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The fifth, and only other remarkable fault in pronunciation I shall mention, is a sing-song manner ; or what we commonly call a cant, which is something like a measure of a tune, that the preacher unintermittedly runs over and over, 'till he conclude his discourse. This, as a kind of relief to the lungs, is what a strained voice (the fault in speaking first mentioned) when it becomes habitual, generally terminates in, and though it hath not the same air of indifference with the monotony, is in other respects liable to the same objections. It marks no difference in the nature of the things said, and consequently (though the tune itself were not unpleasant) it may prove a lullaby, and dispose the hearers to sleep, but is quite unfit for awakening their attention. Both the last mentioned faults are the too frequent (not the unavoidable) consequence of the common method of rehearsing a discourse by rote, which has been verbatim committed to memory. This very naturally leads the speaker to fix the closest attention on the series of the words prepared, that he may not lose the thread. And this as naturally carries off his attention entirely from the thought.
The consideration of these things hath often led me to doubt, which of the two methods of delivery, reading or repeating, we ought to recommend to students, or at least which of the two, if universal, would probably have the best effect, and be attended with fewest disadvantages. I shall candidly lay before you, what hath occurred to my thoughts on this subject, and leave it to every one's own judgment to decide for himself. That a discourse well spoken hath a stronger effect than one well read, will hardly bear a question. From this manifest truth I very early concluded, and was long of the opinion, that the way of reading sermons should be absolutely banished from the pulpit. But from farther experience, I am now disposed to suspect, that this conclusion was rather hasty. Though by proper culture the
very much improved, yet, by no culture whatever will these powers be created, where nature hath denied them. A certain original and natural talent or genius for art to work upon, is as necessary in the orator, as in the poet. Now if all, who have the ministry in view, were possest of this natural talent, the conclusion we mentioned would certainly be just. But so far is this from being the case, that experience plainly teacheth us, it is the portion of very few. But though there be not many, who will ever arrive at the pathos, the irresistible force of argument and the sublimity, in which the glory of eloquence consists, there are not a few who by a proper application of their time and study, will be capable of composing justly, of expressing themselves not only with perspicuity, but with energy, and of reading. I say not in a proper and inoffensive, but even in an affecting manner. So much more common are the talents necessary for the one accomplishment, than those requisite for the other. I have indeed heard this point controverted, and people maintain, that it was as easy to acquire the talent of repeating with energy and propriety, as of reading. But I could hardly ever think them serious who said so, or at least that they had duly examined the subject. There are, no doubt, degrees of excellence in reading, as well as in repeating, and they are but few, that attain to the highest degree in either. But in what may be regarded as good in its kind, though not the best ; I speak within
bounds, when I say, that I have found six good readers, for one who repeated tolerably. As to my personal experience I shall frankly tell you, what I know to be fact. I have tried both ways; I continued long in the practice of repeating, and was even thought (if people did not very much deceive me) to succeed in it; but I am absolutely certain, that I can give more energy, and preserve the attention of the hearers better, to what I read than ever it was in my power to do to what I repeated. Nor is it any wonder. There are difficulties to be surmounted in the latter case, which have no place at all in the former. The talents in other respects are the same, that fit one to excel in either
way. Now as it will, I believe, be admitted by every body who reflects, that a discourse well read is much better than one ill spoken, I should not think it prudent to establish any general rule, which would probably make bad speakers of many, who might otherwise have proved good readers. There is something in charging one's memory with a long chain of words and syllables, and this is one of the difficulties I hinted at, and then running on, as it were, mechanically in the same train, the preceding word associating and drawing in the subsequent, that seems by taking off a man's attention from the thought to the expression, to render him insusceptible of the delicate sensibility as to the thought, which is the true spring of rhetorical pronunciation. That this is not invariably the effect of getting by heart, the success of sonie actors on the stage is an undeniable proof. But the comparative facility, arising from the much greater brevity of their speeches, and from the relief and emotion that is given to the player by the action of the other dialogists in the scene, makes the
greatest difference imaginable in the two cases. A man, through habit, becomes so perfectly master of a speech of thirty or forty lines, which will not take him three minutes to repeat, that he hath no anxiety about recollecting the words : his whole attention is to the sentiment. The case must be very different, when the memory is charged with a discourse, which will take thirty minutes to deliver.
Besides, it must be observed, there is a great difference between speaking an oration and repeating it. In the former case, the orator may by premeditation have made himself master of the argument; he may have arranged his matter in his own mind, but as to the expression, trusts to that fuency and command of language which by application and practice have become habitual to him. It is impossible, that any speech on any motion in the house of commons, except the first speech, should be gotten by heart. For every following one, if pertinent, must necessarily have a reference to what was said on the argument before. In like manner it is only the first pleading in a cause at the bar, which can have the advantage of such preparation. Whether those, who open the cause or question, always avail themselves of this power, and previously commit to memory every sentence they utter, I know not. But we do not find, that these speeches have generally a remarkable superiority in point of elocution, over those which follow, as it is certain, they can have no superiority at all in point of pronunciation. Several of Cicero's best orations were on the defensive side, and therefore could not have been composed verbatim before they were spoken. And the most celebrated oration of Demosthenes, that
which at the time had the most wonderful effect upon his auditory, and raised to the highest pitch the reputation of the speaker, the oration Depu sebave, was an answer to Æschines's accusation; and such an answer as it was absolutely impossible should have been, either in words or method, prepared before hearing his adversary. So close is the respect it bas, not only to the sentiments, but to the very expressions that had been used against him. And the two parties were at the time such rivals and enemies as to exclude the most distant suspicion of concert. It deserves our notice, that instances of all the faults in pronunciation above enumerated, except the last, are to be found both in the senate and at the bar; particularly the two extremes of violence and monotony. And these are easily accounted for. The one is a common consequence of strong passions, where there is neither the taste nor the judgment that are necessary for managing them. The other generally prevails where there is a total want both of taste and of feeling. It is remarkable, that the only other fault mentioned, the canting pronunciation, is hardly ever found but in the pulpit. Nay, what would at first appear incredible, I have known ministers whose sing-song manner in preaching was a perfect soporific to the audience, pronounce their speeches in the general assembly with great propriety and energy. The only account I can make of this difference is, that in the two former cases, in the senate and at the bar, the speeches are almost always spoken. Committing the whole, word for word, to memory, is, I believe, very rarely attempted. Now the general assembly partakes. of the nature both of a senate and court of judicature. Sermons, on the contrary, are more generally repeated.