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But if he nego
ity, the faults of action, I shall follow the order of my previous remarks on countenance, attitude, and gesture.
The eye is the only part of the face, that it falls within my design to notice here, both because this is the chief seat of expression, and because its significance is especially liable to be frustrated by mismanagement. For reasons already mentioned, the intercourse of soul between speaker and hearers, is carried on more unequivocally through the eye, than in any other way. lects to look at them, and they in return neglect, (as they commonly will,) to look at him; the mutual reaction of feeling through the countenance is lost; and vocal language is all the medium of intercourse that remains.*
The eye “bent on vacuity," as the artists call it, is the next most common defect, of this sort. of a wax figure at once tells its own character. There may be in other respects, the proportion and complexion of a human face; but that eye, the moment it is examined, you perceive is nothing more, and, at best, it can be nothing more than a bungling counterfeit. of a speaker may be open, and yet not see; at least there may be no discrimination, no meaning in its look. It
The glass eye
So the eye
* The reader will please to observe that, in the following pages, such remarks as apply solely or peculiarly to the pulpit, are given in the notes.
It falls not within my design here, to inquire how far the prevalent practice of reading sermons ought to be dispensed with. But it is plainly absurd to speak of expression in a preacher's eye, while it is fixed on a manuscript. Nearly the same infelicity, and on some accounts a greater one, attends the rapid, dodging cast of the eye from the notes to the hearers, and back again; implying a servile dependence on what is written, even in repeating the most familiar declarations of the Bible. And this infelicity is still aggravated by such a position of the manuscript, as to require the eye to be turned directly downward in looking at it.
does not look at any thing. There is in its expression, a
from one side to another of an assembly, resting no where; and that tremulous, waving cast of the eye, and winking of the eyelid, which is in direct contrast to an open, collected, manly expression of the face.*
So fatal are these faults to the impression of delivery, that too much care cannot be taken to avoid them.
Attitude I use, not in the theatrical sense of the word, (for this has no concern with oratory,) but as denoting the general positions of the body, which are becoming or otherwise in a speaker. In some few instances I have observed the head to be kept so erect, as to give the air of haughtiness. In others, it is dropped so low, that the man seems to be carelessly surveying his own person. In others it is reclined towards one shoulder, so as to give the appearance of languor or indolence.
As to the degree of motion that is proper for the body, it may be safely said, that while the fixedness of a post is an extreme, all violent tossing of the body from side to side, rising on the toes, or writhing of the shoulders and limbs, are not less unseemly.
* Here again the habit acquired by some preachers, from closely reading their sermons, is such, that when they raise their eye from the paper, they fix it on the floor of the aisle, or on a post or pannel, to avoid a direct look at their hearers.
+ There is often something characteristic in the air with which a preacher enters a church, ascends the pulpit, and rises in it to address an assembly. If he assumes the gracefulness of a fine gentleman, as if he were practising the lessons of an assembly room, every hearer of discernment will see that his object is to exhibit him.
The remarks which come next to be made on gesture, are more various. *
One principal fault which I have noticed in this, is want of appropriateness. By this I mean that it is not sufficiently adapted to circumstances. An address to an assembly of common men, admits a boldness of action, that would be unseemly in one delivered to a prince.t
self, and will be offended at so gross a want of that seriousness which becomes his sacred office.
In minor points,- what constitutes decorum depends not on philosophy nor accident, but on custom. From real or affected carelessness on such points, the preacher may fix on some trivial circumstance, that attention of his hearers, which should he devoted to greater things. He may do this, for example, by standing much too high, or too low in the pulpit; by rising, as in the act of commencing his sermon, before the singing is closed; or delay. ing for so long an interval, as to excite apprehension that something has befallen him; by an awkward holding his Psalm book, or especially his Bible, with one side hanging down or doubled backwards ;-by drawing his hands behind him, or thrusting them into his clothes,
In these things, as in all others, connected with the worship of God, it is the province of good sense to avoid peculiarity in trifles.
* The prevailing taste in our own country, like that of England, has been to employ but little action in the pulpit. Whitefield, in the last century, broke through the trammels of custom, in a boldness and variety of action, bordering on that of the stage. But his gesture, like his elocution, was far from the declamatory. His hand had scarcely less authority than Cæsar's; and the movement even of his finger gave an electric thrill to the bosoms of his hear
Massillon's action was less diversified, and less powerful, though more refined, as was the general character of his eloquence.
1 On this principle it is, that gesture is felt to be so unseasonable in personating God, and in addresses made to him. When we introduce him as speaking to man, or when we speak of his adorable perfections, or to him in prayer, the sintinents inspired demand composure and reverence of manner. Good taste then can never approve the stretching upward of the hands at full length, in the man. ner of Whitefield, at the commencement of prayer; nor the frowning aspect and the repelling movement of the hand, with which many utter the sentence of the final Judge, “ Depart, ye cursed,” &c.
More vivacity and variety is admissible in the action of a young speaker, than of one who is aged; and the same boldness of manner which is proper when the orator is kindled to a glowing fervor, in the close of a discourse, would be out of place at its commencement. Yet the same action is used by some speakers, in the exordium as in the conclusion-in cool argument to the understanding, as in impassioned appeals to the heart. Good sense will lead a man, as Quinctilian
- To act as well as to speak in a different manner, to different persons, at different times, and on different subjects.”
Nearly of the same class is another kind of faults, arising from want of discrimination. Of this sort is that puerile imitation which consists in acting words, instead of thoughts. The declaimer can never utter the word heart, without laying his hand on his breast; nor speak of God or heaven, in the most incidental manner, without directing his eye and his gesture upwards. Let the same principle be carried out, in repeating the prophet's description of true fasting; “ It is not for a man to bow down his head as a bulrush,” &c.—and every one would see that to conform the gesture to the words, is but childish mimicry. This false taste has been reprobated even on the stage, as in the following passage from Hamlet.
-Why should the poor be flatter'd ?
-Give me the man,
A certain actor, in repeating these lines, bent the knee, and kissed the hand, instead of assuming, as he ought, the firm attitude and indignant look, proper to express Hamlet's contempt for a cringing parasite. But it is still more absurd, in grave delivery, to regard mere phraseology instead of sentiment and emotion.
There is no case in which this want of discrimination oftener occurs, than in a class of words denoting sometimes numerical, and sometimes local extent, accompanied by the spreading of both hands; the significance of this gesture being destroyed by misapplication. The following examples may illustrate my meaning.
Exam. 1. “The goodness of God is the source of all our blessings." The declaimer, when he utters the word God, raises his eye and his right hand ; and when he utters the word all, extends both hands. Now the latter action confounds two things, that are very distinct, number and space. When I recount all the blessings of my life, they are very many; but why should I spread my hands, to denote a multiplicity that is merely numerical and successive ? when the thought has no concern with local dimensions any more than in this case : “ All the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty years.”
Exam. 2. “ All the actions of our lives will be brought into judgment.” Here again, the thought is that of arithmetical succession, not of local extent; and if any gesture is demanded, it is not the spreading of both hands.
Exam. 3. “I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Here the local extent which belongs to the thought, is properly expressed by action of both hands.