« PreviousContinue »
movement, and produce clear and full intonation, distinct articulation, and emphatic utterance.
This particular department of muscular exercise and education, has greater claims on our time and attention than any other. The organs of speech, with few unfortunate exceptions, are possessed by all mankind; they are in constant use by all,—their functions are of the highest moment to all, whether for the display of the charms of song and poetry, the persuasion of oratory, the invocation of prayer, and the numberless exchanges of opinion and expression of the affections and emotions in social intercourse. The most rigid puritan, who would regard with distaste, perhaps horror, the exercises of the dance, and attach no importance to the graces of bodily movement, will still be as naturally and properly desirous of cultivating the voice, as the greatest advocate for worldly accomplishments. He does it in learning to sing the praises of his Maker, and when engaged in the solemn exercises of prayer and exhortation. With the other sex, the charm of voice is a powerful means of persuasion and control. It gives to woman much of her influence -an influence depending on the mildness of her manner, and her soft and musical tones, displayed in the language of sympathy, entreaty, and of kind remonstrance. Her's is the privilege and the duty to be at the side of the suffering invalid, in infancy, in youth, and in mature age; to comfort the mourner, and to aid the poor and distressed. And what makes the potions to the feverish patient less nauseous- – what gives balm to the language of resignation, and imparts the glow of pleasure to the wan and weary beggar,—when she is, in each case, the ministering angel? Much is in the pitying look, much in the inclining gesture and softened manner; but still more in the tones of her voice, her low and smoothly uttered words of solace and of hope.
Why then should this instrument, which is capable of giving out such exquisite music, be jarred and discordant in its tones, through early neglect and bad habits? The cultivation of the vocal organs is not inferior in importance to any branch of learning; yet there is none more generally neglected. Surely this is a stigma, and ought to be removed, just as the flutter, agitation, and jerking movements
of the body and limbs would be, and are, corrected, by appropriate exercise and training under tasteful guidance and precept.
Still more necessary is this kind of education where the imperfection amounts to disease, as in hesitancy, stammering, and other imperfect articulation. The cure requires time, patience on the part both of the invalid and of the vocal doctor, and practice in the manner which scientific experience, not impudent and boastful quackery, has shown to be most serviceable, so as to give confidence, which is the result of conscious ability. The timidity and feeling of embarrassment of the stammerer, are both effects and sustaining causes of his impediment. So soon as he knows that his vocal organs are capable of obeying the commands of the will, and of giving expression to his thoughts, his mind acts with more energy and intentness; and he no longer allows himself to be trammelled in his speech, by the weak, tremulous and convulsive movements of the muscles, which, under less energetic volition, used to be so common with him.
I have for many years given the greatest portion of my time to the study of Elocution, both in its hygienic relations with fluent speech in private and public, in the social circle and at the bar, the pulpit and the legislative hall; and, also, in its curative character, to remove stammering and other impediments to clear and distinct articulation and utterance. I make no pretension to a knowledge of any specific for the cure of stammerers, nor do I attempt to shroud my method in unintelligible jargon, nor to conceal it from public and scientific investigation, by swearing my pupils to secresy. All these are arts and tricks unworthy of the literary and professional character, and disreputable, above all, to him who professes to be a teacher, and in whom manly sincerity ought ever to shine conspicuously, as an example to those under his charge.
The British Orator is a system of Theoretical and Practical Elocution. It is designed for the use of Schools and Colleges, as well as for the instruction of private individuals who desire to improve themselves in the art of reading and speaking.
The analysis of the vocal elements of the English language, (taken chiefly from the valuable system of Elocution by my friend
Dr. Comstock of Philadelphia, to whom I am indebted for many valuable hints*,) and the minute description which is given of their organic formation, will be found important, not only to the Briton who is desirous of accurate knowledge upon this subject, but also to the foreigner who is learning to speak our vernacular tongue. And the engravings, indicating the most favourable postures of the mouth in the energetic utterance of the elements, will be found a valuable auxiliary in the acquisition of this knowledge.
The Exercises in Reading and Declamation have been taken from some of the best ancient and modern authors; and they are well adapted to the purposes of the student in Elocution. In concert reading, as soon as a sentence is pronounced by the teacher, the members of the class should read it together, in the proper pitch and time, and with the requisite degree of force. When a paragraph shall have been pronounced in this way, it should be read singly by each member of the class. Sometimes it will be found advantageous to let each pupil, in turn, give out a piece, and the other members of the class repeat it after him; the teacher, meanwhile, making the necessary corrections. In fine, the exercise of reading should be practised in a variety of ways, according to circumstances. As the organs of speech require much training to enable them to perform their functions properly, the pupil should repeat the same exercise till he can articulate every element, and give to each syllable the pitch, force, and time which the sentiment demands.
It is certain that there are but few who may not attain, by study and practice, a respectable and creditable delivery; it is, therefore, much to be lamented that while such is the fact, there are not more who possess this accomplishment. While many of the merely ornamental branches are cultivated with zealous assiduity, Elocution is allowed, at best, but a feeble support. Among the numerous Colleges in our famed Universities, there is not a single one endowed with a Professorship of Elocution! And among our numerous public speakers, how small a number can deliver a
* The work of Dr. Comstock is founded on Rush's Philosophy of the Human Voice.
discourse without having half the body concealed by a desk or table! The orators of classic Greece never ensconced themselves behind elevated desks, nor "stood upon all fours," as some of our public speakers do; they were masters of their art. Hence they needed no screen to conceal uncouth attitudes and awkward gestures from the scrutinizing eye of criticism; nor had occasion to present the crown of the head, instead of the face, to the audience, to hide the blush of ignorance: they exposed the whole person to the audience; they stood erect, in all the dignity of conscious worth; their attitudes were fit models for the statuary; their gestures were replete with grace and expression; their elocution defied criticism.
Let us endeavour to restore Elocution to its former place in the department of useful instruction. Nothing is wanted but a correct medium, laudable ambition, and common industry, to enable our British youth to rival those ancient orators whose eloquence "shook distant thrones, and made the distant extremities of the earth tremble."
Green Mount, Manchester,
TH. K. GREENBANK.