« FöregåendeFortsätt »
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1849,
By D. APPLETON & COMPANY,
District of New York.
Of all the departments of learning in our schools, there is none which, by general concession, is more important than that of reading and speaking ; and yet, there is none in which the instruction given is at once so arbitrary, so vague, so unprofitable. In every other, there exists some recognised standard of propriety, tangible, and always at hand, by reference to which, the student can accurately prepare himself for recitation beforehand; and by reference to which, should he make a mistake, while the recitation is in progress, his teacher can intelligibly correct him: make him clearly comprehend the nature of the error into which he has fallen, and effectually guard him against a repetition of it. In writing, he must imitate his copy in geography, he must implicitly receive the statements of his text-book and studiously conform to the delineations of his map: in arithmetic, every process has its rule, which offers itself to him as an infallible guide, through all the intricacies and mazes of numbers : in reading and speaking alone, he is left to acquire a correct and graceful delivery as he may, with such imperfect light as his teacher, whose judgment may be riper, but whose scources of information are not better than his own, can throw upon his path. In truth, the only means by which either of them can determine, that a given passage should be delivered in one way rather than in another, is a mere supposition; namely, that such is the way in which it would be delivered by an artless speaker; or, to adopt the cant phraseology of the day on this subject, such is the natural way; or the way in which one would deliver it, who conforms to nature: a supposition, which, considering the inexperience of the parties forming it, the extensive observation and comparison of the best models of delivery, the cultivated judgment, and the nice critical tact necessary to form it, and withal the prevalence of bad examples even at the Bar and in the Pulpit, to say nothing of the vicious elocution of the multitude, is as liable to be false as true ; and whether false or true, it can be neither denied nor affirmed; since there is nothing beyond itself, in the shape of an authorized standard, with which it may be compared. To conform to nature, or rather to know when we conform to nature, we should previously know what that nature is : what it prescribes : what it excludes.
The inadequacy, I had almost said, the absurdity, of such a method of instruction in grammar, if method it may be called, would be apparent to the most indifferent thinker in the land. Imagine a student endeavoring to acquire a knowledge of its principles without a nomenclature, designating and describing the parts of speech : without examples, illustrating them: without rules, showing their relation and government: in short, without any guide whatever to a knowledge of its facts and laws, except a vague reference to the conflicting practice of those who speak and write the English language : does not every one perceive that, with such means of study, it would be all but impossible to obtain a clear insight into the mysteries of the science ? or that, if some inquirer, more ardent than usual, should persist in the pursuit until success crowned at length his diligence, the work would consume a large proportion of his life? Yet there is no difficulty here which does not meet the student in learning to read and speak by the same process; the scene is changed, but the actor and his part remain as before. He must grope his way in the dark in the same manner : with uncertain footing, and at a venture. He can never be sure of his position, and he is as likely to move in a circle as to advance.
Nor will it materially avail him, in the absence of a nomenclature and of rules, that he possesses in his teacher the very best model of elocution. From such a teacher he may acquire a good articulation, for this in some measure is subject to rule ; but beyond this, which though important is yet subordinate, he can derive no more aid from such a teacher than from any other immeasurably his inferior. Indeed, he will derive less, if the latter, with his imperfect qualifications as a reader, should happen to possess the superior tact as a disciplinarian: greater facility in winning the regard of his pupils ; in commanding their attention ; in exciting their emulation. In other respects the more and the less gifted teacher occupy, in relation to him, the same level. Neither of them can do more than superintend his exercises : neither of them can add any thing to the benefit he derives from the practice those exercises afford. Whatever may be his faults of modulation, no correction of theirs, however just, can, from the very nature of the case, be followed by improvement. To have ocular and auricular demonstration of this, we have only to enter one of our schools in city or country, when a class, containing perhaps a dozen pupils, is called up to read. Observe. The lesson, distributed among them, gives to each scarcely more than a single sentence for rehearsal. One of the pupils, reading his sentence, fails in the judgment of the teacher, to employ the proper delivery. He is now shown how it should be read, (that is, the teacher reads it for him, with, what he deems, the proper modulation,) and is commanded to read it again; and this time, we may presume, he will read it correctly. But what then? If this was the only sentence he ever expected to read, the correction might answer a good purpose. He would probably remember it; and at the next reading, and still more certainly at the next, he would make no mistake. But when called up again, he has the infinitesimal portion of another lesson, to which no correction of the one previously read, is applicable ; or if it is, neither he nor his teacher is aware of it. His reading is again faulty, and is again corrected; and so on with every successive lesson, day after day, the year through. Each correction is an independent one. Having its root in no settled principle, illustrated by examples ; falling under no general law, confirmed by reason and obvious facts; it neither borrows light from the past, nor reflects light on the future. It guards the pupil against nothing but the specific error corrected : its whole force is exhausted on a single sentence which may never be read again, or if read, recognised as having been read before. It is therefore manifestly of no use, then or thenceforward. In any other branch of study, it would be the stepping-stone of a continually accelerating progress; here it terminates with itself: elsewhere a quickening spirit; here a dead letter.
These obvious defects of the prevailing method of instruction, and the enormous waste both of money and of time it occasions, have led a number of ingenious and able men, during the last sixty or seventy years, to inquire whether a better one could not be devised : whether, in other words, the facts and principles of elocution could not be systematized like those of grammar, arithmetic, &c., and hence taught in the same manner. Their works, which are before the public, and well known, propose for our consideration, two distinct systems: the one formed on sentential construction; the other, variously modified, on a theory of Dr. Rush. Of these, the first is unquestionably the system of nature ; and that it should not have made its way into public favor, and become the basis of elementary instruction wherever the English language is spoken, must be imputed, not to any thing wrong in the plan, but simply to the imperfect manner in which, hitherto, it has been developed; for, unfortunately, Mr. Walker, by whom it was first broached in his “ Elements of Elocution," and by whom it was carried to a point not yet passed, and scarcely reached, by those who have followed him, stopped short with an extremely imperfect account of one or two sentences only, and arbitrarily applied, or expected the student to apply, the laws derived from these to every other, however unlike in structure. Hence his failure: acknowledged by himself in the Rhetorical Grammar which he published subsequently to the “ Elements." His work, therefore, sustains the same relation to a complete system of Elocution, that would be sustained by a defective map of the state of New York to a universal Atlas; and, carrying the illustration a little farther, to expect it, with whatever diligence studied, to form a good reader or speaker, would be equivalent to expecting that a man, by looking at such a map of this state, should be qualified to describe the boundaries, towns, rivers, lakes and mountains, of every other state and empire on the surface of the globe.
The other system, that derived from Dr. Rush, and confined, I believe, to this country, however ingenious, and though ably and fully developed, is rather, it must be admitted, a system of vocal exercises than of elocution : as such, its utility in the schoolroom is not readily seen. become thoroughly versed in its various movements, which is no easy attainment, he has not taken as yet one step toward a correct and graceful delivery of a single sentence in the English language. Suppose a sentence presented: the question is, with what vocal movements, or more generally, with what modulation, shall it be read or spoken? To this question the system gives no reply: the appropriate delivery is yet to be ascertained. These authors end, therefore, just where Walker and others begin; or if they proceed farther, and prescribe a delivery for a given passage, they are governed in so doing by no broad general principles authorized by induction, but by the caprices of individual tastes, or like the writers just mentioned, by questionable laws derived from a few isolated cases.—I may add, that this system is exposed to the serious objection of having a strong tendency to form an artificial and mechanical delivery. I have met with several individuals, whose voices, trained by its processes, very distinctly betrayed it.
Should a person
Such are the exceptions which may be taken to the most systematic and elaborate writers on elocution : writers of the higher aim, and the more solid worth. Of others, it is scarcely necessary to speak; for they attempt rather to mitigate the evils of the existing method of instruction, than io remove them by introducing another. Their observations are local, isolated, special: not without value in the particular instances to which they apply; but apart as they are from principles, and incapable of generalization, they merely supersede the incidental and arbitrary dogmas of the instructor.
On the whole, it must be acknowledged that the desideratum in the department of elocution; the work which seizes, generalizes and arranges its facts, develops its principles, and declares its laws; the work in which the public may universally confide as an exposition of true science; the work on which the professor, the academical and common-school teacher, can lay their hands, assured that in it they have a safe guide in all that relates to reading and speaking ; the work, finally, which shall displace the prevailing inefficient and clumsy method, and banish it forever from our schools ;- such a work is yet to appear; and when it does appear, it will doubtless bear upon its face the evidence of its mission, and compel assent to its revelations; and the man who produces it, there can be as little doubt, will be hailed as the benefactor of the young.
That the following work, which I have now the honor of submitting to the public, possesses this high and decisive character, I am of course far from believing. Yet, I confess, I am not entirely without hope, (founded on long and patient investigation, unbiased by received theories or preconceived opinions, and still more on having tested its utility, during the past two years, in the institution with which I am professionally connected,) that it may prove to be at least the herald of the morning: the day-star to such a sun. If it should, I shall be content; though merely glimmering for a space, where my successor will pour full-orbed effulgence.
It will be seen, on examination, that the leading idea of Mr. Walker is mine; namely, that the law of delivery must be derived from the struc- ! ture of the sentence. Mr. Walker, however, either because that idea was not a very clear one, or because he wanted leisure or patience for a wide, comprehensive and exact induction, satisfied himself, as I have already, observed, with an extremely imperfect development of it. What he left undone, I have attempted to do: to give a complete enumeration of the different sentences in the English language, and a description of their distinctive peculiarities of structure. This part of my work, which forms its base, is comprised in chapter fourth. Chapter second, on Punctuation; chapter third, on Modulation; and chapter" sixth, containing the Laws of Delivery, with a long train of examples under each for exercise, are merely derivations from chapter fourth.
The chapter on Emphasis, (ch. 5th,) is the result of discovering, that the laws of delivery, derived from structure, are limited to termination and . direction: to the former, in declarative, and to the latter, in interrogative sentences. In other words, I found that structure determined the modulation at the end of declarative sentences, and of their parts, and the general direction of the voice, through interrogative; but not the modulation of the intermediate portions. This I subsequently traced to the nature, position and influence of emphasis; my discussion of which, the fruit of