All of this means that the two indispensable requisites of speaking are, first, to have something to say, and, second, to say it as though you mean it. Of course one cannot have something really to say—a lesson to teach, a message to deliver—every fifteen minutes. Very well, then; until one does have something to say, let one hold one’s peace.
Carlyle’s idea is correct. He thought that no man has the right to speak until what he has to say is so ripe with meaning, and the season for his saying it is so compelling, that what he says will result in a deed—a thing accomplished now or afterwhile. In the prophetic old Scotchman’s iron philosophy there was no room for anything but deeds.
If such instruction is needed; if a great movement requires the forming and constructive word to interpret it and give it direction; if a movement in a wrong direction needs halting and turning to its proper course; if a cause needs pleading; if a law needs interpretation; if anything really needs to be said—the occasion for the orator, in the large sense of that word, has arrived. Therefore when he speaks “the common people will hear him gladly”; they will hear him because he teaches, and does it “as one having authority.”
Whenever a speaker fails to make his audience forget voice, gesture, and even the speaker himself; whenever he fails to make the listeners conscious only of the living truth he utters, he has failed in his speech itself, which then has no other reason for having been delivered than a play or any other form of entertainment.
Very few of the great orators have had loud voices, or, if they did have them, they did not employ them. I am told that Wendell Phillips always spoke in a conversational tone, and yet he was able to make an audience of many thousands hear distinctly; and Phillips was one of the greatest speakers America has produced.
It is probable that no man ever lived who had a more sensuous effect upon his hearers than Ingersoll. In a literal and a physical sense he charmed them. I never heard him talk in a loud voice. There was no “bell-like” quality. It was not an “organ-like” voice.
The greatest feat of modern speech, in its immediate effect, was Henry Ward Beecher’s speech to the Liverpool mob. A gentleman who heard that speech told me that, notwithstanding the pandemonium that reigned around him, Beecher did not shout, nor speak at the top of his voice, a single time during that terrible four hours.
It is true that AEschines spoke of Demosthenes’ delivery of his “Oration on the Crown” as having the ferocity of a wild beast. I do not see how that can be, however, because Demosthenes selected Isaeus as his teacher for the reason that Isaeus was “business-like” in method.
This, however, is common to the voices of nearly all great speakers; they have a peculiar power of penetration that carries them much farther than the shout and halloo of the loudest-voiced person. They have, too, a singularly touching and tender quality, which, in a sensuous way, captivates and holds the hearers. James Whitcomb Riley has this quality in his voice when reciting. Edwin Booth had it. All great actors have it. Every true orator has it. It touches you strangely, thrills you, affects you much as music does.