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Julian Hawthorne On Early British Orators

Julian Hawthorne, Special Introduction to Orations of British Orators (Vol. I) (London: The Colonial Press; 1900), pp. iii, iv.


‘In early Christian and mediaeval times the occasions of oratory were mainly religious; for the doctrines of Christianity were then more absorbing than political ones: mankind, indeed, having fallen under the dominion of temporal tyranny in all civil affairs, and therefore finding their best consolation in aspirations toward spiritual emancipation. Arguments on points of theological controversy also assume a prominent position in the recorded eloquence of those days; because the true interpretation of ambiguous questions of this kind seemed to the contestants to involve matters of pre-eminent import to the welfare of the life beyond the grave.


‘But when, a thousand years ago, the beginnings of a nation first assembled in the little island of Britain, and the Saxons and Angles and Danes and Norsemen were becoming welded together into something like a homogeneous people, the instinct for freedom of speech and self-conduct once more took a foremost place in men’s minds; and the prayers of John Knox, the dying address of Thomas Cranmer at the stake, the dauntless declaration of John Eliot and of many another, bore witness to the fact that the men of England were destined to be the political orators of the modern world.

Here was a nation which must needs be free; and prophets arose among them, able and resolute to give noble and memorable utterance to the vague tendencies of the masses.


‘Their words became the framework on which the fabric of the future constitution of the empire was to be erected: and each period of their eloquence meant the enfranchisement and felicity of myriads still unborn.


‘It was not until after Magna Carta had been wrung from John’s reluctant pen, however, and Parliament had taken its place as the true court of appeal and forum of the nation, that British eloquence attained any considerable and continuous volume.’