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CLASS-TALK. The value of the mechanical part of elocution is merely to enable one to attain the highest end—the expression of feeling. If this is not accomplished, the reader is like a man who fancies himself a violinist because he possesses a Stradivarius.
Mere stress of voice without shades of inflection, is like a duck's foot in the mud; right inflection is like a bird alighting on a branch, tetering and shaking the sprays.
Colloquial inflections are to be given in poetry, but poetry is not to be read as prose. A slight pause at the end of each line should mark the rhyme. If it is blank verse, there should be a slight pause (or rather, poise) of the voice at the end of each line.
Tone-color is essential to the true expression of poetry. Without this, it speaks to the intellect only, not to the heart. If there is word-painting, express this by the tone, but do not exaggerate. Suggest rather than imitate. Where elevation of thought is required, let it be obtained by elevation of feeling, giving tone-color-not by loudness, swagger, or display of art.
In oratory, naturalness and simplicity should be preserved. Either through bad training or bad taste, few orators are really good speakers. They mouth, emphasize too much, swell and strut (with voice at least). An orator should be careful to keep his voice within a pleasant range.
If it rises above or sinks below an agreeable pitch the effect is bad.
The law of contrast is of great importance in reading. If you want to be especially strong anywhere, be very quiet just before. In the opening of a speech, the audience should be prepared for what is to follow. There is great power in reserved force. If you begin with great force where there is no particular emphasis, you can neither keep it up, nor give the just emphasis where you desire it.
The power of silence is illustrated by the continual low ringing of the bell in a mine-ting-a-ling, ting-aling. Should the machinery be injured, a fire break out, or other danger be discovered, the bell stops at once, and every one seeks safety. Did the bell ring only when there is danger, the workmen, distracted by all the other noises of the mine, would not be likely to notice it? So, if a clergyman finds his congregation inattentive, a complete pause before some emphatic thought will wake them all up.
Once while I was instructing a class of theological students in reading the Scriptures, I became so indignant at the slipshod, careless way in which they read, that at last I could contain myself no longer. “Your reading is perfectly disgraceful,” I said. “You are all intending to be clergymen. You profess to consider this book as the inspired word of God, and yet you read as if it were a task to be got through with anyhow, as quickly as possible, so that you may come to the more important parts of the service. No part is so important. If the Bible were read as it should be—as if you believed it-there would be no infidels. To say nothing of its being inspired, we have here a magnificent literature, lyrics, drama, oratory, history, ethics, prophecy. Read as it ought to be, it would prove better instruction for your congregations than any sermons you could give them.”
As an example of how the Bible should be read, take the passage from Isaiah xiv, 13, 14. There should be a little formality in the opening of this selection and in similar passages from the Bible, because they are lofty chanting poetry. The delivery should be orotund, removed in a measure from the conversational tone. The whole coloring, so to speak, should be musical. In the last clause the voice should be full of awe, expressing in this the feeling, not of the supposed speaker, but of the prophet, who is horror-struck at the presumption of the king of Babylon. In simple passages (as generally in the Gospels) the tone should be dignified but simple.
To avoid artificial emphasis, it is well to practice a pathetic passage in a purely intellectual tone until it can be made perfectly natural.
Vibration in heart and voice may be produced mechanically by filling the chest full and letting the tone out with a tremble. This will react on the emotion.
It is well often to change a poetical dramatic passage into a purely prosaic one, and practice it thus till the right intonations are obtained.
Many elocutionists have such a false standard of art that they do a great deal more harm than good, and prejudice sensible people against all training of the voice. The way in which I once fell into a trap innocently set for me illustrates the danger of this false standard. The teacher of elocution in a girls' school invited me to adjudge the prize for which her pupils had competed during the year. One after another came forward and read her selection, twisting and torturing the unhappy author's meaning, each being more artificial, more conventional than her predecessor. What a relief when the last one called up, read hers in clear, sweet, simple and natural tones. All having finished, the teacher turned to me with a beaming face, "Well, Prof. Raymond, to whom do you adjudge the prize ?" she asked. “Oh," said I," there can be no question as to that. Of course it is due to Miss Smith.” The teacher's countenance fell; she faltered out, “Miss Smith has just entered the class. She is the only one not trained by me.” “Miss Smith's reading is so natural," I ventured to say. “But art, you know, Prof. Raymond, art should be our aim.” “Oh, yes, art," said I, in despair.* Then knowing that it would be unjust to exalt the untrained pupil over those whose months of careful drilling had produced such deplorable results, I reversed the decision with as good a grace as possible.
In all tricks of voice, like imitations of sounds, etc., we risk being caught at it. If in doing this, we suit the mood of the audience, which should, however, be affected without knowing why, it is all right. Otherwise, close imitation should be avoided. It is better, in any case, to suggest sounds—the sighing of the wind, the ringing of bells, etc., rather than to make the imitation too obvious.
* It would give a false idea of Prof. Raymond's reading to suppose that it was not art in the highest sense. He studied nature faithfully, and his artistic feeling idealized the interpretation of her lessons.
The definite article before a noun is a mark that the following clause is restrictive; as, “The man who laughs.” The indefinite article shows, therefore, that such a clause is not restrictive; as, “a voice whose burden was her name.'
An aside must often (as generally on the stage) be given aloud. A hypocritical son is represented as saying to deceive his father, “I wish to subscribe to the orphan asylum," then to himself, "I guess that 'll fetch the old man." This last sentence is, theoretically, spoken in a whisper; in reality, so that all can hear; but the right coloring of an aside should be preserved.
In pathetic passages care must be taken not to get a whining tone; firm hold must be kept of all inflections. Sadness cuts down the waves of emphasis, and a high wave, therefore, injures the pathetic effect.
When there is a latent connection between what is said and what is understood, the latter should be suggested by the tone; as, “it is hard to believe the world is wicked; [because] everything seems good and gentle.”
A noun in apposition with another, generally takes its color from the latter, rising if it rises, falling if it falls, emphasized if that is emphatic, etc.; as, “Where is his son, the nimble-footed madcap, Prince of Wales ?”