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Si vis me flere, dolendum est
Hon. Ar. Po. 102.
If you would have me weep, begin the strain,
Men will not suppose that we are affected by a subject, if they do not observe in the delivery of our language the marks of emotion in our souls. Commiseration will never be excited by a smiling countenance. To draw a tear, you must feel enough to shed one. And it is for this reason your language must carry the marks of the passions you wish to communicate.
This is the first and indisputable qualification of a good reader, without which, the clearest and most articulate pronunciation, with all the aid of tone, look, and gesture, will avail nothing, or only serve to mislead the hearer: the orator, actor, and reader, though each has his distinct province in the art of public recitation or pronunciation, being all understood to say what they appear to mean, rather than what they literally utter.
As a proof of this might be quoted a number of passages, literally harmless and inoffensive, which may, nevertheless, be so spoken as to inflame the hearer with the most sudden and impetuous resentment, or some other violent passion. For instance—in that admirable Tragedy of Shakspeare, Othello, in which the passion of jealousy is so fully, so forcibly portrayed, the first question by which lago attempts to excite it, if pronounced in a calm, unimpassioned manner, would appear to be nothing more than a simple interrogative, proposed merely for the sake of information, as
lago. Did Michael Cassio, when you woo'd my lady, Know of your love?
But if expressed with its proper emphasis and concomitant expression of countenance, whereby some deep and mysterious meaning is indicated, attention and suspicion in the person to whom it is addressed are naturally awakened, as
lago. Did Michael Cassio, when you woo'd my lady, *Know of your love ?
Accordingly we find that its proper effect was by that means immediately produced in the mind of Othello, who after giving the information," he did from first to last," adds, " Why dost thou ask?" lago replies,
Iago. But for a satisfaction of my thought;
Oth. Why of thy thought, lago?
Oth. Indeed! ay, indeed:-Discern'st thou aught in that?
Iago. Honest, my lord?
Oth. Think, my lord!
lago. My lord, you know I love you.
Oth. I think, thou dost;
Lago. For Michael Cassio
Osk. I think so too.
lago. Men should be what they seem;
Oth. Certain, men should be what they seem.
Iago. Why then,
Oth. Nay, yet there's more in this;
Iago. Good my lord, pardon me; Though I am bound to every act of duty, I am not bound to that all slaves are free to. Utter my thoughts? Why, say, they are vile and false, As where's that palace, whereinto foul things Sometimes intrude not? who has a breast so pure, But some uncleanly apprehensions Keep leets, and law-days, and in session sit With meditations lawful?
Oth. Thou dost conspire against thy friend, Iago, If thou but think’st him wrong'd, and mak'st his car A stranger to thy thoughts.
Iago. I do beseech you.-
Oth. What dost thou mean?
lago. Good name, in man, and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse, steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he, that filches from me my good name, Robs me of that, which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.
Oth. By heaven, I'll know thy thoughts.
lago. You cannot, if my heart were in your hand; Nor shall not, whilst 'tis in my custody.
Iago. O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
But, 0, what damned minutes tells he o'er,
Othello, Act III, sc. iii.
During the whole of this interesting Dialogue, though no positive declaration is made by Iago, the most powerful effects are produced upon Othello, merely by tones, emphases, and looks, by which the passion of jealousy is excited to a degree bordering upon frenzy.
Again—What can seem to be more unimportant, or unaffecting than to designate an individual by his proper name? Yet, how irresistibly impressive is the conclusion of Alonzo's address to Pizarro, when uttered with proper emphasis and tone?
“ I go to death—many shall bless, and none will curse my memory. « Thou still wilt live, and still wilt be-PI-ZAR-RO." Act III, Sc. iii.
Such are universally the wonderful, yet natural effects of correct expression.
There are many persons of most excellent understanding, who perfectly comprehend what they read, and yet are incapable of justly conveying to others, the meaning they so fully comprehend; and this, not from any ignorance of the language, not from any defect in their faculties, or organs of speech; but from want of having properly cultivated them by a careful and studious attention to the essential principles of the art of reading, applied and exemplified by a judicious instructor.
As the Art of Reading does not consist, like that of acting, in really. adopting the words and sentiments of the writer, it is sufficient that the reader recite what is written in such a manner, that the auditors at the time of hearing, may conceive it then first spoken by the person reciting, or at least in such a manner, as the person first speaking it would naturally have uttered it.
Now, this art hath been hitherto so generally neglected, or superficially treated, that few writers have advanced anything satisfactory on the subject, or laid down a system of rules professedly with the view here pointed out. General precepts enough have been given to make. public speakers acquainted with the theory, and elementary principles of pronunciation, but this is only presenting the massy, inanimate substance of Elocution, devoid of that Promethean fire, which alone can communicate expression, vigour, energy, and beauty to that substance. The principal object of those who have hitherto written upon the subject appears to have been, that of marking the several points of punctuation with an equability of pauses, pointing out the emphatịc word,
and, in fact, labouring to make the reader uniformly accurate, while the Spirit and Animation of Elocution are entirely neglected.
To supply this deficiency, or rather to attempt what has hitherto (at least in this city) been disregarded as unnecessary, or despaired of as impracticable, is my intention, in the course of the Lectures I have now undertaken, and the practical instructions which will result from them; as a certain series of reading and recitation must be undertaken by every member of the class in rotation, subject to corrections and criticisms, and regulated by the principles laid down in the Lectures.
This, though perhaps a novel, is, I conceive, the most effectual mode of obtaining the desired end; and as the exercises will be entirely confined to the class, and of course must be considered of a private nature, I doubt not the gentlemen will readily conform to the method I have adopted. Without this, though correctness with respect to pronunciation may be obtained, the proper portion of animation and expression, which belongs to each author, cannot. For there is a certain glow and spirit of expression, to be found in almost all literary productions, which, being kept alive in the delivery, will thereby impress the sentiment upon the mind with irresistible effect: but, if neglected, every word which is uttered will sound frigidly inanimate. And though correctness of pronunciation, with respect to accent, emphasis, and pause be strictly attended to, all will seem dull, tame, and insipid. The body indeed, or words, may be seen or heard, nay, perhaps the meaning of the author may appear, but it will be cold and lifeless.
Gray justly remarks, there are “ thoughts that breathe, and words that burn”-a tame and lifeless pronunciation strangles these breathing thoughts, quenches these burning words: the former expire in the frigid bosom; and the latter, void of animation, hang like icicles on the palsied lip.
That the student should have a knowledge of some of those leading precepts and principles, which are dictated by nature and reason, cannot be denied, but these alone will never make him a master of the art. He will find from experience that an emphatic pause, accompanied by a suitable look, and inflexion of tone, at certain places, either attended to or neglected, will give a captivating expression to a sentence, or completely destroy its proper effect, if not its meaning: and that the greatest beauties in the delivery of a sentence depend so much upon such simple graces of expression, of tone, and countenance, as will at once convince him of the impossibility of their being gained by any written system whatever. The subject must first operate upon the reader or speaker, before he can properly operate upon the subject.
“ Ardeat, qui vult incendere.”