Force. Part 3
What force did that young minister have who, fearing to be too dogmatic, thus exhorted his hearers: "My friends - as I assume that you are - it appears to be my duty to tell you that if you do not repent, so to speak, forsake your sins, as it were, and turn to righteousness, if I may so express it, you will be lost, in a measure"?
Effective speech must reflect the era. This is not a rose water age, and a tepid, half-hearted speech will not win. This is the century of trip hammers, of overland expresses that dash under cities and through mountain tunnels, and you must instill this spirit into your speech if you would move a popular audience. From a front seat listen to a first-class company present a modern Broadway drama - not a comedy, but a gripping, thrilling drama. Do not become absorbed in the story; reserve all your attention for the technique and the force of the acting. There is a kick and a crash as well as an infinitely subtle intensity in the big, climax-speeches that suggest this lesson: the same well-calculated, restrained, delicately shaded force would simply rivet your ideas in the minds of your audience. An air-gun will rattle bird-shot against a window pane - it takes a rifle to wing a bullet through plate glass and the oaken walls beyond.
When To Use Force
An audience is unlike the kingdom of heaven - the violent do not always take it by force. There are times when beauty and serenity should be the only bells in your chime. Force is only one of the great extremes of contrast - use neither it nor quiet utterance to the exclusion of other tones: be various, and in variety find even greater force than you could attain by attempting its constant use. If you are reading an essay on the beauties of the dawn, talking about the dainty bloom of a honey-suckle, or explaining the mechanism of a gas engine, a vigorous style of delivery is entirely out of place. But when you are appealing to wills and consciences for immediate action, forceful delivery wins. In such cases, consider the minds of your audience as so many safes that have been locked and the keys lost. Do not try to figure out the combinations. Pour a little nitro gylcerine into the cracks and light the fuse. As these lines are being written a contractor down the street is clearing away the rocks with dynamite to lay the foundations for a great building. When you want to get action, do not fear to use dynamite.
The final argument for the effectiveness of force in public speech is the fact that everything must be enlarged for the purposes of the platform - that is why so few speeches read well in the reports on the morning after: statements appear crude and exaggerated because they are unaccompanied by the forceful delivery of a glowing speaker before an audience heated to attentive enthusiasm. So in preparing your speech you must not err on the side of mild statement - your audience will inevitably tone down your words in the cold grey of afterthought. When Phidias was criticised for the rough, bold outlines of a figure he had submitted in competition, he smiled and asked that his statue and the one wrought by his rival should be set upon the column for which the sculpture was destined. When this was done all the exaggerations and crudities, toned by distances, melted into exquisite grace of line and form. Each speech must be a special study in suitability and proportion.
Omit the thunder of delivery, if you will, but like Wendell Phillips put "silent lightning" into your speech. Make your thoughts breathe and your words burn. Birrell said: "Emerson writes like an electrical cat emitting sparks and shocks in every sentence." Go thou and speak likewise. Get the "big stick" into your delivery - be forceful.
Questions And Exercises
1. Illustrate, by repeating a sentence from memory, what is meant by employing force in speaking.
2. Which in your opinion is the most important of the technical principles of speaking that you have studied so far? Why?
3. What is the effect of too much force in a speech? Too little?
4. Note some uninteresting conversation or ineffective speech, and tell why it failed.
5. Suggest how it might be improved.
6. Why do speeches have to be spoken with more force than do conversations?
7. Read aloud the selection on page 84, using the technical principles outlined in chapters HI to VIII, but neglect to put any force behind the interpretation. What is the result?
8. Reread several times, doing your best to achieve force.
9. Which parts of the selection on page 84 require the most force?
10. Write a five-minute speech not only discussing the errors of those who exaggerate and those who minimize the use of force, but by imitation show their weaknesses. Do not burlesque, but closely imitate.
11. Give a list of ten themes for public addresses, saying which seem most likely to require the frequent use of force in delivery.
12. In your own opinion, do speakers usually err from the use of too much or too little force?
13. Define (a) bombast; (b) bathos; (c) sentimentality; (d) squeamish.
14. Say how the foregoing words describe weaknesses in public speech.
15. Recast in twentieth-century English "Hamlet's Directions to the Players," page 88.
16. Memorize the following extracts from Wendell Phillips' speeches, and deliver them with the force of Wendell Phillips' "silent lightning" delivery.
We are for a revolution! We say in behalf of these hunted beings, whom God created, and who law-abiding Webster and Winthrop have sworn shall not find shelter in Massachusetts, - we say that they may make their little motions, and pass their little laws in Washington, but that Paneuil Hall repeals them in the name of humanity and the old Bay State!
My advice to workingmen is this:
If you want power in this country; if you want to make yourselves felt; if you do not want your children to wait long years before they have the bread on the table they ought to have, the leisure in their lives they ought to have, the opportunities in life they ought to have; if you don't want to wait yourselves, - write on your banner, so that every political trimmer can read it, so that every politician, no matter how short-sighted he may be, can read it, "WE NEVER FORGET! If you launch the arrow of sarcasm at labor, WE NEVER F0RGET1 If there is a division in Congress, and you throw your vote in the wrong scale, WE NEVER FORGET! You may go down on your knees, and say, 'I am sorry I did the act' - but we will say 'IT WILL A VAIL YOU IN HEAVEN TO BE SORRY, BUT ON THIS SIDE OF THE GRAVE, NEVER!' " So that a man in taking up the labor question will know he is dealing with a hair-trigger pistol, and will say, "I am to be true to justice and to man; otherwise I am a dead duck."
In Russia there is no press, no debate, no explanation of what government does, no remonstrance allowed, no agitation of public issues. Dead silence, like that which reigns at the summit of Mont Blanc, freezes the whole empire, long ago described as "a despotism tempered by assassination." Meanwhile, such despotism has unsettled the brains of the ruling family, as unbridled power doubtless made some of the twelve Caesars insane; a madman, sporting with the lives and comfort of a hundred millions of men. The young girl whispers in her mother's ear, under a ceiled roof, her pity for a brother knouted and dragged half dead into exile for his opinions. The next week she is stripped naked and flogged to death in the public square. No inquiry, no explanation, no trial, no protest, one dead uniform silence, the law of the tyrant. Where is there ground for any hope of peaceful change? No, no! in such a land dynamite and the dagger are the necessary and proper substitutes for Faneuil Hall. Anything that will make the madman quake in his bedchamber, and rouse his victims into reckless and desperate resistance. This is the only view an American, the child of 1620 and 1776, can take of Nihilism. Any other unsettles and perplexes the ethics of our civilization.
Born within sight of Bunker Hill - son of Harvard, whose first pledge was "Truth," citizen of a republic based on the claim that no government is rightful unless resting on the consent of the people, and which assumes to lead in asserting the rights of humanity - I at least can say nothing else and nothing less - no, not if every tile on Cambridge roofs were a devil hooting my words!