Friday, January 7, 2011

Written in 1893

"It is of the very nature of oratory that the orator should make his hearers feel he is convinced of what he is saying, and, therefore, he is for ever tempted to assume, for the sake of effect, a show of sincerity and vehement conviction, or, what is worse, to become really sincere and vehemently convinced about things of which he has no adequate knowledge. In the world God made are none but probabilities, and, as the Persian poet sings, a hair divides the false and true; but too often there are none but certainties in the world of the orator. If once a nation is thoroughly stupefied by oratory of this kind, she loses all sense of proportion, all sense of reality, for has she not discovered that her orators can convince themselves and her of anything at a few minutes' notice, and bring both, by the pleasant pathway of a few similes, a few vehement gestures, to that certainty which the scholar attains after years of research, and the philosopher after a lifetime of thought?"
-- William Butler Yeats, in a letter to the editor of
United Ireland, dated 30 December 1893, appearing in The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats, Volume 1, 1865 - 1895, edited by John Kelly. Yeats has been my companion for more than forty years, the great lyric genius, the shy one of the heart as well as the smiling public man.

1 comment:

  1. So many observe that human nature hardly changes despite advances in technology. Given today's impact of media, I think Yeats' words are truer than ever - except that there seem to be so many orators. Given the cacaphony of noise, I can only hope that people will begin to pay more attention to the scholars and philosophers for reasining they can trust.