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On the Speaking of Speeches at Schools.
ELOCUTION has, for some years past, been an object of attention in the most respectable schools in this country. A laudable ambition of instructing youth, in the pronunciation and delivery of their native language, has made English speeches a very conspicuous part of those exhibitions of oratory, which do our seminaries of learning so much credit.
This attention to English pronunciation, has induced several ingenious men to compile exercises in elocution, for the use of schools, which have answered very useful purposes : But none so far as I have seen, have attempted to give us a regular system of gesture, suited to the wants and capacities of School-boys. Mr. Burgh, in his art of Speaking, has given us a system of the passions; and has shown us how they appear in the countenance, and operate on the body; but this system, however useful to people of riper years, is too delicate and complicated to be taught in schools. Indeed the exact adaptation, of the action to the word, and the word to the action, as Shakespeare calls it, is the most difficult part of delivery, and therefore, can never be taught "perfectly to children; to say nothing of distracting their attention with two very difficult things at the same time. But that boys should stand motionless, while they are pronouncing the most impassionate language, is extremely absurd and unnatural; and that they should sprawl into an awkward, ungain, and desultory action, is still more offensive and disgusting. What then remains, but that such a general style of action be adopted, as shall be easily conceived and easily executed; which, though not expressive of any particular passion, shall not be inconsistent with the expression of any passion; which shall always keep the body in a graceful position, and shall so vary its motions, at proper intervals, as to see the subject operating on the speaker, and not the speaker on the subject. This, it will be confessed, is a great desideratum; and an attempt to this, is the principal mbject of the present publication.
The difficulty of describing action by words, will be allowed by every one; and if we were never to give any instructions, but such as should completely answer our wishes, this difficulty would be a good reason for not attempting to give any description of it. But there are many degrees between conveying a precise idea of a thing, and no idea at all. Besides, in this part of delivery, instruction may be conyeyed by the eye; and this organ is a much more rapid vehicle of knowledge than the ear. This vehicle is addressed on the present occasion; and plates, representing the attitudes which are described, are annexed to the several descriptions, which it is not doubted will greatly facilitate the reader's conception.
Plate I. represents the attitude in which a boy should always place himself, when he begins to speak. He should rest the whole weight of his body on the right leg; the other just touching the ground, at the distance at which it would naturally fall, if lifted up to show that the body does not hear upon it. The knees should be straight, and braced, and the body, though perfectly straight, not perpendicular, but inclining as far to the right as a firm position on the right leg will permit. The right arm must then be held out, with the palm open, the fingers straight and close, the thumb almost as distant from them as it will go; and the flat of the hand neither horizontal nor vertical, but exactly between both. The position of the arm, perhaps, will be best described, by supposing an oblong hollow square formed by the measure of four arms, as in Plate I. where the arm, in its true position, forms the diagonal of such an imaginary figure. So that, if lines were drawn at right angles from the shoulder, extending downwards, forwards, and sideways, the arm will form an angle of forty-five degrees every way.
When the pupil has pronounced one sentence in the position thus described, the hand, as if lifeless, must drop down to the side, the very moment the last accented word is pronounced; and the body, without altering the place of the jn feet, poise itself on the left leg, while the left hand raises itself into exactly the same position as the right was before, and continues in this position till the end of the next senHence, when it drops down on the side as if dead; and the