“The eloquent man is he who is no beautiful speaker, but who is inwardly and desperately drunk with a certain belief” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
NOT MANY ORDINARY PEOPLE WOULD SAY THAT ELOQUENCE IS A CHARACTERISTIC THEY DESIRE TO POSSESS. It sounds like something that would be of interest only to public speakers, but let’s take a closer look at the word. The American Heritage Dictionary says that the “eloquent” person is “persuasive, fluent, and graceful in discourse.” It seems to me that all three elements of this definition suggest some things we’d all do well to be interested in.
Persuasiveness. When you stop to think about it, a large part of the talk that any of us do on a given day consists of persuasion. From the big issues down to the little details of life, we spend a lot of time trying to influence others. So if eloquence helps us be more persuasive, then it’s a thing we all can use. But the kind of eloquence that is most persuasive is not the flowery kind that we imagine great speakers using. As Emerson said, the eloquent person is the one who is “inwardly and desperately drunk with a certain belief.” We will all become more eloquent, and therefore more persuasive, when we start believing more deeply the things we say we want others to believe.
Fluency. Fluency is facility in the use of language. And isn’t that something that we all ought to value? Language is a wonderful and powerful gift. We show appreciation for this gift when we take the time to learn how to use one or more languages easily and effectively.
Gracefulness. There is enough crudeness in the world already. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a little more gracefulness in the way we speak to one another? Pindar, the Greek poet, said, “A thing said walks in immortality if it has been said well.” We do those who must listen to us a favor when we season our speech with a little grace.
“Eloquence,” according to Richard Cecil, “is vehement simplicity.” I like that definition. It suggests that we’re eloquent when we know what we want to say, we believe it passionately, and we say it simply and straightforwardly. Eloquence, seen in this way, is not just for the orators among us. It’s for everybody else too.
“True eloquence consists in saying all that should be said, and that only” (François de la Rochefoucauld).