Page images
[blocks in formation]



1. Definition.-ELOCUTION teaches how most effectively to pronounce or speak any production, original or borrowed.

In a practical Rhetoric we are compelled often to observe the distinction between productions that are designed to be printed and read, and those which are designed to be spoken. The former must be written, the latter may be pronounced either with or without having been written.

2. How to make a Production impressive.—An author's interest in his productions does not usually cease with their creation; he desires to introduce them favorably. If they are to be printed, much depends on the vehicle chosen. Shall they be published as a book, or in some periodical? Shall they be illustrated by pictures? Shall they appear in an expensive or cheap form? A poor production may borrow a temporary popularity from an attractive dress, or from undeserved eulogy, and a meritorious work might sink into oblivion from an unfavorable presentation. The art of publishing, however, can not here be investigated. But Elocution, the art of speaking well, claims attention in a treatise on Rhetoric, and is intrinsically valuable.

3. Opposite erroneous Views on the Power of Elocu

tion. Before examining its elements, it may be well to expose an unworthy prejudice against it, and also to guard against extravagant ideas of its value.

Dr. Whately, in his Rhetoric, pronounces unqualified condemnation on all practical treatises on the subject, and on all modes of instruction adopted previous to his time, and contents himself with recommending a "natural manner of speaking," to be cultivated simply by private attention to the subject, aided by friendly criticisms. He expressly discountenances special efforts to cultivate the voice, and the recitation, from memory, of the productions of others.

On the other hand many seem to believe that oratory, in the highest sense, is easily within the reach of all; that men unqualified by previous culture, with a narrow range of thought, need only to study and practice "Elocution," to make themselves attractive and successful speakers. Also many already engaged in public speaking, but not meeting with the success which they anticipated, have studied Elocution a few weeks, perhaps under the direction of some uncultivated dogmatist, who promised to exhaust the subject of oratory in from six to twelve lessons, and not finding any increase in ability, are ready to coincide with Dr. Whately, in the opinion that the study is practically useless, if not pernicious. Both these extremes are absurd.

4. Elocution is an Art.-Elocution is, in fact, a complex art, based on inflexible science, and worthy of careful and exhaustive study. Elocution is impossible, or would be useless, without expression; expression is impossible, or would be useless, without



thought. Parrots may be trained to articulate, but speech is valueless without intellect and heart. Good declaimers of the productions of others are often poor original speakers, because they have nothing valuable of their own to say. You can not put the polish of steel on iron. Genuine coins are distinguished from counterfeit by their ring. Young men can not expect to become good speakers by the study of elocution unless their minds are disciplined and stored with thought.

Eloquence deserves to be ranked among the fine arts. Like her sisters, Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, and Music, she aims both to please and profit; and as her territory is the widest, so is she the most useful of the family. Oratory is as capable of cultivation as any of the sister arts; and is as rigidly subject to laws which can be investigated and obeyed. If all men had a perfect elocution, their comparative influence on others would depend solely upon the power of their thoughts and emotions. There would still be strong and feeble speakers. But in fact many clear thinkers and warm-hearted speakers produce but little effect, on account of their defective and vicious elocution; while some speakers, feeble in mind and heart, exert superior influence, from their attractive and efficient style of oratory. It is unreasonable and false to assert that this grace, however subtle and mysterious its qualities, can not be analyzed and mastered, and cultivated.

5. Elocution, as an Art, can be cultivated.-There is no other art in which the good effect of study and

careful practice has been so frequently and so clearly demonstrated as in oratory. Comparatively few of the greatest orators gave promise of their future success in their first efforts at public speaking. Oratory requires such a combination of faculties and energies, that only after much study and care, as a usual thing, can it be successfully practiced. If we select at random a dozen out of the most eminent speakers in the world, we shall probably find that, in a majority of instances, their earliest efforts at speaking were, in their own estimation, failures. Those who are so destitute of sensibility that they speak passably well without effort seldom improve much upon their juvenile performances.*

A moderate, endurable style of speaking is easily attainable, especially to a man of fair intelligence and industry, but superiority is seldom manifested, and never long maintained without careful study.

*The best speakers never lose this sensibility. It is said of the great actor Garrick, that having been summoned to give his testimony before a court, though he had been in the habit of speaking before thousands of people for more than thirty years, he was so embarrassed by his strange situation that the judge in pity dismissed him, as a man from whom no testimony could be obtained. Without such sensibility would he have been Garrick?

[ocr errors]





6. Articulation.—ELOCUTION is partly mechanical. There is a certain amount of machinery to be employed in the expression of the language chosen to convey thought and emotion. We must make use of the words agreed upon as symbols of thought. These may be perfectly or incorrectly uttered. In fact, but a small minority of the people, thus far, are in the habit of uttering properly all the sounds belonging to their own language. Some omit some sounds, others other sounds; and the hearer is compelled often to guess out a part of the meaning of the speaker, or to supply the blanks by his own mental effort. Often whole words are lost, still more frequently syllables and parts of syllables are lost, or incorrectly pronounced.

A good articulation, or enunciation, is the first mechanical requisite of Elocution.

By a good articulation we mean the actual audible pronunciation of every sound that properly belongs to the word, or collection of words, purporting to be uttered.

7. Good Articulation often imperceptibly acquired, and its Absence often unnoticed. Fortunate are they who have enjoyed the advantages of good society in childhood, and have thus imperceptibly acquired a correct

« PreviousContinue »