Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

that so “entirely extra flammantia mænia mundi" were his digressions, “ that it was impossible to keep both him and his subject in view.”

In a spirit of great candour, however, and we believe of undoubted veracity, Inchiquin acknowledges that “to adopt either the congress or the forum at Washington, as types of the national oratory, would be doing injustice to the country; for there are, he observes, at the bar, and in the provincial assemblies of many of the states, men certainly superior to any whose exhibition is confined to the capitol.” On the subject of American oratory, in general, he alleges that, “to a certain degree, an ability for good public speaking is very common in the United States, where natural fluency, and characteristic fire,” cultivated by occasions of frequent public debating, exist on a broader scale, and in a higher degree, than in any other country.

In the following paragraph our author sketches a brief, but we believe a correct, picture of the comparative state of eloquence in Great Britain, France, and the United States. “In most countries of modern Europe, says he, such is the form of government, as to afford few, if any, opportunities for senatorial or popular eloquence; which is hardly known, except in GreatBritain and the United States. The palm of pulpit and academic eloquence, is decidedly due to France: Bourdaloue, Flechier, and Massillon, (why did he forget Bossuet, who is superior to either?) have no competitors; and the gratuitous harangues of Thomas are elaborated to a degree of elegance and fascination unequalled in their kind. To the English, would be as decidedly due the pre-eminence in forensic and parliamentary speaking, were it not for the Americans, who are their rivals in the latter, and greatly their superiors in the former species.

“ The English, continues our author, are excellent reasoners, chaste writers, and classical scholars, but seldom fine speak

A natural talent for extemporaneous elocution does not seem to prevail among them, as it does among the Americans.” In both houses of the British parliament, he admits that there are at presents

6 several men of respectable talents for public speaking. But there is no orator. There is no individual with

ers.

the acknowledged pre-eminence of Demosthenes and Cicero, among the ancients; or Chatham and Burke, or even Pitt and Fox among themselves; no one with the rank as a mere public speaker, considered apart from his merits as a statesman, which Ames once held, or which Mr. Randolph now occupies in America.” Thus far we perfectly concur in sentiment with our author. But we must be rendered insensible to the effulgence of eloquence with which Erskine has so often dazzled and confounded the British forum, before we can admit, that “ The orators of England will probably very soon be reduced, unless new ones arise, to Chatham and Burke, and perhaps Sheridan.”

Taking leave of England in a manner rather hasty and abrupt, at least very unceremonious, Inchiquin pays his respects and duties to his magna parens, the “ green

mantled Erin" in a pithy and fervid compliment, which we lay before the reader because we think it beautiful and touching, characteristic and just.

“ Does love of the land of my forefathers deceive me when I think that Ireland, manacled and chained as she is, has produced some of the finest orators of the age. It was in Ireland Burke and Sheridan lisped the first of those numbers, that were afterwards modulated on the greater but less har. monious sphere of England. It is in Ireland that Curran and Grattan shine. It is there that a constitutional mercurialism and frankness, beating against the shackles of domination, have struck out some of the finest flashes of an eloquence, sublime and pathetic, spontaneous, perhaps irregular, but exube. rant, gorgeous, intense and irresistible.”

In the same spirit of justice and truth, he proceeds to remark, that though the Americans have never, perhaps, exhibited a Chatham or a Burke-though their most distinguished speakers may want the finish of oratory; yet that the nation at large is characterized by a greater aptitude for public speaking, more generally diffused, and more frequently displayed in lights of bold, nervous, and beautiful eloquence, than any other that now exists-And, ancient Greece perhaps excepted, we are persuaded he might have added, that ever did exist. Though Rome had her Hortensius, her Cæsar, her Cato, her Cicero, and others; yet the nation at large was not particularly distinguished by a talent for public speaking.

[ocr errors]

Inchiquin closes this letter with the following admirable picture of the mental requisites ofan orator-a picture which for beauty, force, and correctness, has seldom been equalled, perhaps never surpassed.

“ A fertile and solid memory; not that which retains words, but in which ideas are classed, as it were, in a great repository, waiting the orders of the judgment; a rapid conception, which unites, while it conceives ideas; an intrepid and hardy logic, which seizes analogies, without the process of comparison or deduction; a courage irritated rather than abated by interruptions and difficulties; a happy facility to feel, and yet to restrain the feelings, for passion, which sometimes obscures the intelligence, always fertilizes, when it does not disorder; and a mind enlarged by study, fortified by meditation, habituated by writing to the concentration of thought, and rectitude of expression."

[ocr errors]

Though we readily admit, that, even in the United States, where the spirit of party is more obdurate and unrelentingmore leaden-eared and flinty-hearted than it is or ever was in any other nation, all these qualities centered in an individual would be able to do much, yet we can by no means agree with our author, that they alone would be suisicient to place the “ destinies of the country at his disposal.”

Considered in its kind, Inchiquin's sixth letter is a production of uncommon merit. Apart from its object, which is not quite so important, (though far from being unimportant eren in a national point of view) it is the most interesting paper of the whole collection. It relates exclusively to the chief magistracy of the union-we should rather say to the personages who have held it, with a few collateral circumstances closely connected with that august station. It exhibits sketches of the characters and administrations (more particularly the former) of the three first presidents, Washington, Adams and Jefferson. Its manner is spirited, and its style throughout graphic and sententious, pure and classical. For nervous, correct and clear delineation of character, it might vie with the style of Sallust himself. The figures and features it represents are in general peculiarly distinct, and the relief bold and striking to the eye. In relation to the character it gives of Mr. Jefferson, we are conscious that a.

[ocr errors]

diversity of opinion will prevail. And this diversity will correspond to the diversity of political sentiment in our country. Federalists will contend that the character is too favourable--that our author has thrown into it too many lights and too few shades; that he has made the former too brilliant, and the latter too feeble.. They will say and have said that he must be a democrat, and that his pen is made the minister of his political principles. But the democrats, with a positiveness equally inflexible, and a zeal even more impassioned, will promptly espouse the other side of the question. They will declare that all the shades thrown into Mr. Jefferson's character, are unmerited-that they should be entirely erased, and the picture appear like the original, spotless in virtue and patriotism, consummate in sagacity and wisdom. As is very generally the case, under such circumstances, Ibis tutissimus medio, might perhaps be applied to the present controversy-for truth may lie midway between the two extremes. In forming a decision, however, on a point so delicate, a point, in the discussion of whis Reason is so apt to be shaken from her scat by feeling or passion, it becomes us to recollect, that Inchiquin does not come forth clothed in the habiliments of party, professedly to defend the tenets, or fight the battles of either sect into which our country is politically divided. If not himself an American,* he is at least a generous champion of America as a nation, in opposition to foreign prejudices and aspersions. His object is to defend the new world against the licentious calumnies of the old, not to engage in a party conflict-not to avenge himself on an adversary he hates. He speaks, there. fore, of Mr. Jefferson's character, as an enlightened American, free from all political bias, might be supposed to do, when defending his country and countrymen against gross and unmerited defamation and obloquy. He speaks as such a character would be likely to do in a foreign country, on hearing Mr. Jefferson underrated and defamed, for no other reason but because he first drew breath west of the Atlantic. And considering the

* This critique was written before Mr. Ingersoll had avowed himself the author of Inchiquin's Letters, and has not since been revised or altered.

subject in this point of view, we are by no means convinced that he has exceeded the bounds of justice and truth. Though conscientiously attached to federal principles, and irreconcilably opposed to the measures of the late and present administrations, we would, notwithstanding, feel ourselves justified in accompanying Inchiquin perhaps to the full extent of his encomiums, were we defending Mr. Jefferson's talents and character as an American, We believe, and always have believed the character of that distinguished personage, to consist of a strange antithetical compound of militant ingredients. Some good and some bad some exalted and some groveling--some beautiful and some deformed-some on a scale unusually expanded, and others contracted to Lilliputian dimensions. We bciieve he possesses great virtues blended with not a few faults- perhaps we might call them vices--wisdom and firmness, with weakness and indiscretion-great apparent candour dashed with real insincerity; lofty talents with cunning and intrigue-towering ambition with undignified desires-patrician pride with plebeian lowlinessm-benevolence of heart with vindictiveness of temper-imposing munificence with unbecoming meanness-wildness of theory with steadiness of practice system with irregularity-eccentricity with perseverance-suppleness with inflexibility-some elegance mingled with a studied plainness of manners, and principles of sound patriotism entwined with inordinate foreign partialities. His knowledge of booksis surpassed only by his knowledge of men. With much affected simplicity of character, he is an adept in the science of the human heart. Though attached in appearance to a free commutation of thought, he is notwithstanding worthy of the first honours in the art of concealing his own sentiments, while he skilfully draws forth the sentiments of others. In consequence of the combined influence of these and other qualities, we regard Mr. Jefferson as a great and truly original character-as a perfect paragon and master-piece in his kind, calculated to move in an elevated sphere, and to sustain a distinguished part in the transaction of human affairs. We believe with Inchiquin that he is one of the most consummate political leaders that ancient or modern times have produced. As

« IndietroContinua »