The Rhetoric of Blair, Campbell, and Whately

The Rhetoric of Blair, Campbell, and Whately

The Rhetoric of Blair, Campbell, and Whately

The Rhetoric of Blair, Campbell, and Whately

Excerpt

Hugh Blair, George Campbell, and Richard Whately constituted the great triumvirate of British rhetoricians who came at the end of a long tradition of rhetoric which had its beginning in fifth-century Greece. But these men did not so much terminate a tradition as initiate the period of modern or new rhetoric. Space does not permit a survey here of the 2000- year history of rhetoric, a history which includes dozens of the most illustrious names associated with Western culture. Students interested in pursuing that history can turn to the surveys listed in the bibliography at the end of this introduction. Here, however, we can put Blair, Campbell, and Whately into context by reviewing the main rhetorical doctrines and movements from the beginning in ancient Greece to the incipient decline of traditional rhetoric in early eighteenth-century England.

Although Aristotle, in a now lost history of rhetoric, named Empedocles of Agrigentum as the first teacher of rhetoric, Corax and his pupil Tisias are commonly accepted as having produced the first handbooks of rhetoric in Sicily during the first quarter of the fifth century B.C. Rhetoric began and for a long time remained exclusively the organon of oral, persuasive discourse of the courtroom. With the expulsion of a long line of tyrants, the citizens of Sicily rushed to court to plead their own cases for the recovery of their confiscated property, and in preparation for this special pleading before a jury of their peers they turned eagerly to anyone who could train them for this encounter. Gorgias of Leontini introduced rhetoric to Athens in 427, when he was sent on an embassy to that intellectually vibrant city. The Athenians were enthralled by Gorgias' eloquence, and soon numerous schools, taught by "rhetors" or "sophists," sprang up.

Not all Athenians, however, were impressed by this new art of persuasive oratory. The most prestigious opponent of the art was Plato, who echoed and reaffirmed the objections of his teacher, Socrates. As we learn from the Gorgias and the Phaedrus, Plato regarded rhetoric as a meretricious art, if indeed it was an art at all. For him, rhetoric was a mere "knack," a form of flattery, appealing to men's passions and emotions rather than reason; moreover, it based arguments on appearances and opinions rather than on . . .

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