Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London by Day and Night, by David W.Bartlett, 1852 - Chapter 16 - Popular Orators

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    THERE are few really great and popular orators in England, or London at the present time. There are parliamentary speakers of eminent ability, there are pulpit orators of renown, but there are few popular out-door orators. Daniel O'Connell, who used to rouse the great masses of people as a whirlwind does a forest of trees, is no more; George Thompson, who once had exceeding power as a public orator, seems of late to confine himself to his parliamentary duties, and many of the orators of the days of the Reform Bill are now silent. Cobden and Bright are indeed very popular with the people, and we have alluded to them in another chapter, but they are not masters of splendid oratory. John Burnet is a popular speaker among the people an humorous Scotchman among the ranks of the Reformers. Charles Gilpin is also an enthusiastic speaker. One reason why England is so devoid of popular eloquence is because for the last few years she has been in a stagnant condition, socially and politically. No great agitation has swept over the land to call out eloquence. The Reform Bill Agitation furnished its own orators, and so did the Anti-Corn-Law movement, but since then no national commotion has aroused the spirit of the people.
    Joseph Sturge is a popular man throughout England, though possessing none of the graces of oratory. He is not so great in intellect as in goodness his devotion to all humane objects, to all reforms, is that of a sincere and thorough [-268-] Christian. His popularity is unbounded throughout the kingdom, for he is known everywhere for his charities. He is wealthy, but gives much of his income to the poor, and his life is a daily beauty. He once stood for Parliament, refusing to bribe electors in any manner or shape, and lacked only seventy votes of an election. He was opposed by John Walter of the Times, who spent in bribes more than $75,000, for which he was unseated. Mr. Sturge is about fifty years old, and has a face innocent and loveful as a child's His forehead is beautifully large and rotund; his hair is soft and curly, and his eyes are blue and mild. He is not a fluent speaker, and is not distinguished for his eloquence, but there is always sagacity in his words. His audiences are always extremely enthusiastic, and the reason is, because he does so much for the people.


     We would like to give to the reader a sketch of the two best of England's popular orators, and will commence with Edward Miall. He is upon yonder platform, and is about to speak. There are thousands crowding about him, and as he comes forward they rise involuntarily, and greet him with a storm of cheers. In a moment, however, they are hushed, and still holding their breath, as it were, to catch his first faint words. He is a stripling in appearance, slim and pale, yet with eyes dark and flashing, and soft, black hair. He trembles with emotion or timidity even to the tips of his fingers. At first you can scarcely hear him speak, he is so tremulous and low-voiced, but by degrees he becomes absorbed in his subject - he forgets his audience - and each successive sentence grows in eloquence and power, until you find yourself breathless, gasping to grasp every idea, every word and action Each sentence is, you notice, beautifully con-[-269-]structed, but as he advances you forget the mere construction of his sentences in the splendor of his eloquence and argument, and the strange magnetism of his presence. He commences a peroration - recapitulates swiftly his whole argument, and while he moves grandly on, the audience seem awe-struck, and scarcely stir. At last he sits down, pale and exhausted, and you awake as if from a dream.
    Edward Miall, the Editor of the Nonconformist newspaper, is one of the truest reformers in England. His popularity is great, and yet not like that of some orators, for his oratory is of too chaste a kind to be fully appreciated by the masses The selectest circle in the world would listen to him with delight. We often saw him in London, but know little of his early history. He is a splendid writer, and was offered by the proprietors of the Times a brilliant pay if he would furnish editorial matter for its columns - matter which should be agreeable to them. He replied, nobly, that no money could ever tempt him to advocate wrong, or to conceal his liberal opinions! He is a rare man in London, for he is ready to sacrifice money, and fame, if necessary, for the sake of his principles. Many of his writings, if considered merely as literary performances, are exceedingly beautiful, and his editorials generally are characterized by great energy and spirit. He is, we believe, about forty years of age, and has for a long time toiled in the ranks of reform.


    But we must hasten from Miall to Vincent - the most effective out-door orator in England. George Thompson is more profound; Edward Miall is more classical, but in mighty power as an orator, Henry Vincent is peerless in his native land. His oratory would probably be laughed at in Parliament, but give to him an audience of a few thousand of the [-270-] honest whole-souled people, and he will make them frantic with his eloquence. No other man in Britain can mould them as he can. We heard him for the first time when all Europe was affrighted at the Revolution in France. He rose before an audience of thousands - a small, red-faced man of thirty-five years of age. We saw instantly one great secret of his success, and it was his consummate acting. He seemed to act his thoughts with his face, and often foreigners not understanding a word of English, but simply from gazing at his speaking face have cheered him enthusiastically. His pantomime is indeed thrilling, and in vain we essay to describe it. The night on which we first heard him, he commenced his speech with great moderation, occasionally indulging in flashes of wit and humor. Whenever he said anything humorous his face assumed an expression which of itself would have convulsed an audience with laughter. But we could see that the audience seemed to be expecting some grand pitch of excitement, some fascinating crisis. By degrees he grew more fervid ; his face began to twitch with nervous agitation, and it grew ruddy. He traced the power of the aristocracies of the world, and of the destruction which is everywhere their accompaniment. He travelled over France, Spain, Germany, America, and Italy, then came back to England. The picture was full of gloom-darkness and misfortune seemed to beset the nations ; the very hall grew dim the faces of his audience were sorrowful, while his own was the picture of stern melancholy. Suddenly his face grew radiant with smiles he pictured young Liberty in France, in Italy, and America As he went on, he grew more and more intense in his fervid eloquence. He showed us Europe as she would be in the glorious time soon coming when her people shall embrace Liberty ! The audience poured out torrents of cheers; but now he executed his final and grand stroke of eloquence. He painted in glowing colors the future of Eng-[-271-]land. Each heart beat fast, and burned hotly, as he spoke with intense enthusiasm of England in that golden age which is coming. lie stopped for a moment, and, with an enthusiastic smile, uttered softly the name, "England!" The look, the manner -  they were magical! Not a cheer burst forth, but tears were streaming from all eyes. Every moment added to the now painful intensity of the scene. Smiles and tears struggled for the mastery upon the orator's face. As he went on the great masses of people clustered as if insane around him. We saw one man go up to him and try to stop him, fearing that sudden death would be the consequence of such excitement.
    He stopped;- looked round about him;- no cheers interrupted the strange silence. All eyes hung upon his lips;- he exercised a spell upon every heart. Soon he looked up to heaven in a supplicating manner, and whispered, "England!" Then louder, "England!" And louder still, "ENGLAND!" 
    He fell back. He was done. A noise like wind among the forest trees swayed our the audience - it was not voice, but sobs and tears. They stood entirely entranced. It seemed as if they never would stir. At length Vincent jumped again before them, and with his handkerchief waving about his head, shouted, "Liberty forever!" Then the very roof trembled with the shrieks of applause. Fine ladies swung their handkerchiefs to and fro, and staid old merchants growled forth their cheers.
    A recent writer says of Mr. Vincent:
    "It has often seemed to me as I have watched him, towering towards the close of a speech, that its peroration would certainly be a fit of apoplexy. The last time I heard him, the concluding words of his address were, 'Hallelujah! 'Hallelujah!' which he screamed out with such mad energy that I feared he was approaching the end of his career.
    Henry Vincent was in early life apprenticed to the printer's [-272-] trade, and became a proficient in the art of type-setting. Just as he was attaining his manhood, in the year 1827, the great Chartist Agitation commenced in England, and the young printer forsook his types for the platform. He advocated physical resistance to the Government - a fallacy which he has since abjured - and became a doomed man. The young orator with his wonderful powers upon the platform was too formidable an enemy to the Government to be passed over easily.
    One evening he had been addressing an out-door audience of many thousands in London, and became so excited an to utter unguarded words. He in fact spoke treason. Leaving the platform he proceeded home, and on the threshold of his mother's door was arrested by an officer.
    "You are my prisoner," said the constable.
    "For what act?" asked Vincent.
    "For speaking treason," was the reply, and he was marched off at once to jail. The next morning he was bailed out by his friends, and bound in the sum of $15,000 to appear at Monmouth Jail the day previous to that appointed for his trial. As soon as he was fairly released, he again boldly took the stump against the tyrannical Government. He soon, however, discovered that an ingenious trap was laid for him, or rather those friends who had bailed him from jail. The officers of the Government got out fresh warrants for his arrest for a second violation of law, which they intended to execute a few days previous to the time he was bound to appear at Monmonth, and thus oblige him to forfeit his bonds. But he was on the alert, and waited in London till within a few hours of the time. He then hid himself in the bottom of a cart loaded with straw, amid which was driven by one of his friends in a smock frock, and thus rode safely to jail, though the team was once accosted by officers in search of him.
    [-273-] When he was carried to the Court-House for trial, the immense multitude which surrounded him took out the horses from his carriage, and themselves drew him to the scene of trial. At a certain stage of the proceedings the mob broke in ineffectually to the windows with stones, and after trying to calm the populace, the Sheriff was obliged to ask young Vincent to address the people and ask them to go away, which he did with perfect success. He was sentenced to imprisonment for a long term of years, but was pardoned at the end of two. His cell was a miserable dungeon, and he had no company - nothing but grim solitude for two long years.
    There was an aperture in his cell of small dimensions, but closely wired over, through which occasionally came a gust of fresh air. He was looking up at this one day, when he saw peeping through it as sweet a face and bright a pair of eyes as he ever saw in his life It was the gaoler's daughter - she pitied the eloquent young democrat, and at a great personal risk came to assist him. She tore away the wires before the aperture, and with a string let down to him a basket full of delicacies. He begged for paper, pens and ink, and she brought them, and they corresponded with each other, she giving him the news from the great world without, he telling her of his thoughts and fancies while in a dungeon. Here was romance in a prison And as long as he stayed there this girl was his kind and noble friend.
    At last, however, his case and condition became noised abroad, and a great storm was raised, and the Government began to feel it. A distinguished Peer came down to see him in his dungeon. He had never been allowed even a chair, and he determined to impress the fact vividly upon the Peer. So when he entered he said
    "Please be seated, my lord - do be seated!" At last the young orator was free. Never did man receive a heartier reception than he did from his native people. Millions crowd-[-274-]ed around him, and when it was found that in the solitude of his dungeon he had improved his wonderful powers of oratory, and was ready to consecrate them to time cause of freedom, these millions rent the air with their hurrahs.
    Mr. Vincent is one of the pleasantest of companions. We remember well when we sat by a winter's fire in a pleasant room, listening to his interesting conversation. Few excel him in hearty humor, and enthusiastic conversation. He is married, and resides just out of London on Stamford Hill.

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