5. Success in after-dinner speaking is difficult or easy to attain according to the way you go about it. If you think you must startle, rouse, and electrify your hearers, or, worse still, must instruct them in something _you_ think important, but about which they care nothing, your efforts are likely to be attended by a hard and bitter experience. But if, when a prospective speech-occasion looms up, you will reflect upon the sentiment you wish to propose, or will get a friend to do a little planning and suggest the easiest toast or topic, and then attempt to say just a little, you will probably come off with flying colors.
6. When you rise, do not be in a hurry. A little hesitation has a better effect than too much promptness and fluency, and a little stammering or hesitation, it may be added, will have no bad effect. In beginning, your manner can without disadvantage be altogether lost sight of, and if you have something to say the substance of which is good, and has been carefully prearranged, you will be able to give utterance to it in some form; grammatical mistakes or mispronunciation, where there is no affectation, as well as an occasional repetition, will rarely be noticed.
7. Above all, remember it may be assumed that your hearers are your friends, and are ready to receive kindly what you have to say. This will have a wonderfully steadying effect on your nerves. And if your speech consists only of two or three sentences slowly and deliberately uttered, they will at least applaud its brevity, and give you credit for having filled your place on the programme respectably.
It has been often said that Americans are greatly ahead of the English in general speech-making, but in pleasant after-dinner talking and addresses they are much inferior. Probably this was once true, but if so, it is true no longer. The reason of any former deficiency was simply want of practice, without which no speech-making can be easy and effective. But the importance of this kind of oratory is now recognized, and, with proper efforts to cultivate and master it, Americans are taking the same high rank as in other forms of intellectual effort. Lowell and Depew are acknowledged as peers of any “toast-responder” or “after-dinner orator” the world has ever seen. One of the chief elements of their charm consists in the good stories they relate. Whoever has a natural faculty, be it ever so slight, as a storyteller, will, if he gathers up and appropriates the good things that he meets with, soon realize that he is making rapid progress in this delightful field, and that he gains much more than mere pleasure by his acquisitions.
The best entertainments are not those which merely make a display of wealth and luxury. Quiet, good taste, and social attractions are far better. The English wit, Foote, describes a banquet of the former character. “As to splendor, as far as it went, I admit it: there was a very fine sideboard of plate; and if a man could have swallowed a silversmith’s shop, there was enough to satisfy him; but as to all the rest, the mutton was white, the veal was red, the fish was kept too long, the venison not kept long enough; to sum up all, everything was cold except the ice, and everything sour except the vinegar.” Excellence in the quality of the viands is not to be disregarded in the choicest company. A celebrated scholar and wit was selecting some of the choicest delicacies on the table, when a rich friend said to him, “What! do philosophers love dainties?” “Why not?” replied the scholar; _”do you think all the good things of this world were made only for blockheads?”_
FOURTH OF JULY
At a Fourth of July banquet, or celebration, toast may be offered to “The Flag,” to “The Day,” to “Independence,” to “Our Revolutionary Fathers,” to “The Nation,” to any Great Man of the Past, to “Liberty,” to “Free Speech,” to “National Greatness,” to “Peace,” to “Defensive War,” to any of the States, to “Washington” or “Lafayette,” to “Our Old Ally, France,” to any of the “Patriotic Virtues,” to “The Army and The Navy,” to the “Memory of any of the Battles by Land or Sea.” Appropriate sentiments for any of these may easily be devised or may be found in the miscellaneous list in this volume. “The Constitution and the Laws” or something similar should not be omitted.
SOME ITEMS THAT WOULD BE APPROPRIATE IN RESPONDING TO THESE TOASTS.
Their order and character will depend upon the special topic.
Our present prosperity–the greatness and resources of our country as compared with those of the Revolutionary epoch–the slow growth of the colonies–the rapid growth of the States and the addition of new States continually–what was gained by independence–did we do more than simply prevent tyranny–the advantages an independent country possesses over a colony, such as Canada–the perils of independence and the responsibility of power–the romantic early history of the country–the wars that preceded the Revolutionary conflict–the character of the struggle–the slenderness of our resources compared with the mighty power of Britain–our ally, France–what that nation gained and lost by joining in our quarrel–the memories of Washington and Lafayette–the principles at stake in the Revolution–the narrow view our fathers took of the issue at first, and the manner in which they were led first to independence and then to nationality–some phases of the struggle–its critical points–Trenton and Valley Forge–Saratoga and Yorktown–our responsibilities and duties–the questions of that day enumerated and compared with the burning questions of the present day (which we do not enumerate here, but which the speaker may describe or even argue if the nature of his audience, or time at his disposal permits)–the future greatness of the nation–the probability of the acquisition of new territory.