Ancient & Modern

By Jones, Peter | The Spectator, May 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Ancient & Modern


Jones, Peter, The Spectator


EARL SPENCER'S speech at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, is being placed in front of schoolchildren as a rhetorical masterpiece, for study and imitation. Oh dear!

The one comfort to draw from this is that 'imitation', the standard educational technique of the GraecoRoman world for well over a thousand years, may at last be finding its way back into the school curriculum. If this means children will now spend more time learning from the best of the past, rather than continually reinventing the wheel in the name of `finding out for yourself, it will be all to the good. The problem with Earl Spencer's speech is that, while it was well attuned to the hysterical, Richard-and-Judy style situation in which it was delivered, it now reads with about as much zip as a haddock on a fishmonger's slab. It is simply a list of the Earl's self-indulgent memories of Diana's virtues (when it is not inserting the knife into the royal family - a passage of genuine rhetorical interest, full of self-righteous bile, that, naturally, is omitted from the school selection. Don't want to frighten the dears, do we?).

A speech does not, of course, have to obey the `rules of rhetoric' to be effective. …

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