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OBSERVATIONS ON THE PRINCIPLES OF GOOD READING.
TO read with propriety is a pleasing and important attainment; produco, Live of improveinent both to the understanding and the heart. It is essential tu a complete reader, that he minutely perceive the ideas, and enter into the feelings of the author, whose sentiments he professes to repeat: for how is it possible to represent clearly to others, what we have but faint or inaccurate conception of ourselves ?. If there were no other benefits resulting from the art of reading well, than the necessity it lays us under, of precisely ascertaining the meaning of what we read ; and the habit thence acquired, of doing this with facility, both when reading silently and aloud, they would constitute a sufficient compensation for all the labour we can bestow upon the subject. But the pleasure derived to ourselves and others, from a clear conmunication of ideas and feelings; and the strong and durable impressions made thereby on the minds of the reader and the audience, are considerations, which give additional importance to the study of this necessary and useful art. The perfect attainment of it doubtless requires great attention and practice, joined to extraordinary natural powers; but as there are many degrees of excellence in the art, the student whose aims fall short of perfection, will find himself amply rewarded for every exertion he may think proper to make.
To give rules for the inanagement of the voice in reading, by which the necessary pauses, emphasis, and tones, may be discovered and put in practice, is not possible. After all the directions that ean be offered on these points, much will remain to be taught by the living instructer: much will be attainable by no other means, than the force of example, influencing the imitative powers of the learner.' Some rules and principles on these heads will, however, be found useful, to prevent erroneous and vicious modes of utterance; to give the young reader some taste for the subject; and to assist him in acquiring a just and accurate mode of delivery. The observations which we have to make, for these purposes, may be comprised under the following heads : Proper Loudness of Voice; Distinctness; Slowness ; Propriety of Pronunciation; Emphasis ; Tones ; Pauses ; and Mode of Reading Verse.
Proper Loudness of Voice. THE first attention of every person who reads to others, doubtless, mus. be to make himself heard by all those tu whom he reads. "He must endea.vour to fill with his voice, the space occupied by the company: This power of voice, it may be thought, is wholly a natural talent. It is, in a good measure, the gift of nature ; but it may receive considerable assistance from art. Much depends, for this purpose, on the proper pitch and management of the voice. Every person has three pitches in his voice ; the high, the middle and the low one. The high, is that which he uses in calling aloud to some per: son at a distance. Thé low, is when he approaches to a whisper. The middle, is that which he employs in common conversation, and which he should generally use in reading to others. For it is a great mistake, to ima. gine that one must take the highest pitch of his voice, in order to be well heard in a large company. This is confounding two things which are different, loudness
or strength of sound, with the key or note in which we speak. There is a variety of sound within the compass of each key. A speaker may tnerefore render his voice louder, without altering the key ; and we shall always
NOTE. For many of the observations contained in this preliminary tract the author is iudebted to the writings of Dr. Blair, and to the Encyclopédis Britannica.
be able to give most body, most prcserving force of sound, to that pitch 61 voice to which in conversation we are accustomed. Whereas, by setting out on our highest pitch or key, we certainly allow ourselves less compass, un are likely to strain our voice before we have done. We shall fatigue our selves, and read with pain; and whenever a person speaks with pain to vin self, he is also heard with pain by his audience. Let us therefore give t'it. voice full strength and swell of sound'; but always pitch it on our ordinary speaking key. "It should be a constant rule never to utter a greater quantity of voice than we can afford without pain to ourselves, and without any ex traordinary effort. As long as we keep within these bounds, the other orya.co of speech will ba at liberty to discharge their several offices with ease; and we shall always have our voice under command. But whenever we trans gress these bounds, we give up the reins, and have no longer any manage. ment of it. It is a useful rule, too, in orler to be well heard, to cast our eve on some of the most distant persons in the company, and to consider ourselves as reading to them. We naturally and mechanically utter our words with: suehra degrec of strength, as to make ourselves be heard by the person won we address, provided he is within reach of our voice. As this is the case in conversation, it will hold also in reading to others. But let us remember, tha: in reading as well as in conversation, it is possible to offend by speaking too lond. This extreme hurts the ear, by making the voice come upon it in C27 bling, indistinct masses.
By the habit of reading, when young, in a loud and vehement money the voice becomes fized in a strained and unnatural key; and is rendered in a pable of that variety of elevation and depression which constitutes the bu harmony of utterance, and affox us case to the reader, and pleasure to the alte dience. This umnatural pitch of the voice, and disagreeable monetony at most observable in persons who were taught to read in large rooinswe were accustomed to stand at too great a distance, when reading to their ten chers ; whose instructors were very imperfect in their hearing; or wo iceri, *uugnt; by persons who considered loud expression as the chief fegursie forming a good reader. These are circumstances, which demand the ori ous attention of every one to whom the education of youth is committed.
Distinctness. IN the next place to being will heard and clearly understood, distinctc39 of articulation contributes more than mere loudness of sound. The quart; of sound necessary to fill even a large space, is smaller than is commonly iina zined ; and, with distinct articulation, a person with a weak voice will make it reach further than the strongest voice can reach without it. To la therefore, every reader ought to pay great attention. He must give efety sound which he utters, its due proportion; and make every syllable, and evin every letter in the word which he pronounces, be heard distinctly ; without slurring, whispering, or suppressing, any of the proper sounds.
An accurate knowledge of the simple, elementary sounds of the language and a fucility in expressing them, are só necessar; to distinctness of expres. sion, that if the learner's attainments are, in this respect, imperfect, and many there are in this situation,) it will be incumbent on his teacher to car ry him back to these primary articulations; and to suspend his progress, (ii! he become perfectly master of them. It will be in vain to press him forward with the bope of forining a good reader, if he cannot completely articulat every elementary sound of the language.
Due degree of Slowness. IN order to express ourselves distinctly, moderation is requisite with regard to the speed of pronounciny. Precipitancy of speech confounds ail articula, tion, and all meaning. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that there may be also an extreme on the npposite side. It is obvious that a lifeless, drawling manner of reading, which allows the minds of the hearers to be always outrunuing the speaker, must render every such performance insipid and fatiguing. But the extremc of reading too fást is inuch more common; and requires the more to be guardar against, because, when it has grown into a habit, feu
errors are more difficult to be corrected. To pronounce with a proper degroo of slowness, and with full and clear articulation, is necessary to be studied oy all who wish to become good readers; and it cannot be too much recom mended to them. Such a pronunciation gives weight and dignity to the sub ject. It is a great assistance to the voice, by the pauses and rests which it allows the reader more easily to make; and it enables the reader to swell all his sounds, both with more force and more harmony
Propriety of Pronunciation. AFTER the fundamental attentions to the pitch and management of th toice, to distinct articulation, and to a proper degree of slowness of speech what the young reader must, in the next place, study, is propriety of pronun ciation; or, giving to every word which he utlers, that sound which the bes usage of the language appropriates to it; in opposition to broad, vulgar, a provincial pronunciation. This is requisite both for reading intelligibly, and for reading with correctness and case. Instructions concerning this article may be best given by the living leacher. But there is one observation, which it may not be improper here to make. In the English language, every word which consists of more syllables than one, has one accented syllable.-The accent rests sometimes on the vowel, sometimes on the consonant. The genius of the language requires the voice to mark that syllable by a stronger percussion, and to pass more slightly over the rest. Now, after we have learned the proper seats of these accents; it is an important rule, to give every word just the same accent in' reading, as in common discourse. Many per sons err in this respect. . When they read lo uthers, and with solemnity, they pronounce the syllables in a different manner from what they do at other times. They dwell upon them, and protract them; they multiply accents on the same words, from a mistakén nolion, that it gives gravity and importance to their subject, and adds to the energy of their delivery. Whereas this is one of the greatest faults that can be committed in pronunciation; it makes what is called a pompous or mouthing manner; and gives an artificial, affected air to reading, which detracts greatly both from its agreeableness and its impression.
Sheridan and Walker have published dictionaries, for ascertaining the trus and best pronunciation of the words of our language. By attentively consulting them, particularly “Walker's Pronouncing Dictionary;" the young rader will be much assisted, in his endeavours to attain a correct pronunc.de tion of the words belonging to the English language.
Emphasis. BY emphasis is meant a stronger and fuller sound of voice, by which we distinguish some word or words, on which we design to lay particular stress, and to show how they affect the rest of the sentence. Sometimes the empha tic words must be distinguished by a particular tone of voice, as well as by a particular stress. On the right management of the emphasis depends the lifeof pronunciation. If no emphasis be placed on any words, not only is discourse rendered heavy and lífeless, but
the meaning left often ambiguous. Il the emphasis be placed wrong, we pervert and confound the nieaning wholly.
Emphasis may be divided into the superior and the inferior emphasis. The superior emphasis determines the meaning of a sentence, with reference to something said before, presupposed by the author as general knowledge, or removes an ambiguity, where a passage may have more senses than one. The inferior emphasis enforces, graces, and enlivens, but does not fix, the meaning of anv passage. The words to which this latter emphasis is given, are in general, such as seem the most important in the sentence, or on other accounts, to merit this distinction. The following passage will serve to ex emplify the superior emphasis :
* Or man's first disobedience, and the fruit
or that forbidden tree, whose mortal laste
“ Sing, hcavenly Muse!" Suppusing that originally other beings bes.des men, had disobeyed the dominands of the Almighty, and that the circumsta..ce were well known to
#s, there would fall an emphasis upon the word man's in the first line; and hence, it would read thus :
“ Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit,” &c. But if it were a notorious truth, that mankind had transgressed in a pecu. liar manner more than once, the emphasis would fall on first; and the line be read,
“Of man's first disobedience,” &c. Again, admitting death (as was really the case) to have been an unheard of and dreadful punishment, brought upon man, in consequence of his trans gression; on that supposition the third line would be read,
Brought death into the world,” &c. But if we were to suppose, that mankind knew there was such an evil as death in other regions, though the place they inhabited had been free from in uilt their transgression, the line would run thus :
“ Brought death into the world,” &c. The superior emphasis finds place in the following short sentence, which adinits of four distinct meanings, each of which is ascertained by the empha sis only,
“Do you ride to town to-day?" The following examples illustrate the nature and use of the inferior em phasis
“Many persons mistake the love, for the practice of virtue.”
“Shall I reward his services with falsehood ? Shall I forget himn who can not forget me ?"
“If his principles are false, no apology from himself can make them right; if founded in truth, no censure from others can make them wrong."
"Though deer, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull ;
“Strong, without rage; without o'erflowing, full.” A friend exaggerates a man's virtues; an enemy, his crimes.”' “ The wise man is happy, when he gains his own approbation; the fool .vhen he gains that of others."
The superior emphasis, in reading as in speaking, must be determined cn. irely by the sense of the passage, and always made alike ; but as to the inse rior emphasis, taste alone seems to have the right of fixing its situation and quantity.
Among the number of persons, who have had proper opportunities of learning to read, in the best manner it is now tauglit, very few could be selected, who, in a given instance, would use the inferior emphasis alike, either as to place or quantity. Some persons, indeed, use scarcely any degree of it; and others do not scruple to carry it far beyond any thing to be found in common
discourse; and even sometimes throw it upon words so very trifling in them: selves, that it is evidently done with no other view, than to give a greater va
riety to the modulation. Notwithstanding this diversity of practice, there are certainly proper boundaries, within which this emphasis must be restrained, in order to make it meet tne approbation of sound judgment and correct taste. It will doubtless have different degrees of exertion, according to the greater or less degree of importance of the words upon which it operates ; and there wicy be very properly some variety in the use of it: but its application is net arbitrary, depending on the caprice of readers.
As emphasie often falls on words in different parts of the same sentence, so it is frequently required to be continued, with a little variation, on two, and sometimes more words together. The following sentences exemplify both the
By modulation is meant, that pleasing variety of voice, which is perceived in ottcring a sentence, and which in its nature, is perfectly distinct from emphasis, and the tones of emotion and passion. The young reader shruld be careful to render his modulation correct and easy; and, for this purpose, suvuld form it upon the model of the most judicious and accurate speakers.
parts of this position: " If you seek to make one rich, study not to increase W his stores, but to diminish' his desires." “ The Mexican figures, or pic
ture-writing, represent things, not words; they exhibit images to the eye, “not ideas to the understanding."
Some sentences are so full and comprehensive, that almost every word is emphatical: as, " Ye hillsg and dales, ye rivers, woods, and plains !", or as that pathetic expostulation in the prophecy of Ezekiel, "Why will ye die!”
Emphasis, besides its other offices, is the great regulator of quantity. Though the quantity of our syllables is fixed, in words separately pronouncei, yet it is mutable, when these words are arranged in sentences; the long being changed into short, the short into long, according to the importance of the word with regard to meaning. Emphasis also, in particular cases, alters the seat of the accent. This is demonstrable from the following examples: “He shall increase, but I shall decrease.” “ There is a difference between giving and forgiving.” “ In this species of composition, plausibility, is mueh word essential than probability.”. In these examples, the emphasis requires the accent to be placed on syilables to which it does not commonly belong.
In order to acquire the proper management of the emphasis, the great rule to be given is, that the reader study to attain a just conception of the fores and spirit of the sentiments which' he is to pronounce. For to lay tụe einphasis with exact propriety, is a constant exercise of good sense and alterition. It is far from being an inconsiderable attainment. It is cue of the most decisive trials of a true and just taste; and must arise from feeling delicately ourselves, and from judging accurately of what is fittest to strike the feelings of others.
*There is one error against which it is particularly proper to caution the learner; nanely, that of multiplying emphatical words too much, and using the emphasis indiscriminately. It is pniş by a prudent reserve and distinetion in the use of them, that we can give them any weight. If they recur too often; if a reader attempts to render every thing he expresses, of high importance, by a multitude of strong emphasis, we soon learn to pay litile rim gard to them. To crowd every sentence with emphatical words, is like crowding all the pages of a book with Italic characters: which, as to the effect, is just the same as to use no such distinctions at all.
Tones. TONES are different both from emphasis and pauses ; consisting in the notes or variations of sound which we employ, in the expression of our sen, timents. Emphasis affects particular words and phrases, with a degree of tone, or inflexion of voice; but tones, peculiarly so called, affect sentences, paragraphs, and some times the whole of a discourse.
To show the use and necessity of iones, we need only observe, that the mind, in communicating its ideas, is in a constant state of activity, emotion, or agitation, from the different effects which those ideas produce in the speaker. Now the end of such communication being not merely to lay open the ideas, but also the different feelings which they excite in him who utters them, there must be other signs than words, to manifest those feelings; as words uttered in a monotonous manner can represent only a similar state of mind, perfectly free from all activity and emotion. As the communication of these internal feelings was of much more consequence in our social intercourse, than the mere conveyance of ideas, the Auihor of our being did not, as in that conveyance, leave the invention
the language of emotion to man; but impressed it himself upon our nature, in the same manner as he has done with regard to the rest of the animal world, all of which express their various feelings, by various tones. Ours, indeed, from the superior rank that we hold, are in a high degree more comprehensive; as there is not an act of the mind, an exertion of the fancy, or an emotion of the heart, which has not its peculiar tone, or note of the voice, by which it is to be expressed; and which is suited exactly to the degree of internal feeling. It is chiefly in the proper use of these tones, that the life, spirit, beauty, and harmony of delivery consist.
The limits of this introduction do not admit of examples, to illustrate the variety of tones belonging to the different passions and emotions. We shall, however, select one, which is extracted from the beautiful lamentation of Da vid over 'Saul and Jonathan, and which will, in some degree, elucidate what