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O! Mesopotamia!
May 18, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Rev. George Whitefield, an 18th century preacher much admired by Benjamin Franklin, was an astonishing orator. According to a contemporary source, he "could make his audiences weep or tremble merely by varying his pronunciation of the word Mesopotamia. Garrick once said, 'I would give a hundred guineas if I could only say 'O!' like Mr. Whitefield.'"
posted by lolichka (32 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
People weep and tremble depending on how I say Mesopotamia, but mostly because when I say it it comes out as Meso-po-I-will-slap-the-taste-out-of-your-mouth-tamia.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:01 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


GWB kind of did that, except with "nuclear"
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:11 AM on May 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


There's a Neolithic long barrow near where my folks now live known as Whitefield's Tump because apparently the great man preached to admiring crowds up on the open common land there. Erm, that's all.
posted by Abiezer at 11:11 AM on May 18, 2009


Sounds like that guy could talk like really good.
posted by Hoopo at 11:16 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I realize that a guinea is a unit of currency, but it always makes me think of guinea hens. And now I'm trying to imagine David Garrick carrying around one hundres small fowls as payment.
posted by orrnyereg at 11:28 AM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


"could make his audiences weep or tremble merely by varying his pronunciation of the word Mesopotamia."

Today's lesson: Dish out hyperbolic flattery with caution, because 200 years from now everyone will quote it as historical fact.
posted by hermitosis at 11:28 AM on May 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


A skill like that certainly would be a specialized one today. Were he alive now, he may be a good director.

WHITEFIELD: In this scene, Timothy, you are required to weep for your dog Shep, whose brains have been dashed out by a reckless driver. Yet we are unable to coax even the smallest of tears from your eyes. What seems to be the problem?
TIMMY: Gosh, I'm sorry, Mr. Whitefield, but I'm having a hard time with my character.
WHITEFIELD: Your character is lamenting the loss of a bosom companion. Surely you have experienced a similar loss in your life, brief though it may be.
TIMMY: I dunno, Mr. W. Probably.
WHITEFIELD: Try to think upon that experience, Timothy, and perhaps your recalled sadness will provide the impetus to cry. You must do this, Timothy. The cameras are rolling. If you fail, the audience will doubt the sincerity and integrity of this entire project.
TIMMY: But I just can't do it! I can't cry on cue!
WHITEFIELD: Very well, then: MesopoTAMia.
[TIMMY begins to bawl his eyes out.]
WHITEFIELD: Cut! That, verily, is a keeper.
posted by Spatch at 11:29 AM on May 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'd give a hundred guineas just to hear him say strabismology.
posted by pracowity at 11:29 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


He ain't no student of ancient culture. But if there is one thing that he does know, there is a lot of ruins in Mesopotamia.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:31 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's face it though: standards in the 18th century? Low.
posted by rusty at 11:46 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dish out hyperbolic flattery with caution

Sir, I accuse you of false feeling! Can there be any limit to our exclamations? Would you demand the rose cover itself for shame? No, no, a thousand times no! Prolixity is the essence, the very spirit, of drollery!

To claim otherwise is merest sophistry, suitable only for Portuguese ox-drivers and other Papists of low repute and lower diction! Leave them to their drab and ill-mannered japery, their sodden rags and ale-house strumpets. Leave them, for we shall seize eternity!

We, sir, we must proclaim to the heavens! Let our voices shake the very foundations of the world!
posted by aramaic at 11:46 AM on May 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Let's face it though: standards in the 18th century? Low.
Just because you could draw a crowd to watch pigs breeding does not necessarily imply the Reverend Whitefield's rhetorical skills are over-played in hindsight. Though rumour does have it that as well as providing erudite disquisitions on salvation, he could squeal in a manner that mimicked uncannily a tupping boar in extremis.
posted by Abiezer at 11:53 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


This thread is useless without mp3s.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:53 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know who else was an astonishing orator?
posted by saladin at 12:14 PM on May 18, 2009


The ten Attic orators?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:30 PM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Rev Sydney Smith is also said to have left them in the aisles.

He also left us a rhyming recipe for salad.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:34 PM on May 18, 2009


Let's face it though: standards in the 18th century? Low.

As compared with what? The era of the YouTube commenter? The epoch of tl;dr? The administration of a president who's a public marvel because he sometimes writes his own speeches?

We're talking about an time when everyone heard 52 lengthy speeches a year at Sunday service alone. They had a critical faculty for formal oratory that simply doesn't exist anymore.
posted by Iridic at 1:10 PM on May 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I apologize for my dismissive comment above, but trolling for c18 enthusiasts is simply irresistable to me, and I hardly ever get a chance to do it anymore. The internet isn't what it once was.
posted by rusty at 1:46 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I walked right into that one, didn't I? But I had my guard down; one simply doesn't see many Age of Enlightenment trolls online nowadays.

The internet isn't what it once was.
posted by Iridic at 2:05 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let's you and I go see if we can really piss off some hair wreath collectors, and then call it a day.
posted by rusty at 2:10 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


They had a critical faculty for formal oratory that simply doesn't exist anymore.

Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century biographies, periodical articles, etc. go into what looks to us like astonishing detail about vocal production and body language. Sermons, political oratory, public lectures--these all supplied entertainment as well as enlightenment, and people spent a lot of time analyzing performance styles. Unfortunately, sermons (like many other genres intended for oral performance) rarely make the same impact in print as they do "live."

(Incidentally, one regular complaint in the 19th c. is that supposedly devout Protestants refuse to sit through looooonnnnng sermons like they did in the "good old days." Apparently, tolerance for four-hour sermons declined as the centuries passed.)
posted by thomas j wise at 2:11 PM on May 18, 2009


Apparently, tolerance for four-hour sermons declined as the centuries passed.
This probably has more to do with working hours lengthening, work becoming more mentally tiring, and more and more people working. A similar contraction has occurred with university lectures; these days, hour-long lectures are common, three-hour lectures unheard of, and two two-hour lectures considered more than enough for a student's day. This isn't the result of students becoming indiligent any more than shorter sermons are the result of Christians becoming impious; these accusations may be true, but both are a consequence of lack of mental energy due to the ever more strident demands of work.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:37 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Precursor to the Bene Gesserit?
posted by Evilspork at 2:41 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


You guys are complaining about c18 trolling? I couldn't get ONE FAVORITE for referencing Antiphon, Andocides, et al! The standards of this place have really fallen.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:19 PM on May 18, 2009


Sorry, all the ancient Greek guys beginning with 'A' mix me up, so I just refer to them all as Anaximander.
posted by lolichka at 3:33 PM on May 18, 2009


three-hour lectures unheard of

If you mean three-hour lectures three times a week, yes; if you mean three-hour lectures once a week...well, having had to deliver such things, all I can say is "I wish." Never mind the student's exhaustion...
posted by thomas j wise at 3:49 PM on May 18, 2009


(Obviously, breaks are of the essence.)
posted by thomas j wise at 3:49 PM on May 18, 2009


Astro Zombie: There. But you should know it's a pity-favorite. Don't be calling me up drunk every weekend expecting it.
posted by rusty at 6:06 PM on May 18, 2009


Apparently, tolerance for four-hour sermons declined as the centuries passed.

My grandfather's family was Mennonite, in Illinois. Apparently some youngsters reacted to Sunday-long sermons by finding small mirrors and shining sunlight into the preacher's eyes. The precursor to kids with laser pointers, I guess. But I can't really blame them.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:17 PM on May 18, 2009


We've been driving around
From one end of this town to the other and back
But no one's ever seen us (No one's ever seen us)
Driving our Econoline van (And no one's ever heard of our band)
And no one's ever heard of our band

We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh

Then they wouldn't understand a word we say
So we'll scratch it all down into the clay
Half believing there will sometime come a day
Someone gives a damn
Maybe when the concrete has crumbled to sand

We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh

The Mesopotamish sun is beating down
And making cracks in the ground
But there's nowhere else to stand
In Mesopotamia (No one's ever seen us)
The kingdom where we secretly reign (And no one's ever heard of our band)
The land where we invisibly rule

As the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh

This is my last stick of gum
I'm going to cut it up so everybody else gets some
Except for Ashurbanipal, who says my haircut makes me look like a Mohenjo-Daren

Hey, Ashurbanipal
I'm a Mesopotamian
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh

We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh

"Hey, man, I thought that you were dead
I thought you crashed your car"
"No, man, I've been right here this whole time playing bass guitar
For the Mesopotamians"

We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh

We're the Mesopotamians
Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh
posted by Malice at 8:50 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am told when I fart audiences weep or tremble. I can say Mesopotamia while emiting digestive gases from the anus also. The next person who speaks is the person who reeks.
posted by alteredcarbon at 9:43 PM on May 18, 2009


Another fine post derailed by half-witticisms and the rote recitation of tag lines. Standards have really fallen.

Ben Franklin has some wonderful descriptions of Whitfield's oratory. In his autobiography he recalls how he had an argument with Whitfield about a philanthropic scheme and went to the preacher's sermon is a sour mood by was softened by the preaching:

"I happened soon after to attend one of his sermons, in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me, I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me asham'd of that, and determin'd me to give the silver; and he finish'd so admirably, that I empty'd my pocket wholly into the collector's dish, gold and all."
posted by LarryC at 10:05 PM on May 18, 2009


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