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.
Care must be had, however, that this cultivating of the feelings be conducted along rational lines, lest it run not to faith but to fanaticism. There is a wide difference between emotion designed for display or for momentary effect, and that which arises from strong inner conviction and sympathetic interest in others. Spurious, unnatural feeling will invariably fail to convince serious-minded men.
|Emotion wrought up with no ulterior object,| says Dr. Kennard, |is both an abuse and an injury to the moral nature. When the attention is thoroughly awakened and steadily held, the hearer is like a well-tuned harp, each cord a distinct emotion, and the skilful speaker may evoke a response from one or more at his will. This lays him under a great and serious responsibility. Let him keep steadily at such a time to his divine purpose, to produce a healthful action, a life in harmony with God and a symphony of service.|
The emotional and spiritual powers of the speaker will be developed by reading aloud each day a vigorous and passionate extract from the Bible, or Shakespeare, or from some great sermon by such men as Bushnell, Newman, Beecher, Maclaren, Brooks, or Spurgeon. The entire gamut of human feeling can be highly cultivated by thus reading aloud from the great masterpieces of literature. The speaker will know that he can make his own words glow and vibrate, after he has first tested and trained himself in some such manner as this. Furthermore, by thus fitting words to his mouth, and assimilating the feelings of others, he will immeasurably gain in facility and vocal responsiveness when he attempts to utter his own thoughts.
Music is a powerful element in awakening emotion in the speaker and bringing to consciousness the mysterious inner voices of the soul. The minister should not only hear good music as often as possible, but he should train his ear to recognize the rhythm and melody in speech.
For the fullest development of this spiritual power in the public speaker there should be frequent periods of stillness and silence. One must listen much in order to accumulate much. Thought and feeling require time in which to grow. In this way the myriad sounds that arise from humanity and from nature can be caught up in the soul of the speaker and subsequently voiced by him to others.
The habit of meditating much, of brooding over thought, whether it be our own or that of others, will tend to disclose new and deeper meanings, and consequently deeper shades and depths of feeling. The speaker will diligently search for unwritten meanings in words; he will study, whenever possible, masterpieces of painting and sculpture; he will closely observe the natural feeling of well-bred children, as shown in their conversation; and in many other ways that will suggest themselves, he will daily develop his emotional and spiritual powers of expression.
The science of preaching is important, but so, too, is the art of preaching. A powerful pulpit is one of the needs of the times. A congregation readily recognizes a preacher of strong convictions, broad sympathies, and consecrated personality. An affectionate nature in a minister, manifesting itself in voice, face, and manner, will attract and influence men, while a harsh, rigid, vehement manner will as easily repel them.
It is to be feared that many sermons are written with too much regard for |literary deportment on paper,| and too little thought of their value as pulsating messages to men.
The preacher should train himself to take tight hold of his thought, to grip it with mental firmness and fervor, that he may afterward convey it to others with definiteness and vigor. Thoughts vaguely conceived and held tremblingly in the mind will manifest a like character when uttered. Into the writing of the sermon put vitality and intensity, and these qualities will find their natural place in delivery. Thrill of the pen should precede thrill of the voice. The habit of Dickens of acting out the characters he was depicting on paper could be copied to advantage by the preacher, and frequently during the writing of his sermon he might stand and utter his thoughts aloud to test their power and effectiveness upon an imaginary congregation.
There should be the most thorough cultivation of the inner sources of the preacher, whereby the spiritual and emotional forces are so aroused and brought under control as to respond promptly and accurately to all the speaker's requirements. There should be assiduous training of the speaking voice as the instrument of expression and the natural outlet for thought and feeling. In the combined cultivation of these two essentials of expression -- spirit and voice -- the minister will find the true secret of effective pulpit preaching.