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By elocution is meant, the utterance of those articulate sounds which are formed by the human voice; and as the object of those sounds is to communicate our ideas, it is surely of no little importance that we speak with sufficient distinctness to be well and easily understood. Nevertheless, a naturally good elocution, combined with all the requisites for making a pleasing and an impressive speaker, is, perhaps, one of the rarest gifts bestowed upon man. We most of us possess the necessary organs of articulation; but nature has still left much for cultivation, and for man to improve upon.
Important, however, as the art of elocution is, it is rarely made the subject of tuition in our schools and colleges; in which a delegated professor of the art is seldom, if at all, employed.
The very indistinct mode of utterance of perhaps some members of our own family circle, or of individuals at our social meetings, is often felt to be sufficiently irritating; but when, as is too frequently the case, it occurs in a public reciter, it becomes a fault of great magnitude, and may be termed a serious evil.
Had many of our public speakers been early taught the principles of elocution, much annoyance from ignorance of the art would be saved both to themselves and their audience. However, the fault lies principally in the imperfect system pursued in their early instruction— elocution not being one of the branches taught.
In this country, where public speaking is so often and so much in request,—not only from the pulpit, in the senate, and at the bar, but also in the council chambers of our towns, and at the frequent public meetings in the most secluded localities of our isle,—to neglect so important a study is almost unpardonable in an individual above the lowest grade; but certainly so, that it should be nearly excluded from our seminaries of learning.
The Grammar of the art properly belongs to private instruction, though some of its leading features may be noticed in this introduction.
Next, then, to a clear enunciation in conversation, a good and distinct utterance in reading claims attention. To read well requires, also, a proper modulation of the voice. This latter quality, it is true, pre-supposes much judgment and study, as it includes emphases, pauses, and tones, with a suitable degree of loudness, and a careful attention to the examples of the best readers.
If school-teachers were, in general, good readers, it might be recommended that, when a class is round them, they, also, should take their turn in the lesson; as children would soon adopt the style of their instructors, instead of the monotonous and sing-song tones they usually fall into, if not taught better.
From inattention in early life to reading and reciting, how few of our public speakers can be termed really eloquent, though in other respects fluent in language, and rich in all the tropes and figures of oratory! or be said to possess the power of a Demosthenes, a Cicero, or a Garrick, in swaying the feelings and passions of their audience, and, as it were, taking them captive!
Recitations, also, may be made of great service in initiating youth, while at school, in all the principles of eloquence. Our language abounds with rich examples for such a practice, both in prose and poetry. Where they have a competent instructor in the art, it must be of lasting advantage to them; called, as many of them will be, in after-life, to put in practice what they have been taught. And if, in most instances, it only enabled the greater part of them to speak with distinctness and propriety, it were an art worth cultivating: but it would do much more than this; it would add the ornaments of elocution to the solid weight of their logical reasoning. The grace of action, on which Demosthenes laid such stress, and which he considered the chief requisite of an orator, would, more or less, accompany and enforce their arguments; while, in a man of more than average talent and genius, it would impart a charm to his language that might enable him to rival the far-famed orators of Greece and Rome.
In many of our pulpit displays we should he thankful, indeed, if the preacher would only speak distinctly; so that the whole sentence might be heard, instead of, as frequently happens, a part of it only. The weight and subject of such discourses are, in general, too important and too serious to be lost for the want of a little attention to elocution on the part of the sacred orator.
Not that we call that elocution, but ranting, which in some places of worship is so rife. A man of education rarely adopts such a style. But neither should he be too tame. The most refined audience will not object to considerable animation, and even warmth, in the preacher whom they have delegated, or chosen, to be their guide and instructor in the momentous concerns of religion.
In the senate, if any where, are certainly to be found speakers that may be termed eloquent. Yet even there speeches are often delivered at variance with the tones and emphases that nature herself would dictate; resembling theses rather, made and spoken by boys of the higher forms at schools, than the impassioned language of a Canning, a Pitt, or a Fox.
As regards tragedians, it is not to be wondered at that good ones are so rare, when we consider that few highlyeducated men adopt the stage as a profession; but, on the contrary, very young men, and that, too, either before they have finished their education, or, perhaps more commonly, without any.
Where, however, the contrary has happened, and a diligent study of elocution has been accompanied with a genius for acting, the result has been, fame to themselves, and pleasure to their audience. So courted, indeed, and