Speech Criticism, the Development of Standards for Rhetorical Appraisal

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

Chapter 9
ESTABLISHING THE AUTHENTICITY OF TEXTS

The Difficulty in Getting Reliable Speech Texts

In an Elizabethan sermon given at Bletsoe, in 1586, Edward Bulkeley is reported to have said:

I have never published any thing in print, but one other sermon preached about 14. or 15. years past at Paules Crosse. . . . But that simple & short sermon was so handled in printing, above 60. faultes being committed in it . . . that I have bene ever since more moved to continue Platoes safe course of not writing, but learning. 1

This remark strikes at one of the most difficult problems in rhetorical criticism, namely, determination of the authenticity of speech texts.

From antiquity to the present day, critics have concerned themselves with establishing the accuracy of the texts upon which their analyses rest. Always a difficult problem, textual criticism becomes, in some instances, as challenging an aspect of the critic's work as the making of the final estimate of the speaker's merit. The distinction between purely literary and rhetorical criticism may be traced in part to the variable nature of speech texts. Thus, in his analysis of Daniel Webster, Henry Cabot Lodge observes that the nature of the oral material, per se, renders difficult the establishment of any man's claim to literary fame upon speeches alone. C. W. Previté-Orton points to the advantages which the pamphlet, for instance, holds over the speech, since evaluation of the latter requires reconstruction of social settings and the use of texts which are often incomplete, if not actually unlike the original.

It would be folly to contest the force of these arguments. Unquestionably, it is difficult to get completely satisfactory texts of speeches. While true today when our facilities for getting authentic records are fairly good, this indictment has even greater cogency and pertinence when we turn to the speech texts of a century or more ago.

Alan E. Herr's comments on the problem of getting texts of Elizabethan sermons illustrate the nature of the difficulty faced by

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