Page images

practical system of elocutionary rules, which may be a consistent and reliable guide to the pupil in reading aloud and in declamation, has been continually baffled. The subject is not one that, in its nature, admits of a resolution into rigid analytical rules. Thought and language being as various as the minds of men, the inflections of the human voice must partake of their plastic quality; and passion and genuine emotion must break through all the rules which theorists can frame. Anatomy is a curious and a profitable study; but what if we were to tell the pugilist that, in order to give a blow with due effect, he ought to know how the muscles depend for their powers of contraction and relaxation on the nerves, and how the nerves issue from the brain and the spinal marrow, with similar facts, requiring, perhaps, a lifetime of study for their proper comprehension, — would he not laugh at us for our advice? And yet, even more unreasonable is it to say, that, to accomplish ourselves in reading and speaking, we must be able to classify a sentence under the head of (looseor (compact,) and their subdivisions, and then to glibly enunciate it according to some arbitrary rule, to which, the probability is, there are many unsurmised exceptions. When Edmund Kean thrilled the heart of a great audience with the tones of indescribable pathos which he imparted to the words, –

« Othello's occupation's gone,”

[ocr errors]

it would have puzzled him to tell whether the sentence was a “simple declarative or an “imperfect loose.) He knew as little of intensive slides,» «bends,» «sweeps, and closes, as Cribb, the boxer, did of osteology. He studied the intonation which most touched his own heart; and he gave it, reckless of rules, or, rather, guided by that paramount rule, which seeks the highest triumphs of art in elocution in the most genuine utterances of nature.

Attention is the secret of success in speaking, as in other departments of human effort. Sir Isaac Newton was one day asked how he had discovered the true system of the universe. He replied, “By continually thinking upon it." He was frequently heard to declare that, if he had done the world any services, it was due to nothing but industry and patient thought; that he kept the subject under considera'ion constantly before him, and waited till the first dawning opened gradually, by little and little, into a full and clear light.) Attention to the meaning and full effect of what we utter in declamation will guide us, better than any system of marks, in a right disposition of emphasis and inflection. By attention, bad habits are detected and repudiated, and happy graces are seized and adopted. Demosthenes had a habit of raising one shoulder when he spoke. He corrected it by suspending a sword, so that the point would pierce the offending member when unduly elevated. He had a defective utterance, and this he amended by practicing declamation with pebbles in his mouth.

Practice in elocution, under the guidance, if possible, of an intelligent instructor, will lead to more solid results than the most devoted endeavors to learn, by written rules, what is above all human attempt at circumscription and confine. Possess your mind fully with the spirit of what you have to utter, and the right utterance will come by practice. If it be a political speech of a markable character, acquaint yourself with the circumstances under which it was originally uttered; with the history and peculiarities of the speaker; and with the interests which were at stake at the time. Enter, with all the warmth of your imaginative faculty, into the speaker's feelings; lose yourself in the occasion; let his words be stamped on your memory; and do not tire in repeating them aloud, with such action and emphasis as attention will suggest and improve, until you have acquired that facility in the utterance which is essential to an effective


delivery before an audience. It it be a poem which you have to recite, study to partake the enthusiasm which the author felt in the composition. Let the poetical element in your nature be aroused, and give it full play in the utterance of «thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.»

The practice of frequent public declamation in schools cannot be too much commended.

The advantages of such training, if not immediate, will be recognized later in life. In awakening attention, inspiring confidence, acquainting the pupil with the selectest models of oratory, compelling him to try his voice before an audience, and impressing him with a sense of the importance of elocutionary culture, the benefits which accrue from these exercises are inestimable. The late John Quincy Adams used to trace to his simple habit of reciting, in obedience to his father, Collins's little ode, «How Sleep the Brave,) etc., the germ of a patriotic inspiration, the effects of which he felt throughout his public career, together with the early culture of a taste for elocution, which was of great influence in shaping his future pursuits.

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



OEL TYLER HEADLEY, a well-known American writer, was born in

Delaware County, New York, December 30th, 1813. He wrote a

“Life of Washington” and “The Great Rebellion, but he is best known for his «Napoleon and His Marshals,” a work which has passed through many editions.

His essay on

« The Rise and Fall of Eloquence in the French Revolution ”first appeared as an Introduction to the American edition of Cormenin's “Orators of France.)





He end of all eloquence is to sway men. It is, therefore, bound by no arbi.

trary rules of diction or style, formed on no specific models, and governed

by no edicts of self-selected judges. It is true, there are degrees of eloquence, and equal success does not imply equal excellence. That which is adapted to sway the strongest minds of an enlightened age ought to be esteemed the most perfect, and, doubtless, should be the gauge by which to test the abstract excellence of all oratory. But every nation has its peculiar temperament and tastes, which must be regarded in making up our judgments. Indeed, the language itself of different countries compels a widely different style and

To the cold and immobile Englishman, the eloquence of Italy appears like frothy declamation; while to the latter, the passionless manner and naked argument of the former, seem tame and commonplace. No man of sense would harangue the French, with their volatile feelings and love of scenic effect, in the same manner he would the Dutch, their neighbors. A similar contrast often exists in the same nation. He who could chain a Boston audience by the depth and originality of his philosophy, might be esteemed a dreamer in the far West. Colonel Crockett and Mr. Emerson would be very unequal candidates for fame amid our frontier population. A similar though not so striking a contrast exists between the North and South. A speech, best adapted to win the attention of a mixed southern assembly, would be regarded too ornamental, nay, perhaps, meretricious by one in New England. The warm blood of a southern clime will bear richer ornament and more imaginative style, than the calculating style of spirit of a northern man. The same law of adaptation must be consulted in the changes of feeling and taste that come over the same people. Once our forefathers liked the stern, unadorned old Saxon in which the Bible is written, and which characterized the sturdy English divines. A few years passed by, and the classic era, as it was called, came, – that is, a preference of Latin-derived words to Saxon, or of harmony to strength. Johnson's lofty diction threw Cicero's high-sounding sentences into the shade, and Addison's faultless elegance became to language what miniature painting is to the art of painting itself. At length

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

another generation came, and the strong, energetic style of Macaulay, or the equally strong but uncouth sentences of Carlyle, and the concentration of Brougham, shoved the English classics from the stage. Now the man who sighs over this departure from classic models, and prates of corrupt English, shows himself shallow both in intellect and philosophy. Let him mourn over the new spirit that has seized the world, - there lies the root of the evil, if there be any. Men at auction now-a-days will not talk as Dr. Johnson did in the sale of Thrale's brewery, - nor in the present earnestness, Day, eagerness of human thought and feeling, will the fiery Saxon heart sacrifice vigor to beauty, — directness to harmony. He is a good writer who embodies in his works the soul and spirit of the times in which he lives, provided they are worth embodying, -and the common sympathy of the great mass is sounder criticism by far than the rules of mere scholars, who, buried up in their formulas, cannot speak so as to arrest the attention or move the heart.

Adaptation without degeneracy is the great law to be followed.

If the speech of Patrick Henry before the house of delegates had been made when the Stamp Act first began to be discussed, it would have been considered foolish bluster; but delivered at the very moment when the national heart was on fire, and needed but a touch to kindle it into a blaze, it was the perfection of eloquence.

So, the speech that Sir Walter Scott puts into the mouth of Ephraim Macbriar, on one of the successful battlefields of the Covenanters, is in itself a piece of wild declamation, but in the circumstances under which it was delivered, and to secure the object in view, the truest oratory. As the young preacher stood, pale with watchings and fastings and long imprisonment, and cast his faded eye over the field of slaughter, and over those brave men whose brows were yet unbent from the strife, he knew that reason and argument would be lost in the swelling passions that panted for action, and he burst forth into a harangue that thrilled every heart, and sent every hand to its sword; and when he closed, those persecuted men « would have rushed to battle as to a banquet, and embraced death with rapture.”

When the national heart is heaving with excitement, he who would control its pulsations and direct its energies, must speak in the language of enthusiasm. The power of an orator lies in the sympathy between him and the people. This is the chord which binds heart to heart, and when it is struck, thousands burst into tears or rouse into passion, like a single individual.

If these principles be true, it is necessary to throw ourselves into the scenes of the French Revolution, in order to judge correctly of the orators who controlled it. The Duke of Wellington, addressing the English army in India in the language Bonaparte used to his troops at the base of the Pyramids, would be guilty of ridiculous bombast; but in the mouth of the latter, and to such men as followed his standard, it exhibited the true orator. Nelson saying to his crew before the battle of Trafalgar, « England expects every man to do his duty," and Cromwell reading the Psalms of David to his steel-clad Ironsides before the battle of Naseby, present a widely different appearance, but show equal skill and art.

In ordinary times, there are three great departments of oratory: the bar, the parliament, and the pulpit. The latter, no doubt, ought to take the highest rank. With three worlds for a field from which to gather thoughts, images, and motives to action, — with the soul of man, its hopes, fears, and sympathies, and awful destiny its theme,- it embraces all that is great and fearful and commanding. But in Catholic countries it has sunk into neglect. Hooded over and fettered by superstition, and wrapped in endless forms, its power is lost. This country is fast following in their footsteps. Inspiration is gone, enthusiasm derided or shunned, and good, plain instruction has usurped the place of eloquence.

[ocr errors]

In the legislative hall, powerful appeals to the feelings are dangerous, for the watchful eye of opposition is ever ready to make bathos of pathos. At the bar, oratory is apt to become mere acting. The habit of taking any side and advocating directly opposite principles, destroys the earnestness of sincere feeling. and compels the pleader to resort to art for success. Like a fine actor, he must study the hearts of others, and not trust to his own impulses, if he would awaken sympathy.

But the advocate and the divine disappeared in the French Revolution, and the press and legislative hall were the media through which the soul of the nation uttered itself.

The convention of the States-General and final organization of the National Assembly, fixed irretrievably the French Revolution. The deputies of the people, assembled from every quarter of France, found themselves at the outset in collision with the throne and aristocracy.

The nation was to be saved from the famine and distress and bankruptcy, which threatened to overthrow it; and they boldly entered on the task. They had not come together to speak, but to act. Met at every turn by a corrupt court and nobility, they found themselves compelled to spend months on the plainest principles of civil liberty. But facts were more potent than words, and it needed only an eloquent tongue in order to bind the Assembly together and encourage it to put forth those acts which the welfare of the nation demanded.

It was not easy at once to destroy reverence for the throne and set at naught royal authority, yet the reformations which the state of the kingdom rendered imperative would do both. Right onward must this National Assembly move, or France be lost! To carry it thus forward, united, strong, and bold, one all-powerful tongue was sufficient; and the great orator of the Assembly was Mirabeau. At the outset, hurling mingled defiance and scorn both on the nobility, from which he had been excluded, and the king, who thought to intimidate the deputies, he inspired the Tiers-État with his own boldness. No matter what vacillation or fears might agitate the members, when his voice of thunder shook the hall in which they sat, every heart grew determined and resolute. With his bushy black hair standing on end and his eye flashing fire, he became at once the hope of the people and the terror of the aristocracy. Incoherent and unwieldy in the commencement of his speech, steady and strong when fairly under motion, he carried resistless power in his appeals. As a huge ship in a dead calm rolls and rocks on the heavy swell, but the moment the wind fills its sails stretches proudly away, throwing the foam from its front, so he tossed irregular and blind upon the sea of thought until caught by the breath of passion, when he moved majestically, irresistibly onward.

The Constituent Assembly of France sat from 1789 to 1799. The overthrow of the Bastile and triuniph of the people frightened the nobility so that they fled in crowds from France. Hitherto they had constituted the opposition against which the deputies of the people had to struggle. After their flight, there being no longer an opposition, the deputies naturally split into two parties among themselves. The Girondists were at first the republicans and demanded a government founded on the principles of the ancient republics; but a faction springing up more radical than their own and pushing the state towards anarchy, they became conservatives. In the meantime, Mirabeau, full of forebodings, died.

This Assembly, however, lasted but nine months, for the revolt of the tenth of August came; the Tuileries ran blood, and the Bourbon dynasty closed. The Legislative Assembly then changed itself into the Convention, and the great

« EelmineJätka »