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I shall only remark to you a few of the chief and most common faults in this way, observable in preachers, and suggest some hints, by a due attention to which, one may attain the right management of the voice, and be enabled to avoid those faults. The first I shall ob. serve, though not in itself a very great, yet is a very common fault, and often proves the source of several others; it is the straining of the voice beyond its natural key, commonly the effect of a laudable desire to make one's self be heard in a large congregation. This however is one of those expedients, that rarely fail to de. feat the purpose which occasioned them. What is thus spoken in a forced tone (though the note in the musical scale emitted by the voice be higher) is neither so distinct, nor so audible, as what is spoken in the natural tone of voice. There is a very great difference between speaking high, and speaking loud; though these two are often confounded. Women's voices are a full octave higher or shriller (for that is all the term means) than men’s, and yet they are much less fitted for being heard in a large auditory. In a chime or music bells the bass notes are all struck on the biggest bells, and the treble notes on the smallest. Accordingly the former are heard at a distance, which the feeble sound of the other cannot reach. The same
ing may be observed of the pipes in an organ. Besides, it is a much greater stress to the speaker, to hold out with his voice raised ever so little above its natural pitch, and it lays him under several disadvantages in respect of pronunciation, of which I shall have occasion to take notice afterwards.
A second fault which is very common with preachers is too great rapidity of utterance. This is an
ordinary, though not a necessary consequence of committing a discourse to memory and repeating it. A person, without particularly guarding against it, is apt to contract an impatience to deliver the words, as fast as they occur to his mind, that so he may give them to the audience, whilst he is sure he can do it. This also is a great hinderance to the attainment of an affecting or energetic pronunciation; besides that it greatly fatigues the attention of the hearer, whom, after all, many things must escape, which otherwise he might have retained.
A third fault I shall observe is a theatrical and too violent manner.
This, though it seems to proceed from a commendable ardour, sins against propriety in many ways. It suits not the gravity of the subject; and to appear destitute of all command of one's self doth not befit one who would teach others to obtain a perfect mastery over their passions. The preacher's manner in general ought to be modest, at the same time earnest and affecting.
A fourth fault, which is indeed the opposite extreme to that now mentioned, is an insipid monotony, by which every thing that is said, whether narration, explanation, argumentation or address to the passions, is uniformly and successively articulated in the same listless, lifeless manner. And this is a much greater fault than the preceding. The former offends only hearers of taste and reflection, but the latter, all who can either understand or feel. The preacher, in such a case, exhibits the appearance of a school boy who repeats a lesson he hath conned over, but who doth not form a single idea of what he is saying from beginning to end.
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, read. ing 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 powers of oratory may be 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 proyed 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 some 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