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badly, and good reading is not necessarily allied with good speaking ; but I confidently assert that the two arts are
so nearly connected that the surest way to learn to speak is to learn to read. But it is not alone as a pathway to speaking that I earnestly exhort you to the study of reading. It is an accomplishment to be sought for its own sake. It has incalculable uses and advantages, apart from its introduction to oratory. Tolerable readers are few, good readers are extremely rare. Not one educated man in ten can read a paragraph in a newspaper with so much propriety that to listen to him is a pleasure and not a pain. Nine persons out of ten are unable so to express the words as to convey
their meaning ; they pervert the sense of the sentence by emphasising in the wrong place, or deprive it of all sense by a monotonous gabble, giving no emphasis to any word they utter; they neglect the “stops," as they are called; they make harsh music with their voices; they hiss, or croak, or splutter, or mutter-everything but speak the words set down for them as they would have talked them to you out of book. Why should this be? Why should correct reading be rare, pleasant reading rarer still, and good reading found only in one man in ten thousand ? The enthusiastic advocates for popular music assert that every man who can speak can sing, if he would only learn the art of singing. If this be true of singing, much more is it true of reading. It is quite certain that every man, woman, and child who can talk may read, if resolute to learn to read, and, not content to read anyhow, look upon reading as an accomplishment. I do not say that every person who labours to acquire the art will be enabled to read well; to this certain natural qualifica-tions are requisite, which are not given to all in the same. proportions and to some are denied altogether, and others may be impeded by the presence of defects that may be relieved though not quite cured. But it is in the
power of every person, not having some natural deformity, such as a stammer, to learn to read correctly, so that his hearers may understand what he reads, and pleasantly enough not to vex their ears or offend their tastes. If you can but attain to this, it is an acquirement that will be of great service in life; it will spare you many unpleasant sensations of conscious awkwardness when you are compelled to read aloud to others. Few private persons can altogether escape this demand upon them; but a professional man cannot hope to do so. His business will certainly make continual calls upon his lips. A barrister, above all men, next to a clergyman, needs to read well, because he is daily required to read. A solicitor may hope to escape by shunning the practice that requires his appearance in the courts; but in vain. In his office he must sometimes read to his clients. If they excuse him, the public will not. A solicitor, especially in a provincial town, is looked upon as public property. He is expected, by virtue of his profession as a lawyer, to be the mouthpiece of the public of his locality; he is pressed into the service in all public affairs, thrust into the chair at public meetings, or enlisted as honorary secretary for societies, and required to read “the annual report” at the annual meeting; or resolutions are forced into his hands to be moved or seconded, or at elections he must speechify to the “worthy and independent” electors; or he is made the mayor, and called upon to read addresses to great personages, or to submit no end of reports and correspondence to the town council on matters of local
importance. Every Lawyer ought undoubtedly to learn to read, which branch of the Profession soever he may choose to practise, and whether he does or does not aspire to be a speaker.
My purpose now is to submit to you some hints for acquiring the ART OF READING.
The requirements of a reader are twofold — first, to express rightly what he reads; and, secondly, to do this pleasantly.
First-of reading rightly. By this I mean correct reading ; that is to say, expressing fully and truly the author's meaning ; saying for him what he designed to say, and so transmitting to the mind of the listener the ideas which the author desired to impart. To comprehend fully what you ought to do when you undertake to read a book aloud, you should suppose that the thoughts you are going to utter are your own, coming from your own mind, and ask yourself how, if they had been your thoughts, and you had spoken them instead of writing them, you would have expressed them.
This is the grand rule for reading. The foundation of good reading is the perfect understanding of what you read. Without this you will never be a reader, whatever other qualifications you may possess. Strive, then, above all, and first of all, after this, and the rest will probably follow. It is one of the many benefits of learning to read, that you must also learn what you read. Until you have tried it, you cannot conceive the mighty difference there is in the knowledge you acquire of an author when you read him aloud and when you only peruse him silently. In the former case you must grasp every thought, every word, in all its significance; in the latter, you are apt to pass over much of information or of beauty, through inattention or impatience for the story. Of our greatest writers—the men of genius—it may be asserted that you cannot know them fully or appreciate them rightly until you have read them aloud.
. If you doubt this, make trial with a play of Shakespeare, and however often you may have perused it silently, however perfectly you may imagine yourself to be acquainted with it, when you read it aloud you will find infinite subtilties of the poet's genius which you had never discovered before.
I can proffer to you no rules for learning to understand what you read. The faculty is a natural gift, varying in degree with the other intellectual powers. But every person of sound mind is capable of comprehending the meaning of a writer who expresses himself clearly in plain language. Learned works can be understood only by learned men; but there are none who cannot appreciate a pictorial narrative ; few who cannot enjoy a sensible reflection, a truthful sentiment, a poetical thought, a graceful style. To become a reader, however, you must advance a little beyond this. You must be enabled instantly to perceive these features, for you will be required to give expression to them on the instant. As fast as your eye falls upon the words should the intelligence they are designed to convey flash through your mind. You cannot pause to reflect on the author's meaning: your hesitation would be seen and felt. Now this rapidity of perception is mainly a matter of habit. It can come only from so much practice that the words suggest the thought at the moment they are presented. In this the studies previously recommended for the acquirement of the Art of Writing will very much
At the beginning of your exercises, if you do not already possess that rapidity of perception of an author's meaning, you should practise yourself by reading silently and slowly two or three pages of some book by some writer of genius, pausing at the end of each sentence to ask yourself what the author designed to say. Be not content with some general answer, but yourself that you really comprehend him clearly, by putting the thought into other words. This is troublesome process, but it is very successful, and the labour at the beginning is saved at the end, for you will learn your
lesson in a shorter time. I would even recommend that you perform this exercise in writing, for then you cannot escape in vagueness of idea, as when you
, trust to thought only. But whether you do or do not submit to that laborious task, you must read often and in silence before you begin to read the same pages aloud.
Having, as you suppose, thus tolerably mastered the meaning of the written pages, you may proceed to read them aloud. This process is of itself a monitor, for, if you have not found the meaning, you will be conscious of awkwardness in your manner of reading. Failing in the first attempt, try again, and again, and again, until you are enabled to express the thoughts as fast as the words are presented to your eye.
By such exercises as these, you will be assisted in the attainment of the first and most important qualification for a reader, the clear comprehension of the writer's meaning, seized at the very moment that his words are presented to your mind through the eye.