Esteemed thinker: David Hume

mic With each generation there comes change and with each generation there are those who look back at their elders as being rather antiquated. Changes within the generations are often parallel with technological advancements, relegating the elders into the unintentional but often considered outdated group. As change has ambushed the populations of the world so have many of the once heralded skills that have now been relegated as something one either does not partake in or “picks up” as they go along…such is the art of “eloquence”. Ahhh, a term that presently has been modified to mean something other than its original connotation, “a skillful way with words.”

There was once a time when the fine art of speaking, oration, was eloquence; when writing was eloquence, and those who attributed their time and learning to “eloquence” were looked upon with great regard. Yet rarely do we hear speakers of such finesse that we would call he or she an orator, and rarely in our day’s occurrences do we read anything which could be identified with such a title as eloquence, for with its meaning too has its execution been diminished.

So, for those who yearn for eloquence they will have to look back in time for certainly in the sound bites of today’s world, your “eloquent writing” would be snipped before you even got started …for after all… 140 characters is all you are allocated in a “tweet”!

David Hume Today’s blog takes us into the 1700s with the esteemed thinker: David Hume (1711-1776)born in Edinburgh, he was a Scottish philosopher , historian, economist, and recognized by contemporary philosophers as precursor to cognitive science. He was considered a skeptic regarding philosophy and relentless critic of religion and metaphysics. Although best known for his Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and six volumes on The History of England (1754 -1762), Hume made two other major lasting contributions to economics. One is his idea that economic freedom is necessary condition for political freedom. The second is his assertion that “you cannot deduce ought from is”—that is, value judgments cannot be made purely on the basis of facts.

I now bring you the words of Mr. Hume who will expound further about “eloquence” and which was eloquently snipped from his essay, so aptly titled “Eloquence” (1742).

“…in many respects, of an opposite character to the ancient; and that, if we be superior in philosophy, we are still, notwithstanding all our refinements, much inferior in eloquence…In enumerating the great men, who have done honour to our country, we exult in our poets and philosophers; but what orators are ever mentioned? Or where are the monuments of their genius to be met with? There are found, indeed, in our histories, the names of several, who directed the resolutions of our parliament: But neither themselves nor others have taken the pains to preserve their speeches; and the authority, which they possessed, seems to have been owing to their experience, wisdom, or power, more than to their talents for oratory. At present, there are above half a dozen speakers in the two houses, who, in the judgment of the public, have reached very near the same pitch of eloquence; and no man pretends to give any one the preference above the rest. This seems to me a certain proof, that none of them have attained much beyond a mediocrity in their art, and that the species of eloquence, which they aspire to, gives no exercise to the sublimer faculties of the mind, but may be reached by ordinary talents and a slight application….

One is somewhat at a loss to what cause we may ascribe so sensible a decline of eloquence in later ages. The genius of mankind, at all times, is, perhaps, equal: The moderns have applied themselves, with great industry and success, to all the other arts and sciences: And a learned nation possesses a popular government; a circumstance which seems requisite for the full display of these noble talents: But notwithstanding all these advantages, our progress in eloquence is very inconsiderable, in comparison of the advances, which we have made in all other parts of learning…”

Second image: Oil portrait of Hume by David Ramsay (1776)

Esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky and stage fright

microphone Humans are a most adaptable creature. We are constantly encountering new people and new activities; and without missing a beat able to continue about our daily routines. We sample new foods, travel to exotic places, replace old ideas for new, and exchange banter with total strangers. However, in spite of our adaptable behavior, though not always willingly, there is one activity that can make the strongest of persons weak in the knees, terrify the boldest of souls, and mortify the most valiant . No, it is not a ride on a roller coaster or parachuting out of a plane, but simply the mundane task of public speaking.

For some, standing before an audience, regardless of the group’s size; be it on a grand scale as in an auditorium or an intimate gathering of a handful of colleagues, speaking before others can suddenly be converted into a most terrifying experience. And even though there are techniques designed to set these fears aside; even with the color coded notes cards prepared, the power point slides that are waving across the screen, and the overly practiced presentations before a spouse, these so called “tricks of the trade” are still not enough to keep at bay the heightened heart beat, dry mouth, and urgent need to melt into ones shoes and wishfully disappear from sight.

It is rumored that even some of our greatest leaders and entertainers suffered from stage fright, which makes us ponder this notion. Does it help one feel less hungry knowing that there are other patrons equally as famished when you are waiting to be served in a crowded restaurant? So, when you are advised to take a deep breath because even Winston Churchill was so frightened in his early career that he froze up when delivering a memorized speech before Parliament… you may momentarily feel better with the fact that you are in good company, but as you stand before the silent audience it is your wobbling stomach and dumbfounded brain that needs to be reminded!

igor_stravinsky 2 Today’s post reintroduces the esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky, Russian born composer (1882) who brought modernism to the world of music in the early 20th century. As a gifted musician, his compositions ranged from vocal and instrumental pieces, ballet, cantata, to Neoclassical works, oratorio and sacred music. When World War II broke out, Stravinsky fled Europe and came to the United States, where he settled in California, eventually becoming an American citizen in 1940. His influence in music continues to reign today long after his death in 1971 .

I now bring you the composed words from Mr. Stravinsky’s autobiography titled, An Autobiography. Though I have assembled just a few bars and set aside them for your pleasure; they will surely be most enjoyable…

“… While learning by heart the piano part of my Concerto, I had simultaneously to accustom myself to keep in mind and hear the various parts of the orchestra, so that my attention should not be distracted while I was playing. For a novice like myself this was hard work, to which I had to devote many hours every day.

My first public performance of the Concerto took place at the Paris Opera on May 22 at a Koussevitzky concert, after I had played it a week earlier to an intimate gathering at the Princess de Polignac’s with Jean Wiener playing the accompaniment on a piano.

At the beginning of my career as a piano soloist I naturally suffered from stage fright, and for a long time I had a good deal of difficulty in overcoming it. It was only by habit and sustained effort that I managed, in time, to master my nerves and so to withstand one of the most distressing sensations that I know. In analyzing the cause of this stage fright, I have come to the conclusion that it is chiefly due to fear of a lapse of memory or of some distraction, however trifling, which might have irreparable consequences. For the slightest gap, even a mere wavering, risks giving rise to a fatal discordance between the piano and the orchestral body, which obviously cannot, in any circumstances, hold the movement of its own part in suspense. I remember at my first debut being seized by just such a lapse of memory, though it fortunately had no dire results. Having finished the first part of my Concerto, just before beginning the Largo which opens with a piano solo, I suddenly realized that I had entirely forgotten how it started. I whispered this to Koussevitsky. He glanced at the score and whispered the first notes. That was enough to restore my balance and enable me to attack the Largo…”