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ELOCUTION is not yet fully admitted into the number of acknowledged sciences. A few years ago, indeed, there were hardly any to be found who would allow of its utility at all. A great change in this respect has been lately taking place; but even now no small number continue to avow themselves unbelievers in it.They seem to fancy that good speaking must, like honest Dogberry's reading and writing, 'come by nature;' that he who possesses natural facility will of course speak well, while he who has it not is doomed to remain forever a mere bungler.
It is the more difficult to combat this idea, because, like most other errors, it contains a slight admixture of truth. In Elocution, as in every other science, natural talent is no doubt required for the attainment of extraordinary proficiency. There are many persons to whom it would be impossible to give any notion of its higher beauties, just as there are many who never can be taught to appreciate fully the sister arts of music, painting, or sculpture. There are even some who cannot be taught at all, just as there are some who cannot be brought to distinguish notes in music, or colors in painting. Almost any one, indeed, may enter on a
course of instruction in Elocution with at least as good a prospect of success as he could reasonably entertain in pursuing any other of the fine arts. What though none but the highly gifted can reach the first rank,— is this any reason why they alone should make the effort to escape the lowest? What though some two or three in the thousand cannot rise at all,—is this a sufficient reason why all the rest should lie down contented forever to conceal their natural defects by bearing them company? Singers and performers of great respectability are manufactured every day by study, from among the middle class of musical men. Why then, in an art which all must practise, well or ill, according as they may be proficients in it, (and such is the art of Elocution,) why, we ask, should not every one attempt, at least, to cultivate the powers he has, to their utmost?
But there are many persons, who, though they do not thus object to Elocution altogether, would yet, perhaps, in casting their eyes over the pages of this work or of the Grammar, denounce the system they contain, as much too complex for their learning. They prefer the old vague terms of rising and falling inflexion, to the precise nomenclature introduced by Dr. Rush.His analysis they think too difficult of comprehension; and therefore they choose rather to employ undefinable words to convey undefined ideas. But this comparison of systems proceeds on a most unfair basis. Is one system really better than another, merely because it gives the learner fewer names and scantier directions? Surely not. The only question we have a right to ask, is, Which is the system of Nature? When we have settled this point, our inquiries are ended. All we have
to do is to submit to nature, to learn her system; for we may rest assured we shall never make a better.
Is it a fact that nature's systems are always simple ? Let the theory of music serve as an example. Who that has ever studied it scientifically, with all its rules of time, accent, melody, harmony, discord, and expression, (and be it remembered this is the only way to understand music so as to compose it) will ever apply to it the epithet of simple? Who would not smile at the folly of the tyro, who should, on that account alone, decline its study? Who would not more than smile, if, after passing by the true and complex system of nature, he were to take up with some paltry and disjointed fractions of it, in hopes by their aid to make himself a musical composer with less labor? Nor is the case different in any of the other arts. To comprehend the laws of perspective, without which no rules can be given to direct to practical excellence in painting, requires an acquaintance with no small portion of the abstrusities of mathematics. The only way to overcome such difficulties, is to meet them where they are, not to endeavor to forget their existence.
It is on this ground that we take our stand in defending this system of Elocution. Simple or complex, it is the scheme of nature. The directions which it gives are not a whit more refined than those which nature, carefully observed, presents to us. If those who object to them, would submit to follow out this careful observation, instead of suffering their prejudices or idleness to contradict the experience of those who have done so, they would soon be convinced of the fact. Until this is done, the old empirical system will not fail to find supporters.
What one point, then, is there in this system, of which it can be said with truth, that nature does not recognise it? An anonymous critic, eminent no doubt in his own line, but far from an adept, as we venture to think, in elocution, has objected, in a recent review of the Grammar, to the vocal elements, as they are enumerated at the outset. He tells us, that 'to utter the sounds of the consonants as distinct sounds' he holds 'to be an impossibility, and directions for doing so, and descriptions of them, to be not only futile but likely to endanger the formation of a habit of harsh utterance.' What, however, are we to think of the degree of attention with which this reviewer, who insists on the exclusive 'imitation of nature,' has in reality observed her, when, confounding the sound of 'm' as heard in 'm-an' with the name of the letter 'em,' he expresses, three lines after, his surprise that it should ever have been likened to the lowing of an ox?' What are we to think of the proportion which his habits of observation and reflection bear to those of witticism, when we find, three pages after, that he cannot see how Demosthenes could have learned the sound of the trilled 'r' (in 'r-apture') by imitating the dog,
unless the dogs of ancient Greece spoke a language very different from the bow-wow-wow of the canine race of modern days?' Did he never, in any of his perambulations by day or night, hear the cheering sound of a 'canine' growl? Let any one explain in what way it is possible to say 'man' without actually giving, distinctly or indistinctly, as the case may be, the three sounds 'm'a''n,' and we will consent to strike out the consonantal elements from the table. Let
any one show in what respect it can be better, for the purposes of ensuring distinct articulation, never to attempt their separate utterance, and we will recommend the pupil to take this easy method of avoiding too great harshness in his pronunciation: till then, we abide by what we think the scheme of nature.
Nor is the list of slides and waves, given in the two chapters on Concrete Pitch, in any degree imaginary. The difference between the slide on the word 'no, (I won't') and that on who?' is a real one, and is made for real and definite purposes. It is easy to say the list given is a long one; it is not quite so easy to prove it too long. No one, we venture to assert, who will only listen once to each of those we have enumerated, will find any difficulty in perceiving that no two are alike, either in sound or meaning. No one, possessed of the musical talent required for the task, if he will take the pains to analyze them musically, will discover any inappropriateness in their names, or errors in their definitions. Why then are we called on to reject them, and to be content with rising and falling inflections," words used now to express one meaning, now another, never defined, in fact wholly unintelligible? Till it can be shown that two such terms are in truth sufficient to designate intelligibly and without confusion all the multiplied combinations of radical and concrete pitch in speech, we cannot adopt them. Till the more precise arrangement given here and in the Grammar, is proved actually faultly; till experiment fair and decisive has overthrown,what experiment alone originally discovered, we cannot consent to abandon it, however some may cavil at its refinements.