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LETTER XI.

THE ART OF READING-WHAT TO AVOID

ARTICULATION.

If you rightly understand what you read, you will express it rightly. But it is also necessary to understand it readily, so as to read readily as well as rightly. Herein is the difference between reading aloud and reading to yourself. When you read to yourself, you can pause to ponder upon the meaning intended to be conveyed by the writer, and you ought to search for it till you

have found it, and for that purpose you may try back again and reperuse the sentence or the page as often as may be necessary.

When reading aloud, you have no such liberty for pause, reflection and repetition. You must proceed, right or wrong, understanding or misunderstanding. The meaning of what you are to read must be seized at the instant your eye

falls
upon

the words, or there will be hesitation in your speech, very perceptible to your audience, and very disagreeable. Practice alone will enable you to attain this rapid apprehension of the thoughts conveyed in the words. It cannot be taught, there are no rules for it-practice is the only path to its acquirement.

Having learned to express rightly and readily the thoughts which the writer whose language you are reading designed to convey, you have laid broadly and strongly the foundations for success in the art of reading; these are the elements of a good reader. But it is the foundation only of the art ; all the ornament is to come. It is not enough to read rightly—you must read pleasantly as well as correctly, so that your hearers may not only be enabled to understand, but induced to listen. A dull, monotonous reader will not win the ear, however faultless his rendering of the sense of what he reads. Your reading will not be profitable to others, unless it is also pleasant. I proceed to give you some hints how to make it so.

First, I must tell you what you ought not to do. Shun equally mannerism and monotony. Do not, at the moment you open the book to read aloud, change your tone and style of speaking, as is the evil habit of so many persons. The term “many," indeed, scarcely expresses the universality of this fault. The exceptions are extremely rare. Nineteen persons out of twenty read in a tone and with a manner altogether different from those in which they would have uttered the same sentences out of book. It is a bad habit, probably acquired from bad teaching in childhood, which they do not shake off in after years, only because they have not practised reading or sought to attain something of it as an art. It curious to note how a sentence, spoken at one moment in the most natural, and therefore truthful and expressive, manner, is followed instantly by a sentence read from a book with tone and manner entirely different, either stilted and affected or inexpressive and stupid, but thoroughly unnatural and

cure.

artificial; and then, if the book be closed, without the pause of a moment, the talk will be resumed in the same easy strain as before. This is the first defect to be removed. Before you can hope to read well, you must thoroughly emancipate yourself from this bad habit of treating reading as an operation altogether different from talking

But you will ask me how you may learn to do this. You must first distinctly recognise the fault, for, like most faults, a knowledge of it is half way towards the

You must remember, also, that in this instance your business is more to unlearn than to learn. You have acquired a bad habit, and you must rid yourself of that; you have laboriously taught yourself to be affected and unnatural, and you have to lay all that aside before you can read naturally. But that, you will say, is the great difficulty. You are right; it is far more easy to learn than to unlearn. A bad habit, of slow growth and long cherished, is not thrown off without the exercise of much firmness and persistency. It can be conquered, if you

will that it shall be subdued. Time and practice are the remedies. A few days, a few months even, may not suffice to effect a perfect cure ; but week by week there will be a perceptible improvement; and though the fault may be never wholly removed, you will soon find such a lessening of it, that you need not be ashamed to read anything aloud anywhere.

Clearly understanding your fault, betake yourself to a room where, being alone, you will not be shy of failure, and give yourself your first lesson in the art of reading, and thenceforth let this besetting sin be ever before you when you are practising; for if you forget it for a moment, during your earlier studies at least, you will certainly relapse into the old strain. Do not begin with poetry, or speeches, or any kind of composition that has a tendency to provoke bad habits. You would probably sing poetry and mouth an oration ; everybody does who has not studied reading as an art. But select some very simple narrative, especially if it contains some conversational dialogue, such as people talk in real life; before you pronounce a word, ask yourself this question, “If I were going to tell this story out of my own head, instead of this book, to a friend sitting in that chair, myself sitting quite as composedly in this one, how should I utter it ?” So try to read it aloud, addressing the said chair as if your friend was there in fact. At first make no attempt to read well ; practise nothing but how to read naturally. Repeat the same reading several times in succession, noting with a pencil such passages as you feel not to have been properly spoken, and when you come to them take special pains to avoid the fault of which you were conscious before. Suppose that you choose for your first lesson Andersen's clever story of the “Emperor's New Clothes” (and you could not find a better for your purpose). Think how you

would tell it to your family circle, after dark, before Christmas fire, and in that strain try to read it. The perfection of such a reading would be, so to read that the eyes of

your audience only, and not their ears, could tell them that you are reading. This must be your aim, and to this skill you will gradually approach—insensibly perhaps, if day be measured by day, but perceptibly enough to a listener at intervals of a month.

I dwell thus upon this first step in your teaching. because it lies at the foundation of good reading; and if the faults of early habit are not thrown off, and a

a

a

natural manner restored, whatever your other accomplishments in the art, you can never become a good reader. The Art of Reading can be mastered only by practice, conducted as I have described (for I am treating now of self-instruction), and that practice persistently pursued for a long time.

I would recommend to you that, at the beginning, you give your exclusive attention to this subject. It should engross your thoughts during your reading practice. Have no other care than how to read naturally. When you

have made some manifest progress in this, and you are conscious that you are beginning to read as unaffectedly as you talk, you may begin to have regard to the other qualifications of a reader.

And of these the first is to sound your words. Here, too, you will probably have a good deal to unlearn. It is almost certain that you have fallen into habits of slovenly utterance, acquired in early childhood, and never afterwards corrected ; for at schools it is seldom thought necessary to teach the pupil to speak and read -it seems to be taken for granted that he can do thus much, or that it is a matter for his own correction only, and not within the province of a regular educational course. Moreover, in our daily talk we do not speak distinctly. We drop letters, we join words, we slur sounds, we mutter much that should be spoken. This is peculiarly an English fault, and you must guard against it sedulously, for it is a bar to good reading. The cure for it is the same as for the habit already noticed-practice—until you have so conquered it, that the full sound of the word comes to your lips as readily as the imperfect sound to which they had been trained before. You must begin by an exaggeration of expression

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