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PRINCIPLES AND EXERCISES,
A COPIOUS SELECTION OF EXTRACTS,
IN PROSE AND VERSE,
FROM DISTINGUISHED MODERN AUTHORS ;
DESIGNED ALIKE FOR
PRIVATE STUDY AND PUBLIC TUITION.
J. H. AITKEN,
GLASGOW:J. R. MACNAIR.
Much has been said regarding the supposed indifference of the present age to the claims of Elocution—not by the
professed elocutionist merely, whose province it is to direct the public taste,--but even by the public themselves. The very uninitiated affect to have discovered a declension of the times in this particular. They suspect there is a deficiency somewhere, in the grace, skill, or energy of our public speakers, though they cannot affirm positively wherein the deficiency consists. Comparisons are drawn between the orators of past and present times, and uniformly to the prejudice of the latter. It is alleged that our professional men are not sufficiently alive to the importance of delivery as a collateral accomplishment; that they treat it with neglect, if not positive contempt, either as an ornament to grace discourse, or as an instrument to enforce truth. They choose, it is presumed, to rely rather on the cogency of argument, on the nicely balanced terms in the inductive process, than on any systematic modulation of the voice or action of the body. To this the elocutionist offers no objection. He would not have oratory to supplant logic, any more than he would sacrifice sense to sound; all that he desires being to constitute her the handmaid of the reasoning faculty, and to render the manner of speaking somewhat subservient to the matter. The neglect to which we allude, however, is by no means so general as some would insinuate. The principles of delivery are studied by many, who thereby shed a lustre over their professional character. It may be because the many are so respectable that the eminent are so few, or, as in other departments of science or of art, our veneration for the past, perhaps, blinds us to the merits of the present; even as the remoteness of antiquity is supposed to lend a magnitude to its objects by the very obscurity in which it envelops them.
Of all the fields of Elocution the Stage has generally been considered the best cultivated—we do not say the greatest triumphs of the art have been there achieved. Is the Pulpit an arena less adapted to the practice of oratory? It is not to be supposed that the clerical profession consider the aids of elocution as, in any degree, beneath the dignity, or incompatible with the sacredness, of the pulpit. Some, indeed, have alleged that any precise attention to the laws of modulation might subject the preacher to the charge of being pedantic,--any studied adherence to the principles of gesture, to that of being ostentatious and theatrical. Not necessarily so. The “modesty of nature," the orator's safest guide in every department of delivery, prohibits not the external expression of feeling which nature dictates. That which is sensible in itself cannot suffer by being sensibly delivered. Biblical criticism and Scripture exposition would lose none of their importance by being articulately and emphatically stated. Pastoral admonition would just tell the more impressively on the heart and conscience when pronounced with rhetorical propriety. It is not expected that the pulpit orator should sanction every new and fantastic reading the theorising orthoepist may choose to introduce; but it is not too much to expect of a preacher in the nineteenth century that he rejects all slovenliness and mannerism, that he recognises the authorised standards of his native language, that he is conversant with the rules of vocal modulation, and is himself feelingly impressed with the sentiments he utters. Why should the Scripture reader rank below the character of the age in the accomplishments of his own profession-be a less impressive reader than the men of other professions? Are the aids of voice and action so adventitious as to merit no consideration ? Is the great cause of gospel truth unworthy of them? Does not the pulpit present the most enviable field for displaying the very perfection of oratory? The unquestioned command the preacher possesses over his audience, the undivided attention they profess to give, the freedom from interruption, the sacredness of the occasion, the importance of the message to be communicated,-all contribute to render him the most favoured of orators. It is gratifying to find that a deeper sense of the importance of this branch of study has lately appeared in our Churches—that instructors are now engaged to train the voice in those who are about to become our future teachers of religion. It is to be hoped that this is but the prelude to greater results, and that, ere long, a Professor of Elocution will be found occupying a chair in every University.
The present attempt to simplify the Art of Reading, by reducing it to such General Principles as are practically useful and of easy interpretation, is partly an effort of necessity. It will be observed that the system of musical notation, generally so perplexing to the student, is here departed from. To study the principles of modulation through the intervention of musical signs, according to the theory of major and minor modes, with their several intervals of thirds, fifths, and octades, has been felt, even by senior students, as no ordinary infliction; while, to junior classes, the difficulty has generally appeared so formidable, as to amount to a discouragement. The faculty of ear, so indispensable to the full appreciation of the notation theory, is not possessed