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Less stern to him who calls his coat a coat,
“Once more; speak clearly, if you speak at all ;
Don't strew your pathway with those dreadful urs !” In the beginning of a course of elocution, it is necessary that a minute attention be paid to the producing of the exact sounds on the unaccented syllables; and though this may be censured by many, as affected and theatrical, it must, for a time, be encouraged. Most persons will give the sound of a in accessory distinctly and purely, as the accent is on it; but, if the accent is on the second syllable of a word beginning in the same way, as in accord, the greater number of people would give the ac an obscure sound, as if the word were uccord. The same remark holds with regard to the initial ab, ad, af, ag, al, am, an, ar, ap, as, at, av, az,con, col, &c.; e, de, re, i, in, o, ob, op, &c. Thus, the o in omen, the e in exact, will be sounded correctly by most persons; but, in opinion, proceed, and emit, as the accent is shifted, these vowels would be generally sounded upinion, pruceed, and imit. Through the same neglect, the second o in nobody is not sounded like the o in body, as it should be; and the a in circumstances is different from the a in circumstantial; the former words being sounded nob’dy, circumst'nces. The terminational syllables ment, ness, tion, ly, ture, our, ous, en, el, in, &c., are also generally given impurely, the attention being directed principally to the previous accented syllable ; thus, the word compliments is erroneously given the sound of complimints; nation, that of nashn; only, onlé (the e as in met); nature, natchur ; valor, valer; fumous, famuss; norel, novl ; chicken, chickn; Latin, Latn. Sometimes the concluding consonant is almost lost in the unaccented syllable, while it is preserved in the accented ; thus, in the noun subject, in which the accent is on the first syllable, the t is scarcely sounded by many who would sound it in the verb to subject, in which the accent is on the last syllable. In d and t final, the articulation is not completed until the tongue comes off from the roof of the mouth. Distinctness is gained by this attention to the quality of unaccented vowels, and to the clear and precise utterance of the cousonants in unaccented syllables. Care must be taken, however, that the pupil do not enunciate too slowly. The motions of the organs must frequently be rapid in their changes, that the due proportions of syllables may be preserved.
As emphasis is to a sentence what accent is to words, the remarks which have been made on accented and unaccented syllables apply to words emphatic and unemphatic. The unemphatic words are also apt to become inarticulate from the insufficient force which is put upon them, and the vowel-sounds, as in can, as, and the consonant d in and, &o., are changed or lost. In certain words, such as my, mine, thy, thine, you, your, the unemphatic pronunciation is different from the emphatic, being sounded me, min, the, thin, ye, yur; as, this is min own, this is yur own. In solemn reading, this abbreviated pronunciation is avoided, and the words are pronounced as they are when single.
MODULATION OR MANAGEMENT OF THE VOICE.
The modulation of the voice is one of the most important requisites in a public speaker. Even to the private reader, who wishes to execute his task with pleasure to others, it is a necessary accomplishment. A voice which keeps long in one key, however correct the pronunciation, delicate the inflection, and just the emphasis, will soon tire the hearer. The voice has been considered as capable of assuming three keys, the low, the high, and the middle. This variety is undoubtedly too limited ; but, for the first lessons of a student, it may be useful to regard the classification. A well-trained voice is capable of ranging in these with various degrees of loudness, softness, stress, continuity, and rapidity.
These different states of the voice, properly managed, give rise to that striking and beautiful variety which is essential to eloquent delivery. The difference between loud and soft, and high and low tones, should be well understood. Piano and forte have no relation to pitch or key, but to force and quantity ; and, when applied to the voice, they relate to the body or volume which the speaker or singer gives out. We can, therefore, be very soft in a high note, and very loud in a low one ; just as a smart stroke on a bell may have exactly the same note as a slight one, though it is considerably louder. It ought to be a first principle, with all public readers and speakers, rather to begin below the common level of the voice than above it. A good practical rule for the speaker, in commencing, is to speak as if he would have his voice reach those in the centre of the hall. He thus will begin on a level tone, from which he may easily rise. Some abrupt forms of speech require, however, a loud tone of voice, even at the commencement, to give them their due effect; as, for instance : “How long, 0 Catiline! wilt thou abuse our patience?"
The right assumption of the keys constitutes what may be termed the feeling of a composition; - without it, acting is lifeless, and argument tiresome. It is a want of this variety which distinguishes the inanimate speaker. His inflection may be correct, and have even what has been termed a musical cadence; but, without this variety of key, he must tire his audience. The effect of a transition from the major to the minor key in music is not more striking than the variety which the voice will occasionally assume. A change of key is generally necessary at the commencement of a new sentence. When, in the preceding sentence, the voice has sunk down towards the close, in the new sentence it sometimes recovers its elasticity, and sometimes it continues in the depressed note on which the preceding sentence terminates.
In common conversation, our tone is light, and appears to come from the lip ; in serious and impressive speaking, it appears to be formed further back, and is accompanied by a greater tension of the muscles of the throat. The deeper formation of the voice is the secret of that peculiar tone which is found in actors and orators of celebrity. Some have this voice naturally; but the greater number must acquire it by assiduous practice. The pupil must be required to speak “ further down in the throat.” This peculiar voice, which is adapted to the expression of what is solemn, grand and exciting, “ is formed in those parts of the mouth posterior to the palate, bounded below by the root of the tougue, above by the commencement of the palate, behind by the most posterior part of the throat, and on the sides by the angles of the jaw. The tongue, in the mean time, is hollowed and drawn back; and the mouth is opened in such a manner as to favor, as much as possible, the enlargement of the cavity described.”
To acquire strength and distinctness in this key, the remarks in the last paragraph will be found useful. Nothing more unequivocally marks the finished speaker than a command over the low notes of his voice ; it is a rare accomplishment, but one which is a most valuable principle in Oratory. Strengthening the low notes, after forming them, should be a great object with the master in Elocution ; but it too often happens that the acquisition of a screaming high note is reckoned the desideratum in speaking. The difficulty of being distinct and audible in the low key is at first discouraging ; but practice will, in most cases, attain the object. Similes in poetry form proper examples for gaining a habit of lowering the voice.
He above the rest,
Perplexes Monarchs. The following passage, in which King John takes Hubert aside, and tempts him to undertake the death of Arthur, requires, in the enunciation, a full, audible tone of voice, in a low key : K. John. I had a thing to say,
but let it go;
Hub. So well, that what you bid me undertake,
K. John. Do I not know thou wouldst ?
Hub. And I 'll keep him so
K. John. Death.
K. John. Enough.
Shakspeare's King John, Act iii. Scene 5.
MIDDLE KEY. This is the key of common discourse, and the key in which a speaker must usually deliver the greater part of his speech. Sheridan points out a simple method of acquiring loudness in this key. “Any one, who, through habit, has fallen into a weak utterance, cannot hope suddenly to change it ; he must do it by degrees, and constant practice. I would therefore recommend it to him that he should daily exercise himself in reading or repeating, in the hearing of a friend ; and that, too, in a large room. At first, his friend should stand at such a distance only as the speaker can easily reach, in his usual manner of delivering himself. Afterwards, let him gradually increase his distance, and the speaker will in the same gradual proportion increase the force of his voice.' In doing this, the speaker still keeps on the same tone of voice, but gives it with greater power. It is material to notice, that a well-formed middle tone, and even a low one, is capable of filling any room; and that the neglect of strengthening the voice in these leads a speaker to adopt the high, shouting note which is often heard in our pulpits. Hamlet's address to the players should be mostly delivered in this middle key.
This key of the voice, though very uncommon in level speaking or reading, ought to be practised, as it tends to give strength to the voice generally, and as it is frequently employed in public speaking and declamation. Every one can speak in a high key, but few do it pleasingly. There is a compression necessary in the high notes, as well as the middle and low; this compression distinguishes the vociferous passion of the peasant from that of the accomplished actor or orator. The following passage will bear the most vigorous exercise of the high key :
Fight, gentlemen of England ! fight, bold Yeomen!
Upon them! Victory sits on our helms ! It should be borne in mind, that it is not he who speaks the loudest who can be heard the furthest. “It is a curious fact in the history of sound,” says a scientific observer, “that the loudest noises always perish on the spot where they are produced, whereas musical notes will be heard at a great distance. Thus, if we approach within a mile or two of a town or village in which a fair is held, we may hear very faintly the clamor of the multitude, but more distinctly the organs, and other musical instruments, which are played for their amusement. If a Cremona violin, a real Amati, be played by the side of a modern fiddle, the latter will sound much louder than the former; but the sweet, brilliant tone of the Amati will be heard at a distance the other cannot reach. Dr. Young, on the authority of Durham, states that at Gibraltar the human voice may be heard at greater distance than that of any other animal; thus, when the cottager in the woods, or the open plain, wishes to call her husband, who is working at a distance, she does not shout, but pitches her voice to a musical key, which she knows from habit, and by that means reaches his ear. The loudest roar of the largest lion could not penetrate so far. Loud speakers are seldom heard to advantage. Burke's voice is said to have been a sort of lofty cry, which tended as much as the formality of his discourse in the House of Commons to send the members to their dinner. Chatham's lowest whisper was distinctly heard. His middle tones were sweet, rich and beautifully varied,' says a writer, describing the orator; 'when he raised his voice to the highest pitch, the House was completely filled with the volume of sound; and the effect was awful, except when he wished to cheer or animate — and then he had spirit-stirring notes which were perfectly irresistible. The terrible, however, was his peculiar power. Then the House sank before him; still, he was dignified, and, wonderful as was his eloquence, it was attended with this important effect, that it possessed every one with a conviction that there was something in him finer than his words, – that the man was greater, infinitely greater, than the
A monotone is intonation without change of pitch: that is, preserving a fulness of tone, without ascent or descent on the scale. It is no very difficult matter to be loud in a high tone; but to be loud and forcible in a low wone, requires great practice and management; this, however, may be facilitated by pronouncing forcibly at first in a low monotone. A monotone, though in a low key, and without force, is much more sonorous and audible than when the voice slides up and down at almost every word, as it must do to be various. This tone is adopted by actors when they repeat passages aside. It conveys the idea of being inaudible to those with them in the scene, by being in a lower tone than that used in the dialogue; and, by being in a monotone, becomes audible to the whole house. The monotone, therefore, is an excellent vehicle for such passages as require force and audibility in a low tone, and in the hands of a judicious reader or speaker is a perpetual source of variety. It is used when anything awful or sublime is to be expressed, as
0! when the last account twixt Heaven and earth
Witness against us to damnation.
Dark and cold
That thou shouldst follow it ! The monotone is varied, in the italicized part, to the tone of passionate emotion and supplication.
Modulation includes, also, the consideration of time, which is natural in the pronunciation of certain passages. The combinations, then, of pitch, force and time, are extremely numerous : thus, we have low, loud, slow; low, soft, slow ; low, feeble, slow ; low, loud, quick, &c. ; middle, loud, slow ; middle, soft, slow ; middle, feeble, slow, &c. Thus, we have a copious natural language, adapted to the expression of every emotion and passion.
IMITATIVE MODULATION. Motion and sound, in all their modifications, are, in descriptive reading, more or less imitated. To glide, to drive, to swell, to flow, to skip, to whirl, to turn, to rattle, &c., all partake of a peculiar modification of voice. This expression lies in the key, force, and time of the tones, and the forcible pronunciation of certain letters which are supposed more particularly to express the imitation.
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,