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Vocal Culture applicable to Conversation. It is not merely in elocution and in music, that vocal culture, in systematic forms, is serviceable to the purposes of education, as regards the female sex. The effect of such training, on the most useful of all accomplishments for ladies, – that of conversing well, is not less valuable, than in those respects which have been mentioned. Whether we regard the sphere of woman's duties and influence in society, or in domestic life, her power to render herself useful,– in the noblest sense of the word, — is dependent on her power of expression. The charm of intellectual refinement cannot be felt but in audible words. The living influence of woman's mind, is in proportion to her power of utterance. · The low, suppressed, and husky voice of timidity, can excite only pity or compassion. The bold and rattling utterance, can create only aversion. The fastidious accents of nervous anxiety, soon cause weariness. The affected elegance of false refinement of enunciation, produces distaste. The measured emphasis of a systematic talker, finds no willing listener. But the melodious utterance of genuine sensibility and spirited expression, wins both soul and sense, and enthrones woman in her rightful and gentle sway over the heart.
Tennyson speaks of the “ low melodious thunder,” ever sounding from the fountain that gushes up within the poet's mind. You may hear it imbodied in a woman's voice, when she murmurs her approbation of a noble deed, from the depths of a soul “capacious of such things.” Claverhouse “lifted up a voice clear as the sound of his own war-trumpet.” But it never thrilled the heart like a true-toned woman's voice, “summoning to virtue.”— Such is nature's untutored power. Judicious culture catches and secures the purest and the best of nature's tones, opens the ear to the beauty and the power of voice, stamps on it the grace of pure and chastened expression, and imparts to it that liquid clearness of utterance, which makes voice a worthy exponent of mind. : No parent can look, with indifference, on the highly-improved forms in which the rudiments of drawing, and the elements of instrumental music, are now taught in schools. These branches of education have undoubtedly a great effect in promoting all the purposes of mental culture, as regards correctness of eye and ear, and genuine refinement of taste. But neither of these branches approaches, in actual utility and advantage, to the rank of the much-neglected art of using the voice, — an accomplishment in which every female ought to be thoroughly versed, for its value in promoting the happiness of daily life, by contributing to the noblest sources of mental and moral enjoyment.
The Music of the Female Voice. “ The best music under heaven,” says Mr. Willis, in the essay before mentioned, “is the music of the human voice. I doubt whether all voices are not capable of it, though there must be degrees in it, as in beauty. The tones of affection, in all children, are "weet; and we know not how much their unpleasantness, in after
Ife, may be the effect of sin and coarseness, and the consequent uabitual expression of discordant passions. But we do know that the voice of any human being becomes touching by distress, and that even on the coarse-minded and the low, religion and the higher passions of the world, have sometimes so wrought, that their eloquence was like the strong passages of an organ.
“I have been much about in the world, and with a boy's unrest and a peculiar thirst for novel sensations, have mingled, for a time, in every walk of life; yet never have I known man or woman under the influence of any strong feeling, that was not utterly degraded, whose voice did not deepen to a chord of grandeur, or soften to cadences to which a harp might have been swept pleasantly. It is a perfect instrument, as it comes from the hand of its Maker; and though its strings may relax with the atmosphere, or be injured by misuse and neglect, it is always capable of being re-strung to its compass, till its frame is shattered.
“ Men have seldom musical voices. Whether it is that their passions are coarser, or that their life of caution and reserve shuts up the kindliness from which it would spring, a pleasant masculine voice is one of the rarest gifts of our sex. A good tone is generally the gift of a gentleman; for it is always low and deep; and the vulgar never possess the serenity and composure from which it alone can spring. They are always busy and hurried; and, with them, a high sharp tone becomes habitual.
“A sweet voice is indispensable to a woman. I do not think I can describe it. It can be, and sometimes is cultivated. It is not inconsistent with great vivacity; but it is oftener the gift of the quiet and unobtrusive. Loudness or rapidity of utterance is incompatible with it. It is low, but not guttural, deliberate, but not slow •
every syllable is distinctly heard; but the sounds follow each other like drops of water from a fountain. It is like the brooding note of a dove, — not shrill, nor even clear, but uttered with the subdued and touching reediness which every voice assumes, in moments of deep feeling or tenderness. It is a glorious gift in woman. I should be won by it more than by beauty, — more, even, than by talent, were it possible to separate them. But I never heard a deep, sweet voice from a weak woman. It is the organ of strong feeling, and of thoughts which have lain in the bosom till their sacredness almost hushes utterance.
“I remember listening, in the midst of a crowd, many years ago, to the voice of a girl, - a mere child of sixteen summers, — till I was bewildered. She was a pure, high-hearted, impassioned creature, without the least knowledge of the world or her peculiar gift; but her own thoughts had wrought upon her like the hush of a sanctuary, and she spoke low, as if with an unconscious awe. I could never trifle in her presence. My nonsense seemed out of place; and my practised assurance forsook me utterly. She is changed now. She has been admired, and has found out her beauty; and the music of her tone is gone! She will recover it by and by, when the delirium of the world is over, and she begins to rely once more upon her own thoughts for company; but her extravagant spirits have broken over the thrilling timidity of childhood, and the charm is unwound.”
Faulty Utterance an Indication of Physical and Mental Defects.
An observer, in even our higher establishments for the education of females, will, at once, perceive, on hearing the prevalent style of reading, that, if the voice is a true indication of the physical, moral, and intellectual condition of the individual, culture has failed of effecting its purposes. The feeble, husky tone in which the reading is executed, bespeaks a defective physical organization;- a culpable neglect of bodily exercise;- an ear that has caught no lesson from the pure tone of the running stream, the singing bird, or the joyous child;— an embarrassment which arises from a morbid and unnecessary self-consciousness, or a blamable timidity, and a misplaced diffidence;— the absence of a just moral courage, — of the firmness, which seeks only to maintain a self-balance, in all circumstances, of that rectitude of soul, which does not swerve or shrink from any true position, — that constancy of spirit, which is the foundation of
genuine modesty and just reserve, and keeps them from sinking into the vice of bashfulness.
Another universal indication of ineffectual culture, in the reading of young ladies, is that hurried manner, which, like the suppressed tone already mentioned, tells of a neglected constitution, as regards the invigorating influence of active exercise in the open air, enfeebled nerves, and an enfeebled brain, the absence of self-possession and self-control, — that lamentable deficiency which leaves the individual not herself, the moment that she begins to read aloud. The reading which results from such conditions of mind and body, is, of course, as untrue to the author read, as to the person who reads. It does not convey the sense of the writer, but only, or chiefly, the embarrassment of the reader. It resembles, in its effect to the ear, that presented to the eye, when the sheet has been accidentally disturbed in the press, and there comes forth, instead of the clear, dark, welldefined letter, executed distinctly on the fair white page, a blur of half-shade, and a haze of double letters, which no eye can reduce to order or clearness, – a page in which there is nothing for the mind, and which the printer, - to use his expressive nomenclature, — lays aside among “imperfections.”
One of the acknowledged characteristics of appropriate reading, is, that the voice of the reader varies, in the progress of the theme, with the varying feelings which the language develops. But the reading of most young ladies is, throughout, feeble, flat, and monotonous. It seems, sometimes, designed to verify, so far, Iago's malicious speech about chronicling small beer.”
Intellectual and Moral Effects of Bad Reading. A liberal education, surely, should produce such results, that, when we hand to a wife, a sister, or a daughter, the page of Milton, of Shakspeare, of Young, or of Cowper, or of a writer who is, perhaps, the ornament of her own sex, and ask her to read a noble sentiment, which a passing occurrence, or a thought in conversation, has called up, in the family circle; her intellectual culture should tell upon her tone, and add the inspiration of a living voice to the words of the departed bard, causing poetry to fulfil its true office, in exalting and adorning our daily life. The reading, however, if it is done in the usual style, will, in such cases, neutralize the effect of both language and sentiment, and prove a most effectual damper to the celestial fire; the younger hearers will probably soon begin to yawn, and, in a half-audible whisper, propose going to bed; the husband, who has been looking, with grave abstractedness, into the fire, continues his fixed and solemnly-earnest gaze, in the same direction, after the reading has ceased, and wakes up, at last, from his reverie, with, “ Have you read it all ?”
Mrs. Sigourney's Remarks on Reading. It may not be inappropriate to introduce, here, the just remarks of Mrs. Sigourney, on reading, as a desirable accomplishment in the female sex. They were elicited by the occasion of hearing Queen Victoria read the customary royal speech to the assembled houses of parliament.
“ At first view, it seemed remarkable, that one so young should evince such entire self-possession, nor betray, by the least shade of embarrassment, a consciousness that every eye in that vast assembly, was fixed on her. This, however, is a part of the queenly training in which she has become so perfect. Her voice is clear and melodious, and her enunciation so correct, that every word of her speech was distinctly audible, to the farthest extremity of the House of Lords. She possesses, in an eminent degree, the accomplishment of fine reading.
“I could not help wishing that the fair daughters of my own land, who wear no crown, save that of loveliness and virtue, would more justly value the worth of this accomplishment, and more faithfully endeavour to acquire it. For I remember, how often, in our seminaries of education, I had listened, almost breathlessly, to sentiments, which, I knew from the lips that uttered them, must be true and beautiful; but only stifled sounds, or a few uncertain murmurings, repaid the toil. — I wish that all who conduct the education of young ladies, would insist on, at least, an audible utterance, and not consider their own office to be faithfully filled, unless a correct and graceful elocution is attained.”
“ My visit to England,” said an eminent preacher of our own country, “afforded me no higher gratification of taste than the perpetual pleasure, while mingling with English society, arising from the peculiar beauty in the sound of female voices in conversation.” Much