Was Churchill a great orator?

Source 1

An unpublished pamphlet by Churchill called ‘The Scaffolding of Rhetoric’


CHAR 8/13/1-13

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript

If we look at the finest speeches in the English language we find there are certain features which can be found in all the best rhetoric (public speaking). These include:

Correctness of Diction: The speaker needs a good knowledge of language. Even though some of the words he uses might not be familiar to his audience, their meaning should be clear. Shorter words are better – they are ancient, more meaningful and have greater impact.

Rhythm: To make a speech appealing to the listener it must have a rhythm. The speech should resemble poetry, not that it should rhyme but that it should have rhythm-like blank verse to make it memorable.

Accumulation of an argument: The speaker should build up his argument so that the crowd anticipates the conclusion and so that at the end of the speech there will be applause and agreement.

Analogy: An analogy (comparing one situation to another more familiar situation) can help to connect the speaker’s points to the everyday knowledge of the listener (for example comparing a quarrel between countries to a quarrel within a family). Therefore some analogy where the speaker illustrates his point from experience is another attribute of a good speech.

Arouse the emotions of the speaker and the audience: The speech should be personal to the speaker and also to the audience. Both the audience and the speaker should be feel that the speech is reflecting their ideas and that it resonates with them.

Original Transcript

Please note that this is not a transcript of the whole pamphlet – this can be seen in typescript at CHAR 8/13. It is however a transcript of the relevant points.

I. Correctness of diction. Knowledge of a language is measured by the nice and exact appreciation of words. There is no more important element in the technique of rhetoric than the continual employment of the best possible word. Whatever part of speech it is it must in each case absolutely express the full meaning of the speaker. It will leave no room for alternatives. Words exist in virtue of no arbitrary rule but have been evolved by the taste and experience of mankind and the instinct of language is implanted very deeply in the human character. There are few audiences so ignorant as to be incapable of admiring correct diction – for even if they have never heard the word before – they will, if it be rightly used understand its meaning. The Scotch have been described as a 'stern and dour' folk. 'Dour' is a rare and uncommon word: but what else could it convey to the Anglo Saxon mind than the character of the people of a cold, grey land, severe, just, thrifty and religious. So powerful indeed is the fascination of correct expression that it not only influences the audience, but sometimes even induces the orator, without pre-judice to his sincerity, to adapt his principles to his phrases.

The unreflecting often imagine that the effects of oratory are produced by the use of long words. The error of this idea will appear from what has been written. The shorter words of a language are usually the more ancient. Their meaning is more ingrained in the national character and they appeal with greater force to simple understandings than words recently introduced from the Latin and the Greek...

II. Rhythm. The great influence of sound on the human brain is well known. The sentences of the orator when he appeals to his art become long, rolling and sonorous. The peculiar balance of the phrases produces a cadence which resembles blank verse rather than prose. It would be easy to multiply examples since nearly every famous peroration [summing up] in the English language might be quoted...

IV. Accumulation of Argument. The climax of oratory is reached by a rapid succession of waves of sound and vivid pictures. The audience is delighted by the changing scenes presented to their imagination. Their ear is tickled by the rhythm of the language. The enthusiasm rises. A series of facts is brought forward all pointing in a common direction. The end appears in view before it is reached. The crowd anticipates the conclusion and the last words fall amid a thunder of assent.

to be enlarged- general plan of the argument- tautology- repetitions

V. Analogy. The affectation of the mind for argument by analogy may afford a fertile theme to the cynical philosopher. The ambition of human beings to extend their knowledge favours the belief that the unknown is only an extension of the known: that the abstract and the concrete are ruled by similar principles: that the finite and the infinite are homogeneous. An apt analogy connects or appears to connect these distant spheres. It appeals to the everyday knowledge of the hearer and invites him to decide the problems that have baffled his powers of reason by the standard of the nursery and the hearth. Argument by analogy leads to conviction rather than proof, and has often led to glaring error...

....The emotions of the speaker and the listeners are alike aroused and some expression must be found that will represent all they are feeling. This usually embodies in an extreme form the principles they are supporting.

What is this source?

This is an unpublished article written by Churchill when he was 23 and still a very inexperienced speaker. We can see that Churchill never finished drafting this article because next to the typed out text he has written notes to himself about sections he plans to expand or improve. The article is an interesting glimpse of Churchill’s early thoughts on successful speechmaking. It is possible that he never finalised the article because he couldn’t find anyone to publish it.

Background to this source

At this point (1897) Churchill was desperate to make a name for himself. He was serving in the army seeking opportunities to risk his life and attract attention – he must have alarmed his mother when he informed her, 'I play for high stakes and given an audience there is no act too daring or too noble'. He was also promoting himself by writing up his wartime experiences for newspapers. Churchill had already had a couple of tastes of public speaking and was pleased with his success. The examples he cites in the pamphlet are speeches from famous politicians as well as from his father – showing his ambition to follow in his father’s footsteps and stand for election.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping this source can be useful to us in assessing whether Churchill was a good orator. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. What does Churchill say about audiences in his points about Correctness of Diction and Analogy?
  2. Does he make the same points about audiences in his sections on Accumulation of Argument and Analogy?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference?

Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?

Churchill approaches speech-making in a similar way to an actor or an entertainer. He thinks listening to a speech should be an enjoyable experience for the audience

Churchill has a low opinion of most audiences

Churchill thinks that a good public speaker can have great influence on his/her audience and could make them change their minds about a subject

Churchill thinks that a public speaker needs to believe in what he is saying to be successful

Churchill thinks that you can only be a good public speaker if you are born with the right characteristics. [Tip- you might want to look at the full article]

Churchill thinks that anyone can be a good public speaker as long as they follow the recipe for success he sets out in his article. [Tip- you might want to look at the full article]

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Need help interpreting this source?

  • Churchill became an accomplished writer and speaker. For him, careful preparation and selection of words were crucial, and for each speech that he gave, he drafted (and re-drafted) what he wanted to say, improving and enhancing his arguments for maximum effort. In this article we can see that Churchill felt that there are lots of techniques which a good public speaker should use.

Source 2

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