Though announced to lecture on Platform Experiences, it is my purpose to give you a kind of platform analysis, to tell you what I know about lecturing, lectures, oratory and orators, using personal experiences for illustration.
We have about eight thousand Chautauqua days, and fifteen thousand lecture courses in this country every year, and yet comparatively few persons know the history of the platform. Many have an idea that free speech, like free air, has ever been a boon to mankind. They have no conception of what it has cost, in imprisonment, exile, blood and tears.
I am indebted to “Pond’s History of the Platform” for facts and illustrations in the early history of the platform in England. Two hundred years ago in our mother land, the word platform meant no more than a resting place for boxes and barrels. A religious service was simply a routine of ritual, while such a thing as a public man addressing the masses was unknown. Sir William Pitt, one of England’s greatest statesman and orators, in all his public life uttered only two sentences to the public outside of Parliament. If William Jennings Bryan had lived in Pitt’s day, he would have been ignored by the Prime Minister of England.
The first leaders of thought to come in contact with the people and thrill them by the power of speech were John Wesley and George Whitefield. “On a mount called Rose Hill, near Bristol, England, George Whitefield laid the foundation of the modern platform.” From Rose Hill his audiences grew until on Kensington Commons thirty thousand people tried to get within reach of his captivating voice. It has been truthfully said: “At the feet of John Wesley and George Whitefield the people of England learned their first lessons in popular government.”
This innovation, however, met with sneers, jeers and persecution from the established conservatism of church and state, and when the platform attempted to enter the arena of politics, Parliament decided the “public clamor must end.” A bill was framed forbidding any public gatherings except such as should be called by the magistrates.
In advocating this bill a member of Parliament said: “The art of political discussion does not belong outside of Parliament. Men who are simply merchants, mechanics and farmers must not be allowed to publicly criticise the constitution.” To this the platform made reply: “From such as we the Master selected those who were to sow the seed of living bread in the wilds of Galilee.” The bill passed by an overwhelming majority. Punishment ran from fine and imprisonment to years of exile from the country, and from this time on, the battle raged between Parliament and platform. Later on we shall note the results.
I am often interviewed by men, and sometimes by women, who desire to reach the platform. They say to me: “What steps did you take?”