Tuesday, 19 November 2013

It's not the Gettysburg Address

Yes, the famous Fawlty Towers joke (or at least, the event that inspired it) is 150 years old this very day. And anyone with even the slightest interest in words well-written, important ideas or history's great events should spend at least part of today helping blow out the symbolic candles on its birthday cake.

Or maybe that should be wake, not cake? Because they don't - politicians especially - make 'em (that's, political speeches) like that anymore. 

In fact, few people seem able to say a lot in a few words, still less as memorably as Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of Gettysburg Cemetery.

You may not know the Gettysburg Address; you might not know who wrote and who delivered it; you may even not have heard of it. But you will almost certainly know one of its iconic sentences...

...Government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

In fact, in just a few sentences and in a speech lasting a little over two minutes Lincoln not only summed up the American Civil War but the entire US constitution and most if not all of the aspirations of the free world. Quite something. 

The speech came late in the afternoon and followed others now long forgotten at the dedication in Pennsylvania of the cemetery where those who had died at the Battle of Gettysburg four years earlier had perished. But as Lincoln said, rather than a dedication to the memory of the fallen:

'It is for us, the living, to be dedicated to the unfinished work that those who lie here sought to advance...'

Words we might all do well to recall as we draw towards the hundredth anniversary of the First World War next year.

In the meantime, and having already almost equalled Lincoln's word-count without adding anything to the value of the English language and from one brilliant piece of writing to another, I'd better sign off and bid you all 'good morning…' 

I said, 'good morning!'

There, that's better. Didn't hurt, did it? I mean, you only had to say 'good morning' - it's not the Gettysburg Address…

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