Life and Speeches of Joseph Cowen, M.P. By Evan Rowland
Jones. (Sampson Low and Co.)—Mr. Cowen is quite right in carefully preparing his speeches and addresses. If, however, we are asked, as Mr. Cowen and his admirers practically ask us, to confess that these orations make a new epoch in English eloquence, we are reluctantly compelled to declare that we cannot assent. To us, Mr. Cowen's speeches, at their worst, seem dell, pompous, and jejune ; at their best, sot more than well-studied good sense, always somewhat arti- ficial, and encumbered with not very original learning and long names. We do not feel that Mr. Cowen ever rises to real eloquence. He may have it in his manner and in his voice. He has it not in his words. He has for the fall of the English period no real apprecia- tion,—no ear. This quality is essential to an orator. How charming is its presence in the perorations of Mr. Bright's great speeches, where the faultless cadence of simple and majestic words creates a harmony as definite and enduring as Milton's line. Let us endeavour to illustrate this by quoting what Mr. Cowen's biographer evidently considers the greatest oratorical triumph of his hero,—a passage certainly of considerable force and interest. It is taken from his speech on the Turkish Question :-
" The name of Osman will be linked with the foremost com- manders of modern times. It was not the dented, rusty scimmitar of Mehemet that the gallant Moslem wielded. The skill that planned the fortifications, the dauntless courage that manned the deadly breach in face of such fearful odds, and when, the last crust consumed, the last cartridge gone, that which led the final charge was the brilliant, dazzling fire of genuine patriotism. A people capable of such intense energy, of such generous and complete obedience, such utter self-sacrifice and heroic, devotion, have vindi- cated their right at least to live. If Turkey is dying, there is no reason why Russia should slay her before her time. Let her die in peace. If she is dying, that is no justification for the Northern vulture to prey upon the yet quivering body of his stricken victim."
After all, the test of personal taste is the only one applicable to rhetcric in the last resort. To this we must appeal, only suggesting to our readers who may wish to determine the question, that they should stimulate and refresh their judgments by reading and comparing with the above some passages from the speeches of Burke, Canning, or Mr. Bright, or the sermons of Jeremy Taylor.