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“full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," or words that scarcely fell at all into sentences, insomuch that, when the speaker had concluded, you could not very distinctly say what he had been talking about? And if this sort of speaker so abounds, how much more frequent still are they who never know when they have done and how to sit down having said what they desired
How many men, who are otherwise really respectable speakers, fail in this faculty for sitting down, are continually coming to a close and then beginning again, and when you mentally exclaim, “He is certainly going to finish now,” start off on a new topic, or repeat the thrice-told tale, and take a new lease of your ears, to the severe trial of your patience.
The first qualification for attainment of the arts of speaking and writing is, therefore, having something to say-by which I mean, that you must have in your mind definite thoughts to which you desire to give expression in words. Wanting these, it is useless to attempt to be a speaker or writer. Thoughts will not come just when you are pleased to call for them.
It is necessary that you should cultivate a habit of thinking clearly and continuously-of thinking, too, your own thoughts-and you must do this, not by vague fancies, but by trains of ideas logically arranged, and by accustoming yourself to think a subject through, instead of merely thinking vaguely about it.
For what is a speech but thinking aloud ? You pursue a train of thought, and, by putting it into words, you seek to conduct the minds of your audience through the same train of thought to the same conclusions, and thus to make them share your emotions or convictions. To this end the aptest thoughts are nothing unless they can be expressed in words as apt. This is an art; this does not come by nature. Nature contributes something to it by certain special capacities with which she favours a few, and she sometimes sets a ban upon others by positive incapacity to think consecutively, to find words readily, or to give them utterance in a pleasing manner. But even the most favoured by nature require sedulous cultivation of their faculties. Thought can only come from much observation, much reading and much reflection. Composition-by which I mean the choice of the
. fittest words, and the arrangement of them in the most correct and graceful sentences-can be mastered only by long study and much practice. Every man who aspires to be a speaker must laboriously learn the art of composition, for that is the second stone of the edifice.
I can give you no instructions for obtaining thoughts; they must arise from the natural or acquired activity of your mind, gathering ideas from all accessible stores. You must keep your eyes and ears ever open to receive all kinds of knowledge from all sorts of sources. Your information cannot be too diversified. · Observation will supply the most useful materials; reading, the most various; reflection, the most profound. But you must be something more than a mere recipient of impressions from without; these must be intimately revolved and recombined in your hours of reflection, and then they may be reproduced in other shapes as your own thoughts. Accustom yourself to think, and give yourself time to think. There are many portions of the day which can be devoted to reflection, without trying to make thought a business. If a man tells me that he habitually closes his book, or lays down his pen, turns his face to the fire with his feet upon the fender, and throws himself back in his easy chair to think, he may say that he is thinking, and perhaps flatter himself with the belief that he is thinking; but we know that he is only dreaming. The time for real reflection is when you are taking that exercise in the open air, which I trust you never neglect, and which is as needful to the accomplishment of a speaker as any other training. At such seasons, prepare yourself by steady thought for that which is the next process in the acquisition of the art.
And that is, writing. You must habitually place your thoughts upon paper, first, that you may do so rapidly ; and, secondly, that you may do so correctly. When you come to write your reflections, you will be surprised to find how loose and inaccurate the most vivid of them have been, what terrible flaws there are in your best arguments. You are thus enabled to correct them, and to compare the matured sentence with the rude conception of it. You are thus trained to weigh your words and assure yourself that they precisely embody the idea you desire to convey.
You can trace uncouthness in the sentences, and dislocations of thought, of which you had not been conscious before. It is far better to learn your lesson thus upon paper, which you can throw into the fire unknown to any human being, than to be taught it, in the presence of the public, by an audience who are not always very lenient critics.
FIRST LESSONS IN THE ART OF WRITING.
DILIGENTLY practise Composition—that is to say, the correct and pleasing expression of your thoughts in words. I do not mean that you should begin by writing a speech-that comes at the end of your training; but learn first to frame a neat sentence in apt language. Indeed, when you have achieved this, you are almost at the end of your
labour. Simple as it seems, here lies all the difficulty. Words; sentences. Who has not words ? you say. Who does not talk in sentences ? I answer by another question ; who does ? Try it. You are, I believe, unpractised as yet in composition, beyond the writing of a love-letter in bad English, or verses in worse Latin. pen and set down upon paper the first half-dozen reflections that come into your mind—no matter what the subject. Now read what you have written. First, examine the words—do they embody precisely what you intended to say? Are they fit words, expressive wordsin brief, the right words? You must confess that they are not. Some are altogether wrong; some are vague, some weak, some out of keeping with the subject, some slovenly, some too big, others too small; strong adjectives are used as props to feeble nouns; and do you not see how continually you use three words to clothe an idea which would have been far more effectively conveyed in one ?
Then look at your sentences—how rude they are, how shapeless, how they dislocate the thoughts they are designed to embody, how they vex the tongue to speak, and grate upon the ear that listens. There is no music, no rhythm, no natural sequence of ideas, scarcely even grammatical accuracy. And mark how the sentences are thrown together without order, severing the chain of thought, this one having little connection with its predecessor, and none at all with its successor.
Are you now satisfied that composition is an art, to be learned by labour and self-training, and that it is not so easy as talking in a smoking-room, with a short pipe to fill up the vacuities in thoughts and words?
Being assured of this by experiment, you will probably feel rather more inclined to make the necessary exertions to acquire an art which must be the foundation of your studies in the art of speaking, and after this manner may you proceed with your task.
Be content, for a time, with writing down the thoughts of others, and this for a special purpose that will presently be apparent.
Take a writer of good English - Swift, Addison, Dryden, Macaulay, Cobbett, or even leading articles of the Times (usually models of pure, nervous English) and read half a page twice or thrice; close the book and write, in your own words, what you have read; borrowing, nevertheless, from the author so much as you can remember. Compare what you have written with the original, sentence by sentence, and word by word, and observe how far you have fallen short of the skilful author. You will thus not only find out your faults, but you will take the measure of them, and discover where they lie, and how they may be mended. Repeat the