« AnteriorContinuar »
silence; on the head, pain ; on the breast, affection, or an appeal to conscience; clenched, it signifies defiance. Both hands raised, with the palms united, express supplication ; gently clasped, thankfulness; wrung, agony.
In most of these cases, action is significant because it is spontaneous and uniform. The mother who saw her son just shot dead, in Convent Garden, expressed her amazement by a motion of her hand, such as a thousand others would make, probably without one exception, in similar circumstances.
A Greek eulogist of Cæsar says, " his right hand was mighty to command, which by its majestic power did quell the fierce audacity of barbarous men."
“ A man standing by the bed of an expiring friend, waving his hand with the palm outward, tells an officious nurse to stand back, at a distance. Again the same hand beckons, with the palın inward, and the nurse flies to his assis
The Roman who held up the stump of his arm, from which the hand was lost, in the service of his country, pleaded for his brother, with an eloquence surpassing the power of words. And all the influence of the Tribunes, could not persuade the people to pass a vote of condemnation against Manlius, while he stood and silently stretched out his hand, towards the Capitol, which his valor bad saved.
Sect. 2.-- Action considered as significant from custom.
In this respect its meaning, like that of words, is arbitrary, local and mutable. In Europe, respect is expressed by uncovering the head ; in the East, by keeping it cove ered. In one country, the same thing is expressed by bowing, in another by kneeling, in another, by prostration. The New Zealander presses his nose against that of his friend, to denote what we express by a squeeze of the hand.* The European welcomes the return of a beloved object by an embrace;—the Otaheitan signifies the same emotion by tearing his hair, and lacerating his body.
On gestures of this description I shall say nothing more, except that they have
grave oratory. This allows nothing as becoming, that does not correspond with time and place, the age of the orator, and the elevation of his subject. It abjures mimicry and pantomime. The theatre admits of attitude and action, that would be altogether extravagant in the senate. The forum too, though much more restricted than the stage, allows a violence that would be unsuitable to the business of the sacred orator. Indeed, the dignity of eloquence can in no case condescend to bistrionic levity. The comic actor may descend to minute imitation; he may, for example, represent the fingers of the physician applied to the pulse of his patient, or of the musician to the strings of his instrument. But in the orator, all this is to be, as Quinctilian says, “ longissime fugiendum."
* Homer makes Glaucus and Diomed, two chiefs of the opposing armies, shake hands, as a token of individual friendship. Iliad VI. 233.
PART II.--FAULTS OF RHETORICAL ACTION.
Before I proceed to that cursory view of these which I propose to give, it may be useful to advert to the sources from which they are derived. These are chiefly, personal defects, diffidence, and imitation.
Any considerable defect, original or accidental, in the conformation of the body, may injure the force or gracefulness of its movements. The walk of Achilles must have had more dignity, than the halting gait of Thersites. If Cicero had lost his right hand, or even the thumb or forefinger of that hand, though he would have been still the first orator of Rome, he would have been somewhat less than Cicero. Austin observes that shortness of neck and of arms is unfavorable to oratorical gesture. But I am not aware that this remark is justified by facts, except so far as corpulence is unfriendly to agility and freedom of movement.
Many defects in the action of public speakers, have their origin probably in an unmanly diffidence. When one, who has bad no preparatory discipline in public speaking, rises to address a large assembly, he is appalled at the very aspect of his audience, and dares not stir a limb, lest he should commit some mistake. Before he surmounts this timidity, he is liable to fall under the dominion of habits, from which he can never release himself. When, therefore, Walker says, “ A speaker should use no more gesture than he can help,” he must mean an accomplished speaker, whose external powers spontaneously obey the impulse of his feelings. But it would be idle
to say that a prisoner, whose hands are pinioned by cords, should stir them no more than he can help. And it is no less idle to say this of a speaker, whose hands are pinioned by habit. Cut the cords that bind him, set his limbs at liberty to obey his inward emotions, and I readily admit the justice of the principle. But when diffidence does not acquire such an ascendency as to suppress action, it may render it constrained and inappropriate, and in many ways frustrate its utility.
The only other cause of the imperfections which I am about to notice, is imitation. This, when combined with the one just mentioned, operates with an influence more powerful perhaps, than in any other case. Addison, in describing English oratory, says "We can talk of life and death in cold blood, and keep our temper, in a discourse that turns upon every thing that is dear to us." This censure he extends to the pulpit, the bar, and the senate. The fact he accounts for, partly by the charitable supposition that the English are peculiarly modest; while he allows us, if he does not oblige us, to ascribe it ultimately to a frigid national temperament. And yet, in this he seems hardly consistent; for he adds, “Though our zeal breaks out in the finest tropes and figures, it is not able to stir a limb about us.”
But how can the external signs of emotion be thus incongruous ? A zeal that kindles the soul of a speaker, that bursts from his mouth in tropes, never fails to stir his limbs, unless some powerful, counteracting cause prevents. Now we have just seen that such a cause may exist, which, even in spite of emotion, will as effectually confine a man's hands, as if they were literally bound. And
what absurdity is there in supposing, that what was excess of modesty, in a few Englishmen of distinction, at some early period, was transferred to others, by imitation ; so that the want of. gesture of which Addison complains became a national characteristic ? National babits result from individual, often by a process of ages, the effects of which are manifest, while the operation is unseen. And it is more philosophical to ascribe the fact on which I am remarking, to a public taste, formed and perpetuated by imitation, than to suppose, as is often done a temperament singularly phlegmatic in a people, whose poets, and secular orators, have unquestionably surpassed all their cotemporaries, in powers of imagination.
But want of action is not the only fault that may spring from imitation. In the case of individuals, excess and awkwardness, may arise from undue regard to some improper model. Cicero mentions an orator, who was distinguished for pathos, and a wry face; and says that another who made him his pattern, imitated his distortion of features, but not his pathos. Special faults in one whom we mean to imitate, strike attention, because they commonly appear in the form of peculiarity. This, while it renders imitation more preposterous, renders it, at the same time, more obvious. The worst jesture of Hamilton has been transmitted by imitation, to this time; and is used by some who never saw that great man, and who know nothing of his manner as a speaker. In this way, some peculiarity, that was perhaps accidental at first, may acquire ascendency in a college, and be transmitted from one generation to another of its students.
In proceeding now to mention, with more particular