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Proper loudness of Voice.
THE first attention of every person who reads to others, doubtless, must be, to make himself be heard by all those to whom he reads. He must endeavour to fill with his voice the space occupied by the company. This power of voice, it may be thought, is wholly a natural talent. It is, in a good measure, the gift of nature; but it may receive considerable assistance from art. Much depends, for this purpose, on the proper pitch and management of the voice. Every person has three pitches in his voice; the HIGH, the MIDDLE, and the Low one. The high, is that which he uses in calling aloud to some person at a distance. The low is, when he approaches to a whisper. The middle is, that which he employs in common conversation, and which he should generally use in reading to others. For it is a great mistake, to imagine that one must take the highest pitch of his voice, in order to be well heard in a large company. This is confounding two things which are different, loudness or strength of sound, with the key or note on which we speak. There is a variety of sound within the compass of each key. A speaker may therefore render his voice louder, without altering the key and we shall always be able to give most body, most persevering force of sound, to that pitch of voice, to which in conversation we are accustomed. Whereas by setting out on our highest pitch or key, we. certainly allow ourselves less compass, and are likely to strain our voice before we have done. We shall fatigue ourselves, and read with pain; and whenever a person speaks with pain to himself, he is always heard with pain by his audience. Let us therefore give the voice full strength and swell of sound; but always pitch it on our ordinary speaking key. It should be a constant rule never to utter a greater quantity of voice than we can afford without pain to ourselves, and without any extraordinary effort. As long as we keep within these bounds, the other organs of speech will be at liberty to discharge their several offices with ease; and we shall always have our voice under command. But whenever we transgress these bounds, we give up the reins, and have no longer any management of it. It is a useful rule too, in order to be well heard, to cast our eye on some of the most distant persons in the company, and to consider ourselves as reading to them. We naturally and mechanically utter our words with such a degree of strength, as to make ourselves be heard by the person whom we address, provided he is within the reach of our voice. As this is the case in conversation, it will hold also in reading to others. But let us remember, that in reading, as well as in conversation, it is possible to offend by speaking too loud. This extreme hurts the ear, by mag the voice come upon it in rumbling, indistinct masses.
By the haon of reading, when young, in a loud and vehement manner, the voice becomes fixed in a strained and unnatural key; and is rendered incapable of that variety of elevation and depression which constitutes the true harmony of utterance, and affords ease to the reader, and pleasure to the audience. This unnatural pitch, of the voice, and disagreeable monotony, are most observable in persons who were taught to read in large rooms; who were accustomed to stand at too great a distance, when reading to their teachers; whose instructors were very imperfect in their hearing; or who were taught by persons, that con
sidered loud expression as the chief requisite in forming a good reader. These are circumstances which demand the serious attention of every one to whom the education of youth is committed.
In the next place, to being well heard and clearly understood, distinetness of articulation contributes more than mere loudness of sound. The quantity of sound necessary to fill even a large space, is smaller than is commonly imagined; and, with distinct articulation, a person with a weak voice will make it reach farther, than the strongest voice can reach without it. To this, therefore, every reader ought to pay great attention. He must give every sound which he utters, its due proportion; and make every syllable, and even every letter in the word which he pronounces, be heard distinctly; without slurring, whispering, or suppressing any of the proper sounds.
An accurate knowledge of the simple, elementary sounds of the language, and a facility in expressing them, are so necessary to distinctness of expression, that if the learner's attainments are, in this respect, imperfect, (and many there are in this situation) it will be incumbent on his teacher, to carry him back to these primary articulations; and to suspend his progress, till he become perfectly master of them. It will be in vain to press him forward, with the hope of forming a good reader, if he cannot completely articulate every elementary sound of the language:
Due degree of slowness.
In order to express ourselves distinctly, moderation is requisite with regard to the speed of pronouncing. Precipitancy of speech confounds all articulation, and all meaning. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that there may be also an extreme on the opposite side. It is obvious that a lifeless, drawling manner of reading, which allows the minds of the hearers to be always outrunning the speaker, must render every such performance insipid and fatiguing. But the extreme of reading too fast is much more common, and requires the more to be guarded against, because, when it has grown into a habit, few errors are more difficult to be corrected. To pronounce with a proper degree of slowness, and with full and clear articulation, is necessary to be studied by all, who wish to become good readers; and it cannot be too much recommended to them. Such a pronunciation gives weight and dignity to the subject. It is a great assistance to the voice, by the pauses and rests which it allows the reader more easily to make; and it enables the reader to swell all his sounds, both with more force and more harmony
Propriety of Pronunciation.
AFTER the fundamental attentions to the pitch and management of the voice, to distinct articulation, and to a proper degree of slowness of speech, what the young reader must, in the next place, study, is propriety of pronunciation; or, giving to every word which he utters, that
sound which the best usage of the language appropriates to it; in opposition to broad, vulgar, or provincial pronunciation. This is requisite both for reading intelligibly, and for reading with correctness and ease Instructions concerning this article may be best given by the living teacher. But there is one observation, which it may not be improper here to make. In the English language, every word which consists of more syllables than one, has one accented syllable. The accents rest sometimes on the vowel, sometimes on the consonant. The genius of the language requires the voice to mark that syllable by a stronger percussion, and to pass more slightly over the rest. Now, after we have learned the proper seats of these accents, it is an important rule, to give every word just the same accent in reading, as in common discourse. Many persons err in this respect. When they read to others, and with solemnity, they pronounce the syllables in a different manner from what they do at other times. They dwell upon them and protract them; they multiply accents on the same word; from a mistaken notion, that it gives gravity and importance to their subject, and adds to the energy of their delivery. Whereas this is one of the greatest faults that can be committed in pronunciation: it makes what is called a pompous or mouthing manner; and gives an artificial, affected air to reading, which detracts greatly both from its agreeableness and its impression.
Sheridan and Walker have published Dictionaries, for ascertaining the true and best pronunciation of the words of our language. By at tentively consulting them, particularly "Walker's Pronouncing Dictionary," the young reader will be much assisted, in his endeavours to attain a correct pronunciation of the words belonging to the English language.
By Emphasis is meant a stronger and fuller sound of voice, by which we distinguish some word or words, on which we design to lay particular stress, and to show how they affect the rest of the sentence. Sometimes the emphatic words must be distinguished by a particular tone of voice, as well as by a particular stress. On the right management of the emphasis depends the life of pronunciation. If no emphasis be placed on any words, not only is discourse rendered heavy and lifeless, but the meaning left often ambiguous. If the emphasis be placed wrong, we pervert and confound the meaning wholly.
Emphasis may be divided into the Superior and the Inferior emphasis. The superior emphasis determines the meaning of a sentence, with reference to something said before, presupposed by the author as general knowledge, or removes an ambiguity, where a passage may have more senses than one. The inferior emphasis enforces, graces, and enlivens, but does not fic, the meaning of any passage. The words to which this latter emphasis is given, are, in general, such as seem the most important in the sentence, or, on other accounts, to merit this distinction. The following passage will serve to exemplify the superior emphasis.
"Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
"Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
"Brought death into the world, and all our wo," &c..
Sing heavenly Muse
Supposing that originally other beings, besides men, had disobeyed the commands of the Almighty, and that the circumstance were well known to us, there would fall an emphasis upon the word man's in the first line; and hence it would read thus:
"Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit," &c.
But if it were a notorious truth, that mankind had transgressed in a peculiar manner more than once, the emphasis would fall on first; and the line be read,
"Of man's first disobedience," &c.
Again, admitting death (as was really the case) to have been an unheard of and dreadful punishment, brought upon man in consequence of his transgression; on that supposition the third line would be read,
"Brought death into the world," &c.
But if we were to suppose that mankind knew there was such an evil as death in other regions, though the place they inhabited had been free from it till their transgression, the line would run thus:
"Brought death into the world, &c
The superior emphasis finds place in the following short sentence, which admits of four distinct meanings, each of which is ascertained by the emphasis only.
"Do you ride to town to day?
The following examples illustrate the nature and use of the inferior emphasis:
"Many persons mistake the love for the practice of virtue." "Shall I reward his services with falsehood? Shall I forget him who cannot forget me?
"If his principles are false, no apology from himself can make them right: if founded in truth, no censure from others can make them wrong."
Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull; "Strong without rage: without o'erflowing, full.”
"A friend exaggerates a man's virtues; an enemy, his crimes." "The wise man is happy, when he gains his own approbation; the fool, when he gains that of others."
The superior emphasis, in reading as in speaking, must be determined entirely by the sense of the passage, and always made alike; but as to the inferior emphasis, taste alone seems to have the right of fixing its situation and quantity.
Among the number of persons, who have had proper opportunities of learning to read, in the best manner it is now taught, very few could be selected, who, in a given instance, would use the inferior emphasis alike, either as to place or quantity. Some persons, indeed, use scarce ly any degree of it: and others do not scruple to carry it far beyond any thing to be found in common discourse; and even sometimes throw it upon words so very trifling in themselves, that it is evidently done
with no other view, than to give greater variety to the modulation.* Notwithstanding this diversity of practice, there are certainly proper boundaries, within which this emphasis must be restrained, in order to make it meet the approbation of sound judgment and correct taste. It will doubtless have different degrees of exertion, according to the greater or less degrees of importance of the words upon which it operates; and there may be very properly some variety in the use of it but its application is not arbitrary, depending on the caprice of readers.
As emphasis often falls on words in different parts of the same sentence, so it is frequently required to be continued with a little variation, on two, and sometimes more words together. The following sentences exemplify both the parts of this position: "If you seek to make one rich, study not to increase his stores, but to diminish his desires." "The Mexican figures, or picture writing, represent things not words: they exhibit images to the eye not ideas to the understanding."
Some sentences are so full and comprehensive, that almost every word is emphatical: as, "Ye hills and dales, ye rivers, woods, and plains!" or, as that pathetic expostulation in the prophecy of Ezekie!, "Why will ye die !"
Emphasis, besides its other offices, is the great regulator of quantity. Though the quantity of our syllables is fixed, in words separately pronounced, yet it is mutable, when these words are arranged in sentences; the long being changed into short, the short into long, according to the importance of the word with regard to meaning. Emphasis also, in particular cases, alters the seat of the accent. This is demonstrable from the following examples " He shall increase, but I shall decrease." "There is a difference between giving and forgiving." "In this species of composition, plausibility is much more essential than probability." In these examples, the emphasis requires the accent to be placed on syllables, to which it does not commonly belong.
In order to acquire the proper management of the emphasis, the great rule to be given, is that the reader study to attain a just conception of the force and spirit of the sentiments which he is to pronounce. For to lay the emphasis with exact propriety, is a constant exercise of good sense and attention. It is far from being an inconsiderable attainment. It is one of the most decisive trials of a true and just taste; and must arise from feeling delicately ourselves, and from judging accurately of what is fittest to strike the feelings of others.
There is one error, against which it is particularly proper to caution the learner; namely, that of multiplying emphatical words too much, and using the emphasis indiscriminately. It is only by a prudent reserve and distinction in the use of thein, that we can give them any weight. If they recur too often; if a reader attempts to render every thing be expresses of high importance, by a multitude of strong emphases, we soon learn to pay little regard to them. To crowd every sentence with emphatical words, is like crowding all the pages of a book with Italic characters; which, as to the effect, is just the same as to use no such distinctions at all.
* By modulation is meant that pleasing variety of voice, which is perceived in uttering a sentence, and which, in its nature, is perfectly distinct from en phasis, and the tones of emotion and passion. The young reader should be careful to render his modulation correct and easy; and, for this purpose, should form it upon the model of judicious and accurate speakers.