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LESSONS ON ELOCUTION.
IMPERFECT STATE OF ENGLISH ELOCUTION
AND ITS CAUSES. That Divine Service in general is not performed with that solemnity, distinctness and propriety which the nature of such service demands; nor discourses delivered from the pulpit with such powers of persuasion, or forcible Elocution, as alone can make them produce their intended effects, is generally admitted.
In short, that good public reading or speaking, is rarely found in a country where reading and speaking in public are more generally used than in any other in the world; where the doing them well is a matter of the utmost importance to the state and to society; and where promotion or honour to individuals, is sure to attend even a moderate share of merit in those points, is a truth which cannot be denied; it is manifested in our legislatures and churches, on the bench and at the bar.
If any stranger in China, observing the uncommon smallness of feet in all the women; or, in some savage countries, the uncouth shape of the head in whole nations of Barbarians, some formed into a conical figure like that of a sugar-loaf, others flattened at the top and rendered square; should not be acquainted with the causes of these extraordinary appearances, he would be apt to conclude that they were defects and blemishes of nature. But when he should be told, that the feet of the former were bound in the tightest manner with bandages from childhood, on purpose to prevent their growth; and the skulls of the latter, from the hour of the infant's birth, whilst yet they were unclosed, and yielded to impression, were industriously moulded into those forms, from a mistaken idea of beauty; how would he wonder at the folly of nations, that could persevere in such absurd customs?
Yet much more to be wondered at, would the conduct of a civilized people be, who should persevere in a custom far more fatal ; that of binding up and contracting from early childhood, and moulding into unnatural forms, the faculties of speech, which are amongst the most noble, useful, and ornamental, that are possessed by man; by which he is in a more especial manner distinguished from brutes; and without the perfect use of which, he cannot, in many cases, as he ought, discharge his duty to his neighbour, his country, or his God.
Such has been the course in regard to the art of delivery, among ourselves and our forefathers. Our deficiency in it, must he ascribed to a method of teaching it, erroneous and defective to the last degree.
For a long time after letters had been introduced into Britain, the art of reading was known only to a few. Those were days of ignorance and rudeness; and to be able to read at all was thought little less than miraculous. Such times were not proper for cultivating that art, or bringing it to perfection. After the revival of the dead languages among us, which suddenly enlightened the minds of men, and diffused general knowledge, one would imagine that great attention would have been paid to an art, which was cultivated with so much care by those ancients, to whom we were indebted for all our light; and that it would have made an equal progress amoug us, with the rest which we had borrowed from them. But it was this very circumstance, the revival of the dead languages, which put a stop to all improvement in the art of reading; and which has continued it in the same low state from that time to this. From that period, the minds of men took a wrong bias. Their whole attention was employed in the cultivation of the artificial, to the neglect of the natural language. Letters, not sounds; writing, not speech, became the general care. To make boys understand what they read; to explain the meaning of the Greek and Roman authors; and to write their exercises according to the laws of grammar or prosody in a dead language, were the chief objects of instruction. While that of delivery was so wholly neglected, that the best scholars often could not make themselves understood in repeating their own exercises; or disgraced beautiful composition by an ungracious delivery. Those who taught the first rudiments of reading, thought their task finished when their pupils could read fluently, and observe their stops. This employment requiring no great talents, usually fell to the lot of old women, or men of mean capacities; who could teach no other mode of utterance than what they possessed themselves; and consequently were not likely to communicate any thing of propriety or grace to their scholars. If they brought with them any bad habits, such as stammering, mumbling, an indistinct articulation, a constrained, unnatural tone of voice, brought on from imitation of some other; or if they were unable to pronounce certain letters, these poor creatures, utterly unskilled in the causes of these defects, sheltered their ignorance under the general charge of their being natural impediments, and sent them to the Latin school, with all their imperfections on their heads. The master of that school, as little skilled in these matters as the other, neither knew how, nor thought it part of his province to attempt a cure; and thus the disorder generally passed irremediable through life. Such was the state of this art on the first propagation of literature, and such it notoriously remains to this day.
When we reflect on the general benefit that would accrue from bringing this art to perfection; that it would be useful to many professions; necessary to the most numerous and respectable order established among us; ornamental to all individuals, whether male or female; and that the state of public elocution must in a great measure be affected by it, it would be apt to astonish one to think that there has been so little progress made in it.
When we consider too that the world has always been clamorous in their complaints upon this head, hav