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THE STUDY OF RHETORIC
What is rhetoric? Briefly, it is the oldest and greatest of all arts, the art of communicating by means of language. A manual which points out the qualities to
Rhetoric debe desired in oral and written expression
fined and offers suggestions in regard to how these qualities may be gained is called a rhetoric. Hundreds of such manuals have been written. The earliest take us back to the days of the ancient Greeks; indeed the term rhetoric is derived from rhetor, a name which the Greeks applied to the professional orator and likewise to one who wrote speeches for others to deliver.
In a very elementary way we study rhetoric from our cradle days, through consciously or unconsciously observing how those about us make their words effective and patterning our own speech
rhetoric? accordingly. As we become readers, we note, for the most part unwittingly, the ways of written expression and adopt such of them as appeal to us. By this natural, direct, but haphazard method many have achieved no mean degree of skill. Shakespeare, in all probability, never studied rhetoric in any other way; he simply observed and practiced till he had mastered the art. But to the average person there comes a time when he feels the need of a friendly guide to advise him what to observe, what to strive after and what to avoid when speaking or writing. He feels the need of a little theory to steady and direct him in his efforts to improve his powers of expression.
Rhetorics are designed to furnish such guidance. Their service is a limited one, however, for of course no amount
of faithful textbook study ever in itself Textbook a
resulted in a brilliant conversationalist, or a staff only os novelist like Thackeray, or a fascinating essayist like Lamb. It cannot supply natural ability or personal charm, nor is it a substitute for independent study of models and faithful practice long continued. It is but a staff, or at best a walking companion, not a coachand-four.
Though but a staff, it is one not to be thought of lightly. There are those, it is true, who regard rhetorRhetorical ical study as harmful, feeling that it checks study and
spontaneity. But we need not share their spontaneity fears. Undoubtedly it does in some cases produce temporarily an element of uncomfortable selfconsciousness, an awkwardness such as children experience when their parents try to break them of unfortunate ways of holding knife and fork; or such as older people feel when, after a year or two of self-instruction in golf, they at last are sensible enough to take a few lessons from a competent teacher. While ridding themselves of bad habits and acquiring correct form, they appear to be losing the little skill that they once fancied they possessed. “No great author,” states Alfred Hennequin in his useful little book The Art of Playwriting, "was ever hurt by the study of the principles of rhetoric, and no small author ever achieved success without such study.”
The study of any art calls into use a number of technical terms. The art of communication by means of language
is so very complex that its technical vocabPlan and
purpose of Part I ulary is of necessity large; and since rhetoric
has been an object of careful study for centuries, during which few authorities have employed precisely the same set of terms, not a little confusion has arisen. Out of this chaos of conflicting terminology have been selected five important words, more or less technical, for careful explanation: purity, clearness, force, beauty, style. These terms will serve as focus points for a very simple survey of the rhetorical field, undertaken with a two-fold purpose in mind: first, the ordinary one of gaining better powers of expression; second, the less commonly recognized purpose of opening the way for a more intelligent enjoyment of great masterpieces of rhetorical art.
What is meant by Purity? It is but another name for good usage or correctness. First of all, it has to do with
words considered singly. It sends us to the The dictionary
dictionary, where we learn what words bea guide
long to the language, what each word means, and how it is spelled and pronounced. Employing words not in the language, using words incorrectly as to their meaning, misspelling and mispronouncing words, all are violations of purity. So too is the use of terms which, though found in the dictionary, are coarse, or for any good reason are not employed by those whom we look up to as masters of English.
Purity is concerned not only with words considered singly but with word groups. It sends us to our text
book in grammar. All grammatical errors, The grammar
whether mistakes in forms (the changes, a guide
for example, made to indicate number, gender, case, and tense) or violations of what are known as the rules of syntax (such as that the verb agrees with its subject in person and number), are opposed to purity.
Ability to use pure English cannot be acquired, however, through studying a textbook in grammar and through Spoken English faithfully consulting a dictionary. For
every language has its idioms—words, worthy guide phrases, and even entire sentences, employed in peculiar ways—which foreigners master with great difficulty. In a country like ours, where many nationalities are represented, sentences often may be heard which, considered individually, are good English and correctly used so far as grammar and dictionary are concerned, yet the things said are not said in the English way; the language is unidiomatic. Faulty speech of this character falls not alone from the lips of foreigners imperfectly acquainted with our language; unfortunately the ignorant and the careless even of American birth adopt wrong expressions frequently heard, and fall into un-English ways of speech. Moreover in so large a country it is inevitable that localities widely separated should differ somewhat in speech. Certain words and phrases commonly heard in the South are not used elsewhere. New England has her provincialisms; so, too, has the West. Thus it happens that many even of the better educated offend against purity without being conscious of it, through imitating that which they hear and suppose to be correct. The use of idioms common to the whole language is to be desired, for they impart a distinct flavor or individuality. But the use of expressions which belong merely to a section of country leads to confusion.
Everyone, then, should own a good dictionary and use it. Everyone, popular opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, should own a good textbook in grammar Masterpieces and master it from cover to cover.
But trustworthy there is no third corresponding book of guides idioms, no authoritative volume adequately calling attention to the scores upon scores of unidiomatic or provincial blemishes; and even though such a volume were issued, it would have to be rewritten yearly, for new blights appear day by day. Fortunately, however, everyone has access to good books, and in good books the purest English is found. If we would learn to speak and write correctly, if we wish to weed from our speech that which