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“ BLEST Statesman He, whose Mind's unselfish will
Leaves him at ease among grand thoughts: whose eye
WHEN we study the history of those nations which have given to the world models of art in literature, we are surprised often at the meagreness of the literature of oratory in these nations. Numerous as are the occasions when great audiences have been moved to thought and action by the words of a leader, very few are the instances where these words have been so treasured by time that they hold a place among the great classics; whereas the literature of poetry in the same nations is abundant in evidence of immortality. This apparent discrimination in favor of the poet is evidently due to the fact that the occasional oratory, effective as it may have been at the time, did not approach near enough to great poetry to possess the element which the Germans call unendlichkeit, infinitude, or universality ; it did not rise out of the limitations of time and place into the sphere of great truths where all art must live and move and have its being.
It is interesting and profitable to compare the poetry of oratory with the oratory of poetry. Such a study reveals the kinship of poet and orator; that in the infancy of literary art the two are one, in virtue of the shaping and transforming power of imagination, “the vision and the faculty divine,”. which protests against the unreality of a life in which the senses are supreme.
In that distant past, when our Saxon forefathers — storyloving, story-telling people —
“Went about their gravest deeds
Like noble boys at play,”
poetry, philosophy, and oratory were born from a common parent; they have now wandered so far from their old home that they hardly recognize it; nor do they treat each other as children of one household. The Gleeman stood forth in the assembly of the tribe on the forest hill-tops-or in the meadhall hung with glittering armor, shield, spear, and coat of mail
and tuned his harp and voice to the wild passion of victory, or to the pathetic wail of defeat; or with eager joy sang the praise of some hero, strong in body and great in soul, and wove a tale that inspired his listeners to grasp their armor with a determination to do and to be, as he uttered that note of freedom, when
“Woe, woe to tyrants! from his lyre
Of fierce, vindictive song."
In these modest, sincere, artless, and impassioned songs we have the secret of the poet, the philosopher, and the orator; the secret which baffles analysis and defies definition. These ballads sung by men whose only motive for singing was to reveal bravery and nobility, sung of men whose interest in life was loyalty and trueheartedness - still remain models of
“Truth-breathèd music, soul-like lays
Not of vain-glory born, nor love of praise."
By stimulating curiosity, or a desire to know; obedience, or a desire to do; and admiration, or a desire to become; these
unknown singers open wide the doors which lead to the king-
Each sufferer says his say, his scheme of the weal and the woe;
The rest may reason, and welcome: 'tis we musicians know.” When life becomes “sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought"; when the vigor and spontaneity of youth are lost in an overrefined civilization, fortunate are we if we listen to the voice of the prophets who cry,
“ Art has truth, take refuge there,” and seeking these well-springs of health and sweetness, there find comfort and peace,
“For there is shed
The freshness of the early world." On British soil literary art revealed itself naturally and spontaneously in the form of poetry — lyric, epic, and dramatic; and these forms reached perfection before prose the novel, and the oration - had given signs of more than a germinal existence. This was the inevitable order with a people whose life was the free, adventurous, and picturesque activity of childhood and youth. There is much in the character of the genial outlaw, Robin Hood, to suggest the English man of action before the seventeenth century.
“ For why ? - because the good old rule
Sufficeth them, the simple plan,
And they should keep who can.”
Imagination was nourished for a long time by the tales brought from the Continent,- The Traveller, The Fight at Finnesburg, and the epic of Beowulf, tales “Of old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago," until English poetry rose clear and fullorbed in Northumbria with Cædmon, the cowherd. It then passed through a serene and cloudless sky with Chaucer and Spenser, and reached high noon with the Romantic drama of Shakespeare and the Puritan epic of Milton; then, after a temporary eclipse, it set in an evening of extraordinary splendor and beauty with Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning, and our western horizon is still ablaze with its glory.
Previous to the sixteenth century the language of the people reflected the life of the time; it was somewhat wayward and frisky. Sedate thinkers like Bacon did not dare trust their precious wares to its keeping. Milton, in his poem At a Vacation Exercise, written in 1628, broke the university statutes which required that all academic discourses should be written in Latin, and “ crossed over" to English in the second movement of the
“Hail Native Language ! Thou needst not be ambitious to be first; Believe me I have thither packed the worst.”
Although the s ecial investigator may find the germs of modern prose in Bæda and Alfred, the general student will not meet it upon the highways of literature as a rival of poetry