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LETTER XXVI.

THE USES OF READING.

Ar great cost and with much labour you cultivate the art of singing. You employ masters.

You practice continually. You pride yourself upon the accomplishment, when it is attained. But, after all, it is merely an accomplishment, pleasant to yourself and to others, although, if its temptations be weighed against its advantages, it

may

be doubtful which would kick the beam. But the art of reading is more useful, is equally pleasant, and its advantages have no drawback. All that can be advanced in favour of learning to sing can be urged in favour of learning to read, with the addition of many reasons for reading not to be found for singing, and the absence of objections that certainly prevail against the more popular accomplishment.

The uses of Reading are manifold.

You must well understand what you read before you can express

it rightly. Not only do you thus learn the thoughts as well as the words of an author, but, giving utterance to them, you assure yourself that it is not a mere speaking by rote, that the ideas have entered

into your

mind and become a part of its stores. When reading to yourself you are apt to skim the words, without interpreting them clearly to the mind, and to skip passages that may be necessary to a right understanding of the theme. Often the eye runs over the type while the mind is passive.

When

you

read aloud, even if you address only the chairs and tables, you cannot thus impose upon yourself. The mind must be actively engaged in the work; not only must it apprehend, but it must comprehend. Before the words on the printed page can come with correct expression out of your lips, they must be received into your mind, they must call up there the ideas they were designed to convey, or set in motion the processes by which the desired conclusion is wrought. This compulsion to understand what you read is the first and greatest of the uses of the Art of Reading.

But it is as pleasant to others as profitable to yourself. Reading aloud is not as popular as singing only because the taste for it has not been cultivated, and this lack of cultivation is the result of a lack of good readers, or more properly, perhaps, of the prevalence of bad reading. Seeing that nineteen persons out of twenty read so vilely that it is a positive pain to hear them, it is not surprising that the suggestion of listening to a reader whose fitness is not guaranteed should be received with alarm by those who have never heard good reading. But when you have overcome this prejudice by proof of the pleasure and profit to be derived from a good book well read, you will not want a willing audience. In your family circle this art will be a perennial source of amusement. A boundless treasury is at your command for the enjoyment of your household. Nor is it a selfish solitary pleasure. The same exertion serves for the

a

enjoyment of as many as can hear your voice, and the pleasure is enhanced in each when partaken by many. Nor does the practice of this art demand cessation from other pursuits. While listening to the wisdom, the wit, the poetry, or the emotions, of the greatest and purest intellects God has created, the hands may be busily employed in useful work; indeed, most persons never listen so attentively as when their fingers are busy.

But you must not be disappointed if you fail at first to win the ears of an audience, accustomed to read to themselves, but not practised in listening to reading by another. The mental processes are different ; they are not acquired in a moment; they need more or less of education. If you have read much to yourself, the association of the printed word with the idea it represents is so easy and speedy that you are not conscious that it is an operation learned slowly and tediously. So it is with the listening to reading. The association of the spoken word with the idea it expresses is not so rapid and easy as to be unconscious. On the contrary, you are aware of a mental effort in the act, and you compare the sensible labour of the process of receiving through the ear from the lips of a reader with the facility of passage to the mind through the eye, and you prefer the latter to the former. This, however, is only for a short season, Each time you listen to good reading you will do so with more pleasure, because you will understand what is read with less labour, until

you

will come to receive the ideas thus conveyed to you by the lip as readily as when carried through the eye; with the added facility of having the true sense of the author presented to you by one who has already learned it, without the labour of studying and searching it out for yourself.

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As the object of the Art of Reading is to be understood, and as to be understood you must understand, if it had no other use, it would be an accomplishment of incalculable value. But there are other advantages, personal and professional. The practice of reading aloud trains you to the habit of hearing your own voice without alarm. You cease to start “at the sound yourself had made.” It gives flexibility to your voice, tenderness to your tones, expression to your tongue. Your conversation will be vastly more agreeable when you talk in a strain where the sound echoes the sense, instead of a monotonous muttering, where half the sense is lost for lack of the right expression of it.

And if you are willing to take part in the great work of education, you may render most effective aid by reading to those who cannot read, or who read so imperfectly that reading is a laborious task. Custom has made the process of associating the printed and the spoken word so easy to you, that you can scarcely understand how difficult it is to those who have had only a little practice. For the assistance of these, and for the instruction of others who, though they can read readily, prefer the exercise of the ear to that of the eye, especially when the contents of a book are thus conveyed to them by an intelligent reader, a society formed under the auspices of Lord Brougham has undertaken the establishment of public readings, open at the smallest charge, at which the office of reader is gratuitously performed. If such a society does not exist in your neighbourhood, you can easily establish one, at the same time doing an act of kindness to others, and perfecting yourself in the art by practising there the precepts you have learned elsewhere.

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The professional advantages of the Art of Reading are greater even than are the personal benefits. A Lawyer is usually the spokesman at public meetings, because it is his business to talk. Often he is required to read reports and other documents. His fame is won or lost by the manner of his reading. When undertaking a cause in any court, the right or wrong reading of some written evidence may affect the verdict. An emphasis

. on the wrong word, or a pause in the wrong place, may change the meaning of a whole sentence; witness the well-known passage,

“ And Balaam said, “saddle mean ass : ' and they saddled him.

And, lastly, the Art of Reading is the foundation of the Art of Speaking. If you would speak well, you should first learn to read well. The same play of emotion, the same command of voice, the same use of intonation, the same manner of expressing thought, that are required when you speak your own thoughts in your own language, are needed when you utter the thoughts of another in his language. It is for this reason that I have prefaced my purposed hints for oratory with some instructions in the arts of writing and reading, because the flow of thoughts, the right marshalling of them, and the putting of them into the most expressive language, is best learned in the Art of Writing ; how to utter them so that they may be most readily understood is best acquired by the Art of Reading ; and these together form the foundation of the Art of Speaking, to which I now proceed without further preface.

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