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simple and impulsive style of conversation has been banished from the pulpit, and, to a certain extent, from general oratory; and in its stead have been substituted inflections, tones, and transitions, which have no foundation in nature, and, when carried to an extreme, have something so singular to the unperverted ear as to excite a strong sensation of the ludicrous. These remarks, however, are not meant to be of general application.
Many preachers are very slightly infected with these peculiarities, others altogether exempt from them; but they are characteristic of the school, and more or less perceptible in the majority of its pupils. Nor is the present generation of speakers to be held responsible for the blemishes of a style which they have not originated but received, and which none can more strongly condemn, or be more anxious to reform, than many of themselves.
The natural style of enunciation being thus abandoned to the stage, has been subjected to much of the prejudice which, in many minds, arises out of that connexion; and the simple and expressive accents of ordinary life, when accompanied with any degree of vivacity, have been stigmatized as theatrical; and it is to be lamented that the bad taste of some popular preachers, who have carried the extreme dramatic style into the pulpit, has given too much plausibility to the imputation. It would seem however that, from some cause or other, possibly from the difficulty of being simple and direct in a highly artificial state of society, the oratory of polished nations has always had a tendency to fall from truth into artifice and false convention. Cicero dwells at considerable length upon this subject, and, in his favourite style of antithesis, charges the Roman orators with having abandoned nature to the actors. “Hæc ego dico pluribus, quod genus hoc totum oratores, qui sunt veritatis ipsius actores, reliquerunt; imitatores autem veritatis histriones occupaverunt."
But any style of delivery, however objectionable, will derive from association a lustre not its own, when adopted by speakers of extraordinary fascination and power. There is a genius of that lofty and gigantic cast which can dispense with manner altogether, or mould any manner into energy and impressiveness, as his very crutch in the hand of Chatham became a powerful instrument of oratory; and there have been men in Scotland, Dr Chalmers for
instance, and there are at this very time, men so highly gifted, and of such extraordinary powers of persuasion, as to throw a dazzling and seductive halo round the most imperfect manner; and these are of all others the most dangerous models to the student, as he is naturally tempted to imitate, not the grandeur of their genius, which is indeed inimitable, but the mere external medium which that genius has elevated and ennobled. Thus early neglect and defective example combine to place the student of ordinary ability in a very painful and embarrassing position.
At an age when his manner is formed, and the organs of speech are hardened into almost inflexible rigidity, he first discovers that something is wrong; he then applies himself in earnest to the study of Elocution, in the absurd expectation of effacing in a few lessons the habits of years, and of acquiring in a short time the mastery of an art which, from the union it requires of judgment, taste, and feeling, with natural qualifications and mechanical skill, is probably surpassed by none in difficulty of acquisition. Hence, when called upon to speak on the real business of life, he exhibits the humiliating spectacle of a person of mature age employed in the minute and puerile task of attending to inflections, tones, and gestures, and hence, too, that discredit is thrown upon the art, which properly belongs to the unskilfulness of the artist.
The obvious remedy for this would be to commence the study of Elocution at an early age under competent masters, and to carry it on simultaneously with other branches of education. The student's proficiency in the art would thus keep pace with his other attainments, and, when called upon to address his fellow-men, correctness of intonation, ease in action, and general propriety of manner, would come as naturally to him as the manners of good society flow unconsciously from the gentleman, or as grammatical accuracy and all the graces of composition wait unbidden on every movement of the practised pen.
But from the pupil who has been the victim of neglect or erroneous instruction, the painful truth must not be concealed, that he has an arduous though by no means an insuperable task before him—to be better he must be worse. His first steps must of necessity be retrograde, for his only path to improvement leads through the transition state, which is always a state of weakness and deformity. Let him labour steadily and perseveringly in private, but cast aside all attention to manner when engaged in addressing an audience—let improvement be the gradựal and unconscious result of previous practice. He will thus avoid all appearance of display, and of a puerile preference of the means to the great ends to be attained by them.
Among the different class-books of Elocution which have been long in use, Ewing's Selection has always enjoyed a large share of popular favour; in proof of which we need only point to the number of editions it has gone through, the present revision being the thirtieth. The book, however, has been so long in the hands of the pupil that its contents have lost much of their freshness and interest, and a renewal of the work has been much wished for by the public. In the present edition, therefore, all such extracts as could be replaced by others of equal, if not superior, merit have been expunged. The selections from Dr Blair's Sermons formed a prominent feature in the previous edition, to the exclusion of many great names: their number therefore is now much reduced, to make room for some specimens of the distinguishing styles of Jeremy Taylor, South, Barrow, Chalmers, Robert Hall, Foster, and others. Dryden's unrivalled Ode on the Feast of Alexander, the picturesque and graceful Ode on the Passions by Collins, Campbell's polished and spirited Lyrics, and other pieces, embracing some of the most splendid specimens of the national language and genius, could not have been omitted without greatly impoverishing the collection by robbing it of its choicest ornainents. These, therefore, have not been disturbed, as the whole range of our literature can furnish nothing worthy to supply their place. They have lost much of their novelty no doubt; it is at once the proof and penalty of their surpassing excellence.