"We Boil At Different Degrees"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Emerson discusses the art of oration. An audience is a "social organism," an instrument which is manipulated by the skilled orator, but it is also "a constant metre of the orator." The eloquent speaker can dishearten or uplift his listeners, and he "rules the minds of men," as Plato said. Thus the skilled orator enjoys great power. But he must have robust health and "strength of character," and his delivery must be "attractive and interesting." He must have "powers, intellect, will, sympathy, organs, and, over all, good-fortune. . . ." He must be "a substantial personality," and he "must have the fact, and know how to tell it" poetically. "Eloquence is the appropriate organ of the highest personal energy . . . the truly eloquent man is a sane man with power to communicate his sanity." "Every man is an orator," but we are not all inspired to oratory by the same stimuli:

It is the doctrine of the popular music-masters, that whoever can speak can sing. So, probably, every man is eloquent once in his life. Our temperaments differ in capacity of heat, or we boil at different degrees. One man is brought to the boiling point by the excitement of conversation in the parlor. The waters, of course, are not very deep. He has a two-inch enthusiasm, a pattypan ebullition. Another requires the additional caloric of a multitude, and a public debate; a third needs an antagonist, or a hot indignation; a fourth needs a revolution; and a fifth, nothing less than the grandeur of absolute ideas, the splendors and shades of Heaven and Hell.