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A HANDBOOK OF ORAL READING
In setting forth a book such as this it would hardly be deemed necessary to insist at the outset on reading aloud as an essential factor in education. The steadily increasing number of well-attended courses in oral composition and public speaking offered in secondary schools and colleges, and the recent lively interest in oral composition manifested by teachers of English throughout the country, give evidence of the recognition of the cultural value and practical usefulness of oral training. Special emphasis has been placed on oral composition, public speaking, and similar courses, in which the student is given opportunity for practice in expressing his own ideas in his own words. Indeed, so much attention has been given to this particular phase of oral expression that, at the present time, reading aloud holds a place of relatively minor importance.
The author does not wish to be understood as questioning the value of training in oral composition, public speaking, and the like he does not; but to him there seems to be grave danger that these courses which, from their very nature, appear to afford most direct and immediate practical results, shall be permitted to claim our entire attention to the exclusion of a study, the practical benefits of which are perhaps less apparent but none the less real. Every student should have instruction and practice in standing before others and speaking what he knows and thinks about a subject. It is an eminently sensible, useful, and stimulating procedure. But with all its advantages, it can
not be considered the “be-all and the end-all ” of oral expression. As a special kind of mental and vocal training it merits a large place, no doubt, but that portion of the student's time which may be claimed for the study of oral expression cannot be devoted exclusively to this phase of the subject without serious loss.
Oral composition, - or formal conversation, as it may be called, — public speaking, and similar courses, as taught in the classroom, offer but a limited field of oral expression. Classroom conversations, narratives, discussions, and debates - whatever form the speaking exercise may takeare confined principally to a statement of conditions, events, facts, and opinions addressed chiefly to the understanding, and seldom to the imagination or emotions. Even the spontaneity and spirit of everyday conversation, with its play of thought, fancy, and feeling, are seldom in evidence in a marked degree. True, spirit and freedom are urged and encouraged by the zealous teacher, but the average student finds it hard to forget the restraint of the subject and the occasion, and the conditions are not conducive to the exercise of the freedom of informal conversation. If he succeeds in saying what he has to say so that his classmates shall understand and follow him with a reasonable degree of ease and interest, he has accomplished about all that is expected of him. The effort has helped to clarify his thought and he has gained somewhat in skill in communicating his ideas to others. But the exercise has brought no great degree of training in vocal expression. No very serious demands are made on the voice in merely given out information, or uttering facts, narrating incidents, or stating beliefs, unless, as sometimes happens in public address, the speaker becomes aroused and throws all his powers of mind, imagination, and emotion into his utterances. Then the resources of voice are brought to the test. But the
classroom offers little incentive to such full and spirited utterance, and efforts at intense expression are pretty apt to savor of pretense and declamation. The style of speech appropriate to classroom practice is of a simpler, quieter sort. Yet the lack of stimulus, the routine nature of the work, the often perfunctory character of the preparation, tend to a cold, self-critical, and restrained style, with a consequent restriction of vocal action. And instead of acquiring a flexible, free, and varied utterance, the student is in danger of dropping into a hard, mechanical, and dull manner of speech.
Moreover, in oral-composition and public-speaking courses, the vocal aspects of the problem can ordinarily receive but a limited consideration by reason of the complex nature of the work. The attention of teacher and pupil alike is divided between subject matter of the speech, the problems of grammar and rhetoric, and oral delivery. But no servant can serve two masters at the same time and serve both well. Certain it is that no student can attempt to accomplish three things at once and attain a very high degree of efficiency in all or any one. Nor can the teacher give adequate criticism and instruction in all points simultaneously. It naturally follows in such courses that attention is centered more on the problems of composition than on oral expression or vice versa, or that time is divided equally between the two, with a consequent loss to each. Even under these difficulties, the work has distinct advantages and a practical value which no one will question. The contention here advanced is that, under these circumstances, there is not reasonable ground for assuming that such courses afford sufficient training in oral expression to justify giving them precedence over courses in reading aloud.
Nor does abundant practice in expressing one's own
range of his knowledge and interest Pit trains him to accu
thoughts in speech render unnecessary the training to be derived from expressive reading aloud of what others have said and have been at pains to say well. For reading affords distinctively valuable discipline in at least three respects : it brings the student into direct and vital contact with the thought and experiences which stimulate the mind, quicken
the imagination and the emotional nature, and widen the X
racy of observation and to certainty of understanding which precludes superficial attention and “snap judgment"; and it provides the best kind of training of the expressive powers of the voice.
The greater part of the literature read in schools belongs to that class of writing which De Quincey calls the literature of power, as distinguished from the literature of mere knowledge. The literature of knowledge treats of facts as such ; the literature of power holds and moves and inspires men by virtue of its truth, its beauty, its imagination, and its feeling. It tells us how men think and feel and how they relate theinselves to other men and to the world in which they live. Obviously one who reads with full understanding must exercise the imagination and the sympathies, and must hold them subject to the influence of what he reads. New experiences are thus made his through contact with the thought and experience of the author and, as when Keats “ heard Chapman speak out loud and bold,” a larger world, extending beyond the little circle of his everyday life, is opened to him. But the range and power of such literature are seldom realized by the student until he hears it read aloud, or he himself attempts to express its thought and spirit. The printed word is given reality and life when it is uttered by the living voice.
Moreover, reading aloud trains the student to accurate observation and close scrutiny of what he reads. Ask the
student who is in the habit of “ skimming over " whatever is put before him to state the thought of what he has just read, and rarely is he able to give anything better than a vague, disconnected statement of it; but let the student be subject to the exacting study which good reading aloud requires, and he is prepared to give a better account of his reading. The pupil who has an idea that the only requirement for reading aloud is to look at the book and read it off," soon finds that he is in error. For no one can read aloud well who has not a sure grasp of the thought, and few students, untrained in reading aloud, have the ability to get from the printed page all that it has for them. Especially is this true of poetry and finer forms of literature.
Now, the adequate rendering of the thought of the printed page makes demands on the voice such as oral composition and ordinary classroom speaking rarely make. For, in reading literature, not ideas alone are to be stated, but imagina-; tion and spirit are to be revealed as well. Without these, poetry becomes dry as dust, and prose “ vain bibble-babble.” All the expressive powers of the voice are called into action when one reads a poem like Lowell's Vision of Sir Launfal, or a narrative like Irving's Rip Van Winkle or Dickens's Christmas Carol. Indeed, the vividness and impressiveness of such literature depend largely upon the true, unaffected voicing of it.
Professor Dowden in his New Studies in Literature remarks : “Few persons nowadays seem to feel how powerful an instrument of culture may be found in modest, intelligent and sympathetic reading aloud. A mongrel something which, at least with the inferior adepts, is neither good reading nor veritable acting, but which sets agape the half-educated with the wonder of its airs and attitudinizings, its pseudo-heroics and pseudo-pathos, has usurped the place of the true art of reading aloud, and has made the word recitation a terror