Louis Eugène Marie Bautain.

The art of extempore speaking online

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formed; and if a different method be attempted, as is
somewhat signified at present, you will have, not artists,
but handicraftsmen. Means should always be propor-
tioned to ends. If you want orators, you must teach
them how to speak, and you will not teach them other-
wise than they have been taught heretofore. All our
(French) great orators of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries have been formed in this manner, and I am
not aware that there have ever been greater writers in
the world, or that the glory of France in this particular
has been excelled. Let this splendor of civilization, this
blooming forth of the mind in poetry, literature, and elo-
quence, which have always been the brightest crown and

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most beautiful garland of humanity on earth, be once
abandoned, in favor of conquest, and of the riches pro-
duced by industry and commerce — ^which are much to be
admired, no doubt, but, after all, minister more to body
than to soul — ^be it so; we shall perhaps become more
learned in material things, and certainly more wealthy ;
we shall have more ways of winning money and of
losing it, more ways of enjoying earthly life, and there-
fore of wearing out, and perchance of degrading it: but
shall we be the happier? This is not certain. Shall we
be the better? — ^less certain still; but what is certain is,
that the life of human society or civilization, however
gilt, will be less beautiful, less noble, and less glorious.

There is another practice which strikingly conduces to-
wards facilitating expression and towards perfecting
its form; we mean the learning by heart of the finest
passages in great writers, and especially in the most
musical poets, so as to be able to recite them at a single
effort, at moments of leisure, during a solitary walk for
instance, when the mind so readily wanders. This prac-
tice, adopted in all schools, is particularly advantageous
in rhetoric, and during the bright years of youth. At
that age it is easy and agreeable, and he who aspires to
the art of speaking ought never to neglect it. Besides
furnishing the mind with all manner of fine thoughts,
well expressed and well linked together, and thus nour-
ishing, developing, and enriching it, it has the additional
advantage of filling the understanding with graceful
images, of forming the ear to the rhythm and number of
the period, and of obtaining a sense of the harmony of
speech, which is not without its own kind of music ; for
ideas, and even such as are the most abstract, enter the
mind more readily, and sink into it more deeply, when
presented in a pleasing fashion. By dint of reading the

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beautiful lines of Comeille and Racine, Bossuet's ma-
jestic and pregnant sentences, the harmonious and
cadenced compositions of Fen^lon and Massillon, one
gradually and without effort acquires a language ap-
proaching theirs, and imitates them instinctively through
the natural attraction of the beautiful, and the pro-
pensity to reproduce whatever pleases; and at last, by
repeating this exercise daily for years, one attains a re-
fined taste of the delicacies of language and the shades of
style, just as a palate accustomed to the flavor of the
most exquisite viands can no longer endure the coarser.
But what is only a disadvantage in bodily taste, at least
under certain circumstances, is always beneficial to the
literary taste, which should seek its nutriment, like the
bee, in the most aromatic portions of the flower, in order
to combine them into delicious and perfumed honey.

By this process is prepared, moreover, in the imagin-
ative part of the understanding, a sort of capacity for
the oratorical form, for the shaping of sentences, which I
cannot liken to anything better than to a mold care-
fully prepared, and traced with delicate lines and varied
patterns, into which the stream of thought, flowing full
of life and ardor from a glowing mind in the fire
of declamation or composition, becomes fixed even while
it is being cast, as metal in a state of fusion becomes in-
stantaneously a beautiful statue. Thus the oratorical
diction should be cast, all of one piece, by a single throw
in order to exhibit a beautiful and a living unity. But
for this a beautiful mold is indispensable, and the young
orator, who must have further received from nature the
artistic power, cannot form within him that mold save
with the assistance of the great masters and by imitating
them. Genius alone is an exception to this rule, and
genius is rare.

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The best rhetorical professors, those who are veritably
artists of speech, and seek to fashion others to their own
likeness, recommend and adopt this exercise largely; it
is irksome to the indolent, but it amply indemnifies the
toil which it exacts by the fruits which it brings. There
is, besides, a way of alleviating the trouble of it, and that
is, to read and learn select pages of our great authors,
while strolling under the shades of a garden or through
some rich country, when nature is in all her brilliancy.
You may then recite them aloud in such beautiful
scenery, the impressions of which deliciously blend with
those of eloquence and song. Every young man of any
talent or literary taste has made the experiment. Dur-
ing the spring time of life, there is a singular charm for
us in the spring time of nature ; and the redundance of
fresh life in a youthful soul trying its own powers in
thought, in painting, or in poesy, is marvelously and in-
stinctively wooed into sympathy with that glorious life
of the world around, whose fertilizing virtue evokes his
genius, while it enchants his senses by the subtilest emo-
tions, and enriches his imagination with varied pictures
and brilliant hues.

Moreover — and this is a privilege of youth, which has
its advantages as well as its inconveniences — ^poetry and
eloquence are never better relished, that is, never with
greater delight and love, than at this age, in the dawn
of the soul's life, amidst the first fruits of the imagina-
tion and the heart's innocence, in the opening splendors
of the ideal, which seems to the understanding as a rising
sun, tinging and illumining all things with its radiant
fires. The beauty that is understood and that which is
merely sensible wondrously harmonize; they give each
other enchantment and relief; or, to speak more truly,
material beauty is appreciated only through the reflected

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light of mental beauty, and as the rays emitted by an
idea illuminate and transfigure nature's forms and na-
ture's life — so nature, on the other hand, while it lov-
ingly receives the luster of some heavenly thought, re-
fracts it gloriously in its prisms, and multiplies, while re-
flecting its beams.

All this the youthful orator, or he who has the power
to become one, will feel and experience, each person
according to his nature and his character, as he awakens
the echoes of some beautiful scene with the finest accents
of human eloquence or poetry. While impressing these
more deeply in his memory, by help of the spots wherein
he learns them, which will add to and thereafter facili-
tate his recollections, he will imbibe unconsciously a two-
fold life, the purest and sublimest life of humanity, and
that great life of nature which is the thought of the Al-
mighty diffused throughout creation. These two great
lives, that of man and that of nature, which spring from
the same source, and thither return, blended without
being confounded within him, animating and nourishing
his own life, the life of his mind and of his soul, will yet
draw forth from his bosom, from his poet's or orator's
heart, a stream of eloquence or of song which will run an
imperishable course.

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It is not enough for the orator to have ideas and to
know how to express them, imparting the most graceful
turn to his diction, and pouring forth copious words into
the form of a musical and sonorous period ; he must fur-
ther know how to articulate his speech, how to pronounce
and deliver his discourse. He must have propriety of
voice and gesture, or the oratorical action — a thing of im-
mense importance to the success of eloquence, in which
nature, as in everything, has a considerable share, but
art may play a great part. Here, then, also is to be de-
veloped a natural predisposition, and a certain skill is to
be acquired.


The voice, including all the organs which serve to pro-
duce or modify it, is the speaker's chief instrument; and
its quality essentially depends, in the first instance, upon
the formation of the chest, the throat, and mouth. Art
can do little to ameliorate this formation, but it can do
much to facilitate and strengthen the organic movements
in all that regards breathing, the emission of sound, and
pronunciation. These matters ought to be the object of a
special duty.

It is very important, in speaking as in singing, to
know how to send forth and how to husband the breath,


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80 as to spin lengthened sounds and deliver a complete
period, without being blown, and without breaking a
sentence already begun, or a rush of declamation by a
gasp — ^needful, indeed, for lungs that have failed, but
making a sort of disagreeable gap or stoppage.

Care should also be taken not to speak too fast, too
loud, or with too much animation at the outset; for if
you force your voice in the beginning you are presently
out of breath, or your voice is cracked or hoarse, and
then you can no longer proceed without repeated efforts
which fatigue the hearers and exhaust the speaker. All
these precautions, which appear trivial, but which are
really of high importance, are learned by labor, prac-
tice, and personal experience. Still it is a very good
thing to be warned and guided by the experience of
others, and this may be ensured advantageously by fre-
quent recitations aloud under the direction of some
master of elocution.

Enough stress is not laid on these things, if, indeed,
they are attended to at all, in the schools of rhetoric, in
literary establishments, and in seminaries — ^wherein ora-
tors, nevertheless, are expected to be formed. Scarce any
but actors now-a-days trouble themselves about them,
and that is the reason we have so few men in the liberal
professions who know how to speak, or even to read or
recite a discourse rightly.

On this point the ancients had a great advantage
over us; they attached far more importance than we do
to oratorical action, as we see in the treatises of Cicero
and Quintilian. It was with them one half of eloquence
at the least ; and it is said that Demosthenes made it the
orator's chief quality. They, perhaps, went too far in
this respect; and it came, doubtless, of their having to
speak before the multitude, whose senses must be struck,

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whose passions must be excited, and on whom power and
brilliancy of voice have immense effect. As for us, we
fall into the contrary extreme, and frequently our or-
ators, even those most distinguished in point of style, do
not know how to speak their speeches. We are so unused
to beauty of form and nobility of air, that we are amazed
when we meet them. There is a certain orator of our
day who owes his success and reputation merely to these
advantages. On the other hand, these alone are too lit-
tle ; we miss much when a fine elocution and an elegant
or splendid delivery carry off commonplace thoughts
and expressions, more full of sound than of sense.
This is quickly perceived in the perusal of those
harangues which produced so great an effect when de-
livered, and in which scarcely any of the emotions expe-
rienced in listening to them is recovered after they have
once been fixed warm, as it were, on paper by the re-
porter's art. The spell of the oratorical action is gone
from them.

The modulation of the voice proceeds principally from
the larynx, which produces and modifies it, almost with-
out limit, by expansion and contraction. First, then,
we have the formation of the larynx, with its muscles,
cartilages, membranes, and tracery, which are to the
emission of vocal sound what the involutions of the brain
probably are, instrumentally, in the operations of
thought. But, in the one case as in the other, the con-
nection of the organs with the effects produced entirely
escapes us ; and although we are continually availing our-
selves of the instrument, we do not perceive in any man-
ner the how of its ministrations. It is only by use, and
experiments often repeated, that we learn to employ them
with greater ease and power, and our skill in this respect
is wholly empirical. The researches of the subtilest

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anatomy have given us no discovery in the matter. All
that we have ascertained is, that every voice has its nat-
ural bell-tone, which makes it a bass voice, a tenor, or a
soprano, each with intermediate gradations. The middle
voice, or tenor, is the most favorable for speaking; it is
that which maintains itself the best, and which reaches
the farthest when well articulated. It is also the most
pleasing, the most endearing, and has the largest re-
sources for inflection, because, being in the middle of the
scale, it rises or sinks with greater ease, and leans itself
better to either hand. It therefore commands a greater
variety of intonations, which hinders monotony of elocu-
tion, and reawakens the attention of the hearer, so prone
to doze.

The upper voice, exceedingly clear at first, is continu-
ally tending towards a scream. It harshens as it pro-
ceeds, and at last becomes falsetto and nasal. It re-
quires great talent, great liveliness of thought, language,
and elocution to compensate or redeem this blemish.
One of the most distinguished orators of our time is an
example in point. He used to succeed in obtaining a
hearing for several hours together, in spite of his lank
and creaking voice — a real victory of mind over matter.

A bass voice is with diflSculty pitched high, and con-
tinually tends back. Grave and majestic at the outset,
it soon grows heavy and monotonous ; it has magnificent
chords, but, if long listened to, produces frequently the
effect of a drone, and soon tires and lulls to sleep by the
medley of commingling sounds. "What, then, if it be
coarse, violent, uttered with bursts? Why, it crushes
the ear, if it thunders in too confined an apartment; and
if it breaks forth amidst some vast nave, where echoes al-
most always exist, the billows of sound reverberating
from every side blend together, should the orator be

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speaking fast, and the result is a deafening confusion,
and a sort of acoustic chaos.

It is an advantage, then, to a speaker to have a middle
voice, since he has the greater play for expression in its
more numerous inflections. It is easy to understand
how, by constant practice, by frequent and intelligent
recitations under able guidance, a person may become
master of these inflections, may produce them at will,
and raise and lower his voice in speaking as in singing,
either gradually or abruptly, from tone to tone, up to
the very highest, according to the feeling, the thought, or
the emotions of the mind. Between the acts of the
mental life and those of the organs which are subservient
to them there is a natural correspondence and an inborn
analogy, by virtue of the human constitution, which con-
sists of a soul in union with a body; and, for this reason,
all the impressions, agitations, shudderings, and throb-
bings of the heart, when it is stirred by the affections and
the passions, no less than the subtilest acts, the nimblest
operations of the intelligence — ^in a word, all the modi-
fications of the moral life should find a tone, an accent
in the voice, as well as a sign in language, an accord, a
parallel, in the physical life, and in its means of expres-

In all cases, whatever be the tone of the voice, bass,
tenor, or soprano — ^what most wins upon the hearers,
what best seizes and most easily retains their attention,
is what may be called a sympathetic voice. It is difficult
enough to say in what it consists ; but what very clearly
characterizes it is the gift of causing itself to be attended
to. It is a certain power of attraction which draws to it
the hearer's mind, and on its accents hangs his attention.
It is a secret virtue which is in speech, and which pene-
trates at once, or little by little, through the ear to the

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mind or into the heart of those who listen, charms them,
and holds them beneath the charm to such a degree that
they are disposed, not only to listen, but even to admit
what is said, and to receive it with confidence. It is a
voice which inspires an affection for him who speaks,
and puts you instinctively on his side, so that his words
find an echo in the mind, repeating there what he says,
and reproducing it easily in the understanding and the

A sympathetic voice singularly helps the effect of the
discourse, and is, besides, the best, the most insinuating
of exordiums (introductions). I know an orator who
has, among other qualities, this in his favor, and who,
every time he mounts the pulpit, produces invariably a
profound sensation by his apostolic countenance, and by
the very first sounds of his voice.

Whence comes, above all others, this quality which can
hardly be acquired by art? First, certainly from the
natural constitution of the vocal organ, as in singing;
but, next to this, the soul may contribute much towards
it by the feelings and thoughts which actuate it, and by
the efforts which it makes to express what is felt, and to
convey it to others. There is something sympathetic in
the lively and sincere manifestation of any affection ; and
when the hearer sees that the speaker is really moved,
the motion gains him by a sort of contagion, and he be-
gins to feel with him and like him, as two chords vi-
brating in unison. Or, again, if a truth be unfolded to
him with clearness, in good order, and fervently, and if
the speaker shows that he understands or feels what he
says, the hearer, all at once enlightened and sharing in
the same light, acquiesces willingly, and receives the
words addressed to him with pleasure. In such cases
the power of conviction animates, enlivens, and transfig-

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ures the voice, rendering it agreeable and effective by
virtue of the expression, just as a lofty soul or a great
mind exalts and embellishes an ordinary and even an
ugly countenance.

The best way in which an orator can impart to his
voice the sympathetic power, even when he may happen
not to have it naturally, is to express vividly whatever he
says, and consequently to feel it well himself, in order to
make others feel it. Above all, the way is, to have great
benevolence, great charity in the heart, and to love to put
them in practice, for nothing gives more of sympathy to
the voice than real goodness.

Here the precepts of art are useless. We cannot teach
emotion, nor quick feelings, nor the habit of throwing
ardor and transport into word and action; it is the
pectiis (heart) which accomplishes all this, and it is the
pectus also which makes the orator — Pectus est quod
disertum facit. For which reason, while we admit the
great eflScacy of art and precept in rendering the voice
supple, in disciplining it, in making it obedient, ready,
capable of traversing all the degrees of inflection, and
producing each tone ; and while we recommend those who
desire to speak in public to devote themselves to this pre-
liminary study for the formation of their instrument,
like some skillful singer or practiced actor, we must still
remind them that the best prepared instrument remains
powerless and dead unless there be a soul to animate it ;
and that even without any culture, without preparation,
without this gymnastic process, or this training of the
vocal organs, whoever is impelled to speak by feeling, by
passion, or by conviction, will find spontaneously the
tone, the inflections, and all the modifications of voice
which can best correspond with what he wishes to
express. Art is useful chiefly to reciters, speakers from

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memory, and actors, and thus, it is not to be denied,
much effect may also be produced by the illusion of the
natural. Still, it is after all an illusion only, a semblance
of nature, and thus a thing of artifice ; and nature itself
will always be superior to it.

For the same reason an extemporized address, if it be
such as it ought to be, is more effective, and more im-
pressive, than a recited discourse. It smacks less of art,
and the voice vibrating and responsive to what the
speaker feels at the moment, finds naturally the tone
most proper, the true inflections, and genuine expression.


Utterance is a very important condition of being audi-
ble, and consequently of being attended to. It deter-
mines the voice, or the vowel, by the modification which
this last receives from the consonant; it produces syl-
lables, and by joining them together, gives the words,
the series of which forms what is termed articulate
language. Man being organized for speech speaks nat-
urally the language he hears, and as he hears it. His
instinctive and origioal pronunciation depends on the
formation of the vocal organs and the manner
in which those around him pronounce. Therefore,
nature discharges here the chief function, but art
may also exert a certain power either to correct or
abate organic defects or vicious habits, or to develop and
perfect favorable aptitudes. Demosthenes, the great-
est orator of antiquity, whose very name continues to be
the symbol of eloquence, is a remarkable case in point.
Everybody is aware that by nature he had a difficulty of
utterance almost amounting to a stammer, which he suc-
ceeded in overcoming by frequently declaiming on the

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sea-shore with pebbles in his mouth. The pebbles obliged
him to redouble his exertions to subdue the rebellious
organ, and the noise of the surge, obliging him to speak
more loudly and more distinctly in order to hear his own
words, accustomed him to the still more deafening up-
roar of the people's mighty voice in the market-place.

Professors of elocution lay great stress on the manner of
utterance, and they are right. To form and ** break''
the organs to a distinct and agreeable utterance, much
practice is requisite, under able tuition, and such as af-
fords an example of what it inculcates.

First, there is the emission of the voice — ^which the
practitioner should know how to raise and lower through
every degree within its range — ^and in each degree to in-
crease or diminish, heighten or soften its power accord-
ing to circumstances, but always so as to produce no
sound that is false or disagreeable to the ear.

Then comes articulation, which should be neat, clear,
sharply cut — ^yet unexaggerated, or else it will become
heavy, harsh, and hammer-like, rending the ear.

Next to this the prosody of the language must be ob-
served, giving its longs and its shorts ; as in singing, the
minims, semibreves, quavers, and crotchets. This im-
parts to the sentence variety, movement, and measure.
A written or spoken sentence admits, indeed, strictly of
notation as well as a bar of music; and when this nota-
tion is followed by the voice of the speaker, naturally or
artificially, the discourse gains in expression and pleas-

Moreover there is accentuation, or emphasis, which
marks the paramount tone of each sentence, and even in
each word, the syllable on which the chief stress should
be laid. Art may here effect somewhat, especially in the

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enunciation of words; but as regards the emphasis of the
sentence, it is impressed principally by the palpitation of
the soul, thrilling with desire, feeling, or conviction.

Finally, there is the declamatory movement, which,

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Online LibraryLouis Eugène Marie BautainThe art of extempore speaking → online text (page 5 of 17)