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you have tried it, you cannot conceive the mighty difference there is in the knowledge you acquire of an author when you read him aloud and when you only peruse
him silently. In the former case, you must grasp every thought, every word, in all its significance ; in the latter, you are apt to pass over much of information or of beauty, through inattention or impatience for the story. Of our greatest writers—the men of genius—it may be asserted that you cannot know them fully or appreciate them rightly until you have read them aloud. If you doubt this, make trial with a play of Shakespeare, and however often you may have perused it silently, however perfectly you may imagine yourself to be acquainted with it, when you read it aloud you will find infinite subtilties of the poet's genius which you
had never discovered before. I can proffer to you no rules for learning to understand what you read. The faculty is a natural gift, varying in degree with the other intellectual powers. But every person of sound mind is capable of comprehending the meaning of a writer who expresses himself clearly, in plain language. Learned works can be understood only by learned men ; but there are none who cannot appreciate a pictorial narrative ; few who cannot enjoy a sensible reflection, a truthful sentiment, a poetical thought, a graceful style. To become reader, however, you must advance a little beyond this. You must be enabled instantly to perceive these features, for you will be required to give expression to them on the instant. As fast as your eye falls upon the words should the intelligence they are designed to convey flash through your mind. You cannot pause to reflect on the author's meaning: your hesitation would be seen and felt. Now this rapidity of perception is mainly a matter of habit. It can come only from so much practice that the words suggest the thought at the moment they are presented. In this the studies previously recommended for the acquirement of the Art of Writing will very much assist you.
At the beginning of your exercises, if you do not already possess that rapidity of perception of an author's meaning, you should practise yourself by reading silently and slowly two or three pages of some book by some writer of genius, pausing at the end of each sentence to ask yourself what the author designed to say; and be not content with some general answer, but assure yourself that you really comprehend him clearly, by putting the thought into other words. This is a troublesome process, but it is very successful, and the labour at the beginning is saved at the end, for you
will learn your
lesson in a shorter time. I would even recommend that you perform this exercise in writing, for then you cannot
escape in vagueness of idea, as when you trust to thought only. But whether you do or do not submit to that laborious task, you must read often and in silence before you begin to read the same pages aloud.
Having, as you suppose, thus tolerably mastered the meaning of the written pages, you may proceed to read them aloud. This process is of itself a monitor, for, if you have not found the meaning, you will be conscious of awkwardness in your manner of reading. Failing in the first attempt, try again, and again, and again, until you are enabled to express the thoughts as fast as the words are presented to your eye.
By some such exercises as these, you will be assisted in the attainment of the first and most important qualification for a reader, the clear comprehension of the writer's meaning, attained at the very moment that his words are presented to your mind through the eye.
THE ART OF READING-WHAT TO AVOID
IF you rightly understand what you read, you will express it rightly. But it is also necessary to understand it readily, so as to read readily as well as rightly. Herein is the difference between reading aloud and reading to yourself. When you read to yourself, you can pause to ponder upon the meaning intended to be conveyed by the writer, and you ought to search for it till you
have found it, and for that purpose you may try back again and reperuse the sentence or the page as often as may be necessary. When reading aloud, you have no such liberty for pause, reflection and repetition. You must proceed, right or wrong, understanding or misunderstanding. The meaning of what you are to read must be seized at the instant your eye falls
the words, or there will be hesitation in your speech, very perceptible to your audience, and very disagreeable. Practice alone will enable you to attain this rapid apprehension of the thoughts conveyed in the words. It cannot be taught, there are no rules for it-practice is the only path to its acquirement.
Having learned to express rightly and readily the thoughts which the writer whose language you are reading designed to convey, you have laid broadly and strongly the foundations for success in the art of reading ; these are the elements of a good reader. But it is the foundation only of the art ; all the ornament is to come. It is not enough to read rightly—you must read pleasantly as well as correctly, so that your hearers may not only be enabled to understand, but induced to listen. A dull, monotonous reader will not win the ear, however faultless his rendering of the sense of what he reads. Your reading will not be profitable to others, unless it is also pleasant. I proceed to give you some hints how to make it so.
First, I must tell you what you ought not to do. Shun equally mannerism and monotony. Do not, at the moment you open
the book to read aloud, change your tone and style of speaking, as is the evil habit of so many persons.
The term “many," indeed, scarcely expresses the universality of this fault. The exceptions are extremely rare. Nineteen persons out of twenty read in a tone and with a manner altogether different from those in which they would have uttered the same sentences out of book. It is a bad habit, probably acquired from bad teaching in childhood, which they do not shake off in after years, only because they have not practised reading or sought to attain something of it
as an art. It is curious to note how a sentence, spoken at one moment in the most natural, and therefore truthful and expressive, manner, is followed instantly by a sentence read from a book with tone and manner entirely different, either stilted and affected or inexpressive and stupid, but thoroughly unnatural and