James Rush.

The philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita online

. (page 49 of 59)
Online LibraryJames RushThe philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita → online text (page 49 of 59)
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an author as if it is your own.

Such a direction, in a.suming to be the rule for a just and efective
elocution, only requires a pupil to speak as he pleases, or as his
own particular mind prompts him ; for by the direction, he is to
make- the author's meaning his own; but having, as implied by


the ncecj^ity of the direction, no previous rule, he is left to uter
them only as he pleases by an asumecl rule of his own. At best
then, untler this direction, a class of a thousand pupils, in seeking
a precept for the suposed exact meaning, would discovery there
must be a thousand diferent precepts ; since each must speak by
his own. It is then an unnecesary direction of an unthinking
master. For no one can read well, except he does spontaneously
read as if the meaning were his own : showing the superfluity at
least of directing him to make it his own, in order to read well.
And again, the pupil w'ho cannot so far knoAv an author's mind, as
to be able to represent it from writen description, would be very
likely to mistake it under his master's vague direction, that he
must try to make it his own. Let us however, suposej this rule
of Self-Imitation might serve for comonplace thot, on everyday

On the other hand, supose the art of reading to be employed .in
representing the strictest truth and projiriety of dramatic character,
or the most delicate picturing by the higher poetry. How, M-ith
the great Crowd of mankind, will the rule of substitution meet
this case ? I have more than once, seen among Aspirants of the
Stage, the pitiable result of what was suposed to be a representa-
tion of the Truth of Nature, by this afecting to become identical
with their enacted Character, in asuming the thot of another as
their own ; a representation of Nature, without a knowledge of
her constitution and laws ; a constitution, coeval with the period
of human progres into speech.

All the Fine Arts are esentialy A^'ts'j each the ofspring of a
fruitful aliance between Knowledge and intelectual facility : the
high acomplishment of the Mork by the Artist, and the reflective
enjoyment of its truth and beauty by the Votary, being purely the
result of scrutinizing perception, extensive comparison, enlightened
choice, and a harmonized use of the scatered facts and rules of
propriety, unity, expresion, grandeur and grace.

Many of the faults of speakers arise from their being taught
by imitation alone. As long as there has l)een a history of the
Stage, so long, Actors have been clased in the school of some
Preceding, or Cotemporary master. But as there is always one,
who by chance or by merit is the Leader of the ' lustrum j' and


even five years is a long life for fashionable faraej it generaly
hapens that his faults may for the time, be recognized among a
crowd of pupils and imitators. From the want of some definite
corective, the bad reading of a Pulpit sometimes infects a whole
class of studentsj who circumscribe the active benefits of their
master's solemn example by taking-up his sinful elocution.

It may be saidj If we establish a system of principles, all
readers must be of one school, and this will be equivalent to imi-
tation. There would be one school ; a school of acknowledged
and permanent precept, with a likenes in its excelence, not in its
defects. Many actors who difer from each other in their faults,
yet give ocasional short sentences with similar propriety, Avithout
exciting a remark on that similarity; for propriety is here, the
fitnes of truth. It is only upon some imitated outrage of uter-
ance, that in a moment, the whispered name of a prototype is heard
in twenty parts of a theater. Serious imitations of distinguished
Actors and Speakers, like gay mimicries of them, are generaly
made on peculiar pronunciation, monotony, unpleasant quality of
voice, peculiar forms of melody, wdiining, false cadence, or no
cadence at all, and precipitate and unaccountable transitions.*

But, enough of unsatisfactory argument on this subject. The

* Strange, indeed ! that such faults should be found among distinguished
Actors and Speakers. But I write from observation ; having heard them all.

The celebrated j who had a grating and untunable vocalitj', and

whose elocution as I recolect it, was afected and monotonous, in a formal
melody of wider intervals and waves, with an ocasional minor third in em-
phatic placesj would, after some of the Older Poets, pronounce when nobody
else did, the plural of ache (ach-es) as two sylables, to the unseasonable meri-
ment of those wlio heard him. The use of the minor third however, was not
peculiar to him, for it seems to be a vocal tradition, still kept up among the
English. The Quakers, particularly their women, in public preaching, employ
it to an extravagant degree ; and, from the incorigible character of all sectari-
anism, probably had it in the time of Fox; whose folowers may have derived
it thro the earlier Protestants, from some awkward imitation of chanting, in
the Catholic-service. Bo this as it maj', it is not uncomon, in jirivate life,
even with women of the higher classes, in England ; and very comon on the
Stage. We often hear it in Actors as well as Actreses who come over to us.
Wo had some years ago, one of the later, wliose intonation was almost a
melody of minor thirds. As long as she lasted, it was thot very fine ; and
was imitated by many American theatric Misses. Its afectation was so re-
markable, that it was a subject of mimicry for every shop-girl witli a good
car, who heard it.



art of Elocution has never yet, by system or rule, reached that
consumation, which might be caled, the Canonical Beauty of
Speech. The corupted instinct of individuals, has been for each,
the universal guide ; and the best management of the voice has,
under so poor a master, falen-short of an efective means for the
highest oral excelence of an ordained Elocution : while the comon
herd of pretenders aford both shocking and endles examples of
deformity and eror.

It is not the intention here, to speak of the constitutional de-
formities of the voice. It is dificult however, to draw a line of
distinction on this subject. Too many of the wilful vices of life,
under self-delusion, pass for misfortunes : and it can scarcely be
made a question, whether the impudent display of even natural fail-
ings should not shut-out the subject from indulgent comiseration.

Three points are of leading importance to a speaker : and if
deficiencies therein are not to be caled misfortunes, we may rank
them as great and generic faults. I mean the defects of the Mind,
of the Ear, and of Industry.

Speech is intended to be the sign of every variety of thot and
pasion. If therefore the mind of a scholar be not raised to that
generality of condition, which can asume all the characters of ex-
presion, he will in vain aspire to great eminence in the art. If
his mind is endued only with the diplomatic virtue of unrufled
caution ; if it is of that character which compliments its own
dulnes by caling energy, violencej and drawls-out in reprobation
at the vivid language of truth ; if all its busy goings are jiLst
around the little circle of its own selfish schemes ; if it has yet
to know itself, as only a compound of thot, and pasion ; and to
hear, without being convinced, that suces in every art is not more
indebted to the plans of sagacious thot, than to the i)erseverance
of thotful pasion ; if the mind, I repeat it, is of such a cast, its
posesor may with the resources of elementary knowledge, and
methodj atain a certain proficiency in the art, may save himself
from its striking faults, and probably satisfy his own uncircum-
spect perception ; but he can never reach the highest acomplish-
ment in elocution.

In speaking of the mental requisites for good reading, we must
not overlook our frequent neglect to discriminate between a merely


forcible, and a delicate state of mind. The latter makes the fall
and finished Actor; and it is unfortunate for his art, that en-
dowments, which under proper cultivation insure suces, are gen-
eral}' united with a modesty that retires from the places and oca-
sions for displaying its merits : the former in reaching no more
than the coarse energy of the pasions, is able to figure on the
Stage, only as the outrageous Herod, the brazen Beatrice, and the

The mind, with its comprehensive and refined discriminations,
must furnish the design of elocution ; the ear must watch over
the lines and coloring of its expresion.

The ability to measure nicely the time, force, and pitch of
sounds, is indispensable to the higher excelencies of speech. It
is imposible to say how much of the musical ear, properly so
caled, is the result of cultivation. There is however a wide difer-
ence even in the earliest aptitudes of this sense; and granting
the means of improvement derived from analysis will hereafter
greatly increase the proportional number of good readei-s, and
produce something like an equality among themj still the pos-
ession of a musical ear must, with other requisites, always give a

I have more than once in this essay, urged the importance of
Industry, the third general means for suces. Neglect on this
point may be considered as an egregious fault in a speaker ; and
it certainly is the most culpable. It is here placed on high
ground, along with mental susceptibility and delicacy of ear, those
esentials which have been designated by the indefinite term
'genius.' In vain will the mind furnish its finest perceptions, or
the ear be ready with its measurements, if the tongue should not
contribute its persevering industry. By a figure of speech that
took a part for the whole of the senses, a hapy penalty upon
mankind, as it was early writen, doomed the taste to be gratified
by the sweat of the brow : the ear can receve its full delight in
Elocution, only by the long labor of the voice.

The faults of speakers are of endles variety: but if I have told
the whole truth, they embrace no mode or form of voice, here un-
named. It seems as if Nature had asumed, in her adjusted system
of speech, all its available signs. The worldly tongue, with his


corupting habit, in deforming this all-perfect endowment, makes
no adition to its constituents, but performs his part in human
eror, by misplacing them. In the present history of the faults of
speech, we may therefore pursue something like the order, more
than once, given to our subject.

The five general heads, under which we considered the Modes
of the voice, are Vocality, Time, Force, Abruptness, and Pitch.

Of Faults in Vocality. This subject is so well known, both in
the Art, and in comon criticism, that it is unecesary to be ])artic-
ular upon it. Harshnes or rufnes is one of the disagreeable forms
of the voice. The nasal is still more ofensive. Shrilnes may
rather be called a Vocality than a state of Pitch. It wants dig-
nity, seems like a mockery of the voice, and while heard remotely,
and drawing atention, it is with the atraction of a caricature. The
huskines of aspiration is more apt to be united Avith the orotund.
It may not diminish the gravity and sober grandeur of this voice,
but it obscures the clearnes of its vocality.

The falsete is sometimes used in the curent of speech. We hear
persons on the stage, in the senate, the fervent pulpit, and on the
scafold of the demao-ogue, who ofend with the falsete onlv oca-
sionaly, by the melody, breaking from the natural voice, on a
single sy.lable. Every speaker has a falsete ; and the skilful can
always guard against its improper use. As a fault, it results
either from the limited compas of the natural voice, or from a de-
fect of ear in the speaker ; for not having an acurate perception
of his aproach to it, he is unable to avoid the evil, by a ready
descent of intonation.

The falsete is common in the voices of women. It has with
them a plaintive character ; and the melody at this high pitch is
apt to be monotonous.

Of Faults in Time. It is not meant to treat here, of what is caled
reading too fast or too slow. There is nothing new to be said on
this point. But we who speak English are said, by the report of
the compilers of Greek and of Latin gramars, to know nothing of
Quantity, and to have none in our language. That bad readers,
and persons who will not learn their own tongue may know
nothing of its quantity, is readily granted ; still, that it is an
esential part of every language, and the neglect of it, a source of


many faults in ours, must be admitted by those who know the
efect of sylabic time, and the proper use of the voice.

Quantity, as a fault, may be too long or too short. When
states of mind requiring short time, sucli as gayety and anger, are
expresed by long quantity, it produces the vice of Drawling. The
excessive quantity of this drawling may be either on a wave of
the second, or an equal or unequal wave of wider intervals, or on
the note of Song.

When deliberate or solemn discourse is huried over in a short
sylabic quantity, the fault is no less apparent and ofensive. This
defect in reading is by far the most comon; and it has been said,
more than once, in this esay, because it is well to rouze the Eng-
lish ear to this subject, that the comand over time in the pure and
equable concrete of speech, is found only in speakers of fervent
temperament and long experience. Such persons instinctively
acquire the use of extended quantity : as on long sylables, most of
their earnest expression is efected. It is from ignorance of this
fact, that some speakers, neglecting the variety and smoothnes of
the temporal emj^hasis, give prominence to important words only
by the hamering of acent.

Of Faults in Force. The misaplication of the degrees of the
piano and the forte, in the general curent of discourse is sufieiently
obvious. But the forms of stres, on diferent parts of the concrete,
have never been observed, and consequently, have never been noted
as a fault.

Many speakers, from a dificulty in comanding variations of
quantity, execute most of their emphasis in the form of force ; yet
even in this aparently simple efort, they are not free from faults.
Some persons, after the maner of the Irish, employ the vanishing
stress on all emphatic sylables. This has its meaning in cxprcsion,
but it is misplaced, except on the ocasions ft)rmerly pointed out.
A want of the sharp and abrupt character of the radical is not an
uncomon fault. It ocurs generaly in the dull and indolent : for
nothing shows so clearly an elastic? temper in the voice, as the
ability to sudenly exi)lode this initial stres. On the other hand it
is a more frequent fault, to over-strcs the acented sylable, by that
hamering of the voice, which destroys the dignity of deliberate
intonation. This ovcr-stres does most violence to the solenni ex-


presion, apropriate to many parts of the Church-service : for here
the waves of the second, on indefinite quantities, whether acented
or not j including by license, even a slight extension of the shortest
sylablesj should with cautious management, and not unlike the
' leaning note' of song, be caried by a blending quantity from con-
crete to concrete, in a reverentive drift of deliberate dignity ; the
necesary emphasis being made by a comparative exces of quantity,
with the impresive and graceful gliding of the median stres.

It is not my intention to notice the faults of emphatic stres, in
the comon meaning of the term. They all resolve into a want of
true aprehension on the part of the reader. In ignorance of other
constituents of an enlarged and definite elocution, which our pres-
ent inquiry has taught us to apreciate and to recomend, this well
known subject of stres-laying emphasis, has always been considered
of the first importance in the art ; and unfortunately in the school
of imitation, it has under the critical term Reading, restrictively
asumed, at least a nominal superiority over the other modes of
speech. 'How admirably she reads,' said an idle critic, of an
actres, who, with perhaps a pro})er emphasis of Force, was de-
forming her uterance, by every fault of Time and Intonation.
The critic was one of those who having neither knowledge nor
docility, deserved neither argument nor corection. Emphasis of
stres, being almost the only branch of elocution in which there is
an aproach towards a practical rule, this single function, under an
ignorance of other modes of emphatic distinction, has, by a figure
of speech grounded on its real importance, been asumed in the
limited nomenclature of criticism, as almost the sole esential of
the art. Even Mr. Kemble, whose eulogy should have been
founded on whatever- other merits he may have posesed, made, if
we have not been misinformed, the first stir of his fame, by a new
' reading,' or a new discriminative stres, in a particular scene of
Haridet. Under this view, it would folow, that he who ])roperly
aplies the emphasis of force, in the Art of Reading, acomplishes
all its purpose ; he reads, or he acentuates well.

We have awarded to the emphasis of force its due, but not its
undue degree of consequence ; and it may be hereafter admited,
that much of the contention about certain unimportant points of
this stres-laying emphasis, and of pause, has arisen from critics


finding very little else of the vast compas of speech, on Avhich they
were able to form for themselves a determinate opinion. When,
under a scientific institute of elocution, there Mall be more im-
portant maters to study, and delight in, it may perhaps be foundj
much of this trifling lore of italic notation, now seryiug to keep
up comonplace contention in a daily gazette, will be quite over-
looked, in the high court of philosophic criticism.*

We do not speak of the faults of pronunciation, depending on

* Some one, of those who like to make busines in an art, rather than to do
it, has raised a question whether the folowing lines from Macbeth, should be
read with an acent and a pause at baners or at walls :

Mac. Hang out our baners on the outward walls
The cry is still, They come.

To those whose elocution consists in such ridles, we propose the folowing,
from Goldsmith :

A man he was, to all the country dear.
And pasing rich with forty pounds a year.

Let them gues variously, or sharply dispute, upon the question of aplying
an emphasis on pasing, or on rich ; thereby to determine either that the good
Village Parson w&s pasing or superlatively rich, with his forty pounds ; or that
he pascd among his parishioners, as only very well-off in the world.

I some time ago noticed the folowing punctuation, in one of those wandering
Actors known as Stars.

I'll call thee Hamlet,
King, Father ; Koyal Dane O answer me.

Perhaps, after writing the words King and Father, the Poet's choiceful ear
was deluded into the repetition Royal Dane, by the fine variety of elemental
sound, and rythmic acent and quantity in the Title. The ambitious reading
of the Star was worse than careles, without an apologyj by imploring em-
phaticaly of the Royal Dane what he would not of Hamlet, King, and Father.

1 heard another eratic Star of critical ilumination, read thus :

How fares our Cousin Hamlet ?
Ham. Excelent, i' faith, of the chamelion's dish I eat; the air promise-
cram ed.

Leaving it to a brighter star-light to show, whether Hamlet, or the air was
inconsiderately cranied.

Many persons who might be profitably hired to Square Timber, make-show
of doing something, by idly whitling sticks.


misplaced verbal or gramatical acents. Propriety in this mater
is set- forth in the dictionary, and the erors of speech may be meas-
ured by its conventional rules. Xor is it within the purpose of this
esay to notice faults in the pronunciation of the alj)hal)etic ele-
ments. Criticism should be modest on this pointj till it has the
mental independence to give to the literal symbols of those ele-
ments, and to their redundant, and defective uses, more of the char-
acter of a work of wisdom, than they have ever receved in any
writen language ; till the pardonable variety of pronunciation, and
the ear-directed speling by the vulgar, have satirized into reforma-
tion, that scholastic pencraft which keeps up the dificulties of 6r-
thography, with no other purpose, it would seem, than to pride
itself in the use of a troublesome and awkward system, as a crite-
rion of education^ and with the tyranny of habit, to opose every
promising atempt to corect it.

Of Faults in Pitch. Speech has been especialy, one of those
many subjects, in which we often pronounce upon the right and
the wrong, without being able to say why they are so. If we
have resolved the obscurity in respect to the proprieties of intona-
tion; it will not be dificult on similar principles, to give some
explanation of its faults.

Of Faults in the Concrete Movement. I have more than once
spoken of that peculiar characteristic of speech, the full opening,
the gradual decrease, and the delicate termination of the concrete.
As this structure is destroyed by the use both of the vanishing, and
the thoro stres, the misaplication of either must be regarded as
a fault. The vanishing stres, exemplified by the upward jerk in
some of the Irish people, produces a peculiar monotony, when
continued in discourse; and the thoro, if not used for especial
emphasis, or designed incivility, is a striking and a vulgar fault.
Every one must be familiar with what is caled a coarse and un-
manerly tone. This, as regards the structure of the concrete, was
formerly shown to be the efect of the last named stress. Some
readers seem incapable of giving the equable concrete on a long
quantity ; substituting in place of it, the note of song. The most
remarkable instance of this speech-singing, is that of the public
preaching of the Friends, to be particularly described among the
faults in melody.


Oj Faults in the Semitone. Who has not heard of whining?
It is the misplaced use of the semitone. The semitone is the
vocal sign of tendernes, petition, complaint, and doubtful suplica-
tion : but never of manly confidence, and the authoritative self-
reliance of truth. It is this which betrays the sycophant, and
even the crafty hypocrite himself. They asume a plaintive per-
suasion, or a tuneful cant, not merely to implyj they are prompted
by a kindly and afectionate state of mind, but sometimes because
they distrust or despise themselves, and are therefore influenced
by the mental state of servility. Suspicion should therefore be
awake, when the show of truth or benevolence is proifered under
the cringing whine of this expresive interval ; and in general, when-
ever the semitone is used for a state of mind that does not call for it.
A beggar should, by the instinct of his voice, plaintively implore ;
and it is equaly a law of nature, which abhors hypocrisy no less
than a vacuum, that he should give the truth of his narative in a
more confident intonation.

The chromatic melody is comon among women. Actreses are
prone to this fault ; and it is one of the causes which frequently
prevent their asuming the matron-role of tragedy, and the dignified
severity of epic, and dramatic elocution. AVomen sometimes in-
tercede, threaten, complain, smile, and call the footman, all in the
minor third or the semitone. They can vow, and love, and burst
into agony in Belvidera ; but rarely by masculine personation and
diatonic energy, 'chastise with the (orotund) valor of their tongue,'
and gravely order the scheme of murder in Lady INIacbeth.

We have described the states of mind signified by the semitone.
Whenever it suplants the proper diatonic melody, it becomes a
fault, and begins to be monotonous ; for when apropriate it never
is so. I once heard the part of Dr. Cantwell, in the Hj/pocrite,
played in the chromatic melody. Perhaps it suited the pretensions
of the pious vilain, but it certainly was a paling monotony to the
ear ; and the want of transition, when he threw off the mask, in
adressing his patron's wife, was remarkable, lie was the righteous
knave and the pasionate lover, all in the same intonation. The
efect would have been more a]ii)roj)riate and agreeable, if an abated,
slow, and monotonous drift of the second had prevailetlj with the
use of the chromatic melody, when required by the pasion.


Of Faults in the Second. The car lias its green as avcII as the

Online LibraryJames RushThe philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita → online text (page 49 of 59)