Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"The Veterans of the Battle of Bunker Hill" by Daniel Webster

"The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775"
by John Trumbull, 1786

"This burst of eloquence is from Daniel Webster's celebrated oration, delivered on the occasion of the laying of the corner-stone of Bunker's Hill monument on June 17, 1825. It was the 50th anniversary of that battle in the presence of a vast multitude of people, among whom were Lafayette and the survivors of the battle." -- paraphrased from Swinton's Fifth Reader and Speaker, (published 1883), p. 321f

I hope my webinar students will read this speech through several times carefully. The first time, simply read it for the sense of the words. What is Mr. Webster saying? Why do you think he chose the particular words he chose? Are there any long, difficult words in this speech or are most of them short and familiar? Why?

The second time through, notice the imagery -- take note of metaphors, similes and personification, in particular. Are his word pictures strong? Why?

The third time you read it, notice the sentence structure. Are the sentences mostly long or short or a combination of both? How is the speech structured? Does he make his main points first or build up to them? See if you can make an outline of the speech.

The final time through, read the speech aloud, slowly and with emphasis on the words which you think he may have emphasized as he looked out at Lafayette and the other survivors of this momentous battle. Read it in front of a mirror and rate your delivery. How is your posture? Are you looking your 'audience' in the eye? Are there effective pauses in the right places? When you think you've perfected your delivery enough, practice reading it in front of your family and ask them for suggestions. You may be called on to deliver an important speech some day. Here's a chance to develop confidence.

If you have time, try to commit a portion of this important speech to memory.

"Venerable men! You have come down to us from a former generation. Heaven has bounteously lengthened out your lives, that you may behold this joyous day. You are now where you stood fifty years ago, this very hour, with your brothers and your neighbors, shoulder to shoulder, in the strife for your country. Behold, how altered! The same heavens are indeed over your heads; the same ocean rolls at your feet: but all else how changed! You hear now no roar of hostile cannon, you see no mixed volumes of smoke and flame rising from burning Charlestown. The ground strewed with the dead and the dying; the impetuous charge; the steady and successful repulse; the loud call to repeated resistance; a thousand bosoms freely and fearlessly bared in an instant to whatever of terror there may be in war and death--all these you have witnessed, but you witness them no more. All is peace.

"The heights of yonder metropolis [Boston], its towers, and roofs, which you then saw filled with wives and children and countrymen in distress and terror, and looking with unutterable emotions for the issue of the combat, have presented you today with the sight of its whole happy population, come out to welcome and greet you with a universal jubilee. Yonder proud ships, by a felicity of position appropriately lying at the foot of this mount, and seeming fondly to cling around it, are not means of annoyance to you, but your country's own means of distinction and defense.

"All is peace; and God has granted you this sight of your country's happiness, ere you slumber in the grave. He has allowed you to behold and to partake the reward of your patriotic toils; and he has allowed us, your sons and countrymen, to meet you here, and in the name of the present generation, in the name of your country, in the name of liberty, to thank you.

"But, alas! You are not all here! Time and the sword have thinned your ranks. Prescott, Putnam, Stark, Brooks, Read, Pomeroy, Bridge [these were all distinguished officers in the battle of Bunker's Hill], our eyes seek for you in vain amid this broken band. You are gathered to your fathers, and live only to your country in her grateful remembrance and your own bright example. But let us not too much grieve that you have met the common fate of men. You lived at least long enough to know that your work had been nobly and successfully accomplished. You lived to see your country's independence established, and to sheathe your swords from war. On the light of liberty you saw arise the light of peace, like 'another morn, risen on mid-noon;' and the sky on which you closed your eyes was cloudless.

"But ah! Him! [Warren] The first great martyr in this great cause! Him! The premature [untimely] victim of his own self-devoting heart! Him! The head of our civil councils, and the destined leader of our military bands, whom nothing brought hither but the unquenchable fire of his own spirit! Him! Cut off by Providence in the hour of overwhelming anxiety and thick gloom; falling ere he saw the star of his country rise; pouring out his generous blood like water, before he knew whether it would fertilize a land of freedom or of bondage! How shall I struggle with the emotions that stifle the utterance of thy name! Our poor work may perish, but thine shall endure. This monument may molder away; the solid ground it rest upon may sink down to a level with the sea: but thy memory shall not fail. Wheresoever among men a heart shall be found that beats to the transports of patriotism and liberty, its aspirations shall be to claim kindred with thy spirit."

Daniel Webster

1 comment:

Sophia Merie said...

Thanks for sharing this Mrs. Morecraft! Such a powerful piece.