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 53 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 53 of 59)
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seems so clearly, to have arisen from a belief in the 'Spirituality'
of Expresion, suported by a determined ignorance of the dascrib-
able forms of the speaking voice, and of their physical power
in representing thot and pasion, that I need not show, by our
present light of analysis, in what maner it has contributed to
prevent a progresive observation of the exact and beautiful co-
relation between the mind and the voice. The maxim of Horacej
' if you wish me to weep, you must yourself first ^feel ' your woes,'
has so far either convinced, or misled his readers, that, under
either of these two influences, I would not have here introduced
the subject of this confounding question, if I had not met with
the folowing confounding attempt to anounce it.

' The actor of an oposite school,' says the Autobiography of an
Actres, chapter thirteen, ' if he be a thoro artist, is more sure of
producing startling efects. He stands unmoved amidst the boister-
ous seas, the whirlwinds of pasion sweling around him. He ex-
ercises perfect comand over the emotions of the audience ; seems
to hold their heart-strings in his hands, to play upon their sympa-
thies, as on an instrument ; to electrify or subdue his hearers by
an efort of volition; but not a pulse in his own frame, beats more
rapidly than its M^ont. His personifications are cut out of marble ;
they are grand, sublime, but no heart throbs within the life-like
sculpture. Such was the school of the great Talma. This abso-
lute power over others, combined with perfect self-comand, is
pronounced by a certain class of critics, the perfection of dramatic
Art.' And then, to show the diference between the actor who
draws from the depth of his identical ' soul,' and him who only
apears to do so, we have the folowing fact. ' I have acted with
distinguished tragedians, who after some significant bursts of pathos,
which seemed wrung from the utmost depths of the soul, while
the audience were deafening themselves, and us, Avith their frantic
aplause, quietly turned to their brethren, with a comical grimace,
and a fe\v mutered words of satirical humor, tliat caused an iresist-
iblc burst of laughter.' The reader, if ho looks for meaning and
precision in language, must find out if he can, and then s:iy for
himself, what all this acount of Great Acting means, whether in


the school of Identity, or of Talma. In me, it produces not a
single definite perception of the kinds, degrees, purposes, and
efects of thot and passion, nor of the character and management
of the personal and vocal signs that expres them.*

* In addition to this visionary atempt to describe the maner of an acom-
plished Actor, by transforming him into a ' stoic ' of the Stage, ' a man without
a tear ; ' and still further to justify our opinion of elocutionary discrimination,
I select from a fashionable authority 0/ the day, the following atempt, of a
somewhat diferent character, but quite as uninteligible ; and showing that
delusion of the mind which at times, overcomes us all when with words alone,
we make a picture to ourselves, wherein no one else can recognize a clear
representation of things.

Madame de Stael, whom I quote at second hand, from an English writer,
somewhere speaks of Talma in these words : ' There is in the voice of this
man a magic which I cannot describe ; which from the first moment, when
its acent is heard, awakens all the s3-mpathies of the heart ; all the charms of
music, of painting, of sculpture, and of poetry ; but above all, of the language
of the soul.'

It is always of great importance, to distinguish between a particular expla-
nation of an object or action, and the self-absorbed writer's description of his
own thots and feelings upon it : a point neglected in nine cases out of ten, in
all past and present histrionic criticism. If a writer, in the selfish agonies of
his own delights, and in the vaguenes, of his ' transcendental abstractions,'
declares that the maner of an Actor, 'cannot be described,' the reader who
is obliged to rely altogether on description, is not to be reprehended, especialy
when there is 'soul and magic' in the case, if he can have no perception of
it. In general, as an apendage to such a rhapsody as the preceding:; a writer,
after acknowledging his inability to explain the thing itself, should at least,
atempt to describe what he means by his own metaphysical notion of it; a
task perhaps still more diticult.

It is my misfortune never to have heard the celebrated Talma. Nor has
that loss been otherwise suplied : for with due respect to the memory of an
Actor whom I did not know, I would fain not ascribe to him a florid and
outrageous intonation of wider intervals and waves, that I once heard from
a declaimer, who was said to be his pupil and imitator : and all the descriptive
terms I have met with, in critical eulogies on his elocution, have given me
only an indefinite acount of his knowledge and management of the voice,
whatever that may have been : and the egregious misperceptions among
the few as well as the many, on subjects like thisj together with what I know
by our principles, to be the exagerated intonation of French Tragedyj would
leave me equaly open to belief, or to doubtj were a question on this point to
be raised on the reality of the merit universaly ascribed to him.

If this declaration should shock the partiality, I do not say impeach the
discrimination, of an admirer, it may perhaps moderate his revolting aston-
ishment, when he has studiously read this volume, and compared it with the


In seeking instruction from others, not only in pbilosojihy, but
in tlie higher poetryj for this has taught me much even of physical
nature, and more of the human mindj I have so acustomed myself
to regard the simple truth-prints of traceable description, that my
comprehension is often at fault, in the trackles pursuit of a meta-
physical meaning ; whether in the mischievous visions of Plato,
with his ' arithmetic mediums, ' and his ' procreations of the soul ; '
in the equaly incomprehensible, yet far less rhetorical and methodic
dreams of his later pupils, Jacob Behmen and Emanuel Kant ;
or in the unasignable notions of histrionic principles and criticism.
And altho we may be unable to folow the mystic visions of the
schools of Actingj it is not so dilicult, with a little patience on
the part of the Reader, to inform, or remind him Avhence they are

The Greeks, unfortunately in some things our teachers, receved
so much of their Philosophical Fiction from Egypt and the East,
that it is imposible to say, to what extent they invented, or how
far they only altered and dresed-up the fable : it is however cer-
tain, that having contrived, or adopted the imposition, they after-
wards blindly went along with it. It was according to the vain
and groping purposes of the Greek philosophers, that when they
desired to know the truth, they could not find a metaphysical, and-
would not take the plain and physical way, to learn it. Observing
how much time and labor were necesary for acquiring a knowledge
of the frame and laws of nature, by what apeared to them a tedious
use of the senses, they resolved to acomplish it more easily by a
'pure intelcction of the soul.' In this fictional proces, asuminc/,
acording to the human method of Design and Construction, that
the world was made from an ' ideal design, ' or what they caled a
Patern-Form of the world previously existing in the mind of the
Creator; and that the mind of man, made in tlie image of the
Creative-Mind, was a humble finite ofspring of its al-glorious
infinity. And further, observing', for they did add an ahnvcd mite
of experience to their fictionsj realy observing, I say, the luniian
mind to be capable of unlimited improvement, they thereupon
conceited that in abstracting itself from the uninstructivc anil

leaves whence it was cc)})icil, in tlie great Biblos of Nature, always open for
reference, before him.


contaminating company of the senses, as well as from all other
disturbing influences of this mortal life, it might, by a long and
contemplative exercise of its own powers on i>ts uncorupted self^
hopefuly ascend towards the Creative Mind, and reach at last, its
Parent-state of intelectual perfection, and imortality : that the
Mind then purified, returning to its omnicient Father, and being
made partaker of his knowledge, might come at last, yet still re-
siding within an earthly form, to behold his patern of creation,
and by aces to the constructive designs, be able to comprehend the
plan, the purpose, and the workmanship of all things. This pro-
ces of Contemplation, was a product, and part of what the Greeks
termed the sublime Abstraction of their First Philosophy ; now
indeed to us, first and greatest in fictional pretension, but last and
least, in usefulnes and truth ; and which, if not originally de-
signed to impose on ignorance, did subsequently pervert the mind
to that state of metaphysical credulity, by which it still imposes on

It was this, together with other distracting fictions of the First
Philosophy, that so early and so fataly confused and corupted the
now, alas ! irestorable simplicity of the Christian Religion ; a
religion intended by its Author to be practicaly a general moral
blessing; andj in discarding the quarelsome notions, and verbosity
of the Grecian School j to embrace an unconteutious system, with
its decisive meaning of Yea, or Nay, for those who have ' ears to
hear' unworied truth: not a religion of Platonic figments, and
Aristotelian quibbles, for those M'ho deafen their perceptions to the
unarguing brevity of these two short verdict-words of Belief or
Denial ; and who by rejecting this unsophistic, this al-sufficient,
this conclusive, this practical, and this peaceful purpose of the
Original Christianity, have, with a heavy responsibility for their
evil-doing, given themselves up, universaly and world-without-
end, to doctrinize, to wrangle, and to hate.

This, which withdrew the Platonic Pietist from the visible
world, to contemplate with inward but with filmy eyes, his own
fanatic selfishnes; thereby to raise himself to a comunion with
angels and saints, at the right hand of his Maker; and to pro-
claim, with audacious triumph, his acomplished Beatitude. This,
which led the Hermit and the Monk, to Platonic war against



the senses ; to retreat to the savage wiklernes, and the Cell, be-
fore the overpowering civilization of their truth ; and to seek
a refuge at last, by trying to think, and to mortify themselves
into Heaven. The Greeks began their philosophical but foolish
method. Math only disregarding the Truth of the Soises. The
religious Anchorite, folowing up his Platonic creed, ended with
the Impious atempt to thwart the purpose of his God, in ordaining
its supremacy.

It is this ireligious sundering of heaven from the universe of
material things, that ' God has joined together,' which still haunts
the narow-minded Bigot ; who under the venerable authority of
his Pagan philosophy, continues to sejDarate the senses from con-
templation : but which, in the fulness of wisdom, and of works,
the beneficent Bacon, in mental saviorshij^, has taught us to re-
unite. It is this Contemplation, still uncontroled by physical per-
ception, and faling into visions, that enables every new Sectarian
Leader, to conceit his owm way to the will of his Maker, and to
bring back from his own egotistical invention, another, and still
another mesage of grace, to overfil the world with discord and with

A modification of this system, still makes the Physician of
Every School, pretend to see with his mind's eye, and that a blind
one, those fictions вАҐ of invisible causation in the human body,
which produce the infinite sucesion of quarelsome Speculations,
the ever-varied Nomenclature, and the never-satisfying Practice
of his Dogmatic Art ; yet so inseparable from the weaknes and
indecision, always co-existent in the mind, with fictional and
fashionable changes in opinion.

It is to the universality of this vice of thinking and beleving
without the Mastership of the senses, that, acording to our igno-
rance, or our ill use of knowledge, we owe the wildnes of Grecian
Spiritualism, still imposed upon usj in the dates and postponements
of Mik-nnial Prophets; in conjuring-down the Raping Phantoms
of the dead ; and in the Epicurean doctrine of atoms, revived in
modern chemistry, with no other prospect than that of giving way
in time, to some new suposition.

And finaly, a view of this Vice will discover the source of that
absurd 'idealism' of the Actor, and of his self-suficient metiiphys-


ical 'genius' in his atempt to describe his own conception of his
characters, and of himself.

If there is no cause for a work, the cause being here, only the
adaptation of means to an end, there can properly be neither be-
gining nor end to the work ; and if not eminent causes, there can
be no excelence. Nature certainly has wise purposes in her work,
and altho she never tells them, except by her spontaneous actions,
she does not always prevent our finding them out by experimental
inquiry. An Actor may have purposes for all his endsj and some
system for self-instruction ; but as he never has satisfactorily told
them, we must, as in the case of Nature, be contented, if he does
not prevent our eforts to ascertain them. Without therefore posi-
tively asertingj he has no means of instructing himself, or of being
instructed, beyond his comon school of Imitation, we may, if un-
able to discover his intentions or rules, particularly on the subject
of the voicej be alowed to state our view of the causes why, with
an exception of some local rotine, and the busines of the stage, he
has none, above the instincts of gesture, countenance, and voice,
comon to him and the rest of his company.

One influential cause, afecting at large, the whole power and
purpose of the Actor, not chargeable on him alone, and which
encourages this mediocrity, if it does not realy produce itj is the
too frequent absence, from a public audience, of those watchful
Masters, Knowledge and Taste ; masters who make greatnes,
wherever they rule, because they will have nothing else ; and who
in deciding on the faults and merits of an actor, teach him at the
same time, to know himself. This however, is a general cause,
arising from a neglect of instruction, comon to the Actor and his
audience. Leaving this point for the consideration of others, we
will here briefly show particularly, not only why he has not a
knowledge of very important requisites in this art, but why
circumstances render it almost necesary that it should be so.

In the First place, then, the vocation itself of an actor is apt
to over-ocupy, and thereby thwart any broader purpose of his
mind, with memorial eforts upon wordsj and with a perpetual
and varied sucesion of thot and pasion, strongly excited for the
moment, yet too fugitive to become mentaly familiar, or direct-
ively useful in the higher designs of expresion ; and therefore not


calculated to lead his atention, or inquiry, beyond tlie comon topics
of bis art.

Second. The wliole mind of an Actor, with all its jealous hopes,
is involved in the disturbing interest of his suces. His suces is
measui'ed by public aplause ; and public aplause, the very life and
support of Egotism, rarely asists or enlarges the intelect, even on
the subject of its ambition ; but is apt to weaken its power, and
l^revent its advancement in everything else.

Third. The actor, by that necesary law of a wholesome and a
happy life, which directs us all to some physical or intelectual
industry, goes to the stage, in nearly every instance, as a means
of suport ; and too often without the preparatory education to
give jjower to his purpose, and dignity to its efect ; alured in the
unreflective period of youth, by a dream of prospects and hope,
rather than by a view of the influential realities and important
consequences of hLs choice ; and beset by an early and restles
ambition to be known, necesarily most urgent with him who,
being unknown to others, is at the same time very probably un-
known to himself; of a temperament, not always sedate and
steady, nor extended and permanent enough to form the habit
of looking into things as they are, and of fairly estimating the
dificulties of a task. ' O I never think so nicely as that,' said an
actresj the sijoilt-child of the populace of two Hemispheresj to
one, who remarked, that singing might be as articulate as speech.

As it is much easier, gradualy to change a vague perception
into positive eror, than to work-up exact and comprehensive ob-
servation into systematic truthj it is almost conclusive, that minds
born, or fashioned by circumstiinces, to the condition we have just
described, would turn from the labor of cultivating the united
powers of observation and reflection, to the amusement of in-
dulging in wavering opinions; and become a prey to the so})histry
of Platonic fiction, or as it is now called, * Ideality,' or ' Trans-
cendental thot.' And such apears to be the state of mind, i'ar as
they have explained it, of that class of actors, who surrounding
themselves with visions of more than enthusiastic pasion, perform
their part by the mystic means of Identity.

I can say nothing of the state of mind of the second Class, that
electrifies its hearere, by 'volition;' by 'grand and sublime per-


sonations cut out of marble;' and without a Mieart-throb of its
own within its life-like sculpture,' stirs up its audience, to ' deaf-
ening themselves with their frantic aplause.' Its power, in its
own estimation, is most wonderful ; but its ways, and means are
beyond my eomj^rehension : for to me, the acount of these so-
thought Frigidists, equaly with that of the former Class, taken
from their own dreams about themselves, contains not one asign-
able image in description, not one useful word of instruction, and
nothing but words, in the purposes of histrionic criticism.*

Snposing then, the dificulty or imposibility of our comprehend-
ing the above description of the two great clases of Actingj to be
as strict a consequence of its obscurity, as if it was designed to
be uninteligible : how are we to corect the actor-ism of Actors, in
being either by ignorance, or self-will, incomprehensible in their
notions of themselves j which the 'Genius of the Lamp' of inate
and self-suficient light, has strongly encouraged, if he did not
originaly introduce it into the stroling Company of Thespis?
Simply by removing their delusions about personated ' Identity,'
and Frigid personation ; by inviting them down from ' the realms
of cloud-land, where they dwell with the ideal creations of the
poet ; ' and by clearly teaching them the physical and measurable
signs of th5t, and pasionj their own natural and iuteligible state
of mind if representable by countenance, gesture, and voice, can be
distinctly conveyed to others.

Since then the Observative Philosophyj the Real Author-power
of this Work, under my humble namej has for the benefit of the
Actor, furnished the materials for a beter condition of his Art, let
the Actor listen for a moment, to the Observative Philosojihy.

All that has been gropingly sought in the 'spirituality' of Plato,
and the Actor-ism of the Stage, may be here set down in the clear
Baconian language of the Senses. An actor, in his personations,
is not a 'disembodied being of cloud-land' 'kindled by Prome-

* It appears, from the preceding description, that as the Actor of the second
class holds no extatic Identity with his Author, and returns no grateful
'feeling' to the 'frantic aplause' of his audience, he must have under his
'sculjitured suit of marble,' some very peculiar extacy within himself.

As I vaguely look upon this strange afair, and would write it down, in
something like its own fantastic figures; the Actor's 'soul' sits al-secluded,
a self-suficient Monocrat, without a single minister of pasion. near the throne.


thean fire' and 'taking the audience by storm;' with 'an upward
gaze,' and in contempt of sensuous things, 'treading external cir-
cumstances beneath his feet.' He is like the rest of usj tho he
may not admit this 'identity^' an earthly animal, of flesh and
blood ; with the means of movmg, and of plainly or pasionately
thinking, and speakingj which he is visibly and audibly to aply
with inteligence and taste. The thots to be declared, are set down
in his Part, and are comunicable, by gramatical and apropriate
speech. The pasions to be expresed, are described or implied in
the words of his author. These thots and pasions, at least all
that can, and ought to be represented, are comon to mankind, and
are therefore readily excited in an audience, by their well-known
physical signs.

The actor being thus kept down to the level of humanit}-, on
the points of th5t and pasion ; the Baconian method of working-
out the practice by the principle, precedes to the maner of ex-
presing them. This is shown in the person, the countenance,
and the voice.

Spiritualism has never gone so far, as to asume the mystical
direction of personal Gesture. The exalted, the downcast, the
averted, the asenting, and disenting head ; the hasty, the digni-
fied, and the starting step; the fixed, and the 'suplosive' foot;
with the 'chironomy' of the arm, in its unumbered motions and
meanings, are all, in their consonance of character and expresion
with the countenance and voice, no more than obvious muscular
movements, prompted by nature, confirmed in their uses by habit,
and exercised Avith propriety and taste.

In the countenance, the Baconian eye of observation sees nothing
in character and expresion, but physical form, outline, and move-
ment, together with the smooth and the wrinkled, the pale and the'
red ; all variously combined, and yet so plainly conected with their
respective thot and pasion, that your dog, hapily freed from Pla-
tonic notions, in a moment pcrceves them in your face. But here
the actor begins to raise his 'Pcrturbhig Spirit;' and not contented
with nature's own physical suficiency for his thotive and pasiou-
ative signs, and whicii, if left to itself, would acomplish all his face
is fit forj only forces it to the distortion of 'electrifying looks,' by
' throwing his soul ' into his eyes, and nose, and mouth, and brow ;


and perhaps, in violence to tlie just expresion of well-closed lips,
even into the grining of his very teeth.

And what does the Baconian observer find in the Actor's voice?
He hears that some of his words are of longer quantity than
others ; some more forcibly pronounced ; some are harsh, others
smooth ; some acute, others grave ; hears, not in his soul's ear, but
physically hears, the Modes of vocality, force, time, abruptnes and
pitch, with their various forms, degrees, and practical distinctions,
detailed thruout this Workj by a pupil of only a lower Form, in
the Baconian school, who is yet hapy in his present, and looks
with hopeful patience to his future tasks. Having all these phe-
nomena within hearing, and only unrecognized because unamed,
the Platonic Thinker, seeking something above vulgar observa-
tion, has by notional ^movements of the spirit' and figments of
' ocult causes,' not only prevented his own spontaneous perception
of the vocal phenomena, but worse still, has so far contributed to
obtund, as fictional habits generaly doj both the senses and the
intelect, as not to let him listen, much less atempt to comprehend,
when told by others, that the Expresion of Speech is only one
part of measurable and describable physical nature.

Upon all that has been said, perhaps some of those who would
degrade the Fine-art of Acting, to a level with the visionary
Sychology of our poetic young ladies, may ask if we have not
given a too prosaic, or ' matter of fact, ' acount of the material and
formal causes of the Art? What, says the ' cloud-capt' transcen-
dental ist, is to become of the actor's grandeur, pathos, and grace,
if they are to be deduced from physical, and not from ^spiritual'
causes ? We answer, that with those states of mind, the proper
use of the physical means for vocal and personal expresion, will,
under the observative system, display those states with more uni-
formity, and consequently with more force : for the expresion not

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 53 of 59)