THE Advertiser, in its notice of the Boylston Prize speaking, said that there was a marked improvement over the standard of several years ago. It is doubtful whether this statement is correct. Before the adoption of the preliminary system there was a much greater number of candidates than now, and the poor speakers, having a large majority, made the whole performance appear to be of an ordinary kind. At any rate, the present standard is not creditable, and ought to be raised.
Excepting those who had acquired proficiency as speakers before coming to college, and those who have taken private lessons since entering, I venture to assert that the instruction in elocution has not been of any perceptible benefit to a single student. The primary cause of this is the meagreness of the instruction given, and the secondary cause is the method adopted by the instructors. Fifteen minutes a week to the student, if he be a Senior or Junior, is little better than nothing, and unless a different arrangement is made next year, it would seem advisable to keep up the farce no longer.
In the face of present circumstances, I believe the plan about to be proposed would insure more general satisfaction. Instead of allowing fifteen minutes, which, in reality, are not more than ten, to one student, the instruction should be given to sections, say of six, during an hour. By this means several advantages would be gained. All the students, I mean the Junior and the Senior classes, would have an opportunity to receive a proportional share of the instruction from the beginning of the year. There is always more or less delay in arranging one's electives, and the first who apply to the instructors in elocution take up all the time at their disposal, leaving the rest to go without, unless they can, and are willing to, pay for private instruction. In many cases, too, those who apply first fail to fill their appointments as soon as the novelty wears off. They would do this, of course, in sections; but the gain comes from the fact that those who really want the instruction receive it all the year, having more time as the section diminishes in number, while the instructor has fewer hours. Besides, it is an advantage to compare one's progress with that of others.
It is not maintained that the plan here proposed is the best, but that the method pursued by the instructors might be changed for the better. As has already been shown, the present system does not allow the same privilege to all, and thus disqualifies some for speaking for the Boylston Prizes. In other words, the way in which instruction is given at Harvard produces the same effect, regard being had to the Boylston Prizes, as a close corporation. To bring up the department of elocution to the proper standard we need more instructors. If these cannot be furnished by the College, all those students who really wish to study elocution should be instructed as much as possible, and not simply those who are already good speakers.