Sunday, 16 August 2015

Archbishop of Dublin Richard Whately - Elements of Rhetoric

Archbishop of Dublin Richard Whately (1787 - 1863) is probably better known in America for his Elements of Rhetoric (1828) which was influential there. In Ireland his philanthropic, ecumenical and educational work is remembered. Monies that were gathered in Calcutta, - yes, for that, - he disbursed often using Catholic priests as his agents. He was in favour of the endowment of the Maynooth seminary and the establishment of the National School system for which he produced a work entitled Easy Lessons on Money Matters. I must have a look at that. He was against transportation and slavery. So good a man was he that his opposite number the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Paul Cullen thought it was some kind of proselytising cuteness. Lawn sleeves are deep you know.

All this I have but recently learned for to admit the truth my Holmesian lumber room has never had to have History pushed out for there was not much there to begin with. Twas in the Britannica article on ‘Rhetoric’ that I first came across a mention of him and his treatise. Having read it as far as Part IV on Elocution I can report that it is a fine book evincing the valuable character of perspicuity.

The finding of arguments to prove a given point, and the skillful arrangement of them may be considered as the immediate and proper province of Rhetoric and of that alone.

He writes of the address to the Understanding to produce conviction and then of the address to the Will to produce persuasion . Next he considers the aspects of Style such as perspicuity, energy and elegance. His hints on the achievement of effective communication are precise and as befitting a Divine of the old school are illustrated by quotations from the Greek which remains reproachfully untranslated. Of the sometimes conflicting objectives of conciseness, energy and perspicuity he writes:

wavering between the demands of Perspicuity and of Energy, (of which the former of course requires the first care, lest he should fail of both,) and doubting whether the phrase which has the most of forcible brevity, will be readily taken in, it may be recommended to use both expressions; — first to expand the sense, sufficiently to be clearly understood, and then to contract it into the most compendious and striking form. This expedient might seem at first sight the most decidedly adverse to the brevity recommended; but it will be found in practice, that the addition of a compressed and pithy expression of the sentiment, which has been already stated at greater length, will produce the effect of brevity. For it is to be remembered that it is not on account of the actual number of words that diffuseness is to be condemned, (unless one were limited to a certain space, or time,) but to avoid the flatness and tediousness resulting from ill; so that if this appearance can be obviated by the insertion of such an abridged repetition as is here recommended, which adds poignancy and spirit to the whole. Conciseness will be, practically, promoted by the addition. The hearers will be struck by the forcibleness of the sentence which they will have been prepared to comprehend ; they will understand the longer expression, and remember the shorter. But the force will, in general, be totally destroyed, or much enfeebled, if the order be reversed ; — if the brief expression be put first, and afterwards expanded and explained ; for it loses much of its force if it be not clearly understood the moment it is uttered; and if it be, there is no need of the subsequent expansion. 

Apart from 'Rhetoric’ the only other book of Whately’s that I have read is his retorsion of Hume on Miracles - Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte. It’s available in a clean epub/kindle format on Gutenberg Project. Brilliant, succinct, concise and to the point. Tutt, tutt superfluity of expression. It requires a separate post.

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