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The question has often been asked, doubtingly, whether it is possible to teach the art of reading, by the use of rules. Any art which is grounded on recognised principles, may, certainly, be taught by rules deduced from these principles. Every teacher who corrects the emphasis, the inflections, or the pauses, which his pupils use in reading, must have, in every instance, a reason for his correction. All such reasons are rules; and these it is the duty of the teacher to impart. These, in fact, are themselves the instructions which he has to give.
Every attentive teacher of reading, will endeavour to put his pupils in possession of even those less palpable principles which regulate the nicest modulations of the voice, in the most delicate tones of feeling. But, in the applications of inflection, emphasis, and pause, which determine the meaning of every sentence of audible language, a definite rule is indispensable to intelligible or effective instruction.
The systematic practice of elocution, requires attention, in the first place, to the acquisition of correctness of enunciation, volume and pliancy of voice, vigour of organ, and purity of tone, on the scale of public reading or speaking.
The functions of the voice,- in its operations as an instrument,--having been properly regulated, the next stage of instruction and practice, regards the execution
of those sounds which constitute the 'melody' of speech, in successive clauses and sentences, and determine their character and meaning.
The act of enunciating syllables, or of pronouncing words, may be performed without reference to their signification. This forms the strictly elementary part of elocution. The utterance of clauses and sentences, implies a purpose in expression, and is founded on the relations which language bears to thought. The appropriate utterance of meaning, is the object in view in this department of elocution; and the attention of the learner, in this stage, is directed to the notes of the scale, to the relative degrees of force, and to the occasional intermissions of voice, by which reading and speaking are rendered significant. These subjects are comprehended under the technical designations of Inflections, Emphasis, and Pauses.
If we regard enunciation and pronunciation as the mechanical part of elocution ; inflection, emphasis, and pausing, may be designated as its intellectual part. The former regards, chiefly, the ear, as cognizant of audible expression ; the latter regards the understanding, as addressed by intelligible utterance, and requiring the exercise of judgment, in consecutive and rational communication. This branch of the subject extends, it is true, to some of the forms of tone which give expression to feeling ; but its chief offices are strictly intellectual.
A third department of elocution, embraces the consideration of tone, as adapted to the utterance of passion, or the strongest forms of emotion, and is designated by the technical name of Modulation.
Under this term are comprehended all those modifications of voice which are appropriate to empassioned expression, and the changes of tone by which the reader or speaker passes from one emotion to another. This branch of the subject includes, in detail, whatever regards force,' or intensity of voice, 'pitch,' or the predominating note of the scale, and movement,' or the rate of utterance, as fast or slow.
Cadence, or the appropriate modulation of the voice, at the close of a sentence, would, at first sight, appear
to be but a mechanical modification of voice, or, at best, no more than a recommendation to the ear of refined taste. But, on closer observation, it will be found to constitute a main element of effect, in the expression of sentiment.
It is the predominance or the frequent recurrence of a peculiar cadence, which gives character to the melody of emotion, in successive sentences; and it is the judicious use of this turn of voice, which, most of all, deepens the impression of the feeling that pervades a composition, as a whole. The song' of bad reading, is principally caused by an erroneous cadence.
The modulation of the voice, in adaptation to different species of metrical composition, is indispensable to the appropriate or effective reading of verse. The purest forms of poetry, become, when deprived of this aid, nothing but awkward prose. A just and delicate observance of the effect of metre, on the other hand, is one of the surest means of imparting that inspiration of feeling, which it is the design of poetry to produce.
The subject of Gesture has too generally been regarded as one on which no instruction can be given. It is often mentioned as one of those secrets of nature, which lie beyond rule or art; and nothing, certainly, can be more preposterous than artificial and mechanical action, as an accompaniment to speech. But attentive observation will here, as elsewhere, detect principles, and enable us to trace the rules which these involve.
Pursued within the just limitations of judgment and taste, gesture becomes, perhaps, one of the most improvable of human · habits; whether we regard the eradication of error, or the acquisition of true and appropriate action. The glow of earnest feeling, in address, will always bring forth action. It is a thing which, if we obey the instincts of nature, we cannot repress. Action is, in fact, a component part of speech; and the teacher's business, and the student's endeavour, in cultivation, are, properly, to trace those principles which suit the action to the word,' and to embody
these in practical rules, and disciplined habits. With a view to such results, a few brief remarks on obvious errors, and a few plain directions for the formation of manner, in attitude and action, are submitted in the following pages.
At the request of teachers who wish to follow closely the mode of elementary instruction, prescribed in Dr. Rush's Philosophy of the Voice, a small volume has been prepared, to be used as an introduction to the American Elocutionist.
The work now referred to, is entitled a Manual of Vocal Culture. It contains a course of preparatory exercises for forming and training the voice, and invigorating the organs of speech. The modes of practice, prescribed for these purposes, combine the preliminary vocal discipline, recommended by Dr. Rush, the introductory methods, adopted in practical instruction, by the author of the present volume, and, in addition to these, the system of “orthophony” and vocal gymnastics, taught by Mr. J. E. Murdoch.
LESSONS IN ENUNCIATION.
No branch of elementary education, is so generally neglected as that of reading. It is not necessary, in proof of this assertion, to appeal to the prevailing want of appropriate elocution at the bar, or in the pulpit. The worst defects in reading and speaking, are by no means confined to professional life, and occasions which call for eloquent address: they extend through all classes of society, and are strikingly apparent in the public exercises of colleges, the daily lessons of schools, in private reading, and in common conversation. The faults now alluded to, are all owing to the want of a distinct and correct enunciation, which, whatever may become of higher accomplishments, would seem to be alike indispensable to a proper cultivation of the human faculties, and to the useful purposes of life.
It is unnecessary here to enlarge on the intellectual injuries arising from the want of early discipline in this department of education; or to speak of the habits of inattention and inaccuracy, which are thus cherished, and by which the English language is degraded from its native force and dignity of utterance, to a low and slovenly negligence of style, by which it is rendered unfit for the best offices of speech.