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LETTER XXIX.

THE ART OF SPEAKING-WHAT TO SAY

COMPOSITION.

It seems like a truism to tell

you that before you speak you should have something to say.

But it is a necessary caution, for nothing is more common than to hear a man speak for a long time and utter nothing but words—words—words—without a grain of thought at the heart of them. The popular ear so readily mistakes fluency for eloquence, and copious language for abundant wisdom, that ignorance and emptiness may be well excused for adventuring where real ability fears to tread. Now, as there is nothing easier than “bald disjointed chat,” or speech “full of sound and fury, signifyingnothing,” there is some danger of your falling into it, unless you resolve, from the beginning of your career, never to speak unless you have something to say, and then to say what you have to say, and sit down again when you

have said it. All this appears very easy on paper, but it is very difficult in practice. A true orator must possess the full mind as well as the ready mind. He must know much,

and think much; he must open

his
eyes

and ears to receive knowledge of all kinds from all quarters, and his mind must be ever busily at work reflecting upon the knowledge thus acquired. Indeed, there is no sort of intelligence that will not come into use at some time. I can, therefore, propose to you no scheme of studies wherewith to lay the foundation of oratory, for it is to be pursued everywhere, and comprises everything. The only rule I can give you is, to learn all that you can, from all sources and of all kinds. Practise the art of writing, as already suggested to you, diligently, as being the best preparation for oratory. The instructions there given are to be pursued, but with another purpose. The Art of Writing will assist you to the Art of Speaking; but it is not all that you require, and you must rightly understand and carefully keep in view the differences between them, which I will now endeavour to explain to you.

There are three ways of expressing your thoughts, talking, writing and speaking. I use the familiar terms, because they convey my meaning more accurately than finer phrases. If you were required to express the same thought, or tell the same story, first, to a fireside circle, afterwards, in an article for a newspaper, and finally, in a speech to an assembly, you would certainly do so in three very

different forms of composition, and in two, if not three, sets of words. If you had made no preparation for either performance, you would fall unconsciously into the natural style appropriate to each situation. Only when you may have educated yourself into a bad habit of confounding the styles would you spout an essay or talk a speech.

Talk differs from writing or a speech in this, that it is a

unco

broken, and not a continuous, stream of thought. Talking implies the participation of others in the discourse. If you have all the talk to yourself, it is not talking, but declamation or preaching ; that is to say, it is not an interchange of thoughts, but merely the utterance dogmatically of your own ideas. The manner is as different as the matter ; you assume consciously the colloquial tone, which does not assert or affirm, but suggests, submits to consideration, puts an argument interrogatively, as if to say, “Do you not think so ? "Is not that right ?” “ Are you of the same opinion ?” “What say you to it ?” Thus stimulating conversation by inviting the free expression of differences. You do not say of any proposition that “it is so," but that “such is your view of it,” “ so it seems to you,” and you ask if your companions “ agree with you.” Necessarily, your sentences are short, your words are expressive rather than select, and the perfection of talk is brilliant dialogue.

Now set yourself to write on the same subject; how different will be the framework!

You desire to express the same thoughts ; at once your mind falls into another mood. Now you discourse without let or hindrance ; you have it all your own way ; you do not look for interruption, nor invite dissent; you make assertions, you pursue a course of argument, you say “it is,” or “it is not;" the stream of thought flows on continuously until it is exhausted. In accordance with these features of your thoughts is the composition of the language in which they are expressed. Your thoughts are distinctly conceived, your words are well weighed, your style is formal; you arrange your words in a different order, studious of the strict rules of composition, that which is

to be read permitting of transpositions forbidden to that which is to be spoken.

But if you speak upon the same subject, although you desire to express the same thoughts, you will naturally do so in a different fashion. If you were to speak as you had written, you would probably be unintelligible to half your audience and uninteresting to all; your discourse would appear intolerably starched, dogmatical and dry. The reason of this is, that the mind of the Hearer must follow the words of the Speaker as fast as he utters them, and unless those words convey the thought at once, without sending the mind backwards or forwards in search of it, it falls by the way, or what is worse, it is misunderstood. The Reader can pause to reflect, he can reperuse any passage not instantly intelligible ; but if the listener does not seize it on the instant of its expression by the speaker, it is lost to him altogether, without hope of recovery.

You will now see, I trust, wherein lies the difference between composition for speaking and for writing. Oratory requires, not only its own language, but its own composition; the frame work in which a speaker's thoughts are set differs widely from that employed by the talker or the writer. The style is more formal than that of the former, and less formal than that of the latter. A speech that resembled talking would be an impertinence; a speech like an essay would be a bore. You must learn the mean between them. Writing is, nevertheless, the foundation of speaking, and will be found the best practice to qualify you to be a speaker. You should write much upon the topics on which you expect to be required to speak much, and this for two purposes : first, to cultivate ideas upon them; and, second, to learn how to express those ideas with precision. The habit of putting your thoughts into writing affords the only guarantee that those thoughts have substance in them, and are not merely vague and formless fancies.

When first you come to set down upon paper your ideas upon any subject, however well acquainted with it you imagine yourself, you will be surprised to find how dreamy and shapeless are the thoughts you had supposed to be so distinct and symmetrical. The pen is a provoking fetter upon the flights of fancy; but it is a wholesome cure, and makes you a sensible man instead of a dreamy fool. Write, therefore, often and much, preferring the subjects on which you may anticipate that you will be required to speak

But there is danger to be avoided. You write for the sake of acquiring clear and rapid thoughts and expressive words, and for nothing more. This is all that writing can teach you that will serve you in speaking. What more you may learn from the practice of writing will be injurious and will require strenuous exertions to avoid. I have told you already, that the framework of spoken thought differs widely from that of written thought. In so far as the style of written composition differs from that of speech, you must keep strict watch over yourself to prevent the practice becoming a habit. This is the difficulty and danger, for which I can suggest no way of escape save your own vigilance. It is something to know where danger lies, and you should keep the memory of it ever before you. Perhaps the best counteraction would be to revise what you have written, thinking how you would have said the same thing had you spoken instead of written it, and sometimes even re-write it, as if it had been designed for a speech ; the

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