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ESSAY ON ELOCUTION.
ELOCUTION treats of the just pronunciation of words arranged into sentences, and forming a discourse, and is here employed as synonymous with enunciation, or delivery.
Pronunciation may be considered in a twofold light. When applied to the correct sounds given to single letters or single words without reference to their mutual dependence on each other, it is styled Orthoepy; but when extended to the just enunciation of words arranged into sentences, and depending on each other for sense, it is called Elocution.
Elocution, in its most extensive sense, develops a set of principles, and lays down a system of rules, which teach us to pronounce, either extemporaneous thoughts, or written composition, with justness, energy, variety, and ease. It tends to direct the judgment and improve the taste of the reader or the speaker, not only in delivering his own sentiments, but also in ascertaining the most delicate shades and graces of thought intended to be expressed in a piece of composition enunciated, so as to present to the mind of the hearer, the full meaning of the author, in the most lively, impressive, and glowing, and forcible
It contemplates the development and cultivation of those powers
of the human voice employed in speech, and directs them to such an adaptation and application in their movements, as will enable them to perform the high functions of their
office with all that energy, beauty, variety, and effect, with which, under such cultivation only, they are capable.
The first object of elocution is, to make a good reader; its second object is, to make a good reader; its third object, to make a good reader; its last and grand object is, to make an accomplished and a powerful SPEAKER.
That the study of this science is capable of making great orators of the generality of men, no one has the folly to contend; but to suppose, that a legitimate argument against the general utility of the science may hence be drawn, would be equally unreasonable. To the auditor, the force and beauty of every sentence uttered, and not unfrequently its meaning, depend upon the manner in which it is pronounced. Not only the stronger passions and emotions, such as love, joy, grief, pity, sorrow, envy, anger, and remorse, admiration, approbation, commendation, vexation, and reproof, courage, terrour, re. proach, and the like, require each its peculiar intonation, but, likewise, all the less prominent affections and feelings.
In uttering our own thoughts we are not so liable to depart from the simplicity of nature, as we are in expressing the sentiments of others. By a misconception of the spirit and design of the author, readers and speakers often mar, and sometimes totally pervert, his meaning. Hence the importance of atten- . tion to rules, by the observance of which, misconceptions and erroneous modes of utterance may generally be avoided, and the sentiments of the author be expressed in a manner, at once, agreeable and impressive.
It is not, perhaps, possible to lay down rules for the management of the voice in reading and speaking, by which all the necessary tones, pauses, emphases, modulations, and inflections may be discovered and put in practice. To accomplish this, much depends on the judgment and natural taste of the learner; and much more, on the example and instructions of the living teacher. Yet it will not be denied by those who are competent to decide, that strict attention to a judicious set of rules, grounded in the nature of language and the philosophy of the human voice, will prove highly serviceable to such as are at:
tempting to form a chaste and an accurate enunciation. If it be admitted, that principles and rules are useful in the attainment of any art or science, it cannot be denied that they are equally so to the votary of the science of reading and speaking.
But in order to approach perfection in any art or science, attention to rules alone will be found insufficient. The student in elocution should remember, that the vocal powers,
like those of the mind or the other powers of the body, are strengthened and matured, and brought under subjection, only by a long and persevering exercise of them. For his encouragement, also, he ought to bear in mind, that those functions of voice exerted in speech, are as susceptible of improvement by cultivation and practice, as those, for example, which are employed in singing. Who would expect to attain a high degree of excellence in playing upon a wind instrument, without frequently blowing upon it? or to become a skilful mechanist, without learning the names and use of the tools of that art to which he was devoted? or to become a clear and sound reasoner, without carefully and frequently exercising his thinking and reasoning faculties upon different subjects and in various methods? Let no one, then,cherish the thought, that he can excel in elocution, without a careful attention to the nature, and character, and application of the principles of the science: but, at the same time, let the ambitious student bear in mind, that, as by strict attention to principles and rules, and by long practice, with native endowments by no means extraordinary, the vocalist attains a perfection in harmony which awakes the soul to the enjoyment of the most delightful emotions; the musician is enabled to produce those thrilling and spirit-stirring sounds which affect the feelings and the senses as if drawn out by the voice of a heavenly enchanter; the mechanist, to rear a monument of skill and ingenuity which calls forth the plaudits of an admiring world, and carries down his name to posterity; the mariner, to traverse the vast wilderness of unknown waters, and reveal to his fellow men their distant islands and boundaries; the logician, to penetrate the dark depths of errour and chaos, and bring up from among the rubbish the precious pearls and gems of truth;
the philosopher, to pierce the veil of ignorance and speculation, and ascertain and establish the true system of the universe; the geologist, to disclose the treasures buried in the bowels of the earth; the painter, to make the russet canvass glow with life; and the sculptor, to make the inanimate marble breathe; so, by similar attention and exertions, he may learn to make that which is dull in composition, appear interesting; that which is commonplace, novel; that which is plain, elegant; and what is tame, eloquent; and in short, to bring out of that which is truly excellent, all those latent beauties and rich graces of thought, in such a manner as to excite the deepest interest, and elicit the highest admiration, of his auditors.
A good reader has always at his command, not only a vast field of the most refined and rational enjoyment—even the whole field of literature and science-over which he himself may revel, but, also, the ability to conduct others into it, by a way, at once, the most enticing and delightful. In this respect, he possesses so enviable an advantage over common people as to render it a matter of astonishment that we so seldom meet with one thus endowed. When occasion calls forth his peculiar talent, he appears among them like the stately magnolia, tower. ing above the vulgar trees of the forest, and shedding upon them the sweet fragrance of its blossoms.
But what a disagreeable contrast is presented in the perform. ance of a bad reader! In his hands, the most glowing senti ments appear tame; the most burning thoughts are congealed; attick wit becomes burlesque; satire is rendered pointless; u beauty is transformed into deformity; and all ornaments of style wither; and thus, a piece of the most polished and eloquent composition, appears to as great a disadvantage as would a pleasure-garden with its walls overturned, its gravelwalks marred, its fountains and statues dilapidated, its trees and shrubbery scathed, and its plants and flowers trodden down.
Who can behold, with delight, a race horse with a broken limb? a bird with a crippled wing? a plant growing crooked? or a beautiful stream choked up with sedges and rubbish? And yet, how often do we witness a far more painful spectacle in
the exhibition of one of those literary monsters vulgarly called
bad readers! Before the performance commences, we have í displayed the insipid formalities of the prelusive scene, during which our champion of vocal utterance is devoutly engaged in bringing his body to an artificial bearing, in adjusting his collar and cravat, in smoothing down his visage, and in putting his mouth in a proper posture for the wordy combat. A few moments having been taken up in acting this distressing prologue, he at length gets under way; but having mistaken his key-note, our ears are assailed with a piercing and unseemly shrillness of tone which affects us about as agreeably as the
cry of a snipe or a killdeer, or the creaking of a rusty hinge; or he advances in a hoarse, dissonant, croaking tone, as if in imitation of the combined powers of the peacock, the bullfrog, and the alligator, which may be supposed to have joined in a concert; or, perhaps, with a view of correcting his mistake, he suddenly falls into a dull, disagreeable, dragging, humdrum monotone; or gallops off on the sharp back of a quaver: and not to be daunted by the most gigantick obstacle, he
and paces, and hobbles, and flounders along through his performance, to the infinite disgust, and inexpressible mortification, of his hear
His articulation is indistinct; his pronunciation, affected; his accentuation, erroneous; his emphasis, misapplied; all appropriate inflections are reversed; pauses are either perverted or trampled under foot; melody is put upon the rack, and harmony expires; all rules are set at defiance; correct taste is
of the author takes the put out of countenance; the meanin, alarm and escapes from view; the modesty of nature is put to the blush; and the whole group of proprieties is sent jibbering down to chaos.
To see a piece of elegant composition tattered and torn, and mutilated and mangled, by such a reader, severer torture than to listen to the jarring notes of a discordant choir, to an untuned organ, or to a cracked fiddle. I would rather ride post over a hubby road in December; walk barefoot over a sandy plain in July; or be compelled to live a fortnight in a smoky house; or to devour a Ratcliffe novel at one meal; or to read a chapter