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DIRECTIONS FOR READING.
(From the introduction to the study of Polite Literature.) I. Pronounce every syllable articulately that is, clearly, distinctly, and fully. For this purpose, open your mouth freely.
HE acquisition of a distinct articulation is a circumstance of infinite consequence, in reading and speaking. The young reader should be carefully instructed, as Lord Chesterfield very properly directs, « to open his teeth,» and speak, as it were, ore rotundo. Milton, in his Letter on Education, observes, that « we Englishmen, being far northerly, do not open our mouths, in the cold air, wide enough to grace a southern tongue; but are observed by all other nations, to speak exceedingly close and inward. »
If this observation were duly regarded, if children were instructed to articulate every word distinctly and fully, before they are permitted to aim at any thing higher, they would soon acquire a clear, perfect, and graceful enunciation; at least, they would avoid a mumbling, lisping, muttering way of speaking, which will be inevitably contracted by attempting to read on any other principle.
II. Let your voice be soft and gentle, not loud or boisterous.
A mellow voiee, which may be improved, if not acquired, by exercise and habit, is pleasing, both in speaking and reading. On the contrary, violence and clamour are extreme
ly vulgar and disagreeable. They exhaust your breath, and render your pronunciation indistinct and inarticulate. Quintilian speaks of certain orators, who exerted themselves so furiously, that they absolutely bellowed. And Cicero tells us, that the oratory of some of his contemporaries was more like barking, than speaking. Homer's description of the eloquence of Ulysses gives us a complete idea of that mild and graceful enunciation, which every person should endeavour to acquire.
But when he speaks, what elocution flows!
It may be observed, that on the stage, a sentence spoken distinctly, in a low voice, or even in a whisper, is generally as audible at a distance, as one that is pronounced with impetuosity. This circumstance should be always remembered by those who have occasion to speak in public.
III. Read slowly and deliberately, carefully observing every stop, and every emphatical word.
Children should be carefully guarded against reading too fast. This fault is the source of almost every other. No person can read properly, much less gracefully, if he reads in a hurry. His voice will be perpetually in a flutter; and he will go on from sentence to sentence with a constant hiatus, like one who has run himself out of breath.
But when he is directed to read slowly and deliberately, it is not intended, that he should dwell upon every syllable, and pronounce his words with a drawling and inanimate languor. There is a medium to be observed; and that medium is consistent with sprightliness and energy as there is a difference between walking with grace, and crawling along with the motion of a snail.
IV. As the whole art of reading depends on proper management of the breath, use it with œconomy. Relieve your voice at every stop, slightly at a comma, more lei surely at a semicolon, or colon, and completely at a period. In this manner accustom yourself to breathe freely and imperceptibly, as you proceed. At the same time support your voice steadily and firmly, and pronounce the concluding words of the period with force and vivacity.
A due attention to the former part of this rule will enable you to avoid a broken, faint, and languid tone, which is the usual fault of ignorant and vulgar readers. It will enable you to preserve the command of your voice, to pronounce the longest sentence with as much facility as the shortest ; and to acquire that freedom and energy, with which a man of sense naturally expresses his perceptions, emotions, and passions, in common discourse.
Before a full stop, it has been usual in reading, to drop the voice, in a uniform manner :
and this has been called the CADENCE. But nothing can be mor destructive to propriety and energy, than this habit. It leaves a disagreeable impression on the ear, and gives a languid, and sometimes a lamentable tone, to the whole period. It is an ANTICLIMAX in reading; and frequently in direct opposition to the structure of the sentence, which in elegant writers is generally closed with an energetic expres
If we attend to the natural tone of the voice in speaking, we shall never perceive the least appearance of a cadence. In common conversation almost every man closes his period with energy and spirit.
V. Begin gently. Slive over every insignificant particle: such as, and, but, if, or, as, so, by, in, etc. and reserve the stress of your voice for words of more impor
The observance of this rule constitutes the first and the most essential VARIATION of the human voice in common reading, and will always prevent a monotony. The variation, which some readers affect, in plain and simple narrative, by rising and falling alternately, is unnatural and absurd.
VI. Let the tone of your voice in reading
be the same as it is in speaking. Do not affect to change the natural and easy sound with which you speak in conversation, for
that formal and unnatural tone, which some people assume in reading.
This fault arises from too great an exertion of the voice, and the habit of extending it beyond its natural ability. In common discourse the speaker is obliged to pause, while he thinks, which gives him time to breathe. But the reader, who sees every thing before him, has no occasion to think, and therefore is apt to run on, without intermission, till his breath is exhausted, and the natural tone of his voice is destroyed. To avoid this gross impropriety, let him read no faster than he usually speaks.
VII. Endeavour to enter into the sense and spirit of the author, and feel what is expressed.
This can only be done by reading deliberately and attending to the subject. Without some attention to this rule, your reading will be insipid and uninteresting.
VIII. Endeavour to vary and modulate your voice, according to the nature of the subject.
It would be ridiculous to read an interesting narrative with an air of negligence; to express the warmest emotions of the heart with a cold indifference; and to pronounce a passage of scripture, on the most sublime and important subject, with the familiar tone of common conversation.