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GESTURE, or action, may be defined a just and elegant adaptation of the body to the nature and import of the subject on which we are speaking. To be perfectly motionless while we are giving utterance to “thoughts that breathe and words that burn,” is not only depriving them of their necessary support, but rendering them unnatural and ridiculous. So natural indeed is some degree of action, that it may be affirmed to be impossible for any man to read or speak with spirit, without necessarily placing his body in certain significant attitudes, or making some significant motions ! He, therefore, who has not good action, is certain to have such as is either awkward or ungraceful. As the correction of faults is the first step towards the attainment of excellence, the pupil should at first be more solicitous to avoid faults than to acquire beauties. (Cicero.) If, therefore, there is any thing in the attitude or action of his body in speak. ing which is either offensive or ungraceful, he ought sedulously
worse taste than what may be called “the parliamentary manner;" the chief peculiarity of which is a jerking forward of the upper part of the body at every emphatic word, while the right hand “ saws the air" with one unvaried and ungraceful motion. To avoid defects, however, is only the commencement of the pupil's duty. He must inquire what are the best modes of action for the several kinds of public speaking.–Gesture has been divided into three kinds: Colloquial, Rhetorical, and Epic.
Colloquial Action is that which is appropriately used by those who deliver public lectures or orations from a book. In this situation, the book, when not resting on the desk, should be held in the left hand, and a little action used with the right.
This action requires principally simplicity and grace ; precision will soon follow ; magnificence and boldness are necessarily excluded. Being directly opposed to the Epic, it differs essentially from it in the manner of the arm ! Instead of the whole arm being unfolded (as in tragedy, description, and sometimes in vehement passages in oratory) the upper portion, in Colloquial Action, is barely detached from the side ; and the elbow, instead of the shoulder, becomes the principal centre of motion ; -hence the action is short and less flowing. It may be added, that the eyes should be taken as often as possible off the book, and directed to the audience, and that the few last words of every important paragraph should be pronounced with the eyes directed to one of the hearers..
Rhetorical Action is that which is suited to all kinds of extemporaneous discourse. It requires energy, variety, simplicity, precision, and grace. In speaking extemporaneously, we should be sparing of the use of the left hand, which (except in strong emotion) should hang down by the side. The right hand, when emphasis is to be enforced, ought to rise diagonally from left to right, and then propelled forward with the fingers open, and easily and gracefully curved ; the arm should move chiefly from the elbow, the hand seldom raised higher than the shoulder; and, when it has executed its movement, it ought to drop down to the side, the utmost care being taken to keep the elbow from inclining to the body. We must be cautious also, in all action except such as describes extent or circumference, to keep the hand from cutting the perpendicular line which divides the body into right and left; but, above all, we must be careful to let the stroke of the hand, which marks the emphasis, keep exact time with the forcible word ;—thus, Brutus to Cassius in Julius Cæsar
" When Marcus Brutus grows so covetous,
Dash him to pieces !” Here the action of the arm, which enforces the emphasis, ought to be so timed, that the stroke of the hand should be given on the significant word “DASH :" this will give a concomitant action to the organs of pronunciation ; and, in lifting the arm, the elbow should move first, and be kept constantly outwards from the body; the hand should not be bent at the wrist, but kept in a line with the lower arm; and the thumb should preserve its natural distance from the fingers. This preparation for an emphatic stroke should always begin in due time; the arm gradually ascending with the current of pronunciation, till, at the moment the action is wanted, the hand