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RUDIMENTS OF GESTURE.
ADDRESS, as a combination of speech and action, directs itself to the mind, through the ear and the eye. Regarded as an art, it consists, accordingly, of two parts, -elocution, or the regulated functions of the voice,-and gesture, or the proper management of the body.
The subject of elocution has been discussed in the preceding pages. Gesture derives its existence from the necessary sympathy of mind and body. It is by no means a mere product of art. A sympathetic action of the outward frame, in correspondence with the activity of the mind, is necessarily exerted in the communication of thought and feeling, and results from a law of man's constitution. The repression of such action may, it is true, become an habitual trait in the character of individuals and of nations; so may the opposite characteristic of redundancy in gesture. Examples of these extremes are furnished in the rigid stillness of body, which is customary in the elocution of Scotland, or of New England, and in the ceaseless movement and gesture of the French.
Education, too, has a powerful influence on delivery The exclusive application of the understanding, a too passive continuance of attention, or a native sluggishness of habit, indulged, has a tendency to quell or prevent emotion, and to keep back its corporeal indications; while the habitual and unrestrained play of imagination, or of feeling, impels to vivid expression in tone, and to the visible manifestations of attitude and action. Hence the contrasts of manner exhibited in the delivery of the studious and sedentary, or the phlegmatic, and that of the active, the gay, or the imaginative;-both of which usually run to excess, producing the morbid style of lifelessness and inaction, or the puerile manner of mere animal vivacity.
Education, as the great agent in human improvement, aims not at a local, or particular, but an ideal and general excellence in man. Early culture, therefore, should be so directed as to free the mental habits, and their external traces, from the injurious influences of imperfect or erroneous example, and to give the youthful powers that free and generous scope, which their full development requires. The standard of perfection in address should be formed on no views limited merely by the arbitrary customs of a community, perhaps by the corrupting influence of neglect or perversion, as regards the discipline of imagination and taste. The genuine style of eloquence is that, surely, which gives the strongest, freest, and truest expression to the natural blending of thought and emotion within the human breast;-breaking through all arbitrary restraint, and submitting only to the guidance of reason, -or, rather, listening intuitively to its suggestions.
The common errors of judgment and taste, on this subject, seem to lie in the supposition that thought and feeling may be separated in their expression. Every day furnishes examples of speakers, who, from the coldness of their manner, seem to think that they can succeed in imparting sentiment without emotion, and of those, whose rhetorical and mechanical warmth appears to aim at eloquence by emotion not founded on thought.
The tendency of deep interest, and of earnest, cordial emphasis, is always to impart impulse to the arm, as well as to the voice. The instruction, therefore, or the example, which inculcates the suppression of gesture, is defective and injurious; as it checks the free action both of body and mind. The unlimited indulgence of fancy, or the ungoverned expression of feeling, on the other hand, leads either to a puerile or merely passionate manner, and loses the influence of intellect, in a false excitement of emotion.
A good address is that which, in the first place, may be briefly characterized by the epithet manly. It possesses force, consequently exemption from all forms of weakness freedom, (a natural consequence
of force,) implying exemption from constraint and embarrassment. These are the first and indispensable rudiments of action. Next in importance, is an appropriate or discriminating style,--the result of genius, or of successful discipline,—which adapts itself to different occasions, subjects, and sentiments; varying as circumstances require, and avoiding every impropriety of manner, whether arising from personal habit, or temporary inadvertency and error. Last in order, and as a negative quality, chiefly, may be mentioned grace, or those modes of action which abey nature's laws of symmetry and motion, from the intuitive perception of beauty, and the disciplined or natural subjection of the muscular system to the ascendancy of mind and taste.
These elementary principles are all that have been deemed important in the instruction attempted in the following pages. All else, it is thought, may best be left to the mind and manner of the individual, which, if not perverted or neglected, would, perhaps, render direct instruction, in any case, comparatively unimportant.
The effects of accomplished oratory are to be looked for from no single source: they are the fruits of the whole course of mental culture embraced in education. The end of this manual will have been fully accomplished, if teachers are enabled, by the use of it, to lay, in season, the foundation of habit; so as to preserve the style of their pupils from the prominent faults of uncultivated or perverted taste. *
* The rules and principles illustrated in the following pages, are chiefly drawn from that rich and copious volume, Austin's Chironomia, ---but modified as experience has suggested, and adapted to the details of practical instruction.
The above work on Gesture, and that of Dr. Rush on the Voice, afford the fullest instruction in Oratory, that has yet been presented in the English, if not in any other language.
MOVEMENTS PREPARATORY TO SPEAKING. Oratory consists of two parts;-one addressing the ear, through the voice; and the other, the eye, by action or gesture. The latter implies a certain attitude of body, as essential to it; and hence the necessity of attending, in the first instance, to the attitude or position in which the speaker presents himself to the eye. The characteristics of good attitude are firmness, freedom, appropriateness, and grace.
It becomes necessary here to advert to the manner in which young speakers introduce themselves to their audience; the introductory bow being seldom what it should be, a salutation of respect, actually addressed to the assembly, but commonly a very awkward attempt at a bow, and one so performed as to cast down the eyes towards the floor of the room, or the feet of the speaker, and to show not his countenance, but the crown of his head. A bow, or any other mark of respect, (except prostration, has no meaning in it, unless the eye of the individual who performs it, is directed to the eyes of those to whom it is addressed.
In figure 1, of the engraved illustrations, the rounding of the shoulders, and the dangling or drooping of the arms, are added to the above fault.
The opposite and somewhat comic effects of the fault of bending the body mechanically, drawing in the elbows, and turning up the face, are represented in figure 2.
The proper form of the bow, with its moderate curve, is illustrated in figure 3.
The common faults of the bow and other preparatory movements, are feebleness, constraint, embarrassment, impropriety, and awkwardness *
* In most dialogues, and in some very animated pieces of poetry, the commencing bow should be omitted, as unfavourable to the full effect of the dramatic or poetic character of the delivery, which, in some instances, requires abruptness.
POSITION OF THE FEET.* General Remarks. It is of the utmost consequence to observe a correct position of the feet, not merely because an incorrect position is ungraceful, but because the easy and natural movement of every part of the body, depends on the feet being properly placed. Awkward and constrained movements of the feet, and rigid, unseemly action, are inseparable from a bad attitude. An easy and graceful position, on the contrary, favours appropriate and becoming movement, and tends to render it habitual.
The following sentiments, quoted from Austin's Chironomia, may be serviceable in this place, as introductory to details.
"The gracefulness of motion in the human frame, consists in the facility and security with which it is executed; and the grace of any position consists in the facility with which it can be varied. Hence, in the standing figure, the position is graceful when the weight of the body is principally supported on one leg, while the other is so placed as to be ready to relieve it promptly and without effort." " The foot which sustains the principal weight must be so placed, that a perpendicular line, let fall from the pit of the neck, shall pass through the heel of that foot. Of course, the centre of gravity of the body is, for the time, in that line; whilst the other foot assists merely for the purpose of keeping the body balanced in the position, and of preventing it from tottering.” [See Figs. 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th.]
"In the various positions of the feet, care is to be taken that the grace which is aimed at be attended with simplicity. The position of the orator is equally removed from the awkwardness of the rustic, with toes turned in, and knees bent, and from the affectation of the dancing-master, whose position runs to the opposite extreme. The orator is to adopt such posi
* Much of the effect of gesture depends on the attitude in which it is performed, and from which it seems to spring. Attitude is, in fact, a preliminary to gesture, and as the character of attitude depends chiefly on the position of the feet, this last mentioned point becomes the first in order, in practical lessons on gesture.