writers of the nineteenth century who came after Napoleon, as the ill.u.s.trious Pleiad of the seventeenth century came after Richelieu,--as if in the development of civilization there were a law which gives conquerors by the intellect as successors to conquerors by the sword.

Balzac was one of the first among the greatest, one of the highest among the best. This is not the place to tell all that const.i.tuted this splendid and sovereign intelligence. All his books form but one book,--a book living, luminous, profound, where one sees coming and going and marching and moving, with I know not what of the formidable and terrible, mixed with the real, all our contemporary civilization;--a marvelous book which the poet ent.i.tled "a comedy" and which he could have called history; which takes all forms and all style, which surpa.s.ses Tacitus and Suetonius; which traverses Beaumarchais and reaches Rabelais;--a book which realizes observation and imagination, which lavishes the true, the esoteric, the commonplace, the trivial, the material, and which at times through all realities, swiftly and grandly rent away, allows us all at once a glimpse of a most sombre and tragic ideal. Unknown to himself, whether he wished it or not, whether he consented or not, the author of this immense and strange work is one of the strong race of Revolutionist writers. Balzac goes straight to the goal.

Body to body he seizes modern society; from all he wrests something, from these an illusion, from those a hope; from one a catch-word, from another a mask. He ransacked vice, he dissected pa.s.sion. He searched out and sounded man, soul, heart, entrails, brain,--the abyss that each one has within himself. And by grace of his free and vigorous nature; by a privilege of the intellect of our time, which, having seen revolutions face to face, can see more clearly the destiny of humanity and comprehend Providence better,--Balzac redeemed himself smiling and severe from those formidable studies which produced melancholy in Moliere and misanthropy in Rousseau.

This is what he has accomplished among us, this is the work which he has left us,--a work lofty and solid,--a monument robustly piled in layers of granite, from the height of which hereafter his renown shall shine in splendor. Great men make their own pedestal, the future will be answerable for the statue.

His death stupefied Paris! Only a few months ago he had come back to France. Feeling that he was dying, he wished to see his country again, as one who would embrace his mother on the eve of a distant voyage. His life was short, but full, more filled with deeds than days.

Alas! this powerful worker, never fatigued, this philosopher, this thinker, this poet, this genius, has lived among us that life of storm, of strife, of quarrels and combats, common in all times to all great men. To-day he is at peace. He escapes contention and hatred. On the same day he enters into glory and the tomb. Thereafter beyond the clouds, which are above our heads, he will shine among the stars of his country. All you who are here, are you not tempted to envy him?

Whatever may be our grief in presence of such a loss, let us accept these catastrophes with resignation! Let us accept in it whatever is distressing and severe; it is good perhaps, it is necessary perhaps, in an epoch like ours, that from time to time the great dead shall communicate to spirits devoured with skepticism and doubt, a religious fervor. Providence knows what it does when it puts the people face to face with the supreme mystery and when it gives them death to reflect on,--death which is supreme equality, as it is also supreme liberty.

Providence knows what it does, since it is the greatest of all instructors.

There can be but austere and serious thoughts in all hearts when a sublime spirit makes its majestic entrance into another life, when one of those beings who have long soared above the crowd on the visible wings of genius, spreading all at once other wings which we did not see, plunges swiftly into the unknown.

No, it is not the unknown; no, I have said it on another sad occasion and I shall repeat it to-day, it is not night, it is light. It is not the end, it is the beginning! It is not extinction, it is eternity! Is it not true, my hearers, such tombs as this demonstrate immortality? In presence of the ill.u.s.trious dead, we feel more distinctly the divine destiny of that intelligence which traverses the earth to suffer and to purify itself,--which we call man.


[Footnote 37: Saguntum was a city of Iberia (Spain) in alliance with Rome. Hannibal, in spite of Rome's warnings in 219 B.C., laid siege to and captured it. This became the immediate cause of the war which Rome declared against Carthage.]

[Footnote 38: From his speech in Washington on March 13, 1905, before the National Congress of Mothers. Printed from a copy furnished by the president for this collection, in response to a request.]

[Footnote 39: Used by permission.]

[Footnote 40: Reported by A. Russell Smith and Harry E. Greager. Used by permission.

On May 21, 1914, when Dr. Conwell delivered this lecture for the five thousandth time, Mr. John Wanamaker said that if the proceeds had been put out at compound interest the sum would aggregate eight millions of dollars. Dr. Conwell has uniformly devoted his lecturing income to works of benevolence.]

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The Art of Public Speaking Part 69 summary

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