« AnteriorContinuar »
( 13 )
American Monitor, &c.
ELOCUTION is a branch of oratory, the power and importance of which, is greater than is generally thought; infomuch that eloquence takes its name from it.
It was much cultivated by Quintilian, and before him by Cicero, and before him by M. Antonius; but before his time, it w was too much neglected by the Roman orators: Which made him fay," he had feen many men famous for eloquence, but not one of them that understood elocution."
But what ftrefs was laid upon it by the Greek oràtors, appears from that celebrated faying of Demofthenes; who being afked, what was the first principal thing in oratory? anfwered, Pronunciation; being afked again, what was the fecond? replied, Pronunciation. And what was the third ? Pronunciation. Denoting that, in his judgment, the whole art, fpirit, and power of oratory confifted in this.
Cicero, and after him Quintilian, divided oratory into five parts: 1. Invention-by which we provide ourfelves with fuitable and fufficient materials for a discourse. 2. Disposition
by which they meant the divifion of their fubject into parts and fentences, according to the moft natural order; and confequently; the proper distribution and arrangement of their ideas. 3. Elocution by which they always meant, what we call Diction; which confifts in fuiting our words to our ideas, and the ftyle to the subject. 4. Memory, or a faculty of clearly difcerning and retaining our ideas, and of calling to mind the propereit words by which to exprefs them. 5. Pronunciation; or the art of managing the voice and gefture in fpeaking.
So that by pronunciation, the ancients underflood both Elocution and Action; and comprehended in it the right management of the voice, looks, and gefture. To the former of thefe, viz. the right management of the voice in reading or fpeaking, which is indifferently called by us, Elocution and Pronunciation, 1 fhall here confine myself.
The great defign and end of a good pronunciation is, to make the ideas feem to come from the heart; and then they will not fail to,excite the attention and affections of thofe that
hear us: from which the great benefit and usefulness of this too much neglected art may be seen.
Of Bad Pronunciation.
THE feveral faults of pronunciation are thefe following: 1. When the voice is too loud.
This is very difagreeable to the hearer, and very inconvenient to the fpeaker.
It will be very difagreeable to the hearers, if they be perfons of good tafle; who will always look upon it to be the effect either of ignorance or affectation.
Some will impute it to your ignorance, and fuppofe that you were never inftructed better, fince you left the reading fchool; where children generally get a habit of reading in a high-pitched key, or a uniform elevated voice, without any regard to emphafis, cadence, or a graceful elocution.
Others will impute it to affectation; or a defign to work upon their paffions; which will immediately defeat the defign, if you had it. For if you would effectually move the paffions, you must carefully conceal your intention fo to do: for as foon as the mind perceives you have fuch a defign upon it, it will be upon its guard. However, none but the most low, weak, and mechanical minds will be affected with mere dint of found and noife. And the paffions fo raised leave no lasting or valuable effects upon the mind, and anfwer no good purpofe or end; because the understanding hath nothing to do with fuch impreffions, and the memory no handle by which to retain or recall them. Not to fay, it often anfwers a bad end; affects the mind in a wrong place, and gives it a false bias. However this may be thought to become the ftage or the bar, it leaft of all befits the pulpit; where all ought to be folemn, ferious, rational, and grave as the fubjects there treated of.
It is falfe oratory then to feek to perfuade or affect by mere vehemence of voice: a thing that hath been often attempted by men of mean furniture, low genius, or bad taste, among the ancients as well as the moderns. A practice which formerly gave the judicious Quintilian great offence: who calls it not only clamouring, but furious bellowing; not vehemence, but downright violence.
Besides, an overstrained voice is very inconvenient to the fpeaker, as well as difguftful to judicious hearers. It exhausts his fpirits to no purpofe; and takes from him the proper management and modulation of his voice according to the fenfe
of his fubject: and, what is worst of all, it naturally leads
him into a tone.
Every man's voice indeed fhould fill the place where he fpeaks; but if it exceed its natural key, it will be neither sweet, nor foft, nor agreeable, because he will not be able to give every word its proper and diftinguishing found.
2. Another fault in pronunciation is when the voice is too low. This is not fo inconvenient to the speaker, but is as difagreeable to the hearer, as the other extreme. And indeed to the generality of hearers a too low voice is much more difpleafing than a too loud one; especially to those who are troubled with an impediment in hearing, and thofe who are beft pleafed with a lively and pathetic addrefs, as molt are. It is always offenfive to an audience to obferve any thing in the reader or fpeaker that looks like indolence or inattention. The hearer will never be affected whilft he fees the fpeaker indifferent.
The art of governing the voice confifts a good deal in dexterously avoiding these two extremes: at leaft, this ought to be first minded. And for a general rule to dire& you herein, I know of none better than this-carefully to preferve the key, that is, the command of your voice; and at the fame time, to adapt the elevation and strength of it to the condition and number of the perfons you fpeak to, and the nature of the place you speak in.-It would be altogether as ridiculous in a general who is haranguing an army to speak in a low and languid voice, as in a perfon who reads a chapter in a family, to speak in a loud and eager one.
3. Another fault of pronunciation is a thick, hafty, cluttering voice.
This is, when a perfon mumbles, or clips, or fwallows his words, that is, leaves out fome fyllables in the long words, and never pronounces fome of the fhort ones at all; but hurries on without any care to be heard diftinctly, or to give his words their full found, or his hearers the full fenfe of them.
This is often owing to a defect in the organs of fpeech, or a too great flutter of the animal fpirits; but oftener to a bad
Demofthenes, the greatest orator Greece ever produced, had, it is faid, nevertheless, three natural impediments in pronunciation; all which he conquered by invincible labour and perfeverance. One was a weakness of voice: which he cured by frequently declaiming on the fea-fhore, amidst the noife of
Another was a shortness of breath; which he mended by repeating his orations as he walked up a hill. And the other was the fault I am fpeaking of; a thick mumbling way of fpeaking; which he broke himself of by declaiming with pebbles in his mouth.
4. Another fault in pronunciation is when perfons speak too quick.
There is fcarce any fault more common than this, efpecially among young perfons, who imagine they can read very well, and are not afraid of being flopped in their career by the unexpected intervention of any hard word. And fcarce any bad habit of the voice is conquered with more difficulty; though one would imagine nothing is more easy.
This manner of reading may do well enough when we are examining leafes; perufing indentures; or reciting acts of parliament, where there is always a great fuperfluity of words; or in reading a newspaper, where there is but little matter that deferves our attention; but is very improper in reading books of devotion and inftruction, and efpecially the facred fcriptures, where the folemnity of the fubject or the weight of the fenfe demands a particular regard. But it is most of all inexcufable to read forms of prayer in this manner as acts of devotion.
The great difadvantage which attends this manner of pronunciation, is, that the hearer lofes the benefit of more than half the good things he hears, and would fain remember, but cannot. And a fpeaker fhould always have a regard to the memory, as well as the understanding, of his hearers.
5. It is alfo a fault to speak too flow.
Some are apt to read in a heavy, droning, fleepy way; and through mere carelefsnefs make paufes at improper places. This is very difagreeable. But to hem, hauk, fneeze, yawn, or cough, between the periods, is vastly more fo.
A too flow elocution is moft faulty in reading trifles that do not require attention. It then becomes tedious. A perfon that is addicted to this flow way of fpeaking fhould always take care to reward the hearer's patience with important fentiments, and compenfate the want of words by a weight of thoughts; and give his difcourfe its proper quantity of folid fenfe, that, as we fay, what it wants in length, it may make out in breadth.
But a too flow elocution is a fault very rarely to be found, unlefs in aged people, and thofe who naturally speak fo in common converfation. And in thefe, if the pronunciation be in all other refpects juft, decent, and proper, and efpecially if the fubject be weighty or intricate, it is very excufable.
6. An irregular or uneven voice, is a great fault in reading. That is, when the voice rifes and falls by fits and starts, or when it is elevated and depreffed unnaturally or unfeafonably, without regard to fenfe or ftops; or always beginning a fentence with a high voice, and concluding it with a low one, or vice verfa; or always beginning and concluding it with the fame key. Oppofite to this is
7. A flat, dull, uniform tone of voice, without emphasis or cadence, or any regard to the fenfe or fubject of what is read.
This is a habit, which children who have been used to read their leffons by way of task, are very apt to fall into, and retain as they grow up; fuch a monotony as attorneys' clerks read in, when they examine an engroffed deed. This is a great infelicity when it becomes habitual; because it deprives the hearer of the greatest part of the benefit or advantage he might receive by a clofe attention to the most weighty and interesting parts of the fubject, which fhould always be diftinguished or pointed out by the pronunciation-For a just pronunciation is a good commentary.
Laftly, the greatest and most common fault of all is reading with a tone.
No habit is more easy to be contracted than this, or more hard to be conquered. This unnatural tone in reading and fpeaking is very various; but whatever it be, it is always difguftful to perfons of delicacy and judgment.
Some have a womanifh fqueaking tone; which, perfons whofe voices are forill and weak, and over-ftrained, are very apt to fall into.
Some have a finging or canting tone, which enthufiaftic fpeakers generally much affect, and by which their hearers are often much affected. Others affect a high, fwelling, theatrical tone; who being ambitious of the fame of fine orators, lay too much emphafis on every fentence, and thereby tranfgrefs the rules of true oratory.
Others affect an awful and friking tone, attended with folemn grimace, as if they would move you with every word, whether the weight of the fubject bear them out or not. This is what perfons of a gloomy or melancholy caft of mind are moft apt to give into.
Some have a fet uniform tone of voice; which I have already taken notice of.-Others, an odd, whimfical, whining tene, peculiar to themfelves, and not to be defcribed-only that it is laying the emphasis on words which do not require or deferve it.