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Corson, Hiram / The Voice and Spiritual Education
(This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries)






New York


_All rights reserved_


Set up and electrotyped March, 1896. Reprinted
February, 1897; July, 1901; February, 1903; August,
1904; March, 1908; October, 1914.

Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith
Norwood Mass. U.S.A.


_While it is the purpose of this little book to emphasize the importance
of vocal culture in its relations to literary and general culture, it is
not its purpose, except incidentally, to impart elocutionary
instruction. Attention is called to a few features of the subject,
which, if realized in any voice, would contribute much to the technical
part, at least, of good reading._

_Special stress is laid upon the importance of spiritual education as
the end toward which all education should be directed, and as an
indispensable condition of interpretative reading. Such education is
demanded for responding to, and assimilating, the informing life of any
product of literary genius; without it, mere vocal training avails
little or nothing. By the spiritual I mean man's essential, absolute
being; and I include in the term the emotional, the susceptible or
impressible, the sympathetic, the instinctive, the intuitive,--in short,
the whole domain of the non-intellectual, the non-discursive._

_With the kind permission of the editor, I have embodied in the part of
the book devoted to the voice, my article on Vocal Culture, published
'The Atlantic Monthly' for June, 1895._

_H. C._
_Cascadilla Cottage,
Ithaca, N. Y., 30 Jan., 1896._

_La voix est une révélatrice, une initiatrice, dont la puissance est
aussi merveilleuse qu'inconnue._

* * * * *

_Un des plus réels avantages de la lecture à haute voix est précisément
de vous révéler dans les chefs-d'œuvre une foule de petites nuances
ignorées du peintre même qui les y a jetées. Par là, cet art pourrait
devenir un puissant instrument d'éducation. C'est souvent un excellent
professeur de littérature qu'un grand maître de diction._

ERNEST LEGOUVÉ, _de l'Académie française_.


Can reading be taught? is a question often asked, and partly for the
reason, it may be, that so many readers who have gone through courses of
vocal training in schools of elocution, or under private teachers, so
frequently offend people of taste and culture by an extravagance of
expression, by mimetic gesture, and by offensive mannerisms of various
kinds. But a reasonable inference cannot be drawn from such readers that
vocal training must necessarily do more harm than good.

Yes, much can be taught, and is taught, and well taught, it may be; the
desideratum is the education, intellectual and spiritual, especially the
latter, without which the mere teaching and training are vain and

The organs of speech can be brought by intelligent training into a
complete obedience to the will and the feelings; and without this
obedience of his vocal organs, a reader, whatever be his other
qualifications, cannot do his best. He is in the position of a musical
performer who has sympathetically assimilated the composition he is
rendering, but whose instrument is badly out of tune. A reader may have
the fullest possible appreciation of the subject matter, intellectual
and spiritual, of a poem, and a susceptibility to all the subtlest
elements of effect involved in its form; but if he have not full control
of his vocal faculties, he can but imperfectly reveal through his voice,
his appreciation and susceptibility. This control can be secured only by
long and intelligent training. The voices, generally, of even the most
cultivated people, have gone more or less astray, and need to be brought
back from the error of their ways, before they can serve effectively to
interpret a literary product.

Many great poets have written subtly organic verse, who could not
vocally realize its potentialities, they not having their organs of
speech sufficiently under control. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is an
example. 'Amongst Coleridge's accomplishments,' says De Quincey,
alluding, in his 'Literary Reminiscences' to Coleridge's lectures on
Poetry and the Fine Arts, at the Royal Institution, 'good reading was
not one; he had neither voice, nor management of voice.' But he must
imaginatively have heard the wonderful verse of Christabel and Kubla
Khan, as an organic, inseparable part of the poetical expression. Mere
literary skill could not have produced such verse. It was a texture
woven by the spirit, which he could not adequately exhibit to the
physical ear, as he was not master of the physical means for so doing.

To read naturally is a common and a very vague phrase. The question is,
what _is_ nature? It is the object of the science and art of reading, to
realize as fully as possible the imperfectly realized instincts of the
voice. 'There is a power in science which searches, discovers,
amplifies, and completes, and which all the strength of spontaneous
effort can never reach.'

When people speak of the natural in expression, they generally mean
nature on the plane on which they are best acquainted with it--the plane
of common speech. But the language of the higher poetry, or of tragedy,
or even of impassioned prose, is, more or less, an idealized language,
for the expression of which a corresponding idealization of voice is
demanded. To read, for example, Milton's apostrophe to Light, at the
beginning of the third book of Paradise Lost, after the manner of common
speech, would be somewhat absurd. The idealization of voice demanded for
the reading of such language, is not, however, a departure from nature,
but is nature on a higher plane.

'Enter into the _spirit_ of what you read, read _naturally_, and you
will read well,' is about the sum and substance of what Archbishop
Whateley teaches on the subject, in his 'Elements of Rhetoric.' Similar
advice might with equal propriety be given to a clumsy, stiff-jointed
clodhopper in regard to dancing: 'Enter into the spirit of the dance,
dance naturally, and you will dance well.' The more he might enter into
the spirit of the dance, the more he might emphasize his
stiff-jointedness and his clodhopperishness.

Of this distinguished advocate of 'natural' reading and speaking, Mr.
Grant, writing in 1835, says: 'Oratory is not his forte, ... he goes
through his addresses in so clumsy and inanimate a way that noble lords
at once come to the conclusion that nothing so befits him as unbroken
silence. He speaks in so low a tone as to be inaudible to those who are
any distance from him. And not only is his voice low in its tones, but
it is unpleasant from its monotony. In his manner there is not a
particle of life or spirit. You would fancy his grace to be half asleep
while speaking. You see so little appearance of consciousness about him
that you can hardly help doubting whether his legs will support him
until he has finished his address.'

The writer of this justly says of the Archbishop's writings: 'They
abound with evidences of profound thought, varied knowledge, great
mental acuteness, and superior powers of reasoning.' But his 'natural'
theory in regard to speaking, did not, it appears, avail with him, even
when backed by such abilities.

'Nature,' says the Archbishop, 'or custom, which is a second nature,
suggests spontaneously the different modes of giving expression to
different thoughts, feelings, and designs, which are present to the mind
of any one who, without study, is speaking in earnest his own
sentiments. Then, if this be the case, why not leave nature to do her
own work? Impress but the mind fully with the sentiments, etc., to be
uttered; withdraw the attention from the sound, and fix it on the sense;
and nature, or habit, will spontaneously suggest the proper delivery.'

Such instruction as this is not unlike that which Hamlet gives to
Guildenstern, for playing upon a pipe, and would be, in the majority of
cases, hardly more efficacious: 'Govern these ventages with your fingers
and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most
excellent music. Look you, these are the stops.' Guildenstern replies:
'But these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony; _I have not the
skill_.' The last sentence tells the whole story. The Archbishop, with
all his great abilities, had not the requisite _skill_ in oratorical

So this may be said to be the conclusion of the whole matter: the main
result which can be secured in teaching reading, and in training the
voice, is technique and elocutionary _skill_ of various kinds--a skill
which the student can bring into his service, when voicing his
intellectual appreciation and spiritual assimilation of a poem or any
other form of spiritualized thought; the illumination of the
subject-matter, intellectual and spiritual, must come from the _being_
of the reader. He can't give to his hearers what he doesn't possess. The
saying of Madame de Sévigné, '_Il faut être, si l'on veut paraître_,' is
applicable to the reader. An attempt to express what is beyond the range
of his spiritual life and experience, at once betrays his deficiency.
And no amount of mere vocal training will compensate for this

There are two unwarrantable assumptions in what Dr. Whateley writes
about Elocution: 1. That a reader or speaker can do with an untrained
voice what his mind wills, or his feelings impel him, to do. Not one in
a thousand can. 2. That all principles of Elocution which may be taught
will continue in the consciousness of the reader or speaker--that he
will be ever thinking of the vocal functions which he exercises. 'The
reader's attention,' he says, 'being fixed on his own voice, the
inevitable consequence would be that he would betray more or less his
studied and artificial delivery.'

All true culture, to _be_ true, must be unconscious of the processes
which induced it. But before it is attained, one must be more or less
'under the law,' until he become a law to himself, and do spontaneously
and unconsciously what he once had to do consciously, and with effort.

It may be that Dr. Whateley's views in regard to Elocution were somewhat
the reactionary product of the highly artificial style of pulpit oratory
which appears to have been the fashion in the Dublin of his day. (Note
1.) He was a man of such perfect honesty and integrity, with such a
resulting aversion to sham and empty display of every kind, that he came
to regard all training in vocal delivery as unfavorable to genuineness.
His theory was fully confirmed, he may have felt, by some of the popular
theatrical preachers around him, who made a display of themselves, and
who, in the Archbishop's words, 'aimed at nothing, and--hit it.'

When I was a small boy, at school, sixty years ago, all the scholars had
to read aloud twice a day; the several classes standing while they read,
and toeing a chalk line. The books used were the New Testament and
Lindley Murray's English Reader. The standard instruction imparted was
very limited, but very good so far as it went, namely, 'Speak distinctly
and mind your stops.' Each boy read, at a time, but a single verse of
the New Testament, or a single paragraph of the English Reader; the
'master' himself first reading a verse, or a paragraph, each time the
reading went around the class.

Well, the result was that all the boys acquired at least a distinct
articulation and a fluent utterance, properly sectioned off by their
minding the stops. Some of the boys, of whom I was one, had to read
aloud, at home, from other books. When I showed by my expression, or,
rather, by my want of it, that I did not understand what I was reading,
I was at once told so, the passage was explained and read to me, and I
had to read it again, to show that I had caught the meaning and the
proper expression. If I were required to read something which was
entirely new to me, my eye was exercised in running ahead of my voice,
and taking in what was coming, to the extent of a sentence or two, in
order to read with sufficient expression not to be stopped, as I was
very impatient of interruption, especially if I particularly enjoyed the

When I look back upon these daily exercises in reading, at school and at
home, I feel that nothing could have been better at the time. There was
no such thing as 'speaking a piece,' with gesture, 'limbs all going like
a telegraph in motion,' and straining after effect. It was simply
careful, honest reading, with no attempt at make-believe of feeling. No
encouragement was given to any affectation of that kind; but whatever
impressed my listeners as genuine feeling and appreciation on my part,
was duly praised; and I was very fond of praise, and was stimulated by
it to do my best.

I fear that such reading has very much gone out of use, and that
untimely technical instruction has taken its place. Call on a college
student to read any prose passage extempore, and what is the result in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred? Why, he will read it, _experto
credite_, in a most bungling way, with an imperfect articulation,
without any proper grouping or perspective; and if the passage be an
involved and long-suspended period, which his eye should run along and
grasp as a whole, in advance of his voice, he will be lost in it before
he get half way through it. He has had little or no practice in reading
aloud. He has 'parsed' much in the lower schools, but his parsing has
not resulted in synthesis (which should be the sole object of all
analysis), has not resulted in a knowledge of language as a living
organism, and the consequence is that his extempore vocalization of the
passage is more or less chaotic and--afflicting.

Extempore reading requires that the eye be well trained to keep ahead of
the voice, and to take in a whole period, or a whole stanza, in order
that each part of it be read with reference to the whole, that is, with
the proper perspective. To do this demands an almost immediate synthetic
grasp, the result of much training.

The perspective of speech is virtually a part of the meaning. One who
reads without perspective does not give his hearers the exact meaning,
for the reason that, subordinate parts standing out as prominently as
leading parts, the hearer does not get a correct impression of their
various degrees of importance, unless he do for himself what the reader
should do; and, certainly, not many hearers are equal to this--not one
in a thousand. Our estimates of all things are more or less relative, so
that perspective plays a large part in whatever we take account of. What
would a picture be without perspective? But it is of equal importance,
of greater importance, indeed, in the vocal presentation of language.

A true perspective demands, on the part of the reader, the nicest sense
of the relative values of successive and involved groups or sections of
thought--those belonging to the main current of thought being brought to
the front with a fulness of expression, and the subordinate groups or
sections according to their several degrees of subordination, being
thrown back with a corresponding reduction of expression. Along with
this, the whole must have that toning which reveals the spirit of the
whole. Could there be any better test than reading, of a student's
knowledge of the organic structure of the language, and the extent to
which the thought is spiritualized? Hardly. The ordinary examinations
of the schools, through questions, are wholly inadequate for getting at
such knowledge--for evoking a student's sense of the _life_ of the
language as an organ of the intellectual and the spiritual.

Technical knowledge is a good thing in its way, but a knowledge of life,
in whatever form, is a far better thing. And it is only life that can
awaken life. Technical knowledge, by itself, is only dry bones. The
technical, indeed, cannot by itself be appreciated. It must be
appreciated as an expression of life--as an expression of the plastic
spirit of thought and feeling.

Reading must supply all the deficiencies of written or printed language.
It must give life to the letter. How comparatively little is addressed
to the eye, in print or manuscript, of what has to be addressed to the
ear by a reader! There are no indications of tone, quality of voice,
inflection, pitch, time, or any other of the vocal functions demanded
for a full intellectual and spiritual interpretation. A poem is not
truly a poem until it is voiced by an accomplished reader who has
adequately assimilated it--in whom it has, to some extent, been born
again, according to his individual spiritual constitution and
experiences. The potentialities, so to speak, of the printed poem, must
be vocally realized. What Shelley, in his lines 'To a Lady, with a
Guitar,' says of what the revealings of the instrument depend upon, may
be said, with equal truth, of the revealings of every true poem; it

'will not tell
To those who cannot question well
The spirit that inhabits it;
It talks according to the wit
Of its companions; and no more
Is heard than has been felt before,'

by those who endeavor to get at its secrets.

Good reading is a vocal manifestation of responsiveness, on the part of
the reader, to the hieroglyphic letter.

Such early training in reading as I have described, is the best
preparation for the more elaborate expression demanded by the higher
literature. And we shall not have a true, honest vocal interpretation of
literature until we return to this early honest reading. I say 'return,'
for, so far as my knowledge goes, there is a plentiful lack of it, at
present, in primary schools--a lack somewhat due, no doubt, to the
ever-increasing amount and variety of knowledge which students are
compelled to acquire in the schools. _There is no time left for
education._ He would be the ideal teacher who could induce a maximum
amount of education on the basis of a minimum amount of acquirement. But
just the reverse prevails. Acquirement is made the all in all, and
education is left to take care of itself. The acquisition of knowledge,
too, becomes a mere indulgence with thousands of people, in these
days--an indulgence which renders them more and more averse to any of
that independent activity of mind upon which education so largely

I am quite surprised at what M. Ernest Legouvé says, in his 'Petit
Traité de lecture à haute voix à l'usage des écoles primaires,' of the
importance attached, in America, to reading aloud. In the very opening
sentence of this work, he says, 'La lecture à haute voix compte, en
Amérique, parmi les éléments les plus importants de l'instruction
publique; elle est une des bases de l'enseignement primaire.' And
elsewhere he calls upon the people of France to imitate the United
States of North America, in making the art of reading aloud the very
corner-stone of public education! Where could M. Legouvé have got this
remarkable opinion of the high estimate, in this country, of reading
aloud, as an educational agency? From whatever source he derived it, it
is certainly most remote from the truth. What Sir Henry Taylor says of
the neglect of the art of reading in England (Correspondence, edited by
Professor Dowden, p. 225), is quite applicable to this country. After
saying that he regards the reading of Shakespeare to boys and girls, if
it be well read and they are apt, 'as carrying with it a deeper
cultivation than anything else which can be done to cultivate them,' he
adds, 'I often think how strange it is that amongst all the efforts
which are made in these times to teach young people everything that is
to be known, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop on the wall, the
one thing omitted is teaching them to read. At present, to be sure, it
is a very rare thing to find any one who _can_ teach it; but it is an
art which might be propagated from the few to the many with great
rapidity, if a due appreciation of it were to become current. The rage
for lecturing would be a more reasonable rage if that were taught in
lectures which can be conveyed only by voice and utterance, and not by

Here, by the way, is indicated what the literary lecture should be. It
is a comparatively easy thing to lecture about literary products and to
deal out literary knowledge of various kinds, and cheap philosophy in
regard to the relations of literature to time and place. A professor of
literature might do this respectably well without much knowledge of the
literature itself. But what students especially need is to be brought
into direct relationship with literature in its essential, absolute
character; so that the very highest form of literary lecturing is
interpretative reading. Such reading brings home to sufficiently
susceptible students what cannot be lectured about--namely, the
intellectually indefinite element of a literary product. Much of what is
otherwise done for students, in the way of lecturing, they could do
quite as well for themselves.

'A book of criticism,' says Hume, 'ought to consist chiefly of
quotations.' The same should be said of a literary lecture, with the
important addition to the word 'quotations,' 'effectively read.'

To return from this digression, what seemed so strange to Sir Henry
Taylor, is not so strange when it is considered that the dealing out of
knowledge, in the schools, on the part of the teacher, and the
acquiring of it on the part of students, leave no time for education of
any kind except the little which is _incident_ upon the imparting and
the acquisition of various kinds of knowledge 'from the cedar of Lebanon
to the hyssop on the wall.'

Perhaps the greatest danger to which education proper will be more and
more exposed, in the future, will be the great increase of knowledge, in
every department of thought. This may sound paradoxical; but with the
increase of knowledge, the temptation will correspondingly increase to
make the acquisition of the greatest possible amount of it, in schools,
colleges, and universities, the leading aim. To give the student the
fullest command of his faculties, should certainly be the prime object,
to which the acquisition of knowledge should be subservient; but this
object seems to be more and more lost sight of, while to cram his mind
to the utmost, with vague, indefinite, and heterogeneous knowledge, is
getting more and more to be, if not the sole, at any rate the chief,
consideration. This state of things prevails from our lowest to our
highest schools. We hear and read _ad nauseam_ that the word 'education'
means 'a drawing out.' This one etymology everybody knows, if he doesn't
know any other. Lecturers and writers on education, and school
circulars, keep reiterating it. There are certain truths so ding-donged
in our ears that they lose all their vitality. One of these certainly
is, that the word 'education' means 'a drawing out.' Sometimes a teacher
at a school institute, after presenting this etymology, proceeds to
present what he considers the best methods of ramming in!

There are schools, and their patrons think them excellent, which
out-herod Herod in their slaughter of the Innocents. Sad, indeed, is it
that the young are so debarred, as they are, by the tasks imposed upon
them, from all sweet and quickening 'impressions before the letter.' 'As
in Hood's exquisite parody of George Robins's advertisement,' says
George Henry Lewes in his novel, Ranthorpe, 'the pump is enumerated as
having "a handle _within reach of the smallest child_," so do our
illustrious educators wish to place the pump of knowledge within reach
of the meanest capacity, that infants may forego the mother's milk to
drink of its Pierian spring.' The time must come, it is no doubt in the
very far future,--there are no indications, at present, of its being in
the near future,--when it will be a pedagogical question how to induce a
maximum amount of education with a minimum amount of brain-slaughter.

To get back, now, to the leading subject, vocal culture: a college
student whose voice was neglected in early life, and, worst of all,
whose sympathies were not then so attuned to good literature, by the
influences and atmosphere of his home, that he came to have an inward
impulsion to vocalize whatever he specially enjoyed in his reading, will
not be much profited by a course in soulless elocutionary spouting. One
may have an extraordinary natural gift of vocal expression which is
superior to all adverse circumstances; but such an one is a _rara avis
in terris_. Unless there be an early initiation into literature and its
vocalization, in advance of the benumbing technical instruction of the
schools, much cannot be expected from the great majority of students, in
a literary or elocutionary direction. Truly 'illuminative reading,' to
use Carlyle's phrase, is, apart from this condition, quite out of the

In the whole range of linguistic and literary studies, English, Latin,
Greek, German, French, Italian, Spanish, or whatever be the language and
literature studied, vocalization should be made of prime importance. So
it should even in Anglo-Saxon and early English studies. When I
conducted these studies, which I did, for more than twenty-five years, I
pronounced to my classes all that was gone over. Beowulf I read to them
entire. The interest of students in this Anglo-Saxon epic is much
enhanced when it is fluently and _vigorously_ read. It is the only way
by which the spirit of the poem can be brought home to them.

To know Chaucer as a poet, and not merely as a writer of
fourteenth-century English, his verse, which, after a lapse of five
hundred years, continues to rank with the best in the literature, _must_
be voiced; and to voice it, with the best knowledge of its pronunciation
which has been attained to by Alexander J. Ellis, in his 'Early English
Pronunciation,' and by other phonologists, requires a careful training
of the voice and much practice. A susceptible reader comes, in time, to
feel, to some extent, what the _intonation_, also, of the verse, must
have been. To inspire students with a permanent interest in 'the morning
star of song,' the teacher must be an accomplished reader of his verse,
and must train his students to the best reading of it of which they are
capable. Of course, a knowledge of the language in its historical
development, previous to Chaucer, is desirable, though not
indispensable, to appreciate his poetry; but the best vocalization, in
the fullest sense of the word, which can be attained to, _is_
indispensable. To know of what earlier inflection any final _-e_ is the
residual, is well enough; but I cannot think that any one would insist
that such knowledge is indispensable to an appreciation of the poetry.
Philology is not the handmaid to poetical cultivation. She can be
dismissed altogether from service. There are no emergencies, even, where
it is necessary to engage her temporarily.

In the study of Latin and Greek, even with our imperfect knowledge of
the ancient pronunciation, and our no knowledge of the ancient
intonation, of these languages, it is all important that the student
should read Greek and Roman authors aloud. A student who has first been
trained to read Greek and Latin prose with fluency and expression can
then have considerable appreciation of verse in advance of any technical
knowledge. And if he be trained to read in time, he will know what
'quantity' really means. As Latin and Greek verse is read in the schools
(when it is read at all), it is accentual, not quantitative. I cannot
think that there was any more quantity in Greek and Latin than there is
in English, or in any other modern language, unless the Greeks and
Romans _spoke_ more in time than we do, which is not likely. The Romans
were probably more measured in their speech than the Greeks. Syllables,
in Greek and Latin verse, must have been made long or short by an
intoning of the verse.

When Vergil, or Ovid, or any hexameter poet, is read in the schools, his
verse is the same as that of Longfellow's Evangeline, made up of _xa_,
_ax_, and _axx_ feet. (Note 2.)

The following verse from Ovid, for example (Met. I. 143),

Sanguine | aque ma | nu crepi | tantia | concutit |

is read in the same way as the following from Longfellow's Evangeline:

Or by the | owl, as he | greeted the | moon
with de|moniac | laughter;

and the first and second of the following verses from Ovid (Met. I. 148,

Filius | ante di|em patri|os in|quirit in | annos.
Victa ja|cet Pie|tas; et | Virgo | cæde ma-|dentes
Ultima cœlestum terras Astræa reliquit,

are read in the same way as the following from Evangeline:

And as she | gazed from the | window she |
saw se|renely the | moon pass
Forth from the | folds of a | cloud, and | one
star | follow her | footsteps.

Ovid's Met. I. 22,

Nam cœ|lo ter|ras et | terris | abscidit | undas,

is read in the same way as Colossians iii. 19:

Husbands, | love your | wives, and | be not |
bitter a|gainst them;

and Ovid's Met. I. 36,

Tum freta | diffun | di, rapi|disque tum | escere |

is read in the same way as Psalm ii. 1:

Why do the | heathen | rage, and the | people
im|agine a | vain thing.

_Rebus sic stantibus_, what's the use of talking about quantitative and
accentual verse, as if they were really two kinds of verse? They are, to
be sure, but they are not made so, in reading.

There is, in fact, no such thing as a spondee in ordinary speech. A true
spondee must be made by voicing two syllables in equal time, and each
without stress.

After having been trained in the 'scanning' of the schools (counting
verses on the fingers), I threw aside and tried, and successfully tried,
to forget all the scholarship of Latin verse, and began reading Vergil
aloud and in time. I felt, at first, the movement of the verse backward,
the ultimate and the penultimate foot came out first to my feelings; and
in time, the movement of the entire verse became distinct.

Chaucer's verse must be read more in time than modern verse. (Note 3.)
But all true verse must be read more in time than prose. And even
impassioned prose, like some of De Quincey's, for example, must be read,
more or less, in time. Perhaps it may be said that both prose and verse
should be read in time according as the thought is spiritualized.

The choruses in Milton's Samson Agonistes can be properly appreciated
only when read in time. The verse has been condemned by some critics, as
if Milton, whose ear, as De Quincey says, was angelic, could not compose
good verse when he dictated, in his blindness (to which the merit of the
verse of the Paradise Lost and the Paradise Regained, was, no doubt,
somewhat due), this last of his great poetic compositions!

Even in the study of modern languages, in the schools, there is not
enough pronouncing of the original. It is mostly read off in English. If
a teacher of a foreign language, whose pronunciation is correct (if it
is not correct, he should not teach it), were simply to read aloud to
his students, they having the text before their eyes, and were to
require them to read, until they could pronounce correctly and fluently,
the language studied, it would be a much better introduction to the
language than the usual grammatical grind at the outset. A certain
amount of grammatical grind is necessary, but a thorough training in
pronunciation should come first of all. And then, if a student got
nothing other than a good pronunciation, it would be certainly worth
more to him than any amount of grammatical drill without it. A living
language should not be studied scientifically until it is _known_. And
the most important thing to know, at first, is its pronunciation.

Thomas Elwood, Milton's young Quaker friend, tells us, in his
autobiography, of his reading Latin to the blind poet,--how he was
required to get rid of his English pronunciation of the language, which
his 'master' disliked, and to learn what he calls 'the foreign
pronunciation,' his description thereof showing it to have been the
Italian,--and then adds, 'Having a curious ear' (that is, a careful,
accurate, nice, keenly susceptible ear), 'he understood by my tone, when
I understood what I read, and when I did not; and accordingly would stop
me, examine me, and open up the most difficult passages to me.'

This sentence suggests that much more might be done than is done, in the
way of getting at students' appreciation of the Latin or Greek they may
be reciting, by requiring them to voice the original in advance of
translating. After having attained, by sufficient practice, an easy
fluency of utterance, they could--or some could--bring out, through
their voices, much which they could not reveal through translation or
any amount of exegesis. All the members of the class might be on a par,
so far as translation and exegesis go, in exhibiting their knowledge and
appreciation of the original; but there would always be a few who could
reveal through vocalization what is beyond translation and exegesis.
And the professor would not necessarily need to have the 'curious ear'
of a Milton to detect this kind of superiority of the few.

This brings me to say that, in literary examinations, whatever other
means be employed, a sufficiently qualified teacher could arrive at a
nicer and more certain estimate of what a student has appropriated, both
intellectually and spiritually, of a literary product, or any portion of
a literary product, by requiring him to read it, than he could arrive at
through any amount of catechising. The requisite vocal cultivation on
the part of the student is, of course, presumed.

But even an uncultivated voice would reveal appreciation, or the want of
it, to some extent. For, after all, it is not so much the cultivated
voice as spiritual appreciation, which tells in reading. I have heard
'poor, but honest' voices read some poems very effectively, and I have
heard rich, but dishonest voices read very afflictingly. To adapt the
French saying, _le style, c'est l'homme_, it may be said that _la
lecture à haute voix c'est l'homme_. Reading reveals the reader's
spiritual appreciation or the absence of it. And it is only to the
extent that a reader assures his hearers that he has himself experienced
the sentiments to which he gives utterance, that he impresses them. To
one who has truly appreciated it, there is nothing more dreary than the
usual elocutionary rendering of a poem.

Suppose a teacher were to examine a student on such a poem as
Coleridge's Christabel by questioning him about it, and the student were
to show that he was thoroughly acquainted with all the facts and details
of the poem; there would still be no evidence of that student's
susceptibility to what in the poem constitutes its mysterious
charm,--none whatever. The student might be utterly destitute of such
susceptibility, and yet he could just as well prepare himself to answer
all the teacher's questions. A very small boy might do so, whose
appreciation of poetry had not gone beyond 'How doth the little busy
bee.' There might be a most susceptible literary genius in the class,
who might fall below the other student in such an examination! It is
quite likely that he would, for he would be chiefly occupied with the
poem as a poem, and would assimilate its life without retaining a
recollection of all the details, to which the other had given exclusive
attention. Or suppose the poem were Gray's Elegy written in a Country
Churchyard, and the student were to pass a perfectly satisfactory
examination thereupon, on the basis, say, of the valuable notes in
Professor Hales's Longer English Poems; what would that signify, in
comparison with the reading of the poem, which would unmistakably show
whether he had responded, to any extent, or not, to its sweet evening
pensiveness, to the general tenor of the theme, to the moulding spirit
of the whole?

That he should understand the articulating thought, all the grammatical
constructions (and there are several which need to be particularly
looked into), and all points to which attention is called in Professor
Hales's notes, is, to be sure, important; but an examination confined to
these would not be any test of his literary capacity, of his
susceptibility to the poem as a poem.

In these remarks, I assume, of course, that the prime object of a
literary examination should be to test not so much a student's
knowingness, as his literary capacity, which means a capacity to respond
to the spiritual life of a poem, or any other form of literature, in
the true sense of the word 'literature.' It is its spiritual life which
makes a poem a poem, whatever the thought articulation may be. The
student who is capable of such response should rank higher (nobody but a
Dr. Dryasdust could deny this) than the student who could answer all
questions which the most prolific questioner could ask him, but who
could afford no evidence, through his reading of it, that the poem was
anything more to him than was a primrose to Wordsworth's 'Peter Bell.'

As the student advances to the higher literature, he should be trained
in the higher, more complex vocal functions demanded for its
interpretation; he should understand, all along, in his vocal education,
the relation of that education to the rendering of works of genius. He
should always know what his vocal exercises are for, what relation they
have to the interpreting and symbolizing of thought and feeling.

I remember a teacher who advised his scholars--I was one of them--to go
out frequently into the open air and exercise their voices. And the poor
fellows did go, and 'fright the isle from her propriety' with their
bawling without having any conception of what they were bawling for.
Their lungs were exercised thereby, but the bawling did nothing for
their vocal training.

Vocal exercise must not only be physiologically intelligent, but there
must always be some conception back of it which it is the aim of the
exercise to realize in the voice. One may have a conception, more or
less distinct, of how some very significant sentence in Shakespeare, for
example, should be uttered, and yet his voice is not sufficiently
obedient to his will and his feelings. He therefore has something to
work after, and in time may vocally realize, to his full satisfaction,
his conception; and in doing so, he has acquired some new and valuable
control of his voice, which he can make use of, whenever required, in
the rendering of other expressions.

A true poem is a piece of articulate music which may require to be long
practised upon by the voice before all its possible significance and
effectiveness be realized. But there must be an ideal back of the
practice (merely to keep 'going over' the poem will not do); not, of
course, an entirely distinct ideal, it may be more or less vague, but
such an ideal as may be got in advance through a responsiveness to its
informing life. This ideal will become more and more distinct in the
course of the practice.

This is true of every form of art. The artist starts with an ideal more
or less vague (but it is an ideal which motives all his work), and this
ideal only gradually takes shape in the process of its realization in a
picture or a statue. Composing continues to the end. The poet is still
composing, still working after a fuller realization of his ideal, when
he is making the last verbal change in his poem. (Note 4.) To quote from
Browning's 'A Death in the Desert':

God's gift was that man should conceive of truth,
And yearn to gain it, catching at mistake
As midway help, till he reach fact indeed.
The statuary ere he mould a shape
Boasts a like gift, the shape's idea, and next
The aspiration to produce the same;
So, taking clay, he calls his shape thereout,
Cries ever, 'Now I have the thing I see':
Yet all the while goes changing what was wrought,
From falsehood like the truth, to truth itself.

* * * * *

God only makes the live shape at a jet.

Interpretative reading goes on in the same way.

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