« PreviousContinue »
False taste and style in the practice of elocution, sometimes lead to the cultivation of an exclusive habit of “ radical stress,” in the utterance of young readers and speakers. The effect of this fault is very unfavorable. The decision of tone which it implies, belongs properly to years and to experience, on special occasions, or to the language of vehement excitement. It is utterly incompatible with the just diffidence and respectful tone appropriate in youth, and forever prevents the winning effect of nature's genuine eloquence, in the tones of feeling chastened and subdued by reverence for truth and respect for man.
The orator, however, and the reader, must still be regarded as, in their function, representing, for the moment, the sentiments of humanity, not merely the opinion or feeling of the individual. Hence, a just degree of firmness and force, (and the radical stress is the exponent of these qualities,) is a point indispensable to eloquent speaking and impressive reading
The practice of the following examples should be accompanied by an extensive and thorough course of discipline on all degrees of “explosion," in elements, syllables, and words, advancing from the very slightest to the intensest form, and occasionally reversing the order, so as to reduce the function of explosion from its most impassioned to its merely intellectual character and expression.
Example 1. Fear. (" Explosive" Utterance : "Aspirated Guttural Quality.")
[“ While throng the citizens with terror dumb, Or whispering with white lips,] 'The foe! -- they come,
2. Anger and Scorn. ("Explosive" Utterance : "Aspirated Pectoral Quality.")
Coriolanus, [to the people.] “ You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate As reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcases of unburied men,
II. Unimpassioned Radical.” Example 1. Didactic Composition : Grave Style. * (“Pure Tone: " “ Moderate Force,'
,” • Grave” Style. — Usual Style of a Sermon, or of a Moral or Political Discourse.) “How can it enter into the thoughts of man, that the soul, which is capable of such immense perfections, and of receiving new improvements, to all eternity, shall fall away into nothing almost as soon as it is created ? Are such abilities made for no purpose ? A brute arrives at a point of perfection that he can never pass : in a few years he has all the endowments he is capable of; and were he to live ten thousand more, would be the same thing he is at present. Were a human soul thus at a stand in her accomplishments, were her faculties to be full blown, and incapable of farther enlargement, I could imagine it might fall away insensibly, and drop, at once, into a state of annihilation. But can we believe that a thinking being, which is in a perpetual progress of improvements, and travelling on from perfection to perfection, - after having just looked abroad into the works of its Creator, and made a few discoveries of His infinite goodness, wisdom, and power, must perish at her first setting out, and in the very beginning of her inquiries?"
2, Didactic Composition : Serious Style.* (“ Pure Tone : " “ Moderate " Force, “ Serious Style.
The usual form of utterance, in the reading of an Essay, or of a Literary or Scientific Discourse.) " The essay, the drama, the novel, have a most extensive and powerful influence upon the moral feelings and character of the age. Even descriptions of natural scenery owe much of their beauty and interest to the moral associations which they awaken.
* See foot note on next page.
“ In like manner, fine turns of expression or thought, often operate more by suggestion than enumeration. But when feelings and passions are directly described, or imbodied in the hero, and called forth by the incidents of a story, it is then that the magic of fiction and poetry is complete, — that they enter in and dwell in the secret chambers of the soul, moulding it at will. In these moments of deep excitement, must not a bias be given to the character,- and much be done to elevate and refine, or degrade and pollute, those sympathies and sentiments which are the sources of much of our virtue and happiness, or of our guilt and misery?”
3. Poetic Composition : Animated Style.* (“Pure Tone : " " Moderate " Force, “Lively” Style.) “ Is this a time to be gloomy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around; When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground? The clouds are at play, in the azure space,
And their shadows at play on the bright green vale ; And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.
On the dewy earth that smiles on his ray,
Ay look, and he'll smile thy gloom away." * In thesc examples the "radical stress" is merely of that gentle kind which gives distinctness and life to articulation, by a firm and clear "radical movement,” and preserves the serious style from verging on the solemn, by “swell" and prolongation, or by drawling. The slightest form of a clear cough, is the mechanical standard of organic action, in this degree of
stress; " and this distinction should be carefully observed ; for, when strong feeling is expressed in "grave," or in " serious," or in " animated " style, especially in poetry, the “stress” changes to “median,” for greater "expressive effect."
4. Poetic Composition : Gay Style. (“ Pure Tone”: Moderately Strong Force, “Brisk” Style.) “Ye of the rose lip and the dew-bright eye
And the bounding footstep, to meet me fly! With the lyre and the wreath and the joyous lay,
Come forth to the sunshine, - I may not stay.” “ There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree, There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea ! ”
II. MEDIAN STRESS." This form of " stress » Dr. Rush describes as a gradual strengthening and subsequent reduction of the voice, similar to what is called a swell, in the language of musical expression."
“Radical stress," with its abrupt explosion, is the irrepressible burst of forcible utterance, in the language of unconscious and involuntary emotion. It is the expression of passion rather than of will. “ Median stress," on the contrary, is more or less a conscious and intentional effect, prompted and sustained and enforced by the will. It is the natural utterance of those emotions which allow the intermingling of reflection and sentiment with expression, and which purposely dwell on sound, as a means of enhancing their effect. The swell of “median stress" is, accordingly, more or less ample and prolonged, as the feeling which it utters is moderate, or deep and full, lofty and awful.
" Median stress has the form of effusive utterance in sublime, solemn, and pathetic emotions : it becomes “expulsive,” in those which combine force with grandeur, as in admiration, courage, authoritative command, indignation, and similar feelings. But its effect is utterly incompatible with the abruptness of “explosion.” — Its comparatively musical character adapts it, with special felicity of effect, to the melody of verse, and the natural “ swell' of poetic expression.
This mode of stress is one of the most important in its effects on language, whether in the form of speaking or of reading. Destitute of its ennobling and expansive sound, the recitation of poetry sinks into the style of dry prose, the language of devotion loses its sacredness, the tones of oratory lose their power over the heart.
There is great danger, however, of this natural beauty of vocal expression being converted into a fault by being overdone. The habit recognized under the name of " mouthing," has an excessively increased and prolonged “median swell” for one of its chief characteristics. In this shape, it becomes a great deformity in utterance, -particularly when combined with what is no infrequent concomitant, the faulty mode of voice, known as “chanting or “singing." Like sweetness among savors, this truly agreeable quality of sound, becomes distasteful or disgusting, when in the least degree excessive.
The practice of "median stress," therefore, requires very close attention. The spirit of poetry and the language of eloquence, – the highest effects of human utterance, render it indispensable as an accomplishment in elocution. But a chaste and discriminating ear is requisite to decide the just degree of its extent.
“Median stress," is found in conjunction with most of the emotions which are uttered in the forms of "
pure tone” and “ orotund :" it exists though less perceptible in its effect, in union with “ aspirated quality.” It accompanies, likewise, all stages of force from the slightest to the most vehement.
1. Pathos. (Gentlest form of “median stress,"'. - a barely
Too rose-like still, too beautiful, too dear,-
Even so to pass away,