« VorigeDoorgaan »
Expression of Passion in Oratory.
then every heart becomes a conductor, and in the largest masses the passion is at once everywhere present, to thrill and to subdue. There are many facts which illustrate' and confirm these remarks.
The first we shall mention, and one, too, most worthy of notice, is that great orators have never been made in the schools of oratory. We believe it is equally true that no great actor has ever been formed by theatrical discipline. They may have labored like Demosthenes to overcome natural defects, to strengthen the voice, to acquire a clear and correct pronunciation, to remove bad habits; they must have labored to furnish the intellect, and to acquire a command of their native tongue. But the language of passion they were never taught, and they were great, because, they never affected it but left it to its proper power, knowing full well that studied contrivances can no more make the language of passion, than passion can make studied contrivances.
Another fact no less curious than important is, that many great orators and actors have never appeared at the same time. There was but one Pericles in Athens, in the time of Pericles; but one Demosthenes, in the time of Demosthenes; but one Cicero in Rome; but one Chatham in the British Parliament; but one Patrick Henry in the Legislature of Virginia; and a Garrick and a Siddons appeared without competitors. Now, if the tones of passion can be taught, why have not orators and actors multiplied themselves since multitudes hung in admiration upon their lips? But instead of multiplying themselves, their very splendor and perfection prevented it and retained them in solitary conspicuity. The passions as independent and formative powers were forgotten and became impersonated in their great representatives. To speak the language of the passions was to speak like Demosthenes, or like Garrick : the aspirant lost the consciousness of that which was within himself in endeavoring to copy the model without; and as no one could speak like Demosthenes, or like Garrick, without feeling like them, the efforts to imitate produced at best plausible counterfeits, and often disgusting caricatures. Have we not ourselves frequently observed the very striking effects of the same influence; how, when at the bar, or in the pulpit, or at the head of a literary institution, some man of distinguished
powers of oratory has been found, those who aimed at oratorical accomplishments strove to copy his tones and manner, multiplying his caricatures without ever producing among all their numbers even a duplicate of the orator himself? They forgot the secret of his power, which lay in experiencing passion, while they merely imitated its external manifestations.
Again-great orators have generally appeared during times of high excitement-when liberty or religion were contending for their rights. Then all the powers of the soul are led on by the highest energies of passion; then the poor tricks of art are despised, and nature speaks. In addition to this, we find that all men are orators when under the strong movements of noble passion. Compassion, benevolence, patriotism, religion, in their genuine and commanding influences unloose the tongue as they open the heart of any man. Some of the most brilliant displays of oratory are made by the untutored savage, simply because he feels deeply and speaks only as he feels.
We mention another fact. In Greece and Rome the decline. of oratory began with and in the schools of the rhetoricians. The great masters of oratory were formed under the hand of nature. But when in the power and consideration which they attained, the value of oratory was seen, then numerous teachers sprang up and endeavored to rival nature by the rules of art. But as the true motive and the plastic energy were wanting they produced merely showy forms of elaborate finish, without life or expression, which gained popularity only when the occasions of genuine eloquence had ceased, and persevering pomp and pretension had succeeded in corrupting the public taste.
It is to be noticed, also, as a fact of no uncommon occurrence, that orators whose power we are compelled to acknowledge are, notwithstanding, obnoxious to criticism. This admits of only one explanation. Their bad pronunciation, their awkward gesticulations, their harsh and provincial tones, although forming serious defects, cannot prevent the language of the passions from reaching the heart.
Contrasted with this is the fact, that those who have prac– ticed with care under what is esteemed the best instruction fail to affect us. They, indeed, may be considered beyond criticism. The emphasis and inflexions are all made at the
Expression of Passion in Oratory.
proper places. The intonations are clear and elegant. The bursts of passion apt and striking, and the gesture graceful. We admire the speaker, but we do not feel the power of eloquence. Instead of giving effect to thought, the thought becomes only the occasion and instrument of personal display. In the former instances, all the graces and proprieties may be wanting, but the presence of the soul of oratory compensates for their absence. In the latter instances, all the graces and proprieties are present, but the soul of oratory is wanting, for which nothing can compensate.
There is still another fact: the professed teachers of oratory are rarely found to exert the powers of oratory. They are, indeed, nice in criticism, and often elegant and pleasing in their recitations, but still they are mere imitators, or, at the highest, actors. If mere imitators, then their rules have most signally failed with respect to themselves. They have not attained to the language of the passions. Or, suppose them to have gained the high and fascinating power of acting, still this is not oratory. They do not present us the example of speaking one's own sentiments with a truth and power to electrify and subdue. Imitation and acting not only fail in presenting us oratory in themselves, they do not even contain the discipline of oratory. Why do not those who are great in both exert the power of oratory? Why do they not control the bar, surround the pulpit with conviction, hold the assemblies of the people in silence by the majesty of truth, and fill the senate with their thunders? imitation and acting formed the discipline of oratory, those who are accomplished in both ought to give us the illustrations in their own persons. But it is not difficult to prove that the habits induced by these arts are unfavorable to oratory. With respect to the first, namely, imitation, can an artificial discipline of the voice prepare it for speaking the tones of nature? Can the affected utterance of the sentiments of another, which you do not feel, prepare you for the impassioned utterance of your own sentiments? No more than the heart can be taught to feel by affecting feeling, or the countenance be made to express the genuine emotions of the soul through the grimaces of hypocrisy. Oratory and imitation are not the same in kind, they are opposites.
Their resemblance is only the resemblance of the
counterfeit to the real; but the counterfeit can never be transmuted into the real.
With respect to acting, it also is not the same in kind. The actor imagines a character and circumstances, and then speaks under the influence of passions awakened by these imaginations. He thus becomes habituated to speak out of his proper self. He is Richard or Hamlet. The more complete the transformation, the better for his purpose. But how different is this from speaking on a real occasion, where the subject is connected with the speaker's heart, without the intervention of the imagination. It is easy to perceive that the habits of mind, generated by the real, cannot assimilate with those generated by the imaginary occasion. The first is direct thinking and feeling, connected with present and visible interests, and actual responsibilities, and, therefore, sustained and flowing on. The other is without original thought, with feelings limited to the remote, attended with no sense of responsibility, and evanescent as a dream. Could Garrick have taken the place of Chatham ?—were his habits of thought and feeling such as to fit him for the oratory of Chatham? As well might Chatham have taken the place of Garrick.
The enquiry will here be made: If it be true that the language of passion cannot be taught, then ought not Elocution, as a branch of education, to be exploded? Elocution, according to the current acceptation, ought to be exploded; but in its place, the true study of oratory can be introduced.
All will agree that the study of oratory can relate to only two things-the qualities of the voice and the qualities of the thought. Now, our argument is, that the qualities of the voice depend upon the qualities of the thought, so that the former can be developed only through the latter. The peculiar manner of delivering language, was at first inspired and fixed by the sentiments. Now, although we may form rules by watching the voice, when under the energies of passion, yet there must be an insurmountable difficulty in the way of reducing them to practice, inasmuch as when we watch the tones, in order to conform to the rules, we divert the mind from the inspirations of the sentiment. An argument in favor of cultivating the tones of passion, has been drawn from the astonishing effects which cultivation produces on
Expression of Passion in Oratory.
the voice with respect to musical execution. The cases, however, are by no means parallel. Music, although capable of adaptation to sentiment, is not the expression of it. Language, on the other hand, is the direct expression of sentiment. In music, the voice is not obeying any particular passion or sentiment, but is passing through changes by fixed scientific connections. In oratory, the very condition is, that the voice obey the passion and sentiment. The one is the law of melody, and the other the law of the heart.
There is a cultivation, however, to which the voice may be submitted, of a very important character. If it be defective or weak, it may be corrected and strengthened by judicious exercise, without reference to sentiment. This was the case of Demosthenes; his efforts were not to acquire the tones of passion, but to cure physical defects, namely, weakness and stammering. Music may be cultivated in reference to the inflexions and compass of the voice, as preparatory to oratory. A clear articulation and a correct pronunciation are capital qualities, which are also to be cultivated as preparatory to oratory. Those modifications of the voice which have reference to the intelligibility of language, such as emphasis, and the rising, falling, and circumflex inflexions, should be cultivated by exercises in reading. This is necessary, especially for two reasons: first, when taught to read in childhood through injudicious instruction we acquire habits of intonation which are anything but natural. These are apt to adhere more or less to the individual afterwards. Now these, or any other errors, as respects intelligible speaking, may be corrected by reading exercises, and the voice restored to the influence of nature. Secondly reading has an elocution of its own, which we may attend to without conflicting with the higher power of oratory. In mere correct reading we give a peculiarity to the tone which indicates that we are expressing the sentiments of another, we do not attempt to imitate or to act. Now it is important that we do this with a good articulation and intelligibly; and this may be attained by practice. But if the piece to be read contain the language of passion, then at once art will fail, and the inspirations of passion must be relied upon. To read such a piece by rule, however elegantly, is treason