No. 147. Saturday, August 18, 1711. Steele.

Pronuntiatio est Vocis et Vultus et Gestus moderatio cum


The well Reading of the Common Prayer is of so great Importance, and so much neglected, that I take the Liberty to offer to your Consideration some Particulars on that Subject: And what more worthy your Observation than this? A thing so Publick, and of so high Consequence. It is indeed wonderful, that the frequent Exercise of it should not make the Performers of that Duty more expert in it. This Inability, as I conceive, proceeds from the little Care that is taken of their Reading, while Boys and at School, where when they are got into Latin, they are looked upon as above English, the Reading of which is wholly neglected, or at least read to very little purpose, without any due Observations made to them of the proper Accent and Manner of Reading; by this means they have acquired such ill Habits as won't easily be removed. The only way that I know of to remedy this, is to propose some Person of great Ability that way as a Pattern for them; Example being most effectual to convince the Learned, as well as instruct the Ignorant.

You must know, Sir, I've been a constant Frequenter of the Service of the Church of England for above these four Years last past, and 'till Sunday was Seven-night never discovered, to so great a Degree, the Excellency of the Common-Prayer. When being at St. James's Garlick-Hill Church, I heard the Service read so distinctly, so emphatically, and so fervently, that it was next to an Impossibility to be unattentive. My Eyes and my Thoughts could not wander as usual, but were confin'd to my Prayers: I then considered I addressed my self to the Almighty, and not to a beautiful Face. And when I reflected on my former Performances of that Duty, I found I had run it over as a matter of Form, in comparison to the Manner in which I then discharged it. My Mind was really affected, and fervent Wishes accompanied my Words. The Confession was read with such a resigned Humility, the Absolution with such a comfortable Authority, the Thanksgivings with such a Religious Joy, as made me feel those Affections of the Mind in a Manner I never did before. To remedy therefore the Grievance above complained of, I humbly propose, that this excellent Reader, [1] upon the next and every Annual Assembly of the Clergy of Sion-College, and all other Conventions, should read Prayers before them. For then those that are afraid of stretching their Mouths, and spoiling their soft Voice, will learn to Read with Clearness, Loudness, and Strength. Others that affect a rakish negligent Air by folding their Arms, and lolling on their Book, will be taught a decent Behaviour, and comely Erection of Body. Those that Read so fast as if impatient of their Work, may learn to speak deliberately. There is another sort of Persons whom I call Pindarick Readers, as being confined to no set measure; these pronounce five or six Words with great Deliberation, and the five or six subsequent ones with as great Celerity: The first part of a Sentence with a very exalted Voice, and the latter part with a submissive one: Sometimes again with one sort of a Tone, and immediately after with a very different one. These Gentlemen will learn of my admired Reader an Evenness of Voice and Delivery, and all who are innocent of these Affectations, but read with such an Indifferency as if they did not understand the Language, may then be informed of the Art of Reading movingly and fervently, how to place the Emphasis, and give the proper Accent to each Word, and how to vary the Voice according to the Nature of the Sentence. There is certainly a very great Difference between the Reading a Prayer and a Gazette, which I beg of you to inform a Set of Readers, who affect, forsooth, a certain Gentleman-like Familiarity of Tone, and mend the Language as they go on, crying instead of Pardoneth and Absolveth, Pardons and Absolves. These are often pretty Classical Scholars, and would think it an unpardonable Sin to read Virgil or Martial with so little Taste as they do Divine Service.

This Indifferency seems to me to arise from the Endeavour of avoiding the Imputation of Cant, and the false Notion of it. It will be proper therefore to trace the Original and Signification of this Word. Cant is, by some People, derived from one Andrew Cant, who, they say, was a Presbyterian Minister in some illiterate Part of Scotland, who by Exercise and Use had obtained the Faculty, alias Gift, of Talking in the Pulpit in such a Dialect, that it's said he was understood by none but his own Congregation, and not by all of them. Since Mas. Cant's time, it has been understood in a larger Sense, and signifies all sudden Exclamations, Whinings, unusual Tones, and in fine all Praying and Preaching, like the unlearned of the Presbyterians. But I hope a proper Elevation of Voice, a due Emphasis and Accent, are not to come within this Description. So that our Readers may still be as unlike the Presbyterians as they please. The Dissenters (I mean such as I have heard) do indeed elevate their Voices, but it is with sudden jumps from the lower to the higher part of them; and that with so little Sense or Skill, that their Elevation and Cadence is Bawling and Muttering. They make use of an Emphasis, but so improperly, that it is often placed on some very insignificant Particle, as upon if, or and. Now if these Improprieties have so great an Effect on the People, as we see they have, how great an Influence would the Service of our Church, containing the best Prayers that ever were composed, and that in Terms most affecting, most humble, and most expressive of our Wants, and Dependance on the Object of our Worship, dispos'd in most proper Order, and void of all Confusion; what Influence, I say, would these Prayers have, were they delivered with a due Emphasis, and apposite Rising and Variation of Voice, the Sentence concluded with a gentle Cadence, and, in a word, with such an Accent and Turn of Speech as is peculiar to Prayer?

As the matter of Worship is now managed, in Dissenting Congregations, you find insignificant Words and Phrases raised by a lively Vehemence; in our own Churches, the most exalted Sense depreciated, by a dispassionate Indolence. I remember to have heard Dr. S--e [2] say in his Pulpit, of the Common-prayer, that, at least, it was as perfect as any thing of Human Institution: If the Gentlemen who err in this kind would please to recollect the many Pleasantries they have read upon those who recite good Things with an ill Grace, they would go on to think that what in that Case is only Ridiculous, in themselves is Impious. But leaving this to their own Reflections, I shall conclude this Trouble with what Cásar said upon the Irregularity of Tone in one who read before him, Do you read or sing? If you sing, you sing very ill. [3]

[Footnote 1: The Rec. Philip Stubbs, afterwards Archdeacon of St. Alban's.]

[Footnote 2: Smalridge?]

[Footnote 3:

Si legis cantas; si cantas, male cantas.

The word Cant is rather from 'cantare', as a chanting whine, than from the Andrew Cants, father and son, of Charles the Second's time.]

Translation of motto:
'Good delivery is a graceful management of the voice, countenance, and