THE BOOKSHELF: CLASSICAL ENGLISH RHETORIC.

Ward Farnsworth, a professor at the Boston University School of Law, recently sent me a copy of his new book Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric thinking that I would enjoy it, and such is indeed the case. I enjoy the cover (Patrick Henry by Rothermel), the type (Sabon Next by Porchez), and even the smell (woody, with a soupçon of sawdust)… but I won’t waste your time and mine by talking about such trivialities. To pay mind to the trivial is to trivialize the mind. I think—no, I know—that this book will repay the attention of any lover of well-used language…
OK, enough junior-league preteritio and chiasmus. There are a lot of books about rhetoric out there (and, as it happens, I’m copyediting yet another one even as we speak); the great thing about this one is that it does a minimum of explication and a maximum of exemplification. Each chapter contains dozens of well-chosen examples of a particular trope, from epizeuxis to prolepsis, with just enough helpful commentary by Farnsworth to enhance enjoyment and understanding. What’s more, the sources of the quoted passages are (in defiance of penny-pinching publishing practices) identified in an otherwise empty margin that takes up the outer third of each page, providing an irresistible hook for browsing and allowing one to easily make the acquaintance of writers one might not be familiar with, like Henry Grattan. I admire the book, I appreciate it, I recommend it.

Comments

  1. There’s a typo in the types of type: Ought to be “quizdeltagerne” not “quiozdeltagerne”.

  2. Good catch! (Google Translate tells me it’s Danish for “quiz participants.”)

  3. Ed Lopez says:

    In your your second paragraph you used a word
    preteritio, should it not have been
    praeteritio ?
    Ed Lopez

  4. It’s an acceptable post-classical orthographic variant.

  5. It’s a bit sad to me that “use a figure of rhetoric — any one at all” can be a gimmick. That asyndetic congeries at the end of your post? It was nice, and I found it very effective: it makes me want to read the book. People should do that sort of thing more often.
    Writing advice tends to overemphasize conciseness and simplicity, while passing over other ways that writing (and speech) can be made effective. Maybe this happens because prolixity and complexity give a writer more rope to hang himself with, so brevity is seen as “safer”?

  6. Yes, I agree, and obviously so does Farnsworth. As fond as I am of language in its shirtsleeves, we could do with a wider available range of rhetorical choices.

  7. Writing advice tends to overemphasize conciseness and simplicity, while passing over other ways that writing (and speech) can be made effective.
    An excellent corrective, recommended to me by Slawkenbergius, I’m pretty sure. The author, Richard Lanham, wrote another germane text — A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms — though I have to say the book Hat’s plugging sounds better. This Teaching Company Course also bucks the pedagogical trend we all find objectionable.

  8. John Emerson says:

    Writing advice tends to overemphasize conciseness and simplicity, while passing over other ways that writing (and speech) can be made effective.
    Hear, hear! My own style is by choice quite nicely concise and simple, but many of my favorite authors (for example Melville) had diametrically different stylistic goals, and at some point I realized that I’ve trained myself not to be able to write like that.

  9. at some point I realized that I’ve trained myself not to be able to write like that
    Exactly! Once you learn the ways to contract your prose — all those prescriptive pieties — it’s terribly hard to ignore them while you write. I find that the type of book Hat is recommending in this post does help, however, as it gives approved labels (and justifications) for what would otherwise be mere indulgent wordiness. Once I write a chiasm — and decide that a chiasm is apt for the occasion — my anxious mind can relax, knowing that the trope would be lost with more trimming.

  10. Bathrobe says:

    Isn’t this the culmination of the campaign for ‘Plain English’? And if my intuition serves me correctly, ‘Plain English’ isn’t a recent thing; it has a fairly solid history behind it.

  11. Yes, and it was a necessary corrective to mindless elaboration, but as usual with humanity, it went too far in the other direction. ‘Tis the gift to be simple, but ’tis the gift to be elaborate, too.

  12. John Emerson says:

    And to go on, by losing that my capacity for that way of writing I also lost the capacity for that way of being and thinking, though not my capacity for perceiving and appreciating it in others.

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