Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

INTRODUCTION. It is usual to preface COMPILATIONS of this kind with rules for reading founded upon the INFLECTIONS OF THE VOICE, as developed by Walker in his “Elements of Elocution.” Those rules, and the principles on which they are founded, are, in our estimation, more ingenious in theory than useful in application; and such, we are confident, is the general opinion. Even of the teachers who use such compilations in their schools, few, we are convinced, require their pupils to peruse the “ Principles of Elocution" prefixed to them, much less to apply them in practice. And so much the better; for no person ever became a GOOD READER by being taught to READ BY RULE. In fact, the followers of Walker have made far more of the “Inflections of the Voice" than even he attempted. His views on the subject were at first put forward doubtingly, and theoretically; and even when he had convinced himself that he had made a great “discovery” in this respect, and that he had succeeded in founding a System of Elocution thereon, he evidently betrays doubts with regard to its utility in practice.* The truth is, he was too shrewd not to perceive that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to apply in practice, and upon the spur of

" Elements of Elocution,” Part II. & 10.

the moment, the numerous and complicated rules which he had laid down; and in point of fact, his doctrine on the subject just amounts to this, that a GOOD READER will, in certain constructions of language, employ certain inflections of voice; and that such inflections, in such cases, should be imitated by all who desire to become good readers. Now, it follows from this, that as a good reader is sure to employ on all occasions the inflections of voice that are natural and suitable, the shortest and easiest way of effecting the object would be, to aim directly at becoming a GOOD READER. When this end is attained, rules for the purpose become unnecessary and absurd. The following admirable observations from Archbishop Whately's excellent “Treatise on Rhetoric,” are conclusive on this point:

“ To the adoption of any such artificial scheme there are three weighty objections: first, that the proposed system must necessarily be imperfect; secondly, that if it were perfect, it would be a circuitous path to the object in view; and, thirdly, that even if both those objections were removed, the object would not be effectually obtained.

“ 1st. Such a system must necessarily be imperfect; because though the emphatic word in each sentence may easily be pointed out in writing, no variety of marks that could be invented—not even musical notation_would suffice to indicate the different tones in which the different emphatic words should be pronounced; though on this depends frequently the whole force, and even sense, of the expression. Take, as an instance, the words of Macbeth in the witches' cave, when he is addressed by one of the spirits which they raise, Macbeth! Macbeth ! Macbeth !' on which he exclaims, Had I three ears I'd hear thee:' no one would dispute that the stress is to be laid on the word “three,' and thus much might be indicated to the reader's eye; but if he had nothing else to trust to, he might chance to deliver the passage in such a manner as to be utterly absurd; for it is possible to pronounce the emphatic word 'three' in such a tone as to indicate that since he has but two ears he cannot hear.' Again, the following passage, (Mark iv. 21,) • Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel or under a bed,' I have heard so pronounced as to imply that there is no other alternative : and yet the emphasis was laid on the right words. It would be nearly as hopeless a task to attempt adequately to convey, by any written marks, precise directions as to the rate the degree of rapidity or slowness with which each sentence and clause should be delivered. Longer and shorter pauses may indeed be easily denoted; and marks may be used, similar to those in music, to indica generally, quick, slow, or moderate time; but it is evident that the variations which actually take place are infinite-far beyond what any marks could suggest; and that much of the force of what is said depends on the degree of rapidity with which it is uttered; chiefly on the relative rapidity of one part in comparison of another. For instance, in such a sentence as the following, in one of the Psalms, which one may usually hear read at one uniform rate, “ All men that see it shall say, This has God done; for they shall perceive that it is his work;' the four words, this has God done,' though monosyllables, ought to occupy very little less time in utterance than all the rest of the verse together.

“2nd. But were it even possible to bring to the highest perfection the proposed system of marks, it would still be a circuitous road to the desired end. Suppose it could be completely indicated to the eye in what tone each word and sentence should be pronounced, according to the several occasions, the learner might ask, but why should this tone suit the awful -this, the pathetic-this, the narrative style? Why is this mode of delivery adopted for a command—this, for an exhortation—this, for a supplication ? &c. The only answer that could be given is, that these tones, emphases, &c., are a part of the language; that nature, or custom, which is a second nature, suggests spontaneously these different modes of giving expression to the different thoughts, feelings, and desi which are present to the mind of any one who, without study, is speaking in earnest his own sentiments. Then, if this be the case, why not leave nature to do her own work? Impress but the mind fully with the sentiments, &c., to be uttered; withdraw the attention from the sound, and fix it on the sense; and nature, or habit, will spontaneously suggest the proper delivery. That this will be the case, is not only true, but it is the very supposition on which the artificial system proceeds; for it professes to teach the mode of delivery naturally adapted to each occasion. It is surely, therefore, a circuitous path that is proposed, when the learner is directed first to consider how each passage ought to be read ; i. e. what mode of delivering each part of it would spontaneously occur to him if he were attending exclusively to the matter of it; then, to observe all the modulations, &c., of voice which take place in such a delivery; then, to note these down by established marks in writing; and, lastly, to pronounce according to these marks. This seems like recommending, for the purpose of raising the hand to the mouth, that he should first observe, when per. forming that action without thought of any thing else, what muscles are contracted, in what degrees, and in what order ; then, that he should note down these observations; and lastly, that he should, in conformity with these notes, contract each muscle in due degree, and in proper order; to the end that he may be enabled, after all, tom_lift his hand to his mouth; which, by supposition, he had already done. Such instruction is like that bestowed by Moliere's pedantic tutor upon his Bourgeois Gentilhomme, who was taught, to his infinite surprise and delight, what configurations of the mouth he employed in pronouncing the several letters of the alphabet, which he had been accustomed to utter all his life without knowing how.*

" 3rd. Lastly, waiving both the above objections, if a person could learn thus to read and speak, as it were by note, with the same fluency and accuracy as are attainable in the case of singing, still the desired object of a perfectly natural as well as correct elocution, would never be in this way obtained. The reader's attention being fixed on his own voice (which in singing, and there only, is allowed and expected), the inevit. able consequence would be, that he would betray more or less his studied and artificial delivery; and would, in the same degree, manifest an offensive affectation.

* The practical rule then to be adopted, in conformity with the principles here maintained, is, not only to pay no studied attention to the voice, but studiously to withdraw the thoughts from it, and to dwell as intently as possible on the sense, trusting to nature to suggest spontaneously the proper emphases and tones.

“ Many persons are so far impressed with the truth of the doctrine here inculcated, as to acknowledge that “it is a great fault for a reader to be too much occupied with thoughts respecting his own voice;' and thus they think to steer a middle course between opposite extremes. But it should be remem. bered that this middle course entirely nullifies the whole advantage proposed by the plan recommended. A reader is sure to pay too much attention to his voice, not only if he pays any at all, but if he does not strenuously labour to withdraw his attention from it altogether.

“He who not only understands fully what he is reading, but is earnestly occupying his mind with the matter of it, will

*«• Qu'est-ce que vous faites quand vous prononcez O?

Mais je dis O.' An answer which, if not savouring of philosophical analysis, gave at least a good practical solution of the problem.”

be likely to read as if he understood it, and thus to make others understand it;* and in like manner, with a view to the impressiveness of the delivery, he who not only feels it, but is exclusively absorbed with that feeling, will be likely to read as if he felt it, and to communicate the impression to his hearers. But this cannot be the case if he is occupied with the thought of what their opinion will be of his reading, and how his voice ought to be regulated ; if, in short, he is thinking of himself, and, of course, in the same degree abstracting his attention from that which ought to occupy it exclusively.

" It is not, indeed, desirable, that in reading the Bible, for example, or any thing which is not intended to appear as his own composition, he should deliver what are, avowedly, another's sentiments, in the same style as if they were such as arose in his own mind; but it is desirable that he should deliver them as if he were reporting another's sentiments which were both fully understood and felt in all their force by the reporter : and the only way to do this effectually-with such modulations of voice, &c., as are suitable to each word and passage-is to fix his mind earnestly on the meaning, and leave nature and habit to suggest the utterance.

“ To impart to the delivery of a written discourse something of the vivacity and interesting effect of real, earnest speaking, the plan to be pursued, conformably with the prin. ciples I have been maintaining, is, for the reader to draw off his mind as much as possible from the thought that he is reading, as well as from all thoughts respecting his own utterance; to fix his mind as earnestly as possible on the matter, and to strive to adopt as his own, and as his own at the moment of utterance, every sentiment he delivers; and to say it to the audience in the manner which the occasion and subject spontaneously suggest to him who has abstracted his mind both from all consideration of himself, and from the consideration that he is reading."

The preceding Observations prove to a demonstration that ARTIFICIAL Systems of teaching to read are useless, and worse than useless, for they are positively injurious when carried into practice; and what can be better or more philosophic than the practical rules for reading

*“Who, for instance, that was really thinking of a resurrection from the dead, would ever tell any one that our Lord rose again from the dead' (which is so common a mode of reading the Creed); as if He had done so more than once ?"

« PreviousContinue »