Monday, April 02, 2012

Morris W. Croll, Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm

Morris W. Croll, Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm, Ed. J. Max Patrick and Robert O. Evans, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1966.

The oratorical style was distinguished by the use of the schemata verborum, or “schemes,” as we may call them, which are chiefly similarities or repetitions of sound used as purely sensuous devices to give pleasure or aid the attention. The essay style is characterized by the absence of these figures, or their use in such subtle variation that they cannot easily be distinguished, and, on the other hand, by the use of metaphor, aphorism, antithesis, paradox, and the other figures which, in one classification, are known as the figurae sententiae, the figures of wit or thought. (The Anti-Ciceronian Movement, 54)

…and it is almost certain that even these figures originated long before Gorgias’ time, in certain liturgical or legal customs of the primitive Greek community. [They are 1) Isocolon, approximate equality of length between members of a period; 2) Parison, similarity of form between such equal members as in the position of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.; 3) Paramoion, likeness of sound between words thus similarity placed.] (The Anti-Ciceronian Movement, 54)
Isocratean rhetoric… “round composition” and the “even falling of its clauses” do not always satisfy the inward ear of the solitary reader. Heard solely by the reflective mind, it is an empty, a frigid, or an artificial style. But it is not meant for such a hearing. It is addressed… large audiences, consisting of people of moderate intelligence, and met amid all the usual distractions of public assemblage. … philosophic curiosity… The beginning of the history of the essay style… [Socrates] (56)

The followers of Aristotle… division of prose style into the two distinct characters or genera, which henceforward played the leading role in all the rhetorical criticism of antiquity. At a later stage in the development a third “character” was added and appears in all Latin criticism; but in the most recent and much the best treatment of the subject this addition is considered as a makeshift which tends to confuse the principle on which the original division was based. We shall have to speak of it in its place; but the main facts of modern stylistic history, as of the ancient, are best represented by a consideration of the two characters which first make their appearance in Theophrastus and are more clearly defined in later successors of Aristotle. / The first was known as the genus grande or nobile. It was the rhetorical style of the Gorgian tradition. [59] … elaborate form and ornamental figures, studied merely for their own charm, gave it a character of cultus, or empty ornateness; and it was so portrayed at certain periods by its opponents. But the true nature of the genus grande is to be broad and general in its scope, large and open in design, strong, energetic, vehement. … The newer style, which had appeared in opposition to this, was known as the genus humile … A style of this general character would naturally have many particular forms. It might, for instance, become of deliberately rude, formless, negligent style—d[e]cousu, as Montainge says of his own—… a love of “honest” simplicity; on the other hand, it might emulate the colloquial ease and mondanit[e] of good conversation, … nitidus; or again it might declare its superiority to popular tastes, as in the hands of the Stoics, by affecting a scornful and significant brevity of utterance. All of these and other species of the genus were recognized by the ancients as actually existing, … But the genus as a whole is properly characterized by its origin in philosophy. Its function is to express individual variances of experience in contrast with the general and communal ideas which the open design of the oratorical style is so well adapted to contain. (61)

…genus grande and the genus humile. Theoreticallyand two kinds are not hostile or exclusive of each other; Cicero is always anxiously insisting that they are both necessary… But in fact they almost always proved to be rivals; … (61)

For in the controversies of the Anti-Ciceronians “Attic Style” [68] means to all intents and purposes the genus humile or subtile, “Asiatic”describes the florid, oratorical style of Cicero’s early orations or any style ancient or modern distinguished by the same copious periodic form and the Gorgian figures that attend upon it. … This is not the usual modern method of relating the two terms. Probably the fault now most commonly associated with Asianism is one to which the Anti-Ciceronians of the seventeenth century were themselves peculiarly liable … the monstrous abuse of metaphor in the preaching… There is a kind of Asianism, in short, that arises form a constant effort to speak with point and significance, … But the Anti-Ciceronians were not aware that they were falling into error through an excess of their own qualities; they called themselves “Attic” because they avoided certain traits of style which they disliked, and did not observe that they sometimes ceased to be Attic through avoiding and disliking them too much. (69)

Three names associated with three phrases of the history of genus humile in the classical Greek period occur with some frequency in their writings, those of Plato (or Socrates), Aristotle, and Demosthenes; [73] … Aristotle…Royal Society of London… Demosthenes… But a kind of oratory arose at Athens during the fourth century which was not open to the charges brought against the Gorgian rhetoric by Socrates and Plato, which, on the contrary, had some of the same qualities that the masters of [77] the genus humile arrogated to themselves, an oratory disdainful of the symmetries and melodious cadences of the Isocratean model and professing to make its effect by the direct portrayal of the mind of the speaker and of the circumstances by which he has been aroused to vehement feeling. … allied in its rhetorical form and procedure with the genus humile, yet was unmistakedly grander than the genus grande and had the same uses. … The “Attic” oratory of Demosthenes usurped the title of the genus grande; the genus humile remained undisturbed in its old functions and character; and a third genus was added to take care of the Isocratean oratory, and was given the name of the genus medium (modicum, temeratum, etc.) …[Isocratean now called medium b/c Demosthenean now grander] … In the time of Cicero it had become customary to define the character of the three genera more fully by reference to the effect of each upon the audience. The genus humile is best adapted to teaching or telling its hearers something; the genus medium delights them or gives them pleasure; the genus grande rouses them and excites them to action. (78)

The Anti-Ciceronian period was sometimes described in the seventeenth century as an “exploded” period; and this metaphor is very apt if it is taken as describing solely its outward appearance, the mere fact of its form. For example, here is a period from Sir Henry Wotton, a typical expression of the political craft of the age: /

Men must beware the running down steep hills with weighty bodies; they once in motion, suo feruntur pondere; steps are not then voluntary. (“Table Talk,” in Life and Letters, ed. Logan Pearsall Smith (Oxford, 1907), II, 500.) /

The members of this period stand farther apart one from another than they would in a Ciceronian sentence; there are no syntactic connectives between them whatever; and semicolons or colons are necessary to its proper punctuation. In fact, it has the appearance of having been disrupted by an explosion within. / The metaphor would be false, however, if it should be taken as describing the manner in which this form has been arrived at. For oratorical period in his mind and then partly undid his work. [Rather,] … He has deliberately avoided the processes of mental revision in order to express his idea when it is nearer the point of its origin in his mind. (The Baroque Style in Prose, 209)

…we will call, by a well-known seventeenth-century name, the p[e]riode coup[e]e, or, in an English equivalent, the “curt period” (so also the stile coup[e], or the “curt period” (so also the stile coup[e], or the “curt style”); ... /
‘Tis not worth the reading, I yield it, I desire thee not to lose time in perusing so vain a subject, I should be peradventure loth myself to read him or thee so writing, ‘tis not operae pretium. (Burton) [211] … In the first place, …as free of soft or superfluous flesh, as “one of Caesar’s soldiers.” / Second, there is a characteristic order, or mode of progression, in a curt period… The first member therefore exhausts the mere fact of the idea; logically there is nothing more to say. But it does not exhaust its imaginative truth or the energy of its conception. It is followed, therefore, by other members, each with a new tone or emphasis, each expressing a new apprehension of the truth expressed in the first. … In the third place, one of the characteristics of the curt style is deliberate asymmetry of the members of a period [213] … fourth, the omission of the ordinary syntactic ligatures. … In brief, it is a Senecan style; (214)

In a number of writers (Browne, Felltham, and South, for example) we often find a period of two members connected by and, or, or nor, which evidently has the character of stile coup[e] because the conjunction has no logical plus force whatever. … The following from Browne will be recognized as characteristic of him: /
’Tis true, there is an edge in all firm belief, and with an easy metaphor we may say, the sword of faith. (Religio Medici, I. 10) (216)

Finally, we have to observe that the typical p[e]riod coup[e]e need not be so short as the examples of it cited at the beginning of the present section. On the contrary, it may continue, without connectives and with all its highly accentuated peculiarities of form, to the length of five or six members. Seneca offered many models for this protracted aphoristic manner… Logically they do not move. At the end they are saying exactly what they were at the beginning. Their advance is wholly in the direction of a more vivid imaginative realization; a metaphor revolves [218] … views the same point from new levels; and this spiral movement is characteristic of baroque prose. (219)

The Loose Style… the term “loose period” or “loose style”; and it is this that we will usually employ. In applying this term, however, the reader must be on his guard against a use of it that slipped into many rhetorical treatises of the nineteenth century. In these works the “loose sentence” was defined as one that has its main clause near the beginning; and an antithetical term “periodic sentence”—an improper one—was devised to name the opposite arrangement. “Loose period” is used here without reference to this confusing distinction. (220)

…either they have no predetermined plan or they violate it at will; their progression adapts itself to the movements of a mind discovering truth as it goes, thinking while it writes. At the same time, and for the same reason, they illustrate the character of the style that we call “baroque.” … observe, further, that these signs of spontaneity and improvisation occur in passages loaded with as heavy a content as rhetoric even has to carry. That is to say, they combine the effect of great mass with the effect of rapid motion; and there is no better formula than this to describe the ideal of the baroque design in all the arts. (221)

Loose … two modes of connection employed. The first is by co-ordinating conjunctions, the conjunctions… do not necessarily refer back to any particular point in the preceding member; nor do they commit the following member to a predetermined form. In other words, they are the loose conjunctions, … Second, each of the two periods contains a member with an absolute-participle construction. … the absolute construction is the one that commits itself least an lends itself best to the solution of difficulties that arise in the course of a spontaneous and unpremeditated progress. It may state either a cause, or a consequence, or a mere attendant circumstance; it may be concessive or justificatory; [222] it may be a summary of the preceding or a supplement to it; it may express an idea related to the whole of the period in which it occurs, or one related only to the last preceding member. (222)

Like the stile coup[e], it is meant to portray the natural, or thinking, order; and it expresses even better than the curt period the Anti-Ciceronian prejudice against formality of procedure and the rhetoric of the schools. For the omission of connectives in the stile coup[e] implies, as we have seen, a very definite kind of rhetorical form, which was practiced in direct imitation of classical models, and usually retained the associations it had won in the Stoic schools of antiquity. (222)

…other modes of connection… forms that are logically more strict and binding, such as the relative pronouns and the subordinating conjunctions, by using them in a way peculiar to itself. That is to say, it uses them as the necessary logical means of advancing the idea, but relaxes at will the tight construction which they seem to impose; … The method may be shown by a single long sentence from Sir Thomas Browne: /

I could never perceive any rational consequence form those many texts which prohibit the children of Israel to pollute themselves with the temples of the heathens; we being all Christians, and not divided by such detested impieties as might profane our prayers, or the place wherein we make them; or that a resolved conscience may not adore her Creator any where, especially in places devoted to his service; where, if their devotions offend him, mine may please him; if theirs profane it, mine may hallow it. [Religio Medici, I.3.] /

Observe particularly the use of as, or that, and where: how slight these ligatures are in view of the length and mass of the members they must carry. They are frail and small hinges for the weight that turns on them; and the period abounds and expands in a nonchalant disregard of their tight, frail logic. (223)

Some of those used with a characteristic looseness in English prose of the seventeenth century are: relative clauses beginning with which, or with whereto, wherein, etc.; participal constructions of the kind scornfully called “dangling” by the grammarians; [223] words in a merely appositional relation with some noun or pronoun preceding, et constituting a semi-independent member of a period. (224)

The loose period does not try for this form, but rather seeks to avoid it. Its purpose is to express, as far as may be, the order in which an idea presents itself when it is first experienced. It begins, therefore, without premeditation, stating its idea in the first form that occurs; the second member is determined by the situation in which the mind finds itself after the first has been spoken; and so on… The period—in theory, at least—is not made; it becomes. It completes itself and takes on form in the course of the motion of mind which it expresses. Montaigne, in short, … (224)

‘As there were many reformers, so likewise many reformations; every country proceeding in a particular way and method, according as their national interest, together with their constitution and clime, inclined them: some angrily and with extremity; others calmly and with mediocrity, not rending, but easily dividing, and community, and leaving an honest possibility of a reconciliation;—which, though peacable spirits do desire, and may conceive that revolution of time and the mercies of God may effect, yet that judgment that shall consider the present antipathies between the two extremes,--their contrarieties in condition, affection, and opinion,--may with the same hopes, expect a union in the poles of heaven. [Religio Medici, I.4] /

Here the word which introduces a new development of the idea, running to as much as five lines of print; yet syntactically it refers only to the last preceding word reconciliation. The whole long passage has been quoted, however, not for this reason alone, but because it illustrates so perfectly all that has been said of the order and connection of the loose period. It begins, characteristically, with a sharply formulated complete statement, implying nothing of what is to follow. Its next move is achieved by means of an absolute participle construction. This buds off a couple of appositional members; one of these budding again two new members by means of dangling participles. Then a which picks up a trail, and at once the sentence becomes involved in the complex, and apparently tight, organization of a though…yet construction. Nevertheless it still moves freely, digressing as it will, extricates itself from the complex form by a kind of anacoluthon (in the yet clause), broadening its scope, and gathering new confluents, till it ends, like a river, in an opening view. (225)

‘I would gladly know how Moses, with an actual fire, calcined or burnt the golden calf into powder: for that mystical metal of gold, whose solitary and celestial nature I admire, exposed unto the violence of fire, grows only hot, and liquefies, but consumeth not; so when the consumable and volatile piees of our bodies shall be refined into a more impregnable and fixed temper, like gold, though they suffer from the action of flames, they shall never perish, but lies immortal in the arms of fire.’ (Religio Medici, I.50)
With the first half of this long construction we are not now concerned. In its second half, however, beginning with so when, we see one of those complex movements that have led some critics to speak of Browne as—of all things!—a Ciceronian. It is in fact [227] the opposite of that. A Ciceronian period closes in at the end; it reaches its height of expansion and emphasis at the middle or just beyond, and ends composedly. Browne’s sentence, on the contrary, opens constantly outward; its motions become more animated and vigorous as it proceeds; and it ends, as his sentences are likely to do, in a vision of vast space of time, losing itself in an altitude, a hint of infinity. … The phrase “like gold” is the key to the form of the whole. After a slow expository member, this phrase, so strikingly wrenched from its logical position, breaks the established and expected rhythm, … the period closely parallels the technique of an El Greco composition, where broken and tortuous lines in the body of the design prepare the eye for curves that leap upward beyond the limits of the canvas. (228)

…way in which a loose period may escape from the formal commitments of elaborate syntax. It is illustrated in a passage in Montaigne’s essay “Des Livres,” … proceeds so far (six lines of print) in a description of his method that he cannot get back to his general idea by means of his original syntactic form, or at least he cannot do so without very artificial devices. He completes the sentence where it is; but completes his idea in a pair of curt sentences separated by a colon form the preceding… (228)

The “long sentence” of the Anti-Ciceronian age… two conflicting views concerning it. The older doctrine—not yet quite extinct—was that the long sentences… badly and crudely made, … Their true character, it was thought, would be shown by substituting commas for their semicolons and colons; for then we should see that they are quaint failures in the attempt to achieve sentences unity. The other view is the opposite of this, namely, that we should put period in the place of many of its semicolons and colons. We should then see that what look like long sentences are really brief and aphoristic ones. … This is urged by … Sir Edmund Gosse concerning the prose of Jeremy Taylor. / This later view is useful in correcting some of the errors of the earlier one. But, in fact, one of them is just as false as the other; and both of them illustrate the difficulties experienced by minds [230] trained solely in the logical and grammatical aspects of language in interpreting the forms of style that prevailed before the eighteenth century. In order to understand the punctuation of the seventeenth century we have to consider the relation between the grammatical term sentence and the rhetorical term period. (231)

Period… sentence… in theory the same act of composition that produces a perfectly logical grammatical unit would produce at the same time a perfectly rhythmical pattern of sound. But, in fact, no utterance ever fulfills both of these functions perfectly, and either one or the other of them is always foremost in a writer’s mind. … In general we may say, though there may be exceptions, that before the eighteenth century rhetoric occupied much more attention than grammar in the minds of teachers and their pupils. … The laws of grammatical form, it is true, were not at all disturbed or strained at this time by the predominance of rhetorical motives… the rhetorical forms they liked were symmetrical, so obvious, that they almost imposed a regular syntax by their own form. /
But a new situation arose them the leaders of the seventeenth-century rationalism—Lipsius, Montaigne, Bacon—became the teachers of style. The ambition of these writers was to conduct an experimental investigation of the moral realities of their time, and to achieve a style appropriate to the expression of their discoveries and of the mental effort by which they were conducted. [231] … An immense rhetorical complexity and license took the place of the simplicity and purism of the sixteenth century; and, since the age had not yet learned to think much about grammatical new freedom. … The syntactic connections of a sentence become loose and casual; great strains are imposed upon tenuous, frail links; parentheses are abused; digression becomes licentious; anacoluthon is frequent and passes unnoticed; … Evidently the process of disintegration could not go on forever. A stylistic reform was inevitable, and it must take the direction of a new formalism or “correction.” The direction that it actually took was determined by the Cartesian philosophy, or at least by the same time spirit in which the Cartesian philosophy had its origin. The intellect, that is to say, became the arbiter of form, the dictator of artistic practice as of philosopher inquiry. The sources of error, in the view of the Cartesians, are imagination and dependence upon sense impressions. (232)


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