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TONES AND INFLECTIONS.
The former of these terms is more comprehensive than the latter, embracing, in its most extensive sense, all sounds of the human voice. In a more restricted and proper sense, we mean by tones those sounds which stand connected with some rhetorical principle of language. In a few cases passion is expressed by tones which have no infection; but more commonly inflection is what gives significance to tones. Except a few general remarks here, no consideration of tones seems necessary, distinct from the subjects of the following chapters, especially Modulation.
Sect. 1. Tones considered as a language of emotion.
Sight has commonly been considered as the most active of all our senses. As a source of emotion, we derive impressions more various, and in some respects more vivid, from this sense, than from any other. Yet the class of tender emotions, such as grief and pity, are probably excited more strongly by the ear than the eye.
Whether any reason can be assigned for this or not, the fact seems unquestionable. A groan or shriek uttered by the human voice, is not only more intelligible than words, but more instantly awakens our sensibility than any signs of distress, that are presented to the sight. Our
sympathy in the sufferings of irrational animals, is increased in the same way. The violent contortions of the fish, in the pangs of death, being expressed without the aid of vocal organs, very faintly excite our compassion, compared with the plaintive bleatings of an expiring lamb. And a still stronger distinction seems to prevail among brutes themselves. For while the passion of fear in them, is associated chiefly with objects of sight, that of pity is awakened, almost exclusively, by the sense of hearing. The cry of distress from a suffering animal, instinctively calls around him his fellows of the same species, though this cry is an unknown tongue to animals of any other class. At the same time his own species, if he utters no cries, while they see him in excruciating agony, manifest no sympathy in his sufferings.
Without inquiring minutely into the philosophy of vocal tones, as being signs of emotion, we must take the fact for granted that they are so. And no man surely will question the importancc of this language in oratory, when he sees that it is understood by mere children; and that even his horse or his dog distinguish perfectly those sounds of his voice which express his anger or his approbation.
Sect. 2. Utility of systematic attention to tones and in
flections. Analysis of vocal inflections bears the same relation to oratory, that the tuning of an instrument does to music. The rudest performer in this latter art knows, that his first business is to regulate the instrument he uses, when it is so deranged as to produce no perfect notes, or to produce
others than those which he intends. The voice is the speaker's instrument, which by neglect or mismanagement is often so out of tune as not to obey the will of him who uses it. To cure bad habits is the first and hardest task in elocution. Among instructors of children scarcely one in fifty thinks of carrying his precepts beyond correctness in uttering words, and a mechanical attention to pauses. So that the child who speaks the words of a sentence distinctly and fluently, and “minds the stops," as it is called, is without scruple, pronounced a good reader. Hence, among the multitude who consider themselves as good readers, there are so few who give by their voice that just expression of sentiment, which constitutes the spirit and soul of delivery.
The unseemly tones which are contracted in childhood, are often so deeply fixed, as pot easily to yield to the dictates of a manly intellect, and a cultivated taste, in after life. These habits are acquired, almost unavoidably by children, in consequence of their being accustomed to read what they do not understand. The man who should prepare a school-book, containing proper lessons for beginners in the art of reading, with familiar directions for managing the voice, would probably do a greater service to the interests of elocution, than has yet been done by the most elaborate works on the subject, in the English language.* The tones of the common school are of
* Since this remark was made in my pamphlet on Inflection, several small works, well adapted to the purpose abovementioned have been published ; and one is now in press, entitled Lessons in Declamation, by Mr. Russell of Boston, concerning the utility of which high expectations are justified by the skill of the Author, as a Teacher of Elocution.
ten retained and confirmed at the college, and thence, (with some distinguished exceptions,) are carried in all their strength to the bar, and especially to the pulpit. This fault is by no means peculiar to America ; it prevails certainly not less in the schools and universities of England and Scotland, than in our own.
But what is the remedy ? It has often been said, the only good canon of elocution is,"enter into the spirit of what you utter.” If we were to have but one direction, doubtless this should be the one. Doubtless it is better than all others to prevent the formation of bad habits ; and better than any other alone, as a remedy for such habits; but when these are formed, it is by no means sufficient of itself for their cure. To do what is right, with unperverted faculties, is ten times easier than to undo what is wrong. How often do we see men of fine understanding and delicate sensibility, who utter their thoughts in conversation, with all the varied intonations which sentiment requires ; but the moment they come to read or speak in a formal manner, adopt a set of artificial tones utterly repugnant to the spirit of a just elocution. Shall we say that such men do not understand what they speak in public, as well as what they speak in conversation ? Plainly the difference arises from a perverse habit, which prevails over them in one case, and not in the other. Many instances of this sort I have known, where a man has been fully sensible of something very wrong in his tones, but has not been able to see exactly what the fault is; and after a few indefinite and unsuccessful efforts at amendment, has quietly concluded to go on in the old way. So he must conclude, so long as good sense and emo
tion are not an equal match for bad habits, without a knowledge of those elementary principles, by which the needed remedy is to be applied.
Skill in vocal inflections, it is granted, cannot of itself make an orator. Nor can skill in words. Who does not know that with an ample stock of words at command, a man may be little more than a chattering animal ? Yet who can be an orator without words? We have seen that a man, with no defects of intellect or of sensibility, may have great faults in the management of his voice as a speaker.' These perhaps he acquired in childhood, just as he learned to speak at all, or to speak English rather than French,-by imitation. His tones both of passion and of articulation, are derived from an instinctive correspondence between the ear and voice. If he had been born deaf, he would have possessed neither. Now in what way shall he break up his bad habits, without so much attention to the analysis of speaking sounds, that he can in some good degree distinguish those which differ, and imitate those which he would wish to adopt or avoid ? How shall he correct a tone, while he cannot understand why it needs correction, because he chooses to remain ignorant of the only language in which the fault can possibly be described ? Let him study and accustom himself to apply a few elementary principles, and then he may at least be able to understand what are the defects of his own intonations. I do not say that this attainment may be made with equal facility, or to an equal extent, by all men. But to an important extent it may be made by every one ; and that with a moderate share of the effort demanded by most other valuable acquisitions ; I might say with one