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of plays is calculated to teach them acting, rather than speaking.
But there is a contrary extreme, into which many teachers are apt to run, and chiefly those who are incapable of speaking themselves; and that is, to condemn every thing, which is vehement and forcible, as theatrical. It is an old trick, to depreciate what we cannot attain ; and calling a spirited pronunciation theatrical, is but an artful method of hiding an utter inability of speaking, with force and energy. But, though school boys ought not to be taught those nice touches which form the greatest difficulties in the profession of an actor, they should not be too much restrained from the exertion of voice, so necessary to strengthening the organs of sound, because they may sometimes be too loud and vociferous. Perhaps nine out of ten, instead of too much confidence, and too violent a manner of speaking, which these teachers scem so much to dread, have, as Dr. Johnson calls it, a frigid equality, a stupid languor, and a torpid apathy. These must be roused by something strong and excessive, or they will never rise even to mediocrity; while the few who have a tendency to rant, are very easily reclaimed, and ought to be treated, in pronunciation and action, as Quintilian advises us to do, in composition; that is, we should rather allow of an exuberance, than, by too much correctness, check the vigor and luxuriancy of nature.
Though school boys, therefore, ought not to be taught the fineness of acting, they should, as much as possible, be accustomed to speak such speeches, as require a full, open, animated pronunciation; for which purpose they should be confined, chiefly, to orations, odes and such single speeches of plays, as are in the declamatory and vehement style. But as there are many scenes of plays, which are justly reckoned amongst the finest composi tions in the language; some of these may be adopted among the upper class of boys, and those, more particularly, who have the best deportments; for action, in scenes, will be found much more difficult, than in single speeches. And here it will be necessary to give some additional instructions respecting action; as a speaker who delivers himself singly to an auditory, and one who
addresses another speaker, in view of an auditory, are under very different predicaments. The former has only one object to address; the latter has two. For if a speaker on the stage were to address the person he speaks to, without any regard to the point of view in which he stands, with respect to the audience, he would be apt to turn his back on them, and to place himself in such positions as would be highly ungraceful and disgusting. When a scene therefore, is represented, it is necessary that the two personages, who speak, should form a sort of picture, and place themselves in a position agreeable to the laws of perspective. In order to do this, it will be necessary that each of them should stand obliquely, and, chiefly make use of one hand. That is, supposing the stage or platform where they stand to be quadrangle, each speaker should, respectfully, face the corner of it next to the au dience; and use that hand, and rest upon that leg, which is next to the person he speaks to, and which is farthest from the audience. This disposition is absolutely necessary, to form any thing like a picturesque grouping of objects, and without it, that is, if both speakers use the right hand, and stand exactly fronting each other, the impropriety will be palpable, and the spectacle disgusting.
It need scarcely be noted, that if the speaker in a scene, uses that hand which is next the audience, he ought likewise to poise his body upon the same leg: This is almost an invariable rule in action; the hand should act on that side only, on which the body bears. Good actors and speakers may sometimes depart from this rule, but such only, will know when to do it, with propriety.
Occasion may be taken in the course of the scene, to change sides. One speaker, at the end of an impassioned speech, may cross over to the place of the other, while the latter, at the same moment, crosses over to the place of the former. This, however, must be done with great care, and so as to keep the back from being turned to the audience. But if this transition be performed adroitly, it will have a very good effect, in varying the position of the speakers, and giving each an opportunity of using his right hand-the most favorable to grace
and expression-And, if, from so humble a scene as the school, we may be permitted to raise our observations to the senate, it might be hinted, that gentlemen on each side of the house, while addressing the chair, can, with grace and propriety, only make use of one hand; namely, that which is next to the speaker; and it may be observed in passing, that to all the other advantages of speaking which are supposed to belong to one side of the housemay be added-the graceful use of the right hand.
The better to conceive the position of two speakers in a scene, a Plate is given, representing their respective at titudes: And it must be carefully noted, that, when they are not speaking, the arms must hang in their natural place, by the sides: Unless what is spoken, by one, is of such importance, as to excite agitation and surprise, in the other. But if we should be sparing of gesture at all times, we should be more particularly so, when we are not speaking.
From what has been laid down, it will evidently appear, how much more difficult and complicated is the action of a scene, than that of a single speech; and, in teaching both to children, how necessary it is, to adopt as simple and easy a method as possible. The easiest method of conveying instruction, in this point, will be sufficiently difficult; and therefore, the avoiding of awkwardness and impropriety, should be more the object of instruction, than the conveying of beauties.
There are, indeed, some masters, who are against teaching boys any action at all, and are for leaving them in this point entirely to nature. It is happy, however, that they do not leave that action to nature, which is acquired by dancing; the deportment of their pupils, would soon convince them they were imposed on by the sound of words. Improved and beautiful nature is the object of the painter's pencil, the poet's pen, and the rhetorician's action, and not that sordid and common nature, which is perfectly rude and uncultivated. Nature di rects us to art, and art selects and polishes the beauties of nature: It is not sufficient for an orator, says Quintiliam, that he is a man: He must be an improved and cuf
tivated man; he must be a man, favored by nature and fashioned by art.
But the necessity of adopting some method of teaching action, is too evident to need proof. Boys will infallibly contract some action; to require them to stand stock still while they are speaking an impassioned speech, is not only exacting a very difficult task from them, but is in a great measure checking their natural exertions. If they are left to themselves, they will, in all probability, fall into very wild and ungraceful action, which, when once formed into habit, can scarcely ever be corrected: Giving them therefore, a general outline of good action, must be of the utmost consequence to their progress and improvement in pronunciation.
The great use, therefore, of a system of action like the present, is, that a boy will never be embarrased, for want of knowing what to do with his legs and arms; nor will he bestow that attention on his action, which ought to be directed to his pronunciation: He will always be in a po sition which will not disgrace his figure, and when this gesture is easy to him, it may serve as a groundwork to something more perfect: He may either by his own genius or his master's instructions, build some other action upon it, which may, in time, give it additional force and variety.
Thus, what seemed either unworthy the attention, or too difficult for the execution of others, the author of the present publication has ventured to attempt. A conviction of the necessity of teaching some system of action, and the abundant success of the present system, in one of the most respectable academies near London, has determined him to publish it, for the use of such seminaries as make English pronunciation a part of their discipline.
It may not be useless to observe, that boys should be classed in this, as in every other kind of instruction, according to their abilities; that a class should not consist of more than ten; that about eight or ten lines of some speech should be read first by the teacher, then by the boy who reads best, and then by the rest in order, all having a book of the same kind, and all reading the same