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certain, that his manhood has witnessed the triumph of his understanding over the impulses of his passions and the analogies of his fancy. If one of his speeches be compared with one of Burke's or Curran’s, it will be seen, that in affluence of imagination he does not hold the first rank among orators. The writings and speeches of Burke's later years are studded all over with images. So capricious and way. ward was his imagination, that it scattered its rich treasures on themes the least congenial to the faculty, and the least apt to be benefited by its exercise. It began to work, the moment he began to write or speak. Analogies of the understanding and analogies of fancy are blended somewhat confusedly in many of his discourses, where the subject demanded a rigid adherence to reason. Allusions, metaphors, comparisons, cluster thickly round almost every argument. The clear, keen, penetrating logic, casting aside every thing which does not immediately aid the progress of the discussion, and piercing through all obstacles straight to the object, is often wanting. The very quality of mind, which lends such vividness and beauty to his diction, and which will ever make his works of inestimable value to men of taste, often interfered with the free exercise of his great understanding, and with the intensity and condensation of his thoughts.
Curran, whose reasoning capacity, however, was doubt. less inferior to Burke's, affords another instance. No one can read his speeches without seeing their admirable adaptation to the object of inflaming the passions and stimulating the imagination. The energy of his mind strikes us not so much as its exceeding fruitfulness. Byron said that he had heard him speak more poetry than he had ever seen written. Images, sometimes coarse and flaring, often in a high degree vivid and magnificent, and always vigorous and apposite, are poured out lavishly over every page of his imperfectly reported speeches. But the faults of such a style are as apparent as its beauties. It may serve before a jury or a
caucus;” but it is out of place in the senate. A practical statesman, whose mind was under the dominion of such an enchanter, would be liable to lose the confidence of his constituents,—would be apt to lose the confidence of his own understanding There is an eloquence, grave, majestic, pervaded by deep feeling, expressing the loftiest principles of moral and political duty, replete with generous sentiment, and by no means destitute of vivid pictures, which is not inconsistent with the strictest exercise of the understanding, in all those departments of thought over which the understanding holds rightful dominion; and of this kind is the eloquence of Mr. Webster.
Every great writer has a style of his own, constructed according to the character of his mind and disposition. The style of Mr. Webster has great merit, not only for its vigor, clearness and compression, but for the broad impress which it bears of the writer's nature. It owes nothing to the usual tricks of rhetoric, but seems the unforced utterance of his intellect, and is eminently Websterian. There is a granitelike strength in its construction. It varies, from the simple force and directness of logical statement, to a fierce, trampling energy of manner, with each variation of his mind from calmness to excitement. He appears moderately gifted with fluency. Were it not for the precision and grasp of his mind, he would probably be a hesitating extemporaneous speaker. But with a limited command of language, he has a large command of expression. He has none of the faults which spring from verbal fluency, and is never misled by
vocabulary. Words, in his mind, are not masters, but instruments. They seem selected, or rather clutched, by
the faculty or feeling they serve. They never overload his meaning. Perhaps extreme readiness in the use of language is prejudicial to depth and intensity of thinking. The ease with which a half-formed idea, swimming on the mind's surface, is clothed in equivocal words, and illustrated with vague images, is the “ fatal facility” which produces mediocrity of thought. In Mr. Webster's style, we always perceive, that a presiding power of intellect regulates his use of terms. The amplitude of his comprehension is the source of his felicity of expression. He bends language into the shape of his thought; he never accommodates his thought to his language. The grave, high, earnest nature of the man looks out upon us from his well-knit, massive, compact sentences. We feel, that we are reading the works of one whose greatness of mind and strength of passion no conventionalism could distort, and no exterior process of culture could polish into feebleness and affectation ; of one who has lived a life, as well as passed through a college,- who has looked at nature and man as they are in themselves, not as they appear in books. We can trace back expressions to influences coming from the woods and fields,—from the fireside of the farmer,—from the intercourse of social life. The secret of his style is not to be found in Kames or Blair, but in his own mental and moral constitution. There is a tough, sinewy strength in his diction, which gives it almost muscular power in forcing its way to the heart and understanding. Occasionally, his words are of that kind which are called “half-battles, stronger than most men’s deeds.” In the course of an abstract discussion, or a clear statement of facts, he will throw in a sentence which makes us almost spring to our feet. When vehemently roused, either from the excitement of opposition, or in unfolding a great principle which fills and expands his soul, or in paying homage to some no
ble exemplar of virtue and genius, his style has a Miltonic grandeur and roll, which can hardly be surpassed for majes. tic eloquence. In that exulting rush of the mind, when every faculty is permeated by feeling, and works with all the force of passion, his style has a corresponding swiftness and energy, and seems endowed with power to sweep all obstacles from its path. In those inimitable touches of wit and sarcasm, also, where so much depends on the selection and collocation of apt and expressive language, and where the object is to pelt and tease rather than to crush, his diction glides easily into colloquial forms, and sparkles with animation and point. In the speech in reply to Hayne, the variety of his style is admirably exemplified. The pungency and force of many strokes of sarcasm in this celebrated production, the rare felicity of their expression, the energy and compression of the wit, and the skill with which all are made subsidiary to the general purpose of the orator, afford fine examples of what may be termed the science of debate. There is a good-humored mockery, covering, however, much grave satire, in his reference to the bugbear of Federalism.
“We all know a process," he says, “ by which the whole Essex Junto could, in one hour, be all washed white from their ancient federalism, and come out, every one of them, an original democrat, dyed in the wool! Some of them have actually undergone the operation, and they say it is quite easy. The only inconvenience it occasions, as they tell us, is a slight tendency of the blood to the head, a soft suffusion, which, however, very transient, since nothing is said by those they join calculated to deepen the red in the cheek, but a prudent silence is observed in regard to all the past."
In the second speech on the Sub-treasury, after enumerating the various countings which the “public moneys would undergo, if collected and disburised according to the
specie plan, he introduces a ludicrous image, which, when taken in connection with the strain of argument that precedes it, is almost unrivalled as a felicitous stroke of ridicule. “ Sir,"
,” he says, “what a money-counting, tinkling, jingling generation we shall be! All the money-changers in Solomon's Temple will be as nothing to us. Our sound will go forth into all lands. We shall all be like the king in the ditty of the nursery :
“There sat the king a-counting of his money.'' The sarcasm of Mr. Webster, when it is exercised on things which awake his resentment, is often exceedingly sharp and severe; and his very words seem to cut, and sting, and hiss, in their utterance. This power he rarely uses, except when some malignant personal attack calls it forth ; and then he is merciless. He not only wounds, but he probes and torments the quivering flesh of his victim. His expression of scorn and contempt, likewise, is measureless and crushing. When taunted with a participation in things, the very suspicion of which is offensive to his pride or his dignity, he does not condescend to defend himself, or to be enraged; but his scorn darts instantly to the motives of the attack, and to the baseness of the imputation. He ever gives the impression, that the originator of the libel was aware of its incongruity with the character of Daniel Webster, and therefore was compelled to support it by the hardiest falsehood. The reference to the 66 murdered coalition is a case in point.
“ Doubtless,” he says, " it served its day, and, in a greater or less degree, the end designed by it. Having done that, it has sunk into the general mass of stale and loathed calumnies. It is the very cast-off slough of a polluted and shaineless press. Incapable of further mischief, it lies in the sewer, lifeless and despised. It is not now, sir, in the power of the honorable member to give it dignity and decency, by attempting to elevate it, and to introduce it into the Senate. He can