With Eloquence: Booker T. Washington
Remember when we as a people wrote and spoke with informed eloquence?
Yeah, me neither…
But I was reminded such a fairy-tale time did, in fact, exist when watching former senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen introduce retire Marine Corps General James “Mad Dog” Mattis to the Senate Armed Services Committee prior to its hearing regarding the general’s selection to be President-elect Trump’s Secretary of Defense. At the end of his introduction, which was eloquent in its own right, Cohen quoted from the famous 1884 Memorial Day Address delivered by the renowned law scholar, author, and orator Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Impressed by such eloquence, I was led to a dusty old book of mine entitled FAMOUS SPEECHES BY EMINENT AMERICAN STATESMEN, which, despite the gender-specific language of its title, is filled with amazing and beautifully eloquent speeches by both men and women.
The book was published in 1929 and it ranges in topics such as Prohibition, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil War, World War I, and many more.
While I was inspired from the speeches that I read, I am also somewhat dismayed by them.
They remind me how petty and simple and uninspiring (not to mention divisive and derogatory) we and our means of communication have become.
And, yes, I realize I am just as at fault as is anyone else in our degradation and disrespect of our language and our manner of communicating it.
And the truth of the matter is, I don’t believe there is much anyone can do about it.
Just like we will never go back to the “good ol’ days” (good for who, right?) where all men took care to don a civilized suit and tie and stylish fedora just to go to a ballgame, we will never go back to communicating with such depth and style as days past.
And it’s not just because we seem to be devolving back into nasty brutish Leviathans, but because life, while perhaps no longer as short-lived as Thomas Hobbes foresaw it to be, moves too fast to be able to accommodate the ability to take such care in our manner of dress and speech.
So, as it is… I have no answers.
I have no answers as how to improve mine/our intemperate and ineloquent means and manner of communicating to one another. I can only try to improve upon myself (no guarantees, of course) by reading the good stuff, such as excerpted below, and hoping some of its magic rubs off on me…
EXCERPTS FROM BOOKER T. WASHINGTON’S ADDRESS AT THE TWENTY-THIRD ANNUAL DINNER OF THE REPUBLICAN CLUB OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 12, 1909
In the very highest sense [Abraham Lincoln] lives in the present more potently than fifty years ago. If that which is seen is temporal, that which is unseen is eternal.
To set the physical man free means much; to set the spiritual man free means more, for so often is the keeper on the inside of the prison bars and the prisoner on the outside. As an individual as grateful as I am to Lincoln for freedom of body, my gratitude is greater for freedom of soul, the liberty which permits one to live up in that atmosphere where he refuses to permit sectional or racial hatred to drag down and warp and narrow his soul. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was a great event, and yet it was but the symbol of another still greater and more momentous. We who celebrate this anniversary should not forget that the same pen that gave freedom to four million of African slaves at the same time struck the shackles of slavery from the souls of twenty-seven millions of American citizens of another color.
In any country, regardless of what its laws may say, wherever people act upon the principle that the disadvantage of one man is the good of another, there slavery exists. Wherever in any country the whole people feel that the happiness of all is dependent upon the happiness of the weakest individual, there freedom exists…. In re-establishing in this country the principle that at bottom the interests of humanity and the individual are one, [Lincoln] freed men’s souls from spiritual bondage and he freed them to mutual helpfulness. Henceforth no man or no race in the North or in the South need feel constrained to hate or fear his brother. By the same token that Lincoln made America free, he pushed back the boundaries of freedom everywhere, gave the spirit of liberty a wider influence throughout the world and re-established the dignity of man as a man.
…The world is fast learning that of all forms of slavery there is none that is so degrading, that is so hurtful, as that form of slavery which makes one human being to hate another by reason of his race or by reason of his color.
…We owe then to Lincoln, physical freedom, moral freedom, and yet not all. There is a debt of gratitude which we as individuals, no matter to what race or nation we may belong, must recognize as due to Abraham Lincoln. Not for what he did as Chief Magistrate of a nation, for what he did as a man. In his rise from the most abject poverty and ignorance to a position of the highest usefulness and power, he taught one of the greatest of all lessons. In fighting his own battle from obscurity and squalor he fought the battle of every other individual and every other race that was down, and so helped to pull up every other man that was down, no matter where he lived. People so often forget that by every inch that the lowest man crawls up he makes it easier for every other man to get up. To-day throughout the world, because Lincoln lived and struggled and triumphed, every boy who is ignorant, every boy who is in poverty, every boy who is despised, every boy who is discouraged holds his head a little higher, his heart beats a little faster, his ambition to be something and to do something is a little stronger, because Lincoln blazed the way….