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Sound His stupendous praise, whose greater voice,
For mé, when I forget the darling théme,
Gesture, in order to be impressive, must be natural. That which is natural is generally both graceful in quality and appropriate in kind. If rhetorical action is either awkward in itself or unsuitable to the language, feeling, or circumstances which accompany it, it is alike objectionable. Better never raise the arm, than raise it unseasonably; better never appear in earnest, if not actually so. The action that is not the ebullition of feeling, will always seem out of
place, and therefore extravagant. It should be the legitimate expression of earnestness ; an earnestness not assumed, however, merely because it may be thought desirable, but genuine because felt, and felt so intuitively that the speaker is, at the moment, perhaps unconscious of its existence. When otherwise, the action becomes cold and formalthe result of a moral reason rather than a physical spontaneity. The speaker is thereby forced into a false position with his audience, and pays the forfeit of his misconception in a laboured indulgence of strut and rant, that land him the deeper into discontent with himself and his subject. Hisaudience seek it not, for it offends them—the subject requires it not, for he has not yet felt his subject—and he flounders about from one false tack to another, seeking some touch of nature to guide him, and finding none. We know nothing more melancholy than the exhibition of him who gesticulates simply because he has seen another do so in similar circumstances, and
he should do the same. That other may have been received with rapture, because he felt his author; while this fails, simply because he does not. In the former, the action was acceptable, because the natural and necessary reflex of the intensity felt—in the latter, the character is never seen, only the reciter. He had observed the other throw up his arms, stamp and fume, and be applauded in doing so, and he does the same; but why he should fail while the other succeeded, is to him all a mystery.
The safest rule, then, obviously is to follow the impulse of nature. Any attempt to guide the speaker must be in accordance with this, and should be viewed not so much as indicating when gesture should be used, as how it is to be regulated when the springs of action have been so awakened as to make gesture indispensable. Principles of gesture do not communicate feeling, any more than principles of modulation. The orator gesticulates when nature promptswhen he feels that for the body to be any longer silent
would be impossible. Nature will manifest herself. He then feels he may as soon cease to speak as cease to act. The action that has its origin in the mere will and caprice of the speaker, and its object in the mere desire of pleasing, is seldom successful. It may raise a laugh when it is meant to woo a tear. Some speakers are seldom passivenot knowing how to dispose of their arms, their feet, their eye.
With them it is a fault ever to be at rest—they see no grace, no propriety, no expression, in a pause or in inaction; and simply because they do not follow nature. They will not wait till they are warmed with their subject, but set out, ab initio, with the professed purpose of making an impression, forgetting that there is no impressiveness without corresponding earnestness. Others, again, err on the score of tameness. They have contracted such a dislike, it may be, to all that borders on extravagance, that they will not lift a finger during their whole harangue. If they feel their subject, they show it only in the rapidity of their utterance. Action they avoid, forgetting that action ceases to be extravagant the moment it flows from intensity. It is then proper, nay, necessary, if they have any regard for themselves, their subject, or their audience. These suffer by false modesty—the others, by their own false notions of earnestness. What is a vice in the former, would become a virtue in the latter. The fear of offending constrains the one—the thirst of applause moves the others, who think themselves so much the better speakers that they can bellow and gesticulate as few ever did before them.
If nature, then, is to constitute the basis of rhetorical action—to be both the principle and test of propriety-how may the student be so schooled into the perception of what is natural, as to discover it where he had never seen it before, and detect the absence of it in those who hitherto seemed to possess it?
In the first place, natural action will harmonise with the
subject. Is the subject moving--admitting the higher flights of oratory?—so will be the action. The head will be uplifted, the eye open, the arm extended, the whole figure drawn
up to a more than ordinary height, as if the orator felt he could not tower sufficiently above his audience. Is the subject commonplace, conventional, prosaic?—the action will be proportionally subdued, less elevated, and less exciting. And why? Because nature wills it. To be excited without reason, is just as unnatural as to be calm and unconcerned under the strongest excitement. In the true orator, him who consults nature, and is willing to be led by it, every gesture, weak or violent, will harmonise with the emotion that calls it forth ; seeming rather to form part of the emotion than to be suggested by it. Action, in such a speaker, is the language of the body, and is always in-harmony
with that of the tongue. In the second place, action, when the offspring of emotion, will be instantaneous. There will be no drawling-no sawing of the air—the emphatic stroke of the arm, the quiver of the lip, the start of the limb,
will accompany phasis of the voice, thereby telling powerfully on the feelings that are addressed. The reverse of this is that tediousness of gesture, that long sweep of the arm, which falls tamely on the eye, and resolves itself into a most tiresome and drivelling monotony. The gesture of an impassioned orator may not be always the most polished, but it will always be more or less impressive, because always in season with the excitement that gave it birth. Who that has heard Dr Chalmers or Gavazzi, in the excitement of their delivery, ever failed to be struck with this ! How amazingly impressive by the very instantaneousness of their action ! the flash of the eye, the elevation of the arm, the clenching of the hand, united so simultaneously with the emphasis of voice and language, as to form a combination of forces altogether irresistible if not terrific. Not so where there is a