The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the Eighteenth Century

By Jonathan Hoeber Lamb | Go to book overview

5
Political Principles and Patriotism

Every days account shews more and more, in my opinion, the ill consequences of keeping good principles. ( Edmund Burke, Letter to Depont)

In his discussion of the scene of instruction from She Stoops to Conquer, Jerome Christenson notices that the price paid for the restraining coalition of idea and impression -- not thinking of eating as you watch people eating, and so on -- is the interruption of narrative. Hardcastle inducts his servants into a disinterested economy of self-discipline to which his own irresistible desire for telling war-stories is exorbitant. No sooner does he begin his tale than he is rudely interrupted by guests who take him for a tedious innkeeper who cannot hear talk without wanting to talk. Christenson interprets this as an incompatibility between the milder hegemony of the theatre of moral sentiments, and the tale of violence that cannot be anticipated or controlled by 'the self-regulation of the social composition' ( Christenson, 36). The incompatibility is thernatized and represented in the 1750s on a number of fronts, and indicates a more fundamental difference between the modes of selfgovernment (whether these are construed as an ideology of representation or as a practice based upon unfolded tautologies) and the exemplary structure of Hardcastle's brand of 'old-fashioned' narrative, which aligns a string of details to a norm or point, such as the heroic sang-froid of soldiers. The stories of those for whom talking is simultaneously an idea and an impression are prone (like Sterne's) to circle back to the associations in which they began; or, if they become too ambitious, to interrupt themselves with the reminder that narrative depends as much upon its situation as its sentiment, point, or principle.

The vulnerability to interruption exhibited in political narratives of the mid-century is an index of the longevity of the desire for a principled and systematic discourse, comically exaggerated in Walter Shandy's various theories of state. It is the genius of patriotic eloquence, however, to have adapted the terms of superior principle -- self-denial, civic humanism, unconditional love of country, and so on -- to the situational pragmatics of daily political manoeuvring without ever being decisively

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