Elocutionary Arts

Exploring the lost practices and performers of recitation

Charles Dickens reading.
Poses from The Peerless Reciter, or, popular program; containing the choicest recitations and readings from the best authors, for schools, public entertainments, social gatherings, Sunday schools, etc., including recitals in prose and verse, selections with musical accompaniments, dialogues, dramas, tableaux, etc., etc. together with rules and instructions for gesture, expression, and cultivation of the voice (1894). Compiled and edited by Henry Davenport Northrop.

Poses from The Peerless Reciter, or, popular program; containing the choicest recitations and readings from the best authors, for schools, public entertainments, social gatherings, Sunday schools, etc., including recitals in prose and verse, selections with musical accompaniments, dialogues, dramas, tableaux, etc., etc. together with rules and instructions for gesture, expression, and cultivation of the voice (1894). Compiled and edited by Henry Davenport Northrop.

Poses from The Peerless Reciter, or, popular program; containing the choicest recitations and readings from the best authors, for schools, public entertainments, social gatherings, Sunday schools, etc., including recitals in prose and verse, selections with musical accompaniments, dialogues, dramas, tableaux, etc., etc. together with rules and instructions for gesture, expression, and cultivation of the voice (1894). Compiled and edited by Henry Davenport Northrop.

Poses from The Peerless Reciter, or, popular program; containing the choicest recitations and readings from the best authors, for schools, public entertainments, social gatherings, Sunday schools, etc., including recitals in prose and verse, selections with musical accompaniments, dialogues, dramas, tableaux, etc., etc. together with rules and instructions for gesture, expression, and cultivation of the voice (1894). Compiled and edited by Henry Davenport Northrop.

1909 Obituary for Anna Randall-Diehl, elocutionist, author, club woman, and Shakespeare advocate.

1909 Obituary for Anna Randall-Diehl, elocutionist, author, club woman, and Shakespeare advocate.

Postcard for the Bard Avon School, Baltimore, Maryland.  The Bard Avon School originated as a school of expression and lasted until ca. 1933.  The school was under the direction of one of its graduates, Kathryn Howard Lowes (1892–1959), who purchased it in 1920.   By the 1940s, it was a business and secretarial school.

Postcard for the Bard Avon School, Baltimore, Maryland.  The Bard Avon School originated as a school of expression and lasted until ca. 1933.  The school was under the direction of one of its graduates, Kathryn Howard Lowes (1892–1959), who purchased it in 1920.   By the 1940s, it was a business and secretarial school.

Original location for the Plonk School of Creative Arts in Asheville, NC.  A private home turned into the Grove Park School for girls became the location for a school of expression beginning in 1929.  Sisters Laura and Lillian Plonk moved their Summer Workshop on “speech, drama and living,” affiliated with the Curry School of Expression in Boston, there.   In 1941, the Plonk School moved to the location on the 1961 flier below, and the original house became the Albemarle Inn.  In 1943, the Inn housed Hungarian composer Béla Bartok, who worked on his Third Piano Concerto there.

[Full flier and more information at North Carolina Miscellany]

1894 advertisment in Werner’s Magazine for Edwin S. Johnston’s Johnston Philadelphia Institute for the Permanent Cure of Stammering, Stuttering, and All Other Defects in Articulation.  Johnston, a stutterer, reportedly cured himself, then opened an institute to share his method.  It lasted until around 1904.  Werner’s Magazine published numerous articles on stuttering.

[Courtesy of John Vidumsky, Hidden City Philadelphia]
"Home, Sweet Home," picture for table of contents to The Brightest Gems of Poetry (1899), edited by Henry Davenport Northrop (1836-1909).
The Old Clock on the Stairs, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Somewhat back from the village street Stands the old-fashioned country-seat. Across its antique portico Tall poplar-trees their shadows throw; And from its station in the hall An ancient timepiece says to all,—       ”Forever—never!       Never—forever!”  Half-way up the stairs it stands, And points and beckons with its hands From its case of massive oak, Like a monk, who, under his cloak, Crosses himself, and sighs, alas! With sorrowful voice to all who pass,—       ”Forever—never!       Never—forever!”  By day its voice is low and light; But in the silent dead of night, Distinct as a passing footstep’s fall, It echoes along the vacant hall, Along the ceiling, along the floor, And seems to say, at each chamber-door,—       ”Forever—never!       Never—forever!”  Through days of sorrow and of mirth, Through days of death and days of birth, Through every swift vicissitude Of changeful time, unchanged it has stood, And as if, like God, it all things saw, It calmly repeats those words of awe,—       ”Forever—never!       Never—forever!”  In that mansion used to be Free-hearted Hospitality; His great fires up the chimney roared; The stranger feasted at his board; But, like the skeleton at the feast, That warning timepiece never ceased,—       ”Forever—never!       Never—forever!”  There groups of merry children played, There youths and maidens dreaming strayed; O precious hours! O golden prime, And affluence of love and time! Even as a Miser counts his gold, Those hours the ancient timepiece told,—       ”Forever—never!       Never—forever!”  From that chamber, clothed in white, The bride came forth on her wedding night; There, in that silent room below, The dead lay in his shroud of snow; And in the hush that followed the prayer, Was heard the old clock on the stair,—       ”Forever—never!       Never—forever!”  All are scattered now and fled, Some are married, some are dead; And when I ask, with throbs of pain. “Ah! when shall they all meet again?” As in the days long since gone by, The ancient timepiece makes reply,—       ”Forever—never!       Never—forever!  Never here, forever there, Where all parting, pain, and care, And death, and time shall disappear,— Forever there, but never here! The horologe of Eternity Sayeth this incessantly,—       ”Forever—never!       Never—forever!”

The Old Clock on the Stairs, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Somewhat back from the village street
Stands the old-fashioned country-seat.
Across its antique portico
Tall poplar-trees their shadows throw;
And from its station in the hall
An ancient timepiece says to all,—
      ”Forever—never!
      Never—forever!” 
Half-way up the stairs it stands,
And points and beckons with its hands
From its case of massive oak,
Like a monk, who, under his cloak,
Crosses himself, and sighs, alas!
With sorrowful voice to all who pass,—
      ”Forever—never!
      Never—forever!” 
By day its voice is low and light;
But in the silent dead of night,
Distinct as a passing footstep’s fall,
It echoes along the vacant hall,
Along the ceiling, along the floor,
And seems to say, at each chamber-door,—
      ”Forever—never!
      Never—forever!” 
Through days of sorrow and of mirth,
Through days of death and days of birth,
Through every swift vicissitude
Of changeful time, unchanged it has stood,
And as if, like God, it all things saw,
It calmly repeats those words of awe,—
      ”Forever—never!
      Never—forever!” 
In that mansion used to be
Free-hearted Hospitality;
His great fires up the chimney roared;
The stranger feasted at his board;
But, like the skeleton at the feast,
That warning timepiece never ceased,—
      ”Forever—never!
      Never—forever!” 
There groups of merry children played,
There youths and maidens dreaming strayed;
O precious hours! O golden prime,
And affluence of love and time!
Even as a Miser counts his gold,
Those hours the ancient timepiece told,—
      ”Forever—never!
      Never—forever!” 
From that chamber, clothed in white,
The bride came forth on her wedding night;
There, in that silent room below,
The dead lay in his shroud of snow;
And in the hush that followed the prayer,
Was heard the old clock on the stair,—
      ”Forever—never!
      Never—forever!” 
All are scattered now and fled,
Some are married, some are dead;
And when I ask, with throbs of pain.
“Ah! when shall they all meet again?”
As in the days long since gone by,
The ancient timepiece makes reply,—
      ”Forever—never!
      Never—forever! 
Never here, forever there,
Where all parting, pain, and care,
And death, and time shall disappear,—
Forever there, but never here!
The horologe of Eternity
Sayeth this incessantly,—
      ”Forever—never!
      Never—forever!”

Gone With a Handsomer Man, by Will Carleton
JOHN: I’ve worked in the field all day, a-plowin’ the ‘stony streak;’ I’ve scolded my team till I’m hoarse; I’ve tramped till my legs are weak; I’ve choked a dozen swears (so’s not to tell Jane fibs) When the plow-p’int struck a stone and the handles punched my ribs. I’ve put my team in the barn, and rubbed their sweaty coats; I’ve fed ‘em a heap of hay and half a bushel of oats; And to see the way they eat makes me like eatin’ feel, And Jane won’t say to-night that I don’t make out a meal. Well said! the door is locked! but here she’s left the key, Under the step, in a place known only to her and me; I wonder who’s dyin’ or dead, that she’s hustled off pell-mell: But here on the table’s a note, and probably this will tell. Good God! my wife is gone! my wife is gone astray! The letter it says, ’ Good-bye, for I’m a-going away; I’ve lived with you six months, John, and so far I’ve been true; But I’m going away to-day with a handsomer man than you.’ A han’somer man than me! Why, that ain’t much to say; There’s han’somer men than me go past here every day. There’s han’somer men than me—I ain’t of the han’some kind; But a lovin’er man than I was I guess she’ll never find. Curse her! curse her! I say, and give my curses wings! May the words of love I’ve spoke be changed to scorpion stings! Oh, she filled my heart with joy, she emptied my heart of doubt, And now, with a scratch of a pen, she lets my heart’s blood out! Curse her! curse her! say I; she’ll some time rue this day; She’ll some time learn that hate is a game that two can play; And long before she dies she’ll grieve she ever was born; And I’ll plow her grave with hate, and seed it down to scorn! As sure as the world goes on, there’ll come a time when she Will read the devilish heart of that han’somer man than me; And there’ll be a time when he will find, as others do, That she who is false to one can be the same with two. And when her face grows pale, and when her eyes grow dim, And when he is tired of her and she is tired of him, She’ll do what she ought to have done, and coolly count the cost; And then she’ll see things clear, and know what she has lost. And thoughts that are now asleep will wake up in her mind, And she will mourn and cry for what she has left behind; And maybe she’ll sometimes long for me—for me—but no! I’ve blotted her out of my heart, and I will not have it so. And yet in her girlish heart there was somethin’ or other she had That fastened a man to her, and wasn’t entirely bad; And she loved me a little, I think, although it didn’t last; But I mustn’t think of these things—I’ve buried ‘em in the past. I’ll take my hard words back, nor make a bad matter worse; She’ll have trouble enough; she shall not have my curse; But I’ll live a life so square—and I well know that I can— That she always will sorry be that she went with that han’somer man. Ah, here is her kitchen dress! it makes my poor eyes blur; It seems, when I look at that, as if ‘twas holdin’ her. And here are her week-day shoes, and there is her week-day hat, And yonder’s her weddin’ gown: I wonder she didn’t take that. 'Twas only this mornin' she came and called me her 'dearest dear,' And said I was makin’ for her a regular paradise here; O God! if you want a man to sense the pains of hell, Before you pitch him in just keep him in heaven a spell! Good-bye! I wish that death had severed us two apart. You’ve lost a worshiper here—you’ve crushed a lovin’ heart. I’ll worship no woman again; but I guess I’ll learn to pray, And kneel as you used to kneel before you run away. And if I thought I could bring my words on heaven to bear, And if I thought I had some little influence there, I would pray that I might be, if it only could be so. As happy and gay as I was a half an hour ago. JANE: [(entering).] Why, John, what a litter here! you’ve thrown things all around! Come, what’s the matter now? and what ‘ve you lost or found? And here’s my father here, a-waiting for supper, too; I’ve been a-riding with him—he’s that ‘handsomer man than you.’ Ha! ha! Pa, take a seat, while I put the kettle on, And get things ready for tea, and kiss my dear old John. Why, John, you look so strange! Come, what has crossed your track? I was only a-joking, you know; I’m willing to take it back. JOHN: [(aside).] Well, now, if this ain’t a joke, with rather a bitter cream! It seems as if I’d woke from a mighty ticklish dream; And I think she ‘smells a rat,’ for she smiles at me so queer; I hope she don’t; good Lord! I hope that they didn’t hear! 'Twas one of her practical drives—she thought I'd understand! But I’ll never break sod again till I get the lay of the land. But one thing’s settled with me—to appreciate heaven well, 'Tis good for a man to have some fifteen minutes of hell.

Gone With a Handsomer Man, by Will Carleton

JOHN:

I’ve worked in the field all day, a-plowin’ the ‘stony streak;’
I’ve scolded my team till I’m hoarse; I’ve tramped till my legs are weak;
I’ve choked a dozen swears (so’s not to tell Jane fibs)
When the plow-p’int struck a stone and the handles punched my ribs.

I’ve put my team in the barn, and rubbed their sweaty coats;
I’ve fed ‘em a heap of hay and half a bushel of oats;
And to see the way they eat makes me like eatin’ feel,
And Jane won’t say to-night that I don’t make out a meal.

Well said! the door is locked! but here she’s left the key,
Under the step, in a place known only to her and me;
I wonder who’s dyin’ or dead, that she’s hustled off pell-mell:
But here on the table’s a note, and probably this will tell.

Good God! my wife is gone! my wife is gone astray!
The letter it says, ’ Good-bye, for I’m a-going away;
I’ve lived with you six months, John, and so far I’ve been true;
But I’m going away to-day with a handsomer man than you.’

A han’somer man than me! Why, that ain’t much to say;
There’s han’somer men than me go past here every day.
There’s han’somer men than me—I ain’t of the han’some kind;
But a lovin’er man than I was I guess she’ll never find.

Curse her! curse her! I say, and give my curses wings!
May the words of love I’ve spoke be changed to scorpion stings!
Oh, she filled my heart with joy, she emptied my heart of doubt,
And now, with a scratch of a pen, she lets my heart’s blood out!

Curse her! curse her! say I; she’ll some time rue this day;
She’ll some time learn that hate is a game that two can play;
And long before she dies she’ll grieve she ever was born;
And I’ll plow her grave with hate, and seed it down to scorn!

As sure as the world goes on, there’ll come a time when she
Will read the devilish heart of that han’somer man than me;
And there’ll be a time when he will find, as others do,
That she who is false to one can be the same with two.

And when her face grows pale, and when her eyes grow dim,
And when he is tired of her and she is tired of him,
She’ll do what she ought to have done, and coolly count the cost;
And then she’ll see things clear, and know what she has lost.

And thoughts that are now asleep will wake up in her mind,
And she will mourn and cry for what she has left behind;
And maybe she’ll sometimes long for me—for me—but no!
I’ve blotted her out of my heart, and I will not have it so.

And yet in her girlish heart there was somethin’ or other she had
That fastened a man to her, and wasn’t entirely bad;
And she loved me a little, I think, although it didn’t last;
But I mustn’t think of these things—I’ve buried ‘em in the past.

I’ll take my hard words back, nor make a bad matter worse;
She’ll have trouble enough; she shall not have my curse;
But I’ll live a life so square—and I well know that I can—
That she always will sorry be that she went with that han’somer man.

Ah, here is her kitchen dress! it makes my poor eyes blur;
It seems, when I look at that, as if ‘twas holdin’ her.
And here are her week-day shoes, and there is her week-day hat,
And yonder’s her weddin’ gown: I wonder she didn’t take that.

'Twas only this mornin' she came and called me her 'dearest dear,'
And said I was makin’ for her a regular paradise here;
O God! if you want a man to sense the pains of hell,
Before you pitch him in just keep him in heaven a spell!

Good-bye! I wish that death had severed us two apart.
You’ve lost a worshiper here—you’ve crushed a lovin’ heart.
I’ll worship no woman again; but I guess I’ll learn to pray,
And kneel as you used to kneel before you run away.

And if I thought I could bring my words on heaven to bear,
And if I thought I had some little influence there,
I would pray that I might be, if it only could be so.
As happy and gay as I was a half an hour ago.

JANE:

[(entering).]

Why, John, what a litter here! you’ve thrown things all around!
Come, what’s the matter now? and what ‘ve you lost or found?
And here’s my father here, a-waiting for supper, too;
I’ve been a-riding with him—he’s that ‘handsomer man than you.’

Ha! ha! Pa, take a seat, while I put the kettle on,
And get things ready for tea, and kiss my dear old John.
Why, John, you look so strange! Come, what has crossed your track?
I was only a-joking, you know; I’m willing to take it back.

JOHN:

[(aside).]

Well, now, if this ain’t a joke, with rather a bitter cream!
It seems as if I’d woke from a mighty ticklish dream;
And I think she ‘smells a rat,’ for she smiles at me so queer;
I hope she don’t; good Lord! I hope that they didn’t hear!

'Twas one of her practical drives—she thought I'd understand!
But I’ll never break sod again till I get the lay of the land.
But one thing’s settled with me—to appreciate heaven well,
'Tis good for a man to have some fifteen minutes of hell.