Rhetoric and Poetry in the Renaissance - A Study of Rhetorical Terms in English Renaissance Literary Criticism
by Donald Lemen Clark
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Rhetoric and Poetry in the Renaissance

A Study of Rhetorical Terms in English Renaissance Literary Criticism


Donald Lemen Clark, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of English in Columbia University


To my Father and Mother


In this essay I undertake to trace the influence of classical rhetoric on the criticisms of poetry published in England between 1553 and 1641. This influence is most readily recognized in the use by English renaissance writers on literary criticism of the terminology of classical rhetoric. But the rhetorical terminology in most cases carried with it rhetorical thinking, traces of whose influence persist in criticism of poetry to the present day.

The essay is divided into two parts. Part First treats of the influence of rhetoric on the general theory of poetry within the period, and Part Second of its influence on the renaissance formulation of the purpose of poetry. This division is called for not by the logic of the material, but by history and convenience. A third phase of the influence of rhetorical terminology I have already touched on in an article on The Requirements of a Poet[1], where I have shown that historically the renaissance ideal of the nature and education of a poet is in part derived from classical rhetoric.

No writer today, who would treat of the criticism of the renaissance, can escape his deep indebtedness to Dr. Joel Elias Spingarn, whose Literary Criticism in the Renaissance has so carefully traced the debt of English criticism to the Italians. In going over the ground surveyed by him and by many other scholars I have been able to add but slight gleanings of my own. In this field it is my privilege only to review and to supplement what has already been discovered. But whereas others have called attention to the classical and Italian sources for English critical ideas, I am able to show that in addition to these sources, the English critics were profoundly influenced by English mediaeval traditions. That these mediaeval traditions derived ultimately from post-classical rhetoric and that they were for the most part later discarded as less enlightened and less sound than the critical ideas of the Italian Aristotelians does not lessen their importance in the history of English literary criticism.

In so far as the text of quoted classical writers is readily accessible in modern editions, I offer my readers only an English translation. For quotations difficult of access I add the Latin in a footnote. In the case of those English critics whose writings are incorporated in the Elizabethan Critical Essays edited by Mr. Gregory Smith, or in the Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, edited by Dr. J.E. Spingarn, I have made my citations to those collections in the belief that such a practice would add to the convenience of the reader.

The greatest pleasure that I derive from this writing is that of acknowledging my obligations to my friends and colleagues at Columbia University who have so generously assisted me. Professor G.P. Krapp aided me by his valuable suggestions before and after writing and generously allowed me to use several summaries which he had made of early English rhetorical treatises. Professor J.B. Fletcher helped me by his friendly and penetrating criticism of the manuscript. I am further indebted to Professor La Rue Van Hook, Dr. Mark Van Doren, Dr. S.L. Wolff, Mr. Raymond M. Weaver, and Dr. H.E. Mantz for various assistance, and to the Harvard and Columbia University Libraries for their courtesy. My greatest debt is to Professor Charles Sears Baldwin, whose constant inspiration, enlightened scholarship, and friendly encouragement made this book possible.


Part First: The General Theory of Rhetoric and of Poetry

I. Introductory 1. The Distinction between Rhetoric and Poetic

II. Classical Poetic 1. Aristotle 2. "Longinus" 3. Plutarch 4. Horace

III. Classical Rhetoric 1. Definitions 2. Subject Matter 3. Content of Classical Rhetoric 4. Rhetoric as Part of Poetic 5. Poetic as Part of Rhetoric

IV. Classical Blending of Rhetoric and Poetic 1. The Contact of Rhetoric and Poetic in Style 2. The Florid Style in Rhetoric and Poetic 3. The False Rhetoric of the Declamation Schools 4. The Contamination of Poetic by False Rhetoric

V. The Middle Ages 1. The Decay of Classical Rhetorical Tradition 2. Rhetoric as Aureate Language

VI. Logic and Rhetoric in the English Renaissance 1. The Content of Classical Rhetoric Carried over into Logic 2. The Persistence of the Mediaeval Tradition of Rhetoric 3. The Recovery of Classical Rhetoric 4. Channels of Rhetorical Theory

VII. Renaissance Poetic 1. The Reestablishment of the Classical Tradition 2. Rhetorical Elements

VIII. Theories of Poetry in the English Renaissance 1. The Rhetorical Period of English Criticism 2. The Influence of Horace 3. The Influence of Aristotle 4. Manuals for Poets 5. Rhetorical Elements in Later English Classicism

Part Second: The Purpose of Poetry

I. The Classical Conception of the Purpose of Poetry 1. General 2. Moral Improvement through Precept and Example 3. Moral Improvement through Allegory 4. The Influence of Rhetoric

II. Medieval Ideas of the Purpose of Poetry 1. Allegorical Interpretations in the Middle Ages 2. Allegory in Mediaeval England

III. Rhetorical Elements in Italian Renaissance Conceptions of the Purpose of Poetry 1. The Scholastic Grouping of Poetic, Rhetoric and Logic 2. The Influence of the Classical Rhetorics

IV. English Renaissance Ideas of the Purpose of Poetry 1. Allegory and Example in Rhetoric 2. Allegory and the Rhetorical Example in Poetic 3. The Displacement of Allegory by Example

Index of Names

Part One

The General Theory of Rhetoric and of Poetry

Chapter I


By definition the renaissance was primarily a literary and scholarly movement derived from the literature of classical antiquity. Thus the historical, philosophical, pedagogical, and dramatic literatures of the renaissance cannot be accurately understood except in the light of the Greek and Roman authors whose writings inspired them. To this general rule the literary criticism of the renaissance is no exception. The interpretation of the critical terms used by the literary critics of the English renaissance must depend largely on the classical tradition. This tradition, as the labors of many scholars, especially Spingarn, have shown, reached England both directly through the publication of classical writings and to an even greater degree indirectly through the commentaries and original treatises of Italian scholars.

The indebtedness to the Italian critics is well known and has been widely discussed. Although the present study does not hope to add to what is known of the influence exerted on the literary criticism of the English renaissance by the Italians, it does propose to show the English critics to have been more indebted than has been supposed to the mediaeval development of classical theory. For this relationship to be clear it will be necessary to review classical literary criticism and to trace its development in post-classical times and in the middle ages as well as in the Italian renaissance. Only by such an approach will it be possible to show in what form classical theory was transmitted to the English renaissance.

As the restoration of the Stuarts to the throne of England inaugurated a new period in English criticism, during which English critical theories were largely influenced by French criticism, this study will stop short of this, restricting itself to the years between the publication of Thomas Wilson's Arte of Rhetorique in 1553 and that of Ben Jonson's Timber in 1641. Throughout this period the English mediŠval tradition of classical theory was highly important, losing ground but gradually as the influence first of the rhetoric newly recovered from the classics and then of Italian criticism produced an increasingly stronger effect on English criticism. I hope to show that the English critics who formulated theories of poetry in the renaissance derived much of their critical terminology, not directly from the rediscovered classical theories of poetry, but through various channels from classical theories and practice of rhetoric. The tendency to use the terminology of rhetoric in discussing poetical theory did not originate in the English renaissance, but is largely an inheritance from classical criticism as interpreted by the middle ages. Both in England and on the continent this mediŠval tradition persisted far into the renaissance. Renaissance English writers on the theory of poetry use to an extent hitherto unexplored the terminology of rhetoric. This rhetorical terminology was derived from three sources: directly to some extent from the classical rhetorics themselves; indirectly through the influence of classical rhetoric upon the terminology of the Italian critics of poetry; and indirectly, to a considerable extent, through the mediŠval modifications of classical and post-classical rhetoric.

1. The Distinction between Rhetoric and Poetic

Aristotle wrote two treatises on literary criticism: the Rhetoric and the Poetics. The fact that he gave separate treatment to his critical consideration of oratory and of poetry is presumptive evidence that in his mind oratory and poetry were two things, having much in common perhaps, but distinguished by fundamental differences. With less philosophical basis these fundamental differences were maintained by nearly all the classical literary critics. It is important, therefore, to review briefly what the classical writers meant by rhetoric and by poetic, and to trace the modifications which these terms underwent in post-classical times, in the middle ages, and in the renaissance, in order better to show that in the literary criticism of the English renaissance the theory of poetry contained many elements which historically derive from classical and mediaeval rhetoric.

Literature—the spoken and the written word—was divided by the classical critics into philosophy, history, oratory, and poetry. Thus Aristotle, in addition to treating the theory of poetry and the theory of oratory in separate books, asserts that even though the works of philosophy and of history were composed in verse, they would still be something different from poetry.[2] Lucian severely criticises the historians whose writings are like those of the poets.[3] Quintilian advises students of rhetoric against imitating the style of the historians because it is too much like that of the poets.[4] Clearly these critical writers are insisting on some fundamental difference between the forms of communication in language—a difference which they thought their contemporaries were in some danger of ignoring.

If the number of critical writings devoted to these different forms of communication is taken as a criterion, rhetoric ranks first, poetry second, and history third. This preponderance of rhetoric may be one reason for the tendency of the critics who wrote on the theory of poetry to use much of the terminology of rhetoric, and for the ease with which a modern student can formulate the classical theory of rhetoric, as compared with the difficulty he has in formulating the theory of poetry.

To the Greeks and Romans rhetoric meant the theory of oratory. As a pedagogical mechanism it endeavored to teach students to persuade an audience. The content of rhetoric included all that the ancients had learned to be of value in persuasive public speech. It taught how to work up a case by drawing valid inferences from sound evidence, how to organize this material in the most persuasive order, how to compose in clear and harmonious sentences. Thus to the Greeks and Romans rhetoric was defined by its function of discovering means to persuasion and was taught in the schools as something that every free-born man could and should learn.

In both these respects the ancients felt that poetic, the theory of poetry, was different from rhetoric. As the critical theorists believed that the poets were inspired, they endeavored less to teach men to be poets than to point out the excellences which the poets had attained. Although these critics generally, with the exceptions of Aristotle and Eratosthenes, believed the greatest value of poetry to be in the teaching of morality, no one of them endeavored to define poetry, as they did rhetoric, by its purpose. To Aristotle, and centuries later to Plutarch, the distinguishing mark of poetry was imitation. Not until the renaissance did critics define poetry as an art of imitation endeavoring to inculcate morality. Consequently in a historical study of rhetoric and of the theory of poetry separate treatment of their nature and of their purpose is not only convenient, but historical. The present discussion, therefore, considers various critics' ideas of the nature of poetry in Part I, and then separately in Part II their ideas of its purpose. The object of this division is not to make an abstract distinction between nature and purpose. Such a distinction cannot, of course, be made. It is to approach the subject first from one point of view and then from the other because it was in fact thus approached successively, and because also the intention of the successive writers can thus be better understood.

The same essential difference between classical rhetoric and poetic appears in the content of classical poetic. Whereas classical rhetoric deals with speeches which might be delivered to convict or acquit a defendant in the law court, or to secure a certain action by the deliberative assembly, or to adorn an occasion, classical poetic deals with lyric, epic, and drama. It is a commonplace that classical literary critics paid little attention to the lyric. It is less frequently realized that they devoted almost as little space to discussion of metrics. By far the greater bulk of classical treatises on poetic is devoted to characterization and to the technic of plot construction, involving as it does narrative and dramatic unity and movement as distinct from logical unity and movement.

It is important that the modern reader bear these facts in mind; for in the nineteenth century text-books of rhetoric came to include description of a kind little considered by classical rhetoricians, and narrative of an aim and scope which they excluded. Thus the modern treatise on rhetoric deals not only with what the Greeks would recognize as rhetoric, but also with what they would classify as poetic. Furthermore, narrative and dramatic technic, which the classical critics considered the most important elements in poetic, are now no longer called poetic. What the ancients discussed in treatises on poetic, is now discussed in treatises on the technique of the short-story, the technique of the drama, the technique of the novel, on the one hand, and in treatises on versification, prosody, and lyric poetry on the other. As these modern developments were unheard of during the periods under consideration in this study, and as the renaissance used the words rhetoric and poetic much more in their classical senses than we do today, it must be understood that throughout this study rhetoric will be used as meaning classical rhetoric, and poetic as meaning classical poetic.

Many modern critics have found the classical distinction between rhetoric and poetic very suggestive. In classical times imaginative and creative literature was almost universally composed in meter, with the result that the metrical form was usually thought to be distinctive of poetry. The fact that in modern times drama as well as epic and romantic fiction is usually composed in prose has made some critics dissatisfied with what to them seems to be an unsatisfactory criterion. On the one hand Wackernagel, who believes that the function of poetry is to convey ideas in concrete and sensuous images and the function of prose to inform the intellect, asserts that prose drama and didactic poetry are inartistic.[5] He thus advocates that present practise be abandoned in favor of the custom of the Greeks. On the other hand Newman, while granting that a metrical garb has in all languages been appropriated to poetry, still urges that the essence of poetry is fiction.[6] Likewise under the influence of Aristotle, Croce differentiates between the kinds of literature not because one is written in prose and the other in verse, but because one is the expression of what he calls intuitive knowledge obtained through the imagination, and the other of conceptual knowledge obtained through the intellect.[7] Similar to the distinction expressed by Croce in the words imaginative and intellectual, is that expressed by Eastman in the words poetical and practical.[8] And according to Renard, Balzac distinguishes two classes of writers: the writers of ideas and the writers of images.[9]

In view of these modern efforts to make a more scientific differentiation between kinds of literature than is possible on the basis of the traditional distinction between prose and poetry, the present historical study of the distinction made by Aristotle and other Greek writers between rhetoric and poetic may be suggestive.

Chapter II

Classical Poetic

1. Aristotle

A survey of what Aristotle includes in his Poetics, what he excludes, and what he ignores, will be a helpful initial step in an investigation of what he meant by poetic. Five kinds of poetry are mentioned by name in the Poetics: epic, dramatic, dithyrambic, nomic, and satiric; and lyric is included by implication as a form of epic, where the poet narrates in his own person.[10]

The choruses, also, are lyric. Otherwise Aristotle does not discuss lyric poetry. Of the other five kinds, nomic, dithyrambic, and satiric poetry are mentioned only as illustrative of something Aristotle wishes to say about epic or drama. Aristotle's Poetics discusses only epic and, especially, drama. Thus of the twenty-six books into which the Poetics is conventionally divided, five are devoted to the general theory of poetry, three to diction, two to epic, and sixteen to drama. Although Aristotle includes dithyrambic, nomic, satiric, and lyric poetry in his discussion, he practically ignores them.

On the other hand he specifically excludes from poetry such scientific works as those of Empedocles and historical writings as those of Herodotus.[11] The rhetorical element in the speeches of the characters of drama or epic, Aristotle calls Thought (). Although Aristotle includes Thought as an element in drama, he does not discuss it in the Poetics, but refers his reader to the Rhetoric. Metrics, which occupies so large a place in modern treatises on the theory of poetry, Aristotle likewise mentions several times, but does not discuss. A metrical structure he accepts as the usual practice in poetical composition, but he rejects verse as the distinguishing mark of poetic. Thus he refuses to classify as poetry the scientific writings which Empedocles had composed in meter as well as the histories of Herodotus, even if he had written them in verse. On the other hand, the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus, although composed in prose, he considers within the scope of poetic.[12]

If to Aristotle, then, verse is not the characteristic quality of poetic, the next step in an investigation must be to discover the criterion by which he classifies some literature as poetry and other as not poetry. The characteristic quality, according to Aristotle, which is possessed by the Socratic dialogs, by the Homeric epics, and by the dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and which classifies them together as poetic, is not verse but mimesis, imitation.[13] Exactly what Aristotle meant by imitation has furnished subsequent critics with an excuse for writing many volumes. The usual meaning of the word to the Greek, as to the modern, seems to be little more than an aping or mimicking. Aristotle himself uses imitate in this sense when he speaks of the delight children take in imitation.[14] But in establishing imitation as the criterion of poetic, Aristotle seems to have injected something of a private, or at least a special scientific meaning into the word. As the characteristic quality of poetic, imitation to Aristotle evidently did not mean a literal copy. Plato had attacked poetry as unreal, a thrice-removed imitation of the only true reality. To defend poetic against the strictures of his master Aristotle reads more into the word than that.

In discovering what Aristotle had in mind when he speaks of imitation, the student must read from one treatise to another, for few writers of any period are so addicted to the habit of cross-reference. In the Psychology Aristotle states that all stimuli received by the senses at the moment of perception are impressed upon the mind as in wax. The images held by the image-forming faculty are thus the after effect of sensation. These images remain and may be recalled by the image-forming faculty. From this store-house of images, or after effects of sensation, the reasoning faculty derives the materials for thought as well as those for artistic expression.[15] Imagination evidently has much to do with Aristotle's conception of the nature of poetic. Imitation, then, to him, meant a conscious selection and plastic mastery of the sense impressions stored as images by the image-forming faculty of the author, whose writings are addressed to the imagination of the reader or auditor. Furthermore, Butcher's interpretation of "imitation of nature" seems both sound and suggestive. According to him the imitation of nature is the imitation of nature's ways. In this sense the act of the poet may well be called creation.

As imitative arts Aristotle mentions poetry, dancing, music, and painting. They differ, he says, in their medium, objects, and manner. Poetry, dancing, and music he classifies together because they use the similar media of rhythm, language, or harmony either singly or combined. Music, for instance, uses both rhythm and harmony, dancing uses rhythm alone, and poetry uses language alone. Aristotle by this does not, as might seem, exclude rhythm and harmony from poetry. Indeed, he states explicitly that most forms of poetry do use all of the media mentioned: rhythm, tune, and meter. He is only insisting that imitation in unmetrical language is still poetry; that meter is not the characteristic element of poetic.[16] It is important to recognize that in classifying poetry with music and dancing, Aristotle is insisting that the common element in these arts is movement. Movement is characteristic of poetry, as color and form are characteristic of painting and sculpture. Thus in discussing the plot of tragedy, which he holds to be the highest and most characteristic form of poetry, Aristotle urges the necessity of unity and magnitude, both of which he defines in terms not of space relations, but of movement. For instance, to possess unity a plot must have a beginning, a middle and an end.

A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it.[17]

Furthermore, the magnitude which this dramatic movement should possess is also discussed not in terms of bulk, but of length.

As, therefore, in the case of animate bodies and organisms, a certain magnitude is necessary, and a magnitude which may be easily embraced in one view; so in the plot, a certain length is necessary, and a length which can easily be embraced by the memory.[18]

It is noteworthy that to Aristotle the characteristic movement of poetic depends on the dramatic unity and progression of a dramatic action, a plot. In the Rhetoric he shows that the arrangement of the movement of a speech is governed by entirely different considerations. The unity of rhetoric is not dramatic, but logical. The order of the parts of a speech is determined not by a plot, but by the needs of presentation to an audience. For instance, a statement of the case is given first, and then the proof is marshalled.

The objects of poetic imitation, Aristotle says, are character, emotion, and deed, i.e., men in action,[19] inanimate nature and the life of dumb animals being subordinate to these. The manner of imitating, if poetic, Aristotle says is either narrative or dramatic. Under the narrative manner he includes lyric, where the speaker expresses himself in the first person, and epic, where the speaker tells his story in the third person. In the dramatic manner he says that the characters are made to live and move before us.[20]

Answering Plato's charge that poetic is not real, Aristotle erects the distinction between the real and the actual, claiming a reality for poetic which is not the actuality of science or of practical affairs. It is thus that he distinguishes the poet from the historian: although the historian also uses images, he is restricted to relating what has happened—that is, to fact; while the poet relates what should happen—what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. Instead of rehearsing facts, the dramatist or the epic poet creates truth. We expect him to be "true to life," and that is what is implied in Aristotle's "imitation of nature."[21] This truth to life controls, according to Aristotle, both the characterization and the action. In the first place

Poetry tends to express the universal—how a person of a certain type will on occasion speak or act according to the law of probability or necessity.[22]

Aristotle goes so far as to say that probability, not actuality, controls the structure of a narrative or dramatic plot in that, "what follows should be the necessary or probable result of the preceding action,"[23] even to the extent that the poet should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities, for by a logical fallacy even an irrational premise in an action may seem probable provided that the conclusion is logical and made to seem real.[24] For instance, the irrational elements in the Odyssey "are presented to the imagination with such vividness and coherence that the impossible becomes plausible; the fiction looks like truth."[25] Such a result occurs only when the characters and action are made real. We believe that which we see, even though we know in our hearts that it is not so.

How important Aristotle feels it to be that the spectator or reader should see before him the characters and situations of an epic or drama is evinced by his suggestion to the poet on the process of composing. The author, he says, should visualize the situations he is presenting, working out the appropriate gestures, for he who feels emotion is best at transmitting it to an audience.[26] It is only when the poet thus completely realizes his characters and situations that the audience can be induced to feel sympathetically the pity and fear which produces the katharsis, so important a result of successful tragedy. If human beings did not possess that tendency to feel within themselves the emotions of the people on the stage, they would be unable to experience vicariously the fear animating the tragic hero. Thus tragedy, which is the type of all poetic, depends vitally, according to Aristotle, on imaginative realization.

2. "Longinus"

Aristotle's theory of poetry, which influenced so profoundly the criticism of the renaissance, was not followed by other classical treatises of the same scope. In fact, very little Greek or Roman literary criticism is concerned with poetical theory as compared with the keen interest of many critics in oratory. Perhaps the most significant and valuable critical treatise after Aristotle is that golden pamphlet On the Sublime erroneously ascribed to Longinus, which, anonymous and mutilated as it is, still holds our attention by its sincerity, insight, and enthusiastic love for great poetry.

However important its contribution to classical theory of poetry, the treatise is not specifically on poetic. In fact, it sets out as if to treat rhetoric, and actually treats both; for it is mainly a treatise on style, which as Aristotle says in the Poetics[27] is in essence the same both in prose and verse. Nevertheless it does distinguish between rhetoric and poetic and does contribute to the theory of poetry.[28]

"Sublimitas," misleadingly translated "sublimity," the author defines as elevation and greatness of style. It springs from the faculty of grasping great conceptions and from passion, both gifts of nature. It is assisted by art through the appropriate use of figures, noble diction, and dignified and spirited composition of the words into sentences. It is the insistence on passion, emotion, which makes the treatise On the Sublime stand out above other classical treatises on writing. Both poets and orators attain the sublime, says the author, but passion is more characteristic of the poets.[29]

Passion moves the poet to intensity, which is attained by selection of those sensory images which are significant. Thus the treatise praises the ode by Sappho which it quotes, because the poet has taken the emotions incident to the frenzy of love from the attendant symptoms, from actuality, and first selected and then closely combined those which were conspicuous and intense.[30] This intensity which is characteristic of the poet he contrasts with the amplification of the orators, which strengthens the fabric of an argument by insistence and is especially "appropriate in perorations and digressions, and in all passages written for the style and for display, in writings of historical and scientific nature." Yet Demosthenes when moved by passion attains the sublimity of intensity and strikes like lightning.[31] Both in oratory and in poetry sublimity is attained by image-making, as when "moved by enthusiasm and passion, you seem to see the things of which you speak, and place them under the eyes of your hearers."[32] It would be difficult to phrase better the conditions of imaginative realization. But the author felt truly that this realization was different in poetry from what it was in rhetoric. In commenting on a quotation from the Orestes, of Euripides, he says:

There the poet saw the Furies with his own eyes, and what his imagination presented he almost compelled his hearers to behold.

And after an imaginative passage from the lost Phaethon, of the same author, he says:

Would you not say that the soul of the writer treads the car with the driver, and shares the peril, and wears wings as the horses do?

From this the rhetorical imagination differs in that it is at its best when it has fact for its object.[33] Longinus would seem to say that the realization of poetic is untrammeled by fact, while the imagination of the orator is bound by the actual; it is always practical.

Because the imaginative realization of poetry is characterized by passion, intensity, and immediacy, the author of the treatise feels with Aristotle that the dramatic is the most characteristically poetic. On this basis he judges the Odyssey to be less great than the Iliad. It is narrative instead of dramatic; fable prevails over action; passion has degenerated into character-drawing. This grouping of drama, action, and passion as the qualities of great poetry is significant. Bald narrative can never realize character or situation as can the dramatic form, either in narrative or for the stage, when the whole action takes place before the mind's eye instead of being told.

The treatise makes this point exceedingly clear by two quotations which bear repeating.

"The author of the Arimaspeia thinks these lines terrible:

"Here too, is mighty marvel for our thought: 'Mid seas men dwell, on water, far from land: Wretches they are, for sorry toil is theirs; Eyes on the stars, heart on the deep they fix; Oft to the gods, I ween, their hands are raised; Their inward parts in evil case upheaved.

"Anyone, I think, will see that there is more embroidery than terror in it all. Now for Homer:

"As when a wave by the wild wind's blore Down from the clouds upon a ship doth light, And the whole hulk with scattering foam is white, And through the sails all tattered and forlorn Roars the fell blast: the seamen with affright Shake, and from death a hand-breadth they are borne."[34]

The first quoted passage is indeed not only "embroidery," but mere talk about shipwrecks, and the terrors of the deep. Homer realizes the situation by sensory images; he makes the reader see the white foam, and hear the wind howl through the torn sails, yes, and shake with the frightened sailors.

3. Plutarch

But judgments like those of the appreciative and discerning author of the treatise On the Sublime are rare. Plutarch in his essay On the Reading of Poets, is much more representative of late Greek criticism. This essay is not a treatise on the theory of poetry, but a thoughtful discussion of the place of poetry in the education of young men. Consequently the greater part of the essay is devoted to the moral purpose of poetry, and as such will be treated in the second section of this study. Two points, however, are of importance to treat here: his theory of poetical imitation, and his comparison of poetry with painting.

The "imitation" of Plutarch was far narrower than that of Aristotle. To Plutarch, imitation meant a naturalistic copy of things as they are. "While poetry is based on imitations ... it does not resign the likeness of the truth, since the charm of imitation is probability."[35] As a result of his naturalism, Plutarch admitted as appropriate poetical material immorality and obscenity as well as virtue, because these things are in life. If the copy is good, the poem is artistic and praiseworthy, just as a painting of a venomous spider, if a faithful representation of its loathsome subject, is praised for its art.

Perhaps it was Plutarch's naturalistic theory of imitation in poetry which led him to compare poetry with painting. This he does in what he says was a common phrase that "poetry is vocal painting, and painting, silent poetry."[36] The false analogy, "ut pictura poesis," establishing, as it does, a sanction in criticism for the static in drama, flourished until Lessing exposed it in his Laocoon. Aristotle at the beginning had made clear that the essential element in drama is movement, a movement which could have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

4. Horace

The remains of Roman literary criticism are not so philosophical as are the Greek. The treatise of Horace is not in Aristotle's sense a poetic; it is an ars poetica. Ars, to the Roman, meant a body of rules which a practitioner would find useful as a guide in composing. As a practitioner himself, Horace is more interested in the craft of poetry than in its philosophy or theory. He writes as a poet to young men who desire to become poets. The essence of poetry he ignores or takes for granted. He says, in effect, "Here are some practical suggestions which I have found of assistance."

In structure, also, the ars poetica is not a critical analysis, but a text-book. The first ninety-eight lines cover the fundamental considerations which the poet must have in mind before he starts to compose. He should choose a subject he can handle; he should plan it so that it be unified and coherent, and have each element in the right place; he should choose words in good use, and write in an appropriate meter.

The subject of the second section is the Roman theatre. From line 99 to line 288, Horace devotes his attention to the rules governing the writing of tragedy. This is significant, again, of the classical opinion that the most important poetical form is drama. Whatever differences there are between the views of Aristotle, Longinus, and Horace, they all agree in that. In his treatment of characters and plot, however, Horace places his emphasis on character, while Aristotle had emphasized plot. Of plot Horace says little, only suggesting that the poet should not begin ab ovo but plunge at once into the midst of the action. Concerning character he says much. The language should be appropriate to the emotions supposed to be animating the character who is speaking. No person in the play should be made to do or say anything out of character. By the laws of decorum, for instance, old men should be querulous and young boys given to sudden anger. The chorus, also, must be an actor and carry along the action of the play instead of interrupting the play to sing. Horace further warns his pupils to restrict the number of acts to the conventional five, and the number of characters to the conventional three. As an episode presented on the stage is more vivid than if it were narrated as having taken place off stage, horrors and murders should be kept off lest they offend.

The third section of the book is mainly concerned with revision. This is good pedagogy, for advice as to how to improve sentences or verses is appropriate only after the sentences have been planned and written. Besides urging the young poet to revise and correct his manuscript carefully, to put it aside nine years, and to seek the criticism of a sincere friend, Horace considers the value of the finished product. A poem will please more people if it combines the pleasant with the profitable. If a poem is not really good, it is bad. If the young poet finds that his work is not of high excellence, he would do better not to publish it. A poem is like a picture, Horace says, in that some poems appear to better advantage close up, and others at a distance. It is noteworthy that in his "ut pictura poesis" Horace is not pressing the analogy between the arts as did subsequent critics who quoted his phrase incompletely.

Of the four classical discussions of the theory of poetry which are here treated, that of Horace was best known throughout the middle ages and the early renaissance. Just what the influence of the Ars poetica was and why it was so great a favorite will be discussed in subsequent chapters.

Chapter III

Classical Rhetoric

1. Definitions

The importance of rhetoric in ancient education and public life is reflected in the wealth of rhetorical treatises composed by classical orators and teachers of oratory. An understanding of classical rhetoric can be gained only by a study of its purpose, subject-matter, and content. The Rhetoric of Aristotle has sometimes been called the first rhetoric. In two senses this is not true. Aristotle's contribution to rhetorical theory is not a text-book, but a philosophical treatise, a part of his whole philosophical system. In the second place, even in his day there were many text-books of rhetoric with which Aristotle finds fault for their incomplete and unphilosophical treatment. If the Rhetoric ad Alexandrum, at one time falsely attributed to Aristotle and incorporated in early editions of his works, is typical of the earliest Greek text-books, the failure of the others to survive is fortunate. Aristotle's rhetorical theories superseded those of the early text-books, and through the influence of his Rhetoric and the teaching of his pupil Theophrastus set their seal on subsequent rhetorical theory. In practice as distinct from theory, Isocrates probably had an influence more direct and intense, but briefer.


"Rhetoric," says Aristotle, "may be defined as a faculty of discovering all the possible means of persuasion in any subject."[37]

He compares rhetoric with medicine; for the purpose of medicine, he believes, is not "to restore a person to perfect health but only to bring him to as high a point of health as possible."[38] Neither medicine nor rhetoric can promise achievement, for in either case there is always something incalculable.

Although Aristotle, with philosophical caution, was careful to state that the function of rhetoric is not to persuade but to discover the available means of persuasion,[39] his successors were more direct, if less accurate. Hermagoras affirms that the purpose of rhetoric is persuasion,[40] and Dionysius of Halicarnassus defines rhetoric as the artistic mastery of persuasive speech in communal affairs.[41] But the anonymous author of the Latin rhetorical treatise addressed to C. Herennius, long believed to be the work of Cicero, qualifies this by defining the purpose of rhetoric as "so to speak as to gain the assent of the audience as far as possible."[42] And the sum of Cicero's opinion is that the office of the orator is to speak in a way adapted to win the assent of his audience.[43] In his definition of rhetoric Quintilian makes a departure from the habits of his predecessors by defining rhetoric as the ars bene dicendi, or good public speech.[44] Here the bene implies not only effectiveness, but moral worth; for in Quintilian's conception the orator is a good man skilled in public speech, and there are times when, as in the case of Socrates, who refused to defend himself, to persuade would be dishonorable.[45] Quintilian's precepts, however, are more in line with Aristotle than his definition. He busies himself throughout twelve books in teaching his students how to use all possible means to persuasion. The consensus of classical opinion, then, agrees that the purpose of rhetoric is persuasive public speaking.

2. Subject Matter

If then the purpose of classical rhetoric was to come as near persuasion as it could, what was its subject matter? Aristotle, following Plato,[46] says in his definition "any subject," for any subject can be made persuasive. But this was too philosophical for his contemporaries and successors, who saw in their own environment that in practice rhetoric was almost entirely concerned with persuading a jury that certain things were or were not so, or persuading a deliberative assembly that this or that should or should not be done. Consequently Hermagoras defines the subject matter of rhetoric as "public questions," Dionysius of Halicarnassus, as "communal affairs," and the Ad Herennium as "whatever in customs or laws is to the public benefit."[47] The same influence caused Cicero in his youthful De inventione to classify rhetoric as part of political science,[48] and in the De oratore to make Antonius restrict rhetoric to public and communal affairs,[49] although in another section he returns to Aristotle's "any subject" as the material of rhetoric[50] as does Quintilian later.[51]

Although Aristotle did state in his definition that any subject was the material of rhetoric, in his classification of the varieties of speeches he practically restricts rhetoric as did Hermagoras, Dionysius, and the Ad Herennium; for here he finds but three kinds of oratory: the deliberative, the forensic, and the occasional, . Forensic oratory he defines as that of the law court; deliberative, of the senate or public assembly; and occasional, of eulogy and congratulation. Perhaps the most illustrative modern examples of the third would be Fourth-of-July addresses, funeral sermons, and appreciative articles or lectures. Aristotle suggests that exaggeration is most appropriate to the style of occasional oratory; for as the facts are taken for granted, it remains only to invest them with grandeur and dignity.[52]

Occasional oratory seems to have given no little concern to the classical rhetoricians. Since it existed to adorn an occasion, it had to be considered; but unlike the oratory of the forum or of the council chamber it was not primarily practical. Quintilian comments on this; for it seems to aim almost exclusively at gratifying its hearers,[53] in this respect resembling poetry, which to Quintilian, seems to have no visible aim but pleasure.[54] Occasional speeches relied much more on style than did those of the law court and senate, thus meriting Aristotle's adjective "literary," that is written to be read instead of spoken to be heard.[55] Cicero, like Quintilian, considers these less practical, as remote from the conflict of the forum, written to be read, "to be looked at, as it were, like a picture, for the sake of giving pleasure." Consequently he declines to classify this form of oratory separately, reducing Aristotle's three kinds of oratory to two. It is valuable, to his mind, as the wet-nurse of the young orator, who enlarges his vocabulary and learns composition from its practice.[56] Aristotle includes it in rhetoric; for in its field of eulogy, panegyric, felicitation, and congratulation, it too uses the available means of persuasion to prove some person or thing praiseworthy or the reverse.[57]

3. Content of Classical Rhetoric

Classical rhetoricians commonly divided their subject into five parts. This analysis of rhetoric into inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and pronuntiatio is to all intents and purposes universal in classical rhetoric and must be understood to give one a valid idea of its content.[58] Inventio, so often lazily mistranslated as "invention," is the art of exploring the material to discover all the arguments which may be brought to bear in support of a proposition and in refutation of the opposing arguments. It includes the study of arguments and fallacies; and is that part of rhetoric which is closest neighbor to logic. The kinds of argument treated in the classical rhetoric were two: the enthymeme, or rhetorical syllogism; and the rhetorical induction or example. In the practice of rhetoric inventio was thus the solidest and most important element. It included all of what to-day we might call "working up the case." Dispositio is the art of arranging the material gathered for presentation to an audience. Aristotle insists that the essential parts of a speech are but two: the statement and the proof. At most it may have four: the ex ordium, or introduction; the narratio, or statement of facts; the confirmatio, or proof proper, both direct and refutative; and the peroratio, or conclusion.[59] This is the characteristic movement of rhetoric, which, as is readily seen, is quite different from the plot movement of poetic.[60] The parts are capable of further analysis. Consequently most writers of the classical period subdivide the proof proper into probatio, or affirmative proof, and refutatio, or refutation.[61] And the Ad Herennium adds a divisio, which defines the issues, between the statement of facts and the proof.[62] Cassiodorus divides the speech into six parts[63] and so does Martianus Capella.[64] Thomas Wilson (1553) offers seven.[65]

The third part of rhetoric is elocutio, or style, the choice and arrangement of words in a sentence. Quintilian's treatment of style is typical. Words should be chosen which are in good use, clear, elegant, and appropriate. The sentences should be grammatically correct, artistically arranged, and adorned with such figures as antithesis, irony, and metaphor.[66] Correctness is usually presupposed by the rhetoricians. To the sound of sentences all classical treatises give an attention that seems amazing if we forget that in Greece and Rome all literature was spoken or read aloud. The sentence or period was considered more rhythmically than logically, and subdivided in speech into rhythmical parts called commas and cola. The end of the sentence was to be marked not by a printer's sign, but by the falling cadence of the rhythm itself. Furthermore, great care should be taken to avoid hiatus between words, as when the first word ends and the word following begins with a vowel. But the glory of style to the classical rhetorician lay in its use of figures. Here rhetoric vindicated its practicality by a preoccupation with the impractical; and here, as in analysis, rhetoric bore the seeds of its own decay. Although Aristotle devoted relatively little space to the rhetorical figures, later treatises emphasized them more and more until in post-classical and in mediaeval rhetoric little else is discussed. The figures of course had to be classified. First there were the figurae verborum, or figures of language, which sought agreeable sounds alone or in combination, such as antitheses, rhymes, and assonances. Then the figurae sententiarum, or figures of thought, such as rhetorical questions, hints, and exclamations.[67] Quintilian classifies as tropes words or phrases converted from their proper signification to another. Among these are metaphor, irony, and allegory. In our day we consider as figures of speech only the classical tropes, and indeed Aristotle pays little attention to the others. He says that in prose one should use only literal names of things, and metaphors, or tropes[68]—which therefore are not literal names but substituted names. For instance in this metaphor, which Aristotle quotes from Homer, "The arrow flew,"[69] "flew" is not the literal word to express the idea. Only birds fly, reminds the practical person. Max Eastman has pertinently called attention to the fact that it is only to rhetoric, which is a practical activity, that these figures are indirect expressions, or substituted names. Apostrophe is not a turning away in poetic, because in poetic there is no argument to turn away from. Rather in poetic it is a turning toward the essential images of realization, as metaphor in poetic is direct, not indirect, because in poetic a word that suggests the salient parts or qualities of things will always stand out over the general names of things.[70]

The last two parts of rhetoric, memoria and pronuntiatio, are really not permanent parts of rhetoric, but only of the rhetoric of spoken address. Memoria, the art of memory, did not mean to the Greeks and Romans the art of learning by heart a written speech, but rather the art of keeping ready for use a fund of argumentative material, together with the features of the case which the speaker might be pleading. The discussion of it in the treatises is usually an exposition of the mnemonic system of visual association, the discovery of which is ascribed to Simonides. Cicero deliberately leaves a discussion of memoria out of his Orator, because as he says, it is common to many arts;[71] and the Dutch scholar Vossius in the renaissance denied that it was a part of rhetoric.[72] Pronuntiatio, or delivery, has also been found hardly an integral part of rhetoric. It is concerned with the use both of the voice and of gesture. Quintilian, for instance, records the effectiveness of clinging to the judge's knees, or of bringing into the court room the weeping child of the accused.[73] Aristotle discusses only the use of the voice.[74]

Thus classical rhetoric was almost exclusively restricted to the practical oratory of persuasion. In the republics of Greece and Rome a mastery of rhetoric gave its possessor political power; for by persuasive public speech a public man could gain a following by defending his clients in the law courts, and influence the destinies of the state by his deliberations in the legislative assembly. As long as these republican institutions prevailed, the theory and practice of rhetoric continued to be sound and practical.

4. Rhetoric as Part of Poetic

Implicit in Aristotle and throughout classical literary criticism there is a clear-cut distinction between poetic and rhetoric. Aside from the metrical form of poetic, accepted by all but Aristotle as a distinguishing characteristic, and the non-metrical form of rhetoric, the essentially practical nature of rhetoric marked it off to the Greeks and Romans as something quite different from poetic and infinitely more important in education and public life. But however clear-cut this distinction may be in principle, in practical application there is rarely to be found such ideal isolation.

Aristotle, for instance, carries rhetoric bodily over into poetic by including Thought, , as the third in importance of the constituent elements of tragedy.[75] This Thought is the intellectual element in conduct, and in drama is embodied not in action, but in speech.[76] Aristotle says,

It is the faculty of saying what is possible and pertinent in given circumstances. In the case of oratory, this is the function of the political art and of the art of rhetoric. Concerning thought, we may assume what is said in the Rhetoric, to which inquiry the subject more properly belongs. Under thought is included every effect which has to be produced by speech, the subdivisions being—proof and refutation; the excitation of the feelings, such as pity, fear, anger and the like; the suggestion of importance or its opposite.[77]

This is a transfer of the content of rhetoric to poetic, but poetic remains an art of imitation. Imaginative realization of the life of man would be incomplete if the characters in a narrative or in a drama did not use the same rhetorical art as do the characters of actual life. The poets justly carry over rhetoric when the scene demands it, and have often proved themselves excellent rhetoricians. Quintilian praises the peroration of Priam's speech begging Achilles for the body of Hector,[78] and Cicero gives a rhetorical analysis of the speech of the old man in the Andria of Terence, where the arrangement is especially appropriate to the character of the speaker.[79] Norden, therefore, seems to go too far in giving this as an example of contamination of poetic by rhetoric.[80] Dante remains an excellent poet when he puts into the mouth of Virgil that persuasive speech to Cato in the first canto of the Purgatorio. Antony's speech in Julius Caesar is the best known modern example of the legitimate place of rhetoric in poetic.

5. Poetic as Part of Rhetoric

Just as rhetoric is justly carried over into poetic when in the realization of a character or situation a speech must be made or conduct rationalized, so poetic is constantly utilized by the orator. Public speech would be less persuasive if the characteristic imaginative qualities of poetic were excluded. The ideas and propositions of rhetoric would most ineffectually reach an audience if they were not made vivid. That rhetoric is not thus made synonymous with poetic is due to the fact that in rhetoric the images exist to illuminate the concept, while in poetic they are woven into the movement of the plot. Oratory, like poetry, is emotional, as Longinus asserts.[81] Cicero phrases the aim of the orator as "docere, delectare, et movere," to prove, to delight, to move emotionally.[82] The vividness and emotion, as well as the charm, of poetic are indispensable in attaining the ultimate aim of rhetoric— persuasion. The orator must be himself moved, according to Quintilian,[83] just as the poet, according to Aristotle.[84] That essential quality, indeed, of poetic, the realization of character and situation which presents vividly a situation or event to the mind's eye of the reader or hearer so that he seems to participate in the action and vicariously live through it, was incorporated into rhetoric as , a figure of speech. There petrified in an alien substance, this characteristic quality of poetic was transmitted to another age which knew of it through no other source.[85] Thus a successful orator narrated with descriptive vividness the circumstances, for instance, of a cruel murder, and even dramatized, speaking now in the person of one actor, now of another, the situation which he was endeavoring to realize for his audience. He was thus enabled better to carry his audience with him to his ultimate goal of persuasion.

But though rhetoric might for the moment thus borrow poetic, and though poetic might borrow rhetoric, the two remained distinct in the large, each conceived as having its own movement, its composition, distinct from that of the other.

Chapter IV

Classical Blending of Rhetoric and Poetic

1. The Contact of Rhetoric and Poetic in Style

The coincidence of rhetoric and poetic is in style. They differ typically in movement or composition; they have a common ground in diction. And in this common ground each influenced the other from the beginning of recorded criticism. Aristotle says, for example, that the ornate style of the sophists, such as Gorgias, has its origin in the poets,[86] while the modern student, Norden, asserts that the poets learned from the sophists.[87] The evidence at least points to a very marked similarity between the styles of the sophists and of the poets in the fourth century B.C. This is well illustrated by the literary controversy between Isocrates and Alcidamas, both sophists and both students of the famous Gorgias. Alcidamas reproaches Isocrates because his discourses, so elaborately worked out with polished diction, are more akin to poetry than to prose. Isocrates cheerfully admits the accusation, and prides himself on the fact, affirming that his listeners take as much pleasure in his discourses as in poems.[88]

That there are characteristic differences in style between rhetoric and poetic Aristotle justly shows when he asserts that while metaphor is common to both, it is more essential to poetic. Consequently in the Rhetoric he refers to the Poetics for a fuller discussion of metaphor.[89] At the same time he says that metaphor deserves great attention in prose because prose lacks other poetical adornment. Furthermore, epithets and compound words are appropriate to verse but not to prose. And though both verse and oratorical prose should be rhythmical, a set rhythm, a meter, is appropriate only to verse.[90]

A distinction between the style of poetic and of rhetoric similar to that of Aristotle is maintained by Cicero, but the distinction was losing its sharpness. In the Orator he considers the orator and the poet as similar in style, but not identical. Formerly rhythm and meter were the distinguishing marks of the poet, but the orators in his days, he says, made increasing use of rhythm. Meter is a vice in an orator and should be shunned. The poet has greater license in compounding and inventing words. Both prose and verse, he adds, may be characterized by brilliant imagery and headlong sweep.[91] The only essential difference between Cicero's treatment of style and that of Aristotle is that whereas Aristotle had shown imagery to be an integral part of poetic, Cicero felt it both in poetic and in rhetoric to be superadded as a decoration. Whether or not this difference was caused by lack of discrimination on the part of Cicero, his position was at least in line with a tendency which in later criticism received increasing development. Both the poet and the orator, he says, use the same methods of ornament,[92] and the orator uses almost the language of poetry.[93] And again, in a phrase which was taken up and repeated for fifteen hundred years, the poets are nearest kin to the orators.[94]

2. The Florid Style in Rhetoric and in Poetic

But the public interest in style was increasingly comparable to that in athletic agility. As Socrates applauded the dancing girl who leaped through the dagger-studded hoop,[95] the popular audience of imperial Rome was delighted at a clever turn of speech, a surprising rhythm, or a startling comparison. Literary study of style in occasional oratory must have been extensive and extravagant at a very early date, to judge by the rebukes of such practical speakers as Alcidamas. Moreover, such stylistic artifice as was practiced and taught by Gorgias, Isocrates, and other sophists crept into tragedy, says Norden, beginning with Agathon.[96] The result was that with the poets style became as it had become with the sophists, an end in itself. The epideictic orators became less orators and more poets, and the poets cultivated less the characteristic vividness and movement of poetic than those turns of style which began in oratory.

Thus it was very natural that the discussions of artistic prose in the treatises of the later rhetoricians should be copiously illustrated by quotations from the poets, and that the poets should, in turn, be influenced in the direction of further sophistical niceties by the rhetorical treatises on style, such as those of Demetrius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who devoted whole treatises to style alone. The obsession of style is well exemplified by a comparison of Dionysius and Longinus in their discussion of Sappho's literary art. Longinus praises her passion, and her masterful selection of images which realize it for the reader, while Dionysius, no less enthusiastic, points out that in the ode which he quotes there is not a single case of hiatus. Dionysius is here much the more characteristic of his age, as he is in his belief that there is very little difference indeed between prose and verse. Longinus, while showing the relations of rhetoric and poetic, keeps the two apart; Dionysius draws them together. To Dionysius the best prose is that which resembles verse although not entirely in meter, and the best poetry that which resembles beautiful prose. By this he means that the poet should use enjambment freely and should vary the length and form of his clauses, so that the sense should not uniformly conclude with the metrical line.[97] In this regard he would approve of Shakespeare's later blank verse much more than of his earlier because it is freer and more like conversation. Thus, to Dionysius, the diction of prose and the diction of poetry approach each other as a limit.

3. The False Rhetoric of the Declamation School

Later antiquity carried the mingling further in the same direction. As time went on, the over-refinement and literary sophistication of the florid school of oratory became more and more powerful. The puritan reaction of the Roman Atticists in the direction of the simplicity of Lysias defeated itself in over emphasis and ended in establishing coldness and aridity as literary ideals. Such a jejune style could never hold a Roman audience, and Cicero in theory and in practice took as model not only Demosthenes, but also Isocrates. As Roman liberty was lost under the Caesars, style very naturally assumed greater and greater importance. Bornecque has shown that the strife of the forum and the genuine debates of the senate no longer kept tough the sinews of public speech, and the orators sank back in lassitude on the remaining harmless but unreal occasional oratory and on the fictitious declamations of the schools.[98] In these declamation schools under the Empire the boys debated such imaginary questions as this: A reward is offered to one who shall kill a tyrant. A. enters the palace and kills the tyrant's son, whereupon the father commits suicide. Is A. entitled to the reward? In the repertory of Lucian occurs a show piece on each side of this proposition. For two hundred years there had been no pirates in the Mediterranean; yet in the declamation schools pirates abounded, and questions turned upon points of law which never existed or could exist in actual society. The favorite cases concerned the tyranny of fathers, the debauchery of sons, the adultery of wives, and the rape of daughters. In the procedure of the declamation schools the boys arose and delivered their speeches with frequent applause from the other students and from their parents. The master would criticise the speeches and, when the students had finished, would himself deliver a speech which was supposed to outshine those of his pupils and give promise of what he could teach them.[99]

The utter unreality and hollowness of such rhetoric could show itself no better than in contrast with the practical oratory of the law courts. Albucius, a famous professor of the schools, once pleaded a case in court. Intending to amplify his peroration by a figure he said, "Swear, but I will prescribe the oath. Swear by the ashes of your father, which lie unburied. Swear by the memory of your father!" The attorney for the other side, a practical man, rose—"My client is going to swear," he said. "But I made no proposal," shouted Albucius, "I only employed a figure." The court sustained his opponent, whose client swore, and Albucius retired in shame to the more comfortable shades of the declamation schools, where figures were appreciated.[100] But in spite of the ridiculous performance of the professors of the schools when they did come out into the sunlight, in spite of the protests of Tacitus who complained justly that debased popular taste demanded poetical adornment of the orator,[101] style continued to be loved for its own sake, extravagant figures of speech were applauded, and verbal cleverness and point were strained for. As Bornecque has shown, the fact that the rhetoric of the declamation schools was so unreal, so preoccupied with imaginary cases, and so given over to attainment of stylistic brilliancy, in no small measure explains the loss in late Latin literature of the sense of structure. "It is not surprising," says Bornecque, "that during the first three centuries of the Christian era the sense of composition seems to have disappeared from Latin literature."[102] Thus Quintilian lamented that in his day the well constructed periods of Cicero appealed less to the perverted popular taste than the brilliant but disjointed epigrams of Seneca.

4. The Contamination of Poetic by False Rhetoric

As style gained this preponderence in rhetoric, it continued to increase its hold on poetic. While the rhetoricians were exemplifying from the poets their schemes and tropes, their well joined words, "smooth, soft as a maiden's face,"[103] the poets on their part were assiduously practicing all the rhetorical devices of style. Thus the literature of the silver-age is rhetorical. The custom of public readings by the author encouraged clever writing and a declamatory manner,[104] even had the poets not received their education in the only popular institutions of higher instruction—the declamation schools. The fustian which passed for poetry and equally well for history is well illustrated by the contempt of the hard-headed Lucian for those historians who were unable to distinguish history from poetry. "What!" he exclaims, "bedizen history like her sister? As well take some mighty athlete with muscles of steel, rig him up with purple drapery and meretricious ornament, rouge and powder his cheeks; faugh, what an object one would make of him with such defilements!"[105] But meretricious ornament was popular, and poets, historians, and orators alike scrambled to see who could most adorn his speech. Quintilian's pleas for the purer taste of a former age fell on deaf ears, and despite his warnings orators imitated the style of the poets, and the poets imitated the style of the orators.[106] Gorgias may or may not have learned his style from the ancient poets of Greece, but the poets of the silver age learned from the tribe of Gorgias.

Not only did poetry and oratory suffer from the same bad taste in straining for brilliance of style, but in practice, as Bornecque has shown, both poetry and oratory suffered for lack of structure. The poets paid so much attention to style that they neglected plot construction and the vivid realization of character and situation. The orators paid so much attention to style that they lost the art of composing sentences, and of arranging sound arguments in such a way as to persuade an audience. In effect there was a tendency for the late Latin writers to ignore those elements of structure and movement wherein poetry and oratory most differ, and stress unduly the elements of style wherein they have the most in common. Indeed, so completely did any fundamental distinction between poetic and rhetoric become blurred that in the second century Annaeus Florus was able to offer as a debatable question, "Is Virgil an orator or a poet?"[107]

Chapter V

The Middle Ages

1. The Decay of Classical Rhetorical Tradition

The seven liberal arts of mediaeval education carried the blending almost to the absorption of poetic by rhetoric, and the debasement of rhetoric itself to a consideration of style alone.

As for poetic, it had no distinct place except in the analyses of the grammaticus, who from classical times had prepared boys for the schools of rhetoric partly by analyzing with them the style of admirable passages. These passages were commonly taken from the poets, whose art was thus considered mainly as an art of words and applied to the art of the orator. Consequently, as a result of this tradition, poetic in the middle ages was commonly grouped with grammar or with rhetoric, although Isidore includes it in his section on theology.[108]

The rhetorical treatises of the middle ages exhibit two phases. On the one hand the earlier post-classical treatises composed by Martianus Capella, Cassiodorus, and Isidore, all inhabitants of the Mediterranean basin, are fairly close to the classical tradition of Quintilian. Their weakness consists not in that they restricted rhetoric to style, but in that their whole treatment of rhetorical theory was compact, arid, and schematic. The second phase of mediaeval rhetoric is characteristic of a geographical position more remote from the center of classical culture. Thus it is in the rhetorical treatises of England and Germany in the middle ages that rhetoric was to the greatest extent restricted to a consideration of style. Illustrative of this tendency is the fact that the only surviving rhetorical work by the Venerable Bede is a treatise on the rhetorical figures.

But although the conventional study of rhetoric in such condensed treatment as that of the sections in Martianus, Isidore, or Cassiodorus, was definitely intrenched in the educational system of the seven liberal arts, it had no vitality. In the first place these treatises gave only the dry husks of rhetoric, the conventional analyses, the stock definitions. In the second place rhetoric was little applied. The political life of western Europe centered in the camp, not in the forum. The classical tradition of trial by a large jury, as the Areopagus or the Centumviri, had given place to trial before the regal or manorial court. Thus rhetoric dried up and lost whatever reality it had possessed in imperial Rome.

But if the middle ages had no opportunity to apply rhetoric in its function of persuasion in communal affairs, they did have real need of an art of writing letters and of preparing lay or ecclesiastical documents, such as contracts, wills, and records, and of preaching sermons. Thus in the teaching of the schools, as well as in practice, the oration gave place to the epistle and dictamen. "Dictare" was to write letters or prepare documents. And the rhetorical treatise or "ars rhetorica" often yielded to the "ars prosandi," or the "ars dictandi."[109]

A characteristic treatise of this sort is the Poetria of the Englishman John of Garland (c. 1270). In his introductory chapter John explains that he has divided the subject into seven parts:

First is explained the theory of invention; then the manner of selecting material; third, the arrangement and the manner of ornamentation; next, the parts of a dictamen; fifth, the faults in all kinds of composition (dictandi); sixth is arranged a treatise concerning rhetorical ornament as necessary in meter as in prose, namely, the figures of speech and the abbreviation and amplification of the material; seventh and last are subjoined examples of courtly correspondence and scholastic dictamen, pleasantly composed in verse and rhythms, and in diverse meters.[110]

Under the head of invention John gives definitions, several examples of good letters, a long list of proverbs under appropriate captions so that the letter writer can quickly find the one to fit his context, and an "elegiac, bucolic, ethic love poem" in fifty leonine verses, accompanied by an inevitable allegorical interpretation.[111] Then he comes to selection. Tully, he admits, puts arrangement after invention, "but," he pleads, "in writing letters and documents poetically the art of selection after that of invention is useful."[112] For he thinks of selection only as the selection of words. A writer, he says, should select his words and images according to the persons addressed. The court should be addressed in the grand style; the city, in the middle style; and the country, in the mean style.[113] One should arrange in three columns in a note-book the words and comparisons appropriate to each style so that the material will be handy when he wishes to write a letter. These principles John illustrates with leonine verses and ecclesiastical epistles. Under arrangement he says that all material must be so arranged as to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then there are nine ways to begin a poem and nine ways to begin a dictamen or epistle. Next he states that there are six parts to an oration: "exordium, narracio, peticio, confirmacio, confutacio, conclusio."[114] As an example of this division of the oration into parts he quotes a long poem which persuades its reader to take up the cross. Still under the general head of arrangement John explains the ten ways of amplifying material. The tenth, "interpretacio," he illustrates by telling a joke, and then amplifying it into a little comedy. "Comedy," he says, "is a jocose poem beginning in sadness and ending in joy: a tragedy is a poem composed in the grand style beginning in joy and ending in grief."[115] Next follow the six metrical faults, the faults of salutations in letters, a classification of the different kinds of poems, and further talk on different styles in writing. His sixth chapter, on ornament in meter and prose, presents what he has up to this left unsaid about style. It includes a list of fifty-seven figures of speech (colores verborum) and eighteen figures of thought (colores sententiarum). This is logically followed by the ten attributes of man. The seventh and final chapter gives a long narrative poem of the horrific variety as an example of tragedy and several letters as examples of dictamen.

Such a digest shows better than any generalization a complete confusion of poetic and rhetoric. Poems were to be written according to the formulae of orations; allegory throve. Infinite pains were to be expended on the worthless niceties of conceited metrical structure and rhetorical figures. Garland has neither real poetic nor real rhetoric.

2. Rhetoric as Aureate Language

As to the late middle ages rhetoric had come to mean to all intents nothing more than style, it is frequently personified in picturesque mediaeval allegory, never as being engaged in any useful occupation, but as adding beauty, color, or charm to life. In the Anticlaudianus of Alanus de Insulis, Rhetoric is represented as painting and gilding the pole of the Chariot of Prudence.[116] In the rhymed compendium of universal knowledge which its author, Thomasin von Zirclaria, justly calls Der Wńlsche Gast, for learning was indeed a foreign guest in thirteenth century Germany, rhetoric appears in a similar r˘le. "Rhetoric," says Thomasin, "clothes our speech with beautiful colors,"[117] and he gives as his authority, "Tulljus, Quintiljan, Sid˘njus," although Apollinaris Sidonius seems to be the only one of the trio he had ever read.[118] This theory lived to a vigorous old age. Palmieri, in his Della Vita Civile (1435), defines rhetoric as "the theory of speaking ornamentally."[119] And Lydgate traces all the beauty of rhetoric to Calliope, "that with thyn hony swete sugrest tongis of rethoricyens."[120]

The most complete example, however, of the mediaeval restriction of rhetoric to style, and of the absorption of poetic by rhetoric is afforded by Lydgate in his Court of Sapyence. The passages which refer to rhetoric are given in full because they can otherwise be consulted only in the Caxton edition of 1481 or in the black letter copy printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1510.[121]

Introductory verses.

O Clyo lady moost facundyous O ravysshynge delyte of eloquence O gylted goddes gaye and gloryous Enspyred with the percynge influence Of delycate hevenly complacence Within my mouth let dystyll of thy shoures And forge my tonge to gladde myn auditoures.

Myn ignoraunce whome clouded hath eclyppes With thy pure bemes illumynyne all aboute Thy blessyd brethe let refleyre in my lyppes And with the dewe of heven thou them degoute So that my mouth may blowe an encense oute The redolent dulcour aromatyke Of thy deputed lusty rhetoryke.

The section of rhetoric.

Dame Rethoryke moder of eloquence Moost elegaunt moost pure and gloryous With lust delyte, blysse, honour and reverence Within her parlour fresshe and precyous Was set a quene, whose speche delycyous Her audytours gan to all Joye converte Eche worde of her myght ravysshe every herte.

And many clerke had lust her for to here Her speche to them was parfyte sustenance Eche worde of her depured was so clere And illumyned with so parfyte pleasaunce That heven it was to here her beauperlaunce Her termes gay as facunde soverayne Catephaton in no poynt myght dystane.

She taught them the crafte of endytynge Whiche vyces ben that sholde avoyded be Whiche ben the coulours gay of that connynge Theyr dyfference and eke theyr properte Eche thynge endyte how it sholde poynted be Dystynctyon she gan clare and dyscusse Whiche is Coma Colym perydus.

Who so thynketh my wrytynge dull and blont And wolde conceyve the colours purperate Of Rethoryke, go he to tria sunt And to Galfryde the poete laureate To Janneus a clerke of grete estate Within the fyrst parte of his gramer boke Of this mater there groundely may he loke.

In Tullius also moost eloquent The chosen spouse unto this lady free His gylted craft and gloyre in content Gay thynges I made eke, yf than lust to see Go loke the Code also the dygestes thre The bookes of lawe and of physyke good Of ornate speche there spryngeth up the flood.

In prose and metre of all kynde ywys This lady blyssed had lust for to playe With her was blesens Richarde pophys Farrose pystyls clere lusty fresshe and gay With maters vere poetes in good array Ovyde, Omer, Vyrgyll, Lucan, Orace Alane, Bernarde, Prudentius and Stace.

Throughout this passage rhetoric is never mentioned in any other context than one of pleasure to the ear of the auditor. Of the three aims of rhetoric which Cicero had phrased as docere, delectare, et movere, only the delectare remains in the rhetoric of Lydgate. From his initial invocation to Clio, in which he prays that his style be illuminated with the aromatic sweetness of her rhetoric, to the passage in which he refers to his own writings for examples of ornate speech Lydgate never refers to the logic or the structure of persuasive public speech. Rhetoric, in Lydgate, is not used in its classical sense, but as being synonymous with ornate language—style. Here and here only does Lydgate discuss any part of rhetoric in its classical implications. When, in his poem, he discusses the craft of writing as including "coulours gay," he refers to the figures of classical rhetoric—Cicero's "colores verborum." And when he refers to the "coma, colum, perydus," he is harking back to the classical divisions of the rhythmical members of a sentence: the "comma, colon, et periodus." In the classical treatises on rhetoric this division of "elocutio" or style into two parts: (1) figures of speech and language, and (2) rhythmical movement of the sentence, is universal. Lydgate's rhetoric is thus a development of only one element of classical rhetoric—style.

But Lydgate's rhetoric was not only restricted to style; it was expanded to include the style of the poets as well as that of the prose writers, as the last stanza shows. If Lydgate thought poetry to include anything more than this style, he does not say so.

Lydgate does not present an isolated case of this meaning of rhetoric. Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in England the term rhetoric and its related words regularly connoted skill in diction. A rhetor was one who was a master of style.[122] Henryson, for instance, calls rhetoric sweet, and Dunbar, ornate.[123] Chaucer admired Petrarch for his "rethorike sweete" which illumined the poetry of Italy,[124] and was himself in turn loved by Lydgate as the "nobler rethor poete of brytagne,"[125] who is called "floure of rethoryk in Englisshe tong," by John Walton.[126] According to James I both Gower and Chaucer sat on the steps of rhetoric,[127] while Lyndesay includes Lydgate in the number and asserts that all three rang the bell of rhetoric.[128] Bokenham calls Gower, Chaucer, and Lydgate the "first rethoryens";[129] and as late as 1590, Chaucer and Lydgate are called "The first that ever elumined our language with flowers of rethorick eloquence."[130] The entire period was thus in substantial agreement that rhetoric was honeyed speech exhibited at its best in the works of the poets.

The best example of this view of rhetoric is furnished by Stephen Hawes in his delectable educational allegory of the seven liberal arts which he calls The Pastime of Pleasure (1506). He begins, of course, with an apology for

Thys lytle boke, opprest wyth rudenes Without rethorycke or coloure crafty; Nothinge I am experte in poetry As the monke of Bury, floure of eloquence.[131]

And in another place, again addressing Lydgate, he exclaims:

O mayster Lydgate, the most dulcet sprynge Of famous rethoryke, wyth balade ryall.[132]

The poem records the experiences of Grande Amour, who, accompanied by two greyhounds, seeks knowledge. After visiting Grammar and Logic in their rooms, he goes upstairs to see Dame Rhetoric. Rhetoric sits in a chamber gaily glorified and strewn with flowers. She is very large, finely gowned and garlanded with laurel. About her are mirrors and the fragrant fumes of incense. Grande Amour asks her to paint his tongue with the royal flowers of delicate odors, that he may gladden his auditors and "moralize his literal senses." She pretends to understand him, but when he asks her what rhetoric is,

Rethoryke, she sayde, was founde by reason Man for to governe wel and prudently; His wordes to ordre his speche to purify.[133]

It has five parts,—and so on. The introduction, however, to the beflowered dwelling place of the fair lady and the request of Grande Amour to have his tongue perfumed are much more characteristic of the temper of the age than are the professed reasons for the origin of rhetoric. Rhetoric in their hearts they felt to be gay paint and sweet smells.

Hawes's five parts have the same names as the five parts of classical rhetoric.[134] The first part of rhetoric, he says, is "Invencyon," the classical inventio. It is derived from the "V inward wittes," discernment, fantasy, imagination, judgment, and memory. Anyone, however, who is familiar with the inventio of classical rhetoric, concerned as it is with exploring subject matter, will be at a loss to see the connection with Hawes. In fact the whole chapter, and the one following, are devoted not to rhetoric, but to the theory of poetical composition, and explanation of the allegorical conception of the end of poetry, and a defense of the poets against detractors. The classical term inventio is thus lifted over bodily, with both change and extension in meaning, from rhetoric to poetic.

In the chapter on Disposicion, instead of discussing the arrangement of a speech, Hawes devotes most of his space to praise of the rhetoricians because they turned the guidance of the drifting barge, the world, over to competent pilots, the kings. Here, perhaps, Hawes is using the word rhetorician more closely than usual in its classical sense. He may even have known that the fact of kingship had robbed rhetoric of its purpose. At any rate, his Disposicion is like the classical dispositio only in name, and again it is transferred from rhetoric to poetic.

Pronunciation (pronuntiatio), or delivery, of course applies to either poets or orators. But whereas classical writers applied it to the orator's use of voice and gesture, Hawes applies it only to the poet's reading aloud. He recommends that when a poet reads his verses, he should make his voice dolorous in bewailing a woeful tragedy, and his countenance glad in joyful matter. It is important, however, that the reading poet be not boisterous or unmannered. Let him be moderate, gentle, and seemly. The final section, that on memory, comes closer to its classical sense than does any other. Here the mnemonic system of "places," supposedly invented by Simonides, is explained obscurely. Even more obscure is its applicability to Hawes's subject.

It is noteworthy that the chapter on Elocution (elocutio), or style, far outweighs all the others in scope and bulk. Of the 108 seven-line stanzas which Hawes devotes to rhetoric, 20 praise the poets; 7 define rhetoric; 13 explain inventio; 12, dispositio; 40, elocutio; 8, pronuntiatio; and 8, memoria. "Elocusyon," says Hawes, "exorneth the mater."

The golden rethoryke is good refeccion And to the reader ryght consolation.[135]

Rhetoric and style, to Hawes and his contemporaries, mean the same thing. Both have to do, in Hawes's own language, with choosing aromatic words, dulcet speech, sweetness, delight; they are redolent of incense; they gleam like carbuncles in the darkness; they are painted in hard gold. But beyond these picturesque generalizations there is little trace in Hawes of any discussion of style such as one would find in a classical treatise. A few figures of speech are mentioned, but not dwelt upon. Hawes consistently confines himself to poetry. Tully, the only orator mentioned, shares a line with Virgil. The main concern is with the devices used by the poets to cloak truth under the veil of allegory. Rhetoric is an adjunct of the poet.

my mayster Lydgate veryfyde The depured rethoryke in Englysh language; To make our tongue so clerely puryfyed That the vyle termes should nothing arage As like a pye to chatter in a cage, But for to speke with rethoryke formally.[136]

In a word, the whole traditional division of rhetoric is transferred to poetry, and at the same time both rhetoric and poetic are limited to the single part which they have in common—diction. The style cultivated by this focus is ornamental and elaborate. If Lydgate or Hawes had believed that rhetoric included more than aureate language, surely the scope of their treatises would have afforded them opportunity to correct this impression. Each of them is endeavoring to present a compendium of universal knowledge according to the conventional analysis of the seven liberal arts. Illustrative details might be omitted, but not important sections of the subject matter.

The meanings of words change, and with such changes we have no quarrel. It is important, however, that we should know what the English middle ages meant by rhetoric if we are to appreciate how powerful was the tradition of the middle ages and in what direction it influenced the literary criticism of the English renaissance. To resume, the middle ages thought of poetry as being composed of two elements: a profitable subject matter (doctrina), and style (eloquentia). The profitable subject matter was theoretically supplied by the allegory. This will be discussed in the second part of this study, as historically being a phase of critical discussions of the purpose of poetry. The English middle ages, as has been shown, considered style synonymous with rhetoric.

Chapter VI

Logic and Rhetoric in the English Renaissance

1. The Content of Classical Rhetoric Carried Over into Logic

But among serious people the painted and perfumed Dame Rethoryke of Lydgate and Hawes was in disrepute. She had turned over her business in life to the kings and devoted too much attention to ornament. Such a serious person was Rudolph Agricola, who, in his treatise on logic, accepted the mediaeval tradition that rhetoric was concerned only with smoothness and ornament of speech and all that went toward captivating the ears, and straightway picked up all the serious purpose and thoughtful content of classical rhetoric which mediaeval rhetoric had abandoned, to hand them over to logic. Consequently, in a work which he significantly entitles De inventione dialectica, he defines logic as the art of speaking in a probable manner concerning any topic which can be treated in a speech.[137] According to Agricola's scheme, rhetoric retains "elocutio," style; and logic carries over "inventio," as his title shows, and "dispositio." His whole-hearted disgust with the stylistic extremes of rhetoric he shows by denying to oratory any aim of pleasing and moving. Of Cicero's threefold purpose, to teach, to please, and to move, he retains only teaching as pertinent to effective public speech. "Docere," to teach, he uses in the classical sense which includes proof as well as instruction. Thus he says it has two parts: exposition and argument.[138] The parts of a speech he reduces to the minimum proposed by Aristotle: the statement and the proof. Thus although Agricola admits that rhetoric is most beautiful, he will have none of her.

Following this lead, Thomas Wilson, the English rhetorician and statesman, defines logic and rhetoric as follows:

Logic is occupied about all matters, and doeth plainlie and nakedly set forth with apt wordes the sum of things, by way of argumentation. Rhetorike useth gaie painted sentences, and setteth forthe those matters with freshe colours and goodly ornaments, and that at large.[139]

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse