Speech Criticism, the Development of Standards for Rhetorical Appraisal

By Lester Thonssen; A. Craig Baird | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
THE CRITICS OF THE INTERMEDIATE PERIOD (1600-1850)

Introduction

Perhaps no one has ever considered himself a professional rhetorical critic. For many years, however, men have sought a system by which speeches might intelligently and responsibly be judged. Often, as in the case of the critics of antiquity, these systems were not deliberately established for the purpose of analyzing talks. Instead, they grew out of the general theorizing which was the business of men who probed the operation of an art. Thus Aristotle Rhetoric --however valuable it may be today as a pattern of critical judgment--surely was not designed originally as a yardstick of criticism. In this chapter we shall examine the theories of a selected group of men, some of whom sought to establish, at least for themselves, formal patterns of critical analysis for public speeches.


Rapin Evaluates French Oratory of Seventeenth Century

The Theoretical Basis of His Report. --René Rapin's essay on eloquence1 is essentially a report on the state of public speaking during the seventeenth century. Specifically, it is an analysis of the major defects evident in the speakers of the period, together with certain suggestions for the correction of faults. Rapin makes no claim of presenting new contributions to rhetorical theory, although his treatment of pulpit eloquence reveals a fair measure of originality. In the main, he relies upon the masters of antiquity for his theory. In the preface to the essay, he pays tribute to the "admirable Memoirs from the Rhetorical Instructions of Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian whose Works in this kind are so exact, and their Pourtrait of Eloquence so just, and so accomplish'd, as to leave no Room for our Improvements, nor even for our Wishes."2 Accordingly, Rapin draws upon those contributors, as well as upon Longinus, for the critical standards by which to appraise the speaking of the day.

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