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It is now generally conceded that declamation and recitation as school exercises are productive of many substantial advantages. They improve the manner. They aid in obtaining self-command. They develop the ability to think and speak extemporaneously or otherwise in public. They strengthen the memory. They help to form a literary taste. They are a practice which, if studiously and systematically pursued, produces a pleasant speaking or reading voice, a distinct articulation, a clear enunciation, accomplishments in any one who possesses them, and of inestimable value to those in public or professional life.
A “Speaker” ought, logically, to be constructed with a view to developing and securing these results : and declamation and recitation should be, compuratively, as much of a study in schools as spelling or mathematics. Unfortunately, the Speakers now in use are, with few exceptions, of small practical utility as such; while declaiming and reciting are too generally regarded by pupils as an imposition, or, at best, as only a momentary diversion. In the compilation of Speakers the radical mistakes have been made, (1) of proceeding upon the theory that good speaking-pieces are necessarily and chiefly to be found in the works of a few great orators and writers; and (2) of presenting selections taken mainly from those writers and orators only. The result generally has been that Speakers have been made up of a small number of good pieces that have become unattractive by familiarity and long use, with a large number ill suited or wholly unsuited to the purpose.
Again, the idea has been very prevalent with teachers and pupils, that speaking is a species of drama : that a good speaking-piece is one which affords large opportunity for theatrical attitudes and effects; and that the best speaking is that which comes nearest the representations and delineations of the stage. Undoubtedly many excellent declamations and recitations are more or less dramatic in style, and may be profitably and successfully used with a certain amount of incidental dramatic effect : but it is by no means true that the best speakers are the most dramatic, or that the best selections are the most sensational, or that the final and best results of elocutionary work are in the direction of the stage.
The legitimate and proper end of elocutionary training in schools is to produce natural, intelligent, effective speakers, whatever their profession or calling may ultimately be; and this can be accomplished only by persistent study and practice of pieces varied in thought, style, sentiment, and sentential structure. The attempt has been made in preparing this book to bring together a collection of such pieces : pieces selected with reference to their intrinsic literary excellence, but primarily and especially with reference fo their suitability as declamations and recitations. They have been selected from a large number of authors, and present a wide range of style. They are conveniently short. They are pieces that “speak well,” as demonstrated by actual test : and as such will help to make good speakers. Many of the
selections are new. Many are from modern and contemporary orators and writers. Some, taken from well-known authors, are here for the first time made available by abridgment and condensation. All of them, it is believed, possess positive merits as oratorical and rhetorical productions.
The compiler is under especial obligations to Harper & Brothers, the Century Company, Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Jansen, McClurg & Company, and Good Cheer, for their courteous permission to make selections from works protected by their copyrights.
OLIVER E. BRANCH. NEW YORK CITY, 1886.