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Gesture Measured by Conviction

As genius in ideas will compensate for the neglect of elocutionary art in utterance, so earnestness and commanding thought will produce eloquence of effect without gesture in delivery. At the same time, fitting gesture, which grows out of personal animation, is an advantage. To underdo it, rather than overdo it, is a safe rule. If the arm moves from the shoulder, rather than from the elbow, angularity of action, which is never well received, will be avoided. It is better to commence a speech with moderate action and leave it to the natural fervor of conviction to augment it.

As a rule, a chaste, concise and energetic style is more effective than a florid, turgid and prolix one; so the judicious employment of moderate gesture is more effective upon the taste of the English people, who love moderation, than any possible amplification of spasmodic attitudes or redundancy of facial changes. He who commences with moderate gesture may increase it without danger of falling into exaggeration, while he who begins with affluence of action exhausts his resources of motion before the moment for supreme effect arrives.
Robert Hall had no oratorical action, scarcely any kind of motion, excepting an occasional lifting or waving of the right hand; and in his most impassioned moments only an alternate retreat and advance in the pulpit by a short step. Nor had W. J. Fox much gesture. His hands were crossed before him. One or other arm was raised (I do not remember to have seen both raised at once) and pointed towards, rather than at, the audience. The action seemed more effective from its moderation. Mr. Bright had impressive gestures, which were moderately used. Mr. Gladstone's striking and animated gestures are one of the charms of his oratory. Gambetta was a master of gesture: but it was slow, imposing, sustained by his mighty voice and well-chosen words. He excelled in vigorous sentences, which no compeer could express with like luminousness. His gestures illustrated his sense; they were not, as with many animated speakers, a substitute for sense.

Sincerity is not always elegance, nor is earnestness always grace; nevertheless, earnestness is the best schoolmaster of gesture. Awkwardness and angularity of movement is forgiven to the sincere. In some, grace of gesture comes by nature, some acquire it by dancing. Grace mostly comes by training, but those who have it not should confine themselves to few motions. Awkwardness will not be so apparent then. Besides, there is another compensation—a little gesture goes a long way when there is manifest conviction behind it. However, gesture is but the outward and visible ornament of inward sources of effectiveness. To venture upon imitating Italian or French gesture, the speaker needs Italian grace and French animation.

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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).

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