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An Eastern Story
ART OF READING AND SPEAKING.
THE art of reading with propriety, and speaking gracefully, is a matter of so much utility and importance to man, in the various departments of society, that it is greatly to be regretted, so necessary a part of education should be almost totally neglected. That a general inability to read and speak with elegance prevails, is fully evinced both from private and public performances. The source, from which this incapacity arises, is either natural or artificial.
That the cause of bad reading and speaking is not natural will appear evident by considering, that there are few persons, if any, who, in private discourse, do not deliver their sentiments with propriety and force, whenever they speak in earnest. Here then is an unerring standard fixed for reading and speaking justly and forcibly; which is to adopt the same easy and natural mode to read and speak publickly, as we use in private conversation.
This natural mode would certainly be adopted, were we not, in early life, taught a different way, with tones and cadences, different from those which are used in common conversation; and this artificial method is substituted instead of the natural one, in all performances at school, as well as in reading. To correct, in some degree, this artificial manner, it will be necessary to unfold the real sources of our errors and faults in the art of reading; partly arising from the ignorance of instructors, and partly from defects and imperfections in the very art of writing
The principal objects to be attained by reading are
FIRST.-To acquire knowledge.
SECOND. To assist the memory to retain this knowledge when acquired.
THIRD-To communicate it to others.
The two first are answered by silent reading; but to communicate knowledge to others, loud reading is necessary. The structure of written language has been suffi ciently regarded to answer the ends of acquiring knowledge and assisting the memory: but this written language is by no means calculated to answer the ends of reading aloud, as it contains no visible marks, or articles, which are essential to a just delivery.
Had the art of writing a sufficient number of marks and signs to point out the variety of tones and cadences, the art of reading with propriety at sight, might be rendered as easy and as certain, as singing at sight. But as the art of writing will probably never admit such a change, it is essential to point out, how the art of reading may be improved, whilst that of writing continues in its present
The general sources of that impropriety and badness of reading, which so generally prevails, are the unskilfulness of masters, who teach the first rudiments of reading; the erroneous manner which the young scholar adopts, through the negligence of the master in not correcting small faults at first; bad habits gained by imitating particular persons, in a certain tone or chant in reading, which is regularly transmitted from one class to another. Besides these, there is one fundamental error in the common method of teach ing children to read, which gives a wrong bias, and leads the pupil ever after blindfold from the right path, under the guidanee of false rules.
Instead of supplying by oral instruction, and habit, any deficiency or error, which may be in the art of writing, with respect to the pauses, and the rests of the voice, masters are negligent in perfecting their pupils in the right use of them, and, in their mode of instruction, have laid down false rules, by the government of which, it is impossible to read naturally.
The art of pointing, in its present state, has reference to nothing but the grammatical construction of sentences, or to the different proportion of pauses in point of time; through want of others, however, masters have used the stops as marks of tones also. That they cannot answer this end is certain: for the tones preceding pauses and rests in discourse, are numerous and various, according to the sense of the words, the emotions of the mind, or the exertions of the fancy; each of which would require a distinct, and cannot be represented by so small a number as four
or five which are used as stops. The masters have given what they call proper tones to their pupils in reading, by annexing artificial tones to the stops, which no way correspond to those which are used in discourse. The comma, semicolon, and colon, are pronounced in the same tone; and only differ in point of time, as two or three to one; whilst the period is marked by a different tone. The one consists in an uniform elevation, and the other in an uniform depression of the voice, which occasions that disagreeable monotony, which so generally prevails in reading, and which destroys all propriety and force in speaking.
Here then is the chief source of that unnatural manner of reading, which necessarily defeats all elegance and gracefulness in private and public reading and speaking: for the sight of the stops, as naturally excites the tones which the pupil was early taught to associate with them, as the sight of the words excites their pronunciation; and thus the habit of reading will only serve to confirm him in the faulty manner which he has acquired.
It must be obvious on the least inquiry, that the most effectual method of introducing a good manner of reading, would be the giving due encouragement to a sufficient number of skilful masters, to teach that art by a well digested system of rules; instead of leaving it to old women, or the lowest and most ignorant of mankind in the first rudiments; the consequence of which has been, that most boys are either perverted by false rules, or having no rules to guide them, take up any manner which chance throws in their way, or imperceptibly yield to the influence of bad examples.