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No. 147. SATURDAY, AUGUST 18, 1711,
Pronunciatio est vocis, et vultûs et gestûs moderatio cum
Good delivery is a graceful management of the voice, countenance, and gesture.
'THE well reading of the Common-Prayer is of so great importance, and so much neglected, that I take the liberty to offer to your consideration some particulars on that subject. And what more worthy your observation than this? A thing so public, and of so high consequence. It is indeed wonderful, that the frequent exercise of it should not make the performers of that duty more expert in it. This inability, as I conceive, proceeds from the little care that is taken of their reading, while boys, and at school, where when they are got into Latin, they are looked upon as above English, the reading of which is wholly neglected, or at least read to very little purpose, without any due observations made to them of the proper accent and manner of reading; by this means they have acquired such ill habits as will not easily be removed. The only way that I know of to remedy this, is to propose some person of great ability that way as a pattern for them; example being most effectual to convince the learned, as well as instruct the ignorant.
'You must know, sir, I have been a constant frequenter of the service of the church of England for above these four years last past, and until Sunday was seven-night never discovered, to so
great a degree, the excellency of the Common Prayer. When being at St. James's GarlickHill church, I heard the service read so distinctly, so emphatically, and so fervently, that it was next to an impossibility to be unattentive. My eyes and my thoughts could not wander as usual, but were confined to my prayers. I then considered I addressed myself to the Almighty, and not to a beautiful face. And when I reflected on my former performances of that duty, I found I had run it over as a matter of form, in comparison to the manner in which I then discharged it. My mind was really affected, and fervent wishes accompanied my words. The Confession was read with such resigned humility, the Absolution with such a comfortable authority, the Thanksgivings with such a religious joy, as made me feel those affections of the mind in a manner I never did before. To remedy therefore the grievance above complained of, I humbly propose, that this excellent reader, upon the next and every annual assembly of the clergy of Sion-college, and all other conventions, should read prayers before them. For then those that are afraid of stretching their mouths, and spoiling their soft voices, will learn to read with clearness, loudness, and strength. Others that affect a rakish negligent air, by folding their arms and lolling on their books, will be taught a decent behaviour, and comely erection of body. Those that read so fast as if impatient of their work, may learn to speak deliberately. There is another sort of persons whom I call Pindaric readers, as being
* Or Garlick-hithe. The rector of this parish at that time was Mr. Philip Stabbs, afterwards archdeacon of St. Albans, whose excellent manner of performing the service was long remembered by the parishioners.
confined to no set measure, these pronounce five or six words with great deliberation, and the five or six subsequent ones with as great celerity: the first part of a sentence with a very exalted voice, and the latter part with a submissive one: sometimes again, with one sort of a tone, and immediately after with a very different one. These
gentlemen will learn of my admired reader an evenness of voice and delivery, and all who are innocent of these affectations, but read with such an indifferency as if they did not understand the language, may then be informed of the art of reading movingly and fervently, how to place the emphasis, and give the proper accent to each word, and how to vary the voice according to the nature of the sentence. There is certainly a very great difference between the reading a prayer and a gazette, which I beg of you to inform a set of readers, who affect, forsooth, a certain gentleman-like familiarity of tone, and mend the language as they go on, crying, instead of 'pardoneth and absolveth,' ' pardons and absolves. These are often pretty classical scholars, and would think it an unpardonable sin to read Virgil or Martial with so little taste as they do divine service.
'This indifferency seems to me to arise from the endeavour of avoiding the imputation of cant, and the false notion of it. It will be proper therefore to trace the original and signification of this word. Cant' is, by some people, derived from one Andrew Cant, who they say, was a presbyterian minister in some illiterate part of Scotland, who by exercise and use had obtained the faculty, alias gift, of talking in the pulpit in such a dialect, that it is said he was understood by none but his own congregation, and not by all of them.
Since master Cant's time, it has been understood in a larger sense, and signifies all sudden exclamations, whinings, unusual tones, and in fine all praying and preaching, like the unlearned of the Presbyterians. But I hope a proper elevation of voice, a due emphasis and accent are not to come within this description. So that our readers may still be as unlike the Presbyterians as they please. The dissenters (I mean such as I have heard) do indeed elevate their voices, but it is with sudden jumps from the lower to the higher part of them; and that with so little sense or skill, that their elevation and cadence is bawling and muttering. They make use of an emphasis, but so improperly, that it is often placed on some very insignificant particle, as upon 'if' or 'and.' Now if these improprieties have so great an effect on the people, as we see they have, how great an influence would the service of our church, containing the best prayers that ever were composed, and that in terms most affecting, most humble, and most expressive of our wants, and dependence on the object of our worship, disposed in most proper order, and void of all confusion; what influence, I say, would these prayers have, were they delivered with a due emphasis, and apposite rising and variation of voice, the sentence concluded with a gentle cadence, and in a word, with such an accent and turn of speech as is peculiar to prayer.
As the matter of worship is now managed, in dissenting congregations, you find insignificant words and phrases raised by a lively vehemence; in our own churches, the most exalted sense depreciated, by a dispassionate indolence. I remember to have heard Dr. Se * say in his
Probably Dr. Smalridge.
pulpit, of the Common-Prayer, that, at least, it was as perfect as any thing of human institution. If the gentlemen who err in this kind would please to recollect the many pleasantries they have read upon those who recite good things with an ill grace, they would go on to think that what in that case is only ridiculous, in themselves is impious. But leaving this to their own reflections, I shall conclude this trouble with what Cæsar said upon the irregularity of tone in one who read before him, "Do you read or sing? If you sing, you sing very ill."*
Your most humble servant.'
No. 148. MONDAY, AUGUST 20, 1711.
-Exempta juvat spinis è pluribus una.
HOR. 2 Ep. ii. 212.
Better one thorn pluck'd out, than all remain.
My correspondents assure me that the enormities which they lately complained of, and I published an account of, are so far from being amended, that new evils arise every day to interrupt their conversation, in contempt of my reproofs. My friend who writes from the coffee-house near the Temple, informs me that the gentleman who constantly sings a voluntary in spite of the whole company, was more musical than ordinary after reading my paper; and has not been contented with that, but has danced up to the glass in the
* Si legis, cantas: si cantas, male cantas.