Frabjous Times

The orator

Last May, I posted something here about a Distributed Proofreaders text I edited, with this note at the end:
I'm presently most of the way through post-proofing another 19th century book, a set of speeches by the Hungarian nationalist and politician Louis Kossuth (in English, not Hungarian).
Well Selected Speeches of Kossuth has made it through the final steps of validation and is now available at Project Gutenberg both as plain text and a zip archive of same.
One of Kossuth's aims in 1851 and 1852 was to get the United States to intervene in Hungary in response to what he saw as despotic acts by the Russian czar and the Austrian emperor. As we know, this did not come about then, and Kossuth ended his days in exile from his country. When I read through the speeches, some of his phrases arguing for breaking neutrality in support of freedom ring out very clearly because of our recent history, although the parallels are certainly inexact. What makes it interesting is the oratory which is no longer in fashion in these naturalistic days, such as the following:
But, ladies and gentlemen! a single word--the manner in which we use it, distorting its original meaning, often characterizes a whole century. You all know the word "idiot;" almost every living language has adopted it, and all languages attach to it the idea that an "idiot" is a poor, ignorant, useless wretch, nearly insane. Well, "idiot" is a word of Greek extraction, and meant with the Greek a man who cared nothing for the public interest, but was all devoted to the selfish pursuit of private profit, whatever might have been its results to the community. Oh! what an immense, what a deplorable change must have occurred in the character of Humanity, till unconsciously we came to the point, that by what name the ancient Greeks would have styled those European money-kings, who, for a miserable profit, administer to the unrelenting despots their eternal loans, to oppress nations with, we now apply that very name to the wretched creatures incapable to do any thing for themselves. We bear compassion for the idiots of to-day, but the modern editions of Greek idiotism, though loaded with the bloody scars of a hundred thousand orphans, and with the curse of millions, stand high in honour, and go on, proudly glorying in their criminal idiotism, heaping up the gold of the world.
Originally published: 2004/01/14 18:47:19