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Rhetoric





It is the function of language to convey ideas. Ideas are the real
foundation of good lecturing and words must always be subordinate.

The English Parliamentarian, Gladstone, had the reputation of being able
to say less in more time than any man who ever lived. The difference
between a good and a bad use of words is well illustrated in the
discussion between Gladstone and Huxley on Genesis and Science. Of
course everybody knows now that Gladstone was annihilated, in spite of
the cleverness with which, when beaten, he would, in Huxley's phrase,
"retreat under a cloud of words."

Grandiloquence will produce, in the more intelligent of your audience,
an amused smile, and while it is well to have your hearers smile with
you, they should never have reason to smile at you.

Here again, a great deal depends on what you have been reading. In the
use of good, clear, powerful English, Prof. Huxley is without a peer,
and his "collected essays" will always remain a precious heritage in
English literature. For an example of the exact opposite, take the
magazines and pamphlets of the so-called new thought, which at bottom is
neither "new" nor "thought." In reality it is made up of words, words,
and then--more words.

* * * * *

I read a fifteen hundred word article, in a new thought magazine, by one
of its foremost prophets, and nowhere from beginning to end, was there a
single tangible idea, nothing but a long drawn out mass of meaningless
jargon.

* * * * *

"Thus spake Zarathustra" is the same thing at its best. As an example of
a style to be carefully avoided the following is in point. It is also a
rara avis; a gem of purest ray. It is taken from the local Socialist
platform of an Arizona town:

Therefore, it matters not, though the Creator decked the earth
with prolific soil, and deposited within great stores of wealth
for man's enjoyment, for, if Economic Equality is ostracised,
man is enslaved and the world surges through space around the
sun, a gilded prison. It matters not, though the infinite blue
vast be sown with innumerable stars and the earth be adorned
with countless beauties, teeming with the multiplicity of living
forms for man's edification, for if Liberty is exiled, the
intellect is robbed and man knows not himself. It matters not,
though nature opens her generous purse and pours forth melodies
of her myriad-tongued voices for man's delectation, for, if the
shackles of wage slavery are not loosed, the mind is stultified
and ambition destroyed by the long hours of toil's monotony in
the factory, the machine shop, in the mines, at the desk, and on
the farm. It matters not, though the fireside of the home sheds
forth a radiance in which is blended paternal love, health and
happiness, for, if woman is denied equal suffrage, then this
queen of the household, perforce, becomes a moral slave.

Man, therefore, is not the sovereign citizen as pictured by the
flashing phrases of the orator and soothsayer.

Liberty exiled, we have heard of before, but economic equality
ostracised, is new. The idea that the multiplicity of living forms exist
for man's edification, is ancient to the point of being moldy, but we
must concede originality to "myriad tongued voices" issuing from a
"purse." The concluding remarks about the "flashing phrases of the
orator" are peculiarly well taken--unless that gentleman should be mean
enough to say, "you're another."

* * * * *

Of course there is no objection to real eloquence and one's sentences
should always be smooth and rhythmical. One great source of smoothness
and rhythm is alliteration. Tennyson says:

"The distant dearness of the hill
The sacred sweetness of the stream."

Here the smooth movement comes from the alliteration on d in the first
line and the tripling of the initial s in the second.

"With his back to the field, and his feet to the foe."

gets its music from the alliteration on f. In revising the MS. of my
lecture on "Weismann's Theory of Heredity" for publication, I found the
following sentence, referring to Johannes Mueller.

"He failed to fill the gap his destructive criticism had
created."

This sentence gives to the ear a sense of rhythm that is somewhere
interrupted and disturbed. Examination shows that the rhythm comes from
the alliterations "failed to fill" and "criticism had created," and the
disturbance arises from the interjection between them of the word
"destructive." Destructive is a good word here, but not essential to the
sense and not worth the interruption it makes in the smoothness of the
sentence. So it had to go.

Avoid long words wherever possible, and never use a word you do not
understand. As an example of the vast picture which half a dozen short
words of Saxon English will conjure up, take these lines from "The
Ancient Mariner":

"Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea."

The power of expression in a single word, appears in Keats' description
of Ruth, in his "Ode to the Nightingale."

"The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown;
Perhaps the selfsame song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn."

What a master-stroke is the use of "alien," this time a Latin
derivative, in the last line quoted. What a picture of that old time
drama, with its theme of love and sorrow co-eval with the human race.

First get your idea, then express it in words that give it forth
clearly. No verbiage, no fog or clouds, no jargon, but simplicity,
lucidity, vividness, and power.





Next: The Audience

Previous: Tricks Of Debate



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