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"Must to the pow'rs of genius vigor give,
Altered from SHERIDAN.
To acquire then such a compass and variety in the tones of the voice, as to adapt them with ease to every sentiment, is the last attainment in the art of reading well. But let us here point out a very common mistake with many persons, whose voices are in other respects sweet and expressive. From a false notion of melody, they adopt a singing tone, and by the uniformly elevation and depression of the voice, compose us to sleep, with their tuneful lullabies. POPE's remarks on true harmony in versification are equally applicable to the just modulations of the voice in reading and speaking :
" "Tis not enough no harshness gives offenee, "The sound must seem an echo to the sense. "Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, "And the smooth stream in smoother number flows: "But, when loud surges lash the sounding shore, "The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar. "When AJAX strives some rock's vast weight to throw, "The line too labors, and the words move slow: "Not so, when swift CAMILLA scours the plain, "Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main. "Hear how TIMOTHEUS' vary'd lays surprise, "And bid alternate passions fall, and rise!
“While, at each change, the Son of Lybian JOVE
"Now burns with glory, and then melts with love;
Now his fierce eyes with trembling fury glow,'
"Now sighs steal out, and tears begin to flow!
"And the world's victor stood subdu'd by sound.”
It is presumed that all the precepts which have been laid down with endless detail on the art of reading and speaking,
speaking, as far as respects utterance, may be reduced to three heads now explained, a distinct articulation, a just emphasis, and the well-varied tones of sentiment and the passions. Nothing therefore remains to be added but a few remarks on the astonishing effect of proper looks and gestures. From these, language derives its most irresistible power it is sure to enter the heart, when the sounds are accompanied with action-when the eye and the ear receive the impression at the same instant.
DEMOSTHENES having been asked what was the first and most essential qualification of a public speaker, answered, Action. Being asked, what was the second, he replied as before, Action. Being asked, what was the third, he answered again, Action-still continuing to make the same reply till they had done questioning him, giving them to understand, that, without action, all the other qualifications of a speaker were to be considered as of little or no moment,- —a truth which he himself had been taught too sensibly not to abide by it for ever. After intense application to private study, and notwithstanding the uncommon vigor of his genius, and the matchless energy of his language, he was ill-received by the people till he learned how to manage his weapons,-how to direct his thunder, how to rouse or allay the passions at pleasure by the powers of utterance and action. On the mortifying failure of his first attempt to speak in public, a Player of his acquaintance made him sensible of his defect, andclearly discovered to him that, without animated gestures, the most beautiful language may be compared to a lifeless corpse, and is more likely to chill the hearer than to warm and transport him.
The ancients had a large collection of precepts for regulating the tones and gestures of persons who were to speak in public; and some modern writers have increased
the number of rules by observations of their own. But the spirit of them is compressed in a few sentences by SHAKESPEARE. This admirable painter of human life had often seen, with heart-felt vexation, his finest portraits, or, to use a theatrical phrase, his most finished characters cruelly murdered by the ignorance or affectation of the performers. He therefore took an opportunity of indirectly censuring their blunders, in the following instructions to a company of players; which he puts into the mouth of HAMLET.
"Speak the fpeech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue : but, if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier had spoke my lines. And do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus: but use all gently; for, in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. Oh! it offends me to the soul, when I hear a robusteous, periwig-pated fellow, tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings. It out-herods HEROD: pray you, avoid it.
"Be not too tame, neither; but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, and the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing, the end of which both was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature, to shew virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone, or come tardy of, though it make the unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of one of which must, in your judgment, o'erweigh a whole theatre of
"Read what CICERO and QUINTILIAN say of enunciation, and see what a stress they lay upon the gracefulness of it: nay, CICERO goes further, and even maintains, that a good figure is necessary for an orator; and particularly, that he must not be vastus, that is overgrown and clumsy. He shews by it, that he knew mankind well, and knew the powers of an agreeable figure and a graceful manner, Men are much oftener led by their hearts than by their understandings. The way to the heart is, through the senses: please their eyes and their ears, and the work is half done. I have frequently known a man's fortune decided for ever by his first address. If it is pleasing, people are hurried involuntarily into a persuasion, that he has a merit, which possibly he has not; as, on the other hand, if it is ungraceful, they are immediately prejudiced against him, and unwilling to allow him the merit which, it may be, he has. Nor is this sentiment so unjust and unreasonable, as at first it may seem; for, if a man has parts, he must know of how much consequence it is to him to have a graceful manner of speaking, and a genteel and pleasing address, and he will cultivate and improve them to the utmost. What is the constant and just observation, as to all actors upon the stage? Is it not, that those who have the best sense always speak the best, though they may happen not to have the best voices. They will speak plainly, distinctly, and with a proper emphasis, be their voices ever so bad. Had Roscius spoken quick, thick, and ungracefully, I will answer for it that CICERO would not have thought him worth the oration which he made in his favor. Words were given us to communicate our ideas by; and there must be something inconceivably absurd, in uttering them in such a manner, as that either people cannot understand them, or will not desire to understand them. I tell you truly and sincerely,
that I shall judge of your parts by your speaking grace fully or ungracefully. If you have parts, you will never be at reft till you have brought yourself to a habit of speaking most gracefully; for I aver, that it is in your power. You will desire your tutor, that you may read aloud to him, every day; and that he will interrupt and correct you, every time that you read too fast, do not observe the proper stops, or lay a wrong emphasis, You will take care to open your teeth when you speak; to articulate every word distinctly; and to beg of any friend you speak to, to remind and stop you, if ever you fall into the rapid and unintelligible mutter. You will even read aloud to yourself, and tune your utterance to your own ear; and read at first much slower than you need to do, in order to correct that shameful habit of speaking faster than you ought. In short, you will make it your business, your study, and your pleasure, to speak well, if you think right. Therefore, what I have said, is more than sufficient, if you have sense; and ten times more would not be sufficient, if you have not: so here I reft it."