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This is an art
Our common speech, after the brief term of childhood, becomes habitual and conventional, conforming itself to household custom, society usage, and the twang of one's profession or business. The reading of the average intelligent person of the average well-educated person is bare pronunciation, -well or, usually, badly or indifferently done, --and a sorry caricature of genuine living speech. It is drearily monotonous; generally by uniform rate, force, and quality, and by a repetitious melody, that means nothing,but sometimes by acrobatic vocal efforts to avoid monotony. Instead of illuminating and enforcing the meaning of the text, the reading seems to be studiously contrived to leave the meaning out. The reader virtually says to his audience: Here is a jargon of words that conveys no message to me. I will faithfully pronounce them in their written order, in the hope that they may mean something to you.' Really natural speech is seldom heard from adult lips, except when the speaker is surprised out of his grooves of habit by some rare crisis of feeling; and such crises often strike us dumb.
Where, then, are we to look for that Nature in speech, which we are to mend and change into the art that is itself Nature? Bewildered by the myriad brogues, dialects, provincialisms, personal mannerisms, slovenlinesses, twangs, and tunes, that salute our ears, no matter where we go, how are we to learn unto or into what Nature is striving to make speech?—at what is she aiming?—whither is she tending?in short, where are we to seek the ideal and perfect ‘natural' speech?
This vital, all-important question was first and completely answered in 'The Philosophy of the Human Voice', men
tioned above; and the world of art and culture will yet render its grateful acknowledgment to the author of that illustrious work.
Doctor Rush found the answer in the Voice itself.
Say there are errors in the book. There are; but they are the minor and venial errors of the solitary pioneer and discoverer, who left them for his followers to correct: he accomplished, notwithstanding, his great design of lucidly and completely setting forth the science and philosophy of speech, -by whose light and leading such consummate art became possible as made the potent charm of Wendell Phillips as an orator, of James E. Murdoch as a reader. It is noteworthy that Doctor Rush was not an elocutionist, nor a teacher, nor an orator, but a physician; that he undertook to study the voice-to quote his own words,—'exclusively as a subject of physiological inquiry; and, upon ascertaining some interesting facts in the uses of speech, was induced to pursue the investigation. Every student of the speaking voice should own a copy of the 'Philosophy', and search diligently its pages. It is the sacred book of elocution.
Nature's intention as regards human speech was pointed out by Rush, when he identified and defined the equable concrete; when he classified the elements of voice and syllabic forms as inexpressive and expressive; and when he classified speech itself as thoughtive, interthoughtive, and passionative: these last three terms devised by him, but self-explanatory, and plainly distinguishing the three great realms of human language. Following these clues, we can find our way to Nature; and then may prune, and embellish, and idealize, in the safe assurance that our art itself is Nature.
Good elocution is simply conformity of sound with meaning. Let the student accept, once and for all, the proposition that voice culture is a work that is never over and done with: he must practice long and faithfully, and intelligently, to gain a fine voice; and he must continue systematic practice to retain it. / In the voice culture exercises, as each sound
it.! is made, not only should he study the organic action until it becomes automatic or subconscious, but should attentively and critically listen; for so is the ear trained to know 'the natural language' of the voice. Unless the inherent meaning of the elements of voice,-time, force, quality, pitch, and abruptness, --with all their shades, degrees, and interrelations, is thoroughly mastered, what hope is there of conformity of sound with sense? A powerful and beautiful voice is sometimes developed by a person of heedless and ignorant ear; but he is to be pitied, as the owner of a grand instrument upon which he can never play. In order that the voice shall 'do things', -that it shall speak from mind to mind, from heart to heart, from soul to soul,-ear training and voice training must go together; and in the education toward artistic interpretation, the ear must of necessity lead the voice. Sitting on the front porch of his house at Avondale (Cincinnati, Ohio), one Sunday morning in June, 1880, Mr. Murdoch said to me, 'It is very tantalizing, and at the same time very beautiful and inspiring, that, no matter how well I read, the voice inside always reads better.'
Some writers on elocution, unable to understand the Rush philosophy, as set forth by its author, have cavalierly dubbed the method of teaching based upon it 'the mechanical system.' Every art-music, painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, acting, elocution-has its technic. No technic, no art. Until the technic is so mastered that it is automatic, intuitive, a matter of course, the result comes short of art; there is betrayal of effort, palpable adjustment. This proves, not that we are going wrong, but that we have not got far enough-we have not arrived. Technic, then, is the objective point of the first division of this book, and there is no danger of acquiring too much dexterity or too much voice. But, as fast as certainty and facility and vocal capital are gained, technic becomes the efficient means toward the great and final end-interpretation. At first, the conscious employment of technic-compelled, sedulous, induced, purposed conformity-makes us tentative and clumsy; 'the elocution sticks out'; we are but 'prentice mechanics. Too many stop, complacent or discouraged, while still in this mechanical stage; but a conscientious mechanic, 'sticking to his job,' is better off than the reader who knows neither just what he is trying to do nor the means and method of achieving it. Mere impulse, however noble, mere feeling, however vivid, is not art; indeed, unless controlled and guided, they tend to weaken or entirely defeat the desired result. The skillful mechanic is the possible artist; and he remains a mechanic so long as there is conscious and perceptible effort to adjust and use the technic. The artist uses the same technic; but with him it is the enchanter's spell, by which each uttered impulse falls deftly into due order and place and time and tune and value, as if so it was ordained, and not otherwise; his technic obeys him, as its wings obey the bird: while for the listener the technic is utterly lost in the effect. Here, at last, the art itself is Nature.
Technic, then, is first and foremost, until it is surely and safely ours; and we continually apply it, methodically, carefully, until adjustment becomes self-adjustment: then may we try our wings, and try, and still try, until they support us unwavering, in air as high as we can breathe.
No wonder that the great artists are few! that most work in the direction of art-piano-playing, reciting, reading, speaking, singing, acting, writing, drawing, painting, modeling, building, -is plainly and immitigably work! Any great reader will, because he must, develop along the lines established by Rush: the immense majority, of whatever school or system, must content themselves with getting as
far as they can. But any degree of progress is preferable to standing still; and no mortal knows what divine possibilities are within him, until he has made some way on the upward path.
The teacher will accomplish far more by example than by • precept, though wise precept is indispensable; and he is the best teacher who gives his pupils the most and best illustrations of really fine reading. The student must hear good reading of every style as often and as much as possiblemust be filled with it,—that he may have a definite ideal at which to aim, and that he may be able to estimate his progress toward it. When the ideal is fairly complete, the hearing of poor or commonplace reading can do no further harm, except the sufferance of it; it rather serves to confirm and strengthen the ideal. The great, almost the only reason why reading is the most ill-taught branch of the commonschool curriculum is, that the teachers do not read well.
And let us not be frightened by the senseless outery against imitation. The principles and rudiments of all the arts are learned-speech first and most of all,—by imitating the model as closely as may be; and the first steps in application-in interpretation-are also necessarily imitative. It is scarcely needful to say that this is sound psychology. If the wings are there, they will grow strong; the neophyte will leave the master in good time: all he has acquired, will quicken whatever of native, individual power is his; his art will approach nearer and nearer to the simplicity of Nature,rich, but chaste; strong, but beautiful; emotional, but not hysterical; and penetrated always with 'that light that never was, on sea or land.' Always the natural, where it is crude, violent, repulsive, harsh, and angular, is to be modifiedidealized--'changed'-into forms pleasing, however severe, pitiful, terrible, or malign. “In the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say,) the whirlwind of your passion, you must