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Let your PRONUNCIATION be Bold and Forcible. AN insipid flatness and languor is almost the universal fault in reading, and even public speakers often suffer their words to drop from their lips with such a faint and feeble utterance, that they appear neither to understand or feel what they say themselves, nor to have any desire that it should be understood or felt by their audience. This is a fundamental fault; a speaker without energy is a lifeless statue.
In order to acquire a forcible manner of pronouncing your words, inure yourself while reading, to draw in as much air as your lungs can contain with ease, and to expel it with vehemence, in uttering those sounds which require an emphatical pronunciation; read aloud in the open air, and with all the exertion you can command; preserve your body in an erect attitude while you are speaking; let all the consonant sounds be expressed with a full impulse or percussion of the breath, and a forcible action of the organs employed in forming them; and let all the vowel sounds have a full and bold utterance. Practise these rules with perseverance, till you have acquired strength and energy of speech.
But in observing this rule, beware of running into the extreme of vociferation. We find this fault chiefly among those, who, in contempt and despite of all rule and propriety, are determined to command the attention of the vulgar. These are the speakers, who in Shakepeare's phrase, "offend the judicious hearer to the soul, by tearing a passion to rags, to very tatters, to split the ears of the groundlings." Cicero compares such speakers to cripples, who get on horseback because they cannot walk; they bellow, because they cannot speak.
Acquire a compass and variety in the Height of your voice. THE monotony so much complained of in public speakers, is chiefly owing to the neglect of this rule. They generally content themselves with one certain key which they employ on all occasions, and on every sub
ject; or if they attempt variety, it is only in proportion to the number of their hearers, and the extent of the places in which they speak; imagining that speaking in a high key, is the same thing as speaking loud; and not observing, that whether a speaker shall be heard or not, depends more upon the distinctness and force with which he utters his words, than upon the height at which he pitches his voice.
But it is an essential qualification of a good speaker, to be able to alter the height, as well as the strength and the tone of his voice, as occasion requires. Different species of speaking require different heights of voice. Nature instructs us to relate a story, to support an argument, to command a servant, to utter exclamations of anger or rage, and to pour forth lamentations and sorrows, not only with different tones, but different elevations of voice. Men at different ages of life, and in different situations, speak in very different keys. The vagrant, when he begs; the soldier, when he gives the word of command; the watchman, when he announces the hour of the night; the sovereign, when he issues his edict; the senator, when he harangues; the lover, when he whispers his tender tale, do not differ more in the tones which they use, than in the key in which they speak. Reading and speaking, therefore, in which all the variations of expression in real life are copied, must have continued variations in the height of the voice.
To acquire the power of changing the key on which you speak at pleasure, accustom yourself to pitch your voice in different keys, from the lowest to the highest notes you command. Many of those would neither be proper nor agreeable in speaking; but the exercise will give you such a command of voice as is scarcely to be acquired by any other method. Having repeated the experiment till you can speak with ease at several heights of the voice; read, as exercises on this rule, such compositions as have a variety of speakers, or such as relate dialogues, observing the height of voice which is proper to each, and endeavoring to change them as nature directs.
In the same composition there may be frequent occasions to alter the height of the voice, in passing from one part to another, without any change of person. Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage," &c. and his description of the Queen of the Fairies, afford examples of this. Indeed every sentence which is read or spoken will admit of different elevations of the voice in different parts of it; and on this chiefly, perhaps entirely, depends the melody of pronunciation.
PRONOUNCE your words with propriety and elegance. IT is not easy indeed to fix upon your standard, by which the propriety of pronunciation is to be determined. Mere men of learning, in attempting to make the etymology of words the rule of pronunciation, often pronounce words in a manner, which brings upon them the charge of affectation and pedantry. Mere men of the world, notwithstanding all their politeness, often retain so much of their provincial dialect, or commit such errors both in speaking and writing, as to exclude them from the honor of being the standard of accurate pronunciation. We should perhaps look for this standard only among those who unite these two characters, and with the correctness and precision of true learning combine the ease and elegance of genteel life. An attention to such models, and a free intercourse with the polite world, are the best guards against the peculiarities and vulgarisms of provincial dialects. Those which respect the pronunciation of words are innumerable. Some of the principal of them are-omitting the aspirate & where it ought to be used, and insert. ing it where there should be none: confounding and interchanging the v and w; pronouncing the dipthong ou like au or like oo, and the vowel i like oi or e; and cluttering many consonants together without regarding the vowels. These faults, and all others of the same nature, must be corrected in the pronunciation of a gentleman, who is supposed to have seen too much of the world, to retain the peculiarities of the district in which he was born.
Pronounce every word consisting of more than one syllable with its proper Accent.
THERE is a necessity for this direction, because many speakers have affected an unusual and pedantic mode of accenting words, laying it down as a rule, that the accent should be cast as far backwards as possible; a rule which has no foundation in the construction of the English language, or in the laws of harmony. In accenting words, the general custom and a good ear are the best guides: Only it may be observed that accent should be regulated, not by any arbitrary rules of quantity, or by the false idea that there are only two lengths in syllables, and that two short syllables are always equal to one long, but by the number and nature of the simple sounds.
In every Sentence, distinguish the more SIGNIFICANT WORDS by a natural, forcible and varied emphasis. EMPHASIS points out the precise meaning of a sentence, shews in what manner one idea is connected with and rises out of another, marks the several clauses of a sentence, gives to every part its proper sound, and thus conveys to the mind of the reader the full import of the whole. It is in the power of emphasis to make long and complex sentences appear intelligible and perspicuous. But for this purpose it is necessary that the reader should be perfectly acquainted with the exact construction and full meaning of every sentence which he recites. Without this it is impossible to give those inflections and variations to the voice, which nature requires; and it is for want of this previous study, more perhaps than from any other cause, that we so often hear persons read with an improper emphasis, or with no emphasis at all, that is, with a stupid monotony. Much study and pains is necessary in acquiring the habit of just and forcible pronunciation; and it can only be the effect of close attention and long practice, to be able with a mere glance of the eye, to read any piece with good emphasis and good discretion.
It is another office of emphasis to express the opposition between the several parts of a sentence where the style is pointed and antithetical. Pope's Essay on Man, and his Moral Essays, and the Proverbs of Solomon, will furnish many proper exercises in this species of speaking. In some sentences the antithesis is double, and even treble; these must be expressed in reading, by a very distinct emphasis on each part of the opposition. The following instances are of this kind :
Anger may glance into the breast of a wise man; but rests only in the bosom of fools.
An angry man who suppresses his passion, thinks worse than he speaks; and an angry man that will chide speaks worse than he thinks.
Better reign in hell, than serve in heaven,
He rais'd a mortal to the skies;
Emphasis likewise serves to express some particular meaning not immediately arising from the words, but depending upon the intention of the speaker, or, some incidental circumstance. The following short sentence may have three different meanings, according to the different places of the Emphasis; Do you intend to go to London this summer?
In order to acquire a habit of speaking with a just and forcible emphasis, nothing more is necessary than previ ously to study the construction, meaning and spirit of every sentence, and to adhere as nearly as possible to the manner in which we distinguish one word from another in conversation; for in familiar discourse we scarce ever fail to express ourselves emphatically, or place the emphasis improperly. With respect to artificial helps, such as distinguishing words or clauses of sentences by particular characters or marks; I believe it will always be found, upon trial, that they mislead, instead of assist the reader, by not leaving him at full liberty to follow his own understanding and feelings.
The most common faults respecting emphasis are laying so strong an emphasis on one word as to leave no power of giving a particular force to other words,