ON THE VOICE OUR first rule with regard to the voice would be — do not think too much about it, for recollect the sweetest voice is nothing without something to say, and however well it may be managed, it will be like a well-driven cart with nothing in it, unless you convey by it important and seasonable truths to your people. Demosthenes was doubtless right, in giving a first, second, and third place to a good delivery; but of what value will that be if a man has nothing to deliver? A man with a surpassingly excellent voice who is destitute of a well-informed head, and an earnest heart, will be “a voice crying in the wilderness;” or, to use Plutarch’s expression, “Vox et praeterea nihil.” Such a man may shine in the choir, but he is useless in the pulpit. Whitfield’s voice, without his heart-power, would have left no more lasting effects upon his hearers than Paganini’s fiddle. You are not singers but preachers: your voice is but a secondary matter; do not be fops with it, or puling invalids over it, as so many are. A trumpet need not be made of silver, a ram’s-horn will suffice; but it must be able to endure rough usage, for trumpets are for war’s conflicts, not for the drawing-rooms of fashion.
On the other hand, do not think too little of your voice, for its excellence may greatly conduce to the result which you hope to produce. Plato, in confessing the power of eloquence, mentions the tone of the speaker. “So strongly,” says he, “does the speech and the tone of the orator ring in my ears, that scarcely in the third or fourth day, do I recollect myself, and perceive where on the earth I am; and for awhile I am willing to believe myself living in the isles of the blessed.” Exceedingly precious truths may be greatly matted by being delivered in monotonous tones. I once heard a most esteemed minister, who mumbled sadly, compared to “a humble bee in a pitcher,” a vulgar metaphor no doubt, but so exactly descriptive, that it brings to my mind the droning sound at this instant most distinctly, and reminds me of the parody upon Gray’s Elegy: — “Now fades the glimmering subject from the sight, And all the air a sleepy stillness holds, Save where the parson hums his droning flight, And drowsy tinklings lull the slumb’ring folds.” What a pity that a man who from his heart delivered doctrines of undoubted value, in language the most appropriate, should commit ministerial suicide by harping on one string, when the Lord had given him an instrument of many strings to play upon! Alas! alas! for that dreary voice, it hummed and hummed like a mill-wheel to the same unmusical turn, whether its owner spake of heaven or hell, eternal life or everlasting wrath. It might be, by accident, a little louder or softer, according to the length of the sentence, but its tone was still the same, a dreary waste of sound, a howling wilderness of speech in which there was no possible relief, no variety, no music, nothing but horrible sameness.
When the wind blows through the AEolian harp, it swells through all the chords, but the heavenly wind, passing through some men, spends itself upon one string, and that, for the most part, the most out of tune of the whole. Grace alone could enable hearers to edify under the drum — drum — drum of some divines. I think an impartial jury would bring in a verdict of justifiable slumbering in many cases where the sound emanating from the preacher lulls to sleep by its reiterated note. Dr. Guthrie charitably traces the slumbers of a certain Scotch congregation, to bad ventilation in the meeting-house; this has something to do with it, but a bad condition of the valves of the preacher’s throat might be a still more potent cause. Brethren, in the name of everything that is sacred, ring the whole chime in your steeple, and do, not dun your people with the ding-dong of one poor cracked bell.
When you do pay attention to the voice, take care not to fall into the habitual and common affectations of the present day. Scarcely one man in a dozen in the pulpit talks like a man. This affectation is not confined to Protestants, for the Abbe Mullois remarks, “Everywhere else, men speak: they speak at the bar and the tribune; but they no longer speak in the pulpit, for there we only meet with a factitious and artificial language, and a false tone. This style of speaking is only tolerated in the church, because, unfortunately, it is so general there; elsewhere it would not be endured.
What would be thought of a man who should converse in a similar way in a drawing-room? He would certainly provoke many a smile. Some time ago there was a warder at the Pantheon — a good sort of fellow in his way — who, in enumerating the beauties of the monument, adopted precisely the tone of many of our preachers, and never failed thereby to excite the hilarity of the visitors, who were as much amused with his style of address as with the objects of interest which be pointed out to them. A man who has not a natural and true delivery, should not be allowed to occupy the pulpit; from thence, at least, everything that is false should be summarily banished ....... In these days of mistrust everything that is false should be set aside; and the best way of correcting one’s self in that respect, as regards preaching, is frequently to listen to certain monotonous and vehement preachers. We shall come away in such disgust, and with such a horror of their delivery, that we shall prefer condemning ourselves to silence rather than imitate them. The instant you abandon the natural and the true, you forego the right to be believed, as well as the right of being listened to.” You may go all round, to church and chapel alike, and you will find that by far the larger majority of our preachers have a holy tone for Sundays. They have one voice for the parlor and the bedroom, and quite another tone for the pulpit; so that, if not double-tongued sinfully, they certainly are so literally. The moment some men shut the pulpit door, they leave their own personal manhood behind them, and become as official as the parish beadle. There they might almost boast with the Pharisee, that they are not as other men are, although it would be blasphemy to thank God for it. No longer are they carnal and speak as men, but a whine, a broken hum-haw, an ore rotundo, or some other graceless mode of noise-making, is adopted, to prevent all suspicion of being natural and speaking out of the abundance of the heart. When that gown is once on, how often does it prove to be the shroud of the man’s true self, and the effeminate emblem of officialism!
There are two or three modes of speech which I dare say you will recognize as having frequently heard. That dignified, doctoral, inflated, bombastic style, which I just now called the ore rotundo, is not quite so common now as it used to be, but it is still admired by some. (Unfortunately, the Lecturer could not here be reported by any known form of letter-press, as he proceeded to read a hymn with a round, rolling, swelling voice.) When a reverend gentleman was once blowing off steam in this way, a man in the aisle said he thought the preacher “had swallowed a dumpling,” but another whispered, “No, Jack, he ain’t swaller’d un; he’s got un in his mouth a-wobblin.” I can imagine Dr. Johnson talking in that fashion, at Bolt Court; and from men to whom it is natural it rolls with Olympian grandeur, but in the pulpit away for ever with all imitation of it; if it comes naturally, well and good, but to mimic it is treason to common decency: indeed, all mimicry is in the pulpit near akin to an unpardonable sin.
There is another style, at which I beseech you not to laugh. (Giving another illustration.) A method of enunciation said to be very lady-like, mincing, delicate, servant-girlified, dawdling, Dundrearyish, I know not how else to describe it. We have, most of us, had the felicity of hearing these, or some others, of the extensive genus of falsettos, high-stilts, and affectations. I have heard many different varieties, from the fulness of the Johnsonian to the thinness of the little genteel whisper; from the roaring of the Bulls of Bashan up to the chip, chip, chip of a chaffinch. I have been able to trace some of our brethren to their forefathers — I mean their ministerial forefathers, from whom they first of all gathered these heavenly, melodious, sanctified, in every way beautiful, but I must honestly add detestable modes of speech. The undoubted order of their oratorical pedigree is as follows: — Chip, which was the son of Lisp, which was the son of Simper, which was the son of Dandy, which was the son of Affectation; or Wobbler, which was the son of Grandiose, which was the son of Pomposity, the same was the father of many sons. Understand, that where even these horrors of sound are natural, I do not condemn them — . let every creature speak in its own tongue; but the fact is, that in nine cases out of ten, these sacred brogues, which I hope will soon be dead languages, are unnatural and strained. I am persuaded that these tones and semitones and monotones are Babylonian, that they are not at all the Jerusalem dialect; for the Jerusalem dialect has this one distinguishing mark, that it is a man’s own mode of speech, and is the same out of the pulpit as it is in it. Our friend of the affected ore rotundo school was never known to talk out of the pulpit as he does in, or to say in the parlor in the same tone which he uses in the pulpit. “Will you be so good as to give me another cup of tea; I take sugar, if you please.” He would make himself ludicrous if he did so, but the pulpit is to be favored with the scum of his voice, which the parlor would not tolerate. I maintain that the best notes a man’s voice is capable of should be given to the proclamation of the gospel, and these are such as nature teaches him to use in earnest conversation. Ezekiel served his Master with his most musical and melodious powers, so that the Lord said, “Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument.” Although, this, alas! was of no use to Israel’s hard heart, as nothing will be but the Spirit of God, yet it well became the prophet to deliver the word of the Lord in the best style of voice and manner.
In the next place, if you have any idiosyncrasies of speech, which are disagreeable to the ear, correct them, if possible. F21 It is admitted that this is much more easy for the teacher to inculcate than for you to practice. Yet to young men in the morning of their ministry, the difficulty is not insuperable. Brethren from the country have a flavor of their rustic diet in their mouths, reminding us irresistibly of the calves of Essex, the swine of Berkshire, or the runts of Suffolk. Who can mistake the Yorkshire or Somersetshire dialects, which are not merely provincial pronunciations, but tones also? It would be difficult to discover the cause, but the fact is clear enough, that in some counties of England men’s throats seem to be furred up, like long-used teakettles, and in others, they ring like brass music, with a vicious metallic sound. Beautiful these variations of nature may be in their season and place, but my taste has never been able to appreciate them.
A sharp discordant squeak, like a rusty pair of scissors, is to be got rid of at all hazards; so also is a thick, inarticulate utterance in which no word is complete, but nouns, adjectives, and verbs are made into a kind of hash.
Equally objectionable is that ghostly speed in which a man talks without using his lips, ventriloquising most horribly: sepulchral tones may fit a man to be an undertaker, but Lazarus is not called out of his grave by hollow moans. One of the surest ways to kill yourself is to speak from the throat instead of the mouth. This misuse of nature will be terribly avenged by her; escape the penalty by avoiding the offence. It may be well in this place to urge you as soon as you detect yourself interposing hum-haw pretty plentifully in your discourse, to purge yourself of the insinuating but ruinous habit at once. There is no need whatever for it, and although those who are now its victims may never be able to break the chain, you, who are beginners in oratory, must scorn to wear the galling yoke. It is even needful to say, open your mouths when you speak, for much of inarticulate mumbling is the result of keeping the mouth half closed. It is not in vain that the evangelists have written of our Lord, “He opened his mouth and taught them.” Open wide the doors from which such goodly truth is to march forth. Moreover, brethren, avoid the use of the nose as an organ of speech, for the best authorities are agreed that it is intended to smell with.
Time was, when the nasal twang was the correct thing, but in this degenerate age you had better obey the evident suggestion of nature, and let the mouth keep to its work without the interference of the olfactory instrument. Should an American student be present he must excuse my pressing this remark upon his attention. Abhor the practice of some men, who will not bring out the letter “r” such a habit is “vewy wuinous and wediculous, vewy wetched and wepwehensible.” Now and then a brother has the felicity to possess a most winning and delicious lisp. This is perhaps among the least of evils, where the brother himself is little and winning, but it would ruin any being who aimed at manliness and force. I can scarcely conceive of Elijah lisping to Ahab, or Paul prettily chipping his words on Mars’ Hill. There may be a peculiar pathos about a weak and watery eye, and a faltering style; we will go further, and admit that where these are the result of intense passion, they are sublime; but some possess them by birth, and use them rather too freely: it is, to say the least, unnecessary for you to imitate them. Speak as educated nature suggests to you, and you will do well; but let it be educated, and not raw, rude, uncultivated nature. Demosthenes took, as you know, unbounded pains with his voice, and Cicero, who was naturally weak, made a long journey into Greece to correct his manner of speaking. With far nobler themes, let us not be less ambitious to excel. “Deprive me of everything else,” says Gregory, of Nazianzen, “but leave me eloquence, and I shall never regret the voyages which I have made in order to study it.” Always speak so as to be heard. I know a man who weighs sixteen stone, and ought to be able to be heard half-a-mile, who is so gracelessly indolent, that in his small place of worship you can scarcely hear him in the front of the gallery. What is the use of a preacher whom men cannot hear? Modesty should lead a voiceless man to give place to others who are more fitted for the work of proclaiming the messages of the King. Some men are loud enough, but they are not distinct, their words overlap each other, play at leap-frog, or trip each other up. Distinct utterance is far more important than wind-power. Do give a word a fair chance, do not break its back in your vehemence, or run it off its legs in your haste. It is hateful to hear a big fellow mutter and whisper when his lungs are quite strong enough for the loudest speech; but at the same time, let a man shout ever so lustily, he will not be well heard unless he learns to push his words forward with due space between. To speak too slowly is miserable work, and subjects active minded hearers to the disease called the “horrors.” It is impossible to hear a man who crawls along at a mile an hour. One word today and one tomorrow is a kind of slow-fire which martyrs only could enjoy.
Excessively rapid speaking, tearing and raving into utter rant, is quite as inexcusable; it is not, and never can be powerful, except with idiots, for it turns what should be an army of words into a mob, and most effectually drowns the sense in floods of sound. Occasionally, one hears an infuriated orator of indistinct utterance, whose impetuosity hurries him on to such a confusion of sounds, that at a little distance one is reminded of Lucan’s lines: — “Her gabbling tongue a muttering tone confounds, Discordant and unlike to human sounds; It seem’d of dogs the bark, of wolves the howl, The doleful screeching of the midnight owl; The hiss of snakes, the hungry lion’s roar, The bound of billows beating on the shore; The groan of winds among the leafy wood, And burst of thunder from the rending cloud!
Twas these, all these in one.” It is an infliction not to be endured twice, to hear a brother who mistakes perspiration for inspiration, tear along like a wild horse with a hornet in his ear till he has no more wind, and must needs pause to pump his lungs full again; a repetition of this indecency several times in a sermon is not uncommon, but is most painful. Pause soon enough to prevent that “hough hough,” which rather creates pity for the breathless orator than sympathy with the subject in hand. Your audience ought not to know that you breathe at all — the process of respiration should be as unobserved as the circulation of the blood. It is indecent to let the mere animal function of breathing cause any hiatus in your discourse. Do not as a rule exert your voice to the utmost in ordinary preaching.
Two or three earnest men, now present, are tearing themselves to pieces by needless bawling; their poor lungs are irritated, and their larynx inflamed by boisterous shouting, from which they seem unable to refrain. Now it is all very well to “Cry aloud and spare not,” but “Do thyself no harm” is apostolical advice. When persons can hear you with half the amount of voice, it is as well to save the superfluous force for times when it may be wanted. “Waste not, want not” may apply here as well as elsewhere. Be a little economical with that enormous volume of sound. Do not give your hearers head-aches when you mean to give them heart-aches: you aim to keep them from sleeping in their pews, but remember that it is not needful to burst the drums of their ears. “The Lord is not in the wind.” Thunder is not lightning. Men do not hear in proportion to the noise created; in fact, too much noise stuns the ear, creates reverberations and echoes, and effectually injures the power of your sermons. Adapt your voice to your audience; when twenty thousand are before you, draw out the stops and give the full peal, but not in a room which will only hold a score or two.
Whenever I enter a place to preach, I unconsciously calculate how much sound is needed to fill it, and after a few sentences my key is pitched. If you can make the man at the end of the chapel hear, if you can see that he is catching your thought, you may be sure that those nearer can hear you, and no more force is needed, perhaps a little less will do — watch and see.
Why speak so as to be heard in the street when there is nobody there who is listening to you? Whether in doors or out, see that the most remote hearers can follow you, and that will be sufficient. By the way, I may observe, that brethren should out of mercy to the weak, always attend carefully to the force of their voices in sick rooms, and in congregations where some are known to be very infirm. It is a cruel thing to sit down by a sick man’s bed-side, and shout out “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD.” If you act so thoughtlessly, the poor man will say as soon as you are down stairs, “Dear me! how my head aches. I am glad the good man is gone, Mary; that is a very precious Psalm and so quiet like, but he read it out like thunder and lightning, and almost stunned me!” Recollect, you younger and unmarried men, that soft whispers will suit the invalid better than roll of drum and culverin.
Observe carefully the rule to vary the force of your voice. The old rule was, to begin very softly, gradually rise higher, and bring out your loudest notes at the end. Let all such regulations be blown to pieces at the cannon’s mouth; they are impertinent and misleading. Speak softly or loudly, as the emotion of the moment may suggest, and observe no artificial and fanciful rules. Artificial rules are an utter abomination. As M. de Cormorin satirically puts it, “Be impassioned, thunder, rage, weep, up to the fifth word, of the third sentence, of the tenth paragraph, of the tenth leaf. How easy that would be! Above all, how very natural!” In imitation of a popular preacher, to whom it was unavoidable, a certain minister was accustomed in the commencement of his sermon to speak in so low a key, that no one could possibly hear him. Everybody leaned forward, fearing that something good was being lost in the air, but their straining was in vain, a holy mutter was all they could discern. If the brother could not have spoken out none should have blamed him, but it was a most absurd thing to do this when in a short time he proved the power of his lungs by filling the whole structure by sonorous sentences. If the first half of his discourse was of no importance, why not omit it? and if of any value at all, why not deliver it distinctly? Effect, gentlemen, that was the point aimed at; he knew that one who spake in that fashion had produced great effects, and he hoped to rival him. If any of you dare commit such a folly for such a detestable object, I heartily wish you had never entered this Institution. I tell you most seriously, that the thing called “effect,” is hateful, because it is untrue, artificial, tricky, and therefore despicable. Never do anything for effect, but scorn the stratagems of little minds, hunting after the approval of connoisseurs in preaching, who are a race as obnoxious to a true minister as locusts to the Eastern husbandman. But I digress: be clear and distinct at the very first. Your exordia are too good to be whispered to space. Speak them out boldly, and command attention at the very outset by your manly tones. Do not start at the highest pitch as a rule, for then you will not be able to rise when you warm with the work; but still be outspoken from the first. Lower the voice when suitable even to a whisper; for soft, deliberate, solemn utterances are not only a relief to the ear, but have a great aptitude to reach the heart. Do not be afraid of the low keys, for if you throw force into them they are as well heard as the shouts. You need not speak in a loud voice in order to be heard well. Macaulay says of William Pitt, “His voice, even when it sank to a whisper, was heard to the remotest benches of the House of Commons.” It has been well said that the most noisy gun is not the one which carries a ball the furthest: the crack of a rifle is anything but noisy. It is not the loudness of your voice, it is the force which you put into it that is effective. I am certain that I could whisper so as to be heard throughout every corner of our great Tabernacle, and I am equally certain that I could holloa and shout so that nobody could understand me. The thing could be done here, but perhaps the example is needless, as I fear some of you perform the business with remarkable success. Waves of air may dash upon the ear in such rapid succession that they create no translatable impression on the auditory nerve. Ink is necessary to write with, but if you upset the ink bottle over the sheet of paper, you convey no meaning thereby, so is it with sound; sound is the ink, but management is needed, not quantity, to produce an intelligible writing upon the ear. If your sole ambition be to compete with — “Stentor the strong, endued with brazen lungs, Whose throat surpass’d the force of fifty tongues,” then bawl yourselves into Elysium as rapidly as possible, but if you wish to be understood, and so to be of service, shun the reproach of being “impotent and loud.” You are aware that shrill sounds travel the farthest: the singular cry which is used by travelers in the wilds of Australia, owes its remarkable power to its shrillness. A bell will be heard much farther off than a drum; and, very singularly, the more musical a sound is the farther it travels. It is not the thumping of the piano which is needed, but the judicious sounding of the best keys. You will therefore feel at liberty to ease the strain very frequently in the direction of loudness, and you will be greatly relieving both the ears of the audience and your own lungs. Try all methods, from the sledge-hammer to the puff-ball. Be as gentle as a zephyr and as furious as a tornado. Be, indeed, just what every common-sense person is in his speech when he talks naturally, pleads vehemently, whispers confidentially, appeals plaintively, or publishes distinctly.
Next to the moderation of lung-force, I should place the rule, modulate your tones. Alter the key frequently and vary the strain constantly. Let the bass, the treble, and the tenor, take their turn. I beseech you to do this out of pity to yourself and to those who hear you. God has mercy upon us and arranges all things to meet our cravings for variety; let us have mercy upon our fellow creatures, and not persecute them with the tedium of sameness.
It is a most barbarous thing to inflict upon the tympanum of a poor fellow creature’s ear the anguish of being bored and gimbleted with the same sound for half an hour. What swifter mode of rendering the mind idiotic or lunatic could be conceived than the perpetual droning of a beetle, or buzzing of a blue-bottle, in the organ of hearing? What dispensation have you by which you are to be tolerated in such cruelty to the helpless victims who sit under your drum-drum ministrations? Kind nature frequently spares the drone’s unhappy victims the full effect of his tortures by steeping them in sweet repose. This, however, you do not desire; then speak with varied voice. How few ministers remember that monotony causes sleep. I fear the charge brought by a writer in the “Imperial Review” is true to the letter of numbers of my brethren. “We all know how the noise of running water, or the murmur of the sea, or the sighing of the south wind among the pines, or the moaning of wood-doves, induces a delicious dreamy languor. Far be it from us to say that the voice of a modern divine resembles, in the slightest degree, any of these sweet sounds, yet the effect is the same, and few can resist the drowsy influences of a lengthy dissertation, delivered without the slightest variation of tone or alteration of expression. Indeed, the very exceptional use of the phrase ‘an awakening discourse,’ even by those most familiar with such matters, conveys the implication that the great majority of pulpit harangues are of a decidedly soporific tendency. It is an ill case when the preacher Leaves his hearers perplex’d — Twixt the two to determine: ‘Watch and pray,’ says the text, ‘Go to sleep,’ says the sermon.” However musical your voice may be in itself, if you continue to sound the same chord perpetually, your hearers will perceive that its notes are by distance made more sweet. Do in the name of humanity cease intoning and take to rational speaking. Should this argument fail to move you, I am so earnest about this point, that if you will not follow my advice out of mercy to your hearers, yet do it out of mercy to yourselves; for as God in his infinite wisdom has been pleased always to append a penalty to every sin against his natural as well as moral laws, so the evil of monotony is frequently avenged by that dangerous disease called dysphonia clericorum, or, “Clergyman’s sore throat.” When certain of our brethren are so beloved by their hearers that they do not object to pay a handsome sum to get rid of them for a few months, when a journey to Jerusalem is recommended and provided for, bronchitis of a modified order is so remarkably overruled for good, that my present argument will not disturb their equanimity; but such is not our lot, to us bronchitis means real misery, and therefore, to avoid it, we would follow any sensible suggestion. If you wish to ruin your throats you can speedily do so, but if you wish to preserve them, note what is now laid before you. I have often in this room compared the voice to a drum. If the drummer should always strike in one place on the head of his drum, the skin would soon wear into a hole; but how much longer it would have lasted him if he had varied his thumping and had used the entire surface of the drum-head! So it is with a man’s voice. If he uses always the same tone, he will wear a hole in that part of the throat which is most exercised in producing that monotony, and very soon he will suffer from bronchitis. I have heard surgeons affirm, that Dissenting bronchitis differs from the Church of England article. There is an ecclesiastical twang which is much admired in the Establishment, a sort of steeple-in-the-throat grandeur, an aristocratic, theologic, parsonic, supernatural, infra-human mouthing of language and rolling over of words. It may be illustrated by the following specimen. “He that hath yaws to yaw let him yaw,” which is a remarkable, if not impressive, rendering of a Scripture text. Who does not know the hallowed way of pronouncing — “Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in divers places”? It rolls in my ears now like Big Ben — coupled with boyish memories of monotonous peals of “The Prince Albert, Albert Prince of Wales, and all the Royal Family .... Amen.” Now, if a man who talks so unnaturally does not get bronchitis, or some other disease, I can only say that throat diseases must be very sovereignly dispensed. At the Nonconformist hobbies of utterance I have already struck a blow, and I believe it is by them that larynx and lungs become delicate, and good men succumb to silence and the grave. Should you desire my authority for the threat which I have held out to you, I shall give you the opinion of Mr.
Macready, the eminent tragedian, who, since he looks at the matter from an impartial but experimental standpoint, is worthy of a respectful hearing. “Relaxed throat is usually caused, not so much by exercising the organ, as by the kind of exercise; that is, not so much by long or loud speaking, as by speaking in a feigned voice. I am not sure that I shall be understood in this statement, but there is not one person in, I may say, ten thousand, who in addressing a body of people, does so in his natural voice; and this habit is more especially observable in the pulpit. I believe that relaxation of the throat results from violent efforts in these affected tones, and that severe irritation, and often ulceration, is the consequence. The labor of a whole day’s duty in a church is nothing, in point of labor, compared with the performance of one of Shakespeare’s leading characters, nor I should suppose, with any of the very great displays made by our leading statesmen in the Houses of Parliament; and I feel very certain that the disorder, which you designate as ‘Clergyman’s sore throat,’ is attributable generally to the mode of speaking, and not to the length of time or violence of effort that may be employed. I have known several of my former contemporaries on the stage suffer from sore throat, but I do not think, among those eminent in their art, that it could be regarded as a prevalent disease.” Actors and barristers have much occasion to strain their vocal powers, and yet there is no such thing as a counsel’s sore throat, or a tragedian’s bronchitis; simply because these men dare not serve the public in so slovenly a manner as some preachers serve their God. Samuel Fenwick, Esq., M.D. in a popular treatise upon “Diseases of the Throat and Lungs,” has most wisely said, “From what was stated respecting the physiology of the vocal chords, it will be evident that continued speaking in one tone is much more fatiguing than frequent alterations in the pitch of the voice; because by the former, one muscle or set of muscles alone is strained, whilst by the latter, different muscles are brought into action, and thus relieve one another. In the same way, a man raising his arm at right angles to his body, becomes fatigued in five or ten minutes, because only one set of muscles has to bear the weight; but these same muscles can work the whole day if their action is alternated with that of others. Whenever, therefore, we hear a clergyman droning through the church service, and in the same manner and tone of voice reading, praying, and exhorting, we may be perfectly sure that he is giving ten times more labor to his vocal chords than is absolutely necessary.”
This may be the place to reiterate an opinion which I have often expressed in this place, of which I am reminded by the author whom I have quoted. If ministers would speak oftener, their throats and lungs would be less liable to disease. Of this I am quite sure; it is matter of personal experience and wide observation, and I am confident that I am not mistaken. Gentlemen, twice a week preaching is very dangerous, but I have found five or six times healthy, and even twelve or fourteen not excessive. A costermonger set to cry cauliflowers and potatoes one day in the week, would find the effort most laborious, but when he for six successive days fills streets and lanes and alleys with his sonorous din, he finds no dysphonia pomariorum, or, “Costermonger’s sore throat,” laying him aside from his humble toils. I was pleased to find my opinion, that infrequent preaching is the root of many diseases, thus plainly declared by Dr. Fenwick. “All the directions which have been here laid down will, I believe, be ineffectual without regular daily practice of the voice. Nothing seems to have such a tendency to produce this disease as the occasional prolonged speaking, alternating with long intervals of rest, to which clergymen are more particularly subject. Any one giving the subject a moment’s consideration will readily understand this. If a man, or any other animal, be intended for any unusual muscular exertion, he is regularly exercised in it, day by day, and labor is thus rendered easy which otherwise it would be almost impossible to execute. But the generality of the clerical profession undergo a great amount of muscular exertion in the way of speaking only on one day of the week, whilst in the remaining six days they scarcely ever raise their voice above the usual pitch. Were a smith or a carpenter thus occasionally to undergo the fatigue connected with the exercise of his trade, he would not only be quite unfitted for it, but he would lose the skill he had acquired.
The example of the most celebrated orators the world has seen proves the advantages of regular and constant practice of speaking; and I would on this account, most strongly recommend all persons subject to this complaint to read aloud once or twice a day, using the same pitch of voice as in the pulpit, and paying especial attention to the position of the chest and throat, and to clear and proper articulation of the words.” Mr. Beecher is of the same opinion, for he remarks, “Newsboys show what out-of-door practice will do for a man’s lungs. What would, the pale and feeblespeaking minister do who can scarcely make his voice reach two hundred auditors if he were set to cry newspapers? Those New York newsboys stand at the head of a street, and send down their voices through it, as an athletic would roll a ball down an alley. We advise men training for speaking professions to peddle wares in the streets for a little time. Young ministers might go into partnership with newsboys awhile, till they got their mouths open and their larynx nerved and toughened.”
Gentlemen, a needful rule is — always suit your voice to your matter. Do not be jubilant over a doleful subject, and on the other hand, do not drag heavily where the tones ought to trip along merrily, as though they were dancing to the tune of the angels in heaven. This rule I shall not enlarge upon, but rest assured it is of the utmost importance, and if obediently followed, will always secure attention, provided your matter is worth it.
Suit your voice to your matter always, and, above all, in everything be natural Away for ever with slavish attention to rules and models. Do not imitate other people’s voices, or, if from an unconquerable propensity you must follow them, emulate every orator’s excellencies, and the evil will be lessened. I am myself, by a kind of irresistible influence, — drawn to be an imitator, so that a journey to Scotland or Wales will for a week or two materially affect my pronunciation and tone. Strive against it I do, but there it is, and the only cure I know of is to let the mischief die a natural death.
Gentlemen, I return to my rule — use your own natural voices. Do not be monkeys, but men; not parrots, but men of originality in all things. It is said that the most becoming way for a man to wear his beard is that in which it grows, for both in color and form it will suit his face. Your own modes of speech will be most in harmony with your methods of thought and your own personality. The mimic is for the playhouse, the cultured man in his sanctified personality is for the sanctuary. I would repeat this rule till I wearied you if I thought you would forget it; be natural, be natural, be natural evermore. An affectation of voice, or an imitation of the manner of Dr. Silvertongue, the eminent divine, or even of a well beloved tutor or president will inevitably ruin you. I charge you throw away the servility of imitation and rise to the manliness of originality.
We are bound to add — endeavor to educate your voice. Grudge no pains or labor in achieving this, for as it has been well observed, “However prodigious may be the gifts of nature to her elect, they can only be developed and brought to their extreme perfection by labor and study.”
Think of Michael Angelo working for a week without taking off his clothes, and Handel hollowing out every key of his harpsichord, like a spoon, by incessant practice. Gentlemen, after this, never talk of difficulty or weariness. It is almost impossible to see the utility of Demosthenes’ method of speaking with stones in his mouth, but any one can perceive the usefulness of his pleading with the boisterous billows, that he might know how to command a hearing amidst the uproarious assemblies of his countrymen; and in his speaking as he ran up hill that his lungs might gather force from laborious use the reason is as obvious as the self-denial is commendable. We are bound to use every possible means to perfect the voice by which we are to tell forth the glorious gospel of the blessed God.
Take great care of the consonants, enunciate every one of them clearly; they are the features and expression of the words. Practice indefatigably till you give every one of the consonants its due; the vowels have a voice of their own, and therefore they can speak for themselves. In all other matters exercise a rigid discipline until you have mastered your voice, and have it in hand like a well-trained steed. Gentlemen with narrow chests are advised to use the dumb-bells every morning, or better still, those clubs which the College has provided for you. You need broad chests, and must do your best to get them. Do not speak with your hands in your waistcoat pockets so as to contract your lungs, but throw the shoulders back as public singers do. Do not lean over a desk while speaking, and never hold the head down on the breast while preaching. Upward rather than downward let the body bend. Off with all tight cravats and button-up waistcoats; leave room for the full play of the bellows and the pipes. Observe the statues of the Roman or Greek orators, look at Raphael’s picture of Paul, and, without affectation, fall naturally into the graceful and appropriate attitudes there depicted, for these are best for the voice. Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely, What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool! Correct yourself diligently and frequently, or you will fall into errors unawares, false tones will grow, and slovenly habits will form insensibly; therefore criticize yourself with unceasing care. Think nothing little by which you may be even a little more useful. But, gentlemen, never degenerate in this business into pulpit fops, who think gesture and voice to be everything. I am sick at heart when I hear of men taking a whole week to get up a sermon, much of the getting up consisting in repeating their precious productions before a glass! Alas! for this age, if graceless hearts are to be forgiven for the sake of graceful manners. Give us all the vulgarities of the wildest back-woods’ itinerant rather than the perfumed prettinesses of effeminate gentility. I would no more advise you to be fastidious with your voices than I would recommend you to imitate Rowland Hill’s Mr. Taplash with his diamond ring, his richly-scented pocket handkerchief, and his eyeglass. Exquisites are out of place in the pulpit, they should be set up in a tailor’s window, with a ticket, “This style complete, including MSS., Ł10 10s.”
Perhaps here may be the place to observe, that it were well if all parents were more attentive to the teeth of their children, since faulty teeth may cause serious damage to a speaker. There are men, whose articulation is faulty, who should at once consult the dentist, I mean, of course, a thoroughly scientific and experienced one; for a few false teeth or some other simple arrangement would be a permanent blessing to them. My own dentist very sensibly remarks in his circular, “When a portion or the whole of the teeth are lost, a contraction of the muscles of the face and throat follows, the other organs of the voice which have been accustomed to the teeth are impaired, and put out of their common play, producing a break, languor, or depression, as in a musical instrument which is deficient in a note. It is vain to expect perfect symphony, and proportional and consistent accent on the key, tone, and pitch of the voice, with deficiencies in its organs, and of course the articulation becomes defective; such defect adds much to the labor of speaking, to say the least, and in most cases lisping, a too hasty or sudden drop, or a faint delivery, is the result; from more serious deficiencies a mumbling and clattering is almost sure to follow.” Where this is the mischief, and the cure is within reach, we are bound for our works’ sake to avail ourselves of it. Teeth may seem unimportant, but be it remembered, that nothing is little in so great a calling as ours. I shall in succeeding remarks mention even smaller matters, but it is with the deep impression that hints upon insignificant things may be of unknown value in saving you from serious neglects or gross errors.
Lastly, I would say with regard to your throats — take care of them. Take care always to clear them well when you are about to speak, but do not be constantly clearing them while you are preaching. A very esteemed brother of my acquaintance always talks in this way — “My dear friends — hem — hem — this is a most — hem — important subject which I have now — hem — hem — to bring before you, and — hem — hem — I have to call upon you to give me — hem — hem — your most serious — hem — attention.” F24 Avoid this most zealously. Others, from want of clearing the throat, talk as if they were choked up, and were just about to expectorate; it were far better to do so at once than to sicken the hearer by repeated unpleasant sounds. Snuffling and sniffing are excusable enough when a man has a cold, but they are extremely unpleasant, and when they become habitual, they ought to be indicted under the “Nuisances Act.” Pray excuse me, it may appear vulgar to mention such things, but your attention to the plain and free observations made in this lecture room may save many remarks at your expense hereafter.
When you have done preaching take care of your throat by never wrapping it up tightly. From personal experience I venture with some diffidence to give this piece of advice. If any of you possess delightfully warm woolen comforters, with which there may be associated the most tender remembrances of mother or sister, treasure them — treasure them in the bottom of your trunk, but do not expose them to any vulgar use by wrapping them round your necks. If any brother wants to die of influenza let him wear a warm scarf round his neck, and then one of these nights he will forget it, and catch such a cold as will last him the rest of his natural life. You seldom see a sailor wrap his neck up. No, he always keeps it bare and exposed, and has a turn-down collar, and if he has a tie at all, it is but a small one loosely tied, so that the wind can blow all round his neck. In this philosophy I am a firm believer, having never deviated from it for these fourteen years, and having before that time been frequently troubled with colds, but very seldom since. If you feel that you want something else, why, then grow your beards! A habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial. One of our brethren, now present, has for years found this of great service. He was compelled to leave England on account of the loss of his voice, but he has become as strong as Samson now that; his locks are unshorn. If your throats become affected consult a, good physician, or if you cannot do this, give what attention you please to the following hint.
Never purchase “Marsh-mallow Rock,” “Cough-no-more Lozenges,” “Pulmonic Wafers,” Horehound, Ipecacuanha, or any of the ten thousand emollient compounds. They may serve your turn for a time by removing present uneasiness, but they ruin the throat by their laxative qualities; If you wish to improve your throat take a good share of pepper — good Cayenne pepper, and other astringent substances, as much as your stomach can bear, do not go beyond that, because you must recollect that you have to take care of your stomach as well its your throat, and if the digesting apparatus be out of order, nothing can be right. Common sense teaches you that astringents must be useful. Did you ever hear of a tanner making a piece of hide into leather by laying it to soak in sugar? Neither would tolu, ipecacuanha, or treacle serve his purpose, but the very reverse; if he wants to harden and strengthen the skin, he places it in a solution of oak-bark, or some astringent substance which draws the material together and strengthens it. When I began to preach at Exeter Hall my voice was weak for such a place — as weak as the usual run of voices, and it had frequently failed me altogether in street preaching, but in Exeter Hall (which is an unusually difficult place to preach in, from its excessive width in proportion to its length), I always had a little glass of Chili vinegar and water just in front of me, a draught of which appeared to give a fresh force to the throat, whenever it grew weary and the voice appeared likely to break down. When my throat becomes a little relaxed I usually ask the cook to prepare me a basin of beef-tea, as strong with pepper as can be borne, and hitherto this has been a sovereign remedy. However, as I am not qualified to practice in medicine, you will probably pay no more attention to me in medical matters than to any other quack. My belief is that half the difficulties connected with the voice in our early days will vanish as we advance in years, and find in use a second nature. I would encourage the truly earnest to persevere; if they feel the Word of the Lord like fire in their bones, even stammering may be overcome, and fear, with all its paralyzing results, may be banished. Take heart, young brother, persevere, and God, and nature, and practice, will help you.
I shall not detain you longer, but express the hope that your chest, lungs, windpipe, larynx, and all your vocal organs may last you till you have nothing more to say.