« ZurückWeiter »
preach the doctrine of transfusion of spirits. Both are passionate preachers of sexual and political freedom; both are believers in a possible universal republic; both are spiritual; and both are democratic. Their casual audacities of expression are well-nigh identical. Both possess the divine devotion and self-less love which make men martyrs and prophets. No man of his generation, according to Mr. Swinburne, did more good works in a nobler or simpler spirit than Blake. Whitman, we hear, followed the Federal armies during the late civil war as as an unpaid volunteer, and tenderly nursed the wounded soldiers. Those who would learn more of Walt Whitman can now read his principal writings in an English edition. Mr. Rossetti's preface is well worth reading, as also is the poet's original preface to his "Leaves of Grass." The coarser poems, though they are outspoken rather than indecent, have been omitted. Unfortunately, some of his strongest and best things are in these prohibited pieces; and he who meets this plain-speech bard for the first time in Mr. Rossetti's Bowdlerised version, will carry away a false impression of him. In like manner, the idealised Garibaldian hero of Mr. Rossetti's frontispiece bears little resemblance to the broad-shouldered, hairy, gold-digger-like portrait in the original American edition. Without falling into ecstasies of admiration over this eccentric apostle of the New World, it is impossible to read a few pages of his writings without allowing him to be an original and thoroughly American genius. President Lincoln said of him, "He looks like a man"; and we may add, "He looks like an American man." This can scarcely be said of any other trans-Atlantic bard. Longfellow seems rather an Englishman imbued with German culture than a citizen of the great Western Republic. English readers, accustomed to Tennysonian polish, will note, not without annoyance, Whitman's almost entire absence of rhyme and uncouth metre. He is rather a prophet, in the true sense of the word, than a poet. He seems to care more for what he has to say than for the manner of saying it. It is worth noticing that the first line or two of some of his "chants are perfectly rhythmical, but directly afterwards he becomes supremely careless of all the laws of prosody. Here are three instances of initial lines which are quite metrical
"Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walk of dreams,"
"Splendour of ended day floating and filling me."
This metrical promise is seldom fulfilled, still there is a strange sort of rough music in almost all that Whitman writes. His defiance of the ordinary laws of metre probably arises partly from a desire to say exactly what he wants to say unfettered by questions of sound or syllables, and partly from sheer indolence. He will not be at the pains to exercise the dull mechanic labour of rhyming, though the labour would be excellent discipline for him. He would thereby learn to express himself more clearly and tersely, for it must be frankly confessed that his poems are often wearisomely long and tedious, and full of needless repetitions. Their chance of vitality would be much increased by condensation and polish. Pity that all his thoughts are not expressed as musically as those in the touching little monody on the death of Lincoln, beginning
"O captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done!
The ship has weathered every wrack, the prize we sought is won."
It is curious to note Whitman's addiction to scraps of French, and his fondness for geography. His favourite epithet for his native Long Island-" fish-shape Paumanok"-could only be taken from its appearance on the map, and his frequent panoramic surveys of the world seem prompted by the same love of poring over atlases. In spite of indeed, perhaps on account of all his oddities, there is something very attractive about Walt Whitman. There is a fresh, healthy, physical glow about his writings, and a hearty sympathy for his fellow-men, which is very refreshing. If we thought that he had been lapped in luxury, and that he went about clothed in soft raiment, we should despise him as an impostor for affecting such sentiments; but from what we have heard of his tastes and habits, we are ready to believe that his poems are the genuine reflex of his actual life.
Finally, let us observe two points in which this remarkable triumvirate of lyrists, Blake, Whitman, and Swinburne, all agree. They are all insurgents against the commonly-recognized dogmas of religion and social life; and they are all diligent Bible-students. Blake writes like a modern Ezekiel; Whitman, though his language is more nineteenthcentury and vernacular, is suffused with Bible influences; while in Mr. Swinburne's essay, Biblical metaphors and turns of expression may be found in almost every page.
BY ALEXANDER J. D. D'ORSEY, B.D.,
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
WHAT are Debating Societies? They are associations of young men for the purpose of mutual improvement by means of discussions carried on in the form of oral debate. Their members are of various grades in social position-some occupying no higher place than that of the mechanic or skilled artisan, apprentice, or shop-boy; others being of a professional character, such as the Articled Clerks, and those connected with different branches of the law; while in the great Universities of England, the far famed "Unions" have enrolled in their ranks the youthful orators who, a few years hence, are destined to fill some of the most important places in Church and State. The constitution, or code of regulations governing associations which differ so widely in material, must necessarily vary in proportion; but the grand general feature is the periodical assembling of the members in circumstances which present, as far as possible, the appearance of a public meeting. The chairman is invested with the usual power of preserving order and regulating the debate; the opener and his supporter, the respondent and his follower, sustain the more formal part of the discussion; other members rise to speak-the right of reply is permitted to the opener; and the chairman concludes by putting the question to the vote. These, we say, are the general characteristics of Debating Societies, Discussion Clubs, and Mutual Improvement Associations; though it by no means follows that our description is of universal application. The subjects selected are, of course, extremely various. At the Unions of Oxford and Cambridge the questions are chiefly of a literary, social, and political character; in the debating societies connected with the Inns of Courts they are almost necessarily of a strictly professional tendency; while in the humbler institutions of provincial towns, there is a decided inclination to resort to "stock pieces," the traditional and common property of all such associations.
The object in view is generally admitted to be improvement in the art of public speaking; and it will be found that those who join debating societies have, or fancy they have, some gift in that direction which requires cultivation, or feel themselves bound to prepare for profes
sional life by practising an art on which, as they well know, so much of their success depends. Admitting this, we purpose in our brief paper to inquire how far this important end is gained by the plans at present pursued, and then to consider whether any practical reforms could be introduced into our debating societies, calculated to produce better results.
I. The uncompromising advocates of debating societies, who see everything couleur de rose, regard these institutions as the best possible training schools for public speaking. They tell us, in the most glowing terms, that if a man possesses knowledge, practice in delivering a speech will enable him to turn that knowledge to the best account, and that if his stores of information are deficient, fluency of expression will in most cases make ample compensation-the abundance of words concealing the poverty of ideas. Nervousness, they contend, is the chief difficulty against which a bashful young Englishman has to struggle -that, if not conquered, it will prove an insuperable obstacle to him in a parliamentary or professional career; and that the surest, safest, and speediest mode of overcoming this foe, is to speak on every possible occasion, be it sense or nonsense, within the walls of a debating society. They justify this by the familiar proverb that "practice makes perfect;" and they strengthen their position by the well known advice of Lord Brougham in his letter to Zachary Macaulay :-"The first point is this: the beginning of the art is to acquire a habit of easy speaking; and in whatever way this can be had (which individual inclination or accident will generally direct, and may safely be allowed to do so) it must be had. Now, I differ from all other doctors of rhetoric in this; I say let him, first of all, learn to speak easily and fluently-as well and as sensibly as he can, no doubt; but at any rate let him learn to speak. This is to eloquence, or good public speaking, what the being able to talk in a child is to correct grammatical speech. It is the requisite foundation; and on it you must build. Moreover, it can only be acquired young; therefore, let it by all means, and at any sacrifice, be gotten hold of forthwith. But in acquiring it every sort of slovenly error will also be acquired. It must be got by a habit of easy writing; by a custom of talking much in company; by speaking in debating societies, with little attention to rule, and more love of saying something at any rate than of saying anything well." They further argue that besides conferring the direct benefits of confidence and fluency, these institutions indirectly afford many other advantages. A successful speaker must, of course, acquire the habit of commanding
and concentrating his thoughts, arranging them quickly and expressing them readily in appropriate language. This necessarily forces him to the study of logic, rhetoric, and grammar. Another argument in favour of such associations is that (owing to the difficulty of many of the themes) extensive reading and much severe thought are required before the disputant can be duly qualified to take part in the debate; while the variety of the subjects themselves, and the diversity of opinions expressed by the members, will naturally tend to remove prejudices and to promote a large-mindedness not generally attained by the solitary student. Lastly, they allege, and with much force, that the actual laws, aided as they are by the moral tone of a well constituted debating society, produce a most wholesome influence in smoothing the asperities of discussion and in calming the excited spirits of these combatants.
On the other hand, Archbishop Whateley* and many distinguished writers have expressed themselves decidedly hostile to debating societies in every form. Their arguments may be condensed thus:(1) Conceding that these institutions enable a man to turn his knowledge to good account, and to conceal his ignorance, they deny that the cultivation of fluency or mere power of talk is in itself an advantage; on the contrary, they regard it, and with reason, as one of the greatest of our social inflictions, as the chief cause of the dulness and dryness of our public meetings, and of the prolixity of our parliamentary speeches. (2) Admitting the value of practice as a cure for nervousness and as teaching promptitude and self-possession, they refuse to grant that "practice makes perfect" in the sense employed by the defenders of discussion clubs; for, as Bacon says, "faults as well as faculties are exercised in exercises; whence a bad habit is sometimes acquired and insinuated together with a good one.' + And so they demur to the soundness even of Lord Brougham's advice, the substance of which is that a man is to acquire speaking well by the mere practice of speaking, which amounts to saying that a girl will learn to play the piano properly by playing constantly. (3) No doubt, in certain instances, and in debating societies of the highest class, some of the indirect benefits alleged are in reality conferred; but it is more than
* "An early introduction to this kind of practice is especially to be deprecated; and it should be preceded not only by general cultivation of the mind, but also by much practice in writing, if possible, under the guidance of a competent instructor."-WHATELEY'S " Rhetoric," p. 21.
† BACON, "Adv. of Learning," B. VI.