This article focuses on the acoustic aspect of parliamentary government in
Britain, demonstrating the continued importance of speech and
audibility for representatives in the reformed House of Commons. Notions of what
constituted a proper parliamentary voice changed as electoral reforms, the rise of
the “fourth estate,” and scientific discoveries in laryngology influenced evaluations
of political speech. Most notably, rhetorical brilliance and a theatrical delivery lost
legitimacy and were increasingly replaced by a “polite” and conversational style.
The vocal sounds of modern, polite representatives were extensively transcribed and
commented upon by journalists and satirists. By the end of the nineteenth century,
the rise of the written press made the careful management of the vocal organs more,
rather than less, politically relevant.