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the want of an assistant and guide. In a few letters I may possibly be enabled to convey to you the fruit of years of unassisted toil; and although I cannot hold out to you the promise that any amount of instruction can, without long and large practice, accomplish you as an Orator, I am not without hope that you may so far profit by my hints as to escape many of the difficulties and some of the errors that have beset myself and into which the unguided steps of a learner are sure to fall.
THE OBJECTS, USES AND ADVANTAGES OF THE
ART OF SPEAKING.
I must again remind you that the art of speaking is the business of the barrister and the clergyman; it is only an accomplishment with other men, but an accomplishment of such incalculable worth, that a stranger would suppose it to form a necessary part of every scheme of education. Strange to say, it is, on the contrary, almost wholly neglected, even by those with whom some skill in it is a part of their profession. It is not taught in our schools. Not one in a hundred of those who study for the Church or the Bar thinks it incumbent
him to learn how to write, read and speak, although he will labour sedulously, with the help of the best masters, to obtain other needful knowledge. We see multitudes industriously setting themselves to learn the art of singing: it appears not to be known that the arts of writing, reading and speaking demand equally patient study, and equally good instruction, and are vastly more useful when they are attained.
You will be astonished if you attempt to measure the extent of this neglect in England of the arts of reading and speaking. The foundation of speaking is reading ; if you read badly, you will not speak well. Now run over in your thoughts a list of your acquaintances : how many of them can stand
and utter two sentences on the most commonplace subject without confusion and stammering ? Nay, how many could take up a book and read a page of it with even an approach to propriety? Certainly not one in fifty of them. And this discreditable gap in English education runs through all classes ; the defect in training for the right use of the parts of speech is as apparent in the highest as in the lowest. Still more strange is the neglect by those whose callings might have been supposed to make the study of reading and speaking a necessary part of their education—the politician, the clergyman, the barrister. Of these, the very business is to talk, and to talk so as to persuade ; and to persuade they must be heard; and to be heard they must so talk as to please the ears, while satisfying the minds, of the listeners. But how few of them are able to do this! How few can read or speak otherwise than badly-giving pain instead of pleasure to an audience ! And why? Because they have not learned to read and speak, or tried to learn ; they have not recognised writing, reading and speaking, as accomplishments to be acquired--as arts to be studied.
Take our Politicians : go into the House of Commons, where you would expect to find all the members, by virtue of their calling, more or less competent to construct and utter a sentence intelligibly. Here are the picked men, chosen by constituencies, as
we should suppose, because they could represent them creditably. Yet what miserable sticks most of them are ; what nonsense they talk, and how badly they talk it. They want every grace of oratory, they exhibit every defect. It is not merely that great orators are few—that mediocrity abounds for this must be the case everywhere so long as Providence is pleased to make greatness rare ; but there is not even mediocrity ; mediocrity is itself an exception; positive badness is the rule.
Nor is it better in the Pulpit. How few of all our preachers can lay claim to the title of orator ; how rare is a good reader; how abundant are the positively bad readers! What public men have such advantages, in the greatness of their subjects, in their privilege to appeal to the loftiest as well as to the profoundest emotions of humanity, in the command they have of their audience, who must hear, or seem to hear, to the end of the discourse ? And yet how rarely do we find these advantages turned to account-how few can preach a good sermon, truly eloquent in composition and eloquently uttered, and how still more infrequent are they who can read with propriety a chapter in the Bible, so as to convey its meaning in the most impressive form to the ear, and through the ear to the mind. It is plain that, as a body, the clergy—and I allude to those of all denominations—do not make the arts of writing, speak. ing and reading a portion of their course of study.
The Bar is a little, but, I must confess, only a very little, better. As with the clergyman, the business of the barrister is to talk ; but how many barristers can talk even tolerably ? Spend a day in any of our courts; watch well the speakers ; take your pencil and set them down in your note-book under the divisions of good, tolerable, indifferent, bad, and you will be astonished to find how few fall into the first class, how many into the others. But you will thus make acquaint
ance with those only who have obtained business, some by reason of their talking powers, others in spite of inability to make a decent speech. All these are only a fraction of the whole group of wigs before you.
may be assumed that nine-tenths of those who do not open
their lips are as incapable of opening them with effect as are their more fortunate brethren. It might well be supposed that men would not betake themselves to a profession, whose business it is to talk, without first ascertaining if they possess the necessary natural qualifications and afterwards making a regular study of the accomplishments on which their fortunes will depend. The fact that they do not this—that men go to the Bar in crowds, although wanting the capacities which nature gives, or, having them, without devoting the slightest study to their cultivation-sufficiently proves that the professional mind in England is not yet thoroughly convinced that speaking is an art, to be cultivated like any other art, the foundation of which must be laid by nature, but whose entire superstructure is the work of learning and of labour. I cannot tell why it should be so. We should think it almost an act of insanity if a man were to make music or painting his profession, without previous study of the art he proposes to practise. But the barrister and the clergyman habitually commit this folly, and make it their profession to read and to speak, without having learned how to do rightly the one or the other.
It is otherwise in America. The art of oratory is universally studied and practised there. It is considered to be as much a necessary part of the routine of education as writing, or arithmetic, and infinitely more important than music, drawing, or dancing.