Professor of Elocution at the Kensington School of Music
How little of the true meaning of the art of elocution is realised by the generality of people.
To the ordinary individual, elocution means reciting a piece, which, in turn, signifies a parrot-like repetition of words, without due thought as to their meaning.
Memorising a piece is the purely mechanical side, and does not hold an audience ; it is the soul of the piece which appeals, and the reciter is merely the medium through which that soul expresses itself. If the elocutionist ever thinks of himself in his rendering, his conception of the message that he has to give is immediately lessened. It is imperative to cast self aside, and let the spirit, which is necessarily behind the mere words, speak for itself.
As will be seen by the above paragraph, it is impossible to study the subject seriously without a broadening of ideas, because by the constant endeavour which must be put forth in order to grasp full meanings of words, the mind is lifted far above the track of egotistical research, and a new light is shed even on the occurrences of everyday life.
To the earnest student there is nothing more fascinating than the unravelling of thought as put forth in verse or prose, and to become a good reciter it is compulsory to bring the mind to bear upon this side of the question.
The true realisation of a piece is only reached by a tracing back of the ideas from the end to the beginning.
An artist paints a picture. Before he paints" it he has an inspiration, or his work will be dead. In the same way an author or poet writes, but before he writes he conceives an idea; therefore, to get the true rendering of his thoughts, it is surely necessary to trace the workings of his mind back to the beginning of his conception, and, by so doing, find out his mental condition before he actually places his thoughts on paper.
The essentials of a reciter are : A good memory, a pleasing voice, unlimited patience and perseverance, and a vivid imagination which is both sympathetic and discriminating.
To use the artist as an illustration once again, memory is equivalent to the canvas for the picture; the voice is the brush with which you colour and portray your thoughts; patience and perseverance need no explanation, as they are required in every art; and imagination is the fairy wand which makes either picture or words become vital.
The English language is a much maligned quantity. Having fewer vowel sounds than most, we strive to the best of our ability so to mutilate those which we do possess that we render our mother tongue rough and unmusical to the ear.
As a matter of fact, the English language is a beautiful one if true value is given to each vowel sound. Of course, the five letters given us in childhood's days as the vowels, are totally inadequate to express all gradations ; we have the first alone representing no fewer than the five vowel sounds.
Purity of speech is marked by a strict attention to the quality of each word, divided into syllables and each syllable divided into letters, the latter judged separately, and then collectively - hence the need for more deliberation of utterance.
This division does not mean the cultivation of pedantry, but is rather a system of true valuation. Just as' coins are accounted perfect or counterfeit according to their shape and weight, so should our words duly pass before the tribunal of our brains before they are sent out to do their work.
As in other countries, so in England there are numerous dialects, practically every county possessing one, all of which have their peculiar characteristics, and yet exfoliate from the mother tongue.
A born cockney will substitute "i" for "a," and call "pay-day" "piy-diy." In the same manner he will close his nasal cavities for "n" sounds, and his equivalent for " I do not know "is" Oi duddo."
The hurry and bustle of life so affect him that wherever he can slur a sentence he will do so, and the ending "ing " is to him an unknown quantity, as is also the "h" sound. He shows his inconsistency by making extra sounds where a simple vowel is all that is required, and by adding the preposition " of " to the end of sentences-viz., " Where is he going ? " is rendered thus-"wer's 'e gaun ? "and" What has he been doing" sounds much like this-"wot's'e bin a-doin'of ? "
The placing of the vowel "a" in front of words is a particularly favourite form of speech, and, if a vowel sound is not added to, it will be clipped, and the phrase, "I was going to do it" will be said in this form - "Oi wuz a-goin' ter do of it," always with the sounds spoken as if the utterer were suffering from a bad cold in the head.