THE ART OF LECTURING
ARTHUR M. LEWIS
Chicago Charles H. Kerr & Company Co-operative
CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY II. EXORDIUM III. BEGIN WELL IV. SPEAK DELIBERATELY V. PERORATION VI. READ WIDELY VII. READ THE BEST VIII. SUBJECT IX. LEARN TO STOP X. CHAIRMAN XI. MANNERISMS XII. COURSE LECTURING—NO CHAIRMAN XIII. COURSE LECTURING—LEARN TO CLASSIFY XIV. PREPARATION XV. DEBATING XVI. TRICKS OF DEBATE XVII. RHETORIC XVIII. THE AUDIENCE XIX. STREET SPEAKING: THE PLACE THE STYLE DISTURBERS POLICE INTERFERENCE BOOK-SELLING AND PROFESSIONALISM XX. BOOK-SELLING AT MEETINGS XXI. EXAMPLE BOOK TALKS XXII. CONCLUSION
THE ART OF LECTURING
For some time I have been besieged with requests to open a "Speakers' Class" or "A School of Oratory," or, as one ingenious correspondent puts it, a "Forensic Club." With these requests it is impossible to comply for sheer lack of time.
I have decided, however, to embody in these pages the results of my own experience, and the best I have learned from the experience of others.
There are some things required in a good lecturer which cannot be imparted to a pupil by any teacher, and we may as well dispose of these.
One is a good voice. Modern methods, however, have done much to make the improvement of the voice possible. While it is probably impossible in the great majority of cases to make a very fine voice out of a very poor one, no one, with an average voice, need be afraid of the platform, for time and training will greatly increase its range and resonance. It is said that the great Greek orator, Demosthenes, developed his magnificent voice by shouting above the roar of the sea near which he lived, but it is probable that he had a better voice to begin with than the tradition represents. In the absence of sea waves, one's voice may be tested and strengthened by trying to drown the noise of the electric cars at a street meeting. Most poor voices are produced in the upper part of the throat or, still worse, in the roof of the mouth, while deep and thrilling tones can only be obtained from further down. The transition from the upper throat or palate to the deeper tones is not nearly so difficult as might be supposed. Placing the hand across the chest during practice will help to locate the origin of the sounds produced.
The one thing, however, which no training seems to create, but which is wholly indispensable in a good speaker, is that elusive, but potential something which has been named personal magnetism. This is probably only another way of saying that the great orator must also be a great man. His imagination and sympathy must be great enough to take possession of him and make him the mere instrument of their outpouring.
If nature has omitted these great qualities, no amount of training will create them. This is why, among the great number who wish to be speakers, only a few scale the heights.
But men with small personal magnetism and good training have done quite well, while others with large personal magnetism and no methods, have made a complete failure, and herein lies the justification for this volume.
The part of a lecture which consumes the first ten or fifteen minutes is called the exordium, from the Latin word exordiri—to begin a web.
The invariable rule as to the manner of this part of a lecture is—begin easy. Any speaker who breaks this rule invites almost certain disaster. This rule has the universal endorsement of experienced speakers. Sometimes a green speaker, bent on making a hit at once, will begin with a burst, and in a high voice. Once begun, he feels that the pace must be maintained or increased.
Listeners who have the misfortune to be present at such a commencement and who do not wish to have their pity excited, had better retire at once, for when such a speaker has been at work fifteen minutes and should be gradually gathering strength like a broadening river, he is really beginning to decline. From then on the lecture dies a lingering death and the audience welcomes its demise with a sigh of relief. Such performances are not common, as no one can make that blunder twice before the same audience. He may try it, but if the people who heard him before see his name on the program they will be absent.
At the beginning, the voice should be pitched barely high enough for everybody to hear. This will bring that "hush" which should mark the commencement of every speech. When all are quiet and settled, raise the voice so as to be clearly heard by everybody, but no higher. Hold your energies in reserve; if you really have a lecture, you will need them later.
As to the matter of the exordium, it should be preparatory to the lecture. Here the lecturer "clears the ground" or "paves the way" for the main question.
If the lecture is biographical and deals with the life and work of some great man, the exordium naturally tells about his parents, birthplace and early surroundings, etc. If some theory in science or philosophy is the subject, the lecturer naturally uses the exordium to explain the theory which previously occupied that ground and how it came to be overthrown by the theory now to be discussed.
Here the way is cleared of popular misunderstandings of the question and, if the theory is to be defended, all those criticisms that do not really touch the question are easily and gracefully annihilated.
Here, if Darwin is to be defended, it may be shown that those witticisms, aimed at him, about the giraffe getting its long neck by continually stretching it, or the whale getting its tail by holding its hind legs too close in swimming, do not apply to Darwinism, but to the exploded theory of his great predecessor, Lamarck.
If Scientific Socialism is the question, it may be appropriately shown in the exordium that nearly all the objections which are still urged against it apply only to the Utopian Socialism which Socialist literature abandoned half a century ago.
In short, the lecturer usually does in the exordium what a family party does when, having decided to waltz a little in the parlor, they push the table into a corner and set back the chairs—he clears a space.
The Shakespearian saying that "all's well that ends well" is only a half truth. A good lecture must not only end well; it must begin well.
The value of first impressions is universally recognized, and an audience will be much more lenient with flaws that may come later if its appreciation and confidence have been aroused at the commencement.
It is almost impossible to drive a nail properly if it was started wrong, and the skillful workman will draw it out and start it over again. But such a blunder in lecturing cannot be remedied—at least for that occasion. A stale or confused beginning haunts and depresses the mind of the speaker and makes his best work impossible. It also destroys the confidence of the audience, so that what comes later is likely to be underestimated.
This necessity is recognized not only by lecturers, but by all the great masters of poetry, fiction and music. Wilhelm Tell is best known by its overture and what could be more solemn and impressive than the opening bars of "El Miserere" in Verdi's "Il Trovatore."
The genius of Dickens shines most clearly in his opening pages, and his right to be ranked with Juvenal as a satirist could be easily established by the first chapter of "Martin Chuzzlewit." Sir Walter Scott would rank as one of the world's greatest wits if he had never written anything but the exploits of "Dick Pinto," which serve as an introduction to "The Bride of Lammermoor."
The opening lines of Keats' first long poem, "Endymion," are immortal, and the first line of that passage has become an integral part of the English language:
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever; Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness, but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of deep peace and health and quiet breathing."
The first stanza of the first canto of Scott's "Marmion" gives a picture of Norham castle that never leaves the memory. Milton's greatest poem, "Paradise Lost," a poem which fascinated the imagination of the great utopian, Robert Owen, at the age of seven, has nothing in all its sonorous music that lingers in the mind like its magnificent opening lines, and one searches in vain through the interminable length of Wordsworth's "Excursion" for a passage equal to the first.
No lecturer who aims high should go upon a platform and confront an audience, except in cases of great emergency, without having worked out his opening sentences.
Floundering is fatal, but many an otherwise capable speaker "flounders around" and "hems" and "haws" for the first ten or fifteen minutes, as a matter of course.
If his auditors are strange, they get restless and disgusted, and some of them go out. If they know him, they smile at one another and the ceiling and wait with more or less patience until he "gets started." If it is a meeting where others are to speak, by the time he "gets started" the chairman is anxiously looking at his watch and wondering if he will have as much trouble to "get done."
A lecturer should remember that an audience resents having its time wasted by a long, floundering, meaningless preamble, and it is sure to get even. Next time it will come late to avoid that preliminary "catch as catch can" performance or—it will stay away.
William Ewart Gladstone, one of the most generally admired orators the English house of commons ever listened to, spoke at an average of 100 words a minute. Phillips Brooks, the brilliant American preacher, maintained a rate of 215 words a minute and was a terror to the stenographers engaged to report him.
He succeeded as a speaker, not because of his speed, but in spite of it; because his enunciation was perfect and every word was cut off clear and distinct. But very few men succeed with such a handicap, and Brooks would have done much better if he could have reduced his speed 40 per cent.
The average person in an audience thinks slowly, and the lecturer should aim to meet the requirements of at least a large majority of those present, and not merely those in the assembly who happen to be as well informed as the lecturer, and could therefore keep pace with him, no matter how rapidly he proceeds. New ideas need to be weighed as well as heard, and the power of weighing is less rapid than the sense of hearing. This is why a pause at the proper place is so helpful.
A young lecturer had in his audience on one occasion a veteran of the platform, and was on that account anxious to do his best. This situation, as all new speakers know, is very disconcerting, and after the young aspirant had rushed through his opening argument pretty well, as he thought, lo, his memory slipped a cog and he waited in silence, what seemed to him an age, until it caught again. Then he continued to the end without a stop. After the meeting the veteran came forward to shake hands. "Have you any advice for me?" said the young man, that awful breakdown looming large in his mind.
"Yes," said the senior, "cultivate the pause."
One of the lecturer's most valuable assets is variety of pace, and this is almost entirely lost by the speaker whose speed is always high. Observe two men arguing in conversation where there is no thought of art or oratory. Where the remarks are of an explanatory nature the words come slowly and carefully. When persuasion becomes the object, deliberation is thrown aside and words begin to flow like a mountain freshet, and if the speaker has natural capacity he concludes his point with a grand rush that carries everything before it.
When a speaker carefully selects his words and it is clear to the audience that he is deliberately weighing and measuring his sentences, his listeners are unconsciously impressed with a sense of their importance.
Of course, deliberation may be overdone, and if the audience once gets the impression that the speaker is slow and does not move along more quickly because he cannot, the effect is disastrous.
Deliberation is closely akin to seriousness and the lecturer who has no great and serious question to present should retire from the platform and try vaudeville.
It is just here that the Socialist has a great advantage, for his theme is the most serious and tremendous that ever occupied the mind of man.
The close of a lecture is called the peroration—the word oration prefixed by the Latin preposition "per." "Per" has several meanings, one of them being "to the utmost extent" as in peroxide—a substance oxidized to the utmost degree.
This is probably the sense in which it is used in peroration, for the close of a lecture should be oratory at its utmost.
The speaker who has failed to observe the previous rules about "beginning easy," and "speaking deliberately" will pay the penalty here. If he has spoken rapidly, he will be unable to increase the pace—at least, sufficiently to get the best results.
If he has spoken too loudly and kept nothing in reserve, his voice will refuse to "rise to the occasion."
The manner of the peroration has two essentials, an increase of speed, and a raising of the voice. These two things go naturally together; as the words come more quickly the voice tends to rise apparently automatically, and this is as it should be.
The peroration has the nature of a triumph. The question has been fought out in the main body of the lecture, the opposing positions have been overthrown, and now the main conclusion is victoriously proclaimed and driven home.
Even if an element of pathos enters into the peroration, it is a mistake to allow the voice to weaken. If it takes a lower note, it must make up in strength and intensity what it loses in height. Anything else is sure to prove an anticlimax.
The matter of the peroration should consist of the main conclusion of the lecture, and should begin by gathering together the principal threads of the discourse which should lead to that conclusion.
The necessity for a peroration, or strong finish, is recognized in music, the drama, and everything presented before an audience. Most band selections end in a crash, the majority of instruments working at full capacity. Every musical comedy concludes with its full cast on the stage singing the most effective air. Every vaudeville performer strives to reach a climax and, where talent breaks down, refuge is sought in some such miserable subterfuge as waving the flag or presenting a picture of the bulldog countenance of Theodore Roosevelt.
The entertainer, however, appeals to prevailing opinions and prejudices; he gives the audience what they want. The lecturer should be an instructor and his theme may be a new and, as yet, unpopular truth, and it is his duty to give the audience what they should have.
Therefore the peroration should be full of that persuasive eloquence which will lead the audience to a favorable consideration of the positions which have been carefully and judiciously presented in the body of the lecture.
I had just concluded a lecture in Grand Junction, Colo., over a year ago, when a burly railroad man stepped forward and introduced himself. I forget his name, but remember well what he said. Here it is, about word for word:
"I was an engineer years ago, as I am today, but in those days Debs was my fireman. Having a little better job than he, I naturally thought I was the smarter man. We used to sleep in the same room. We would both turn in all tired from a long trip and I would be asleep before you could count ten. After I had slept three or four hours I would wake up about two in the morning and there would be Debs with a candle, shaded so as not to disturb me, reading away at a book as if everything depended on his understanding all there was in it. Many a time he only got one or two hours' rest before going to work again.
"I told him he was a d—d fool, and I thought he was. I still believe there was a d—d fool in that room, but I know now that it wasn't Debs."
Every man who ever did anything really worth while on the lecture platform has something like that in his life story, and it is usually connected with his earlier years.
The biography of every great speaker or writer has usually this passage or one equal to it in the early pages: "He was an omnivorous reader." Professor Huxley in his brief, but charming autobiography in the first essay of the first volume of his "collected essays," speaking of his early youth, says, "I read everything I could lay my hands upon."
The speaker who has learned to sneer at "book learning" is foredoomed to failure and will spare himself many humiliations by retiring at once.
A conversation between four or five men came to my notice in which the subject was the translation into English of the second volume of Marx's "Capital." One man said: "I don't care if it is never translated." Then a Socialist speaker, who was present, stepped forward and said: "Shake hands on that." This same speaker was at that time engaged for nearly a year's work. The trip proved a failure and he went back into the shops and probably blamed everything and everybody except the real cause—his own attitude on the question of knowledge.
Neglecting to read, in a lecturer, is something more than a mistake—it is a vice. Its real name is laziness. As well expect good bricklaying from a man too lazy to lift a brick.
The idea of a man teaching something he himself does not know is grotesque, and yet, I have known at least three-score who felt divinely appointed to perform that very task.
These remarks have no application in the case of those who, wishing to become lecturers, are determined to do everything in their power to acquire the proper qualifications, but only to those who think that because they have once persuaded an audience to listen to them, they now know everything necessary to be known.
A self-satisfied, ignorant man on a lecture platform is an anomaly that, fortunately, is never long continued, for the process of "natural selection" weeds him out.
I met a boy of eighteen the other day with a thumb-worn copy of Dietzgen's "Positive Outcome of Philosophy" under his arm. This is the material from which lecturers are made.
READ THE BEST
I met him at Napa, Cal., after the meeting. His name was Mueller; a tall, fine old German. He had been through the Bismarck "exception law" persecution and was well informed in all that related to that period. I asked him how it came about that the German movement was so well posted and unified.
He answered, "Well, Bismarck did that for us. You see, before Bismarck interfered, we were all split up into little inside factions, as it is here, to some extent, now. That was because we had scores of papers, each teaching its own particular brand of Socialism. Every little business man who became a Socialist and had a little money in the bank started a paper and gave the world his notion of Socialism. Bismarck changed all that; he put them all out of business in a single day. Then the Socialists had only one paper, published outside Germany, on very thin paper, and mailed in sealed envelopes. This paper was edited by Bernstein, one of the ablest Marxian scholars, and this uniform reading of sound literature was a very powerful factor in clarifying the German Socialist movement."
A lecturer must get his data from the very best authorities. He must get his knowledge of "natural selection," not from the pages of some ill-informed pamphleteer, but from "The Origin of Species." His statements as to what constitutes the Socialist philosophy should be based on a careful study of Marx, Engels and the other writers who have produced Socialism's classic literature, and not on some ten-cent pamphlet by a new convert, published, not on its merits, but because the author had money enough to get it printed.
The Japanese in this country show their superiority in this respect. I had a friend in San Francisco who was a bookseller, who told me it was quite impossible to sell a Jap a book on any subject unless it was by the greatest authority on that particular question. I had charge of the Socialist literature of Local San Francisco nearly a year, and during that period the only books bought by the Japs were works by Marx, Engels and Labriola.
This is why the Jews play so tremendous a part in the Socialist movement of the world. The Jew is almost always a student and often a fine scholar. The wide experience of the Jewish people has taught them (and they have always been quick to learn) the value of that something called "scholarship," which many of their duller Gentile brethren affect to despise. "Sound scholarship" should be one of the watchwords of the lecturer, and as he will never find time to read everything of the best that has been written, it is safe to conclude that, except for special reasons, he cannot spare time or energy for books of second or third rate.
Of course, in the beginning it is usually better to approach the great masters through some well informed, popularizing disciple. A beginner in biological evolution would do well to approach Darwin through Huxley's essays and John Spargo has been kind enough to say that Marx should be approached through the various volumes of my published lectures.
The lecturer must be familiar with the very best; he must plunge to the greatest depths and rise to the topmost heights.
A great lecture must have a great theme. One of the supreme tests of a lecturer's judgment presents itself when he is called upon to choose his subject. Look over the list of subjects on the syllabus of any speaker and the man stands revealed. His previous intellectual training, or lack of it, what he considers important, his general mental attitude, the extent of his information and many other things can be predicated from his selection of topics.
Early in his career the lecturer is obliged to face this question, and his future success hinges very largely on his decision. Not only is the selection determined by his past reading, but it in turn largely determines his future study.
Not long ago a promising young speaker loomed up, but he made a fatal mistake at the very outset. He selected as his special subject a question in which few are interested, except corporation lawyers—the American constitution.
The greatest intellectual achievements of the last fifty years center around the progress of the natural sciences. Those greatest of all problems for the human race, "whence, whither, wherefore," have found all that we really know of their solution in the discoveries of physics and biology during recent times. What Charles Darwin said about "The Origin of Species" is ten thousand times more important than what some pettifogging lawyer said about "States' Rights." The revelations of the cellular composition of animals by Schwan and plants by Schleiden mark greater steps in human progress than any or all of the decisions of the supreme court. Lavoisier, the discoverer of the permanence of matter and the founder of modern chemistry, will be remembered when everybody has forgotten that Judge Marshall and Daniel Webster ever lived. From these and other epoch-making discoveries in the domain of science, modern Socialism gets its point of departure from Utopianism, and without those advances would have been impossible.
Here is a new and glorious world from which the working class has been carefully shut out. Here we find armor that cannot be dented and weapons whose points cannot be turned aside in the struggle of the Proletariat for its own emancipation.
Any lecturer who will acquaint himself with the names of Lamarck, Darwin, Lyell, Lavoisier, Huxley, Haeckel, Virchow, Tyndall, Fiske, Wallace, Romanes, Helmholtz, Leibnitz, Humboldt, Weismann, etc., in science, and Marx, Engels, Lafargue, Labriola, Ferri, Vandervelde, Kautsky, Morgan, Ward, Dietzgen, etc., in sociology, and learn what those names stand for, such a lecturer, other things being equal, has a great and useful field before him.
It was well enough in the middle ages for great conclaves of clericals to discuss sagely what language will be spoken in heaven, and how many angels could dance a saraband on the point of a needle, but the twentieth century is face to face with tremendous problems and the public mind clamors for a solution. It will listen eagerly to the man who knows and has something to say. But it insists that the man who knows no more than it knows itself, shall hold his peace.
This is why the Socialist and the Scientist are the only men who command real audiences—they are the only men with great and vital truths to proclaim.
LEARN TO STOP
The platform has no greater nuisance than that interminable bore—the speaker who cannot stop. Of all platform vices this is about the worst. The speaker who acquires a reputation for it becomes a terror instead of an attraction to an audience.
As a rule there is no audience when his name is the only item on the card; he gets his chance speaking with some one else whom the listeners have really come to hear. And this is just when his performance is least desirable. Either he gets in before the real attraction and taxes everybody's patience, or he follows and addresses his remarks to retreating shoulders.
I met a man recently who had made quite a name in his own town as a speaker, and his townsmen visiting other cities proudly declared him a coming Bebel. I took the first opportunity to hear him. He had a good voice and was a ready speaker, but I soon found he carried a burden that more than balanced all his merits—he simply could not stop.
I heard him again when the committee managing the program had especially warned him not to speak more than thirty minutes. At the end of forty he was sailing along as though eternity was at his disposal. Three different times, at intervals of about ten minutes, they passed him notes asking him to stop. He read them in plain view of an audience which knew what they meant, and then tried to close, and finally did so, not by finishing his speech, but by shutting his mouth and walking off the platform. The next item was something which the audience had paid money to enjoy, but many had to leave to catch a last car home. As they passed me near the door, the men swore and the women came as near to it as they dared. And yet the speaker complained afterward of his treatment by the committee. When he began he received a fine ovation; had he finished at the end of thirty minutes he would have covered himself with glory; he spoke an hour and a quarter and most of those present hoped they would never be obliged to listen to him again.
I thought somebody ought to play the part of candid friend, and I told him next day how it looked to me.
He said: "I guess you are right; I believe I'll get a watch."
But this malady is usually much deeper than the question of having a watch. This speaker acquired it while addressing street meetings. A street audience is always changing in some degree. A hall lecture is not required and would be out of place. The auditors decide when they have had enough and leave the meeting unnoticed and the speaker launches out again on another question with fifty per cent of his audience new and his hopping from question to question, and ending with good-night for a peroration is quite proper on a street corner. Not only is it proper, but it is very successful, and good street speakers cultivate that method. This is why men who are excellent street speakers and who get their training out doors are usually such flat failures in a hall.
Even when all is going well, an audience or some part of it will grow uneasy toward the close, not because they cannot stay ten or fifteen minutes longer, but because they do not know whether the lecturer is going to close in ten minutes or thirty.
An experienced lecturer will always detect that uneasiness in moving feet or rustling clothes, and at the first appropriate period will look at his watch and say, in a quiet but decided tone, "I shall conclude in ten minutes," or whatever time he requires. Then those who cannot wait so long will at once withdraw, the rest will settle down to listen and harmony will be restored.
But woe to the speaker who forgets his pledge and thinks he may take advantage of that restored quiet to go beyond the time he stated. Next time he speaks before that audience and they become restless he will have no remedy.
It is better to have your hearers say, "I could have listened another hour," than "It would have been better if he had finished by ten o'clock."
Lecturers learn by experience that the chairman question may become at times a very trying problem.
Many a meeting has been spoiled by an impossible chairman, and the lecturer who wishes to have his work produce the best result will always keep a keen eye on the chair, though, of course, he should not appear to do so.
The functions of the chairman are mainly two: To introduce the speaker, and to decide points of procedure. The latter function is only necessary in delegate gatherings where all present have the right to participate. The former applies where a speaker is visiting a town and is a stranger to many in his audience.
In this case, when the chairman has told the audience who the speaker is, where he comes from, what his subject will be, the occasion and auspices of the meeting, his work is done, and the chairman who at this point leaves the platform and takes a seat in the front row, should be presented with a medal of unalloyed gold and his name should be recorded in the municipal archives as an example to the lecture chairmen of future generations.
How often has one seen a chairman during the lecture, conscious that he is in full view of the audience, crossing his legs, first one way, then the other, trying a dozen different ways of disposing of his hands with becoming grace, fumbling with his watch chain, looking at his watch as if the speaker had already overstepped his time, looking nervously at his program as if something of enormous importance had been forgotten, and doing a dozen similar things, most of them unconsciously, but none the less continuously diverting the attention of the audience from the speaker and his speech.
How pleasantly do I recall the chairman who came to my hotel and asked me to write him a two-minute speech, which he committed to memory, but promptly forgot before a crowded opera house and substituted for it, "Mr. Lewis of San Francisco will now address you," and disappeared in the wings. The fates be kind to him! He was the prince of chairmen.
I spoke on one occasion in a large city to a good audience at a well advertised meeting on the Moyer-Haywood-Pettibone question. I had for chairman a local speaker, who, fascinated by so fine an audience, spoke over thirty minutes in this style: "Mr. Lewis will tell you how these men were kidnapped in Denver; he will tell you how the railroads provided a special train free of charge; he will tell you," etc., until he had mentioned about all that was known of the case at that time. The fact that we had a good meeting and took up a big collection for the defense fund was no fault of his.
Another chairman I shall ever remember is the one who closed a rambling speech with the following terse remarks: "You have all heard of the speaker, you have seen his name in our papers; he has a national reputation. I will now call upon him to make good."
Fortunately, most inexperienced chairmen seek the speaker's advice and follow it.
Speaking mannerisms are of two kinds, those of manner, of course, and those which by a metaphorical use of the term may be called mannerisms of matter.
"The memory," said the quaint old Fuller, "must be located in the back of the head, because there men dig for it." Some speakers appear to imagine it can be found in the links of a watch chain, or observed in the chinks in the ceiling.
Most mannerisms are undesirable and very few have any value. As they are usually formed early, one should look out for them at the outset and nip them in the bud, before they have a chance to become fixed habits.
I often notice myself running my fingers through my hair about the opening sentence, as though I could thereby loosen up my brain.
Debs speaks a good deal doubled up like the corner of a square—a mannerism that probably has its origin, partly in a body weary from overwork, and partly from a desire to get closer to the auditors on the main floor.
Mannerisms of matter are very common and many speakers seem to take no trouble to avoid them.
Many speakers become so addicted to certain hackneyed phrases that those used to hearing them speak can see them coming sentences away. One of the hardest ridden of these is, "along those lines." I have heard speakers overwork that sentence until I never hear it without a shudder and if I used it myself it would be to refer to car lines, and even then I should prefer "those tracks."
G. W. Woodbey, our colored speaker of "what to do and how to do it" fame, never speaks an hour without asking at least thirty times, "Do you understand?" but the inimitable manner in which he pokes his chin forward as he does so usually convulses his audience and makes a virtue of what would otherwise be a defect. The veteran speaker Barney Berlyn says, every little while, "you understand," but he is so terribly in earnest, and so forceful in his style, that no one but a cold blooded critic would ever notice it.
Another speaker I know in the west, asks his audience about every ten minutes, "Do you get my point?" This is very irritating, as it is really a constant questioning of the audience's ability to see what he is driving at. It would be much better to say, "Do I make myself understood?" and put the blame for possible failure where it usually belongs. If an audience fails to "get the point" it is because the speaker failed to put it clearly.
A terribly overworked word is "proposition." It is a good word, but that is no reason why it should be treated like a pack mule.
Hackneyed words and phrases are due to laziness in construction and a limited vocabulary.
The remedy is to take pains in forming sentences, practice different ways of stating the same thing, increase your stock of words by "looking up" every new one.
The lecturer should always have a good dictionary within reach, especially when reading, if he has to borrow the money to buy it.
COURSE LECTURING—NO CHAIRMAN
The very first essential to successful course lecturing is—no chairman. On three different occasions I have tried to deliver a long course of lectures with a chairman, as a concession to comrades who disagreed with me. One learns by experience, however, and I shall never repeat the experiment.
Anyone who suggested that university course lectures should have a presiding chairman would get no serious hearing. All the course lecturers now before the public dispense with chairmen. It is a case of survival of the fittest; the course lecturers who had chairmen didn't know their business and they disappeared. This does not apply to a series of three or four lectures, for in that case when the speaker has become familiar with his audience, and the chairman should be dispensed with, his work is done and a new speaker appears who needs to be introduced.
Course lecturing is by far the most difficult of all forms of lecturing. The beginner will not, of course, attempt it. There are shoals of speakers of over five years' experience who are not capable of more than two lectures; many of the best are exhausted by half a dozen. A course of thirty to fifty is a gigantic task, and no one who realizes how great it is will throw a straw in the lecturer's way. To insist on his having a chairman could hardly be called a straw; it would more nearly approach a stick of dynamite.
I take up this question because it is certain that this method of lecturing will increase among Socialists in the future and we should learn to avoid sources of disaster.
Now, I will give reasons. First, in course lectures the chairman has no functions; he is entirely superfluous. There are no points of order or procedure to be decided, and the speaker does not need to be introduced.
There are notices to be announced, but these are better left with the lecturer for many reasons. They give him a chance to clear his throat, find the proper pitch of his voice, and get into communication with his audience; then, when he begins his lecture he can do his best from the very first word.
If the lecturer knows that the entire program is in his own hands he is saved a great deal of irritation and nervousness. How well I remember those little disputes with the chair when I knew the meeting was lagging late and the chairman insisted we should wait until a few more came.
The speaker's request for a good collection will usually bring from twenty to forty per cent better results than if it came from a chairman.
In announcing the next lecture the speaker is usually able, by telling what ground he will cover, etc., to arouse the interest of the audience so that they make up their minds to attend.
Poor chairmen blunder along and make bad "breaks" which irritate both audience and speaker, while good chairmen feel they are doing nothing that could not be better done by the speaker and, that they are really only in his way.
I have only met two kinds of men who insist that the course lecturer should be handicapped with a chairman; those who say it gives him too much power—an argument that belongs to the sucking bottle stage of our movement—and those who enjoy acting as chairman.
I should be slow to mention the latter, but alas! my own experience so conclusively proves it, and the peculiarity of human nature, in or out of our movement is, that it is wonderfully human.
There are very few of us who do not enjoy sitting in plain view of a large audience and, when any good purpose is to be served, it is a very laudable ambition.
But if we have no better end to gain than standing between a speaker and his audience and, though with the best intentions in the world, adding to the difficulties of a task that is already greater than most of us would care to face, for the sake of our great cause, and that it may be the more ably defended, let us refrain.
COURSE LECTURING—LEARN TO CLASSIFY
The definition of science as "knowledge classified," while leaving much to be said, is perhaps, as satisfactory as any that could be condensed into two words.
A trained capacity for classification is wholly indispensable in a course lecturer. We all know the speaker who announces his subject and then rambles off all over the universe. With this speaker, everybody knows that, no matter what the subject or the occasion of the meeting, it is going to be the same old talk that has done duty, how long nobody can remember.
If, under the head of "surplus value" you talk twenty minutes about prohibition, how will you avoid repetition when you come to speak on the temperance question?
The surest way to acquire this qualification is to study the sciences. The dazzling array of facts which science has accumulated, owe half their value to the systematization they have received at the hands of her greatest savants.
It is impossible to take a step in scientific study without coming face to face with her grand classifications. At the very beginning science divides the universe into two parts, the inorganic and the organic. The inorganic is studied under the head of "physics"; the organic, under "biology."
Physics (not the kind one throws to the dogs, of course) is then subdivided into Astronomy, Chemistry, and Geology, while Biology has its two great divisions, Zoology (animals) and Botany (plants), all these having subdivisions reaching into every ramification of the material universe, which is the real subject matter of science, being as it is the only thing about which we possess any "knowledge."
Another way of learning to classify is to select a subject and then "read it up." Here is a good method:
Take a ten-cent copy book, the usual size about eight by six inches and begin on the first inside page. Write on the top of the page, left side, a good subject, leaving that page and the one opposite to be used for that question. Turn over and do the same again on the next page with some other subject. This practice of selecting subjects, in itself, will be valuable training.
In the search for subjects take any good lecture syllabus and select those about which you have a fair general idea. You will soon learn to frame some of your own. Good examples of standard questions are "Free Will," "Natural Selection," "Natural Rights," "Economic Determinism," "Mutation," "Individualism," and a host of others, all of which have a distinct position in thought, and about which there is a standard literature.
Then, in your general reading, whenever you come across anything of value in any book, on any of your listed subjects, turn to the page in your copy book and enter it up, author, volume, chapter and page. When you come to lecture on that question, there it will be, or, at least, you will know just where it is.
Of course, the two pages devoted to "Natural Rights" would mention, among other references, Prof. David G. Ritchie's book on "Natural Rights"; and the eighth essay of Huxley's First Volume of "Collected Essays," in which he annihilates Henry George.
All this means an immense quantity of reading, but unless you have carefully read and weighed about all the best that has been said on any question, your own opinions will have no value, and it is simply presumption to waste the time of an audience doling out a conception that, for aught you know, may have been knocked in the head half a century ago.
What can be more tiresome than the prattle about "absolute justice," "eternal truth," "inalienable rights," "the identity of the ethics of Christianity with those of Socialism," and a lot of other theories, which lost their footing in scientific literature and transmigrated to begin a new career among the uninformed, sixty years ago.
Of course, some of these positions look all right to you now, but when you learn what has been revealed about them by the science and philosophy of the last six decades, they will seem about as rational as the doctrine of a personal devil or the theory of a flat earth.
And until your reading is wide enough to give you this view of them, you had better not attempt course lecturing in the twentieth century.
Said Francis Bacon, the author of "Novum Organum," "Reading maketh a full man, writing an exact man, and conversation a ready man."
The first in importance of these is to be "a full man." The lecturer should not deliver himself on any subject unless he has read about all there is of value on that question.
If, when you read, the words all run together in the first few minutes, or, you invariably get a headache about the third page, let lecturing alone. Remember that there must be listeners as well as lecturers, and you may make a good listener, a quality none too common, but, as for lecturing, you have about as much chance of success as a man who could not climb ten rungs of a ladder without going dizzy, would have as a steeplejack.
The speaker who writes out his speech and commits it to memory and then recites it, has at least, this in his favor: his performance represents great labor. An audience usually is, and should be, very lenient with anyone who has obviously labored hard for its benefit.
Writing out a speech has many advantages, and beginners especially should practice it extensively. It gives one precision or, as Bacon puts it, makes an "exact" man. It gives one experience in finding the correct word.
If you have not learned to find the right word at your desk where you have time to reflect, how do you suppose you will find it on the platform where you must go on?
In trying a passage in your study it is well to stand about as you would on a platform. My friend Jack London assured me that when he took to the platform his chief difficulty arose from never having learned to think on his feet.
Writing is also a great test of the value of a point. Many a point that looks brilliant when you first conceive it turns out badly when you try to write it out. On the other hand, an unpromising idea may prove quite fertile when tried out with a pen. It is better to make these discoveries in your study than before your audience.
As to conversation and its making a "ready" man, a better method perhaps, is to argue the matter out with a mirror, or the wall, in about the same manner and style as you expect to use on the platform.
To practice before one or two persons in the style you expect to adopt before an audience is so inherently incompatible with the different circumstances, that I don't believe anybody ever made it succeed. It is far better to be alone, especially when working out your most important points, and building your opening and closing sentences.
Probably the best form of lecturing is to speak from a few pages of notes. A clearly defined skeleton, in a lecture, as in an animal, is the sure sign of high organization, while it is desirable to fill in the flesh and clothes with a pen beforehand, it will be well to learn to deliver it to the public with nothing but the skeleton before you.
In course lectures, quotations must be read, as a rule, as there is not time enough between lectures to commit them to memory. But where the same lecture is given repeatedly before different audiences, this condition does not exist, and the quotations should be memorized. Frequent quotations, from the best authorities, is one of the marks of a good lecture, as of a good book.
A good plan is to write out the skeleton of the lecture fully at first, say fifteen or twenty note book pages, then think it carefully over and condense to about ten. A really good, well organized lecture where the lecturer has had ample time, or when he has already delivered it a few times, should be reducible to one or two pages of notes.
This skeletonizing is a good test of a lecture. A mere collection of words has no skeleton. Instead of comparing with a mammal at the top of the organic scale, it is like a formless, undifferentiated protozoon at the bottom.
As an example of a skeleton, here are the notes of the lecture with which I closed the season at the Garrick in May, 1907:
SOCIALISM AND MODERN ETHICAL SCIENCE
(1) The general confusion on this question. (2) The inroads of positive science into this field. (3) The historical schools of Ethics: (1) The Theological. (2) The intuitional. (3) The utilitarian. (1) Define these; (2) explain; (3) criticise. (4) Modern science endorses utilitarianism. (5) This still leaves unsettled the problem of who shall determine what is of utility to society? (6) Marx gave the answer—The ruling class. (7) They rule because they control society's foundation, its mode of production. (8) The working class, in order to enforce its own ethics must control society at its base; it must take possession of the means of production.
When I first delivered this lecture I had about twenty pages of notes nearly twice the size of this book page, the three items, "define," "explain," "criticize," taking half a dozen.
Really great debaters, like the animal reconstructed, as Bret Harte relates, before "The Society on the Stanislaw," are "extremely rare." This is because the great debater must have a number of accomplishments any one of which requires something very closely approaching genius.
The great debater must first of all be a brilliant speaker; but he must also be a speaker of a certain kind. Many brilliant speakers are utterly helpless in debate. The most helpless of these is the speaker who is bound closely to his fully written manuscript or who departs from it only by memorizing the sentences.
A certain preacher in a double walled brick church found a chink in the inner wall just back of the pulpit. He found this crevice a convenient pigeon hole for his carefully written and always excellent sermon during the preliminary parts of the service. While the congregation sang the last verse of the hymn preceding the sermon he would draw it from its hiding place and lay it on the pulpit. One fatal Sunday he pushed it too far in and it fell between the two walls hopelessly beyond immediate recovery. His anguish during the last verse as the novelists say, "beggared description." He read a chapter from the Bible and dismissed his flock. One cannot imagine such a speaker, brilliant as he was with his pages before him, achieving any success in debate.
The qualities of a great debater may be ranged under two heads: (1) general, (2) technical. The general qualifications must be those of a ready speaker, fully master of his subject and able to think quickly and clearly and to clothe an idea in forceful, suitable language on very short notice. The ability to detect a flaw in an opponent's case does not consist merely in cleverness, but will depend upon the thoroughness of your studies before going on the platform.
The great debater must go to the bottom of things. It is all very well to take an opponent's speech and reply to it point by point, even to the last detail. It is vastly better, however, if you can lay your hands on the fundamental fallacy that underlies the whole case and explode that.
I well remember my debate with Bolton Hall. Mr. Hall's whole case rested on the theory of the existence of certain Nature-given and God-given rights of man. The apostles of the Single Tax from George down never knew and probably never will know how completely all this has been swept into the dust-bin by modern science. It was only necessary for me to demonstrate the hopelessness of Mr. Hall's main thesis to leave him standing before the audience without so much as the possibility of a real answer.
We shall consider at some length the technical methods that make for effective debating. In my opinion, formed from my own experience, this question of methods is of the greatest importance.
The most important thing in this connection is how to make the best use of the time allowed and always know, while speaking, how much you still have left. You may look at your watch at the beginning of your speech, but once started, the brain, working at full capacity, refuses to remember, and you turn to the chairman and ask "How much time have I?" This not only wastes your time, but distracts the attention of the audience from your attack or reply. Again, the relief is only temporary, for in a few minutes you are again in the same dilemma. Then, worst of all, right in the middle of an argument, down comes the gavel, and with a lame "I thank you," you sit down. There are men who can carry the time in their heads, but as a rule they are not good debaters, as they do so because only a part of their energies are thrown into the debate itself.
This difficulty hampered me terribly in many debates and the only consolation I could find was that it seemed to hamper my opponents about as much. But it never troubles me now owing to the following simple, but invaluable device: See that your watch is wound, take half a postage stamp, and, as the chairman calls you forth, stick the stamp across the face of your watch in such a position that when the large hand goes into eclipse your time is up. Then place it on the desk where it will be always visible, and the space between the hand and the line of eclipse always shows your remaining time.
On the occasion of my debate with Mr. Chafin, the last presidential candidate of the Prohibition party, on "Socialism versus Prohibition as a Solution of the Social Problem," Mr. Louis Post, the well-known editor of "The Public," was chairman. He courteously asked us how much warning we needed before the close of our several speeches. Mr. Post is no novice in debate and he looked much surprised when I told him not to warn me at all and that he would have no need of closing me with the gavel. He probably thought I had decided to use only part of the time allowed me. When, at the close of my longest speech I finished a somewhat difficult and elaborate peroration squarely on the last quarter of the last second, Mr. Post's astonishment was so great that he burst out with it to the audience. He said: "Mr. Lewis does not require a chairman; without any help from me in any way he closed that speech right to the moment. I don't know how he does it; it is a mystery to me; I couldn't do it to save my life!"
In my debate with Clarence Darrow on "Non-resistance," at the close of my long speech, when our excellent chairman, Mr. Herbert C. Duce, thought I had lost all track of time and was going to need the gavel, to his surprise, just as my last second expired I turned to Darrow and asked a minute's grace to quote from Tennyson, which Darrow gave with a promptness that scored heavily with the audience.
For some days before a debate I take care that my pocketbook is well supplied with postage stamps.
Another matter of the very first importance is the taking of notes of your opponent's speech and preparing to reply when your turn comes. During the last few years I have met in debate, Henry George, Jr., Clarence Darrow, M. M. Mangasarian, Professor John Curtis Kennedy, Eugene Chafin, John Z. White, W. F. Barnard, Bolton Hall, H. H. Hardinge, Chas. A. Windle, editor of "The Iconoclast," and others, all men with a national and many with an international reputation as platform masters. But I have never been able to understand why almost all of them, except Barnard and Kennedy, made almost no real use of their time while I was speaking. The probable reason is that debating has not been cultivated as an art in this country.
They sit quietly in a chair without table or note paper and are satisfied to scribble an occasional note on some scrap of paper they seem to have picked up by accident. Clarence Darrow got more out of this easy going method than any man I ever met.
With all deference to the names I have given I must insist that this is no way to debate. It should be done thoroughly and systematically. For my own purposes I have reduced this part of debating to an exact science. I do not dread a debate now as I once did. My only care is to see that I am master of the subject.
I will now give my latest method of note taking—the product of years of experience and many long hours of careful planning. It works so simply and perfectly that I do not see how it can be further improved. This confidence in the perfection of my methods is not usual with me. I have tried every method I could hear of or scheme out, and this is the only one that ever gave satisfaction. Now for the method.
Have a table on the platform. Never allow the chairman to open the debate until your table and chair have been provided. Next, a good supply of loose pages of blank white paper of reasonably good quality and fairly smooth surface. A good size is nine inches long and six wide. Any wholesale paper house will cut them for you. Remember, they must be loose; do not try to use a note book. Next, a good lead pencil, writing blue at one end and red at the other.
When your opponent makes his first point make a note of it in blue at the top of one of your loose pages. There is no need of numbering any of the pages. Keep that page exclusively for that one point. Leave the upper half of the page for the note of his point. If you have your answer ready, make a note of it half way down the page in red.
This will leave a space under both the blue note of your opponent's point and the red note of your reply. In the upper space you may enter fuller detail of his point if you think best. In the bottom space you may amplify your reply or strike out your first idea of reply and enter one that seems stronger.
The immense advantage of this one-point-one-page system is that in arranging the order of reply you need only arrange the pages. The position of any point may be changed by moving the page dealing with it.
When you have completed a page by entering the blue note and the red reply and you feel that you have that item well in hand, lay that page aside and work on the completion of others. When your opponent is about half through his speech you should have about half a dozen pages completed and you should begin to put them in the order in which they are to be used.
A good strong point should be selected to open. Lay this page face downward on your table, away from the rest of your papers, where it will stand forth clearly and not cause you to hunt around the table when the chairman calls you. Lay the second point page on top of it, face down, of course. When you have a pile like this, by turning it over and laying it before you face up, you are ready to begin. You can rearrange the order of these pages from time to time during the latter part of your opponent's speech.
Whenever you find your opponent developing a point you have already grasped and noted, you may take time to go over the pile of completed pages. In this overhauling process you will find some faulty pages. If you have noted a weak point of your opponent's and it does not admit of a strong, clear reply, take it out of your pile and place it separately so that it may be returned if you can improve it sufficiently, or finally rejected and left unused if you cannot.
By the time your opponent is about to close you should have about twice as many pages as you can use in the time allowed you and they should be rapidly but carefully sifted. Anything that looks vague or weak should be thrust aside. If need be, it is better to spend extra time on some strong position which is fundamental to the debate.
To make a good debate you must meet your opponent most fully on his strongest ground. Any tricky evasion of his strong points and enlarging of minor issues is disgraceful to you and insulting to the audience. It is this latter kind of debating which has prejudiced the public against debates.
A real debate should be a clear presentment of two opposing schools of thought by men who understand both, but basically disagree as to their truth. Such a debate has an educational value of the very highest order.
Every speech, as in lecturing, should have a strong close. The last point can usually be selected before the debate begins, as it will probably deal with the valuable results flowing from your position. This method enables you to prepare the closing sentence or sentences—which is of great importance. It is one of the great disadvantages of debate that your speeches are liable to end lame and if you can avoid this, one of your knottiest problems is solved.
A strong point also should be selected to open with; a point that will put the audience in good humor by its wit is especially valuable. But remember wit is only valuable when it bears on the question and strengthens or illustrates an argument. Any indulgence in wit merely to turn a laugh against your opponent will disgust the intelligent members of the audience and the pity is that there are always block-heads to applaud such deplorable methods. The platform suffers an irreparable loss whenever it is used by debaters whom nature intended for "shyster" lawyers.
As an example of a good point for opening a reply, take the following from my debate in the Garrick, October, 1907:
My opponent, Mr. Hardinge, said, "As an Individualist Mr. Spencer was an extremist in one direction, and the Socialist is an extremist in the other. I take a middle ground; you will always find the truth about half way."
My note of this (in blue) was, "extremist, middle ground." My note of answer (in red) was "revolving earth."
This was the answer as I made it from these two notes:
"Mr. Hardinge said we should not be Socialists because we should then be as great extremists in one direction as was Mr. Spencer in the other. We should follow Mr. Hardinge's example and take the middle ground for, says he, truth is always to be found half way. Therefore, if anyone should ask you, does the earth revolve from east to west, or from west to east, you should answer, 'a little of both.'"
It would have been small consolation to Mr. Hardinge to know that this reply was taken from the individualist Spencer, who should have been his mainstay in the debate. But such things are common property and I had just as much right to take it from Spencer as he had to take it from George Eliot.
TRICKS OF DEBATE
There are a great number of tricks that may be practiced in debate. They should be avoided by the serious man who is debating to defend a great cause. It is well to know the best methods but anything like a trick should never be practiced.
Some debaters I have met actually consider it smart to fill an opening speech with empty words so as to handicap their opponent by giving him nothing to reply to. This is precisely what Mr. Mangasarian did in his debate with me, but although many disagree with me, I take the view that he did so, not as a trick, but because of his ignorance of the question and his want of experience in debate. To have done this deliberately as a clever trick, after allowing an audience of 3,000 to pay over $1,100 for their seats would have been criminal, and I refuse to believe that any public man of Mr. Mangasarian's status would stoop to any such performance as a matter of deliberate strategy.
On one occasion, when the subject of discussion was not of any such serious import as Socialism, but more a question of who could win a debate on a subject of small merit, I defeated my opponent by a trick that I am heartily ashamed of, even under those mitigating circumstances. I record it here, not as an example to be followed, but as a warning not to let anyone else use it against you.
Unskilled debaters usually reply to their opponent's points in the order in which they were presented—seriatim. This is easy but not most effective.
This opponent, whom I heard debate with someone else before I was engaged to try conclusions with him, was limited, as I saw, to the seriatim method of reply. When we met, I completely destroyed his influence on the audience by the following trick:
Having the affirmative, I had to open and close, which gave me three speeches to his two. In my first speech instead of taking five to ten good points only, I added a good number of other points, stating them briefly and just giving him time to get them down. These extra points cost me about one minute each to state, and I knew they would cost him at least four or five to reply. Then just before closing I very seriously advanced the heaviest objection to my opponent's position. I especially called the attention of my audience to this point and declared it to be unanswerable and hoped my opponent would not forget to make a note of it. Then I paused long enough for the audience to see that I gave him full opportunity to get it down—as he did. Then I gathered my threads together and entered on my peroration.
It worked out precisely as I had anticipated. My opponent began at the beginning, as he saw it, and all his time went over those decoy points and the chairman rapped him down long before he reached that special point.
I then repeated the same tactics only I loaded him more heavily with decoys than before. I called upon the audience to witness that in spite of my begging him to do so, he had never so much as mentioned the main difficulty in his position.
In his second and last speech, he saw the necessity of getting to that point but, alas, although he hustled through the column of stumbling blocks so rapidly that the audience hardly knew what he was talking about, just as he was about to reply to this much-paraded difficulty of mine—and it really was the main weakness of his position—down came the chairman's gavel.
Then I lashed him unmercifully. I called the attention of the audience to the fact that twice I had especially begged him to answer this question and he had repeatedly failed to do so. The audience, of course, drew the inference that he was unable to answer, and he was considered to be hopelessly defeated.
He should, by all means, have given that point his first consideration before dealing with the rest of my speech.
This gentleman had humiliated quite a number of young aspirants in the local debating class, and openly boasted of the clever tricks by which he had done so. For once, however, he was "hoist on his own petard."
It is the function of language to convey ideas. Ideas are the real foundation of good lecturing and words must always be subordinate.
The English Parliamentarian, Gladstone, had the reputation of being able to say less in more time than any man who ever lived. The difference between a good and a bad use of words is well illustrated in the discussion between Gladstone and Huxley on Genesis and Science. Of course everybody knows now that Gladstone was annihilated, in spite of the cleverness with which, when beaten, he would, in Huxley's phrase, "retreat under a cloud of words."
Grandiloquence will produce, in the more intelligent of your audience, an amused smile, and while it is well to have your hearers smile with you, they should never have reason to smile at you.
Here again, a great deal depends on what you have been reading. In the use of good, clear, powerful English, Prof. Huxley is without a peer, and his "collected essays" will always remain a precious heritage in English literature. For an example of the exact opposite, take the magazines and pamphlets of the so-called new thought, which at bottom is neither "new" nor "thought." In reality it is made up of words, words, and then—more words.
* * * * *
I read a fifteen hundred word article, in a new thought magazine, by one of its foremost prophets, and nowhere from beginning to end, was there a single tangible idea, nothing but a long drawn out mass of meaningless jargon.
* * * * *
"Thus spake Zarathustra" is the same thing at its best. As an example of a style to be carefully avoided the following is in point. It is also a rara avis; a gem of purest ray. It is taken from the local Socialist platform of an Arizona town:
Therefore, it matters not, though the Creator decked the earth with prolific soil, and deposited within great stores of wealth for man's enjoyment, for, if Economic Equality is ostracised, man is enslaved and the world surges through space around the sun, a gilded prison. It matters not, though the infinite blue vast be sown with innumerable stars and the earth be adorned with countless beauties, teeming with the multiplicity of living forms for man's edification, for if Liberty is exiled, the intellect is robbed and man knows not himself. It matters not, though nature opens her generous purse and pours forth melodies of her myriad-tongued voices for man's delectation, for, if the shackles of wage slavery are not loosed, the mind is stultified and ambition destroyed by the long hours of toil's monotony in the factory, the machine shop, in the mines, at the desk, and on the farm. It matters not, though the fireside of the home sheds forth a radiance in which is blended paternal love, health and happiness, for, if woman is denied equal suffrage, then this queen of the household, perforce, becomes a moral slave.
Man, therefore, is not the sovereign citizen as pictured by the flashing phrases of the orator and soothsayer.
Liberty exiled, we have heard of before, but economic equality ostracised, is new. The idea that the multiplicity of living forms exist for man's edification, is ancient to the point of being moldy, but we must concede originality to "myriad tongued voices" issuing from a "purse." The concluding remarks about the "flashing phrases of the orator" are peculiarly well taken—unless that gentleman should be mean enough to say, "you're another."
* * * * *
Of course there is no objection to real eloquence and one's sentences should always be smooth and rhythmical. One great source of smoothness and rhythm is alliteration. Tennyson says:
"The distant dearness of the hill The sacred sweetness of the stream."
Here the smooth movement comes from the alliteration on d in the first line and the tripling of the initial s in the second.
"With his back to the field, and his feet to the foe."
gets its music from the alliteration on f. In revising the MS. of my lecture on "Weismann's Theory of Heredity" for publication, I found the following sentence, referring to Johannes Mueller.
"He failed to fill the gap his destructive criticism had created."
This sentence gives to the ear a sense of rhythm that is somewhere interrupted and disturbed. Examination shows that the rhythm comes from the alliterations "failed to fill" and "criticism had created," and the disturbance arises from the interjection between them of the word "destructive." Destructive is a good word here, but not essential to the sense and not worth the interruption it makes in the smoothness of the sentence. So it had to go.
Avoid long words wherever possible, and never use a word you do not understand. As an example of the vast picture which half a dozen short words of Saxon English will conjure up, take these lines from "The Ancient Mariner":
"Alone, alone, all, all alone, Alone on a wide, wide sea."
The power of expression in a single word, appears in Keats' description of Ruth, in his "Ode to the Nightingale."
"The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown; Perhaps the selfsame song that found a path Through the sad heart of Ruth, when sick for home, She stood in tears amid the alien corn."
What a master-stroke is the use of "alien," this time a Latin derivative, in the last line quoted. What a picture of that old time drama, with its theme of love and sorrow co-eval with the human race.
First get your idea, then express it in words that give it forth clearly. No verbiage, no fog or clouds, no jargon, but simplicity, lucidity, vividness, and power.
A lecturer should realize his grave responsibility to his audience. Nothing but absolute physical impossibility is a sufficient excuse for disappointing an assembly. Have it thoroughly understood that when your name appears on a program, you will be at your post.
Never allow, if you can possibly prevent, anybody to announce you to speak without consulting you and getting your consent. In some cities the method of announcing a speaker, when it is not known whether or not he can be present and, in some cases, even when it is known he cannot, has prevailed in the Socialist party. The temptation to do this consists in the possibility of using a prominent name to attract a large audience and then, with some lame excuse, put forward somebody else.
This succeeds for a time; then comes disaster. In such a city a good meeting becomes almost impossible. With the public it is, once bit, twice shy. For myself, if when I am announced to speak and I am not there and there is no message in the hands of the chairman reporting my death or some other almost equally good reason, it is almost safe to say my name has been used without my consent.
Any lecturer who treats his audience lightly has no reason to expect it will take him seriously. There is no lecturing future ahead of the man who says to some disappointed auditor he meets afterward on the street: "Well, the weather was so bad I didn't think anybody would turn out." Suppose only ten people turned out, is not their combined inconvenience ten times as great as that of the speaker? At least you could go and thank those who did come, as they surely deserved, and feel that you did your duty in the matter.
I well remember one night in San Francisco, about the twenty-first lecture of a course in the Academy of Sciences, when it rained as only Californians ever see it rain; it seemed to fall in a solid mass. From 6 to 7:30 it continued with no sign of let-up, and the streets began to look like rivers.
"No meeting tonight, that's sure," I concluded as I ruefully pocketed the notes of my lecture. But my rule compelled me to turn out and see. To my very great astonishment the Academy was full and the admission receipts were equal to the average. Never again, if I can help it, will weather alone keep me from appearing at a meeting.
Another matter in which speakers should consider the feelings of their hearers is—"don't make excuses." The audience wants to know what you have to say about the subject, and not, why you are not better prepared. The audience will know whether you have a cold without you taking up time telling about it.
If you allow yourself to drift into the habit of making excuses, you will never be able to speak without doing so, and even your best prepared effort will be unable to get by without a stupid preamble of meaningless apologies.
It is safe to conclude that the good impression a lecture should make is not increased by the lecturer condemning it in advance; this is usually done to disarm criticism, secure indulgence, and give the audience a great notion of what you could do if you had a fair chance. But the audience wants to see what you can do now, and not what you might possibly have done, under other circumstances. If your lecture cannot bear open criticism and really needs to be apologized for, then it ought not to be delivered, and you should be sitting in the audience listening to somebody else.
Boasting is, of course, very irritating to an audience and should be avoided, but want of courage and self-confidence is almost as deplorable. Of course there is no merit in self-confidence that is not well founded in sterling ability.
Somebody said, "The man who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is ignorant, avoid him; the man who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is simple, teach him; the man who knows, and knows not that he knows, is timid, encourage him; the man who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise, follow him."
In traveling through the country on a street-speaking tour about the first thing a speaker observes is the poor judgement shown by the local comrades in the selection of street corners for their meetings. The chosen corner is usually where the down-and-outs and drunks congregate and is hemmed about by cheap noisy saloons. If a speaker is to be in a town one or two nights he can hardly show the local comrades their error. If I am to be in a town any longer I look through the town during the day and early evening and pick out a down-town corner where there is a steady flow of average citizens and nobody will stop unless they stop to listen. Then the night after making the announcement at the old stand I begin a revolution in the method of running street meetings. I have no hard feelings against drunks but they are useless and worse in a street meeting. There are two reasons for the present bad selection of corners in so many cities. First, it is easier for a poor speaker to get an audience where there are hangers-out waiting to be entertained. Second, the city authorities like to have Socialist speaking done where it will not reach the live members of the community. A change of corners sometimes means a hard fight with the police but if the proper methods are used victory is sure and the result is always worth the labor spent.
Street speaking is widely different from hall lecturing and this the reason so many speakers succeed at one and fail at the other. The hall lecturer opens easily and paves the way for the treatment of his theme, but the street speaker would get no crowd or a small one by such a method.
He must plunge at once into the heart of his talk and put as much energy into addressing the first dozen as when his crowd grows larger. As soon as he adapts his voice and manner to the size of his crowd the crowd will stop growing. The only way to add another hundred is to talk as if they were already there.
A hall lecture should have one subject and stick to it because the audience is the same in its composition throughout. At a street meeting about half the audience is constantly changing, and hopping from one question to another has many advantages. A street speaker must be interesting or he will lose his crowd, and the better his crowd the sooner he will lose it. If he is talking to "bums" they will stay whether he talks or not, but if he has an audience of people who have other things awaiting their attention they will pass on the moment the speaker loses his grip.
This is why telling stories at street meetings is not so good a thing as some unobserving speakers suppose. No matter how good a story is, it has a tendency to break up a crowd. I noticed it often before I caught the reason. A story always carries its own conclusion and it thereby makes a sort of a breaking off place in a speech like the end of a chapter in a book. At the end of a good story the audience will laugh and take a moments rest. For about a minute your spell is broken and men whom you might of held the rest of the evening remember during that minute that they have stayed too long already. Of course this does not apply to a story of two or three sentences thrust into the middle of an argument without breaking or closing it. Longer stories may be used to advantage but they are not very useful to a speaker who has much to say and knows how to say it. Of course wit is a valuable factor but wit shows itself in a lightning dart, not in a long story.
The street speaker should use short sentences of simple words. He should avoid oratory and talk as if he were telling something to another man and in dead earnest about it. I have watched a man talk to another man on the street forgetting the outside world completely and using forceful language and eloquent gestures. If such a man could only talk like that to an audience he would be surprised at his own success. Put him before an audience and his natural manner disappears, he shuffles his feet, does not know what to do with his hands, and brings forth a voice nobody ever heard him use before.
As to people who disturb your meeting, if you are speaking in hobo-dom you may well despair. There are so many drunks, that interruptions are constant and irrepressible, and every interruption breaks your grip on the audience. Moral: Don't speak there.
On a corner where you get an audience of typical working men disturbances are rare and in a majority of cases if they are not easily suppressed it is lack of tact on the part of the speaker. A speaker should never try to be smart at the expense of a man in the audience, even when he speaks out of his turn. A courteous explanation of why you wish him to keep his questions until after your speech is much better. If he persists after that, he is either an ignoramus or drunk. If drunk ask two or three of your supporters in the audience to lead him off down the street. If he is a natural fool the problem is not so easy. But if you keep unbroken courtesy and he keeps up his unprovoked interruptions some indignant person standing near will abate the nuisance with a punch in the eye—which is the most effectual method in such cases.
There is no easier task in the world than to defeat the police authorities in a free speech fight. In the few cases where we lose it is our own fault. The police are usually acting under orders when making arrests and nothing is gained by making bitter enemies of them unless they treat you brutally.
A cool head, a disposition to reason the matter out with the district attorney, the chief of police, the mayor, or in the courts, without ever offering to compromise your speaking rights, will always triumph. The realization by the authorities that they are in a dirty and tyrannical business is one of your strongest weapons. Courtesy and persuasive but firm and unflinching reasoning makes them more conscious of their humiliating part in the matter. If you do or say foolish or offensive things they will forget their conscience in their anger, and give you a fight for which you alone are to blame.
There are a few exceptions to this rule; cases where the authorities are bent on victory; even then there is no excuse for losing your head. But you must give them all the fight they want and never under any circumstances show the white feather or accept anything less than all you need to make your meeting successful. In handling the police and their relations to street meetings the New York comrades have set other cities an example to go by. The comrades select any corners they please and during the day notify the police by telephone that Socialist meetings will be held that evening on such and such corners and a policeman is instructed to protect each meeting. The New York comrades have had many hard battles with the police to keep this system, and they have reason to be proud of the result.
The permit system is all right if it does not keep you from the corners you wish to use. If it does, the best thing is to fight it out for a new arrangement or the right to hold your meetings without arrangements. If you conduct your case properly the public will be overwhelmingly on your side. It is good at such times to "view with alarm" the introduction of Russian methods into "free" America. If there is real intelligence on the other side your opponents will soon conclude that you are getting more publicity for your ideas out of the police fight than you could ever get at peaceful street meetings. After this light has dawned you will proceed undisturbed.
BOOK-SELLING AND PROFESSIONALISM
A man who does a day's work in a shop and speaks on a street corner in the evening has about as much chance of becoming an effective speaker as he would have of becoming an effective musician, physician or lawyer by the same method. It is necessary, however, to train before going wholly into the work just as a man studies law evenings, before starting out as a lawyer.
In New York, Socialist street meetings are a force and count for a great deal, because the committee keeps a staff of capable speakers on salary to do nothing else. In Chicago street, speaking is a failure and many have concluded we should be better without it. This is because Chicago lacks the enterprise to follow the example of New York and depends on voluntary, haphazard, untrained, inefficient speaking.
New York, I believe, spends a good deal of money on its street meetings, and for some reason Chicago does not seem to be able to do that. But this barrier is not insurmountable. Street meetings with efficient speakers may be made self-supporting, but professional speakers are the only ones who have any chance to become efficient to the point of making their meetings pay a salary and other expenses.
I hardly think it can be done by collections but I know by experience that it can be done by book-selling.
I worked several weeks in New York one summer at the highest rate they pay and instead of sending a bill for wages I sent a paper dollar which represented the surplus from book sales after I had paid myself all that was due to me, and no collections were taken. My best book-sale at one meeting was $34 but it would just as easily have gone over $40 if the supply had held out. $20 to $30 worth of literature can be sold easily enough on any one of half a dozen corners in New York.
Chicago is not as good as New York but it is at least half as good and a good speaker could work for $25 a week and make three or four meetings foot the bill. I did this very easily in Chicago last summer. The beginner should sell 10c booklets or pamphlets, and elsewhere in this volume he will find two speeches that will show him how to do it. At a street meeting he need not make these speeches in detail, but just give the pith of them.
After a while 25c books may be sold, and with practice and hard study 50c books will sell readily. This question is more fully dealt with in the next chapter.
About two different books may be sold effectively at the meeting; one early in the meeting and the other about the close. The closing book talk however, should be begun while the meeting is at its full strength.
One street meeting that puts ten to twenty dollars worth of good books into circulation is worth a dozen where the only result is the remembrance of what the speaker said.
BOOK-SELLING AT MEETINGS
The tones of the speaker's voice fade away and are forever lost. Too often the ideas which the voice proclaimed drift into the background and presently disappear. This is the crowning limitation of public speaking. The lecturer should be, first of all, an educator, and his work should not be "writ in water." The lazy lecturer who imagines that his duties to his audience end with his peroration is unfaithful to his great calling. Lazy lecturers are not very numerous as they are certain of a career curtailed from lack of an audience.
There are some lecturers, however, who see nothing of importance in their work except the delivering of their lectures. And the educational value of such workers is only a fraction of what it might be. Life is not so long for the strongest of us, nor are the results that can be achieved by the most gifted such that we can afford to waste the best of our opportunities. This article is not intended as a sermon, but if as lecturers we are to be educators we must not neglect to use the greatest weapons against ignorance in the educational armory—books.
The books here referred to are not the volumes in the lecturer's own library. They, of course, are indispensable. There have been men who felt destined to be lecturers without the use of mere "book learning," but they never lived long enough to find out why the public did not take them at their own estimate.
The man who undertakes to deal with a subject without first reading, and as far as possible, mastering, the best books on that subject, would no more be a lecturer than a man who tried to cut a field of wheat with a pocket-knife would be a farmer.
Any good lecture of an hour and a quarter has meant ten to fifty hours' hard reading. There is much in the reading that cannot possibly appear in the lecture. Another lecture on a related theme or one widely different, has probably suggested itself. I remember while rummaging in history to find proofs and illustrations of "The Materialistic Conception of History," which conception I was to defend presently in a public debate, gathering the scheme of a course of four lectures on the significance of the great voyages of the middle ages—a course which proved very successful when delivered about a month later.
Again, the reading furnishes a great deal of material on the question of the lecture itself which cannot be put into it for sheer lack of time. This is why a lecture always educates the lecturer much more than it does the hearer. The hearer therefore labors under two great disadvantages. First, he forgets much that he hears, and, second, there is so much that he does not hear at all.
The first handicap can be removed by the printing of the lectures. The second is not so easily disposed of.
A lecturer may state in three minutes an idea which has cost many days' reading. The idea has great importance to the speaker and, if he is a master of his art, he will impress its importance on his hearers. That is what his art is for. But that idea will never illume the hearer's brain as the lecturer's until the hearer knows as does the lecturer what there is back of it.
There is only one way in which this can be done—the hearer must have access to the same sources of knowledge as the lecturer. This does not necessarily mean that every hearer should have a lecturer's library. It does mean, however, that there are some books which should be read by both.
The lecturer himself is the best judge as to which books belong to this category. In number they range anywhere from a dozen up, according to the ambitions of the reader.
My method of dealing with this problem has been to take one book at a time, tell the audience about it and see that the ushers were ready to supply all demands. In this way I have sold more than two whole editions of Boelsche's book "The Evolution of Man." In one week speaking in half a dozen different cities I sold an entire edition of my first book "Evolution, Social and Organic." One Sunday morning this spring at the Garrick meeting at the close of a five-minute talk about Paul Lafargue's "Social and Philosophic Studies" the audience, in three minutes, bought 250 copies, and more than a hundred would-be purchasers had to wait until the following Sunday for a new supply. A few Sundays later Blatchford's "God and My Neighbor," a dollar volume, had a sale of 204 copies—the total book sale for that morning reaching what I believe is the record for a Socialist meeting—$220.00. The last lecture of this season (April, 1910,) had a book sale of $190.00, which included 380 paper back copies of Sinclair's "Prince Hagen."
These figures are given to show that this work can be done, and if it is not done the lecturer alone is to blame. Anyone who can lecture at all can do this with some measure of success. There can be no sane doubt of its value. About 500 young men in the Garrick audience have built up small but fine libraries of their own through this advice given in this way, and there is no part of my work which gives me so great satisfaction.
I never allow my audience to imagine for a moment that my book talk is a mere matter of selling something. There will always be one or two in the audience who will take that view—natural selection always overlooks a few chuckle-heads.
Now let us tabulate some of the results that may be obtained in this way:
(1) By getting these books into the hands of our hearers we give our teachings from the platform a greater permanence in their minds. We not only help them to knowledge, but put them in the way of helping themselves directly. This alone is, justification enough, but it is not all.
(2) We encourage the publication of just those books which in our estimation contain the principles which we regard as destined to promote the happiness of mankind.
(3) The difference between the wholesale and retail prices is often enough to make successful a lecture course which would have otherwise died prematurely of bankruptcy. Where a meeting cannot live on the collection, the book sales may mean financial salvation. The morning we sold $220 of books at the Garrick we also took a collection of $80. Without the book sales $80 would have been the total receipts, and this collection was normal. Yet the Garrick meetings cost $140 each. After we had paid the publisher's bill we had a balance from book sales of $120, which made the total receipts not $80 but $200. And this is among the least important results of book selling.
Everything, of course, depends on the book talk. I will now give sample book talks which any speaker may commit to memory and use, probably with results that will be a surprise and an encouragement.
EXAMPLE BOOK TALKS
We are by this time agreed that the sale of the proper books at lecture meetings is greatly to be desired. In this article we shall consider the chief instrument by which this is attained—the book talk.
We might treat this theme by laying down general rules as to the elements which enter into the make-up of a successful book talk, but while this is necessary it is not enough—so many speakers seem to find it very difficult to apply rules. This part of the question will be treated in a few sentences.
A book talk, to be successful, must answer the following questions:
(1) Who wrote the book? It is not, of course, simply a question as to the author's name, but his position and his competence to write on the subject, etc.
(2) What object had the author in view?
(3) What is the main thesis of the book?
(4) Why is it necessary that the hearer should read the book?
Above all, a book talk should be interesting. How often have we seen a speaker begin a book talk at a meeting by destroying all interest and making sales almost impossible! The speaker holds up a book in view of the audience and says: "Here is a book I want you to buy and read." That settles it. The public has been taught to regard all efforts to sell things as attacks upon their pocketbooks, and the speaker who begins by announcing his intention to sell, at once makes himself an object of suspicion. In the commercial world it is held and admitted that a seller is seeking his own benefit and the advantages to the buyer are only incidental. In our case this is largely reversed, but that does not justify the speaker in rousing all the prejudices lying dormant in the hearer's mind.
A good book talk thoroughly captures the interest of the audience before they know the book is on hand and is going to be offered for sale. About the middle of the talk the listener should be wondering if you are going to tell where the book can be obtained and getting ready to take down the publisher's address when you give it.
His interest increases, and toward the close he learns to his great delight that you have anticipated his desires and he can take the volume with him when he leaves the meeting.
This is a good method, but where one is to make many book talks to much the same audience there are a great many ways in which it can be varied.
I will now submit a book talk which has enabled me to sell thousands of copies of the book it deals with. This is a ten-cent book, and this price is high enough for the speaker's experiments. The speaker will later find it surprisingly easy, when he has mastered the art to sell fifty-cent and dollar books.
The speaker may use the substance of this talk in his own language, or, commit it to memory and reproduce it verbatim. Any one who finds the memorizing beyond his powers should abandon public speaking and devote his energies to something easy.
BOOK TALK NO. 1.
ENGELS' SOCIALISM, UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC.
For some time previous to the year 1875 the German Socialist party had been divided into two camps—the Eisenachers and the Lassallians. About that time they closed their ranks and presented to the common enemy a united front. So great was their increase of strength from that union that they were determined never to divide again. They would preserve their newly won unity at all costs.
No sooner was this decision made than it seemed as if it was destined to be overthrown. Professor Eugene Duehring, Privat Docent of Berlin University, loudly proclaimed himself a convert to Socialism. When this great figure from the bourgeois intellectual world stepped boldly and somewhat noisily into the arena, there was not wanting a considerable group of young and uninitiated members in the party who flocked to his standard and found in him a new oracle.
This would have been well enough if Duehring had been content to take Socialism as he found it or if he had been well enough informed to make an intelligent criticism of it and reveal any mistakes in its positions. But he was neither the one or the other. He undertook, without the slightest qualification for the task, to overthrow Marx and establish a new Socialism which should be free from the lamentable blunders of the Marxian school.
Marx was a mere bungler and the whole matter must be set right without delay. This was rather a large task, but the Professor went at it in a large way. He did it in the approved German manner. Germany would be forever disgraced if any philosopher took up a new position about anything without going back to the first beginnings of the orderly universe in nebulous matter, and showing that from that time on to the discovery of the latest design in tin kettles everything that happened simply went to prove his new theory.
Duehring presented a long suffering world with three volumes that were at least large enough to fill the supposed aching void. These were: "A Course of Philosophy," "A Course of Political and Social Science" and "A Critical History of Political Economy and Socialism."
These large volumes gave Duehring quite a standing among ill-informed Socialists, who took long words for learning, and obscurity for profundity. His followers became so numerous that a new division of the ranks threatened and it became clear that Duehring's large literary output must be answered.