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OBSERVATIONS ON THE PRINCIPLES OF GOOD
TO read with propriety is a pleasing and important attainment; productive of improvement both to the understanding and the heart. It is essential to a complete reader, that he minutely perceive the ideas, and enter into the feelings of the author, whose sentiments he professes to repeat: for how is it possible to represent clearly to others, what we have but faint or inaccurate conception of ourselves? If there were no other benefits resulting from the art of reading well, than the necessity it lays us urder, of precisely ascertaining the meaning of what we read; and the habit thence acquired, of doing this with facility, both when reading silently and aloud, they would constitute a sufficient compensation for all the labour we can bestow upon the subject. But the pleasure derived to ourselves and others, from a clear cominunication of ideas and feelings; and the strong and durable impressions made thereby on the minds of the reader and the audience, are considerations, which give additional importance to the study of this necessary and useful art. The perfect attainment of it doubtless requires great attention and practice, joined to extraordinary natural powers; but as there are many degrees of excellence in the art, the student whose aims fall short of perfection will find himself amply rewarded for every exertion he may think proper to make.
To give rules for the management of the voice in reading, by which the necessary pauses, emphasis, and tones, may be discover ed and put in practice, is not possible. After all the directions that can be offered on these points, much will remain to be taught by the living instructor; much will be attainable by no other means, than the force of example, influencing the imitative powers of the learner. Some rules and principles on these heads will, however, be found-useful, to prevent erroneous and vicious modes of utterance; to give the young reader some taste for the subject; and to assist him in acquiring a just and accurate mode of delivery The observations which we have to make, for these purposes, may be comprised under the following heads: Proper Loudness of Voice; Distinctness; Slowness; Propriety of Pronunciation ; Emphasis ; Tones; Pauses; and Mode of Reading Verse.
NOTE. For many of the observations contained in this preliminary tract, the author is indebted to the writings of Dr. Biair, and to the Encyclopedia Britannjea.
Proper Loudness of Vouce. The first attention of every person who reads to others, doubt less, must be to make himself heard by all those to whom he reads He must endeavour to fill with his voice the space occupied by the company. This power of voice, it may be thought, is wholly a natural talent. It is, in a good measure, the gift of nature; but it may receive considerable assistance from art. Much depends, for this purpose, on the proper pitch and management of the voice, Every person has three pitches in his voice; the high, the middle, und the low one. The high, is that which he uses in calling aloud wo some person at a distance. The low, is when he approaches to a whisper. The middle, is that which he employs in common conversation, and which he should generally use in reading to others. For it is a great mistake, to imagine that one must take the highest pitch of his voice, in order to be well heard in a large company. This is confounding two things which are different, loudness or strength of sound, with the key or note in which we speak. There is a variety of sound within the compass of each key. A speaker may therefore render his voice louder, without altering the key : and we shall always be able to give most body, most persevering force of sound, to that pitch of voice to which in conversation we are accustomed. Whereas, by setting out on our highest pitch or key, we certainly allow ourselves less compass, and are likely to strain our voice before we have done. We shall fatigue ourselves, and read with pain; and whenever a person speaks with pain to himself, he is also heard with pain by his audience. Let us therefore give the voice full strength and swell of sound; but always pitch it on our ordinary speaking key. It should be a constant rule never to utter a greater quantity of voice than we can afford without pain to ourselves, and without any extraordinary effort. As long as we keep within these bounds, the other organs of speech will be at liberty to discharge their several offices with ease; and we shall always have our voice under command. But whenever we transgress these bounds, we give up the reins, and have no longer any management of it. It is a useful rule, too, in order to be well heard, to cast our eye on sone of the most distant persons in the company, and to consider curselves as reading to them. We raturally and mechanically utter our words with such a degree of strength, as to make ourselves be heard by the person whom we address, provided he is within reach of our voice. As this is the case in conversation, it will hold also in reading to others. But let us remember, that in reading as well as in conversation, it is possible to offend by speaking too loud. This extreme hurts the tar, by making the voice come upon it in rumbling, indistinct masses.
By the habit of reading, when young, in a loud and vehement manner, the voice becomes fixed in a strained and unnatural key; and is rendered incapable of that variety of elevation, and depresa sion which constitutes the true harmony of utterance, and affords case to the reader, and pleasure to the audience. This unnatural pitch of the voice, and disagreeable monotony, are most observable in persons who were taught to read i;a large rooins; who were ac
customed to stand at too great a distance, when reading to their teachers; whose instructors were very imperfect in their hearing; or who were taught by persons who considered loud expression as the chief requisite in forming a good reader. These are circumstances, which demand the serious attention of every one to whom the education of youth is committed.
In the next place to being well heard and clearly understood, distinctness of articulation contributes more than mere loudness of sound. The quantity of sound necessary to fill even a large space, is smaller than is commonly imagined ; and, with distinct articula. tion, a person with a weak voice will make it reach further than the strongest voice can reach without it. To this, therefore, every reader ought to pay great attention. He must give every soundi which he utters, its due proportion; and make every syllable, and even every letter in the word which he pronounces, be heard (listinctly; without slurring, whispering, or suppressing, any of the
An accurate knowledge of the simple, elementary sounds of the language, and a facility in expressing them, are so necessary to distinctness of expression, that if the learner's attainments are, in this respect, imperfect, (and many there are in this situation,) it will be incumbent on his teacher to carry him back to these primary articulations; and to suspend his progress, till he become perfectly master of them. It will be in vain to press him forward, with the hope of forming a good reader, if he cannot completely articulate every elementary sound of the language.
Due degree of Slowness, In order to express ourselves distinctly, moderation is requisite with regard to the speed of pronouncing. Precipitancy of speech confounds all articulation, and all meaning. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that there may be also an extreme on the opposite side It is obvious that a lifeless, drawling manner of reading, which allows the minds of the hearers to be always outrunning the speaker, must render every such performance insipid and fatiguing. But the extreme of reading too fast is much more common; and requires the more to be guarded against, because, when it has grown into a habit, few errors are more difficult to be corrected. To pronounce with a proper degree of slowness, and with full and clear articulation, is necessary to be studied by all who wish to become good readers; and cannot be too much recommended to them. Such a pronunciation gives weight and dignity to the subject. It is a great assistance to the voice, by the pauses and rests which it allows the reader more easily to make; and it enables the reader to swell all his sounds, both with more force and more harmony
Propriety of Pronunciation. AFTER the fundamental attentions to the pitch and managa ment of the voice, to distinct articulation, and to a proper degree of slowness of speech, what the young reader must, in the next place, study, is propriety of pronunciation; or, giving to every word which he utters, that sound which the best usage of the language appropriates to it; in opposition to broad, vulgar, or provincial pronunciation. This is requisite both for reading intelligibly, and for reading with correctness and ease. Instructions concerning this article may be best given by the living teacher. But there is one observation, which it may not be improper here to make. In the English language, every word which consists of more syllables than one, has one accented syllable. The accents rest sometimes on the vowel, sometimes on the consonant. The genius of the language requires the voice to mark that syllable by a stronger percussion, and to pass more slightly over the rest. Now, after we have learned the proper seats of chese accents, it is an important rule, to give every word just the same accent in reading, as in common discourse. Many persons err in this respect. When they read to others, and with solemnity, they pronounce the syllabies in a different manner from what they do at other times. They dwell upon them, and protract them; they multiply accents on the same words; from a mistaken notion, that it gives gravity and inportance to their subject, and adds to the energy of their delivery Whereas this is one of the greatest faults that can be committed in pronunciation: it makes what is called a pompous or mouthing manner; and gives an artificial, affected air to reading, which detracts greatly both from its agreeableness and its impression.
Sheridan and Walker have published dictionaries, for ascertaining the true and best pronunciation of the words of our language. By attentively consulting them, particularly “Walker's Pronouncing Dictionary,” the young reader will be much assisted, in his endeavours to attain a correct pronunciation of the words belonging to the English Language..
Emphasis. By emphasis is meant a stronger and fuller sound of voice, by which we distinguish some word or words, on which we design to lay particular stress, and to show how they affect the rest of the sentence. Sometimes the emphatic words must be distinguished by a particular tone of voice, as well as by a particular stress. On the right management of the emphasis depends the life of pronunciation. If no emphasis be placed on any words, not only is discourse rendered heavy and lifeless, but the meaning left often ambiguous. If the emphasis be placed wrong, we pervert and confound the meaning wholly,
Emphasis may be divided into the superior and the inferior emphasis. The superior emphasis determines the meaning of a senience, with reference to something said before, presupposed by