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or discourse ought to be pronounced, as for want of the ability to execute what their cultivated taste has learned to admire; while others, it is admitted, have no love for what is excellent, whether in the intonations of the voice, or in the action which accompanies them. The latter blunder heedlessly along, and, without perceiving it, are guilty of a thousand errors, which of course they never attempt to correct; while the former too often perceive their errors and defects but to lament them, often fail in their attempts at improvement, and at other times, for fear of a failure, neglect to attempt what, had they dared to risk the experiment, they might successfully have performed. It is the object of this Manual, to cultivate the taste; and to give to all who will consent to make it a study the ability to perform whatever a good taste can direct.
It is generally admitted, that few persons can safely rely, for the effect of their discourses, solely on a favorable combination of circumstances, or on their weight of character, or even on mere force of thought or eloquence of language. The ornaments of eloquence" must be superadded. These consist in the various melodies of the voice and in suitable gesture of the body. “He who arms himself with these,” says one of the ancient Rhetoricians, “ assaults his hearers in three ways. He invades their understanding by his eloquence, he subdues their ears by the charms of his voice, and their eyes by the attractions of his gesture.”—Whether ease and grace of gesture can be acquired, cannot admit of one rational doubt. In general, the gestures are performed by the action of the voluntary muscles; and thus gesture is as much an art, considered with reference to the mode in which it is to be performed, as is penmanship, dancing, or any handicraft employment.
But can instruction improve the voice also ? To this interrogatory it might seem sufficient to reply, that the attractions of the stage in all ages have depended very materially on the power of vocal execution possessed by the actors—a power not unfrequently wholly acquired, and acquired too, in the only schools where, in modern times, the art of speaking has been cultivated. Besides this, the two great orators of antiquity studied this branch of elocution in particular as an art. Demosthenes, whose voice was weak, whose articulation was defective, and whose tongue stammered, after an unsuccessful effort in which he was hissed from the assembly, was persuaded by a player whom he met, to undertake the study of elocution; and by a course of training such as few have ever subjected themselves to, he demonstrated that the practical application of the principles of this art can be learned. Even his great adversary and rival in oratory, after reciting before the Rhodians, at their request, the oration of Demosthenes for Ctesiphon, replied to their expressions of admiration, “What would you have said if you had heard him deliver it!” With Cicero, too, it was much the same. At the age of twenty-seven, according to Plutarch, after having arrived at some eminence as a pleader, “though his voice had a variety of inflections, it was at the same time harsh and unformed; and as in the vehemence and enthusiasm of speaking, he always rose into a loud key, there was reason to apprehend that it might injure his health.” He consequently applied himself to teachers. At a subsequent period, this writer tells us, “his voice was formed; and at the same time that it was full and sonorous, had gained a sufficient sweetness, and was brought to a key which his constitution could bear.” But-to show how elocution was studied in ancient times-he stopped not here, but visited Asia and Rhodes, to listen to the greatest orators, and to receive instruction from the best teachers. And it was at the latter place, when declaiming in Greek before Apollonius, that the rhetorician, with sadness of heart at the recollection of the wasted glory of his native land, the country of Demosthenes, said, “As for you, Cicero, I praise and admire you, but I am concerned for the fate of Greece. She had nothing left her but the glory of eloquence and erudition, and you are carrying that too to Rome.” The ancient orators and rhetoricians all treated of the voice as among the first objects of culture; and wherever great excellence was attained in its management, it was duly appreciated.
This science has also been studied by many of England's most eminent orators. Mr. Pitt learned elocution under the tuition of his noble and eloquent father; and it was of one of his speeches that even Fox could say, “ The orators of antiquity would have admired, probably would have envied it;" and after listening to another, Mr. Windham says of himself, that "he walked home lost in amazement at the compass, till then unknown to him, of human eloquence.” The case of Sheridan is still more striking. To adopt the language of Lord Brougham,—“With a position by birth and profession little suited to command the respect of the most aristocratic country in Europe--the son of an actor, the manager himself of a theatre—he came into that parliament which was enlightened by the vast and various knowledge, as well as fortified and adorned by the most choice literary fame of a Burke, and which owned the
sway of consummate orators like Fox and Pitt.” But he had studied the elocution of the stage-his father had been his teacher; and although he never acquired any great eminence as a statesman, yet Pitt himself at one time writhed under his eloquence. It was at the close of one of his celebrated speeches before the House of Commons, that the practice of cheering the speaker was first introduced; and it was on this occasion that Mr. Pitt, then prime minister of England, besought the House, as being incapacitated for forming a just judgment under the influence of such powerful eloquence, to adjourn the decision of the question. Several of our distinguished American orators, also, it is asserted, are ever ready to acknowledge their obligation to the study of the principles of that art which is procuring for them so rich a reward of fame. And some of those who have been most admired, are far from being those for whom nature had done the most.
The following system of instruction, both as regards voice and gesture, consists of principles rather than of specific rules; and of principles believed to be drawn from nature, and which, when applied even fully to practice, will leave the learner sufficiently in possession of all his natural peculiarities. Their entire object is to refine and perfect nature; not to pervert it. The greatest orators, even the most popular players, are those who have made art subservient to the development of their own native powers; and who at least seem to have been formed on no model. Here, as elsewhere, art is supposed to be but the handmaid of nature.
It is believed that the careful study, on the part of the learner, of the principles here presented him, even though thus restricted, if accompanied with proper practice on the tables and exercises, will do for him all that study has ever done, or can do, to make the speaker.
First, it will greatly assist to cultivate the taste, as regards all the excellences of a good delivery.
Second, it will give him a distinct articulation; and furnishes the means by which even the more permanent impediments in speech may be corrected.
Third, it will give him a distinct enunciation, by which we mean nothing more than perfect distinctness of articula-, tion carried into the general delivery.
Fourth, it will give him the command of the various elements both of voice and gesture, which give effect to the expression of thought and feeling, and which, when properly employed, constitute the external graces of eloquence.
Fifth, it will teach him the principles on which these elements are to be employed the most successfully for the purposes just named.
Sixth, it will give him such a familiarity with these elements, and such a command of all his vocal powers, as will enable him practically to execute whatever he is disposed to attempt. And
Seventh, it will do all this, by perfecting and improving his own natural powers, rather than by substituting, or attempting to substitute, others for them.
The taste may indeed be improved in various ways,by reading works and attending lectures on Elocution, as also by studying living models of excellence in oratory; but the power of execution can be learned only by practice. If it can be acquired by other means, the author of this Manual has not discovered them. On practice, and on that