Page images

preparation for a distinct and forcible pronunciation of the compounds of speech.” By elementary sounds is here meant the forty-two sounds of the language which are represented by the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. They are represented in the following

[blocks in formation]

Pronounce the word eve, for example, slowly and distinctly, observing the sounds which compose the word, and the movements of the organs in producing them. Then enunciate singly the sound which the letter standing on the left has in the word. When a distinct idea of each sound has been acquired, the practice on the separate elements may be continued without pronouncing the words. I have heard these sounds given with distinctness by children five or six years of age. Indeed they should always be taught with the alphabet.

The next step in articulation proceeds with the combinations of the elementary sounds. The most common combinations of consonantal sounds in pairs are those represented in the following

pl bl











rth nth thz tbr thn


[ocr errors]


[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]



Wher. the simpler combinations have become familiar, the more difficult, consisting of three or four consonants, should be practised upon. Finally, words should be pronounced simply as words, giving attention solely to the articulation. Not that the first steps are expected to be perfect before the succeeding ones are attempted, but that attention should be given to only one thing at a time, a grand maxim in education, when rightly understood. These exercises should be conmenced with the first steps in reading, and continued until the articulation is perfected, and the student has acquired facility as well as precision, grace as well as force, and distinctness and ease have been united and permanently secured.

I would not be understood to affirm that the mode here pointed out is the only one by which a good articulation can be acquired. If a child is brought up among persons whose articulation is good, and if, from the earliest years, he is trained to speak with deliberation and distinctness, he will in most cases have a good articulation for conversational purposes, without special drilling on the elements. II. THAT WHICH


This branch of vocal gymnastics comprises, first, the appropriate discipline of the voice for its formation and development, by strength ening it, by extending its compass, and by improving its quality so as to render it full, sonorous, and agreeable; and, secondly, the training of the voice in those modifications which are used in the expression of thought and feeling, including all that variety of management which appears in the delivery of a good speaker.

Strength. To secure the requisite strength of voice should be our first aim in a course of vocal culture. So important was this element of elocutionary training considered by the Athenians, that they had a class of teachers who were wholly devoted to it as a specialty. The zeal and perseverance of Demosthenes in correcting the natural deficiencies of his voice, bave passed into a proverb. How he was accustomed to run up the steepest hills, and to declaim on the sea-shore, when the waves were violently agitated, in order to acquire strength of voice and force of utterance. is known to every school-boy.

Russell says,

If strength of voice is of paramount importance to the speaker, it is also an element which is very susceptible of cultivation. Professor

“ The fact is familiar to instructors in elocution, that persons commencing practice [in vocal gymnastics] with a very weak and inadequate voice, attain, in a few weeks, a perfect command of the utmost degrees of force.” As has already been intimated, the strength of the voice depends directly upon the condition and use of the respiratory organs, including the larynx, and indirectly upon the general health and vigor of the whole physical system. The volume of breath which can be inhaled, and the force with which it can be expelled, determine the degree of energy with which vocal sounds are uttered. This fact affords a clear indication of the proper mode of developing the strength of the voice. It is evident that the exercises which have for their object the strengthening of the voice, should also be adapted to develop and perfect the process of breathing. The student should be frequently trained in set exercises in loud exclamations, pronouncing with great force the separate vowel sounds, single words, and whole sentences, and at the same time taking care to bring into vigorous action, all the muscular apparatus of respiration. Shouting, calling, and loud vociferation, in the open air, both while standing, and while walking or running, are, with due caution, effective means of acquiring vigor of utterance. Children when at play are instinctively given to vociferation, which should be permitted, whenever practicable. One of the most remarkable examples of the extent to which the power of voice may be developed, is that of the Rev. Mr. Whitefield, the celebrated itinerant preacher. Having listened to his preaching in the open air, in Philadelphia, on a certain occasion, Dr. Frauklin found by computation, that he might well be heard by more than thirty thousand auditors. It is said that the habit of speaking gave to the utterance of Garrick so wonderful an energy, that even his ander-key was distinctly audible to ten thousand people. Dr. Porter sums up this matter thus : “ The public speaker needs a powerful voice; the quantity of voice which he can employ, at least can employ with safety, depends on his strength of lungs; and this again depends on a sound state of general health. If he neglects this all other precautions will be useless."

Compass. When a person is engaged in earnest conversation, his vjice spontaneously adopts a certain key or pitch. This is called the natural or middle key, and it varies in different persons. Pitt's voice, it is said, was a full tenor, and Fox's a treble. When a speaker is incapable of loud and forcible utterance on both high and low notes, his voice is said to be wanting in compass. Webster's voice was remarkable for the extent of its compass, ranging with the utmost ease, from the

highest to the lowest notes, required by a spirited and diversified delivery; and such was said to be the versatility of Whitefield's vocal power, that he could imitate the tones of a female, or the infant voice, at one time, and at another, strike his hearers with awe, by the thunder of his under-key.

The want of compass is more frequently the result of bad habits of speaking and imperfect training than of incapacity of the vocal organs. Mr. Murdock, the well-known actor and elocutionist, tells us that, by appropriate vocal training, he gained, within the space of some months, to such an extent, in power and depth of voice, as to add to its previous range a full octave; and this improvement was made at a period after he supposed himself nearly broken down in health and voice, by over-exertion on the stage.

A command of the low notes is essential to the fullest effect of impressive eloquence. The strongest and deepest emotions can be expressed only by a full, deep-toned utterance. Speaking on one key, with only slight variations, either above or below it, is perhaps the most common, and, at the same time, the most injurious fault both of declaimers and of public speakers.

As a means of acquiring compass of voice, the student should pronounce with great force the vowel sounds on both the highest and lowest notes he can reach. This elementary drill should be followed by practice in reading and declaiming selections requiring the extreme notes of the compass. For practice on the low notes, passages should be selected expressing deep solemnity, awe, horror, melancholy, or deep grief. The following fine simile affords an excellent example for practice on the low notes :

“So when an angel, by divine command,
With rising tempests shakes a guilty land,
Such as of late o'er pale Brittania passed,
Calm and serene he drives the furious blast;
And, pleased th’ Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm."

The development of the top of the voice requires practice upon passages expressing brisk, gay, and joyous emotions, and the extremes of pain, fear, and grief. The following examples may serve as illustrations :

Last came Joy's ecstatic trial:
He, with viny crown advancing,
First to the lively ripe his hand addressed:
But soon he saw the brisk, awakening viol,
Whose sweet entrancing voice he loved the best.
They would have thought, who heard the strain


They saw, in Tempe's vale, her native maids,

Amidst the festal-sounding shades,
To some unwearied minstrel dancing;
While, as his flying fingers kissed the strings,
Love framed with MIRTH a gay fantastic round.

Strike - till the last armed foe expires;
Strike — for your altars and your fires;
Strike — for the green graves of your sires, –
God — and your native land!

Quality. A voice may possess the properties we have considered, strength and compass, and yet be very far from perfection. It may be neither loud, nor round, por clear, nor full, nor sweet. While, on the other hand, it may be hollow, or aspirated, or guttural, or nasal, or possibly it may be afflicted with a combination of these faults.

As one of the most important conditions of success in the cultivation of the voice, it is necessary that the student should acquire a distinci conception of the qualities and characteristics of a good voice, as a standard, a beau-ideal, which he may strive to reach. This must be derived mainly from the illustrations of the teacher, or from listening to the speaking of an accomplished orator. No mere description is adequate to convey it to the learner without the aid of the living voice. And yet, such a quaint and charming description of both the negative and positive qualities of a good voice, as the following, from a colloquy between Professor Wilson and the Ettrick Shepherd, is worth studying:

NORTH. (Professor Wilson.) “James, I love to hear your voice. An Esquimaux would feel himself getting civilized under it — for there's sense in the very sound. A man's character speaks in his voice, even more than in his words. These he may utter by rote, but his voice is the man for a' that,' and betrays or divulges his peculiar nature. Do you like my voice, James ? I hope you do.”

SHEPHERD. (James Hogg.) “ I wad ha'e kent it, Mr. North, on the tower o' Babel, on the day · the great bubbub. I think Socrates maun ha'e had just sic a voice ye canna weel ca 't sweet, for it is ower intellectual for that

- ye canna ca 't saft, for even in its aigh notes there 's a sort o’ birr, a sort o'dirl that betokens power -- ye canna ca't hairsh, for angry as ye may be at times, it's aye in tune frae the fineness o' your ear for music — ye canna ca't sherp, for it's aye sae natral — and flett it cud never be, gin you were even gi'en ower by the doctors. It’s maist the

« PreviousContinue »