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ITS CONNEXION WITH GOOD EDUCATION.
The art of reading well is indispensable to one who expects to be a public speaker; because the principles on which it depends are the same as those which belong to rhetorical delivery in general, and because nearly all bad speakers were prepared to be so, by early mismanagement of the voice in reading.
But the subject is one of common interest to all, who aim at a good education. Every intelligent father, who would have his son or daughter qualified to hold a respectable rank in well-bred society, will regard it as among the very first of polite accomplishments, that they should be able to read well. But beyond this, the talent may be applied to many important purposes of business, of rational entertainment, and of religious duty. Of the multitudes who are not called to speak in public, including the whole of one sex, and all but comparatively a few of the other, there is no one to whom the ability to read in a graceful and impressive manner, may not be of great value. In this country, then, where the advantages of education are open to all, and where it is a primary object with parents of all classes, to have their children well instructed, it would seem reasonable to presume that nearly all our youth, of both sexes, must be good readers. Yet the number who can
properly be so called, is comparatively small. No defect of vocal organs, nor of intelligence and sensibility, which may be supposed to exist among the pupils of our schools, is sufficient to account for the wretched habits of reading, which are so prevalent. The fact must be ascribed to causes more unquestionable and radical in their operation; and these causes, in my opinion, are to be found chiefly, in the inadequate views of the subject, entertained by those to whom the interests of early education are committed.
Notwithstanding the manifest advances in public sentiment respecting this matter, which we have witnessed within a few years, there are still many Teachers, and publishers of reading lessons, who maintain that no precepts as to management of voice can be useful to the young; but that every thing of this sort tends to embarrass rather than aid the attainment of a good elocution. But if it is enough to put a book into the hands of a pupil, and require him to read, without giving him any instructions how to read, then I ask, among the past generations, who have been treated just in this manner, why have not all, or nearly all, become good readers? Teachers have been sufficiently sparing of rules; and if a boy was only careful to speak his words distinctly and fluently, and “mind the stops,” nothing more was required. Elementary books too have been, till of late, nearly silent as to precepts for regulating the manner in reading. Some of these did formerly give the three following directions;—that the parenthesis requires a quick and weak pronunciation ;-that the voice should be raised at the end of a question ;-and dropped into a cadence, at the end of all other sentences. The first direction, as to the parenthesis, is proper in all cases. The second is proper in all questions answered by yes or no, and improper in all others. Hence the teacher found the instincts of every child to rebel against the rule, in reading such questions as,—" Who art thou?" " Where is boasting then?”—and just so, as to
the last rule, respecting cadence, when a sentence ends with an antithetic, negative clause; as, “ You were paid to fight against Alexander, not to rail at him.”
But because very defective precepts are useless or pernicious, does it follow that this interesting subject must be left to accident; so that if any one becomes a good reader, it shall be only because it happens to be so? Then it will doubtless happen, in time to come, as it has in time past, that the number of good readers will be few, very few.
In answer to this question, some who discard all theory in elocution, would probably say, -we would by no means leave the learner to chance; we would have him imitate his Teacher, who should be qualified to correct his faults of manner, by exemplifying himself what is right, and what is wrong, in any given case. Doubtless the Teacher should watch every opportunity to aid his pupil in this manner. But when he reads a sentence well, as an example to his pupil, is this done by accident? Is there no reason why his emphasis is laid on one word rather than another?-why it is strong or weak? why his pauses are long or short? why he makes a difference between a parenthetic clause and another?--why his voice turns upward on one word, and downward on another?—why he ends a sentence with a small cadence, or a great one, or with no cadence, as cases vary? Is all this mere chance? If so, the pupil may as well be left to chance without, as with a Teacher. If not; -if the Teacher has a reason why he reads so, and not otherwise, cannot he tell that reason? This is what common sense requires of him, to teach by precept and example both. Besides ;—what if that Teacher reads badly, himself; just because they who were his patterns, during the formation of his early habits, were bad readers? Must we go on still at the same rate, and insist on it that the proper remedy for bad reading, is the imitation of bad examples? Then we have no remedy. But common sense,