Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

plished. Within a few brief months, the political fortunes of the Vice-President, at this moment seemingly on the very point of culmination, had sunk so low, there were none so poor to do him

reverence.

Whether for a moment a presentiment of the approaching crisis in his fate, forced upon his mind by the manner and language of the speaker, cast a gloom over his countenance or some other cause, it is impossible to say; but his brow grew dark, nor for some time did his features recover their usual impassibility.

The allusion nettled him, the more as he could not but witness the effect it produced upon others—and made him restless. He seemed to seek an opportunity to break in upon the speaker; and later in the day, as Mr. Webster was exposing the gross and ludicrous inconsistencies of South Carolina politicians, upon the subject of Internal Improvements, he interrupted him with some eagerness : "Does the chair understand the gentleman from Massachusetts to say that the person now occupying the chair of the Senate has changed his opinions on this subject?” To this, Mr. Webster replied immediately, and good-naturedly: "From nothing ever said to me, sir, have I had reason to know of any change in the opinions of the person filling the chair of the Senate. If such change has taken place, I regret it.” *

Those who had doubted Mr. Webster's ability to cope with and overcome his opponents were fully satisfied of their error before he had proceeded far in his speech. Their fears soon took another

* Mr. Calhoun's interruption was un-Parliamentary, or rather, un-Senatorial. The Vice-President is not a member of the Senate, and has no voice in it save for the preservation of order and enforcement of the rules. He cannot participate otherwise either in the debates or proceedings. He is simply the presiding officer of the Senate – having no vote in its affairs save on a tie. Had Mr. Webster made a direct, unmistakable allusion to him, Mr. Calhoon still could have replied through a friendly Senator, or the press. On thi casi he was too much excited to attend to the etiquette of his position. His feelings and his interest in the question made him forgetful of his duty.

2

direction. When they heard his sentences of powerful thought, towering in accumulative grandeur, one above the other, as if the orator strove, Titan like, to reach the very heavens themselves, they were giddy with an apprehension that he would break down in his flight. They dared not believe, that genius, learning, any intellectual endowment however uncommon, that was simply mortal, could sustain itself long in a career seemingly so perilous. They feared an Icarian fall. Ah! who can ever forget, that was present to hear, the tremendous, the awful burst of eloquence with which the orator spoke of the Old Bay State 1 or the tones of deep pathos in which the words were pronounced : “Mr. President, I shall enter on no encomium upon Massachusetts. There she is—behold her, and judge for yourselves. There is her history: the world knows it by heart. The past, at least, is secure. There is Boston, and Concord, and Lexington, and Bunker Hill—and there they will remain forever. The bones of her sons, falling in the great struggle for independence, now lie mingled with the soil of every State, from New England to Georgia; and there they will lie forever. And, sir, where American Liberty raised its first voice; and where its youth was nurtured and sustained, there it still lives, in the strength of its manhood and full of its original spirit. If discord and disunion shall wound it—if party strife and blind ambition shall hawk at and tear it—if folly and madness—if uneasiness under salutary and necessary restraint— shall succeed to separate it from that Union, by which alone its existence is made sure, it will stand in the end, by the side of that

Sometime later than this, after a rupture had taken place between Gen. Jackson and himself, Mr. Forsyth, of Georgia, on being interrupted by some (as he thought) uncalled for question or remark, rebuked him in an emphatic manner for violation of official etiquette. Mr. Van Buren, who ousted and succeeded him, always remained silent, placid, imperturbable in his seat, however personal or severe the attack upon him;-and no Vice-President since his day has ever attempted to interfere with the discussions of the Senate. *

cradle in which its infancy was rocked: it will stretch forth its arm with whatever of vigor it may still retain, over the friends who gather round it; and it will fall at last, if fall it must, amidst the proudest monuments of its own glory, and on the very spot of its origin.” What New England heart was there but throbbed with vehement, tumultuous, irrepressible emotion, as he dwelt upon New England sufferings, New England struggles, and New England triumphs, during the war of the Revolution? There was scarcely a dry eye in the Senate; all hearts were overcome; grave judges and men grown old in dignified life turned aside their heads, to conceal the evidences of their emotion.* In one corner of the gallery was clustered a group of Massachusetts men. They had hung from the first moment upon the words of the speaker, with feelings variously but always warmly excited, deepening in intensity as he proceeded. At first, while the orator was going through his exordium, they held their breath and hid their faces, mindful of the savage attack upon him and New England, and the fearful odds against him, her champion;–as he went deeper into his speech, they felt easier; when he turned Hayne's flank on Banquo's ghost, they breathed freer and deeper. But now, as he alluded to Massachusetts, their feelings were strained to the highest tension; and when the orator, concluding his encomium upon the land of their birth, turned, intentionally, or otherwise, his burning eye fell upon them—they shed tears like girls. No one who was not present can understand the excitement of the scene. No one, who was, can give an adequate description of it. No word-painting can convey the deep, intense enthusiasm, —the reverential attention, of that vast assembly—nor limner transfer to canvass their earnest, eager, awe-struck countenances.

* Gen. Washington said that the New England troops came better clothed into the field, were as orderly there, and fought as well, if not better, than any troops on the continent.

Though language were as subtile and flexible as thought, it still would be impossible to represent the full idea of the scene. There is something intangible in an emotion, which cannot be transferred. The nicer shades of feeling elude pursuit. Every description, therefore, of the occasion, seems to the narrator himself most tame, spiritless, unjust. - Much of the instantaneous effect of the speech arose, of course, from the orator's delivery—the tones of his voice, his countenance, and manner.” These die mostly with the occasion that calls them forth—the impression is lost in the attempt at transmission from one mind to another. They can only be described in general terms. “Of the effectiveness of Mr. Webster's manner, in many parts,” says Mr. Everett, “it would be in vain to attempt to give any one not present the faintest idea. It has been my fortune to hear some of the ablest speeches of the greatest living orators on both sides of the water, but I must confess, I never heard anything which so completely realized my conception of what Demosthenes was when he delivered the Oration for the Crown.” Assuredly, Kean nor Kemble, nor any other masterly delineator of the human passions ever produced a more powerful impression upon an audience, or swayed so completely their hearts. This was acting—not to the life, but life itself.

* The personal appearance of Mr. Webster has been a theme of frequent discussion. He was at the time this speech was delivered twenty years younger than now. Time had not thinned nor bleached his hair: it was as dark as the raven's plumage, surmounting his massive brow, in ample folds. His eye, always dark and deep-set, enkindled by some glowing thought, shone from beneath his sombre, overhanging brow like lights, in the blackness of night, from a sepulchre. It was such a countenance as Salvator Rosa delighted to paint.

No one understood, or understands, better that Mr. Webster the philosophy of dress: what a powerful auxiliary it is to speech and manner, when harmonizing with them. On this occasion he appeared in a blue coat and buff vest,-the Revolutionary colors of buff and blue;—with a white cravat, a costume, than which none is more becoming to his face and expression. This courtly particularity of dress adds no little to the influence of his manner and appearance.

No one ever looked the orator, as he did—“os humerosque deo similis,” in form and feature how like a god. His countenance' spake no less audibly than his words. His manner gave new force to his language. As he stood swaying his right arm, like a huge tilt-hammer, up and down, his swarthy countenance lighted up with excitement, he appeared amid the smoke, the fire, the thunder of his eloquence, like Vulcan in his armory forging thoughts for the Gods !

The human face never wore an expression of more withering, relentless scorn, than when the orator replied to Hayne's allusion to the “murdered coalition.” “It is,” said Mr. W., “the very cast-off slough of a polluted and shameless press. Incapable of further mischief, it lies in the sewer, lifeless and despised. It is not now, sir, in the power of the honorable member to give it dignity or decency, by attempting to elevate it, and introduce it into the Senate. He cannot change it from what it is—an object of general disgust and scorn. On the contrary, the contact, if he choose to touch it, is more likely to drag him down, down to the place where it lies itself.” He looked, as he spoke these words, as if the thing he alluded to was too mean for scorn itself—and the sharp,

stinging enunciation made the words still more withering. The audience seemed relieved,—so crushing was the expression of his face which they held on to, as 'twere, spell-bound-when he turned to other topics. The good-natured yet provoking irony with which he described the imaginary though life-like scene of direct collision between the marshalled array of South Carolina under Gen. Hayne on the one side, and the officers of the United States on the other, nettled his opponent even more than his severer satire; it seemed so ridiculously true. Col. Hayne enquired, with some degree of emotion, if the gentleman from Massachusetts intended any personal imputation by such remarks? To which Mr. Webster replied, with perfect good humor: “Assuredly not—just the reverse.” The variety of incident during the speech, and the rapid fluctu

« ПредишнаНапред »