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When the public speaker aims at persuasion, as in discourses from the pulpit for public charities, or on extraordinary occasions in Congress, or at the bar, when the advocate desires to influence the opinions of a jury, he will naturally use more graceful, more flowing, and more varied gesture. But he should not fall into the action of the theatre. He may be graceful, but he should be simple; he may be energetic, but he should not affect gestures too strongly significant, much less attempt surprise by attitudes. All his gestures should be regulated by manly decorum, suitable to his situation, to the character of his hearers, and to the just expression of his sentiments.
THE most important of the significant gestures are the following:
The Head and Face. The hanging down of the head denotes shame, or grief.
The holding of it up, pride or courage.
The inclination of the head implies diffidence or languor.
The head is averted, in dislike or horror.
They are cast on vacancy, in thought.
They are cast in various directions, in doubt and anxiety.
The Arms. The placing of the hand on the head, indicates pain or distress.
On the eyes, shame or sorrow.
Both hands are held supine, or they are applied, or
The Body. The body, held erect, indicates steadiness and courage. Thrown back, pride. Stooping forward, condescension or compassion. Bending, reverence or respect. Prostration, the utmost humility or abasement.
The Lower Limbs. The firm position of the lower limbs signifies courage, or obstinacy.
Bended knees indicate timidity, or weakness.
These are a few of the simple gestures which may be termed significant.
“GRACE," says lord Kames, “may be defined, that agreeable appearance which arises from elegance of motion, and from a countenance expressive of dignity. Expressions of other mental qualities are not essential to that appearance, but they heighten it greatly.”
The gracefulness of rhetorical action depends partly on the person, and partly on the mind. Some are so happily formed that all their motions are graceful ;* and some minds are so noble, that they impart genuine grace
to the most uncouth forms: both these cases, however, are coinparatively rare.
Grace, like the ideal beauty of the painter, and of the sculptor, is not commonly to be found in the individual living model, but to be collected from the various excellencies of the many.
Neither true grace, nor consummate eloquence, can be acquired by those who are totally deficient in natural qualifications; yet they to whom nature has not denied some portion of talents, may improve in both, precisely in proportion to the degree of their application.
The grace of oratorical action consists, chiefly, in the facility, the freedom, the variety, and the simplicity of those gestures which illustrate the discourse.
Action, to be graceful, should be performed with facility ; because the appearance of great effort is incompatible with ease, which is a constituent of grace. It should also be performed with freedom: no gestures can be graceful which are either confined by external circumstances, or restrained by the mind. If an orator should address an assembly from a narrow window, it
* Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye,
In every action, dignity and love. — Milton.
would be in vain for him to attempt graceful gesture. Confinement, in any less degree, is proportionably injurious to grace. Thus, the crowded courts, which impede the motions of the advocate, and the enclosed pulpit, which not unfrequently conceals more than half the preacher's figure, are equally injurious to graceful action. Greece, the native soil of manly eloquence and true taste, was not the originator of the pulpit.
The restraint arising from diffidence is also prejudicial to grace. It has, however, this advantage - it may be effectually corrected by perseverance.
For the maintenance of grace, in rhetorical action, variety is indispensable. The iteration of the same gesture, or set of gestures, however graceful in themselves, betrays a poverty of resource which is altogether prejudicial to the speaker.
Simplicity and truth of manner, if they do not constitute grace in themselves, are inseparable from it. Gestures which are manifestly contrived for the mere display of the person, or for the exhibition of some foppery, as, for instance, a fine ring, instantly offend.
To simplicity of gesture is opposed affectation, which destroys every pretension to genuine grace. The more showy the gestures are, unless they are adapted to the subject, and to the character of the speaker, the more do they offend the judicious by their manifest affectation. When the profligate speaks of piety, the miser of generosity, the coward of valour, and the corrupt of integrity, they are only the more despised by those who know them.
The faults of manner are analogous to those of character, and almost equally disgusting : such as the assumption of dignity where there is none in the sentiment; pathos, where there is nothing interesting; vehemence in trifles, and solemnity upon common-place subjects.
It is an observation founded in fact, that the action of young children is never deficient in grace; for which ,
two reasons may
be assigned ; first, because they are under no restraint from diffidence, or from any other cause, and therefore use their gestures, with all sincerity of heart, only to aid the expression of their thoughts; and, secondly, because they have few ideas of imitation, and consequently are not deprived of natural grace by affectation, nor perverted by bad models.
The grace of action, according to Hogarth, consists in moving the body and limbs in that curve which he calls the line of beauty.* When action is considered independent of language and sentiment, this definition will, perhaps, be found generally correct. Rhetorical action, however, derives its grace, not only from the actual motions of the speaker, but also from the congruity of his motions with his own character and situation, as well as with the sentiments which he delivers. The dignity which is a becoming grace in a judge, would be quaint affectation in a young advocate; and the colloquial, but graceful familiarity of action, even of the most polished society, would be highly indecorous in the pulpit. Hence, it must be admitted, according to the just maxim of Cicero and Quintilian, that decorum constitutes true oratorical
and that this decorum admits of great variety of action, under different circumstances. Vehement action is sometimes both decorous and graceful; so also are abrupt and short gestures, if they bear the impress of truth and suitableness. Such are the gestures of an old man, when he is irritated. But the most flowing and beautiful motions, the grandest preparations, and the finest transitions of gesture, ill applied, and out of time, lose their natural character of grace, and become indecorous, ridiculous, or offensive.
* See HOGARTH'S ANALYSIS OF BEAUTY.