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 52 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 52 of 59)
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tice of the greater part of mankind, confounded, by the same state
being expresed in so many diferent ways. How much then, must
the mimic be at fault, and the whole purpose of his speech per-
verted, by the endles variety and exagerated degree of false ex-
presion, constantly upon his ear? Few mimics are able to rise to
the character of dignified uterance ; and when they even seriously
imitate acomplished speakers, it is always in their acidental defects ;
for these only give the amusing characteristics. Some of the beter
class of Actors posses a jDOwer of mimicry : but as I have known
them, they have wanted a high refinement and finish, in the truth-
ful representation of thot and pasion. And so it ought to be : and
so it will be regarded hereafter, if in our present l\istory of Nature
there is a true representation of the system of her wise and eficient

And here let me not unmindfuly say, that if observation had
not, by acident, aforded me the light, and the defense of this
natural ordination of the voice, I would not have dared, nor even
wished, to touch the mantle of renown, that wraps the Histrionic
character of the Imortal Garrick. But when I see him, in that
Emblematic Portrait of his fame, equaly afected to the Comic,
and the Tragic Muse ; and hear, that he could both by taste and
habit, mask the expresive features of his elocution, by an exager-
ated and distorted mimicry, I grieve to think that my memorial
perception must lose a single ray, from the bright and welcome
vision of his canonized Perfection.

Such, from its very character, must, to a greater or less extent,
be the influence of mimicry, even on the finest mould of nature
in the unenlightened human voice. How far a full and acurate
knowledge and use of all the means, ordained for truth and ele-
gance of expresion, with a perfect discrimination between the
right and the wrong in speech, may enable an acomplished Actor


habitualy to practice the deformities, Avithout infecting the graces
of uterance, must be determined by the oportunities of future
experience. At present, it is well to keep the tongue away from
the contaminating company of its own infectious faults. For it is
with our voices, as with our morals ; the habit of doing only right,
most efectually preserves us from wrong : and it is no less danger-
ous, to play with mischief in the one, than to amuse ourselves
with mokery in the other.*

An inquiry into the subject of mimicry, will afford a further
view of the consistency of the whole science of expresion, set-forth
in this esay. For if corect and elegant speech requires the em-
ployment of the vocal constituents, in their proper places, in their
proper sucesions, and in due proportion to each other, it will
furnish, if the Reader yet doubtsj some suport to this recorded
system, to findj the violation of its rules, by a misplaced, or over-
proportioned, or exclusive use of certain of these constituents is
productive of a paling monotony, or a grotesk caricature.

Of Monotony of Voice. This is an old term in elocution ; but it
is here used with a more extensive signification than formerly. It
means in general, the undue continuation of any function of the

One can scarcely point-out an ocasion, on which the simple rise
of the second, or the diatonic wave, has this efect ; for acording to
our system, these are properly the most frequent of the continuous
styles of discourse. The use of the second, in place of another
interval, may sometimes be an eror in expresion, but we do not
call it monotony. The chromatic melody, as a continuation of the
impresive interval of the semitone, is not monotonous, if its plain-
tivenes is suited to the state of mind : but many other constitu-

* lu the early period of life, I had to a certain degree the power of mimicry ;
and the ability to imitate the human and sub-animal voice, has asisted me ia
discriminating by contrast, the graces of utcrance, in recording many of its
faults. Since the development of the vocal constituents, with a habitual prac-
tice of the means, and experience of the efects, of a true, apropriate, and ele-
gant speech, the readines and precision of that mimicry is much impaired ;
and partially lost : without however, the least diminution of exactnes in tho
measurement of time and tune, when now in my eighty-second year, en-
larging the sixth edition of this Work. I cannot say how it would have been,
had mimicry been a purpose of businesor ambition.


ents, when spread over discourse, ofend by this fault. A repeated
sucesion of the same phrases in the curent; the same kind of ca-
dence, particularly if it frequently ocurs ; a melody formed on the
third, or fifth ; a restriction of emphasis to the third, or fifth, or
octave ; a constant use of the acent and emphasis of the radical, the
vanishing, or the thoro stressj of the tremorj and of the down-
ward wider intervals; too free a use of remote skips in the radical
change, both in the curent, and the cadencej of the wider and un-
equal wavesj with the protracted notes of song, may each become
the cause of monotony. And it may be again remarked, that all
constituents severally alotted to the rare ocasions of emphasis, seem
to be protected against the fault of undue repetition, not only by
their violating the vocal rules for thot and expresion, but by pro-
ducing at the same time, an ofensive monotony.

Of Ranting in Speech. This fault consists in the exces of certain
functions. These are loudnes ; violence in the radical, and the
vanishing streses; and in general, an over-doing of just expresion,
when united with unecesary force.

Of Afedation in Speech. This consists in an imbecile perversion
of the proper use of articulation, and of the intervals of pitch,
with a mincing awkwardnes, that always attends the actions of
personal conceit.

Of Mouthing in Speech. This belongs properly to the head of
the faults of articulation ; and refers to deviations from standard
pronunciation; of which it is not my intention to speak particu-

Mouthing consists in. the improper employment of the lips in

Some of the tonic elements, and one of the subtonics are made
by the assistance of the lijjs. They are o-we, oo-ze, ou-v, and m.
When these abound it may, without precaution on the part of the
speaker, lead to mouthing. All the other subtonics may be to a
degree, infected with this fault. It slightly infuses the sound of
the o-we or oo-ze into their vocality; for the protrusion of the
lips, gives something of this character even to a lingual element.
Mouthing may be called a form of affectation.

I might here give a particular description of the voices of
Childhood and of Age : for these may be looked upon as faults,


when compared with the full-fonned, vigorous, and varied uter-
ance of intermediate periods. Our analysis will enable an ob-
servant Reader to discover their respective characters. He will
find the voice of childhood to be high in pitch, vividly monotonous
in melody, and defective in cadence, with nothing, except parental
doting to reconcile the ear to its screeching intonation ; which in
its piercing and untunable noise from mingling hundreds 'just
let loose from school' is a nuisance well deserving the rod of a
Correctional Police, in every community that vainly hopes, by a
little reading, writing, and arithmetic, to banish ignorance, raise
up a comonwealth of industrious, wise, and virtuous citizens, and
to quiet the disorderly pasions of mankind. He will find old age
to be slow, with frequent pauses, feeble radical stres, tremulous,
ocasionally breaking into the falsete, and piping the childish treble
in his voice.

The faults here enumerated, are more or less coraon among
those who pass for good, and often the best Readers and Actoi*s.
When instruction shall be derived from the Natural Philosophy
of speech, and not from the egotism of untaught 'genius,' nor the
varying and contradictory examples it pretends to set-up for Imi-
tatiouj the defects and deformities of uterauce from these sources,
now equaly prevalent in the higher and the humble class of read-
ers, will like the faults of gramar, be confined to the uneducated
and the careles.

I have described the faults of speakers under general heads,
and in their separate forms. They are heard in bad speakers,
under all possible combinations : but the pcrnnitations would defy
every atempt towards a useful arangemcnt. The contemplation of
the subject is therefore left as a task for the Reader.

Should the principles of this Work ever prevail, and Speech
hereafter become a Lil)eral and Elegant Art, it may be foundj the
faults described in this section, as infecting the whole world of
elocution, will have so far passed away, that the i)icture here ex-
hibited, will seem to have been overdrawn. ]5ut when were the
exceleneies of Art, or Wisdom, or Worth, ever univi'rsal or even
comon? There will always remain in this motly world, posterity
enough of those who now defeat the designs of Nature, and mar
the mind-directed music and expresiou of speech, to show to


another age, that I may not nnfairly have recorded, the ahnost
universal prevalence of this deafnes and deformity, in the great
family of their vocal ancestors.*

In describing the faults of readers, and on other ocasions in this
esay, I have refered to eminent, as well as to exceptionable exam-
ples, in the vocal practice of the Stage. The Actor holds both for
purpose and oportunity, the first and most observed position in the
Art of Elocution^ and should long have been our best and al-sufi-
cient Master in its School. The Senate, the Pulpit, and the Bar,
with the verbal means of argument or persuasion almost exclu-

* Having shown, that the descriptions ofered in this esay, are drawn from
Nature^ to furnish the sure foundation of a system for all times, and for all
cultivated nations; and having further, shown that faults, being a misaplica-
tion of the constituents of a just and elegant speech, must of necesity, be
universal}' of a similar character, among those who disregard the principles
of that just and elegant speech : I have only to add here, as it might perhaps
be required, some suport to this conclusion.

During my residence at Rome, in the winter of eighteen hundred and forty-
six вАФ seven, I was present at an annual exhibition of the scholars of the Propa-
ganda. From pencil-notes taken at the time, on the margin of a programme
of the exercises, and briefly recording my perception of the character of the
elocution, I make the following sumary.

The speakers numbered from fifty to sixty, men and boys ; aparently from
the age of twelve to five and twenty ; of various colors, visages, and lan-
guages ; and from countries of different degrees of ignorance, and of civiliza-
tion, between the longitude of eastern China, and that of the Alegany moun-
tains. As each and all of these individuals must have had the respective
forms of their intonation, and of the other modes of the voice, determined
and fixed by early habit in their native country^ they could have undergone
no material change in the Roman school. Yet the proprieties of speech, if
any, and all its faults, whether in form, degree, or misaplied expresion, were
the same as those we have enumerated in the English voice. No matter, to
what .sylabic sound, or structure of language they had been born, there was
colectively among thom, the same vicious variety in the uses of time, force,
vocality, abruptnes and intonation, as with ourselves ; and as with us of the
Saxon, Celtic, Gaulish, Teutonic and Slavonic tonguesj one vast predomi-
nance of faults. Still, when closely listening to the right, the wrong, and
the peculiar, I heard nothing in form, or even in queernes or exageration,
that I had not seemingly heard before. In short, the destined swarthy wan-
derer of the Propaganda, with his aimles and chaotic eforts in speech, and
the acomplished Queens of song from the Conservatorio, with their desecra-
tion, so to speak, of expresion in Recitative, are more nearly asimilated, in
these vices of intonation, than their diference in complexion and in glory
will alow the pride of the Opera to aknowledge.


sively before them, having so earnestly, or artfuly pursued these
leading interests^ they have not observed, nor apareutly, M'ished to
observe, how far the cultivated powers of the voice might have
asisted the honest or the ambitious purpose of their oratory. But
with the Stage, speech is in itself, the means and the end of His-
trionic distinction ; for however the Actor may be unduly influ-
enced by aplause, this aplause is suposed to be atainable, only by
the expresive powers of his voice. It has therefore been towards
the Stage alone, that criticism has shown a disposition, formaly to
direct its vague and limited rules of vocal propriety and taste.
The Stage however has not fulfiled the duties of its position; for
while holding the highest place of influential example in the art,
and enjoying the immediate rewards of popularity, it has done
little more than keep-up the tradition of its busines and rotine^
and tediously record the personalities, engagements, retirement,
and every sort of anecdote of its renowned Performers ; without
one serious thot of turning a discriminative ear to their vocal ex-
celence, and thereby afording available instruction, on the means
of their succes ; its distinguished Performers themselves, apear-
ing more culpably, in the condition of too many others in exalted
stations, who have not so much desired to fulfil the trusts of their
Stewardship, as to acquire wealth and influence and distinction
for themselves.*

* Shortly after the publication of this "Work, I was asked by a friendly
Judges how I came to write it ; for he had suposed it would have been writen
by some Public Speaker. But Judges deliver opinions; and the whole line
of historical 'Reports' furnishes only a single Case-in-point, to my friend's
suposition : for of all the Orators, Demosliienes alone is said to have tried
vocal instruction^ in teaching himself to jironounce the elements, by holding
pebbles in his mouth. Tiie invention and the belief of this silly story show
the ignorance and the credulity, on the subject of the voice, among the An-
cients. Yet the ' theory ' of the proces seems to have been no less impracti-
cable then than it is now ; for it appears, he never had a second scholar in the
same pebble-way. And generaly, it would be strange for an Orator to teach
elocution, when he beleves it to be a heaven-born gift, that cannot be taut.

Tho I have heard and heard-of, Great Speakers who have won 'golden
opinions' by their 'silver tones^' I have always found, it was what thoy said,
not Jmw they said it, that set their party whipers-in, beneath ' Hotel-win-
dows,' and around ' the table,' in a roar. True liowever it is, that Orators
with tho exce])tion of Quiiu'tilian, if ho was one, neither write books on
Elocution for others^ nor read books on Elocution to instruct themselves.


For this particular state of Histrionic Art, there must be a
causej and as the preceding analysis has enabled us to explain
some faults universaly infecting the voice, we may here properly
inquirej why elocution has not been able to asume an inteligent,
systematic, and respected authority on the Stage. Speech is the
audible sign of the thotive and pasionative character of man ; it will
apear then, the peculiar faults of the Stage procede from a limited
and a mystic state of mind in the Actor. I therefore devote a few
remaining pages to the subject j

Of the Faults of Stage-Personation. The most general and in-
fluential cause from which many of the faults of the Actor seem
to arise, and under which, knowledge in his art has never been
either comunicable or progresivcj is the delusive asumption, so
fatal to a clear and practical use of the mind, that his purposes are
efected by certain 'innate powers' or 'spiritual gifts' independ-
ently of all instruction ; that so far from being the result of the
plain and universal rule of sucesful physical thot and actionj the
expresion of his Enacted Character, like that vulgar notion of the
'fine madness' of poetical invention, is the result of a peculiar his-
trionic ' phrensy ' of pasion, with the ' inspired embodiment ' of its
signs in the countenance and the voice.

This mysticism of the school of Acting has divided its eminent
disciples into two Clases. The First has a sort of double exist-
ence, consisting, at one time, of its comon animal atributes of mo-
tion, sensation and thot ; at another, of the ' spiritual ' representa-
tion of the language of the poet. In one of these lives, the actor
prepares for his part, acording to his own conception of it, or to the
traditionary rules of the Green Roomj and for his scenic relation-
ships to the rest of the Company, goes to Rehearsal, with his
everyday mind, speech, and aparel. This is the personal life of
the actor. In the other life he is before the audience, and has
entered into a 'spiritual existence' with the poet. Here, all self-
perception is lost; he is sensuous to nothing, and has only an in-
describable notion of the comingling of his own enacting 'soul,'
with the rhetorical 'soul' of his author; thus entering with him
into one co-eficient expresion of gesture, countenance, and voice.
This state of an actor, in losing his 'consciousnes,' in the meta-
physical 'ideality' of the character, is called Identity. And as I


can comprehend his bodily and mental condition, the actor seems
to think, move, and speak in a peculiar kind of Trance.*

* An Actor, or Personator on the Stage, whatever his fictional school may
teach, can no more, intelectualy and pasionately, beleve or feel himself to be
the character he represents, than he can, in physical perception feel the pain
of his friend, or taste the food that gratifies him. If he should in mind, for
he cannot in person, be or apear to himself to be another, he must, in mind,
cease to be himself: and therefore cannot, in thot and pasion, become another,
except, if even that is posible, in delirium or a dream. Nor is there the least
necesity that he should in acting, apear to himself to be another, in order to
Act well. Wicked and foolish as man is in most of his afairs, it would be
apaling to think what he might be, if human nature had not been made, in
all things and everywhere alike. "We are therefore, by birth and education,
identical with one another; without its being a peculiar aim of 'genius ' in
a Player to feign himself so, and this is the opinion of the world ; as we all
know, what a social, moral, political, and religious comotion is produced by a
single individual of name and station, who questions conformity, and observes
and thinks for himself. He is marked as a dangerous character. Diference
from the rest of the world in observation and thot, which are the charm of
life, is rare ; but in pasion, which is almost the whole life itself of man, it is
imposible. If by internal motive, or external impresion, thots are excited
into pasion, we must show or enact it, in like maner with others. For with
some variation of degree and maner, the pasion itself, in mental perception
and outward action, is similar in all.

It is not necesary then, to ' enter into ' or ' feel ' the pasion of another ; we
are already in it, by a similar constitution ; and have only to perceve and
expres it, as properly our own, when excited within us either by the voice of
the orator, or the writen language of the historian and the poet.

In ilustration, let us suppose an Actor to have the education, thot, pasion
and physical means for expresion, like the best of his class ; and to enact the
part of Hamlet, before the Ghost of his Father. He has then in his mind, the
thbts of doubt, disbelief, inquiry, and of the present supernatural event. The
pasions or vivid perceptions that absorb, not entrance him, are horor, aston-
ishment, reverence, afection, and revenge. These comon th6ts and pasions
are, either from Nature or from habit, so at comand, ' that a man might
play them j ' as Shakspeare analyticaly and truly describes itj by ' forcing his
soul to its ow)i conceit,' not into Identity with the thOt or conceit of another:
for as they have been experienced, and no further, can they be mcntaly known,
and expresed. No one has felt them, in the case before us, with the vividnes
of life, but tlio suposed once-existing Hamlet: and therefore the Actor may
raise within himself a certain form and degree of those thOls and jiasions,
but cannot become identical with Hamlet, even if good acting should require
it. He is then only identical, so to speak, with himself, upon the experienced
forms and degrees of his own pasion and thOt.

The Actor's jicrccption of Idenfltij, compared with the plain phenomena of
the mind and the voice, would seem to have arisen from one of these visionary


The Second Class, altogether diferent in its character from that
of Identity, is no less mystical in its acount of itself. But as I do
not comprehend the acount of that unthinking and inexpresive
histrionic machinery, by which an Actor afects an audience, I
shall, in noticing the subject, be obliged to quote the words of the
initiated, who pretend to describe it.

It has long been a question among Actors and Stage-criticsj
whether he who excites most pasion in his audience, is necesarily

views of Stage-personationj either that the state of mind ascribed to a Char-
acter, is to be represented by the Actor being realy excited to the exact state
of mind ascribed to that character, which is but a metaphysical notion ; or
by his trying io forget himself, and in thot and pasion, to become, as if abso-
lutely another, which is a hopeles metaphysical task.

How far, in the case before us, the Actor is to become identical with the
Poet, is another subject for consideration : and this leads to the inquiry, how
far Shakspeare designed to identify himself in thot and pasion with the think-
ing and sufering of the once-existing Hamlet. If a Poet should become iden-
tical as he thinks, with some pre-existing model, and upon that identity, should
draw the character from himself; the Actor, in identifying himself with the
character, would necesarily become identical, so to call it, with the poet. I
have nothing to say here, on what a poet might think of himself; for he may
have his delusions, as well as the actor. With all respect however for the
poet, even one in truth and greatnes of thot, we maintain, that he, in no case
becomes identical with the character he describes. How it may be with a
character he altogether creates, if a poet ever did so create, I leave for poets,
who work with ' transcendental spiritualities ' to decide. When the costume,
together with the language of a Character, is asumed by the Actor ; and he
has to move and to speak like that character, he might posibly seem to him-
self to have some slight cause for beleving, against his senses, that he is the
very character : like Christopher Sly in the Play, who, with so many per-
suaders towards his delusion, exclaims at last, 'Upon my life, I am a Lord
indeed.' But how can the poet find a point of aproach to similarity, much
less enter into Identity with his character, either historical or created^ when
spreading his memorial perception for his task, he gradualy and line by line,
selects from its amplitude; and roaming, in his excursions after everything,
returns with a gathered choice of thots, characters, maners, imagery, and lan-
guage : and all this efected in time, and succession, by a Shakspeare^ only a
high example herej identical with his own clasifying power, and the grace
and grandeur of its taste. What has he, in drawing the character of Hamlet,
to do with contracting himself into a fixed and momentary identity with such
a pasing and everyday personage as a former Prince of Denmark ?

Leaving Identity then to its own Notional fate, the case seems to bej that
the Poet should, or does add what he pleases, to the original traits of a char-
acter furnished by history ; and the Actor adds what he has learned, to be the
proper vocal-representation of a character furnished by the poet.


excited and directed by pasion within himself. This Platonic, or
soul-dealing, and thercifore disputatious and interminable question,

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 52 of 59)