FOUNDATIONS OF THE ART OF SPEAKING
The art of rhetoric is old, very old. Its roots reach deep into the past, into an antiquity which is one with poetry, ethics, politics, and law. By indissoluble ties it is linked with remote times and distant places. Indeed, its tradition wears the proverbial snowy beard.1
It is satisfying to know that rhetoric derives from an extensive literature. This written tradition provides an unbroken record of intellectual probing into the operation of an ancient art. It helps to give continuity to our efforts. We are mindful of the labors of our predecessors in the field; we realize, as Barrett Wendell once said apropos of the great figures in literature,
that the names and the works which have survived have done so largely because, though each originally came to light in historical conditions as distinct as those which surround us now, each has proved, when its original surroundings have faded, to appeal for one reason or another to generations widely different from that which it chanced to address in the flesh.2
The force of tradition unites the great names and works in a common core of theory, thus linking "generation to generation in the realm of mind, so that, in Pascal's figure, we may regard the whole procession of the ages as one man always living and always learning."3
By paying respect to our tradition, by acknowledging the "long sequence of humanized culture" and judgment in the contributions to the art of rhetoric, we do not necessarily commit ourselves to a static conception of the subject. It is possible to appreciate the dignity and worth of a tradition without binding ourselves to the authority of the past. The acceptance of tradition does not imply unthinking obedience to standards based "upon the faults of eminent men." Tradition is not the final criterion of certitude. It is a beacon, however, which helps to light the way to a fuller understanding of the nature of speechcraft.