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The Art of Public Speaking Part 22

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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

But come; Here, as before, never, so help you mercy, How strange or odd so'er I bear myself,-- As I perchance hereafter shall think meet To put an antic disposition on,-- That you, at such times seeing me, never shall, With arms enc.u.mber'd thus, or this head-shake, Or by p.r.o.nouncing of some doubtful phrase, As "Well, well, we know," or "We could, an if we would,"

Or "If we list to speak," or "There be, an if there might,"

Or such ambiguous giving-out, to note That you know aught of me: this not to do, So grace and mercy at your most need help you, Swear.

--_Act I. Scene V._

6. Make a list of common errors of p.r.o.nunciation, saying which are due to faulty articulation, wrong accentuation, and incomplete enunciation.

In each case make the correction.

7. Criticise any speech you may have heard which displayed these faults.

8. Explain how the false shame of seeming to be too precise may hinder us from cultivating perfect verbal utterance.

9. Over-precision is likewise a fault. To bring out any syllable unduly is to caricature the word. Be _moderate_ in reading the following:

_THE LAST SPEECH OF MAXIMILIAN DE ROBESPIERRE_

The enemies of the Republic call me tyrant! Were I such they would grovel at my feet. I should gorge them with gold, I should grant them immunity for their crimes, and they would be grateful. Were I such, the kings we have vanquished, far from denouncing Robespierre, would lend me their guilty support; there would be a covenant between them and me. Tyranny must have tools. But the enemies of tyranny,--whither does their path tend? To the tomb, and to immortality! What tyrant is my protector? To what faction do I belong? Yourselves! What faction, since the beginning of the Revolution, has crushed and annihilated so many detected traitors? You, the people,--our principles--are that faction--a faction to which I am devoted, and against which all the scoundrelism of the day is banded!

The confirmation of the Republic has been my object; and I know that the Republic can be established only on the eternal basis of morality. Against me, and against those who hold kindred principles, the league is formed. My life? Oh! my life I abandon without a regret! I have seen the past; and I foresee the future. What friend of this country would wish to survive the moment when he could no longer serve it,--when he could no longer defend innocence against oppression? Wherefore should I continue in an order of things, where intrigue eternally triumphs over truth; where justice is mocked; where pa.s.sions the most abject, or fears the most absurd, over-ride the sacred interests of humanity? In witnessing the mult.i.tude of vices which the torrent of the Revolution has rolled in turbid communion with its civic virtues, I confess that I have sometimes feared that I should be sullied, in the eyes of posterity, by the impure neighborhood of unprincipled men, who had thrust themselves into a.s.sociation with the sincere friends of humanity; and I rejoice that these conspirators against my country have now, by their reckless rage, traced deep the line of demarcation between themselves and all true men.

Question history, and learn how all the defenders of liberty, in all times, have been overwhelmed by calumny. But their traducers died also. The good and the bad disappear alike from the earth; but in very different conditions. O Frenchmen! O my countrymen!

Let not your enemies, with their desolating doctrines, degrade your souls, and enervate your virtues! No, Chaumette, no! Death is not "an eternal sleep!" Citizens! efface from the tomb that motto, graven by sacrilegious hands, which spreads over all nature a funereal c.r.a.pe, takes from oppressed innocence its support, and affronts the beneficent dispensation of death!

Inscribe rather thereon these words: "Death is the commencement of immortality!" I leave to the oppressors of the People a terrible testament, which I proclaim with the independence befitting one whose career is so nearly ended; it is the awful truth--"Thou shalt die!"

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 6: _School and College Speaker_, Mitch.e.l.l.]

[Footnote 7: _School and College Speaker_, Mitch.e.l.l.]

CHAPTER XV

THE TRUTH ABOUT GESTURE

When Whitefield acted an old blind man advancing by slow steps toward the edge of the precipice, Lord Chesterfield started up and cried: "Good G.o.d, he is gone!"

--NATHAN SHEPPARD, _Before an Audience_.

Gesture is really a simple matter that requires observation and common sense rather than a book of rules. Gesture is an outward expression of an inward condition. It is merely an effect--the effect of a mental or an emotional impulse struggling for expression through physical avenues.

You must not, however, begin at the wrong end: if you are troubled by your gestures, or a lack of gestures, attend to the cause, not the effect. It will not in the least help matters to tack on to your delivery a few mechanical movements. If the tree in your front yard is not growing to suit you, fertilize and water the soil and let the tree have sunshine. Obviously it will not help your tree to nail on a few branches. If your cistern is dry, wait until it rains; or bore a well.

Why plunge a pump into a dry hole?

The speaker whose thoughts and emotions are welling within him like a mountain spring will not have much trouble to make gestures; it will be merely a question of properly directing them. If his enthusiasm for his subject is not such as to give him a natural impulse for dramatic action, it will avail nothing to furnish him with a long list of rules.

He may tack on some movements, but they will look like the wilted branches nailed to a tree to simulate life. Gestures must be born, not built. A wooden horse may amuse the children, but it takes a live one to go somewhere.

It is not only impossible to lay down definite rules on this subject, but it would be silly to try, for everything depends on the speech, the occasion, the personality and feelings of the speaker, and the att.i.tude of the audience. It is easy enough to forecast the result of multiplying seven by six, but it is impossible to tell any man what kind of gestures he will be impelled to use when he wishes to show his earnestness. We may tell him that many speakers close the hand, with the exception of the forefinger, and pointing that finger straight at the audience pour out their thoughts like a volley; or that others stamp one foot for emphasis; or that Mr. Bryan often slaps his hands together for great force, holding one palm upward in an easy manner; or that Gladstone would sometimes make a rush at the clerk's table in Parliament and smite it with his hand so forcefully that D'israeli once brought down the house by grimly congratulating himself that such a barrier stood between himself and "the honorable gentleman."

All these things, and a bookful more, may we tell the speaker, but we cannot know whether he can use these gestures or not, any more than we can decide whether he could wear Mr. Bryan's clothes. The best that can be done on this subject is to offer a few practical suggestions, and let personal good taste decide as to where effective dramatic action ends and extravagant motion begins.

_Any Gesture That Merely Calls Attention to Itself Is Bad_

The purpose of a gesture is to carry your thought and feeling into the minds and hearts of your hearers; this it does by emphasizing your message, by interpreting it, by expressing it in action, by striking its tone in either a physically descriptive, a suggestive, or a typical gesture--and let it be remembered all the time that gesture includes _all_ physical movement, from facial expression and the tossing of the head to the expressive movements of hand and foot. A shifting of the pose may be a most effective gesture.

What is true of gesture is true of all life. If the people on the street turn around and watch your walk, your walk is more important than you are--change it. If the attention of your audience is called to your gestures, they are not convincing, because they _appear_ to be--what they have a doubtful right to be in reality--studied. Have you ever seen a speaker use such grotesque gesticulations that you were fascinated by their frenzy of oddity, but could not follow his thought? Do not smother ideas with gymnastics. Savonarola would rush down from the high pulpit among the congregation in the _duomo_ at Florence and carry the fire of conviction to his hearers; Billy Sunday slides to base on the platform carpet in dramatizing one of his baseball ill.u.s.trations. Yet in both instances the message has somehow stood out bigger than the gesture--it is chiefly in calm afterthought that men have remembered the _form_ of dramatic expression. When Sir Henry Irving made his famous exit as "Shylock" the last thing the audience saw was his pallid, avaricious hand extended skinny and claw-like against the background. At the time, every one was overwhelmed by the tremendous typical quality of this gesture; now, we have time to think of its art, and discuss its realistic power.

Only when gesture is subordinated to the absorbing importance of the idea--a spontaneous, living expression of living truth--is it justifiable at all; and when it is remembered for itself--as a piece of unusual physical energy or as a poem of grace--it is a dead failure as dramatic expression. There is a place for a unique style of walking--it is the circus or the cake-walk; there is a place for surprisingly rhythmical evolutions of arms and legs--it is on the dance floor or the stage. Don't let your agility and grace put your thoughts out of business.

One of the present writers took his first lessons in gesture from a certain college president who knew far more about what had happened at the Diet of Worms than he did about how to express himself in action.

His instructions were to start the movement on a certain word, continue it on a precise curve, and unfold the fingers at the conclusion, ending with the forefinger--just so. Plenty, and more than plenty, has been published on this subject, giving just such silly directions. Gesture is a thing of mentality and feeling--not a matter of geometry. Remember, whenever a pair of shoes, a method of p.r.o.nunciation, or a gesture calls attention to itself, it is bad. When you have made really good gestures in a good speech your hearers will not go away saying, "What beautiful gestures he made!" but they will say, "I'll vote for that measure." "He is right--I believe in that."

_Gestures Should Be Born of the Moment_

The best actors and public speakers rarely know in advance what gestures they are going to make. They make one gesture on certain words tonight, and none at all tomorrow night at the same point--their various moods and interpretations govern their gestures. It is all a matter of impulse and intelligent feeling with them--don't overlook that word _intelligent_. Nature does not always provide the same kind of sunsets or snow flakes, and the movements of a good speaker vary almost as much as the creations of nature.

Now all this is not to say that you must not take some thought for your gestures. If that were meant, why this chapter? When the sergeant despairingly besought the recruit in the awkward squad to step out and look at himself, he gave splendid advice--and worthy of personal application. Particularly while you are in the learning days of public speaking you must learn to criticise your own gestures. Recall them--see where they were useless, crude, awkward, what not, and do better next time. There is a vast deal of difference between being conscious of self and being self-conscious.

It will require your nice discrimination in order to cultivate spontaneous gestures and yet give due attention to practise. While you depend upon the moment it is vital to remember that only a dramatic genius can effectively accomplish such feats as we have related of Whitefield, Savonarola, and others: and doubtless the first time they were used they came in a burst of spontaneous feeling, yet Whitefield declared that not until he had delivered a sermon forty times was its delivery perfected. What spontaneity initiates let practise complete.

Every effective speaker and every vivid actor has observed, considered and practised gesture until his dramatic actions are a sub-conscious possession, just like his ability to p.r.o.nounce correctly without especially concentrating his thought. Every able platform man has possessed himself of a dozen ways in which he might depict in gesture any given emotion; in fact, the means for such expression are endless--and this is precisely why it is both useless and harmful to make a chart of gestures and enforce them as the ideals of what may be used to express this or that feeling. Practise descriptive, suggestive, and typical movements until they come as naturally as a good articulation; and rarely forecast the gestures you will use at a given moment: leave something to that moment.

_Avoid Monotony in Gesture_

Roast beef is an excellent dish, but it would be terrible as an exclusive diet. No matter how effective one gesture is, do not overwork it. Put variety in your actions. Monotony will destroy all beauty and power. The pump handle makes one effective gesture, and on hot days that one is very eloquent, but it has its limitations.

_Any Movement that is not Significant, Weakens_

Do not forget that. Restlessness is not expression. A great many useless movements will only take the attention of the audience from what you are saying. A widely-noted man introduced the speaker of the evening one Sunday lately to a New York audience. The only thing remembered about that introductory speech is that the speaker played nervously with the covering of the table as he talked. We naturally watch moving objects. A janitor putting down a window can take the attention of the hearers from Mr. Roosevelt. By making a few movements at one side of the stage a chorus girl may draw the interest of the spectators from a big scene between the "leads." When our forefathers lived in caves they had to watch moving objects, for movements meant danger. We have not yet overcome the habit. Advertisers have taken advantage of it--witness the moving electric light signs in any city. A shrewd speaker will respect this law and conserve the attention of his audience by eliminating all unnecessary movements.

_Gesture Should either be Simultaneous with or Precede the Words--not Follow Them_

Lady Macbeth says: "Bear welcome in your eye, your hand, your tongue."

Reverse this order and you get comedy. Say, "There he goes," pointing at him after you have finished your words, and see if the result is not comical.

_Do Not Make Short, Jerky Movements_

Some speakers seem to be imitating a waiter who has failed to get a tip.

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The Art of Public Speaking Part 22 summary

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