Jonathan Swift was contemptuous of the figure of the orator in his satirical writings, and yet he proved to be one of the most influential figures behind the eighteenth-century ‘elocutionary movement’ in Great Britain. His most distinctive remarks on the subject of practical rhetoric concern the art of pulpit eloquence. The simple style that Swift consistently recommends is both a rebuke to and a weapon against the false eloquence of a particular ethical class: the impertinently proud. The force behind this weapon is Swift's analysis of the moral assumptions of his opponents, and particularly their faith in the rhetorical efficacy of ‘conviction’, against which Swift proposes his own defense of ‘hypocrisy’. The moral and theological principles that inform Swift's rhetoric have contextual roots in contemporary commentary on sacred eloquence, and particularly in the efforts of late-seventeenth-century French writers, including Caussin, Lamy and Fénelon, to formulate a rhetorical ethics that does not betray the preacher (elevated above and unanswered by his audience as he must be) into the temptations of pride.
- © 2012 by The International Society for the History of Rhetoric. All rights reserved.