Daniel Webster eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 332 pages of information about Daniel Webster.
but, taken in conjunction with the wonderful picture of the deed itself, the whole exhibits the highest imaginative excellence, and displays the possession of an extraordinary dramatic force such as Mr. Webster rarely exerted.  It has the same power of exciting a kind of horror and of making us shudder with a creeping, nameless terror as the scene after the murder of Duncan, when Macbeth rushes out from the chamber of death, crying, “I have done the deed.  Didst thou not hear a noise?” I have studied this famous exordium with extreme care, and I have sought diligently in the works of all the great modern orators, and of some of the ancient as well, for similar passages of higher merit.  My quest has been in vain.  Mr. Webster’s description of the White murder, and of the ghastly haunting sense of guilt which pursued the assassin, has never been surpassed in dramatic force by any speaker, whether in debate or before a jury.  Perhaps the most celebrated descriptive passage in the literature of modern eloquence is the picture drawn by Burke of the descent of Hyder Ali upon the plains of the Carnatic, but even that certainly falls short of the opening of Webster’s speech in simple force as well as in dramatic power.  Burke depicted with all the ardor of his nature and with a wealth of color a great invasion which swept thousands to destruction.  Webster’s theme was a cold-blooded murder in a quiet New England town.  Comparison between such topics, when one is so infinitely larger than the other, seems at first sight almost impossible.  But Mr. Webster also dealt with the workings of the human heart under the influence of the most terrible passions, and those have furnished sufficient material for the genius of Shakespeare.  The test of excellence is in the treatment, and in this instance Mr. Webster has never been excelled.  The effect of that exordium, delivered as he alone could have delivered it, must have been appalling.  He was accused of having been brought into the case to hurry the jury beyond the law and evidence, and his whole speech was certainly calculated to drive any body of men, terror-stricken by his eloquence, wherever he wished them to go.  Mr. Webster did not have that versatility and variety of eloquence which we associate with the speakers who have produced the most startling effect upon that complex thing called a jury.  He never showed that rapid alternation of wit, humor, pathos, invective, sublimity, and ingenuity which have been characteristic of the greatest advocates.  Before a jury as everywhere else he was direct and simple.  He awed and terrified jurymen; he convinced their reason; but he commanded rather than persuaded, and carried them with him by sheer force of eloquence and argument, and by his overpowering personality.

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Daniel Webster from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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