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The first is, that which encumbers a speaker with so much technical regulation of his movements, as to make him an automaton. It is a great mistake to suppose that a young student, before he can commence his efforts in oratory, must commit to memory a system of rules respecting gesticulation, just as arithmetical tables must be learned by the tyro in numbers. When a beginner in elocution shall be able to look at an assembly, without an unmanly flutter of spirits, and shall have acquired a good degree of ease, in the attitudes and motions of his body, then it will be time enough to rectify, one after another, the faults of his own manner, by attention to good models, and correct principles of action. This I am persuaded should be attempted gradually, rather than all at once; for the transforming influence of practice, is essential to any
useful application of precepts. And these precepts too, when given to an individual, I ain fully satisfied, after much observation, instead of being confined to minute directions respecting his own gesticulation, should especially be adapted to instruct him in general principles. All attempts to regulate the attitudes and movements of bis body, by diagrams and geometrical lines, without great skill in the teacher, will lead to an affected, mechanical
His habits are of prime importance. By these, good or bad, he must be governed in the act of speaking, for to think of his manner then will be the certain ruin of all simplicity. Let these habits be well formed, and be his own, so as to govern his movements spontaneously, and trust the rest to emotion.
The other extreme to which I alluded, is that which condeinns all precepts and all preparatory practice too,
as mischievous in their influence, because no one can learn to speak, till he comes into the real business of speaking, as his profession.
On this I can make but one passing remark. Preparatory discipline of the faculties necessarily wants the stimulus of real business, in respect to every liberal art and valuable talent among men. Why then shall not such discipline be deemed useless in all other cases, as well as in elocution ? Why shall we not neglect to learn any thing, which relates to practical skill in a profession, till we actually enter on that profession ?
I now proceed to offer my remarks on Rhetorical Action, dividing the subject into two parts.
The power of action consists wholly in its correspondence with thought and emotion; and this correspondence arises either from nature or custom.
Sect. 1.--Action as significant from nature.
The body is the instrument of the soul, or the medium of expressing internal emotions, by external signs, The less these signs depend on the will, on usage, or on accident, the more uniform are they, and the more certainly to be relied on.
Expression of the countenance. The soul speaks most intelligibly, so far as visible signs are concerned, in those muscles which are the most
pliant and prompt to obey its dictates. These are the muscles of the face ; which spontaneously, and almost instantaneously respond to the impulse from within. Anger, for example, shows itself in the contraction of the brow, the flash of the eye, the quivering of the lip, and the alternate paleness and crimson of the cheek. Terror is expressed by convulsive heaving of the bosom, and by hurried respiration and speech. Joy sparkles in the eye, -sorrow vents itself in tears.
Now, why is it that these signs, invariably, and every where, are regarded as the stamp of reality? The reason is, they are not only the genuine language of emotion, but are independent of the will. A groan or shriek speaks
ear, as the language of distress, with far more thrilling effect than words. Yet these may be counterfeited by art. Much more may common tones of voice be rendered loud or soft, high or low, at pleasure. But not so with the signs which emotion imprints on the face. Whether anger, fear, joy,shall show themselves in the hue of my cheek, or the expression of my eye, depends not at all on my choice, any more than whether my
heart shall beat, and my blood circulate. So unequivocal is this language of the passions, and so incapable of being applied to purposes of deception, that all men feel its force, instinctively and immediately. They know that the hand or the tongue, which obey the dictates of the will, may deceive ; but the face cannot speak falsehood.
I might add, that he whose soul is so destitute of emotion, as not to impart this expression to his countenance, or he whose acquired habits are so unfortunate, as to frustrate this expression, whatever qualities he may possess besides, lacks one grand requisite to true eloquence.
If the visible signs of passion are thus invariable, so that even a child instinctively understands the smile or the frown of its nurse, it is probably no visionary theory which supposes a correspondence, to some extent, between the habits of the mind, and certain configurations in the features of the face. Every one knows the difference between the cheerful aspect of innocence, the vivacity of intelligence, the charming languor of pity or grief, as imprinted on the countenance ; and the scowl of misanthropy, the dark suspicion of guilt, the vacant stare of stupidity, or the haggard phrensy of despair. And it is reasonable to suppose that affections and intellectual habits, such as benevolence or malignity, cheerfulness or melancholy, deep thought or frivolity, must imprint themselves, just in proportion to their predominance, in distinct and permanent lines
Attitude and Mien.
Here again, all distinctions, of any value, result from our knowledge of the influence which the mind has on the body. An erect attitude denotes majesty, activity, strength. It becomes the authority of a commander, the energy of a soldier in arms, and, in all cases, the dignity of conscious innocence. Adam and Eve, in the description of Milton, on account of their noble shape and erect carriage, “seem'd lords of all.” The leaning attitude, in its varieties of expression, may denote affection, respect, the earnestness of entreaty, the dignity of composure, the listlessness of indifference, or the lassitude of disease.
The air of a man too, including his general motion, has its language. That peculiarity in the walk of different persons, which enables us to distinguish at a distance, one friend from another, does not of course make a correspondent description of character. But the measured pace of the ploughman, the strut of the coxcomb, and the dignified gait of the military chief, we necessarily associate with a supposed difference of personal qualities and habits, in the individuals. Hence the queen of Olympus is represented in poetic fable, as claiming to be known by her stately carriage ; " divum incedo regina." And so Venus was known to her son, by the elegance of her motion ; "incessu patuit dea.”
In those parts of the body, which act frequently and visibly in the common offices of life, motion is more or less significant according to circumstances. A deaf inan places his hand by bis ear, in such a manner as partially to serve the purpose of a hearing trumpet. his mouth, in the attitude of listening, because defective hearing is assisted by transmission of sound through a passage
from the mouth to the ear. Joy approaching to rapture, gives a sparkling brilliancy to the eye, and a sprightly activity to the limbs. We see this in a long absent child, springing to the arms of its parent; we see it in the beautiful narrative of the lame man, who had been miraculously healed, “walking, and leaping, and praising God.”
The head gently reclined, denotes grief or shame; erect,-courage, firmness; thrown back or shaken,—dissent, negation ; forwards—assent.
The hand, raised and inverted, repels; more elevated and extended, denotes surprise ; placed on the mouth,