**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Daniel Webster
by [?]

I reached the platform, missed my footing, stumbled, and nearly fell. I heard the giggling that followed, and knew that a red-haired boy, who had just spoken, and was therefore unnecessarily jubilant, had laughed aloud.

I was angry. I shut my fists so that the nails cut my flesh, and glaring straight at his red head shot my bolt: “I know not how others may feel, but sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my heart and my hand to this vote. It is my living sentiment and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment. Independence now, and independence forever.”

That was all of the piece. I gave the whole thing in a mouthful, and started for my seat, got halfway there and remembered I had forgotten to bow, turned, went back to the platform, bowed with a jerk, started again for my seat, and hearing some one laugh, ran.

Reaching the seat, I burst into tears.

The teacher came over, patted my head, kissed my cheek, and told me I had done first-rate, and after hearing several others speak I calmed down and quite agreed with her.

* * * * *

It was Daniel Webster who caused the Friday Afternoon to become an institution in the schools of America. His early struggles were dwelt upon and rehearsed by parents and pedagogues until every boy was looked upon as a possible Demosthenes holding senates in thrall.

If physical imperfections were noticeable, the fond mother would explain that Demosthenes was a sickly, ill-formed youth, who only overcame a lisp by orating to the sea with his mouth full of pebbles; and every one knew that Webster was educated only because he was too weak to work. Oratory was in the air; elocution was rampant; and to declaim in orotund, and gesticulate in curves, was regarded as the chief end of man. One-tenth of the time in all public schools was given over to speaking, and on Saturday evenings the schoolhouse was sacred to the Debating Society.

Then came the Lyceum, and the orators of the land made pilgrimages, stopping one day in a place, putting themselves on exhibition, and giving the people a taste of their quality at fifty cents per head. Recently, there has been a relapse of the oratorical fever. Every city from Leadville to Boston has its College of Oratory, or School of Expression, wherein a newly discovered “Natural Method” is divulged for a consideration. Some of these “Colleges” have done much good; one in particular I know, that fosters a fine spirit of sympathy, and a trace of mysticism that is well in these hurrying, scurrying days.

But all combined have never produced an orator; no, dearie, they never have, and never can. You might as well have a school for poets, or a college for saints, or give medals for proficiency in the gentle art of wooing, as to expect to make an orator by telling how.

Once upon a day, Sir Walter Besant was to give a lecture upon “The Art of the Novelist.” He had just adjusted his necktie for the last time, slipped a lozenge into his mouth, and was about to appear upon the platform, when he felt a tug at the tail of his dress-coat. On looking around, he saw the anxious face of his friend, James Payn. “For God’s sake, Walter,” whispered Payn, “you are not going to explain to ’em how you do it, are you?” But Walter did not explain how to write fiction, because he could not, and Payn’s quizzing question happily relieved the lecture of the bumptiousness it might otherwise have contained.

The first culture for which a people reach out is oratory. The Indian is an orator with “the natural method”; he takes the stump on small provocation, and under the spell of the faces that look up to him, is often moved to strange eloquence. I have heard negro preachers who could neither read nor write, move vast congregations to profoundest emotion by the magic of their words and presence. And further, they proved to me that the ability to read and write is a cheap accomplishment, and that a man can be a very strong character, and not know how to do either.