« PreviousContinue »
whole drama, a manner is almost necessarily adopted, which may be called dramatic reading. In this style of reading, the voice, the countenance, and the delivery, as to rapidity or slowness, force or feebleness, are nearly suited to the character which is supposed at any time to speak ; and even provincial and foreign accents, are also in some degree imitated ; moderate gesture of the hand is used, accompanied now and then with the head, in passages requiring particular discrimination. But the efforts of the reader, in mere private and family society, seldom
The talent for dramatić reading in its highest ex. cellence is very rare. It includes not only all the requisites for correct, impressive, and dramatic read. ing of the ordinary kind, which is sufficient for the mere presenting the scenes of a play to a domestic circle : but the fine dramatic reader must be
possessed of the quickest conception, and of an eye which intuitively comprehends the whole dialogue at a glance, of a versatility of manner capable of adapting itself to every character, and such a power of modulation of the voice as shall also present each changing character to the hearer, within the bounds of decorous imitation, without naming him, which would often break the interest of the scene ; and above all, he must possess a true and lively feeling of the situation and interest of every person in the drama.
History, which is the most improving subject of private reading, in the mere narrative parts, requires no greater efforts on the part of the reader, than the style which is termed correct. B:at in lively description of places, situations, and great actions, impressive reading is altogether necessary ; and in the speeches which sometimes occur, rhetorical reading should in some measure, be introduced.
The same circumstances occur more frequently and more heightened in epic poetry : and, therefore, as well as on account of the lofty measure and elevated language, an epic poem requires of the reader a more dignified and exalted strain, and a manner almost constantly sustained above the ordinary level. Descriptions,' in such poetry, abound more, and are more highly ornamented than in the most interesting history: similies and other poetical figures are introduced in all their grandeur and beauty ; battles are described with the most terrible and striking precision, and speeches are delivered with all the orna. ments, and all the powers of eloquence. Thus, every thing sublime and beautiful, awful and pathetic, being assembled in an epic poem, as in a tragedy, the reader must be all awake, if he would deliver either with just effect; he must be filled with his subject, governed by taste and judgement, alive to feeling, and inspired like the poet himself, with a degree of enthusiasm.
Of Recitation and Declamation.
If the public speaker desire to give to the composition, which he delivers, more interest than it can derive from mere reading; or rather desire to give it the highest interest of which it is capable ; he must commit it perfectly to memory, and adorn and enforce it with all the aids of the various modulations of the voice, expression of the countenance and suitable gesture. So that, even though he should deliv. er the sentiments of another person, he must appear altogether to adopt and feel, and recommend them as his own. When the composition thus delivered is poetical, this mode of public speaking is called recitation. When it is argumentative, and pronounced or composed on an imaginary occasion, for the pur. pose of exercising the speaker's rhetorical talents, it is called declamation. And when the speaker delivers in this manner, a composition of his own on a rcal occasion, it is oratory: for the acquiring of the
external art of which recitation and declamation are chiefly practised.
Recitation, as not implying the composition of the speaker, may be considered according to the order of the requisite acquirements in the place, immediately after rhetorical reading : to all the requisites for which, recitation must add perfect memory and suitable gesture. In recitation, and all the other modes of public speaking, the whole person is, or may be exhibited, and every part takes its share in the gesture. Recitation being properly the rhetorical delivery of poetical compositions and pieces of imagination, the performer should stand apart from the company. In its first degrees, recitation is practised in private, as a rhetorical exercise by young persons; in its most perfect degrees, it is exhibited in public, as a very high species of dramatic entertainment. The great variety in poetical composition and works of imagination, must afford equal variety for the modes of recitation.
Declamation, which is properly a prose exercise, composed by the speaker on some imaginary subject or occasion, on account of the requisite ability in composition, as well as in the exercise of all the arts of delivery, may be considered as next in order above recitation. The ancient Roman orators bestowed extraordinary attention upon the composition and practice of declamation.
Cicero continued this practice many years after he had arrived at the highest eminence as an orator ; and, after his example, the most celebrated of the Roman orators followed the same plana
Oratory, which is public speaking trpon real and interesting occasions, is the most splendid object of all literary exertion, and the highest scope of all the study and practice of the art. To oratory belongs whatev- . er the perfection of composition can produce, as well as all which the perfections of delivery can externally recommend and enforce. Oratory is the power of reasoning, united to the various arts of persuasion, presented by external grace, and by the whole energy of the human powers. Reasoning divested of rhetorical composition and rhetorical delivery, becomes strict demonstration. Such reasoning is found in logic, mathematics, evidences of facts, and law arguments. Reasoning, in this sense, is distinct from oratory : both, indeed, aim at bringing over men to their opinions, but by different means. Reasoning, appeals to the understanding alone ; oratory deals with the passions also. Reasoning, proceeds directly to the truth, and exhibits it in the simplest language. Oratory chooses the most favorable view of the subject, engages the attention of the hearer by the detail of circumstances, interests him by the coloring which he gives them, delights him by ornament, and, haying won his favorable attention, appeals at once to his understanding and to his heart. When the subject admits of demonstration, reasoning is the most powerful; it is irresistable : but when strict demonstration cannot be had, oratory has then the advantage. And since, in a very few of the most interest, ing inquiries, which occupy the attention of men, strict demonstration can be obtained, so the demand for the talents of the orator is frequent and indispensable in the business of life. Reasoning is, therefore, applied principally to philosophical research, and to objects of science : oratory to the interests of men, and to objects admitting choice. It is an advantage which oratory possesses above reasoning, that oratory constantly avails itself of reasoning; but strict reasoning does not call in the aid of oratory.
The public speakers of this country have been celebrated as excellent reasoners; while their orators have been few. For this, various reasons have been assigned : the truest, perhaps, may be indolence with respect to the requisite labour, and inattention to the
high value of eloquence ; as to natural inability, every idea of such an impediment is to be rejected, as no less false than unworthy of a learned and independent people. An extreme attachment to every thing which bears the appearance of demonstration, may also, in part, account for the paucity of orators among
Accurate reasoners affect to despise the assistance of oratory, and to consider truth and reason, when fairly presented, sufficient to make their way. If sophistry could never delude, under the pretence of demonstration, and if men were constituted without passions, reason would indeed, be sufficiently powerful ; but the passions hold such a dangerous correspondence with the understanding, that mere reason cannot always vindicate the truth; therefore, the aid of eloquence is required, in order to expose their treachery: and it were well for mankird, if the triple alliance of reason, truth and eloquence, proved always victorious.
Our public speakers, it has often been remarked, content themselves with reasoning well; and owing to some of the causes mentioned, indolence, inatten. tion, and the want of splendid examples, aim at no higher excellence, and stop short of eloquence.
The true foundation of oratory, no doubt, is sound logic; but then, it should be remembered, that it is only the foundation, and that, to complete the plan, the superstructure, with all its accommodations, and with all its ornaments is wanting. To be an orator, is more difficult than to be a reasoner, and demands, in addition, many other talenis and perfections, both natural and acquired. The consummate orator is therefore, rare, and a wonder in every age and in ev. ery country. And, perhaps, Demosthenes in Athens, and Cicero in Rome, were the only perfect orators (if even they reached perfection) whom the world has yet seen. But there are many degrees of excellence far below theirs, and below perfection, by reaching any of which, a public speaker may acquire considerable