The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
the heart of an audience as rich, appropriate humor. The scattered diners in a great banqueting hall, the
after-dinner lethargy, the anxiety over approaching last-train time, the over-full list of over-full speakers--all
throw out a challenge to the speaker to do his best to win an interested hearing. And when success does come
it is usually due to a happy mixture of seriousness and humor, for humor alone rarely scores so heavily as the
two combined, while the utterly grave speech never does on such occasions.
If there is one place more than another where second-hand opinions and platitudes are unwelcome it is in the
after-dinner speech. Whether you are toast-master or the last speaker to try to hold the waning crowd at
midnight, be as original as you can. How is it possible to summarize the qualities that go to make up the good
after-dinner speech, when we remember the inimitable serious-drollery of Mark Twain, the sweet southern
eloquence of Henry W. Grady, the funereal gravity of the humorous Charles Battell Loomis, the charm of
Henry Van Dyke, the geniality of F. Hopkinson Smith, and the all-round delightfulness of Chauncey M.
Depew? America is literally rich in such gladsome speakers, who punctuate real sense with nonsense, and so
make both effective.
Commemorative occasions, unveilings, commencements, dedications, eulogies, and all the train of special
public gatherings, offer rare opportunities for the display of tact and good sense in handling occasion, theme,
and audience. When to be dignified and when colloquial, when to soar and when to ramble arm in arm with
your hearers, when to flame and when to soothe, when to instruct and when to amuse--in a word, the whole
matter of APPROPRIATENESS must constantly be in mind lest you write your speech on water.
Finally, remember the beatitude: Blessed is the man that maketh short speeches, for he shall be invited to
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The Rapidan suggests another scene to which allusion has often been made since the war, but which, as
illustrative also of the spirit of both armies, I may be permitted to recall in this connection. In the mellow
twilight of an April day the two armies were holding their dress parades on the opposite hills bordering the
river. At the close of the parade a magnificent brass band of the Union army played with great spirit the
patriotic airs, "Hail Columbia," and "Yankee Doodle." Whereupon the Federal troops responded with a
patriotic shout. The same band then played the soul-stirring strains of "Dixie," to which a mighty response
came from ten thousand Southern troops. A few moments later, when the stars had come out as witnesses and
when all nature was in harmony, there came from the same band the old melody, "Home, Sweet Home." As
its familiar and pathetic notes rolled over the water and thrilled through the spirits of the soldiers, the hills
reverberated with a thundering response from the united voices of both armies. What was there in this old, old
music, to so touch the chords of sympathy, so thrill the spirits and cause the frames of brave men to tremble
with emotion? It was the thought of home. To thousands, doubtless, it was the thought of that Eternal Home to
which the next battle might be the gateway. To thousands of others it was the thought of their dear earthly
homes, where loved ones at that twilight hour were bowing round the family altar, and asking God's care over
the absent soldier boy.
--GENERAL J.B. GORDON, C.S.A.
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