« PreviousContinue »
ART OF SPEAKING.
THAT Oratory is an art of great consequence, will
hardly be questioned in our times, unless it be by those (if any are so ignorant) who do not know, that it has been taught, and studied, in all countries, where learning has gained any ground, ever since the days of Aristotle. That the manner or address of a speaker, is of the utmost importance, and that a just and pleasing manner in delivering either one's own compositions, or those of others, is difficult of acquisition, and but too much neglected among us, seems unquestionable from the deficiencies we so commonly observe in the address of our public speakers, much more than in the matter uttered by them, and from the little effect produced by their labours.
Of the learning necessary for furnishing matter; and of the art of arranging it properly; of invention, composition and style, various writers among the Greeks, Romans, French, Italians, and English, have treated very copiously. It is not my design to trouble the world with any thing on these branches of oratory. I shall confine myself merely to what the prince of orators pronounced to be the first, second, and third part, or all that is most important in the art, viz. delivery, comprehending what every gentlemen ought to be master of, respecting gesture, locks and command of voice.
What is true of most of the improvements, which are made by study, or culture, is peculiarly so of the art of speaking. If there is not a foundation laid for it in the earlier part of life, there is no reasonable ground of expecta
tion, that any great degree of skill in it should ever be attained. As it depends upon, and consists in practice, more than theory, it requires the earlier initiation that practice may have its full scope, before the time of life arrives, in which there may be occasion for public exhibition. Mankind must speak from the beginning, therefore ought from the beginning, to be taught to speak rightly; else they may acquire a habit of speaking wrong. And whoever knows the difficulty of breaking through bad habits, will avoid that labour by prevention. There is a great difference between speaking and writing. Some, nay most of mankind, are never to be writers. All are speakers. Young persons ought not to be put upon writ ing (from their own funds, I mean) till they have furnished their minds with thoughts, that is, till they have gotten funds; but they cannot be kept from speaking.
Suppose a youth to have no prospect either of sitting in parliament, of pleading at the bar, of appearing upon the stage, or in the pulpit; does it follow, that he need bestow no pains in learning to speak properly his native language? Will he never have occasion to read, in a company of his friends, a copy of verses, a passage of a book, or newspaper? Must he never read a discourse of Tillotson, or a chapter of the Whole Duty of Man, for the instruction of his children and servants? Cicero justly observes, that address in speaking is highly ornamental, as well as useful, even in private life.* The limbs are parts of the body much less noble than the tongue; yet no gentleman grudges a considerable expense of time and money to have his son taught to use them properly; which is very commendable. And is there no attention to be paid to the use of the tongue, the glory of man? Supposing a person to be ever so sincere and zealous a lover of virtue and his country, without a competent skill and address in speaking, he can only sit still, and see them wronged, without having it in his power to prevent, or redress the evil. Let an artful and eloquent statesinan harangue the house of commons upon a point of the utmost cansequence to the public good. He' has it greatly in his power to mislead the judgment of the
Cic. de ORAT. L. i. p. 83.
house. And he, who sees through the delusion, if he be awkward in delivering himself, can do nothing toward preventing the ruinous schemes proposed by the other, from being carried into execution, but give his single vote against them, without so much as explaining to the house his reasons for doing so. The case is the same in other smaller assemblies and meetings, in which volubility of tongue, and steadiness of countenance, often carry it against solid reasons, and important considerations.
To offer a help toward the improvement of youth in the useful and ornamental accomplishment of speaking properly their mother tongue, is the design of this publication; to set about which I have been the more excited by experiencing, in my own practice, a want of such a collection as the following. What I proposed to myself at first, was only to put together a competent variety of passages out of some of the best writers in prose and verse, for exercising youth in adapting their general manner of delivery to the spirit or humour of the various matter they may have occasion to pronounce. Such a collection, I thought, might be acceptable to the public, in consideration of its furnishing at an easy expence, a general variety of examples for practice, chosen and pointed out, without trouble to masters. A design, which, as far as I know, has not before been executed.'" On farther consideration, it occurred to me, that it might render such a publication more useful, if I prefixed some general observations on the method of teaching pronunciation, and put the emphatical words in italics, and marginal notes shewing the various humors or passions, in the several examples, as they change from one to another, in the course of the speeches. All masters of places of education are not, I fear, sufficiently aware of the extent of this part of their duty, nor of the number of particulars to be attended to, which render it so difficult to bring a young person to deliver in a completely proper manner a speech containing a considerable variety of different humours or passions. So that some
*The PRECEPTOR, a work of two volumes, 8vo. has fome leffons for practice; but not the variety of humours or paffions, which my defign takes in; nor the notes of direction for expreffing them properly, Befides that the PRECEPTOR is a book of price, and fitter for the mafter's ufe, than the pupil's; fo
masters, as well as all pupils, may find their account in using this collection, till a better be published.
Whoever imagines the English tongue unfit for oratory has not a just notion of it. That, by reason of the disproportion between its vowels and consonants, it is not quite so tractable as the Italian, and consequently, not so easily applied to amorous, or to plaintive music, is not denied. But it goes better to martial music. And in oratory and poetry, there is no tongue, ancient or modern, capable of expressing a greater variety of humours, or passions, by its sounds (I am not speaking of its copiousness, as to phraseology,) than the English. The Greek, among the ancient, and the Turkish and Spanish, among the modern languages, have a loftier sound, though the gutturals in them, of which the English is free, (for it is probable, that the ancient Greeks pronounced the letter X gutturally) are, to most ears, disagreeable. But there is not in those languages, the variety of sound which the English affords. They never quit their stiff pomp, which on some occasions, is unnatural. Nor is there, as far as I know, any language more copious, than the English, an eminent advantage for oratory. And if we must fall out with our mother tongue, on account of some hard and un-liquid syllables in it, how shall we bear the celebrated Roman language itself, in every sentence of which we find such sounds as tot, quot, sub, ad, sed, est, ut, et, nec, id, at, it, sit, sunt, dant, det, dent, dabat, dabant, darent, daret, hic, hæc, hoc, fit, fuit, erat, erunt, fert, duc, fac, dic, and so on.
It is greatly to our shame, that, while we do so little for the improvement of our language, and of our manner of speaking it in public, the French should take so much pains in both these respects, though their language is very much inferior to ours, both as to emphasis and copiousness.
It is true there is not now the same secular demand for eloquence, as under the popular governments of ancient times, when twenty talents (several thousands of pounds) was the fee for one speech ;* when the tongue of an orator that I do not think it anfwers the purpose I had in view in this publication. If it did, I fhould have used it. Otherwife I think it an useful book, and am glad to find that it is well received.
Pliny fays, Ifocrates was paid that fum for one oration.