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


* * * * *

"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


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.

Read Widely Speak Deliberately facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail