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LETTER XVI.

PAUSE-PUNCTUATION-MANAGEMENT OF THE

BREATH_INFLECTION.

THOROUGH understanding of what you read is essential to the right use of emphasis in reading. You must know perfectly what you are going to express, or it will be impossible to give to it the true expression. But not only is it necessary for you to understand—you must seize the meaning with such rapidity that the conception of the author must be apprehended in the momentary interval between the entrance of the words at the eye and their exit through the lips. Remember that this is all the time allowed to

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read aloud something you had not previously studied. Yet, immeasurably brief as is this interval, it suffices for ordinary purposes, and for compositions not pregnant with thought. But, to accomplish it, you must learn to keep your eye always in advance of your lips ; you must actually read one line while uttering another. If you did not so, how possibly could you give the right expression to the beginning of the sentence, knowing not the purport of the entirety of it? In practice, the art is not so difficult as it appears in description. The worst readers exercise it to some extent, and experienced readers do it so unconsciously, that they are probably not aware what a wonderful process it is. I can suggest to you no rules for its study or acquisition. I can recommend only persevering practice. At first you will doubtless find yourself grievously in fault in your reading. You will commence sentences, especially if long, with expression utterly unsuited to the meaning as developed at their close. When you find this, try back and read the same sentence rightly, with the aid of your better knowledge of its purport. By degrees you will discover that eye and mind will learn to travel onward in advance of the lips so far and fast that, when one sentence is concluded, the next will be given to your tongue fully prepared for utterance.

It will not do to pause while your eye thus travels onward, unless the matter you read admits of it. A long pause is extremely unpleasing to hearers, for it conveys an impression of incapacity to pronounce a word, or indicates a suppressed stammer. But, with cautious exercise of judgment, you might avail yourself of the proper pauses to lengthen the period allowed for the forecasting of the eye, where a sentence is before you of unusual length or complication. The judicious use of this contrivance I must leave to your own good taste and correct ear; there is no fixed measure of it-nothing that can be reduced to rule.

I come now to those pauses, or rests in the flow of speech, which in printing and writing are clumsily represented by stops. The signs are eight, viz. the comma, the semicolon, the colon, the full stop, the note of interrogation, the note of admiration, the hyphen, and

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the dash. Schoolbooks and other treatises on elocution give you explicit directions for the measurement of these various signals, telling you that you should count one for a comma, two for a semicolon, and so forth. Such rules are worthless; they fail utterly in practice. So various are the rests required in reading, that no variety of notation would serve to indicate them. The comma may be repeated half-a-dozen times in a sentence, and on each occasion a different length of pause may be required. So it is with the other “stops"; they tell you, in fact, nothing more than that the author, or rather the printer, is of opinion that at the points of insertion the sentence is divisible into parts more or less perfectly. They are introduced with little or no reference to their use in reading aloud-how little, indeed, you might discover by taking up the first book that lies before you and reading the first page at which you chance to open it. You will find that the stops do not help you much and often are a hindrance. Authors exhibit the strangest vagaries in punctuation. You would be amused and amazed at many of the manuscripts and proofs that vex the eyes of editors. Often the stops are scattered with such profusion that half-a-dozen words are nowhere permitted to live in harmony without this forcible separation from their fellows. Sometimes the right “stop” is inserted in the wrong place, as if of malice aforethought; by others, the wrong stop is continuously employed in the right place—as a colon where there should be a comma, to the infinite vexation of sensitive readers, who pull up suddenly or make preparation for a halt, just where they ought not to do so. You must know that the follies of the author in this respect are usually corrected

by the compositor, or the press-reader ; but the author is not always content to abide by that better judgment, and insists on his own punctuation being preserved ; and even if so corrected, the work is necessarily done imperfectly, and, as I have previously stated, with a view to the division of the sentences rather than to the reading of them aloud.

For these reasons you must make your own punctuation both in place and in length of pause, being guided by the meaning of the words, by your sense of fitness, by your ear, and by the requirements of your chest and throat. These last should be permitted to prevail as rarely as possible, because, if not also called for by the meaning of what you are reading, they fall disagreeably upon the ears of the listener; and it is important that you should early learn to regulate your breathing, so that you may inspire at the moment when otherwise you would make a pause of equal length. Now this is an art to be acquired by practice, and which I may as well describe to you in this place, as being intimately connected with the pauses intended to be indicated by punctuation.

The management of the breath is almost as needful to good reading as the management of the voice. The primary requisite is to draw breath as infrequently as possible, and this you can accomplish only by making your breath hold out as long as possible. How to do this ? First, when you draw breath, fill your chest ; then, expire slowly, and do not breathe again until exhausted. There is an art in breathing properly, and it consists in breathing through the nose, and not through the mouth. The uses of drawing breath through the nostrils are many. The air is filtered in its passage by the bristles that line the nostrils, and the particles of dust floating about are thus prevented from touching the sensitive organs of the throat and you are saved many an inconvenient cough : the air traverses a small, long and very warm tube, before it reaches the windpipe, by which its temperature is raised to that of the delicate membranes on which it there impinges, and thus their irritation, or even inflammation, is prevented. If you draw breath through the mouth, the air rushes in, carrying with it impurities that make you cough by their contact with the mucous membrane, while the cold irritates the delicate organ, and produces temporary inconvenience, possibly a protracted illness. There is another result of breathing through the mouth, peculiarly unpleasant to readers and speakers, the drying of the lips, tongue and throat, an effect produced also by nervousness, and which is the consequence of the contracting and the closing of the ducts from the salivary glands. Accustom yourself, therefore, to draw breath through the nostrils, and although it is a more lengthened process, and requires a longer pause, it is far less disagreeable to a listener than the gasps, followed often by a tickling and a cough, that are exhibited by the speaker who breathes through his mouth.

Then, having taken your breath rightly, there is some art in the right use of it. You must husband it with care, and give no more of it to each distinct sound you utter than is necessary for its perfect expression. You can regulate the sound only by regulating the breath. You will be surprised to find how practice will strengthen you in this performance, and you may try your progress in it from time to time by counting one, two, three, &c. at measured intervals, and noting how many

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