Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lincoln and the Art of Oratory

How did Abraham Lincoln become such a brilliant public speaker? Under the Gables investigates the little log school house where the future president studied for a time, saying:
What produced Lincoln’s awesome command of the English language? While Lincoln said his time in a classroom totaled no more than one year, a peek inside that log-cabin schoolroom gives some idea of the culture that produced the sixteenth President. In 1815, at the age of six, Lincoln first went to school in Knob Creek, Kentucky. The schoolmaster was Zachariah Riney, a native of Maryland, who came to Kentucky to teach students spanning many ages in a one-room school with a dirt floor and without windows.

The primary text in Mr. Riney’s classroom was Dilworth’s Speller: A New Guide to the English Tongue, produced in 1740 by Thomas Dilworth, an English schoolmaster. The rudiments of reading were taught with the alphabet and words such as rat, rate; rid, ride; rot; rote; van, vane. But the content of the reading focused on morals and maxims with short sentences such as: “Amend your way of life,” “I love the humane,” “Uplift the lowly,” “Brevity is the soul of wit.” As one educator has noted: “Except for mathematics, the child who mastered old Dilworth, dog-eared, worn, and re-covered with oilcloth or gingham though it might be, learned more of writing and speaking than is often taught in the first ten years of public education today.”

Morals made up the writing exercises, along with sentences written for each item on lists of synonyms, homonyms, and antonyms.

Here are some helpful public speaking tips:
No grammatical garnish or oratorical flourish can add as much to a speech as good character. The very hint of hypocrisy will doom even the most eloquent speech. Conversely, when you are virtuous, honest, and earnestly committed to that which you speak of, this inner-commitment will tinge each word you utter with sincerity. The audience will feel the depth of your commitment and will listen far more intently then when they know it is mere claptrap.

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

Thanks for the link - interesting post!