Omir the Storyteller

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Chautauqua Speaker

Stories

In 1874, inventor Lewis Bishop and Methodist minister John Heyl Vincent created the Chautauqua Institution as sort of a summer retreat for Sunday school teachers. The Institution put together a program of cultural events open to the community at large, and soon the word "chautauqua" spread across the United States as the name of a form of entertainment featuring plays, music, and oratory.

One summer day in 1899 Reverend Alvin Brown rode into a small town in upstate New York. At the town's livery stable he got off his horse, and then tipped the young man who would be taking care of his mount.

"See that he's well taken care of," he said.

The young man, about 12 years of age, looked at the silver coin in his hand and gushed his thanks.

"So," the preacher continued. "Will you be coming to my performance tonight?"

"Performance?" the young man asked.

"Yes, my boy, I'll be speaking at the chautauqua tonight." Reverend Brown indicated a large tent that had been set up in the town square, easily visible from the front door of the stable.

The young man thought about this for a moment. "Will there be something in your speech for me?"

"I try to include something for everyone," said Reverend Brown.

The young man said yes indeed, he would be going, and the preacher left to find his hotel room and get ready for that night's performance.

Now, in this world where TV networks do their best to outdo each other by presenting competing blockbusters in the same time slot, somehow it's nice to know that that sort of activity is as old as entertainment itself. For instance, on the night in question, a rival chautauqua organizer in a slightly larger town down the road had secured the services of none other than William Jennings Bryan, who had run for President in 1896 and would do so again in 1900. Bryan was a legendary orator, and naturally people flocked to see him. (It didn't hurt that Bryan was a Democrat, and this part of the state was heavily Democratic and had voted overwhelmingly for him three years before.)

So when Reverend Brown got to the tent that night and took the stand, he saw only one person there with him. It was the boy from the stable.

"Hello there," said Reverend Brown, "where is everybody?"

The boy looked over his shoulder to his left, then to his right, and finally up at Reverend Brown and shrugged.

"I see," said the speaker. "Shall I go on with my remarks?"

The young man looked at him. "Well sir, I don't know much about speechin'. In fact I don't know much about anything except takin' care of horses. But I do know that if I'm at the stable, I've got to feed the horses. Even if there's only one horse to be fed."

Reverend Jones thought about this for just a moment, and then responded, "Very well." And he went into his speech. And oh, what a thing of beauty that speech was! He ranged from Genesis to Revelation. He strode from Homer to Shakespeare. He talked about world events and his family. He strode up and down the podium like a pacing bear, delivering his message.

Finally after about two hours he stopped and looked out at his one-man audience. "Shall I go on?" he asked the young man.

Once again the young man looked at him. "Well sir, I don't know much about speechin'. In fact I don't know much about anything except takin' care of horses. But I do know that if I'm at the stable I've got to feed the horses. Even if there's only one horse to be fed.

"But I wouldn't feed him everything in the bin."

2 Comments:

At 9:16 PM, Blogger SallyCat said...

Happy Friday! You have been tagged to tell us 5 weird habits...thanks to FarFetched via Carnacki

 
At 2:16 AM, Blogger Omir the Storyteller said...

Ummmmm . . . okay, where and to whom do I deliver this confession?

 

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