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a book and read a page of it with even an approach to propriety? Certainly not one in fifty. This dis creditable gap in English education is universal; this defect in training for the right use of the parts of speech is as apparent in the highest as in the lowest. Still more strangely is it seen in 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; to persuade, they must be heard; and to be heard, they must so talk as to please the ears, while informing the minds, of an audience. But how few of them are competent to this ! How few can read, or speak, otherwise than badly-giving pain rather than pleasure to the listener! And why? Because they have not learned to read and speak, nor 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 a sentence intelligibly and utter it decently. There are the picked men, chosen by constituencies, as we should presume, because they could represent them creditably. Yet what miserable speakers are most of them ; what nonsense they talk, and how badly they talk it. They want every grace, they exhibit every fault, of oratory. It is not merely that great orators are few—that mediocrity abounds—for thus it must be everywhere, so long as Providence is pleased to make greatness rare; but they have not attained even to 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 as they, 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 ? 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 include those of all denominations—do not make the arts of writing, speaking, 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; you will be astonished to find how few fall into the first class, how many into the others. But you will thus make acquaintance with those only who have obtained business, some by reason of their talking powers, others in spite of inability to make a decent speech. These are only a fraction of the whole group of wigs before you. It may be assumed that nine-tenths of the men who do not open their lips are as incapable of opening them with effect as are their
more fortunate brethren. It might reasonably be expected that men should not betake themselves to a profession, whose business it is to talk, without first assuring themselves that they possess the necessary natural qualifications and afterwards dedicating some time to a regular study of the accomplishments upon which their fortunes depend. The fact that men go to the Bar in crowds, although wanting the capacities which nature gives, or, having the natural gifts, without devoting the slightest study to their cultivationsufficiently proves that the professional mind in England is not yet thoroughly convinced that speaking is an art, to be cultivated, like all other arts, the foundation of which must be laid by nature, but whose entire superstructure is the work of learning and of labour. We should deem it almost an act of insanity if a man were to make music or painting his profession, without previous study of the art he purposes to practise. But the Barrister and the Clergyman habitually commit this folly, and make it their profession to write, to read, and to speak, without having first learned how to do the one or the other.
It is not so 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. The consequence is that America abounds in orators. I am not setting up American oratory as a model—far from it-nor do I say that so much talk is desirable ; but there is a wide difference between their excessive fluency and our excessive taciturnity. They sin against good taste often; there is too much indulgence in the mere flowers of speech; but that is better than our English incapacity to speak at all.
What, then, is the meaning of the general neglect in this country, as a part of education, of those studies. which might have been supposed to be the foremost pursuit of all whose special business it is to read and speak—especially the Clergy, the Bar, and the Solicitors ? If these Professions are so negligent, it is not surprising that the public, with whom these arts are only accom-plishments, should be equally negligent.
I suspect that the cause of the neglect lies, not so much in ignorance of the value of the art when acquired, as in a strange prejudice, widely prevailing, that to read and to speak are natural gifts, not to be implanted, and scarcely to be cultivated, by art. In the Church, the bad readers, being the majority, have sought to deter from good reading by calling it theatrical. Among the Lawyers there is an equally fallacious notion that studied speaking must be stilted speaking. I shall have occasion to show you hereafter how unfounded are these objections; at present, it suffices merely to notice them, as influential sources of the negligence of which I complain.
Another cause of the neglect of the study of the arts of reading and speaking, as arts, will, at the first statement of it, somewhat surprise you, but a little experience and observation will soon satisfy you of its truth. A bad reader is scarcely conscious of his incapacity. So it is with a bad speaker, but with the difference that, whereas all can read in some fashion, so that the only distinction is between bad reading and good reading, many cannot speak at all. Consequently, while nobody thinks he reads badly, many know that
they cannot speak. But of this you may be assured, that, as no man who reads seems to be conscious that he reads badly, so no man who speaks is conscious that he speaks badly. The fact is, that we cannot hear and see ourselves. In reading, we know what the words of the author are intended to express, and we suppose that we express them accordingly; so in speaking, we know what we designed to say, and we think that we are saying it properly. It is very difficult to convince reader or speaker that to other ears he is a failure.
No man imagines that he can sing well, or play well 'upon an instrument, without learning to sing or play, for two or three trials prove to him his incapacity; he is unable to bring out the notes he wants and he breaks down altogether. But every man can read after a fashion, and utter a sentence or two, however rudely, and therefore his imperfection is not made so apparent to himself—it is a question only of degree; being able to read and speak, and not being conscious how he reads and speaks, he cannot easily be satisfied that he reads and speaks badly and that proficiency must be the work of some teaching, much study, and more practice.
My purpose, in dwelling upon this almost universal neglect of the arts of speaking and reading by those whose fortunes depend upon the right use of their tongues, is to prevent you, if I can, from falling into the same fashion, and trusting your success to chance, in the fallacious belief that you are following nature. If any doubt can linger in your mind whether nature is all-sufficient for the purpose of oratory, I need but point to the wonderful lack of it—to the bad reading in the Pulpit, and the bad speaking at the Bar, in Parliament, and at public meetings. It is possible that study may