Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Most Eminent Orators and Statesmen of Ancient and Modern Times by David A. Harsha

Today someone in Facebook's management made the prediction that in a few years text would be irrelevant to the operations of the company because everybody would be using videos. This strikes me as a pretty unlikely scenario, seeing that newspapers still exist at least in a niche market or two. But it had me thinking about the changes in public taste and the use of media as I looked up the offered "forgotten book of the day."
Today's book dates from the 1850s and it is entitled "The Most Eminent Orators and Statesmen of Ancient and Modern Times. "
And what I found interesting about this book is that it is not exactly a collection of famous speeches, stretching from the ancient Greeks up to modern times, but a collection of lives of orators as celebrities. The forgotten book series has some curious material but I was really struck by the fact that so many of the famous orators in the collection are completely unknown today, except perhaps to certain types of historians and literary scholars. Who remembers Charles James Fox anyway?

(And if you do remember Fox do you remember Henry Grattan?)

Answer: Fox was a Whig leader in the House of Commons at the same time as William Pitt, in other words during the American and French revolutions. Old Fox (though he was actually young Fox back then) certainly belongs in his place as a man famous for the eminence of his oratory. If I recall correctly he never became Prime Minister, and his career is most famous for his defence of Reform and Revolution against the repressive English government of Lord North, which provoked the American Revolution.

My point is Fox's oratory was considered a significant public art form. A speech by Charles James Fox was probably, at least among prominent and important people, the equivalent of a major Beyoncé video. The equivalent of Charles James Fox still gets a fair amount of attention today in British politics and beyond, but he sure certainly doesn't come across as an artist.
Image: Your clue is "Ireland."

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