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merits, contain many passages, that are quite tolerable as to metre and rhyme, but destitute of the inspiration and soul of real poetry. There is besides, a very injurious tendency to Auctuation in our psalmody, arising from a fastidious demand for novelty, and a disposition in different Christian sects to have each its own psalm, as well as doctrine. Hence the psalms of David, as adapted by Watts to Christian worship, are in a great degree supplanted by various collections of hyinns; and to accommodate a vagrant taste in music, many of these are hymns written in irregular and rapid measures, little suited to promote the solemnity of devotional feeling. Many others, I know, are distinguished for pathos, and are eminently fitted to awaken Christian fervor, especially on account of their appropriateness to the occasions and the spirit of
At the same tinie, if I may be excused for turning aside so much as to introduce this topic, I would say, that preachers have injured the interests of psalmody by their general preference of hymns in public worship, to the psalıns of the inspired poet, in the version of Watts. The strain of humble devotion, of deep penitence, of elevated praise, which prevails in these sacred songs, notwithstanding the defects attending the best metrical version of them which has been given to the church, ought 10 preserve them from falling into neglect. Some of these indeed, are too much wanting in dignity and poetic spirit, to be read in public; but they are generally free from both the didactic and the fanciful character, of which we have so many examples in our collections of hymns.
Next to want of skill in selection, is the fault of an
undiscriminating, inanimate manner of reading. This consists in that measured, scanning attention to poetic accent, and that undulating tone, by which the sense is made subordinate to sound. As this is a general fault in reading verse, no enlargement on it is necessary, except
add an example or two, marked according to the manner to be avoided.
Here on my heart the burden lies,
This last stress on Jewish, though almost universally laid by readers, is an utter perversion of the sense, implying that other types than Jewish might effect what they cannot.
Another fault is a too prosaic manner. It is the opir posite of the foregoing, and consists in the disregard of poetic harmony. This I will exemplify only as it respects the pause at the end of the line.
Come, let our voices join to raise
Nor let our harden'd hearts renew
Since they despise my rest, I swear
See other examples of the same sort in Watts, Psalm 96, Com. Metre, 4 and 5 verses: and Hymn 140, 2 Book, 1
In cases of this sort, the reader, perhaps through affectation of sagacity, hastens over the end of the line, stopping just before and after it, when such stop is often quite as much against the rules of common punctuation, as to have made it at the end of the line. In the second example above, he would read thus, “Nor let our harden'd hearts,-renew the sins,--and plagues, &c.
Another fault is the affectation of a rhetorical manner. It consists in want of simplicity. Perhaps the reader assumes a pompous or theatrical air, seeming to aim at the display of his oratorical powers. Or on the other hand, he repeats a stanza that is full of sublime or devotiona! sentiment, with the colloquial inflection of familiar prose. Both of these faults show, that the heart of the reader is not touched with that glow of religious feeling, which a Christian hymn ought to inspire. Indeed, so delicate and sacred is this thing, that all affectation of excellence, all effort that is apparently artificial, is intolerable. It is in this case, as it is in public prayer, and reading of the scriptures, a heart filled with reverence towards God, and warmed with the spirit of Christian devotion, is more effectual than all things else, to govern aright the modulations of the voice.
In regard to inflections in reading the stanzas of a hymn, I would suggest a caution against the very common practice of dropping the voice at the end of the second line, without regard to the connexion. Walker says that, “With very few exceptions, it may be laid down as a rule,
in reading a stanza, that the first line may end with the monotone, the second and third with the rising slide, and the last with the falling.” The exceptions to this rule, or to any one that could be concisely expressed, I think are not “very few.” When the continuity of sense through a stanza, is very close, the voice continues in the suspending slide, much more than when long pauses intervene. The monotone, doubtless, should more frequently than is common, be heard at the end of a line.
If some of the most rhetorical psalms were properly marked with a notation, especially so far as respects emphasis, it might lead to a more discriminating manner in reading them. But instead of giving specimens to illustrate my meaning here, the reader is referred to the exercises, [28.] where some brief examples will be found.
I use the term action, not for the whole of delivery, according to the most extensive sense given to it by the ancients; nor yet in the most restricted modern sense, as equivalent to gesture merely; but as including also attitudes, and expression of the countenance. While I shall have occasion often to refer to what has been taught in books on this subject, my chief design is to make such remarks as have been suggested by my own observation and reflections. To what extent these remarks should be carried, in so small a treatise on delivery, is a point on which I have doubted; and some perhaps may think that whatever is of practical importance might have been said in a briefer form.
That action, which Cicero calls “sermo corporis," is an important part of oratory, is too evident to demand proof. If any one doubts this, let him ask himself, how does a great painter give reality and life to his portrait ? How do children speak ? How do the dumb speak ? Action and attitude in these cases are the language of nature to express feeling and emotion.
There are two extremes respecting this subject, each of which deserves a brief notice, in this place, as being at variance with common sense.