« PoprzedniaDalej »
was often an interesting man, with learning, and skill to impart it. But he was rich in words, and fond of long sentences ingeniously arranged; of bold flights of imagination, of rhetorical forms which rose from simplicity until they stood in amazing beauty and grandeur. It was fine, it was an art; there was music in it; but we hear it no more. This is not altogether a gain; for there were beauty and pleasure in an artistic combining of words, in the flow of rich sentences, and the march of stately periods to their exalted climax. Real eloquence was a delight, while the imitation of it was puerile and often grotesque. Public speech is now compact, direct, moving rapidly towards the mark. There is scant time for rhetoric. This is in keeping with the modern habit of doing everything rapidly. One must be quick, if he would hold the ears of men. This change is in favour of the man who makes no pretension to oratory. He can speak fittingly and effectively, because he can speak simply and directly. It is a good rule in speaking and in writing to strike out or omit what has been put in only to please ourselves. If it does this in a marked degree, it is not unlikely that it will fail to do anything better. The rule is not exact; but it is right so far as this, at least, that words should have more than a good sound in our own ears. Will they prove strong?
The naturalness and fearlessness of children have much to do with the charm of their words. They do their own thinking and have their own solutions of the questions which perplex us all, and of certain questions which we have solved. Their way of dealing with problems is their own. It amuses their elders, but often puts them upon serious thought. They are moved by inquiries which come from the artlessness of children. The historian Green gives a charming story of a little girl and the way in which she set him upon the searching of his heart. Her mother had died, and she was comforted in the thought that her mother was in heaven. Then, turning to him, she innocently asked: “Shall you go to heaven, Mr. Green?” The question was simple, certainly; it might be thought commonplace. It is often turned aside without an answer. But asked by a child, and plainly for information, if the man gave it any regard he might soon find himself in deep thinking, with all the faculties of his nature alert. The thing was to make him hear the question, and this the simplicity of the child whom he loved brought to pass. She was a child; but what if the sincerity and simplicity could be carried through life, so that formalism and the conventional were warded off? There is merit in being original. Anybody can repeat; but it is that which carries the personality which is effectual. Think your own thoughts and utter them, and you have made such additions as you can to the common knowledge. Echoes are interesting, but not instructive. If you have nothing worth saying, get something worth saying, and say it well.
There are such opportunities to speak well, pleasantly and helpfully, that it is a shame to do otherwise. Our own English tongue gives us words enough. To learn them is ample study, and to employ them wisely is sufficient work. We can go beyond our English words, and for some purposes must do so. But it is of immediate moment to hold our birthright in honour. Many are the causes which need our words; they are not all of large proportions. Each day gives us the chance to speak helpfully, and if we are brave and true we shall do it. We can avoid the opposite, if we can do no more. A well-bitten tongue, checked in its folly or cruelty, is the sign of a conquest worth the winning. Thus we come back to our character. What we are is shown in our words. What we are can be made what we should be, so that the cause is in our own will. Good speaking comes from good thinking and feeling. We shall do as we choose to do; yet we can be taught and aided. Books of good words, fitly formed and arranged, will serve us. It is a help to talk with those who talk well, or to listen to them. Wise men are generous and courteous in the presence of modesty or sincerity. A subaltern entered the railway carriage in which Von Moltke was seated and saluted him with, “ Pardon, sir.” When he left, again he said, "Pardon, sir." That was all.
What an insufferable prater," was the soldier's return. It was exceptional, yet even then it is by no means impossible that the great Chief was glad to have the young man within reach of his conversation. No such rebuff need be looked for. Men like a good listener too well, even if he be a stranger on the outskirts of the company. It is of rare advantage to talk with a woman. The youth has to be cautious; he selects his best thoughts and clothes them in his best sentences. To know a good woman well enough to listen to her deserves to be called “ a liberal education.”
In all this we have been walking on the common road, the highway of life. On every side we can find that which is worth hearing and seeing, worth thinking upon, and saying. The mind is easily stored with knowledge which grows from more to more. If the young man be bright, attentive, careful, if he will be truthful, simple, original, he can talk well. It rests back
the will. Who can do little besides can do this. There was a day when two apostles and a cripple at the gate found words better than silver and gold. It depends upon the man.
It was a large petition which closed the Psalm, “ Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight.”