Delivery relates primarily to ease, audibility, and expressiveness of speaking. Expressiveness includes fervor and gesture. But fervor and gesture belong to natural passion rather than to care and skill.
Delivery is a carrier's term, and sounds too mechanical for elocution; nevertheless, a speech is a delivery of information or incentive, and the manner of it is important. Delivery is, in fact, elocution in practice. Vigorous, sonorous delivery is called declamation. The speech of Brutus, defending the assassination of Caesar, or that of Anthony denouncing it, are declaimed on the stage. Declamation is also applied to speech pompously spoken without adequate force of sense—to propositions daring in sound but meek in proof. Oriental speech is generally graceful and fascinating declamationornament without profit. Paul's famous declamation on charity includes no reason why anyone should have charity. Many contrive to do very well without it. Its beauty, its eminence as a virtue, the apostle excels in setting forth. It remained for Richard Hooker sixteen centuries later to show how much more any man needs the charity of all men, than that all men need the charity of any one man, and that it is therefore prudent to establish a claim to the good-will of the world by showing good-will towards it. This is the reason which commends charity as a civil policy, were it not a principle of justice.
So much describes declamation intrinsically as regards matter. As respects manner, declamation means the loud, vigorous, impetuous utterance of resounding sentences. But force in delivery may be obtained in other ways—where there is mind behind the words.
The Rev. Robert Hall, whose talent for speaking was such that, when eleven years old, he was set up to preach extempore to a select auditory of full-grown men, says of himself: 'To me to speak slow was ruin. You know, sir, that force or momentum is conjointly as the body and the velocity; therefore, as my voice is feeble, what is wanted in body must be made up in velocity.' This is a mathematical figure of speech, and is more true of dynamics than rhetoric. Hall's remark has misled many young speakers. Unless there is strength of voice to sustain the momentum imparted, indistinctness and alternations of screechings and whispers will be the result.
Some years ago, we had in Parliament a momentum speaker of no mean repute. It is said of Mr. Macaulay (I think by Francis, in his Orators of the Age), that when an opening is made in a discussion in the House of Commons, he rises, or rather darts up from his seat, and plunges at once into the very heart of his subject without exordium or apologetic preface. In fact, you have for a few seconds a high-pitched voice, monotonous and rather shrill, pouring forth words with inconceivable velocity ere you have become aware that a new speaker, and one of no common order, has broken in upon the debate. A few seconds more and cheers, perhaps from all parts of the house, rouse you completely from your apathy, compelling you to follow that extremely voluble and not very enticing voice in its rapid course through the subject on which the speaker is entering, with a resolute determination, as it seems, never to pause. You think of an express train which does not stop even at the chief stations. On, on Macaulay speeds, in full reliance on his own momentum, never stopping for words, never stopping for thoughts, never halting for an instant even to take breath, his intellect gathering new vigor as it proceeds, hauling the subject after him and all its possible attributes and illustrations, with the strength of a giant, leaving a line of light on the pathway his mind has trod, till, unexhausted and apparently inexhaustible, he brings his remarkable effort to a close by a peroration so highly sustained in its declamatory power, so abounding in, illustration, so admirably framed to crown and clench the whole oration, that surprise, if it has even begun to wear off, kindles anew, and the hearer is left prostrate by the whirlwind of ideas and emotions which has swept over him. A man may take this liberty with elocution if he has genius to compensate for it. That member must beware who attempts to charm the House of Commons by a monotonous tone without Macaulay's wit, his power of enlightenment and amazing fecundity of illustration.
In some persons real power of speaking is marred by a physical peculiarity, as in the case of the late Lord Derby, which cannot be overcome by any device. A weak voice may be made stronger by exercise; stammering may be mitigated as it is said Demosthenes did in his case, by declaiming with stones in his mouth; but a husky voice is incorrigible.
Lord Rosebery remarks of Pitt that 'unfriendly critics said that his voice sounded as if he had worsted in his mouth; but the general testimony is that it was rich and sonorous.' Pitt's voice when animated rose to sonorousness, but he must have had worsted moments. Not even 'unfriendly critics' would invent a peculiarity which would be confuted five nights a week. Such a voice is not a defect of oratory; where it exists, it is a defect of nature—still a disadvantage. Mr. Goschen speaks as though he had once been a peddler of worsted, and had accidentally swallowed a ball; or had suffered from a cold in the throat when young, and the flannel intended to encase it had been inadvertently put inside instead of out. This filamentariness of speech imparts a woolen effect to many wise things he says. There are times when Mr. Goschen's impassioned tones expand into the volume of the fog-horn, when their impressiveness effaces all sense of defect.
Others have natural advantages. Lord Coleridge had deliberateness of speech, and, like Lord Westbury, was unresting and unerring in his choice of terms. When Lord Coleridge, then Sir John Duke Coleridge, first spoke in the Commons, his tones filled the House with the silvery accents of a lute. Sir John Bowring says, 'The Chinese shoot arrows to which a musical pipe is attached, and when launched, sing in the air.' That describes Lord Coleridge's sentences.
Some orators of mark on the political platform suffer their voice to fall at the closing words of a sentencethough in the last words lie the whole point they intend. Great is the disappointment of hearers who lose interest in an argument incompletely made known to them. The cleverer a speaker is the more surely the sting of his meaning will be in the tail of sentences of importance. What does he speak for save to make that word clear? Yet he will drop his voice just there. Just as a man seldom writes his own name plainly because, knowing it himself, he concludes all other persons know it. Yet a proper name obscurely written, like an argument whose culmination is undisclosed, no one can certainly make out. This negligence in speaking is counted defective elocution. There is a vanishing point in art, but none in sentences.
Droll misapprehensions through indistinctness of utterance or neglect of emphasis, are familiar to every reader. There is the case of the archdeacon, whose housemaid gave notice to leave because she was held up to detestation every day in the morning prayers. The archdeacon read with the slovenly indistinctness common with some Churchmen, the words, 'O Lord, who hatest nothing that Thou hast made,' sounded thus: 'O Lord, who hatest nothing but the housemaid; and Mary, with her honest red elbows, said she would stand it no longer.
A clergyman, who denied that emphasis was proper in the pulpit, one day found his mistake by the smiles of his congregation, on his reading the text: 'And he spake to his sons, saying; "Saddle me, the ass, and they saddled him."' He would have made the meaning clear had he, instead of 'saddled him,' said 'saddled the ass.' A man whom he reprimanded for swearing, replied that he did not see any harm in it. 'No harm in it?' said the minister. 'Why, do you not know the commandment “Swear not at all?"' 'I do not swear at all,' said the man, 'I only swear at those who annoy me.'
The emphasis which is suggested by the sense is the best guide. Let a person make sure of the sense and his emphasis will be natural and varied. By natural is meant giving the chief force to those words upon which the meaning turns. For instance, in so simple a phrase as 'Come here.' If you wanted the person to come, and he would not, the speaker would throw a tone of entreaty into the word come: but if the person spoken to did not understand where he was to come to, and the speaker wanted him where he stood, he would put distinctness and force into the word here. But more of this in another chapter. 'Sufficient unto the place—is the evil thereof?'
Attracted by the pretensions of a placard, adorned by a testimonial from the Times, I went, in Glasgow, to hear some professional recitations. One of them was the 'Story of a Broken Heart.' The unfortunate girl, of whom it was told, did not die immediately, but it struck me she would have done so had she heard Mr. Wilson recite her story. The subject was that piece of graceful effeminacy, in which Washington Irving has told the story of the proud love of the daughter of Curran for the unhappy and heroic Emmet.
No one can recite with propriety what he does not feel, and the key to gesture as well as to modulation is earnestness. No actor can portray character with truth unless he can realize it, and he can only realize it by conceiving it for a time his own. It is said of one of the Kembles that his daughter had been forbidden to marry an actor, and her father was inexorable at her disobedience; but after he had seen her husband upon the stage, he relented, and forgave her with this observation, 'Well, well! I see you have not disobeyed me after all; for the man is not, and never will be, an actor.'
The prompting of Lucio to Isabel, when pleading before Angelo for the life of her brother, as rendered by Shakespeare in 'Measure for Measure,' is one of the happiest practical lessons in the art of persuasion on record. As a piece of perceptive teaching, neither the rhetoric of modern or of ancient times, so far as I have knowledge, has produced anything so wise, so concise, and yet so comprehensive, as Hamlet's directions to his players. It is a manual of delivery in miniature.
Do manners matter? is a question a public speaker should put to himself. In social life, those who affect to despise manners as too superfine for persons of their manly taste, forget that every man has manners—good or bad. A good manner is but art in doing what you have to do with consideration for others. A tone means much. Even laughter is an art some women laugh like joy. Some laugh like a peal of bells. Others laugh and you feel worse for having heard them. Is there such a thing as tone in the world? One would think not when we hear men cry 'Matter not manner.' A man shall hate his friend, not for what he says but for the imperious tone in which he says it. How many malevolent purposes have been changed by a kindly spoken word; how many hearts have been broken by unkind tones.
There are tones, whatever their purport may be, so enchanting that no ear would willingly forget them. Yet tone is a matter of manner. All manner is but policy in the sense of being a chosen line of action. Manner is the half of life. Without some refinement of manner life would not be worth having. Dress to the gentleman, skill to the workman, discipline to the soldier, knowledge to all—is manner. Grammar is manner of speech; poetry is manner of expression; rhetoric is the manner of the passions; art the manner of genius.
Daily watchfulness in speech is of the greatest importance. Ordinary conversation should be well and clearly spoken—whether a question, an answer, or an anecdote; every word should be carefully said. Lord Wolseley wisely counselled English officers in command of Zulu or Indian troops, not to conclude that they were stupid or willful because they disobeyed orders, unless they were quite sure the soldiers understood what was said to them. The stupidity might be on the part of the officer who was incapable of making himself understood.
Habitually audible and accurate speech will make it easy to speak in public. What anyone does well in daily life, he will do well in public, and have confidence that he can do it well. Well or ill, everybody is making short speeches in business or conversation, and a public speech is but the expansion or multiplication of short speeches.
No one has a right to speak unless he has something to say, and he has no right to say it publicly unless it is publicly important, and what it is publicly important to say should be said so distinctly and audibly that the public present can hear it.
Deliberation in delivery is more difficult to acquire or maintain than in former times. The world has been hurried by railways. They have originated a murderous punctuality in order to accelerate business. More deaths occur at railway stations through hurry to arrive there, than on all the coaches by the old and tardy traffic.
Public meetings, as a rule, have neither order nor limit. Everybody is held to have a right to speak now a meeting may number 30,000, as everyone had when a public meeting seldom numbered 300. Now, too many resolutions are proposed, too many speakers appear, and speaking is hurried.
Lord Palmerston was a speaker who knew the value of taking time. Once, at Tiverton, a vehement electoral opponent inquired whether he would give a plain answer to a plain question. To this Lord Palmerston assented. The question was—Would he vote for a Radical measure of reform? Palmerston at once answered: 'I will'—pausing, while the Liberals cheered—then adding, 'not,' whereupon the Conservatives applauded; waiting until they had done, Palmerston continued, 'tell you;' when the wily and evasive candidate retired amid laughter and distrust all round.
Without deliberateness, self-possession is unattainable, and self-possession alone sometimes makes the fortune of a speech; and if it does not, it conduces to the repute of the speaker.
I have seen Mr John Stuart Mill in the House of Commons pause in an argument until the sequence occurred to him. The House would wait, as Mill's words were chosen. I have noticed Lord John Russell pause when the word he wanted did not occur to him. One night his son, Lord Amberley, paused twice in a short, wise speech, for the same reason. Being acquainted with him, 1 congratulated him upon the promise he gave of being a Parliamentary speaker, through self-possession, and the courage which waited for accuracy. A speaker should provide less to say than he might say at his ordinary rate of speaking, so that he must fill the time allotted to him by more deliberation and emphasis. Between deliberate, fulltoned, and energetic speaking, and feeble, indistinct and spiritless utterances, there is the difference of live and dead oratory. A certain energy in delivery—which prevents drawling, and a slowness that avoids whirling accents, or clipping half the sounds away, as hasty speaking doesare conditions of elocution. A speaker should take time to utter well, speak trippingly without tripping. If anyone must be extreme, he had better be heavy than hasty. A slowness carried too far would produce tedium, but without a certain slowness there can be no distinctness, nor will there be time for the speaker to think and for the auditors to apprehend the speaker's meaning.
It could never be meant that people should rush through this world, seeing how many advantages wait on those who take time to consider before they precipitate themselves into action. Difficulties, which seem insuperable to the beginner, vanish before those who have the wisdom to observe Pope's rule:—
Learn to speak slow—all other graces
Will follow in their proper places.
The graces may not follow then, but slowness gives them a chance of doing it if they have a mind to. Nevertheless, deliberation is the beginning of power in speech. The limit of slowness is drawling. Without a certain energetic slowness there can be no certain effect, and seldom any effect at all.
One who knew the House of Commons well has said:'Fellows who have been the oracles of coteries from their birth—who have gone through the regular process of gold medals, senior wranglerships, and double firsts—who have nightly sat down amid tumultuous cheering in debating societies, and can harangue with an unruffled forehead and an unfaltering voice, from one end of a dinner-table to the other—who on all occasions have something to say, and can speak with fluency on what they know nothing about—no sooner rise in the House than their spells desert them. All their effrontery vanishes. Common-place ideas are rendered even more uninteresting by a monotonous delivery; and keenly alive, as even boobies are in those sacred walls, to the ridiculous—no one appears more thoroughly aware of his unexpected and astounding deficiencies than the orator himself. He regains his seat, hot and hard, sultry and stiff, with a burning cheek and an icy hand—repressing his breath lest it should give evidence of an existence of which he is ashamed; and clenching his fist that the pressure may secretly convince him he has not as completely annihilated his stupid body as his false reputation.'
This passage has discouraged more persons than it ought. If a man goes into Parliament to make a demonstration at sight he will commonly fail. But if he modestly gives it information, and speaks when a sense of duty comes over him, upon what he understands, he will succeed according to what is in him.
One who acquired great reputation for capacity, Thomas Paine, confesses that the world (when he first came to America) could not have persuaded him that he should be either a soldier or an author. 'If I had any talents for either,' he said, 'they were buried in me, and might have ever continued so had not the necessity of the times dragged and driven them into action.' He was unconscious of his powers, as most persons are; hence, trusting yourself to events is good. It is prudent in men not to guess their abilities, but determine them by enterprise and achievement. The first step to success is to try. There is no learning to swim without going into the water. Had Hamlet contemplated being an orator, his soliloquies would have run thus:—
To spout, or not to spout, that is the question:
Whether 'tis better for a shamefaced fellow
(With voice unmusical and gesture awkward)
To stand a mere spectator in this business,
Or have a touch at Rhetoric? To speak—to spout
No more; and by this effort, to say we end
That bashfulness, that nervous trepidation
Displayed in maiden speeches—'twere a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To read—to speechify
Before folks—perhaps to fail: ay, there's the rub;
For from that ill success what sneers may rise,
Young Duke, by Disraeli.
Ere we have scrambled through the sad oration,
Must give us pause. 'Tis the same reason
That makes a novice stand in hesitation,
And gladly hide his own diminished head
Beneath some half-fledged orator's importance,
When he himself might his quietus make
By a mere recitation. Who could speeches hear,
Responded to with hearty acclamation,
And yet restrain himself from holding forth—
But for the dread of some unlucky failure,
Some unforeseen mistake—some frightful blunder—
Some vile pronunciation or inflection,
Improper emphasis or wry-necked period,
Which carping critics note, and raise the laugh,
Not to our credit—nor so soon forgot?
We muse on this! Then starts the pithy question:
Had we not best be mute, and hide our faults,
Than spout to publish them?
Spout and publish them without hesitation if you wish to cure them. Had Raphael feared to daub, he had never been Raphael of renown. Had Canova feared to torture marble, he had never been a sculptor. Had Charles Kean feared to spout, he had never been an actor regarded as next to Garrick. If you stammer like Demosthenes, or stutter like Curran, speak on. He who hesitates to hesitate will always hesitate.
More from George Jacob Holyoake
- Born April 13, 1817 in Birmingham, UK and died on January 22nd, 1906.
- Was a British secularist, co-operator (The English Leader), and newspaper editor (Reasoner).