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AS ELOCUTION is intimately connected with the voice, and as every reader may not be prepared to enter upon a minute development of its various principles, the following Preliminary Observations may be of some advantage.
Voice is sound, produced by the agitation of air when forcibly expelled from the lungs.
The attributes of the voice, are general and special. The general attributes are pitch and force, and are common to all voices. The special attributes are those peculiarities which render one voice more agreeable, or disagreeable, than another, as sweetness, harshness, &c.
The acuteness and gravity of the voice depend on the contractions and dilations of the vocal tube.
The degree of loudness of the voice, is in proportion to the expulsive effort, and to the resistance which the air meets on its passage through the glottis.
When air is forcibly expelled from the lungs, and not sufficient resistance given to its egress to produce what is generally understood by the term voice, an aspirated, or whispered sound is the result.
From voice articulated by the motions of the lips, tongue, and other parts of the mouth, is produced oral language. Hence oral language is not inaptly termed articulated voice. There are two varieties of oral language-song, and speech. In several respects they resemble each other. Thus the notes, both of song, and speech, vary in pitch, force, and time. The most striking difference between them, is this: a note of song is maintained in one range of pitch from its commencement to its termination; but a note of speech is varied in pitch during its prolongation. If you prolong the letter a, in one range of pitch, thus:
you will have an example of a note of song. If you utter it interrogatively, and affirmatively, thus:
you will have two varieties of the note of speech: the voice in the interrogation, moving from a grave pitch to one more acute; in the affirmation, from acute to grave.
Perhaps enough has been said by way of preliminaries. The principles here mentioned, together with the various others, are methodically presented, fully discussed, and diagramically illustrated, in the course of the work.
LOCUTION is vocal delivery. It may be said to comprise both a science, and an art. The science embraces the principles which constitute the basis of reading and speaking; the art, the practical application of these principles. Elocution is naturally divided into two parts; namely, Vocal Gymnastics, and Gesture.
Vocal Gymnastics is the philosophy of the human voice, as well as the art of training the vocal organs in speech and song.
Gesture is the various postures, and motions, employed in vocal delivery.
ARTICULATION is the act of forming, with the organs of speech, the elements of vocal language.
PITCH is the degree of the elevation of sounds.
FORCE is the degree of the loudness of sounds. TIME is the measure of sounds in regard to their duration.
By the utterance of the letters of the alphabet is not meant the pronunciation of the mere names of the letters, but the formation of the various sounds which the letters represent.
A good articulation is the perfect utterance of the elements of vocal language.
The first step towards becoming a good elocutionist, is a correct articulation. "A public speaker, possessed of only a moderate voice, if he articulates correctly, will be better understood, and heard with greater pleasure, than one who vociferates without judgment. The voice of the latter may indeed extend to a considerable distance, but the sound is dissipated in confusion. Of the former voice not the smallest vibration is wasted, every stroke is perceived at the utmost distance to which it reaches; and hence it has often the appearance of penetrating even farther than one which is loud, but badly articulated.
"In just articulation, the words are not to be hurried over, nor precipitated syllable over syllable; nor, as it were, melted together into a mass of confusion: they
should not be trailed, or drawled, nor permitted to slip out carelessly, so as to drop unfinished. They should be delivered from the lips as beautiful coins newly issued from the mint, deeply and accurately impressed, neatly struck by the proper organs, distinct, in due succession, and of due weight."*
Without good articulation, it is impossible to be a correct reader, or speaker. Those who have been accustomed to pronounce their words in a careless or slovenly manner, will find it difficult, even with their best efforts, to utter them distinctly. The organs of articulation, for the want of proper exercise, become, as it were, paralyzed. The pupil, therefore, at the very commencement of his studies, should be conducted through a series of exercises, calculated to strengthen the muscles of articulation, and render them obedient to the will. The best method for effecting these purposes, is to exercise the voice on the elements of speech; first, on each element separately; † secondly, on various combinations.
Under the head, PRACTICAL ELOCUTION, will be found a variety of Exercises on the Elements of the English language, which are calculated to develope the voice, increase its compass, and give flexibility to the muscles of articulation. In that part of this work which consists of EXERCISES IN READING AND DECLAMATION, most of the sounds liable to be omitted or imperfectly articulated, are represented by italic letters. Hence the reader, if he pay proper attention to the subject, will have no difficulty in correcting all ordinary defects in his utterance.
The value of vocal gymnastics cannot be duly appreciated by those who have not experienced, or witnessed, their beneficial results. But, I feel confident, the time is not far distant when these exercises will be considered, by all intelligent persons, an essential part of primary instruction.
* AUSTIN'S CHIRONOMIA, p. 37, 38.
"When the elements are pronounced singly, they may receive a concentration of the organic effort, which gives them a clearness of sound and a definite outline, if I may so speak, at their extremes, that make a fine preparative for a distinct and forcible pronunciation in the compounds of speech."- Rush's Philosophy of the Human Voice.
THE ELEMENTS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
THE Elements of vocal language are the Sounds of which words are composed. These sounds are represented by graphic characters, called letters.
The number of letters in the English language, is twenty-six; but the number of elements is thirty-eight. Hence, as the number of elements exceeds the number of their literal signs, the same letter is employed, in different situations, to represent different sounds. Thus a represents four different sounds; e, two; i, two; o, three; u, three; z, two; and there are six sounds, each of which is represented by two letters-ou, ng, sh, wh, th in then, and th in thin. (See p. 19 and 20.) If we had a perfect alphabet, every elementary sound would be represented by its appropriate character.*
* That men have accomplished much by furnishing the world with literature, art, and science, will be conceded by all. Nor will it be denied by any that there remains much to be done to carry all human institutions to their acme of excellence. Among the numerous proofs that our institutions have not attained their highest possible degree of perfection, is the fact that the world is now furnished with as much genius for contrivance, wisdom for invention, and judgment for application, as at any former period. He, therefore, who advocates the doctrine of present perfection in human productions, suggests, at least, the possibility that that amount of mind which is unnecessary to the successful application of the present principles, means, and inventions to their respective purposes, is rendered a redundancy by the want of appropriate subjects upon which to operate. The English language, though by no means far advanced in years, has already been the subject of much concurrent, and individual action; yet there is hardly one part of it which is not marred with defect, or deficiency. Even the English alphabet suffers from both these imperfections. To attain perfection in any thing, is, perhaps, beyond the power of man, especially in the medium of communicating his ideas. But although perfection in language can hardly be expected, yet, there is a degree of excellence which is not so difficult of attainment as to render all exertion una