Merritt Caldwell.

A practical manual of elocution: embracing voice and gesture : designed for ... online

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by it."

The PULPIT furnishes the best field for a powerful oratory,
that the world has ever seen. The themes it presents for
discasaon are sufficiently varioas, and all of them mvol ving

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interests of the rery highest moment — ike interests not of
small portions of the audiences addressed, but « the uni-
yersal and most important interests of mankind ! fen beyond
tiiose for which the thunder of Demosthenes rolled in
Athens — fir beyond those for which Cicero shook the
senate-house in Rome." The pulpit orator abo enjoys a
fieedom of selecting and adapting his subjects to the case
in handy and to his own taste and powers, which is
scarcely found elsewhere ; and these are such as to raise
him abore the charge either of weakness or affectation,
however wann and ardent may be his appeals. Every one
knows that for him not to /eel — ^would of itself prove him
unfit for the place he occupies. In proof of the inspiration
connected with the pulpit, many of the sermons which have
been preserved, in Latin, hi En^ish, and in French, are
rariched with all the taste of classic elegance; and as
specimens of written eloquence, have scarcely been sur-
passed or even equaled. It is fortunate for the church and
the worki, as weU as for the cause we advocate, that there
have also been in the church those who were masters of all
the arts of oral eloquence j from the Patriarch of Constant!*
Bople,* \dio was himself the pupil of the most celebrate4
rhetorician of his time, down througti every age of pros-
perity in the church, even to the present day. The perfect
union of the chaste style of many of the English divines
with an ac^on wUch ^all give to him who effects it a dis-
tinction equaled only by his usefuhiess, is an object which
may well excite the emulation of some of the many young
men of our country, who, called by God to the sacred

* He has been called the Homer of ontoiBf and was sumamed
Corysostom, which signifiee golden matUhf on account of his

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Q&cey dre pMiparing themselTes for the responsibilities of
their high calliQg.

But what are the peculiar elements that bdcmg to the
Elocution of the Pulpit? — ^As regards the vakej rery little
remains to be said here. The principles of vocal expres*
aion have been pretty fully discussed ; and nothing can be
more obvious, than that the preadier should have the pen*
feet command of every pitch of his vcMce, of every degree
of force, and of all the elements of expression. Still die
elements of digTrnty and energy should greatly predominate
in most of the exercises of the pulpit. Portions of almost
every sermon, however, riiould be pronounced - with the
natural voice, and in the diatonic melody; while there
are occasions of frequent occurrencei on which the success
of the preacher's appeal dqpends entirely on the employ-
ment of the elements of Plaintivraess. Without these, he
oan lather make odiers feel, nor make them believe that
he has feeling himsdf. — With only some further incidental
alluinons to the voice, we Aall devote the section to an
enumeration of a few of the principles by which the action,
g( the pulpit should be regained.

In general it may be remarked, as regards the semum
merely, that just as fkr as it partakes of the character of an
oration, or oidinary discomrse, so &r are all the suggestions
of the last chapter applicable to it. I choose, however, for
tibe purpose of maldjig this subject strictly practical, ta
extend my remarks so as to cover all the action of the
Christian minister, while in die house of Ood ; and shall
reduce all I deem it important here to say, to a veiy few
general principles.

First — The preacher should studiously avoid every
thing in his manner, which can have a tendency to cfivert
the attention of his hearers either from the sacredness of the

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occasion, or the matter of the subjects discussed. — The
most objectionable manner which he can assume, is that by
which he seems to make an effort to show ofi* himself to
advantage. Thus if he enters the church, or ascends the
pulpit, or rises in it to address the assembly, with the air
of a fine gentleman, « as if he were practicing the lessons
of an assembly-room," his audience cannot but perceive the
incongruity, and lose their confidence in him as a divinely
inspired teacher.* For the same reason, any attempt to
adjust the hair or any part of the clothbg is particularly
objectionable in the Christian minister. It su^ests the
idea, that « his thoughts are concerned about his personal
c^pearcmce. Nearly the same objection lies to the reading
of the hymn, or the performing of any of the other prelimi*
nary or closbg exercises in a r/ietorical manner, or with
any gesticulation ; or to the em^doyment, at any nme, in the
pulpit, of theatrical action, such as folding the arms, and
the like. This appears like an attempt to display his ora*
torical powers; and is entirely at variance with the air of
modest dignity which should chiefly characterize these

' • What ! — ^will a man play tricks — ^will he indulge

A silly fond conceit of his f^ir form,

And just proportion, fashionable mien.

And pretty face, in presence of his God t

Or will he seek to dazzle me with tropes,

As with the diamond on his lily hand,

And play his brilliant parts before my eyes,

When I am hunj^ry for the bread of life %

He mocks his Maker, prostitutes and shames

His noble office, and, instead of truth,

Displaying his own beauty, starves his flock.
How a body so fantastic, trim,

And quaint, in its deportment and attire.

Can lodge a heavenly mind — demands a doubt. Tbak,

"f Fenelon says, — '* Sometime ago, I happened to fall asleep at a
sermon ; and when I awaked, the preacher was in a very violent

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N There are a thousand other ways in which the preacher
may, by carelessness, or by habit, divert the attentioA of his
audience from the matter in hand. Dr. Porter says, — ^« In
minor points, what constitutes decorum depends not on
philosophy nor accident, but on atstom. From real or
affected carelessness on euch points, the preacher may fix
on some trivisd circumstance, that attention of his hearers, t
^hich should be devoted to greater things. He may do
this, for example, by standing much too high, or too low in
the pulpit ; by rising, as in the act of commencing his ser«
mon, before the singing is closed ; or delaying for so long
an interval as to excite appreh^sion that something has
befallen him ; by an awkward holding his Psalm-book, or
especially his Bible, witb one side hangbg down or douUed
backwards ; by drawing his hands behind him, or tiimsting
them into his clothes." — He will as certainly accomplish
this object, by adoptmg awkward and false attitudes, by
any unusual ccmtortions of the features of the face, by fin-
gering the leaves of the Bible, by handlmg his handker-
chief too fipequendy, or by any o&er misuse of his hands*
For a specification of particulars under these heads, see
lists of errors appended to Sections III, IV, and V, of
Chap. I, Part II.

The voice of the speaker also may be instrumental in
turning aside the attention of the hearer. The commencing
on too low or too high a note ; with too full or too feeble a
voice ; the employment of a drawling manner, or of any
peculiar tones or quality of the voice ; any unusual mode
of announcing the text, or the hymn, — ^these are but a

agitatibn, so that I fancied, at first, he was pressing some important
point of morality. But he was only giving notice, that on the
Sunday following, he would preach on repentance. — ^I was ex-
tremely surprised to hear so ladifferent a thing uttered with so
much vehemence."

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few examples of the various ways in which the teacher
of divine truth may himself contribute to destroy the effect
J of his own instructions. — Of the same character is the mis-
applied use of the Vocule,* as when heard at the close of
sentences in prayer, and sometimes in the delivery of ser-
mons from the pulpit, to the entire destruction of devotional
feeling in the heart of every one whose ear is not equally
insensible to all the beauties as well as the defects of

Second, — The preacher's manner should be characterized
by reverence and modesty. — He should feel reverence for
the place, as the sanctuary of the Most High ; and modesty,
as being what he is, only by grace. In view of the first
of these principles, « Gfesture,*' in the language of Dr.
Porter,, " is felt to be unseasonable in personating God,
and in addresses made to him. When we introduce him as
speaking to man, or when we speak of his adorable per-
fections, or to him in prayer, the sentiments inspired demand
composure and reverence of manner. Good taste then can
never approve the stretching upward of the hands at full
length, in the manner of Whitefield, at the commencement
of prayer ; nor the frowning aspect and the repelling move-
ment of the hand, with which many utter the sentence of
the final judge, < Depart, ye cursed,' &c.'' Good taste,
on the same general principle, also cannot fail to condemn
any thing like a low anecdote, or a jest, in the pulpit.

'TU pitiful
To court a grin, when you should woo a soul :
To break a jeet, when pity would inspire

* I have recently seen this characterized, in some one of our reli-
pous newspapers, as the "pious gruntJ** By whatever name
calkd, it cannot but be in -a high degree ofiensive to any but the
inott perverted taste.

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Pathetic exhortation; and to address
The skittish fancy with facetious tales,
When sent with God's commission to the heart!
So did not Paul.

In regard to the last of these principles, Ausdn, himself
a clergyman, remarks : — « If, on ordinary occasions, and in
the common business of life, modesty of coui^nance and
manner be a commendable grace in a public speaker ; such
modesty is much more to be desired, or is rather indispen-
sable, in the sacred orator. When he pours out the public
prayers to God, when he reads and expounds his laws; he
cannot fail to recollect, that he is himself equally obnoxious
to their sanctions, and equally in need of mercy as his con-
gregation ; and that he kneels only as one among the sup-
plicants, and that he stands up only as one among the
^ guilty before his unerring judge. Vanity and presumption
in such a situation would be more than indecorous. Hu-
mility is the proper characteristic of a Christian minister."
<* But this humility," it is very properly added, « is not
incompatible with earnestness of manner, nor with the jus*
confidence which every public speaker should appear to
have in the truth of what he delivers."

It is on this general principle, that the use of the free
Diatonic Melody, or of the strongly marked Downward
Slides, would be improper in the language of prayer, or in
reading or repeating the words in which God has chosen
to address mankind. — ^It is thus that all personal invective,
whether by word or action, and every tone and look ex-
pressive of indignation, are excluded. — It is on this ac-
count likewise, that all the artifices of the stage —
All attitude and stare
And start theatric, practiced at the glass,

are excluded firom the sacred desk. Cicero censures flie-

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Iitrical action even at the bar ; how much less appropriate
is it to the pulpit ! Even the orator's art is employed here,
only to give expression to real feeling. Every ^cies of
cant or affectation is then excluded from the pulpit ; and
why should it not be, wjien a firm belief in the truth of
the principles to be inculcated, and a serious feeHng of
their importance, remove all necessity of any affectation,
either of voice or manner ? Such belief and such feeling,
on the part of the preacher, says Dr. Blair, « will always
give an earnestness and strength, a fervor of piety to his
exhortations, superior in its effects to all the arts of studied
eloquence ; and, without it, the assistance of art will seldom
be able to conceal the mere declaimer."

Witliout the Christian sensibility here referred to, and
that expansion and elevation of soul which can arise only
from a just feeling of religious truth, it is admitted that all
the arts of elocution are vain to constitute a Christian
minister. These are presupposed, as at the very basis of
Christian oratory; since, without them, preaching, with
every attraction that can be thrown about it, will be but
<< as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." It is, however,
perfectly consistent with this admission, that the religious
teacher ^ould do all in his power to improve his taste and
judgment, as to the most effective means of giving expres-
sion to his feelings ; and that he should train his voice to
the execution of all that a taste thus improved can direct.
And this can scarcely be done, but by the study of elocu-
tion according to some good system. Without such study.
Christian sensibility often expresses itself in an almost un-
broken Monotone, rendered perhaps still more offensive
by the constant employment of the Chromatic Melody, or
of the Tremor, — elements of great power when properly
employed, but never intended to be desecrated by constant


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use. Indeed the pulpit is yeiy specially exposed to mo-
notony, v^hile the dialogue of the stage ahnost effectually
excludes it ; and even in the senate and at the bar, a firee
colloquial style of delivery is much more naturally and
universally adopted;^

Third. — The preacher should never seem, by any pecu-
liarity of manner, to lose the command of himself. — ^In ad-
dition, then, to improving the taste and cultivating the voice
by study, the Christian orator should discipline his will to
a perfect self-possession. Calmness and collectedness of
manner alone seem accordant with the solemn grandeur of
his work. To such self-possession, a perfect command of
the gestures greatly contributes, because by restraining the
action when it is in danger of becoming excessive, a more
perfect control is preserved over the mental excitement ; and
even aside from this, such restraint may conceal the strong
workings of passions, which though the ^aker may feel,
it may not be expedient for him fully to express.

The action of the pulpit differs from that of the stage
only in degree. It is performed by the same beings, by the
use of the same instruments, and for the same general pur-
poses. It cannot, then, be expected to differ, in all respects,
from the action of the theatre ; but only so far as it is put
forth under different conditions. One of these conditions,
and the one to which our attention is here chiefly directed,
is — that the preacher is not at liberty to indulge ia any
public expressions of excitement, which can properly be
construed into a violation of the principles of self-respect,
or of true dignity of character. Such, I conceive to be all
bawling and vociferation in the pulpit — a vice of pulpit
oratory always condemned, yet practiced by too many, re-
gardless alike of its destructive effects on themselves, and
of its unfitness hr their purposes. Such also is the smiting

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of the pulpit of the Bible with the hands, or stamping with
the feet; or, except under very special circumstances, weep-
ing so as to distort the countenance, or interrupt the regular
flow of delivery. — How different the effect of such exhibi-
tions, from that produced by the earnest but graceful action
of him who stands up in the true dignity of an ambassador
for Christ ; and, while perhaps the manly tears may dim
his eye or fall in rapid succession over his cheek, yet with
firm and unfaltering voice, prays his fellow men in Christ's
stead to be reconciled to Grod !

I shall close these suggestions with a few words in re-
gard to the proper structure of pulpits. — ^From time imme-
morial, both in England and in this country, the local
situation of the preacher has been any thing but favorable
for either the graces or energies of deliver}'. The state of
things in this respect is improving ; and just as soon as the
principles of delivery are properly understood by those who
occupy our pulpits, will there be a universal change. — The
platform upon which the preacher stands, should be raised
only about as high as the breasts of the congregation ; and
for extemporaneous delivery, all that is required farther is
a chair or sofa, and a table not sufficiently high to embarrass
the action of the speaker. The lights also should be mov-
able ; and, if possible, should be so arranged as not to in-
terfere with the free action of the arms, even when in the
horizontal oblique or extended positions. Till our churches
shall be generally arranged according to some such plan,
our pulpit orators will have to modify their action to con-
form to the various situations in which they may be placed,
and sometimes almost wholly to refrain from gesture ; or else
become themselves the subjects of unpleasant criticisms,
which, however, properly belong not to them, but to the
place in which they officiate.

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Of the vocal expression adapted to the Drama^ notiitDg
remains to be said. The vocal elements have been so
fully presented, and so many hints have been given in re-
gard to their employment for purposes of expression, that it
is believed nothing but practice on proper examples is re-
quisite, to give to Ae learner all the vocal capabilities pos-
sessed by the most distinguished orators or actors. As
however this Manual has in view mainly to assist in form-
ing the orator^ most of the examjdes given have been
selected with reference to this. — Even the element how-
ever of Dramatic action have not all been presented. This
section is intended to supply this defect.

It would not perhaps be entirely easy to point out the
precise difference between the action suited to oratory, and
that of the stage. The principle, however, on which this
difierence depends has been before hinted at: the actor
appears in an assumed character, while the orator appears
in his own. It is the part of the actor, then, to represent
and sustain the character which he has assumed ; and this
may be entirely at variance with the dignity of oratory.
The actor personates every passion and feeling which makes
up the human character, — from the nobler passions and
manners of the hero, down through those of common life,
even to the vulgarity of the buffoon ; hence the different

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grades of actors, from the tragedian down to the performer
of low comedy. He may imitate nature ; while imitative
acdon is denied to the orator. He may be affected, he may
be extravagant, or exhibit the weakness of ungovernable
emotion ; while, as regards die orator, affectation defeats
his objects, extravagance disgusts his audience and renders
him ridiculous, and weakness gives him over to contempt.

We here find a sufficient reason, why the action of the
theatre can never be taken as s^ model for the orator. Yet
as in the theatre all the qualities of perfect gesture are re-
quired, the action of the stage may fiimish many useful
hints to the discriminating orator. It has been well said, —
<« He may kam from the theatre energy^ variety and predr
sum of acticHi. The simplicity of action he must derive
from his own unaffected sincerity; and grace from habit
and taste. And as to the other qualities^ he must know how
to use them discreetly, or to retrench them altogether. But
he must carefully guard against attempting to introduce the
full license of theatrical action into rhetorical delivery of
any kind. If he be a mere imitator, and cannot discrimi-
nate, his gesture will be the subject of just reprehension."

Dramatic action, as distinguished from oratorical, consists,
then, primarily, in the exhibitions of other passions, or of
the same passions in a higher degree of excitement. The
tendency of this excitement is — to render the muscles rigid,
to lengthen the step, and to give rapidity to all the move-
ments of the body. A secondary element of difference may
now be presented, which is found in the fact, that the actor
has for his object to please rather than instruct. Hence, if
he can better accomplish his object thereby, his action may
take the lead of his sentiment, and become itself as it not
unfrequently does upon the stage, the chief object of attrac-
tion. To render it thus, he not only uses all the varied


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action allowed to the orator, but uses it more fireely ihm
oratoiy allows; and superadds to this, as we hare just
suggested, other elements of gesture stUl, by the employ*
mept of which Bcddness and Magntf cence of gesture are
produced, which constitute the chief characteristics bf the
Epic style. The principal of these new elements we shall
now enumerate.

The Feet aiid Lower Limbs. — ^Under the influence of
strong excitement, as when one advances with boldness
or retires in alarm, the positions of the feet before described
may be exhibited in what may propeiiy be called an eav
tended state, which consists simply in a wider separation of
the feet. The moderate slq), which is most graceful in ora«
tory, in the theatre may often become a stride ; and while the
orator is limited to the simple movement of advancing and
retiring, and that by a single step, the actor may traverse
the whole stage, as he is moved by passion or by the cir-
cumstances of the scene.<r— Instead of moving on the stage
only backwards and forwards, in dramatic action and in all
dialogue the movement may be lateral. If it is m the
direction of the free foot, the person is said to traverse j and
he falls into the same position as when he advances. If
the movement is in the contrary direction from the free foot,
he crosses ; — if from the second position, canying the free
foot forward of the other, and falling into the first position
oi that foot ; if frOm the first, canying it behind the odier
and falling into the second position of the advanced foot —
It is by the aid of the lower limbs also, that the actor kneeby
or starts J or stamps.

The Trunk.— The erect posture has been presented as
the only one suited to the dignity of the orator. Indeed the
manly attitude of the body, which neither inclines nor
stoops, with the head m an erect and natural position, as

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exhibited in the painting of Washington by Trambull,*
may be presented as the veiy symbol of dignity. Grief
depresses the body, and the person under its ir^uence is
said to be cast down ; while pride may throw the body back
too fer. The expression of the passions however depends
more upon the head than upon the trunk, which rarely gires
any expression but in sympathy with the lower limbs, as in
kneeling or prostration, or with the bead, or the arms and

The Head akd Eyes. — When the head is hung down,
it expresses humility; when turned upwards, arrogance;
and when inclined to one side, languor or indifference. Be*
side these, and, says Quintilian, << beside those motions,
which by a nod signify assent, or rejection, or approbation ;
there are other motions of the head known and common to
all, which express modesty, doubt, admiration^ and indig-
nation." These are expressions which oro/ory has little
occasion to exhibit : hence a reference to them has been
reserved for this place. — The positions of the head, which
have been distinctly designated, and most of which are used
only in theatrical expression, are as follows : —

The Head alone. Tbe Head considered with referenc*

Inclined *° ^^^ direction of the Eyee.

Erect. ' Forward.

Assentingr. Averted.

Denying. Downward.

Shaking. Upward.

Tossing. Around. ,

Aside. Vacuity, or Vacancy. I

The Countenance. — « It is of man alone," says Sir
Charles Bell, " that we can with strict propriety say, the

* This portrait is in the gallery of paintings belonging to Yale

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Online LibraryMerritt CaldwellA practical manual of elocution: embracing voice and gesture : designed for ... → online text (page 21 of 25)