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I am the happy owner of a goodly library of elocution. The older worthies-Austin, Sheridan, Steele, Walker, Rush, Barber, Weaver, Comstock, Caldwell, Bronson, Murdoch and Russell, Murdoch, Kirkham, Gummere, Mandeville, Bell, Frobisher, Bacon, and the rest,-touch elbows with the two Raymonds, Fulton and Trueblood, Clark, Chamberlain, Townsend Southwick, Curry, Warman, King, Ayres, Kleiser, and dozens more; and the throng increases every year. If possible, I should own every extant work on the subject.
It is true, that, as a rule, the great bulk of each book is essentially contained in almost every other; but it is also true that, with scarcely an exception, each writer adds something, much or little, from his own store of thought, practice, and observation, and so swells the common stock of knowledge, precept, and tradition. Theories conflict; ignorance, guesswork, and pretension sometimes pose as knowledge and wisdom; terminology is as yet unsettled; the more of anatomy, physiology, and acoustics we learn, the less we seem to know about the causation of voice; the new Delphic oracle, psychology, confers authority and impressiveness—and obscurity—upon any and every sort of doctrine and opinion: nevertheless, there is not one of all my books that I have not learned from, and not one that I should be willing to part with. This is my apology and warrant, if they are needful, for writing another book on the speaking voice.
The notions of the vast majority of people about elocution would be amusing, did they not sadly indicate the almost universal ignorance and neglect of the art. 'Expressive and tuneful speech is a natural gift,' says one; 'unless your lips are touched with the live coal from the altar, all your labor and learning will never make you eloquent.' 'It would take a long lifetime to learn the rules, another to learn their applications and exceptions; and the result would not be worth the trouble,' declares another. A third says, "The best readers and speakers are the most natural: that is the whole secret :be perfectly natural, and your elocution is perfect.' A fourth: 'Get the thought, thrill with the feeling, let yourself go, and you cannot go wrong. A fifth: 'It is all a question of the height of your stilts: the higher the stilts, the more elevated the elocution: the more turgid and violent you are, the more elaborate and extravagant, the more you put on-the more impressive you are: no great orator, actor, or reader ever stood with his feet on the ground.' 'Read and speak as you talk: any solicitude about tone, inflection, emphasis, pause, attitude and action, will inevitably render you artificial,' pronounces the sixth.
Music, painting, sculpture, literature, acting, and architecture are recognized as arts; for the reason, clearly, that they are more or less remote from our everyday, commonplace habit of mind. They appeal to the ideal, and, so far as in us lies, we respond to the appeal; or are willing to confess that the irresponsiveness rests in our own ignorance or lack of esthetic sense. We concede that to become eminent in any of those arts demands high natural endowment, supplemented by years of study and development; and to the worthy exponent we begrudge no rewards of wealth and honor.
Speech, on the other hand, is a familiar thing,-a utility, a tool, an every-moment, indispensable convenience, like eyesight and hearing, acquired without conscious effort and used as an inalienable, inherent possession. It is in everybody's mouth; we all talk, and keep talking, well or badly, and the phenomena of pause, emphasis, melody, force, and quality are employed with little or no attention or purpose except to say our say.' The voice is played upon by thought and feeling, and co-ordinates with them: if thought and feeling are clear and definite, so will be utterance, emphasis, and intonation; which become vague and indefinite, as thought and feeling are so. Using speech in this way, as a mere means of necessary converse in the household, the drawing-room, the shop, the office, and the street, it is difficult to bring ourselves to regard it as an art,-as, in its highest manifestations, the art supreme. It is altogether incredible that this menial, this bearer of burdens, this rough-and-ready spokesman of traffic, is an angel; for his wings are folded and hidden, until our souls are opened by some master of eloquence to recognize the heavenly messenger. And, alas! in our individual cases, his uses have been so long attuned to the sordid, the common, the idle, the slipshod, the meager, the extravagant, that his release can only be gradual, and the liberated serf must slowly toil and grope his upward way to freedom and heaven. He cannot spread his wings, until he has accomplished the weary climb to a purer atmosphere.
If we would read well, we must first learn how,' says Doctor James Rush, in his 'Philosophy of the Human Voice'; and, as a preliminary to the learning how, we must cease to look upon graceful, becoming speech as purely spontaneous, instinctive, and self-directed, an unordered maze of haphazard sounds,--and accept it as an art, to be acquired, and worth what expenditure soever of continued pains and effort.
Art, of whatever kind or degree, is the fine result of appropriate means intelligently directed to a definite end.
Raffaello declared that the artist represents objects, not as Nature makes them, but as she is ever striving to make them. Shakespeare, speaking of the art of flower-culture, says:
This is an art
Our common speech, after the brief term of childhood, becomes habitual and conventional, conforming itself to household custom, society usage, and the twang of one's profession or business. The reading of the average intelligent person of the average well-educated person is bare pronunciation,-well or, usually, badly or indifferently done, -and a sorry caricature of genuine living speech. It is drearily monotonous; generally by uniform rate, force, and quality, and by a repetitious melody, that means nothing,but sometimes by acrobatic vocal efforts to avoid monotony. Instead of illuminating and enforcing the meaning of the text, the reading seems to be studiously contrived to leave the meaning out. The reader virtually says to his audience: 'Here is a jargon of words that conveys no message to me. I will faithfully pronounce them in their written order, in the hope that they may mean something to you.' Really natural speech is seldom heard from adult lips, except when the speaker is surprised out of his grooves of habit by some rare crisis of feeling; and such crises often strike us dumb.
Where, then, are we to look for that Nature in speech, which we are to mend and change into the art that is itself Nature? Bewildered by the myriad brogues, dialects, provincialisms, personal mannerisms, slovenlinesses, twangs, and tunes, that salute our ears, no matter where we go, how are we to learn unto or into what Nature is striving to make speech?-at what is she aiming?-whither is she tending? in short, where are we to seek the ideal and perfect ‘natural' speech?
This vital, all-important question was first and completely answered in 'The Philosophy of the Human Voice', mentioned above; and the world of art and culture will yet render its grateful acknowledgment to the author of that illustrious work.
Doctor Rush found the answer in the Voice itself.
Say there are errors in the book. There are; but they are the minor and venial errors of the solitary pioneer and discoverer, who left them for his followers to correct: he accomplished, notwithstanding, his great design of lucidly and completely setting forth the science and philosophy of speech,-by whose light and leading such consummate art became possible as made the potent charm of Wendell Phillips as an orator, of James E. Murdoch as a reader. It is noteworthy that Doctor Rush was not an elocutionist, nor a teacher, nor an orator, but a physician; that he undertook to study the voice-to quote his own words,-'exclusively as a subject of physiological inquiry; and, upon ascertaining some interesting facts in the uses of speech, was induced to pursue the investigation. Every student of the speaking voice should own a copy of the ‘Philosophy', and search diligently its pages. It is the sacred book of elocution.
Nature's intention as regards human speech was pointed out by Rush, when he identified and defined the equable concrete; when he classified the elements of voice and syllabic forms as inexpressive and expressive; and when he classified speech itself as thoughtive, interthoughtive, and passionative: these last three terms devised by him, but self-explanatory, and plainly distinguishing the three great realms of human language. Following these clues, we can find our way to Nature; and then may prune, and embellish, and idealize, in the safe assurance that our art itself is Nature.
Good elocution is simply conformity of sound with meaning.
Let the student accept, once and for all, the proposition that voice culture is a work that is never over and done with: he must practice long and faithfully, and intelligently, to