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sound, which gradually becomes soft and faint, although the note, during the whole vibration, remains the same; so any articulate sound may be uttered with different degrees of strength, proportioned to the degree of exertion with which it is spoken. In all words consisting of more syllables than one, we give some one syllable a more forcible utterance than the rest. This variety of sound, which is called Accent, serves to distinguish from each other the words of which a sentence is composed: without it, the ear would perceive nothing but an unmeaning succession of detached syllables. Accent may be applied either to long or to short syllables, but does not, as some writers have supposed, change their nature; for Accent implies not an extension of time, but an increase of force. In the words, pity, enemy, the first syllable, though accented, is still short. Syllables may be long, which are not accented; as appears in the words empire, exile. Accent affects every part of the syllable, by giving additional force to the utterance of the whole complex sound, but does not lengthen or change the vowel sound. words habit, specimen, proper, as they are pronounced by Englishmen, the first syllable, though accented, is not long. Some words, consisting of several syllables, admit of two accents, one more forcible than the other, but both sufficiently distinguishable from the unaccented parts of the word; as in the words monumental, manifestation, naturalization.
In accenting words, care should be taken to avoid all affected deviations from common usage. There is the greater occasion for this precaution, as a rule has been arbitrarily introduced upon this subject, which has no foundation either in the structure of the English language, or in the principles of harmony; that in words consisting of more than two syllables, the Accent should be thrown as far backward as possible. This rule has occasioned much pedantic and irregular pronunciation; and has, perhaps, introduced all the uncertainty, which attends the accenting of several English words.
In every sentence, distinguish the more significant words by a natural, forcible, and varied EMPHASIS.
THERE are in every sentence certain words, which have a greater share in conveying the speaker's meaning than the rest; and are, on this account, distinguished by the forcible manner in which they are uttered. Thus in the sentence,
Cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity*;
the principal stress is laid upon certain substantives, adjectives, and verbs; and the rest of the sentence is spoken with an inferior degree of exertion. This stress, or emphasis, serves to unite words, and form them into sentences. By giving the several parts of a sentence their proper utterance, it discovers their mutual dependance, and conveys their full import to the mind of the hearer. It is in the power of Emphasis to make long and complex sentences appear intelligible and perspicuous. But for this purpose it is necessary, that the reader should be perfectly acquainted with the exact construction, and full meaning, of every sentence which he recites. Without this it is impossible to give those inflections and variations to the voice, which Nature requires ; and it is for want of this previous study, more perhaps than from any other cause, that we so often hear persons read with an improper emphasis, or with no emphasis at all; that is, with a stupid monotony. Much study and pains are necessary in acquiring the habit of just and forcible pronunciation; and it can only be the effect of close attention and long practice, to be able, with a mere glance of the eye, to read any piece with good emphasis and good discretion.
It is another office of emphasis, to express the opposition between the several parts of a sentence, where the ideas are contrasted or compared ; as in the following sentences:
When our vices leave us, we fancy that we leave them.
A custom more honour'd in the Breach, than in the Observance.
*Book iil, Chap. 2.
In some sentences the antithesis is double, and even treble: this must be expressed in reading, by a corresponding combination of emphasis. The following instances are of this kind.
Anger may glance into the breast of a wise man, but rests only in the bosom of fools.
To err is human; to forgive, divine.
An angry man who suppresses his passion, thinks worse than he speaks; and an angry man that will chide, speaks worse than he thinks.
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n.
He rais'd a mortal to the skies;
She drew an angel down.
When any term, or phrase, is used to express some particular meaning, not obviously arising from the words, it should be marked by a strong emphasis; as,
TO BE, contents his natural desire.
SIR Balaam now, he lives like other folks.
Then you will pass into Africa: WILL pass, did I say?
In expressing any maxim, or doctrine, which contains much meaning in a few words, the weight of the sentiment should be accompanied with a correspondent energy of pronunciation. For example:
One truth is clear; Whatever is, is right.
The principal words, which serve to mark the divisions of a discourse, should be distinguished in the same manner.
Emphasis may also serve to intimate some allusion, to express surprise, or to convey an oblique hint. For example: While expletives their feeble aid do join.
He said then full before their sight
And Brutus is an HONOURABLE man.
Lastly, Emphasis is of use in determining the sense of doubtful expressions. The following short sentence admits of three different meanings, according to the place of the emphasis:
Do you intend to go to London this summer?
For want of attending to the proper emphasis, the following passage of Scripture is often misunderstood:
If therefore the light that is IN thee be darkness, how great is THAT darkness!
In order to acquire a habit of speaking with a just and forcible emphasis, nothing more is necessary, than previously to study the construction, meaning, and spirit of every sentence, and to adhere as nearly as possible to the manner in which we distinguish one word from another in conversation; for in familiar discourse we scarcely ever fail to express our selves emphatically, or place the emphasis improperly. With respect to artificial helps, such as distinguishing words or clauses of sentences by particular characters or marks; I believe it will be found, upon trial, that, except where they may be necessary as a guide to the sense, not leaving the reader at full liberty to follow his own understanding and feelings, they rather mislead than assist him.
The most common faults respecting emphasis are, laying so strong an emphasis upon one word as to leave no power of giving a particular force to other words, which, though not equally, are in a certain degree emphatical: and placing the greatest stress on conjunctive particles, and other words of secondary importance. This latter fault is humorously ridiculed by Churchill, in his censure of Mossop:
With studied improprieties of speech
He soars beyond the hackney critic's reach.
While principals, ungrac'd, like lackies wait;
To stamp new vigour on the nervous line:
HE, SHE, IT, AND, WE, YE, THEY, fright the soul.
Emphasis is often destroyed by an injudicious attempt to read melodiously. In reading verse, this fault sometimes arises from a false notion of the necessity of preserving an alternate succession of unaccented and accented syllables: a kind of uniformity, which the poet probably did not intend; and which, if he had, would certainly, at least in a poem of considerable length, become insufferably tiresome. In read
ing prose, this fondness for melody is, perhaps, more commonly the effect of indolence, or affectation, than of real taste; but, to whatever cause it may be ascribed, it is certainly unfavourable to true oratory. Agreeable inflections and easy variations of the voice, as far as they arise from, or are consistent with, just speaking, may deserve attention. But to substitute one unmeaning tune in the room of all the proprieties and graces of elocution, and then to applaud this manner under the appellation of musical speaking, implies a perversion of judgment, which can admit of no defence. If public speaking must be musical, let the words be set to music in recitative, that these melodious speakers may no longer lie open to the sarcasm: Do you read, or sing? if you sing, you sing very ill. It is much to be wondered at, that a kind of reading, which has so little merit considered as music, and none at all considered as speaking, should be so studiously practised, and so much admired. Can a method of reading, which is so entirely different from the usual manner of conversation, be natural or right? Or is it possible, that all the varieties of sentiment, which a public speaker has occasion to introduce, should be properly expressed in one melodious tone and cadence, employed alike on all occasions, and for all purposes?
Acquire a just variety of Pause and Inflection. PAUSES are not only necessary, in order to enable the speaker to take breath without inconvenience, and hereby preserve the command of his voice, but in order to give the hearer a distinct perception of the construction and meaning of each sentence, and a clear understanding of the whole. An uninterrupted rapidity of utterance is one of the worst faults in elocution. A speaker, who has this fault, may be compared to an alarmbell, which, when once put in motion, clatters on till the weight that moves it is run down. Without pauses, the spirit of what is delivered must be lost, and the sense must appear confused, and may even be misrepresented