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CXI. – A MOTHER'S PORTRAIT.
The following lines were written by Cowper on the receipt of his mother's portrait, the gift of his cousin. They are full of pathos, and the poet's history confirms all the personal allusions to his own unhappiness. His mind, even in childhood, exhibited that gentleness, timidity, and diffidence, which ripened into such bitter fruit in his after life. Insanity developed itself, taking the form of religious melancholy, and he was confined for eighteen months to a lunatic asylum.
See in Index, REVERY, Elysian, COWPER.
Delivery. This should be in a middle pitch, with gentle force, rather slow time, and tender expression.
O that those lips had language! Life has passed
Hovered thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son,
I heard the bell tolled on thy burial day,
CXII. – ORATORY OF PATRICK HENRY.
See in Index, CLANGOR, FINESSE, FULLNESS or FULNESS, PRACTICE (vb.) or PRACTISE, HENRY, WIRT. See remarks, $ 48, on the narrative and descriptive style.
1. The voice of Patrick Henry was not remarkable for its sweetness; but it was firm, full of volume, and
rather melodious. Its charms consisted in the mellowness and fullness of its note, the ease and variety of its inflections, the distinctness of its articulation, the fine effect of its emphasis, the felicity with which it attuned itself to every emotion, and the vast compass which enabled it to range through the whole empire of human passion, from the deep and tragic half-whisper of horror to the wildest exclamation of overwhelming rage.
2. In mild persuasion it was as soft and gentle as the zephyr of spring ; while in rousing his countrymen to arms, the winter storm that roars along the troubled Baltic was not more awfully sublime. It was at all times perfectly under his command ; or rather, indeed, it seemed to command itself, and to modulate its notes most happily to the sentiment he was uttering. It never exceeded or fell short of the occasion. There was none of that long-continued and deafening vociferation which takes place when an ardent speaker has lost possession of himself,—no monotonous clangor, no discordant shriek.
3. Without being strained, it had that body and enunciation which filled the most distant ear, without distressing those which were nearest him : hence it never became cracked or hoarse, even in his longest speeches, but retained to the last all its clearness and fullness of intonation, all the delicacy of its inflection, all the charms of its emphasis, and the enchanting variety of its cadence.
4. His delivery was perfectly natural. In point of time he was very happy : there was no slow and heavy dragging, no quaint and measured drawling, with equidistant pace, no stumbling and floundering among the fractured members of derānged and broken periods, no undignified hurry and trepidation, no recalling and recasting of sentences as he went along, no retraction of one word and substitution of another not better, and none of those affected bursts of almost inarticulate im
petuosity, which betray the rhetorician rather than display the orator.
5. On the contrary, ever self-collected, deliberate, and dignified, he seemed to have looked through the whole period before he commenced its delivery, and hence his delivery was smooth and firm and well accent’ed ; slow enough to take along with him the dullest hearer, and yet so commanding that the quick had neither the power nor the disposition to get the start of him. Thus he gave to every thought its full and appropriate force, and to every image all its radiance and beauty.
6. No speaker ever understood better than Mr. Henry the true use and power of the pause; and no one ever practiced it with happier effect. His pauses were never resorted to for the purpose of investing an insignificant thought with false importance; much less were they ever resorted to as a finesse to gain time for thinking. The hearer was never disposed to ask, “ Why that pause ?” nor to measure its duration by a reference to his watch. On the contrary, it always came at the very moment when he would himself have wished it, in order to weigh the striking and important thought which had just been uttered ; and the interval was always filled by the speaker with a matchless energy of look, which drove the thought home through the mind and through the heart.
7. His gesture, and this varying play of his features and voice, were so expressive that many have referred his power as an orator principally to that cause ; yet these were all his own, and his gesture, particularly, of so peculiar a cast, that it would have become no other man. It had none of those false motions to which undisciplined speakers are so generally addicted ; no chopping nor sawing of the air; no thumping of the bar to express an earnestness which was much more powerfully, as well as elegantly, conveyed by his eye and his countenance.
8. Whenever he moved his arm, or his hand, or even his finger, or changed the position of his body, it was always to some purpose; nothing was inappropriate or unmeaning; every gesture, every attitude, every look was emphatic; all was animation, energy, and dignity. The great advantage of his personal expression consisted in this: that various, bold, and original as it was, it never appeared to be studied, affected, or theatrical, or “to overstep,” in the smallest degree, “the modesty of nature”; for he never made a gesture or assumed an attitude which did not seem imperiously demanded by the occasion. Every look, every motion, every pause, every start, was completely answered and dilated by the thought which he was uttering, and seemed indeed to form part of the thought itself.
9. His action, however strong, was never yehement. He was never seen rushing forward, shoulder foremost, fury in his countenance, and frenzy in his voice, as if to overturn the bar, and charge his audience sword in hand. His judgment was too manly and too solid, and his taste too true, to permit him to indulge in any such extravagance. His good sense and his self-possession never deserted him. In the loudest storm of declamation, in the fiercest blaze of passion, there was a dignity and temperance which gave it seeming.
10. He had the rare faculty of imparting to his hearers all the excess of his own feelings, all the violence and tumult of his emotions, all the dauntless spirit of his resolution, and all the energy of his soul, without any sacrifice of his own personal dignity, and without treating his hearers otherwise than as rătional beings. He was not the orator of a day, and therefore sought not to build his fame on the sandy basis of a false taste. He spoke for immortality, and therefore raised the pillars of his glory on the only solid foundation, — the rock of nature.