« PreviousContinue »
Ruetoric, or the art of persuasion, is of such importance in the great concerns of society, that it is not surprising so much has been written on this subject in every age and nation, where the arts and sciences have been cultivated. The power of pleasing and persuading those whom we address has excited every faculty in the mind of man, to detect, if possible, the secret springs of that pleasure and persuasion, which give us such dominion over the feelings of our fellow creatures.
The ancients have left us everlasting monuments of their excellence in this art, and, in their endeavours to investigate the principles of it, have descended to such niceties as we think childish and insignificant : but that branch of oratory which Demosthenes called the first, the second, and the third part of it, and which was so assiduously cultivated by the ancients -that, alas ! perished with them, and left their compositions like a lifeless corpse, beautiful in death, but deprived of all that vigour and energy, which agitated and astonished their wondering auditors. We hear at this distance but a faint echo of that thunder in Demosthenes, which shook the throne of Macedon to its foundations, and are sometimes at a loss for that conviction in the arguments of Cicero, which balanced, in the midst of convulsions, the tottering republic of Rome.
This part of rhetoric, which consists in pronunciation and action, and which may be called the soul of oratory, is, from its very nature, less capable of being communicated by writing, and has therefore been less improved by the joint labours of succeeding ages ; and thus, while invention, disposition, and elocution, in the ancient sense of the word, have been cultivated by the moderns to the highest degree of perfection, pronunciation or delivery has scarcely attained mediocrity. The importance, however, of this part of oratory has induced several ingenious men to give the outlines of it upon paper, and to describe, as well as they were able, those variations of voice, which the various structure and import of a sentence seemed to require. Numberless have been the attempts to mark to the eye some of those modifications of tone and inflection, which form the essence of a good enunciation. Pauses, dashes, and notes of interrogation, exclamation, and parentheses, are but so many attempts to facilitate the delivery of written language, and, if properly adapted, have undoubtedly a considerable use. Nay, marking the emphatic words in a different char- . acter is sometimes found highly advantageous; but
the most simple, the most marking, and the most use. ful method of all, seems hitherto to have been entirely neglected,—and that is distinguishing the speaking voice into its two essential turns or inflections, the rising and the falling. This neglect is the more remarkable, as the want of some such distinction of the voice has unquestionably been the occasion, that so little progress has been made in conveying the art of speaking upon paper, and teaching it by rules.
Almost all our writers on this subject, after giving rules for pausing, tell us there are certain tones and inflections of voice, which are of much more importance to the meaning of the words we read than the points we make use of, however judiciously adapted. But here they generally leave us. The interrogation and exclamation points, indeed, are said not only to require suitable pauses, but likewise an elevation of voice, and the parenthesis a moderate depression of it. Mr. Perry, in his English Grammar, has gone so far as to tell us, that the interrogation, when it does not begin with the relative, who, which, or what, or the adverbs how, where, when, &c. requires an elevation of voice; and an old writer, Charles Butler, of Magdalen college, Oxford, has in his English Grammar gone one step farther, and told us, that this species of interrogation not only requires an elevation but a different turn of voice. Here was a hint which one would have imagined would have set some grammarian at work to inquire what this turn of voice was : but more than a hundred years passed without any such inquiry; till the author of the present work, about twenty years ago, when he was preparing to give lessons at Oxford, and trying every method to gain some permament modifications of the speaking voice, in order to form some certain rules for reading or adapting the voice to the structure and meaning of a sentence, observed, that every word had necessarily either an upward or a downward turn, or continued in a monotone. This distinction he thought of such importance as to make him hope it might attract the. notice of the public; and he accordingly introduced it, in a work called Elements of Elocution, but found no notice taken of it, till within these last three or four years, and then very imperfectly. About ten years ago he observed, that these two turns, the upward and the downward, were sometimes united on the same syllable, or, as it may be called, in the same explosion of voice, and formed a compound turn, either beginning with the upward and ending with the downward, or vice versá, and these compound turns he called circumflexes. Here he began to flatter himself that he had made a discovery, and found means to bind that varying Proteus, the speaking voice; as he conceived that there was no tortuous or zigzag turn in speaking which might not be reduced to one of these modifications, and, consequently, that he had some permanent data on which to found a system of rhetorical pronunciation.