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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

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Mr. Hayes, the new instructor in elocution, met his first class - made up of seniors and juniors - at Holden Chapel on Wednesday, and judging from the large attendance, there will doubtless be a great interest shown in the work. It certainly seems to be a well established fact, that the ability to present one's thought is of so much importance as the thought itself. A man should not only be possessed of the truth, but he should also be master of the means for conveying that truth to his fellow men. To do that he must free himself from all mannerisms which stand as obstacles between himself and the people he would reach. One of the most powerful weapons of the man who would be a leader in public affairs, is the command of his voice. We are repelled or attracted by the tones by which a speaker employs, and it is therefore of the utmost value to the acter that he is in control of the means by which he can conciliate and move his hearers. In a country like our own where every man may feel called upon to take part in public affairs, and indeed where men are sometimes drawn into a political career almost against their will, the study of delivery becomes of the highest importance. It is often asked - and frequently too, by honest inquirers - of what value is the study of elocution and what does it accomplish. Mr. Hayes, in his talk to students in Holden Chapel the other day, gave perhaps what should be a sufficient answer, viz.: the skill to so impress our matter that it shall go for what it is worth and be felt and understood. It is said that this is a very easy thing to do. Well, look about and see how few are able to do it. It is a lamentable fact that if one goes to a lecture, to a convention - or even to church - he is sure to hear a speaker who violates every law of nature in trying to tell you what he thinks. The case is indeed rare when the mind of the bearer is not fastened on some mannerism of the speaker, to the exclusion of the ideas he would make known. These mannerisms may be in the voice or in the action. The former is sepulchral and monotonous or it is unpleasantly nasal, and the thought which the voice should convey to the ear is utterly lost. Again, the speaker denies by his gestures what he has already said in words; he means to affirm, and he shakes his head violently as in negation, or he repels when he means to appeal, - or again, he has not learned the value of repose, and he keeps his hands and head going till you are worn out with the very sight of his ineffectual labor to have you seize what he says. These are common faults and are met with constantly, and they are faults that with a little patient practice under competent guidance could have been avoided. Then there are the flagrant errors in pronunciation that we hear on all sides. Indeed, it is said on good authority that President Eliot and George William Curtis are the only speakers in this country who pronounce English with anything like accuracy - to say nothing of elegance. We hope our words on this matter will not fall on barren ground, and we should advise the men who are anticipating commencement assignments to put themselves in the hands of the instructor in elocution, and do their share toward bringing up a better standard of speaking in the college. We say this not alone for their own special good, but for the good of the college.

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