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I say again, would combine practice with theory; so that the Teacher, knowing the conformity between thought and vocal language, may not only express this conformity by his own voice, but explain it to his pupils.
There are others, who would discard any systematic instruction on this subject, and yet allow that one important direction ought to be given and incessantly repeated, namely, be NATURAL. But what is it to be natural?
The pupil will understand, probably, that he is to read in the manner that is most easy to himself, or that gives him the least trouble; that is, the manner to which he is accustomed. Bad as that manner may be, the direction has no tendency to mend it; because he supposes that any new manner would be unnatural to him. But you correct him again, and tell him to be natural. The direction is just, is simple, is easily repeated; but the infelicity is, that it has been repeated a thousand times, without any practical advantage. You then become more particular, and tell him that, to be natural he must enter into the spirit of what he utters, and read it so as feeling requires. He tries again, and fails, because he attempts to do what feeling requires, without feeling; and because he has no conception what it is in his voice that is wrong. You tell him perhaps, that he must drop his reading tone, and be natural; but he understands nothing what you mean; and while his manner becomes more rapid or more loud, for this admonition, he goes on with his tone still. He is under the influence of an inveterate habit, which he acquired from being early accustomed to read that which he did not understand, and in which he felt no interest.
To break up unseemly tones, thus deeply fixed by habit, every teacher of reading or speaking finds to be the first and hardest task in his employment. In general, the longer these habits have been cherished, the more stubborn they become; and measures that might be sufficient to prevent
them, are by no means sufficient for their cure To do what is right, with unperverted faculties, is ten times easier than to undo what is wrong. How often do we see men of fine understanding and delicate sensibility, who utter their thoughts in conversation, with all the varied intonations which sentiment requires; but the moment they come to read or speak in a formal manner, adopt a set of artificial tones utterly repugnant to the spirit of a just elocution. Shall we say that such men do not understand what they speak in public, as well as what they speak in conversation? Plainly the difference arises from a perverse habit, which prevails over them in one case, and not in the other. Many instances of this sort I have known, where a man has been fully sensible of something very wrong in his tones, but has not been able to see exactly what the fault is; and after a few indefinite and unsuccessful efforts at amendment, has quietly concluded to go on in the old way. So he must conclude, so long as good sense and emotion are not an equal match for bad habits, without a knowledge of those elementary principles, by which the needed remedy is to be applied. These habits he acquired in childhood, just as he learned to speak at all, or to speak English rather than French,-by imitation. His tones both of passion and of articulation, are derived from an instinctive correspondence between the ear and voice. If he had been born deaf, he would have possessed neither. Now in what way shall he break up his bad habits, without so much attention to the analysis of speaking sounds, that he can in some good degree distinguish those which differ, and imitate those which he would wish to adopt or avoid ? How shall he correct a tone, while he cannot understand why it needs correction, because he chooses to remain ignorant of the only language in which the fault can possibly be described? Let him study and accustom himself to apply a few elementary principles, and then he may at least be able to un
derstand what are the defects of his intonations. I do not say that this attainment may be made with equal facility, or to an equal extent, by all men. But to an important extent it may be made by every one; and that with a moderate share of the effort demanded by most other valuable acquisitions; I might say with one half the time and attention that are requisite to attain skill in music.
Should some still doubt whether any theory of vocal inflections can be adopted, which shall not be perplexing and on the whole injurious, especially to the young, I answer that the same doubt may as well be extended to every department of practical knowledge. To think of the rules of syntax, every sentence we speak, or of the rules of orthography and style, every time we take up our pen to write, would indeed be perplexing. The remedy prescribed by common sense in all such cases, is, not to discard correct theories, but to make them so familiar as to govern our practice spontaneously, and without reflection..
The benefit of analysis and precept is, to aid the teacher in making the pupil conscious of his own faults, as a prerequisite to their correction. The object is to unfetter the soul, and set it free to act. In doing this a notation for the eye, designed to regulate the voice in a few obvious particulars, may be of much advantage: otherwise why shall we not dismiss punctuation too from books, and depend wholly on the teacher for pauses, as well as tones?
The reasonable prejudice which some intelligent men have felt against any system of notation, arises from the preposterous extent to which it has been carried, by a few popular teachers, and especially by their humble imitators. A judicious medium is what we want. Five characters in music, and six vowels in writing, enter into an infinitude of combinations in melody and language. So the elementary modifications of voice in speaking, are few, and easily understood; and to mark them, so far as distinction is use
ful, does not require a tenth part of the rules, which some have thought necessary.
I have made these last remarks, because, while I think it a mere prejudice, and a very mischievous one, to maintain that there are no elementary rules of good reading, there is another extreme, which would carry theoretic directions beyond all bounds of common sense and practical utility. I refer to the theory which maintains that, while musical notes are uttered without any slide, the sounds of articulate language are always spoken with a perceptible slide of the voice, either upward or downward. This, in my opinion, is carrying a useful, general theory to an improper extreme. In the notes of a tune, as given from a stringed instrument, or from the human voice, there certainly is no inflection. But no man of accurate ear will say that there is any necessary distinction between the notes sol, fa, as uttered in music, and the same sounds in speech, where they occur in examples like the following;
My soul, how lovely is the place,”
“ Father of all, in every age, in every clime ador'd." Though it is possible to speak the open vowels, o and a, in the Italic syllables, with inflections, it is not requisite, nor natural; and if any think it to be so, I must suppose that they have not been accustomed to distinguish between a slide of the voice, and that transition of note to higher or lower, in which consecutive syllables are uttered. If however, the position that every syllable has a slide, is held as an occult theory, it is harmless, and needs not a moment's discussion; but if practical importance is attached to it, so that the learner must try to distinguish what slide he must give to each syllable, in the simplest language, the theory becomes positively injurious in influence. It frustrates all just discrimination, by aiming at that which is needless and endless in minuteness. It operates much as it would to require, by the Italic character, or other notation, every word in a sentence to be spoken with emphatic force.
Now the most general principle of a good elocution that can be laid down is; the voice must conform to sentiment Where the thought is simple, and without emotion, as;
No man may put off the law of God;" to insist on any thing like marked stress or inflection is worse than useless. But call the pupil to read;—“Virtue, not rolling suns, the mind matures:" Arm, warriors! Arm for fight !” and it is quite another case. Here stress and inflection are needed on the emphatic words. Why?-Because sense and emotion require it. Let these few words be right, and no matter for the rest;—they will be right, or nearly so, of
But if you require the pupil to give stress and inflection to all the words, you teach him to sacrifice the sense, and aim at conformity to some arbitrary standard of excellence, which he may imagine that he understands, but which will ruin all significant variety in his intonations.
There is one great law of mind, and of language, which Teachers of youth should well understand, namely, that emotion speaks with its own appropriate modes of expression. Where a sentence contains a simple thought, without emotion of any sort, it requires nothing but proper words, in grammatical order. No principle of rhetoric is concerned in forming such a sentence, and none in uttering it, except distinctness. But the moment that passion speaks, grammar is subordinate, and rhetoric becomes ascendant. A groan, a shriek of distress, thrills the heart, without the help of syntax; and the same principle exists as to all the lower degrees of passion, till we come down again to the mere province of words, and grammar. Now passion and discriminating sentiment demand an appropriate expression of voice, not in the mere utterance of words, but in the manner of uttering them. On this principle, rest all the laws of inflection, emphasis &c. which can be given to any valuable purpose.
These laws, as I have said, are few; and can be stated and reduced to practice, with as much ease as any other laws of language.