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properly be so called, is comparatively small. No defect of vocal organs, nor of intelligence and sensibility, which may be supposed to exist among the pupils of our schools, is sufficient to account for the wretched habits of reading, whick are so prevalent. The fact must be ascribed to causes more unquestionable and radical in their operation; and these causes, in my opinion, are to be found chiefly, in the inadequate views of the subject, entertained by those to whom the interests of early education are committed.
Notwithstanding the manifest advances in public sentiment respecting this matter, which we have witnessed within a few years, there are still many Teachers, and publishers of reading lessons, who maintain that no precepts as to management of voice can be useful to the young ; but that every thing of this sort tends to embarrass rather than aid the attainment of a good elocution. But if it is enough to put a book into the hands of a pupil, and require him to read, without giving him any instructions how to read, then I ask, among the past generations, who have been treated just in this manner, why have not all, or nearly all, become good readers ? Teachers have been sufficiently sparing of rules ; and if a boy was only careful to speak his words distinctly and fluently, and “mind the stops,” nothing more was required. Elementary books too have been, till of late, nearly silent as to precepts for regulating the manner in reading. Some of these did formerly give the three following directions :-that the parenthesis requires a quick and weak pronunciation ;-that the voice should be raised at the end,of a question ;—and dropped into a cadence, at the end of all other sentences. The first direction, as to the parenthesis, is proper in all cases. The second is proper in all questions answered by yes or no, and improper in all others. Hence the teacher found the instincts of every child to rebel against the rule, in reading such questions as,—“Who art thou ?” “Where is boasting then ?”—and just so, as to
the last rule, respecting cadence, when a sentence ends with an antithetic, negative clause ; as, “You were paid to fight against Alexander, not to rail at him.”
But because very defective precepts are useless or pernicious, does it follow that this interesting subject must be left to accident; so that if any one becomes a good reader, it shall be only because it happens to be so ? Then it will doubtless happen, in time to come, as it has in time past, that the number of good readers will be few, very few.
In answer to this question, some who discard all theory in elocution, would probably say,--we would by no means "leave the learner to chance; we would have him imitate his
Teacher, who should be qualified to correct his faults of manner, by exemplifying himself what is right, and what is wrong, in any given case. Doubtless the Teacher should watch every opportunity to aid his pupil in this manner. But when he reads a sentence well, as an example to his pupil, is this done by accident ? Is there no reason why his emphasis is laid on one word rather than another ?—why it is strong or weak ?—why his pauses are long or short ?— why he makes a difference between a parenthetic clause and another ?—why his voice turns upward on one word, and . downward on another ?—why he ends a sentence with a small cadence, or a great one, or with no cadence, as cases vary? Is all this mere chance ? If so, the pupil may as well be left to chance without, as with a Teacher. If not; -if the Teacher has a reason why he reads so, and not otherwise, cannot he tell that reason? This is what common sense requires of him, to teach by precept and example both. Besides ;—what if that Teacher reads badly, kimself; just because they who were his patterns, during the formation of his early habits, were bad readers ? Must we go on still at the same rate, and insist on it that the proper remedy for bad reading, is the imitation of bad examples? Then we have no remedy. But common sense,
I say again, would combine practice with theory; so that the Teacher, knowing the conformity between thought and vocal language, may not only express this conformity by his own voice, but explain it to his pupils.
There are other who would discard any systematic instruction on this subject, and yet allow that one important direction ought to be given and incessantly repeated, namely, BE NATURAL. But what is it to be natural ? The pupil will understand, probably, that he is to read in the manner that is most easy to himself, or that gives him the least trouble ; that is, the manner to which he is accustomed. Bad as that manner may be, the direction has no tendency to mend it; because he supposes that any new manner would be unnatural to him. But you correct him again, and tell him to be natural. The direction is just, is simple, is easily repeated; but the infelicity is, that it has been repeated a thousand times, without any practical advantage. You then become more particular, and tell him that to be natural, he must enter into the spirit of what he utters, and read it so as feeling requires. He tries again, and fails, because he attempts to do what feeling requires, without feeling; and because he has no conception what it is in his voice that is wrong. You tell him perhaps, that he must drop his reading tone, and be natural; but he understands nothing what you mean; and while his manner becomes more rapid or. more loud, for this admonition, he goes on with his tone. still. He is under the influence of an inveterate habit, which he acquired from being early accustomed to read that which he did not understand, and in which he felt no interest.
To break up unseemly tones, thus deeply fixed by habit, every teacher of reading or speaking finds to be the first and hardest task in his employment. In general, the longer these habits have been cherished, the more stubborn they become; and measures that might be sufficient to prevent
them, are by. no' means sufficient for their cure. To do what is right, with unperverted faculties, is ten times easier than to undo what is wrong. How often do we see men of fine understanding and delicate sensibility, who utter their thoughts in conversation, with all the varied intonations which sentiment requires ; but the moment they come to read or speak in a formal manner, adopt a set of artificial tones utterly repugnant to the spirit of a just elocution. Shall we say that such men do not understand what they speak in public, as well as what they speak in conversation ? Plainly the difference arises from a perverse habit, which prevails over them in one case, and not in the other. Many instances of this sort I have known, where a man has been fully sensible of something very wrong in his tones, but has not been able to see exactly what the fault is; and after a few indefinite and unsuccessful efforts at amendment, has quietly concluded to go on in the old way. So he must conclude, so long as good sense and emotion are not an equal match for bad habits, without a knowledge of those elementary principles, by which the needed remedy is to be applied. These habits he acquired in childhood, just as he learned to speak at all, or to speak English rather than French,—by imitation. His tones both of passion and of articulation, are derived from an instinctive correspondence between the ear and voice. If he had been born deaf, he would have possessed neither. Now in what way shall he break up his bad habits, without so much attention too the analysis of speaking sounds, that he can in some good degree distinguish those which differ, and imitate those which he would wish to adopt or avoid ? How shall he correct a tone, while he cannot understand why it needs correction, because he chooses to remain ignorant of the only language in which the fault can possibly be described ? Let him study and accustom himself to apply a few elementary principles, and then he may at least be able to un
derstand what are the defects of his intonations. I do not say that this attainment may be made with equal facility, or to an equal extent, by all men. But to an important extent it may be made by every one; and that with a moderate share of the effort demanded by, most other valuable acquisitions ; I might say with one half the time and attention that are requisite to attain skill in music.
Should some still doubt whether any theory of vocal inflections can be adopted, which shall not be perplexirg and on the whole injur jous, especially to the young, I answer that the same doubt may as well be extended to every department of practical knowledge. To think of the rules of syntax, every sentence we speak, or of the rules of orthography and style, every time we take up our pen to write, would indeed be perplexing The remedy prescribed by common sense in all such casu's, is, not to discard correct theories, but to make them so familiar as to govern our practice spontaneously, and without reflection.
The benefit of analysis and precept is, to aid the teacher in making the pupil conscious of his own faults, as a prerequisite to their correction. The object is to unfetter the soul, and set it free to act. In doing this a notation for the eye, designed to regulate the voice in a few obvious particulars, may be of much advantage: otherwise why shall we not dismiss punctuation too from books, and depend wholly on the teacher for pauses, as well as tones ?
The reasonable prejudice which some intelligent men have felt against any system of notation, arises from the preposterous extent to which it has been carried, by a few popular teachers, and especially by their humble imitators. A judicious medium is what we want. Five characters in music, and six vowels in writing, enter into an infinitude of combinations in melody and language. So the elementary modifications of voice in speaking, are few and easily understood; and to mark them, so far as distinction is use.