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most splendid exertions had been made in times when the general mind was comparatively uninformed and illiterate. Witness the age of Shakspeare. The superiority of our authors did not keep equal pace with the intelligence of the public mind. The human faculties were limited, and the danger was, that, when the same fame did not follow the exertions of literary men, which was formerly bestowed, and that the praises and homage of mankind became divided amongst a multitude of candidates, the incitement would abate, energy would decline, and invention and talent share the retrogressions of all other sublunary power.
It did not appear that we could very sanguinely expect any great improvement in morality. There was no necessary connexion between virtue and literature, and certainly none with mere polite literature. Poetry and fiction might tend to refine, but could scarcely make men better than they were. They might alter the surface, but could not change the nature: they might lessen the external grossness of evil, and drive it into a deeper cover of deceit, where it was less seen, but where, perhaps, it wrought its way with greater danger. That human happiness would be greatly increased by the circulation of literature, had not been satisfactorily shewn. It was fitted to please only a few, and the majority delighted in far different avocations. The acquisition of learning, by the medium of books, was generally tedious, and frequently painful; and the greatest improvement that had been made in the modern system of education consisted in teaching by sensible and real signs, instead of abstract or arbitrary characters.
On the whole, it appeared, that literature was already disseminated to every useful extent; that it must be used as one only, amongst a multitude of means, to obtain the purpose of our being; that its importance was, in the present age, far over-rated; that it tended to alter, but could not increase, the quantum of human felicity; and, in proportion as it broke in upon the important duties and employments of life, which it must greatly do, if it were universally disseminated, it would become, instead of a benefit, an injury to society.
Nibil potest intrare in affectum, quod in aure velut qnodam vestibulo statim offendit.-QUINTILIAN.
To descant at any length on the importance and difficulty of correct elocution, would be equally useless and impertinent; şince every person, who is at all acquainted with history, or possessed of experience, must be perfectly convinced of ihose two facts. That compositions, not only of moderate merit, but of a contemptible description, may be rendered at least tolerable, will appear, when we remember the example of Dionysius the Elder, the tyrant of Sicily, when he sent his miserable attempts at versification to Olympia, by employing good readers, well acquainted with the rules of elocution, and endowed with musical voices; he, by these means, for a time, deceived even the critical natives of Greece. And that compositions of the highest literary rank, but delivered by persons totally ignorant of good elocution, will become almost intolerable, we have an unfortunate proof in many of our own preachers. But, lest it should be thought, that the remark with which we set out has been forgotten, we will take a short view of the most important rules to be observed in endeavouring to acquire a correct delivery.
It will not be supposed, that any thing having the slightest pretension to novelty can be produced on a subject, which has been the constant object of attention, the constant topic of discussion, and the constant theme of lucubration, to some of the greatest literary characters in the antient and modern world. Cicero, Quintilian, and the numerous other rhetoricians of the antient school; and, in our own country, Hill, Sheridan, Austin, of the modern school, have treated the subject so naturally, and yet so skilfully,--so truly, and yet so eloquently, that all the writer of the present sketch can be expected to do, is to glean a few grains from the rich harvest of their genius.
There is, probably, no part of elocution, of which the generality of persons have so low an opinion, and consequently so little real knowledge, as reading. It appears so simple, that, imagining the acquirement of sufficient skill in it so easy a task, they continually neglect it. And thus, we find, 'that innumerable members of professions, whose
practice perpetually requires the exercise of this talent, are grossly defective in it. Although reading may possibly be ranked as the lowest species of elocution, yet it will be found, that the same rules necessary in it, if extended, and applied according to the circumstances of the speaker, will serve as a sufficient guide in all the various branches of elocution.
The different species of reading may be divided into the six following classes: first, the intelligible; second, the correct; third, the impressive; fourth, the rhetorical; fifth, the dramatic; sixth, the epic.
As to the first class,-intelligible reading; all that is ne. cessary to acquire that lowest qualification, is attention to pauses and accents, and such an enunciation as shall render the words audible to those for whose attention the work is intended.
The second, or correct reader, requires much more skill than the mere intelligible reader. He must not only pay attention to the different pauses and accents, which the author points out, or the rules of his language teach him, but he must prove, by the intonation and emphasis he employs, that he understands his author. He must also be peculiarly attentive to the pronunciation of his words; not only by avoiding vulgarity and provincialism, but also in shunning a defect still more disagreeable, namely, affectation. The reason of avoiding these faults is plain,that the attention of the hearer
may not be distracted from the matter by the manner. The third-impressive reading, besides requiring the two first-mentioned qualities, demands, that the expression of the countenance should suit the sentiments conveyed by the words. Every feature of the face should then lend its respective assistance, in order to produce the effect intended by the author. This species is peculiarly adapted to the reading of the church-service or of sermons.
When to the three last requisites is added the introduction of action, after the subject has been nearly committed to memory, the reading then belongs to the fourth class--the rhetorical.
As the effect produced on the minds of the audience, by this species of reading, is greater than any of the other species already mentioned, so it requires_greater care and greater understanding than the others. The action should be that which the subject seems to prompt, at the same time regulated and governed by those rules, which the first professors of that science have laid down. Were we to enter upon a disquisition concerning the nature, the species, and application of action, in all the various instances where it may become necessary, the limits of an attempt like the present would be far outstepped. For every information on the
subject, we may refer to the same illustrious names which were before mentioned.
We now come to the fifth species—the dramatic mode of reading. To read dramatic compositions well, very superior talents are required, in addition to a perfect knowledge of the application and force of the above rules. The dramatic reader should not only be capable of varying his tones and manner, according to the expressions, sentiments, and situations of the persons of the drama, but also of varying his character according to the changes of those engaged in the dialogue. By this means, there will be no necessity for the reader to avail himself of the mode often adopted in this style of reading, of uttering the name of the persons who join in the conversation in a hollow disagreeable tone.
Å style nearly similar to the dramatic is required in reading history, where persons are frequently introduced speaking in their own characters.
The last class is the epic. This may be considered as a compound of all the rest, with a certain mode of pronunciation peculiar to itself. In it, we find, from the nature of its subject, a field for the display of all the other modes of reading; and, from its grandeur, a necessity of adopting a more lofty *style of voice and manner.
From these rules, it will appear, that if, in the place of reading, we substitute speaking, and make a proper allowance for the difference of the situations of a reader and a speaker, we have most of the canons by which elocution must be directed.
These are, however, only the dry rules, which are to guide a speaker, completely independent of his own genius. Unless, however, he has genius and talents, by which to make a right use of these rules, they will but little assist him. Indeed, it would be far better for a speaker not possessed of high talents, rather to confine himself to the intelligible, correct, . and impressive modes, than to attempt the rhetorical, the dramatic, or the epic.
That it requires high talents--in fact, the highest talents, to become a first-rate rhetorical speaker, and, therefore, a firstrate orator, will appear from the circumstance of so few persons, comparatively, having appeared, whose names have been enrolled as the equals of Demosthenes or Cicero. To be a great orator, requires a great genius; and, without that, the height of excellence cannot be attained. No one better knew the rules of the oratorical art than Isocrates: many of his sentences are perfect verses : he spared neither pains nor time to acquire perfection ; and yet, though some of his speeches cost him ten years, and others fifteen, in their com
position, none of them are considered as equal to those of the fathers of Greek and Latin oratory. If the modesty of Isocrates could have allowed him to speak in public, they might have been regarded as beautiful specimens of elegant language; but, unless they had breathed nature, by which alone nature can be properly and effectively touched, and been delivered with the actio varia, vehemens, plena animi, plena spiritús, plena doloris, plena veritatis,” they would only have been the statues of a Praxiteles, without the fire of a Prometheus. It may be said, that a grand rule for all orators was the “ars celare artem," “ the art to conceal art;" and that, therefore, it is not nature alone which pleases. But in that concealing art,” what is the veil with which art is covered, but the semblance of nature? So, still it is nature, whether real or assumed, which delights the auditor.
The profession of an actor, wherein the dramatic mode of speaking is employed, is one which may in some points be considered as more difficult than that of an orator,—the assumption of different parts. The orator, it is true, has various, and often very opposite occasions, on which to exercise thé arduous duties of his profession; but still he never alters his character : he is always himself-an orator. But the actor is continually called upon to vary, not only his sentiments and his thoughts, but, as was before remarked, his character: and he that is the most Protean in his changes, is most deserving of the Thespian laurel. That great difficulties attend such endeavours, and that much judgment is required in order to render them successful, cannot be denied. It is, therefore, rather surprising that so much contempt should be cast upon actors generally, and without any distinction; form
“If comprehension best can power express,
And changeful nature shakes, with borrow'd storms.". The only reason which can be given for this contempt is, that, from a carelessness to consider the real merits of the question, the whole body are condemned on account of some
VOL, I. PART II.