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Gothic Romance

British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: by Brycchan Carey (auth.)

By Brycchan Carey (auth.)

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Additional resources for British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment and Slavery, 1760–1807

Sample text

If the audience knew that the speaker, or the person the speaker defended, was an honest man, they would be inclined to accept the speaker’s statements as being true. Smith attacks the simplicity of this position by noting that Cicero’s Oration in defence of Milo, though fine rhetoric, is unsustainable. 33 Clearly, the simple assertion of good character was nonsense when all the facts pointed against it. Just as clearly, we should not automatically assume that a speaker or writer is telling the truth on any occasion merely because they have a reputation for honesty.

Without possessing the virtuous affections in a strong degree,’ Blair asserts, ‘no man can attain eminence in the sublime parts of eloquence. ’39 In this, Blair says no more than Smith had done, although to many of his readers this may have appeared as a novel as well as a fashionably sentimental view of the role of the orator. Blair goes further in his next lecture. Here, it is not merely the author who must ‘feel what a good man feels’. A good reader must also share this attribute. Blair’s analysis owes something to David Hume’s essay ‘Of the Standard of Taste’ (1757), but where Hume saw reason as the most important prerequisite for the development of good taste, Blair adds emotion and a feeling heart to the equation.

The plain man is an irritable fellow who ‘gives his opinion bluntly and affirms without condescending to give any reason for his doing so’. Worse still, ‘he never gives way either to joy or grief’ and ‘compassion finds little room in his breast’. He is contrasted with the simple man who: Appears always willing to please, when this desire does not lead him to act dissingenously. At other times the modesty and affability of his behaviour, his being always willing to comply with customs that do’nt look affected, plainly shew the goodness of his heart [.

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