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want of imagination, that leads to the absurd mingling of metaphor that sometimes occurs in public speaking; as when, for example, a certain legislative orator, not long since, spoke of the wheels of government as blocked by sharks, which, like the locusts of Egypt, settled on every green thing. The imagination never perpetrates such blunders. That much abused faculty, had it existed to the extent of a grain of mustard-seed in that man, would forever have kept him from all such absurdity.
The orator is essentially an artist. His, the highest of all arts—the art of persuasion; and the highest of all oratory is that of the pulpit, as dealing with themes the most profound, and interests the most momentous. It were strange, surely, if this artist were denied the most potent instrument of his art, and of all art; if this orator were debarred the use of that which is, in all other cases, essential to the highest and most effective oratory. For in oratory, as in all art, it is mainly the ideal element that imparts the peculiar charm, nameless and indescribable, which distinguishes the productions of true genius.
Without discussing further the right of the pulpit orator to avail himself of this faculty, I proceed to mention certain specific advantages to be derived from its proper and legiti
And first it is obvious that the higher and bolder flights of oratory are largely due to the faculty of the ideal. When in the full tide and tumult of excited feeling the orator, carried away by the impulse of the moment and the force of the argument, leaps at a bound over the limits of time and place, and summons the absent and the invisible, and even calls up the dead, to bear witness to his words, we have an illustration of the true power and province of imagination in oratory. An instance of this occurs in the Oration on the Crown, where Demosthenes suddenly appeals, in confirmation of what he is saying, to the illustrious dead who rushed into danger at Marathon, and those who stood side by side at Platea. Hardly less sublime than this apostrophe of the great Athe
nian orator is the passage in which the apostle to the Gentiles, having named many persons illustrious for faith, by a bold and striking figure gathers these ancient heroes from the past as spectators of the present-a cloud of spiritual forms hovering over the race-course where the Christian runs for the prize of his high calling: "Seeing then that ye are encompassed with so great a cloud of witnesses." Bolder and more sublime than either is the remarkable passage in which Isaiah describes the descent of the monarch of Babylon to the realms of Sheol. From their shadowy thrones the kings and nations of antiquity rise to receive the coming stranger: "Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations."
I can hardly forbear to add, from the oratory of the present day, a further illustration of the use and power of the imagination in the bolder flights of eloquence. When over the ruins of Fort Sumter the old historic flag was raised again, the orator,1 inspired by the sublimity of the occasion, and conscious that he was uttering the sentiments of the nation, after charging upon the ambitious political leaders of the South the whole guilt of this war, thus proceeds to arraign them for retribution: "A day will come when God will reveal justice, and arraign at his bar these mighty miscreants, and then every orphan that their bloody war has made, and every widow that sits sorrowing, and every maimed and wounded sufferer, and every burdened heart in all the wide regions of this land, will rise up and come before the Lord, to lay upon these chief culprits of modern history their awful witness, and from a thousand battle-fields shall rise up armies of airy witnesses, who with the memory of their awful sufferings shall confront these miscreants with shrieks of fierce accusation, and every pale and starved prisoner shall raise his skinny hand in judgment. Blood shall call out for vengeance, and tears shall flow for justice, and grief shall 1 Henry Ward Beecher, in 1865.
silently beckon, the heart smitten shall wail for justice, good men and angels will cry out: How long, O Lord, how long wilt thou not avenge? And then these guiltiest and most remorseless traitors, these high and cultured men with might and wisdom used for the destruction of their country, these most accursed and detested of all criminals, that have drenched a continent in needless blood, and moved the foundations of their times with hideous crimes and cruelty, caught up in black clouds full of voices of vengeance and lurid with punishment, shall be whirled aloft and plunged downward forever and ever in an endless retribution, while God shall say: Thus shall it be with all who betray their country; and all in heaven and upon earth will say, Amen."
Thus to summon at the bar of divine justice the authors of this great crime, and there to confront them with all those whom their cruel ambition has made desolate, and with the dead from a thousand battle-fields, while it is one of the boldest flights of oratory, is also a striking instance of the power of the ideal.
2. The orator is dependent on the imagination for the power of clear and vivid description of absent objects. This power is of great service to the orator. It enables him by the skilful touch of the artist to make his hearers, to all intents, spectators of events however remote, and scenes however distant, as at the waving of some magician's wand they start into life before us, and stand out with the distinctness of reality before our eyes. This is in no small degree the secret of effective oratory, and the hiding of its power. The tame and common-place speaker tells us that the thing occurred thus and thus; that the murderer entered by a dark passage, ascended the stairs, entered the chamber, dispatched his victim, and made his escape, passing down such a street; all which may be very true, but scarcely more impressive than to be told that the diameter of the earth's orbit is so many thousand miles. The true orator, by a few skilful touches, brings the whole scene before us the victim, the approach of danger, the entrance, the blow, the escape of the
assassin. Under the handling of a Webster we do not so much hear or read, as see, these things transpiring before our own eyes. It is the imagination which enables the orator thus to seize upon the details, and impart reality to the picture.
A fine illustration of this occurs in the sermon of Horace Bushnell on Unconscious Influence, in which he has occasion to depict the effects which would follow the withdrawal of light from the earth. "Many," he tells us," will be ready to think that light is a very tame and feeble instrument, because it is noiseless. An earthquake, for example, is to them a much more vigorous and effective agency. Hear how it comes thundering through the solid foundations of nature. It racks a whole continent. The noblest works of man,cities, monuments, and temples, are in a moment levelled to the ground, or swallowed down the opening gulfs of fire. Little do they think that the light of every morning, the soft and genial and silent light, is an agent many times more powerful. But let the light of the morning cease, and return no more; let the hour of morning come and bring with it no dawn; the outcries of a horror-stricken world fill the air, and make, as it were, the darkness audible; the beasts go wild and frantic at the loss of the sun; the vegetable growths turn pale and die, and chill creeps on, and frosty winds begin to howl across the freezing earth; colder and yet colder is the night; the vital blood at length of all creatures stops congealed; down goes the frost toward the earth's centre; the heart of the sea is frozen; nay, the earthquakes are themselves frozen in under their fiery caverns. The very globe itself, too, and all the fellow planets that have lost their sun, are become mere balls of ice, swinging silent in the darkness." A mind less imaginative would never have conceived the idea of depicting the effect of continued darkness, or if it had attempted anything of the kind, would have been content with the general statement, that the earth would become uncomfortable to the inhabitants, and everything would freeze.
3. The imagination is of service to the orator by contributing to the clear and forcible statement of truth. It imparts definiteness of conception, and sharpness of outline to his own mental views, and what he thus sharply and definitely apprehends he is able the more clearly and forcibly to present to his hearers. Truths and arguments thus presented stand out in bold relief, and with stereoscopic distinctness on the field of vision, not mere flat surfaces, but with length, breadth, and thickness of their own, each casting a shadow.
This effect is produced sometimes by the suggestion of the most apt word or forcible expression. Much depends often on the choice of a single word. In a sermon on the Concealment of Sin, South speaks of the great and flourishing condition of some of the topping sinners of the world, and of the remorseless rage of conscience. Alluding to the fact that justice is represented as blind, he tells us that "therefore it finds out the sinner not with its eyes, but with its hands. not by seeing, but by striking."
Sometimes the effect is produced by a bold and startling metaphor, giving vividness and intensity to the expression, as a sudden flash in a dark night brings out the most distant objects, and lights up the whole horizon. Thus the same preacher speaks of the sinner's conscience as "hitting him in the teeth"; of the devil "spreading his wing" over the sinner, so as to keep him quiet in sin, and prevent his taking the alarm; of the covetous man as "greedier than the sea, and barrener than the shore"; of the perjured shop-keeper "who sits retailing away heaven and salvation for pence and half-pence, and seldom vends any commodity but he sells his soul with it, like brown paper, into the bargain." 1 The terrible earnestness and force of these expressions startle us. sentences of such a writer are, like Ezekiel's vision, self-moving, and full of eyes round about. We pick our way among them cautiously, as past the cages of wild beasts in a menagerie, that glare at us as we go by, and seem ready to spring from behind their iron bars. The effect of a lively imagina
1 Sermon on Covetousness.