Page images

tire phrase in order to distinguish the contrast between the words "elder" and "better." Unless we are able to do this, we will see nothing but individual words and speak individual words, just as the child in days now happily gone by saw nothing but three letters, d-o-g, whereas he is now taught to see a word-dog. The reader must carry out the same principle by seeing and speaking the thought instead of the individual words that make it up. All this requires practice, and no one ever became a good reader except by practice.

The words of the Bard of Avon

"Mend your speech a little

Lest it may mar your fortunes,"

written over three hundred years ago, are applicable to-day in as great a measure as then, While they were not used in the sense in which they are applied in this instance, still, if a new setting is given to them, they will assist in the worthy cause of calling attention to the necessity of mending the speech of to-day.

It is unfortunate that the modern speaking voice fails so utterly in conveying thought. Through a failure to employ the breathing muscles in controlling voice there follows a misuse of the larynx,

which produces harsh, faulty, and disagreeable tones that injure the speaker, distress the listener, and fail to convey the meaning of the spoken words.

Little attention is paid to modulation, the tones being allowed to come into the air without regard to pitch, few persons caring to take the trouble to suit the quality of the voice to the thought which is conveyed by the words, the majority using a high, shrill voice that pierces the ear and carries with it little else but noise. So, also, is articulation much neglected, some words coming into being without a head, such as the word "her" in sentences like, "I told her what you said," many persons running the words "told" and "her" together and saying, "I told 'er what you said," other words being produced with mutilated bodies, such as "independence," "constitution," and "Virginia," and others without a tail - especially is the appendage missing from words ending in g," such as going," ," "coming," "running," and "jumping." These faults are not committed by the uneducated alone, but by the educated as well, clergymen, lawyers, teachers, and actors being among the offenders.



From this it appears that reading and speaking are not the mere seeing and reproducing of words,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

either from the printed page or from the tablet of the mind, but they are the conveying of thought which is analyzed and explained by the tones of the reader's or speaker's voice, which has been trained by careful practice to interpret by its pitch, time, force, direction, and quality the meaning of the spoken word.

William Ellery Channing beautifully and forcibly sums up the matter in the following extract from his magnificent lecture, "Self-Culture":

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"The power of utterance should be included by all in their plans of self-culture. No commentary throws such a light on a great poem or any impassioned work of literature as the voice of a reader or speaker, who brings to the task a deep feeling of its author and rich and various powers of expression. A crowd electrified by a sublime thought, or softened into a harmonizing sorrow under such a voice, partakes a pleasure at once exquisite and refined."


It has been the custom of late years for persons to sneer at the idea of oratorical preparation, and for the majority of newspapers to belittle the influence of the orator, but now it looks as though oratory was coming into its own, and that it would

soon again occupy the proud position in the eyes of the world that for ages it occupied. The power of the press is great, but it has not taken, and it never will take, the place of the spoken word. It has caused a great change in the form of oratory through educating and informing the masses, thus leaving to the orator the vitalizing of the matter the substance of which is already in the minds of the listeners; but the advocate, trained, educated, skilled in the use of vocal and physical expression, was, is, and always will be the moulder of thought and the leader of action.


Had it not been for the burning spoken words of Patrick Henry, delivered in the House of Burgesses of Virginia on the question of arming the militia to oppose the oppressions of the mother country, it is not likely that the members of the legislative assembly of Virginia could have been swayed from their fixed purpose to do nothing that would estrange them from the king to whom they gladly gave allegiance, and whose kingly rights their ancestors had fought to uphold on the fields of Naseby and Marston Moor, and who followed the royal banner of Prince Rupert at Bristol. No printed words could have swayed them from their fixed convictions, but the towering form of the young plebeian, alive in every limb with

emotion, the flashing eye, the beaming face, the expressive gestures, the volcanic flow of words, all expressive of the spirit of liberty which was personified in his person, carried the message that he held in his heart straight to the minds of his listeners and changed that hostile majority into a minority. All this was but the forerunner of the battles of Lexington, Bunker Hill, and Yorktown, the confederation of the colonies, and the birth of the greatest republic upon which the sun ever shone.

When the time came for the welding of thirteen States into a nation the pen of Hamilton was mighty, but mightier still was his voice when, in the New York State convention, held for the ratification of the Constitution, he overcame the large majority originally opposed to its adoption, and, with the aid of a handful of Federalists, convinced the upholders of the rights of the States that liberty would be strengthened and not weakened by forming a centralized government whose power would be wisely checked by the safeguards with which the Constitution protected the rights of the people through their State governments, and which also curbed the power of the young States then distrustful and envious of one another. The able articles which came from the pen of Hamilton and

« PreviousContinue »