In the same way every guild and trade have their festive functions with serious purpose, and so have religious, philanthropic, economic, and sociological movements. We have gone quite far in this direction, but have not perfected the system as they have on the other side. I have been making after-dinner speeches for sixty years to all sorts and conditions of people, and on almost every conceivable subject. I have found these occasions of great value because under the good-fellowship of the occasion an unpopular truth can be sugar-coated with humor and received with applause, while in the processes of digestion the next day it is working with the audience and through the press in the way the pill was intended. A popular audience will forgive almost anything with which they do not agree, if the humorous way in which it is put tickles their risibilities.
Mr. Gladstone was very fine at the lord mayor's dinner at Guild Hall, where the prime minister develops his policies. So it was with Lord Salisbury and Balfour, but the prince of after-dinner speakers in England is Lord Rosebery. He has the humor, the wit, and the artistic touch which fascinates and enraptures his audience.
I have met in our country all the men of my time who have won fame in this branch of public address. The most remarkable in effectiveness and inspiration was Henry Ward Beecher. A banquet was always a success if it could have among its speakers William M. Evarts, Joseph H. Choate, James S. Brady, Judge John R. Brady, General Horace Porter, or Robert G. Ingersoll.
After General Grant settled in New York he was frequently a guest at public dinners and always produced an impression by simple, direct, and effective oratory.
General Sherman, on the other hand, was an orator as well as a fighter. He never seemed to be prepared, but out of the occasion would give soldierly, graphic, and picturesque presentations of thought and description.
Not to have heard on these occasions Robert G. Ingersoll was to have missed being for the evening under the spell of a magician. I have been frequently asked if I could remember occasions of this kind which were of more than ordinary interest.
After-dinner oratory, while most attractive at the time, is evanescent, but some incidents are interesting in memory. At the time of Queen Victoria's jubilee I was present where a representative of Canada was called upon for a speech. With the exception of the Canadian and myself the hosts and guests were all English. My Canadian friend enlarged upon the wonders of his country. A statement of its marvels did not seem sufficient for him unless it was augmented by comparisons with other countries to the glory of Canada, and so he compared Canada with the United States. Canada had better and more enduring institutions, she had a more virile, intelligent, and progressive population, and she had protected herself, as the United States did not, against undesirable immigration, and in everything which constituted an up-to-date, progressive, healthy, and hopeful commonwealth she was far in advance of the United States.
I was called upon immediately afterwards and said I would agree with the distinguished gentleman from Canada that in one thing at least Canada was superior to the United States, and it was that she had far more land, but it was mostly ice. I regret to remember that my Canadian friend lost his temper.