BLTC Press Titles

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Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

Labor and freedom

by Eugene Victor Debs


(5* t2" 10B


Coming Nation, July 8, 1911.

The following was written for the Department of Education of the University of Wisconsin, under whose direction there is being conducted an investigation of the subject of "Distinguished Contemporary Orators or LecturersWith special reference to fertility and efficiency of expression. What is the key to their ability as masters of language? What school subjects, or what kinds of training have entered into their lives that have given them power to express themselves effectively ?"

The secret of efficient expression in oratory—if secret it can properly be called—is in having something efficient to express and being so filled with it that it expresses itself. The choice of words is not important since efficient expression, the result of efficient thinking, chooses its own words, moulds and fashions its own sentences, and creates a diction suited to its own purposes.

In my own case the power of expression is not due to education or to training. I had no time for either and have often felt the lack of both. The schools I attended were primitive and when I left them at fourteen to go to work I could hardly write a grammatical sentence; and to be frank I am not quite sure that I can do so now. But I had a retentive memory and was fond of committing and declaiming such orations and poems as appealed to me. Patrick Henry's revolutionary speech had first place. Robert Emmef s immortal oration was a great favorite and moved me deeply. Drake's "American Flag" stirred my blood as did also Schiller's "Burgschaft." Often I felt myself thrilled under the spell of these, recited to myself, inaudibly at times, and at others declaimed boldly and dramatically, when no one else was listening.

Everything that was revolutionary appealed to me and it was this that made Patrick Henry one of my first heroes; and my passion for his eloquent and burning defiance of King George inspired the first speech I ever attempted in public, with Patrick himself as the theme. This was before the Occidental Literary Club of Terre Haute, Ind., of which I was then a member, and I still shudder as I recall the crowded little club-room which greeted me, and feel again the big drops of cold sweat standing out all over me as I realized the plight I was in and the utter hopelessness of escape.

The spectacle I made of myself that evening will never be effaced from my memory, and the sympathetic assurances of my friends at the close of the exhibition did not relieve the keen sense of humiliation and shame I felt for the, disgrace I had brought upon myself and my patron saint. The speech could not possibly have been worse and my mortification was complete. In my heart I hoped most earnestly that my hero's spiritual ears were not attuned to the affairs of this earth, at least that evening.

It was then I realized and sorely felt the need of the education and training I had missed and then and there I resolved to make up for it as best I could. I set to work in earnest to learn what I so much needed to know. While firing a switchengine at night I attended a private school half a day each day, sleeping in the morning and attending school in the afternoon. I bought an encyclopedia on the installment plan, one volume each month, and began to read and study history and literature and to devote myself to grammar and composition.

The revolutionary history of the United States and France stirred me deeply and its heroes and martyrs became my idols. Thomas Paine towered above them all. A thousand times since then I have found inspiration and strength in the thrilling words, "These are the times that try men's souls."

Here I should say, for the purpose of this writing, that from the time I began to read with a serious mind, feeling keenly as I did my lack of knowledge, especially the power of proper expression, both oral and written, I observed the structure and studied the composition of every paragraph and every sentence, and when one appeared striking to me, owing to its perfection of style or phrasing, I read it a second time or perhaps committed it to memory, and this became a fixed habit which I retain to this day, and if I have any unusual command of language it is because I have made it a life-long practice to cultivate the art of expression in a sub-conscious study of the structure and phrasing of every paragraph in my readings.

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