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MANUAL OF ELOCUTION.
READING-BREATH-SPEECH-AIR-MANNER OF BREATHING.
The elements and principles of reading and speaking have been arranged in essays, for reading-lessons; so that they can not by any possibility be overlooked or neglected by either teacher or pupil. They constitute the important part of the work, and are not placed here simply to fill a book.
The want of a knowledge of these principles is very obvious. It is difficult to find the public speaker or elocutionist who does not exhibit a lack of proper training in articulation and pronunciation, to say nothing of the higher and more elegant graces of the art of delivery. By the unprofessional, particularly the youths of our land, the sounds of letters are things not taken into consideration. But if teachers and parents are ignorant, we should not chastise the children.
One of the most effective sounds of our language is almost entirely ignored by a large class of persons—the r; and we could spare almost any other subvowel better; for, when properly enunciated, it gives dignity to the language—when neglected, the result is weakness and affectation.
We therefore make the Elements of Speech the prominent feature of this work.
To become a good reader involves certain conditions which must be complied with or excellence can not be achieved in this art.
The first condition is to have developed a clear, round, smooth voice; the second is a perfect control of the vocal organs, comprising a distinct articulation of all the elements of sound as expressed by the letters of our alphabet; third, perfect self-possession. “No man can serve two masters.” If fear or distrust of our powers has the control, art can not be represented.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.” How wonderful is breath! this simple motion of air; this mysterious, active agent, invisibly, silently vitalizing and animating nature-pulsations cease or beat-life comes or goes on its wings. With it are woven the sweet words of affection and the melodies of song.
When our hearts are stirred with responsive sympathies, these gush forth in accents of speech, coined in tender phrases, borne from lip to ear, from soul to soul, by this gentle messenger, this slender stream of air, called breath. Let us reverence it-let it come to us freely, fully, joyfully. Yet it is nothing but air-air that is common every-where. It plays wantonly with the mighty monarchs of the forest, kissing and swaying their branches with rough caress, till they reel and laugh with hoarse mutterings of delight. Again, swollen to the fierce hurricane, it makes fearful music of their crashing limbs and snapping trunks.
It comes to us in the soft summer morning laden with the perfume of flowers; but ere it reaches us it has kissed a thousand scented leaves. The birds soar aloft in this mysterious ether, pouring their triumphal songs on its resonant bosom; and the butterfly and buzzing insect, “like winged flowers and flying gems," sparkle and shimmer in their dazzling beauty.
But whether it brings upon its waves the mutterings of the coming storm, or the merry, ringing laugh of childhood—the awful booming of the heavy cannonade, or the silvery tones of the violin—it is air, such as we breathe. Oh! then let it become a thing of joy to us—
-this great motive power, charging with ceaseless activities the complicated machinery of our bodies. Let us learn to make it a thing of beauty, wreathing embodied thoughts in vocal gems of purity and sweetness that shall gladden the ears of all who listen.
Breathing, -breathing sweet and strong,
Breathing naught but purest air,
Air, of which breath is made, should be inhaled through the nose. Be it distinctly understood that this is the appropriate organ to receive, warm, and filter the air of impurities, adapting it to the use of the lungs. The nose is suitably lined with a material that catches the minutest particles of dust and all irritating substances, preventing them from reaching the air-passages and lungs. The mouth is not thus prepared, because it has other specific purposes and uses. One of these is to keep the vocal organs moist and soft for the act of talking. The air, unfiltered, as received through this channel, deposits its impurities in the saliva, drying it, and causing a stiffness of the membranes, producing inflexibility of muscle and consequent huskiness of voice. It visits the lungs cold and unclean, forcing the delicate cells to receive it unprepared for their use, thus effectually sowing seeds for all throat and lung affections. Avoid breathing through the mouth if you desire health and a sweet, smooth-toned vocality.
Another reason why the air should be received through the nose is that by this effort a natural motion of the muscles of the abdomen is produced, allowing them to vibrate with ease; whereas breathing through the mouth incites a gasping effort, producing an expansion of the upper part of the lungs only, causing an unnatural elevation of the shoulders, leaving the lower part of the lungs unexpanded, and consequently unvitalized with air.
Stand erect, resting the weight of the body gracefully on the left foot; throw the shoulders and head back, not strainedly, but with sufficient dignity to allow the diaphragm ease of action; place the hands upon the hips, with the fingers pressing upon the abdomen, the thumbs extending backward, and with the mouth shut breathe through the nose, forcing the breath down until the motion can be distinctly felt under the fingers. Let this practice be repeated until this long, full breathing becomes a habit.
When we are sitting at ease, and not using the voice, our breathing is slow and regular; but the more we exercise, speak, or sing, the greater the expenditure of breath, and consequently the more frequently we must inhale fresh air. Many persons fall victims to a neglect of this practice; and little there is in the present method of primary instruction in reading, in our schools, calculated to give any aid to proper breathing. Indeed, it is not considered as having any part in making good readers and speakers; the results of which are many exceedingly bad habits and unvitalized bodies.
We shall treat more fully of this subject when we come to Emphasis, Rhetorical expression, and the Music of the voice.