John Horne Tooke and the Grammar of Political Experience

By Lamarre, Paul | Philological Quarterly, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

John Horne Tooke and the Grammar of Political Experience


Lamarre, Paul, Philological Quarterly


In his History of the Royal Society, attempting to outline the conditions under which the empirical sciences can flourish, Thomas Sprat offers a by no means unfamiliar dictum on communication. The members of the Royal Society, he reports, have "been most solicitous [about] ... the manner of their Discourse; which, unless they had been very watchful to keep in due temper, the whole spirit and vigor of their Design, had soon been eaten out, by the luxury and redundancy of Speech."(1) "[A] bare knowledge of things," he explains--the radical and humble goal of this society--calls for a language "without any ornament of Eloquence,"(2) and so the Royal Society has made "a constant Resolution to reject all the amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style: to return back to the primitive purity, and shortness, when men deliver'd so many things, almost in an equal number of words."(3) Locke will make similar claims in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding. If his discussion of rhetoric cautiously avoids political overtones, he is more explicit when discussing more generally the destructive power of words. Disputes arise out of names, not Ideas, and "Men, when they come to examine them, find their simple Ideas all generally to agree, though in discourse with one another, they perhaps confound one another with different Names." In what is accessible to the senses, all must agree, although "they may perplex themselves with words, according to the way of speaking of the several Schools, or Sects, they have been bred up in.(4) The political implications of language was not lost on Sprat in the 1660's. A well balanced verbal economy, without excesses or obfuscations, seems to play no small role in maintaining the balanced political economy that must underlie a program of empirical study: "Eloquence," he insists, "ought to be banish'd out of all civil societies, as a thing fatal to Peace."(5)

More than a hundred years later, under circumstances and with intentions as different as can be imagined, John Horne Tooke brings together in his Diversions of Purley a similar configuration of language, experience, and society.(6) In order to conduct his etymological studies he is obliged, like Sprat, to "disregard whatever additions or alterations have been made for the sake of beauty, or ornament";(7) for the work of etymology, seeking "the meaning of the word and the cause of its imposition,"(8) like the inquiry into more properly empirical causes, loses its focus on cause and origin in the frivolousness of eloquence, which, distracting us from the true causes of words, likewise obscures their civic corollaries. More than Sprat or Locke, however, and more than any of his own contemporaries, Tooke--a political refugee from the 1760s, the days of "Wilkes and liberty"--brought the two spheres of language and politics together, finding in linguistic representation a foundation for political representation. While this political current running through the Diversions-politely overlooked, if noted at all, by his contemporaries--has received some critical attention, in particular with respect to the class issues at stake, I would like to examine an intellectual and cultural thread that has not been addressed in Tooke, namely his attempt, in the course of a political critique, to define a political body.(9) Such attempts tends to be two-fold: on the one hand, it concerns the mitigation of the individual in favor of a more general communal identity; and on the other, the enlistment of history, of the past, in the legitimation, or delegitimation, of the present. These two political programs, often interwoven, are obliged to account for the relationship, whether mimetic or oppositional, between the work of community and the "natural" order: an order which, for much of the eighteenth century, tends to appear as the order of human nature. For Hume this means a negotiation of the passions; for Burke, a modeling on experience; for Herder, an understanding of language. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

John Horne Tooke and the Grammar of Political Experience
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.