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At his command th' uprooted hills retir'd
Rule IX. Sublime, grand, and magnificent de. scription in poetry, frequently requires a lower tone of voice, and a sameness nearly approaching to a monotone, to give it variety.
This rule will surprise many who have always been taught, to look upon a monotone or sameness of voice as a deformity in reading. A deformity it certainly is, when it arises either from a want of power to alter the voice, or a want of judgment to introduce it properly ; but I presume it may be with confidence affirmed, that when it is introduced with propriety, it is one of the greatest embellishments of poetick pronunciation. Nay, a monotone connected with preceding and succeeding inflections, is a real variety, and is exactly similar to a succession of the same identical notes in musick; which, considered apart, is perfectly monotonous, but, taken with what goes before and follows, is among the finest beauties of composition.
The use of the monotone has already been exemplified, page 86, in the grand description of Satan's throne, at the beginning of the Second Book of Paradise Lost, and may be farther illustrated by a pas. Sage of the Allegro of the same poet.
Hence ! loath'd Melancholy,
Of Cerberus and blackest Midnight born, In Stygian cave forlorn,
'Mongst horrid shapes and shrieks, and sights unholy. Find out some uncouth cell,
Where brooding darkness spreads his jealous wings,. And the night raven sings;
Thēre, under ēbon shādes and low-brow'd rocks, As ragged as thy locks,
In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.
In repeating this passage, we shall find the dark ness and horror of the cell wonderfully augmented, by pronouncing the eighth line,
“ There, under ebon shades, and low-brow'd rocks,"
in a low monotone ; which monotone may not be improperly signified, by the horizontal line generally used to mark long quantity; as this line is perfectly descriptive of a sameness of tone; as the acute and grave accent are of variety.
Modulation of the Voice.
d differento be acquistrum
After a perfect idea is attained of the pause, emphasis, and inflection, with which we ought to pronounce every word, sentence, interrogation, climax, and different figure of speech, it will be abso. lutely necessary to be acquainted with the power, variety, and extent of the instrument, through which we convey them to others; for unless this instrument be in a proper pitch, whatever we pronounce will be feeble and unnatural; as it is only in a certain pitch that the voice can command the greatest variety of tones, so as to utter them with energy and ease.
Every one has a certain pitch of voice, in which he is most easy to himself, and most agreeable to others; this may be called the natural pitch : this is the pitch in which we converse ; and this must be the basis of every improvement we acquire from art and exercise : for such is the force of exercise upon the organs of speech, as well as every other in the human body, that constant practice will strengthen the voice in any key we use it to, even though this happen not to be the most natural and easy at first. This is abundantly proved by the strong vociferation which the itinerant retailers in the streets acquire after a few years practice. Whatever key they happen to pitch upon at first is generally preserved ; and the voice in that note becomes wonderfully strong and sonorous : but as the Spectator humorously ob. serves, their articulation is generally so indistinct, that we understand what they sell, not so much by the words as the tune.
As constant exercise is of such importance to strengthen the voice, care should be taken, that we exercise it on that part where it has naturally the greatest power and variety : this is the middle tone; the tone we habitually make use of, when we converse with, or speak to persons at a moderate distance ; for if we call out to one who is so far off as to be almost out of hearing, we naturally raise our voice to a higher key, as well as swell it upon that key to a much greater degree of loudness; as, on the contrary, if we wish to be heard only by a single person in company, we naturally let fall our voice into a low key, and abate the force of it, so as to keep it from being heard by any but the person we are speaking to.
In this situation, nature dictates ; but the situation of the publick speaker is a situation of art ; he not only wishes to be heard, but to be heard with energy and ease ; for this purpose, his voice must be powerful in that key which is easiest to him, in that which he will most naturally fall into, and which he will certainly have the most frequent occasion to use; and this is the middle tone.
But before we enter farther on this subject, it seems absolutely necessary to obviate a very common mis. take with respect to the voice, which may lead to an incurable errour; and that is the confounding of high and low with loud and soft. These plain differences
are as often jumbled together as accent and quantity though to much worse purpose. Our mistaking of accent for quantity when we converse about it, makes not the least alteration in our speaking; but if, when we ought only to be louder, we raise our voice to a higher key, our tones become shrill and feeble, and frustrate the very intention of speaking,
Those who understand ever so little of musick, know that high and loud, and soft and low, are by no means necessarily connected ; and that we may be very soft in a high note, and very loud in a low one; just as a smart stroke on a bell may have exactly the same note as a slight one, though it is considerably louder. But to explain this difference to those who are unacquainted with musick, we may say, that a high tone is that we naturally assume when we wish to be heard at a distance, as the same degree of force is more audible in a high, than in a low tone, from the acuteness of the former, and the gravity of the latter ; and that a low tone is that we naturally assume when we are speaking to a person at a small distance and wish not to be heard by others ; as a low tone with the same force is less audible than a high one; if, therefore, we raise our voice to the pitch we should naturally use if we were calling to a person at a great distance, and at the same time exert so small a degree of force as to be heard only by a person who is near us, we shall have an example of a high note in a soft tone; and on the contrary, if we suppose ourselves speaking to a person at a small distance, and wish to be heard by those who are at a greater, in this situation we shall naturally sink the voice into a low note, and throw just as much force or loudness into it as is necessary to make it audible to the persons at a distance. This is exactly the manner in which actors speak the speeches that are spoken aside. The low tone conveys the idea of speaking to a person near us, and the loud tone enables us to convey this idea
to a distance. By this experiment we perceive, that high and loud, and soft and low, though most frequently associated, are essentially distinct from each other.
Such, however, is the nature of the human voice, that to begin in the extremes of high and low are not equally dangerous. The voice naturally slides into a higher tone, when we want to speak louder, but not so easily into a lower tone, when we would speak more softly. Experience shows us, that we can raise our voice at pleasure to any pitch it is capable of ; but the same experience tells us, that it requires infinite art and practice to bring the voice to a lower key when it is once raised too high. It ought therefore to be a first principle with all publick readers and speakers, rather to begin under the common level of their voice than above it. The attention of an auditory, at the commencement of a lecture or oration, makes the softest accents of the speaker audible, at the same time that it affords a happy occasion for introducing a variety of voice, without which every address must soon tire. A repetition of the same subject, a thousand times over, is not more tiresome to the understanding, than a monotonous delivery of the most varied subject to the ear. Poets, to produce variety, alter the structure of their verse and rather hazard uncouthness and discord than sameness. Prose writers change the style, turn, and structure of their periods, and sometimes throw in exclamations, and sometimes interrogations, to rouse and keep alive the attention ; but all this art is entirely thrown away, if the reader does not enter into the spirit of his author, and by a similar kind of genius, render even variety itself more various ; if he does not, by an alteration in his voice, manner, tone, gesture, loudness, softness, quickness, slowness, adopt every change of which the subject is susceptible.