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GESTURE is the various postures and motions employed in vocal delivery: as the postures and motions of the head, face, shoulders, trunk, arms, hands, fingers, lower limbs, and the feet.
Graceful and appropriate gesture renders vocal delivery far more pleasing and effective. Hence its cultivation is of primary importance to those who are ambitious of accomplishment in elocution.
POSTURES OF THE BODY.
THE postures of the body, with respect to vocal delivery, may be divided into favourable and unfavourable; and, the better to suit my purpose in giving their illustration, I shall first treat of the unfavourable.
The most unfavourable posture is the horizontal. If a reader or a speaker should lie prone, or supine, he would not be likely to deliver a discourse with energy and effect. I have never known an orator to deliver a discourse in the horizontal posture; but I have known individuals to speak in public in postures almost as inappropriate.
The human mind is so constituted, that, in its education, order becomes almost indispensable. Hence, any thing that interrupts methodical instruction is a serious obstacle to the growth of intellect. Nor is order more necessary than perseverance; consequently all postures of the body which are calculated for repose, should be avoided by the student in elocution. And as grace and dignity are of primary importance in vocal delivery, all postures which are inconsistent with these attributes should also be avoided.
The erect posture of the body is the best for vocal delivery; the trunk and limbs should be braced in proportion to the degree of energy required by the sentiments to be delivered. The right foot should be from two to four inches in advance of the left, and the toes turned a little outwards; meanwhile the body should be principally sustained by the left foot.
The next best is the erect sitting posture, in which the shoulders do not rest against the back of the seat, and in which the ody is retained in its proper position by muscular action.
The next best is the erect sitting posture in which the shoulders rest against the back of the seat.
These are the only postures which are at all favourable to vocal delivery.
MANNER OF HOLDING THE BOOK.
The book should be held in the left hand, from six to eight inches from the body, and as high as the centre of the breast, so as to bring the face nearly perpendicular. It should not, however, be held so high as to prevent the audience from having a view of the reader's mouth, as his voice would thereby be more or less obstructed. The fingers of the right hand may take hold of the margin of the book lightly, so as to be ready to turn over the leaves, as occasion may require; or they may be placed upon the page, just below the line the reader is pronouncing, to aid him in keeping his place; or, particularly if the reader is pronouncing an original composition, the right hand may be employed to illustrate and enforce the sentiments by appropriate gesticulation. If the reader be a lady, the right hand may support the left arm. I do not, however, advise ladies to adopt this posture exclusively, but deem it not ungraceful for them.
The eyes should occasionally be directed from the words of the discourse to the audience.
In demonstrating on the black-board, the face, and not the back, should be turned to the audience.
NOTATION OF GESTURE.
THE want of a language for expressing the different modifications of gesture with brevity and perspicuity, is the principal cause of the general neglect with which the cultivation of this art has hitherto been treated. For this desideratum the world is indebted to the Rev. Gilbert Austin of London. In 1806, this distinguished elocutionist published a quarto volume of six hundred pages; and from that work I have taken the system of notation, of which the following is a specimen :
When the right arm is elevated backwards, and the left extended forwards, in a horizontal direction, he calls the posture of the former elevated backwards, and notes it eb; and the posture of the latter horizontal forwards, and notes it hf. Now the abbreviations eb and hf are placed over any word which requires these postures of the arms, thus:
-Douglas, Act. III. The original idea of this system of notation, says Mr. Austin, was suggested by the labour of teaching declama
Although an explanation of the gestures on Jehovah's arm, in the above sentence, is sufficient to answer my present purpose, it may not be improper to inform the reader that another gesture is required on the word son.
tion in the usual manner. During this labour, which for many years constituted a part of his duty in his grammar-school, the author having often found that he forgot, on a following day, his own mode of instructing on a former, wished to be able to invent some permanent marks, in order to establish more uniformity in his instructions, for the ease both of himself and of his pupils. The mode of instruction is not so liable to change, with respect to the expression of the voice and countenance, for this is always pointed out by the sentiment. But the great difficulty lies in ascertaining and marking the suitable gesture; and for these obvious reasons, because a language of gesture was wanting, and because gesture may be infinitely varied, and yet, perhaps, be equally just. To leave the pupil to choose for himself would but distract him, and, instead of giving him freedom and grace, would deprive him of both. On his commencement as a public speaker (which cannot be too early), it is necessary to teach him everything, and to regulate, by rules, every possible circumstance in his delivery; his articulation, accent, emphasis, pauses, etc., and along with all his gesture. After sufficient instruction and practice, he will regulate his own manner according to the suggestions of his judgment and taste.
Among the higher objects of this system of notation may be reckoned its uses as a record, whence the historical painter may derive the materials of truth, and whence the orator and the elocutionist may not only obtain the instructions of the great men who have preceded them in the same career, but by which also they may secure, unalterably, their own improvements for the advancement of their art, and for the benefit of posterity. A scene of Shakspeare, or a passage of Milton, so noted, after the manner of a great master of recitation, or an oration so noted as delivered by an admired speaker, would prove an enduring study of truth and nature combined with imagination. And the aspiring orator would not be obliged, as at present, to invent for himself an entire system of acmon. "He might derive light from the burn
ing lamps of the dead, and proceed at once, by their guidance, towards the highest honours of his profession.
Had the ancients possessed the art of notating their delivery, such was the unwearied diligence of their great orators, Demosthenes and Cicero, that we should, most probably, at this day, be in possession of their manner of delivery, as well as the matter of their orations; and not be limited to conjecture relative to a single sentence of these eminent speakers, on the great occasions which called forth their powers.
The parts of the human figure which are brought into action in gesture, cannot, in truth, be considered separate; for every muscle, over which men can exercise voluntary action, contributes, in some measure, to the perfection of gesture. For convenience, however, we may enumerate and class the most distinguished parts of the body which effect the principal gestures. These are:1. The HEAD.
5. The Hands and FINGERS. 2. The SHOULDERS. 6. The LOWER LIMBS and 3. The TRUNK.
KNEES. 4. The ARMS.
7. The FEET. I shall begin, as it were, with the foundation of the building, and shall first consider the positions and motions of
OF THE FEET AND LOWER LIMBS ; since without the stability and ease of these, neither grace nor dignity can consist in the standing figure.
As the object of the orator is to persuade, and as prejudice against his person or manners may greatly impede him, he must recommend himself by every attention to his external deportment which may be deemed correct and proper, and guard against every species of inelegance