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The Outside Mind of the Orator

Many people have no outside mind (nor inside mind either), which deprives them of the greatest gift of the gods that of 'seeing themselves as others see them.' Few attain to that power; but what is more important, rhetorically, is that the orator sees his subject as it may strike others, and provides that it shall strike them rightly. Dr. Burchard (before mentioned), never thought how his fatal alliteration of 'Rum, Romanism and Rebellion' would strike his Presidential audience. Sir William Follet, the nature of whose forensic strength has been described, had no thought as to the outside impression he might make against the justice and impartiality of the law he was bound, as Attorney-General, to uphold and exalt. At the trial of Thomas Cooper he was so vindictive to the Chartist shoemaker at the bar that, despite Cooper's reconversion to Christianity, and the Divine forgiveness which he preached, he never forgave Sir William Follet, who filled the hearts of thousands of Chartists with hatred of Whig Government. All the while, fair speech would have vindicated the law and increased respect for the party he represented. Half the disaffection of the people in every nation is created by well-meaning vindicators of order who have no outside mind, and who betray the interests committed to them.

Very often a man betrays himself by not considering how others may regard him, in consequence of what he says. Professor H. Morley, in his introduction to 'Julius Caesar,' shows that the continuation of the tragedy to the death of Brutus was necessary to the design Shakespeare had. Here he might have said reasonably and effectively, 'The reader who is of this opinion will think that the critics who have said that the play ought to have concluded with the assassination scene did not understand the theory on which the great tragedy was evidently written.' Instead of words to this effect, Professor Morley exclaims:—
'Shall we ask now where the wit lay under the wigs of critics who wondered why Shakespeare did not end the play of "Julius Caesar" with the scene of the assassination?'

This is to say, now Professor Morley has spoken, there can be no doubt under whose wig the wit lies. This was quite apparent from his clear and instructive argument, without his saying so and repelling the reader by his conceit.

A man may be the first to conceive an idea of mark, or to discover a new method of public service—an idea which nobody thinks much of at the time—a method which nobody acts upon. Years after, somebody comes forward with the same thought, or the same device, who obtains both credit and attention. He may have originated the idea independently, and at a time when the public were better inclined than before to entertain the conception, or he may have derived it from the first promulgator, to whom no reference is made. If, however, he who was first in the field comes forward with clamorous or imputative claims for credit, he rarely gets it, however much it may be his due. But if he contents himself with expressing his pleasure at seeing views now accepted, coincident with those which long ago, at a certain time, and in a certain way, were advanced by himself, but were then unnoticed or unregarded—the modesty of his reference will beget public interest in the question. Many would be Cassell's 'National Library' disposed to admit his originality who would refuse assent to it if it were put forward in a spirit of jealous and egotistical pretension. It is important to an advocate and an orator not to forget that every public question has an outside.

When I was a young man I was one of several lecturers engaged in debating and explaining the principles of the Communistic movement then advocated. It was our duty to report from time to time to the New Moral World, the journal of the movement (of which we were accredited missionaries), the proceedings in which we took part. The most eminent of my colleagues, Mr. Lloyd Jones, seldom did this. When asked why few reports came from him, he answered, 'How could he praise himself?' Of course he could not usefully do so. Nobody wanted him to do it. But what he might have done was to describe the quality and number of the audiences whom he addressed, what adversaries appeared, the point of what they said, and briefly, the purport of his replies. This would be instructive to his colleagues elsewhere, and to the readers of the journal in question. He was not required to tell them how clever he was—how successfully he silenced his opponents—or how brilliantly he acquitted himself. All this would better appear in his arguments than in any eulogy he could write of himself. Could he have looked outside himself in that respect, as he did in many other things, he had been further useful and entertaining.

It was through the influence of Madame Maintenon that Massillon was appointed to preach before Louis XIV. at the Advent, 1699. Louis XIV. was then at the height of his power and glory; the military reverses which embittered his later years had not begun; he was 'The Grand Monarch' of Europe, intoxicated with flattery. It was customary for the court preachers to begin with a compliment to him. The courtiers were keenly expectant, as they watched the preacher's calm, rapt face, as to how he would turn his opening sentences. 'Blessed are they that mourn,' was the unexpected text. And again he paused. 'Sire,' he said, 'if the world were here speaking to your Majesty, and not Jesus Christ, it would not address you thus. It would say to you, "Blessed is the prince who has never fought but he has conquered; who has imposed peace on the nations at his will; who has filled the universe with his name; who through a long and flourishing reign has enjoyed at his ease the fruits of his glory, the love of his people, the admiration of his enemies, the wisdom of his laws, the noble hope of a numerous posterity." But, sire, Jesus Christ speaks not as the world speaks. "Happy," He saith to you, "not he who wins the admiration of the present world, but who is chiefly occupied with the world to come; who lives in forgetfulness of all that passeth away because his conversation is in Heaven. Happy not he whose reign will be immortalised in history, but he whose penitential tears shall have blotted out the history of his sins from the memory of God." Yea, it is he who is happy. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."'

A monk, who before this had been commanded to preach before the king, began his sermon thus: 'Sire, I mean not to pay any compliment to your Majesty—I have found none in the Gospel.' This monk was more intent on displaying his own cloistered asceticism than on displaying the truth, and he never more had opportunity of touching the conscience of the king. By obtruding 'faithfulness' out of season he lost his chance of being useful in season. Massillon was wiser. He knew that truth does better to knock at doors than break them open. You may indeed thrust truth through the splintered panels, but the occupant of the house will kick it out again as soon as you are gone. Violence begets contempt, except among cowards.

Once I had a house in which I designed to reside to the end of my days, and in order that those days should not be unnecessarily shortened, I spent ^150 in making it entirely healthy. To be sure of this, I called in a sanitary engineer. Only one thing was wanting in the end—a manhole of eleven feet in depth to the main drain for access to a trap to be placed there. This I wished made outside the house, and application was sent to the town authorities for leave to do it. The answer was that they had refused 11,000 applications, involving an operation on the footpath where the shaft in question would be made. The builder who was making my alterations—himself an alderman—said 'nothing could be done; the shaft must be in the house,' and he took up the floor of my front room, and dug nine feet down, before I was aware of it. I desired him to fill up the hole and replace the floor. I consulted the mayorwho happened to call upon me—who said he was afraid the permission I wanted could not be had. Seeing there was an outside to this question, I wrote to the works committee the following letter, with a view to show them how their refusal would appear to the public if made known to them:—

'Gentlemen,—Word has come to me that you decline to permit me to put a shaft outside my house. The town recently spent ^1000 in vindicating its salubriousness as a place where visitors may come, or gentlemen reside, without having to make a preliminary engagement with their undertakers. Believing this, I became a resident, when I am informed that, if I desire to sink a shaft upon my premises for sanitary purposes, it must be within my house. Do you mean that I must ask my friends whether they will dine in the "Front sewer-room" or in the "Back sewer-room?" It would cost me less to have three burials from my house than the alterations for salubrity I am making. But as I may be one of the three to be buried, I object to this risk. True, I may let the house to a tenant, but if I know that the germs of death can percolate into it, I should feel, if a death ensued, that I was a murderer. Landlord law would permit me to do so, but I should not be less a scoundrel if, for the sake of rent, I did it. What say you, gentlemen?'

The Town Surveyor, a clear-headed officer, sent me the permission I sought. Afterwards, the mayor asked me for a copy of my letter which obtained for me this unexpected leave. I gained this point from my habit of looking to see whether a question has an outside. I cite this instance because a precept is never sufficiently recommended until you show how it comes out in practice. As far as my experience goes, the dialetic injunction is true—'Know more than you use. Read and think outside and all around.' Goldsmith, who greatly admired Burke's skill in statement, in argument, and in quietly mastering and crushing error, as a boa constrictor might, said' Burke wound into a subject like a serpent.' He must therefore have looked outside to discover the most convenient aperture by which he could enter.

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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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