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Reading, Recitation, Declamation, and Oratory.
THE general objects of public speaking are, instruction, persuasion, or entertainment. These objects are sometimes kept distinct, sometimes they are combined in various proportions.
In their various modes of exercise, these objects will attain their ends, that is, succeed in influencing the hearer in the degree proposed, not only by the interesting matter which may be presented to him, but also by the manner in which it is presented. The manner is called the delivery. And the advantages of good delivery are such, as to conceal in some degree the blemishes of the composition, or the matter delivered, and to add lustre to its beauties; in so much, that a good composition, well delivered, shall, with any popular audience, succeed better in its object, whether that be instruction, persuasion, or entertainment, than a superior composition not delivered so well.
The modes adopted in public speaking are, reading, recitation, declamation, oratory, and acting. Of which, the three first are often practised for the purpose of exercise or preparation, as well as on real oc
Reading may be defined, the art of delivering writ ten language with propriety, force, and elegance.— This, if not the simplest mode of public speaking, is among cultivated nations the most useful and the easiest. Because, any man can, in this mode, deliver the sentiments of the wisest of all ages and nations, in language already prepared and approved; and the public speaker has, on ordinary occasions, only to pronounce intelligibly, what he has before him; or, if he would perfectly discharge his office on higher occasions, impressively. Reading may be described under the following kinds, beginning from that which requires the lowest efforts of the talents of delivery, and proceeding to that which requires the highest, The scale of reading, will then be disposed thus: 1. Intelligible. 2. Correct. 3. Impressive. 4. Rhetorical. 5. Dramatic. 6. Epic.
The lowest degree of reading aloud for the information of others, which can be admitted as useful to the public, is that which is named intelligible reading. To a reader of this class, the following are the only requisites, good articulation, proper attention to pauses and accents, and sufficient effort of voice, to render himself audible to all concerned.
To the articulation, pauses, accent, and efforts of voice, necessary to render a reader fully intelligible, the correct reader must add something more; the additional requisites for him are emphasis, purity of pronunciation, and suitable demeanor. The correct reader must evince his own just conception of what he reads, by applying proper emphases, which serve as touches of light in a picture to bring forward the principal objects. He must study purity of pronunciation, that he may not offend, and distract the attention of his hearers, by diverting it from his subject, and turning it upon himself. Upon this principle, it is necessary that he be most careful not to offend by affectation; which, even in a greater degree than provincial vulgarity itself, disturbs the attention
from the proper objects of public speaking, persua sion, and instruction.
In addition to the requisites necessary to the correct reader, the impressive reader must possess the following: expression of the voice, expression of countenance, direction of the eye, variety of manner as to rapidity of delivery, and rhetorical pauses. Hence, impressive reading comprehends two entire divisions of the art of delivery, the modulation of the voice, and the expression of the countenance; of gesture, the third division, it partakes but little, and that little, is very different from what is proper for oratory.
Within the whole range, through which the exercise of this valuable talent, the art of reading, is extended, impressive reading will be found no where so requisite, as in delivering the Scriptures. Their composition is of that original and various character, which demands every effort on his part, who is called upon to deliver them for the instruction of others. Hardly is there a chapter, which does not contain something, which requires the most impressive reading; as remonstrance, threatening, command, encouragement, sublime description, awful judgements. The narrative is interrupted by frequent and often unexpected transitions; by bold and unusual figures; and by precepts of most extensive application, and most admirable use.
In the narrative, the reader should deliver himself with a suitable simplicity and gravity of demeanor. In the transitions, which are often rapid, he should manifest a quick conception, and by rhetorical pauses and suitable changes of voice, express and render intelligible, the new matter or change of scene. In the figurative and sublime, which every where abound, his voice should be sonorous, and his countenance expressive of the elevation of his subject. In the precepts, he should deliver himself with judgement and discretion; and when he repeats the words
and precepts, as recorded of our Lord himself, with more distinguished mildness, mingled with dignified authority. Such reading, would be a perpetual and luminous commentary on the Sacred Writings; and would convey more solid information, than the most learned and brilliant sermons.
If to the impressive stile of reading, be added such a degree of acquaintance with the subject, as that it shall be nearly committed to memory, and that it be also accompanied with gesture to a certain degree, and more decided expression of the eyes and countenance, it constitutes a more forcible stile, which may be termed rhetorical reading. This stile of reading is adapted to popular discourses from the pulpit, which if intended to be so delivered, should be composed in all the form of a regular oration. Because, as one subject of discourse, requires a different stile of composition, it requires also a different manner of reading. Correct reading suits a discourse on evidences; impressive reading, on exhortation; and rhetorical reading, those subjects which call for the higher exertions of pulpit eloquence, as funeral orations, great public occasions, the solicitation of alms for useful charities, and in all discourses where the orator has to excite passion and emotion. Public reading within these limits, will be found, if not capable of all the brilliancy that can be desired, yet to possess great and solid advantages. To read well, should be esteemed a very high attainment in public speaking; and no labour should be thought too arduous for its acquirement, by those who are likely to be called upon, in any situation to read in public; that is, by any men of liberal education or rank in life, above the lowest vulgar; each of whom, will probably on some occasion, be obliged to exhibit his talent.
Reading in private is seldom carried farther than that description called impressive. But in the reading of a play, when one person goes through the
whole drama, a manner is almost necessarily adopted, which may be called dramatic reading. In this style of reading, the voice, the countenance, and the delivery, as to rapidity or slowness, force or feebleness, are nearly suited to the character which is supposed at any time to speak; and even provincial and foreign accents, are also in some degree imitated; moderate gesture of the hand is used, accompanied now and then with the head, in passages requiring particular discrimination. But the efforts of the reader, in mere private and family society, seldom go farther.
The talent for dramatic reading in its highest excellence is very rare. It includes not only all the requisites for correct, impressive, and dramatic reading of the ordinary kind, which is sufficient for the mere presenting the scenes of a play to a domestic circle but the fine dramatic reader must be possessed of the quickest conception, and of an eye which intuitively comprehends the whole dialogue at a glance, of a versatility of manner capable of adapting itself to every character, and such a power of modulation of the voice as shall also present each changing character to the hearer, within the bounds of decorous imitation, without naming him, which would often break the interest of the scene; and above all, he must possess a true and lively feeling of the situation and interest of every person in the drama.
History, which is the most improving subject of private reading, in the mere narrative parts, requires no greater efforts on the part of the reader, than the style which is termed correct. But in lively description of places, situations, and great actions, impressive reading is altogether necessary; and in the speeches which sometimes occur, rhetorical reading should in some measure, be introduced.
The same circumstances occur more frequently and more heightened in epic poetry: and, therefore,