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A PAGE FOR OLD AND YOUNII.…

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A PAGE FOR OLD AND YOUNII. (Copynyiu., FOR A QUIET HOUR. By SILAS KL HOCKING. I heard a gentleman say the other evenings that the English were the worst linguists in the world, that very few people in this country ever took the trouble to master their own language, or if they did they most egregiously failed, and that not one in ten if called upon to make an after-dinner speech could acquit him- self with credit. That the English are not good at acquiring foreign languages there can be no doubt. In this respect we fall very far short of the Dutch and Russians, who seem to have a tpeciai gift for acquiring foreign tongues. But whether or no Germans and French and Italians are better rpeakers than the English people as a whole I cannot tell. It is quite true, however, that very few English- men take the trouble to master the art of public speaking, or even of conversation, for that public speaking is an art there can be no doubt. Words are somewhat clumsy instruments, and require much skill in manipulating. A public speaker is in very much the position of an artist who has a heap of various coloured stones in front of him, and has to construct from them a piece of mosaic. To handle those bits of atone deftly and cleverly, to place them quickly in position, and to produce a pattern which ehall be harmonious and pleasing to the eye requires a good deal of practice; and as most people can get through the world fairly comfort- ably without attempting to make public speeches they do not seem disposed to take the trouble to master the art. It may be also that there is something in the very genius and construction of the English language that makes it difficult to arrange words with skill. The number of speakers who are really good, who can hold an audience. who can manipulate words cleverly and intelligently,so as to produce an effect upon the mind of the listener, is comparatively small. *»* I presume this is largely true in all countries, and has been true in all ages of the world. Orators have been rare in every generation, and when a really eloquent man has appeared he has been quickly discovered, and his name trumpeted from one end of the country to the other. On the whole, I think Americans are better speakers than the English, at any rate those who come across the Atlantic to visit our country give one that impression. During the last few yen. have heard a number of Americans make aftes dinner speeches, and they certainly have excelled in that direction. Mr. Chauncey Depew, for: instance, speaks with an easy grace, with a wealth of illustration, with a happy knack i saying the right thing, and with a gift of story- telling that one rarely finds amongst speakers in this country. The same may h,, said of Mark Twain, who, in addition to readiness of speech and aptness of illustration, has a delightful humour, which is peculiarly his own. i English after-dinner speakers are much more sober, they let themselves go much more rarely. There is a certain restraint about them, a a though they were afraid of making a mistake. They seem to feel their way cautiously. The American, on the contrary, dofcs not appear to be troubled by any such fears, he simply lets him- self go for all he is worth. He goes rollicking on in the most free and easy fashion, and conveys an impression of ease and spontaneity that is very delightful. There are a few very good after-dinner speakers in London. Mr. Cook, the late editor of the Daily JVVw.?, speaks exceedingly well. He is chaste in diction, careful in the choice of words and exceedingly happy in his illustrations. Mr. Austin, of the Daily Chronicle, is even a better after-dinner speaker; indeed, there are some who declare that he is the best after-dinner speaker in London. But. taking English people as a whole, it is still true that they are not clever in the manipulation of words, and frequently when they come to; metaphors they get into a most delightful muddle. It is stated that a prominent member of the Dublin Corporation, who was Lord Mayor a -couple of years ago, used a wonderful metaphor in opposing a scheme of electric lighting for the citv at a recent meeting. This scheme was a very large one, and would involve a very considerable outlay. The worthy alderman, fearing what the result might be. and perhaps having i an eye to the rates, or the chances of re-election, said: "You are standing on the edge of a precipice that will be a weight on your neck all the rest of your days." This is almost equal to the Irish orator in the House of Commons who said "I smell a rat; it is floating in the air. I will grasp it by the throat and nip it an the bud." But Englishmen stumble in the use of metaphors quite as much as Irishmen. There is a story told of an English clergyman who, at the beginning of the South African war, declared that the young men of England were the backbone of the British Empire, and what we had to do, he said, was to train that backbone and bring it to the front! One of our popular magazines some time ago had a very earnest plea for the cultivation of the art of public speaking, and certainly if should be the aim of those whose business it .J to instruct or edify the community to learn how to shape their thoughts into words and expresr them in the best possible fashion. It is some- times a very grievous burden to listen to people who are called upon to make a speech. The war they stumble and try to retrace their steps, ant. repeat themselves, and turn their sentences wrong way about is a very heavy cross to those who have to listen. It might not be a bad thing to establish a society for the repression ot people who think they can speak, and cannot. It is a very curious thing that some of the worst speakers that one is brought into contact with have an idea that they are exceedingly eloquent, and that it is a great pleasure for people tc listen to them. V I know a number of people who insist on speaking on all possible questions and at every possible opportunity. They are ready to get on their feet at the least hint and deliver them- selves of their opinions, and the serious way in which they take themselves is quite amusing. When people rattle their cups or their glasses for them to stop they take it as applause, anc square their shoulders and spread their hand. and 6mile and prepare for a fresh deliverance. On the other hand, it often happens that people who ought to speak well-men of wide ex- perience, of large culture—cannot be induced tc make a speech under any circumstances what- ever. I was out the other evening at a dinner at which there was a good deal of speaking on a very important topic. Among the guests was a very celebrated writer and newspaper corre- spondent, a man who could speak easily fifteen different languages, who had travelled in all parts of the world, who had seen all phases of society, and who had bad experience of peace and war in many lands. And yet he absolutely refused to speak, saying that he had never attempted to make a speech in his life, and that he did not intend to begin. It seems a very great pity that when people have nothing to say they persist in saying it, while others whose minds are stored with facts and information cannot be induced to speak at all. There ought to be provided a gag for the one and an electric battery for the other. Aprtfs of this question, a member of Parlia- ment the other day, at a distribution of prizes to the successful pupils of a large girls' school, announced that a celebrated Oxford professor bad n.ade a very important discovery. Of course, all ears were alert at this announcement, and then the n,ember went on to say that the dis- covery that this professor had made was that women were better speakers than men. Thie important announcement was not received with the rapturous applause that one might have expected. Perhaps the girls had heard some- thing of the kind before. There is an old aaying that in the beginning the Almighty gave to the race ten parts ot speech, and that tb, women ran away with nine of them. In ppidilr speech, however, women do not often cut a much better figure than men. Lady Henry Somerset is, doubtless, one of the best, if not the very best, woman speaker in England. Mrs. Ormiston 0)ant. has also a considerable gift in thit direction. w One of the best speeches, however, that I have listened to from a lady for a long time past was given by Madame Sarah Grand. She had evidently carefully prepared her speech before- hnndr but she gave it with great freedom and with an air of naturalness and spontaneity that v:as very delightful. The great thing, doubtlesr. to be aimed at in all public speaking is, in tl. I first v'aee, to have something to say, and then to say it in the simplest and most direct fashion possible. Confusion of thought leads to confusio?.' of speech, but, generally speaking, if people bare icir ideas clearly defined in their ow, rein-Is. if they know exactly what they wish t. say. if they have thoroughly mastered the fact, tl.ev desire to lay before -heir hearers, they ha. comparatively lit'le difficulty in expressit themselves when they make the attempt.

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