The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (190721).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.
XV. Publicists and Orators, 18001850.
§ 3. Oratorical Methods.
|Much of the oratory of the time was of a kind which appeals but little to the reader of the present day. The speeches that have come down to us are often diffuse and occasionally florid. Nothing else could be expected from the leaders of a nation which was full of eager life and was assured of its own high destiny, a nation in which a man to be a popular leader must have power in appealing to the multitude, uncritical in its attitude toward literary form, provided the speaker himself have vitality, assurance, and a plentiful store of winged words. This, it is true, is not altogether just, for Websters diction was on the whole restrained and strong; Calhoun rarely declaimed; Clay and Benton and Adams were always earnest and did not merely toy with words; Everetts orations, polished and academic, never descended into the lower realms of commonplace word-juggling for applause. And yet it is probably right to say that most of the speaking of the time was affected by the fact that orators were appealing to a wide constituency, to a people engaged in very practical tasks, but self-confident, buoyant, and withal emotional or at least idealistic.