« PreviousContinue »
Dr. Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres are in the hands of every one pretending to taste and polite learning; and to argue in favor of their merits, would be like attempting to persuade the lovers of poetry, that they ought to admire the Deserted Village of Goldsmith, or the Pleasures of Hope of Campbell.
The author of the present volume has, therefore, adhered to the original text as closely as possible; and in every case, where the design of the work rendered it necessary to deviate from it, he has uniformly endeavored to identify the alterations and additions with Dr. Blair's own style and manner of writing, that no discrepancy might be perceived. It was not the author's ambition to attempt anything original; but to offer to Professors and Teachers of this delightful science, a text book, which, from its convenience and appropriateness, might meet their approbation.
Though the practice of using questions in books of instruction, is still objected to by some well informed persons connected with the business of education, yet it is apprehended that this objection rests rather on the very defective manner in which questions are generally prepared, than on the questions themselves : for, surely, as the object of committing the text without them, is, that the whole body of the work may be learned, so, if the questions be properly constructed, they must necessarily include the literal whole of the author. That the student, therefore, may enjoy every possible facility while studying this work, the author has endeavored to draw his questions from the work itself; involving in them, and the answers which they require, all that the text contains. Some, however, may still object to
questions, however carefully they may be formed. To such the author would only observe, that as these are appended to the work, and not incorporated in it, they may, without any inconvenience to the teacher, be omitted altogether.
With regard to the analyses affixed to the lectures, it must be remembered that they are intended to be used in the form of review-that after the student shall have learned the text of a lecture thoroughly, he should then be directed to commit the analysis perfectly to memory, and, by it, recapitulate the subject as one whole.
It was remarked to the author, when he commenced this work, that a different arrangement of the lectures would be a judicious improvement. But, upon reflection, he thought it most advisable to follow the order of the original. Should others, however, think differently, they may pursue the course that first suggested itself—to commence the work with the lecture on the Rise and Progress of Language, and introduce the II., III., IV., and V. lectures immediately after the Criticisms on Mr. Addison's Style, in the Spectator.
New York, November, 1832.
One of the most distinguished privileges that Providence has conferred upon mankind, is the power of communicating their thoughts to one another. (Without this power, reason would be a solitary, and, in some measure, an unavailable principle. Speech is the great instrument by which man becomes beneficial to man; and it is to the intercourse and transmission of thought, by means of speech, that we are chiefly indebted for the improvement of thought itself. Small are the advances which a single unassisted individual can make towards perfecting any of his powers. (What we call human reason, is not the effort or ability of one, so much às it is the result of the reason of many, arising from lights mutually communicated, in consequence of discourse and writing.
It is obvious then, that writing and discourse are objects entitled to the highest attention. Whether the influence of the speaker, or the entertainment of the hearer, be consulted -whether utility or pleasure be the principal aim in view; we are prompted by the strongest motives, to study how we may communicate our thoughts to the best advantage. In the language, even of the rudest and most uncultivated tribes of men, we can trace some attention to the grace and force of those expressions which they used, when they sought to persuade or to effect and among nations in a civilized state, no art has been cultivated with more care, than that of language, style, and composition.) The attention paid to it, may, indeed, be assumed as one mark of the progress of society towards its most improved period; for, according as society improves and flourishes, men, by means of reasoning and discourse, acquire more influence over one another.
What is one of the most distinguished privileges that Providence has conferred upon mankind ? Without this power, what would reason be ? Of speech, what is remarked; and what follows? What is what we call human reason; and from what does it arise? Of writing and discourse then, what is obvious; and why? In the language of the rudest and most uncultivated tribes of men, what can we trace; and of nations in a civilized state, what is observed ?' As what, may the attention paid to it, be assumed ; and why?
The study of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, not only supposes, but requires a proper acquaintance with the rest of the liberal arts. As it embraces them all within its circle, and recommends them to the highest regard, the first care of such as wish, either to write with reputation, or to speak in public,
to command attention, must be to extend their knowledgetto lay in a rich store of ideas relating to those subjects, on which the occasions of life may call them to discourse or to write. Hence, among the ancients, it was a fundamental principle, and frequently inculcated, that the orator ought to be an accomplished scholar, and conversant in every part of learning. It is, indeed, impossible to contrive an art, and very pernicious it were, if it could be contrived, which should give the stamp of merit to any composition, rich or splendid in expression, but barren or erroneous in thought.) They are the wretched attempts towards an art of this kind, which have so often disgraced oratory, and debased it below its true value. The graces of composition have been employed to disguise or to supply the want of matter, and the temporary applause of the ignorant has been courted, instead of the lasting approbation of the discerning. But such imposture can never maintain its ground long knowledge and science must furnish the materials that form the body and substance of any valuable composition. Rhetoric serves to add the polish ; and we know that none but firm and solid bodies can be polished well.
To speak or to write with perspicuity and purity, with grace and strength, are attainments of the utmost consequence to all who purpose, either by speech or writing, to address the public ; for, without being master of these attainments, no man can do justice to his own conceptions. And so far are they from being of that kind, for which we are indebted to nature alone, that among the learned, it has long been a contested, and, indeed, still remains an undecided question,
With what does the study of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres require a proper acquaintance? As it embraces them all within its circle, and recommends them to the highest regard, what should be the first care of such as wish, either to write with reputation, or to speak in public, so as to command attention ? Hence, what was, among the ancients, a fundamental principle, and frequently inculcated ? An art of what sort, if it were possible to contrive such an one, would be very pernicious ? Of the wretched attempts towards an art of this kind, what is observed; for what have the graces of composition been employed; and what follows? But why cannot such imposture maintain its ground long? What are attainments of the utmost consequence; to whom, and why? What, among the léarned, has long been a contested, and still remains an undecided question ?