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with a pretty coloured flame when thrown on water, that the principal of Flogham House thought himself a great philosopher, or that Mr. Snigger of London was a capital mimic.
Penny Readings appeared to offer a corrective. The standard works of English literature, ill read or well read, would be worth all the gaseous gabble of the scientific, all the ultra-Johnsonian diction of the academic, and all the buffoonery of the comic lecturer. I watched the progress of the movement, therefore, with great interest, and was rejoiced to see it gathering strength and increasing in popularity.
It may not, perhaps, be out of place to quote here a portion of a paper which I wrote at the time as a humble contribution to the literature of the movement.
“ In Byrd's collection of Psalms and
Sonnets, bearing date 1588, that quaint old fellow, endeavouring to impress on his readers the moral obligation they lie under of learning music, makes use of the following arguments :
“ Firstly,' says he, “it is a knowledge easily taught and quickly learned, where there is a good master and an apt scholar. Secondly, the exercise of singing is delightful to nature, and good to preserve the health
Thirdly, it doth strengthen all parts of the breast, and doth open the pipes. Fourthly, it is a singular good remedy for a stuttering or stammering in the speech. Fifthly, it is the best means whereby to procure a perfect pronunciation and make a good orator. Sixthly, it is the only way to know where nature hath bestowed a good voice; and in many that excellent gift is lost because they want the art to express nature. Seventhly, there is not any music of instruments whatsoever comparable to that which is made by the voices of
. men, when the voices are good, and the same well-sorted and ordered. Eighthly, the better the voice is the meeter it is to honour and serve God therewith; and the voice of man is chiefly to be employed to that end. Our friend winds up with two doggrel lines:
Since singing is so good a thing
I wish all men would learn to sing.' “For my part I do not wish to rob singing of its due honour, especially the singing of Byrds, whether with a 'y' or an 'i.'
But I do think what he says applies twice as well to reading. I leave out of the question his ‘Firstly,' for it is not unusual that a knowledge should be easily taught and quickly learnt when the master is good and the scholar is apt. As regards the rest, I hold the exercise of reading to be as delightful and beautiful as singingnor is it so violent an exercise. It opens the chest and clears the pipes, and is recommended as the best cure for hesitation of speech. If the human voice too surpasses all instruments, clearly it is in reading that its compass is best ascertained, and its various intonations of pathos, or fun, mirth, or sadness, most pleasingly, because most naturally, drawn forth. And surely the voice of men cannot,
humble opinion, be better employed secularly in the worship of God, than in reading aloud to others the works of those great and good writers to whom He has confided genius and inspiration. Thus may we assist, though but slightly, the spread of civilization, education, and the humanising influences of literature among our fellow creatures.
“So, to conclude with a parody of Byrd's
“ If reading be so good a deed,
I wish all men would learn to read.”
The new movement, moreover, had its advantages for reader as well as hearer, since it gave the former an opportunity of learning and practising a pleasing art which-it is lamentable to be obliged to admit it—is not taught in England.
“The universities, as seats of English knowledge, and wells of English undefiled, cannot, of course, be expected to teach it. The only collegiate attempt at anything of the sort is that which ordains the scholars, more privileged than the commoners in this respect, to read the lessons in chapel. But as they have to read at a hand gallop in order not to be at discord with the celerity of the rest of the service, the advantage is a dubious one.
No wonder is it that it is to the stage, where it is a matter of business, that we must turn for a masterly rendering and refined pronunciation of English ; and sad is it that in the pulpit least of all do we look, I will not say for elocution, but for the plainest rules of pronunciation, the simplest grammar of reading. What are we taught at school ? Among our teachers and governors there is a vain superstition