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Many years ago I printed an outline book on the subject (Public Speaking and Debate) for the use of persons who found learned treatise on oratory uninteresting, or too profound to be intelligible. Though dealing alone with the Rudiments of the art, it was reprinted in America, and in 1853 the New York Tribune described it as being ‘unpretentious and practical.’ After the experience of forty years, I write a new book, and trust the reader will find the same qualities in it.

In 1862, the Rev. Mr. Vickers of Boston, America, then visiting England, informed me the he took up, in a New York book-shop, a copy of a work entitled, Public Speaking and Debate, by John Bower. Upon opening it he found that it was an American edition of Public Speaking and Debate, by G. J. Holyoake, with the name of the borne by another. This, I hope, may be taken as proof that the book was thought useful by the new author.

But a testimony of which I have always been proud was that of Wendell Phillips—whom Mr. Bright said to me ‘had the most eloquent voice which spoke the English tongue.’ Mr. Phillips sent me word that he had lent ‘his well-thumbed copy of Public Speaking and Debate until he had lost it, upon the theory [he benevolently held] that he who most needed a book had the greatest right to it.’ Upon that principle, Mr. Phillips certainly did not require it. Still, I sent him another copy. It was probably the ethical theory of debate contained in it, upon which we had had personal controversy, which interested him.

The earliest and most generous of English critics was the Rev. Dr. Joseph Parker, who, when he edited the Pulpit Analist, said to young preachers: ‘There is Mr. Holyoake’s Rudiments of Public Speaking and Debate. Get this book if you can. I am afraid it is out of print. It is full of wise and practical counsel, and rich with allusion and quotation of the best kind,’ in illustration of which a passage of two pages was cited. Considering that Dr. Parker’s belief differed widely from mine, of which he was well aware, seeing that we had held a public debate thereupon for several nights, I cite his words (though it will seem egotistical to do it), since they exceed anything I could think of saying myself, to the end of engaging the attention of the reader to these pages, which I suppose to be the object of all introductions.

Another motive, higher than egotism, induces me to inscribe this book as the reader sees I do. When Mr. Allsop proposed to supplement an annuity given me, Dr. Parker sent a subscription and wrote a letter to the Daily News, intended to be of service to the fund. I cannot agree where I would—were coincidence of belief a matter of will—but an act of kindness I never forget, and I am glad when I can acknowledge it.

As respects the texture of the following pages, the reader will discern that it has no merit save incitement, if indeed it has that.

What is called a ‘systematic treatise’ is what is usually looked for on the subject of public speaking. But I have found those who have followed such have rarely become speakers of mark, until they have freed themselves from the 'system' and trusted to themselves. A system is a sort of machine, and one reared in it, is apt to be entangled in wheels within wheels, when the time comes for action; or he finds that the machine, though of most excellent construction, will not work just when it is most wanted to do it. Now, a series of chapters on the essential parts of public speaking—not chained together, but capable of independent use on emergency, with a springing board in each of them from which a speaker of moderate activity can throw himself at will, as it were, into the heart of an argument—will best serve the practical student. The execution may not equal the design but this is the rule on which these pages are written.

Whatever may conduce to improvement in the art and character of agitation, as it is the hope of the Author this book will do, may be of public service, seeing what an increase of wise, reasoning voices will be heard in the land, as sure-footed democracy advances.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, being apparently only acquainted with the bad meaning of the term, lately spoke contemptuously of 'agitators,' whereupon the Rev. Stewart Headlam justly asked, 'Were not Paul, and even our Lord Himself, agitators? Surely it depends upon what you agitate for, and how you agitate, as to whether an "agitator” is to be condemned or praised.' Mr Headlam might have asked, where would the Archbishop be but for that superb, irrepressible agitator Luther? Not thought much of by the archbishops of his day.

Just-minded agitation prevents the putrefaction of opinion, which is as fatal to States as to Truth. Cowper wrote:—
Winds from all quarters agitate the air,
And fit the limpid element for use.

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George Jacob Holyoake

  • Born April 13, 1817 in Birmingham, UK and died on January 22nd, 1906.
  • Was a British secularist, co-operator (The English Leader), and newspaper editor (Reasoner).

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