A TALK TO PREACHERS
The aim of one who would interpret literature to others, by means of the speaking voice, should be first to assimilate its spirit. There can be no worthy or adequate rendering of a great poem or prose selection without a keen appreciation of its inner meaning and content. This is the principal safeguard against mechanical and meaningless declamation. The extent of this appreciation and grasp of the inherent spirit of thought will largely determine the degree of life, reality, and impressiveness imparted to the spoken word.
The intimate relationship between the voice and the spirit of the speaker suggests that one is necessary to the fullest development of the other. The voice can interpret only what has been awakened and realized within, hence nothing discloses a speaker’s grasp of a subject so accurately and readily as his attempt to give it expression in his own language. It is this spiritual power, developed principally through the intuitions and emotions, that gives psychic force to speaking, and which more than logic, rhetoric, or learning itself enables the speaker to influence and persuade men.
The minister as an interpreter of the highest spiritual truth should bring to his work a thoroughly trained emotional nature and a cultivated speaking voice. It is not sufficient that he state the truth with clearness and force; he must proclaim it with such passionate enthusiasm as powerfully to move his hearers. To express adequately the infinite shades of spiritual truth, he must have the ability to play upon his voice as upon a great cathedral organ, from “the soft lute of love” to “the loud trumpet of war.”
To assume that the study of the art of speaking will necessarily produce consciousness of its principles while in the act of speaking in public, is as unwarranted as to say that a knowledge of the rules of grammar, rhetoric, or logic lead to artificiality and self-consciousness in the teacher, writer, and thinker. There is a “mechanical expertness preceding all art,” as Goethe says, and this applies to the orator no less than to the musician, the artist, the actor, and the litterateur.
Let the minister stand up for even five minutes each day, with chest and abdomen well expanded, and pronounce aloud the long vowel sounds of the English language, in various shades of force and feeling, and shortly he will observe his voice developing in flexibility, resonance, and power. For it should be remembered that the voice grows through use. Let the minister cultivate, too, the habit of breathing exclusively through his nose while in repose, fully and deeply from the abdomen, and he will find himself gaining in health and mental resourcefulness.
For the larger development of the spiritual and emotional powers of the speaker, a wide and varied knowledge of men and life is necessary. The feelings are trained through close contact with human suffering, and in the work of solving vital social problems. The speaker will do well to explore first his own heart and endeavor to read its secret meanings, preliminary to interpreting the hearts of other men. Personal suffering will do more to open the well-springs of the heart than the reading of many books.