Gothic Romance

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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

Burke identifies ‘three principal links’ in the ‘great chain of society’ which are ‘sympathy, imitation, and ambition’, and it is: By the first of these passions that we enter into the concerns of others; that we are moved as they are moved, and are never suffered to be indifferent spectators of almost any thing which men can do or suffer [. 24 Burke’s analysis is voyeuristic, imagining that the ‘delight’ we feel when sympathising with the distresses of others, particularly when those distresses are conveyed to us via the ‘affecting arts’, is little more than a species of relief at not being the person who suffers.

Locke argued that traditional rhetoric was ‘perfect cheat’ because he understood that it was premised on a closed and thus flawed system of philosophical proof. The implications of Locke’s views are that, since the patterns of traditional rhetorical proof within the faculty of invention are no longer to be trusted, the topics and commonplaces become an irrelevance, used by woolly and unoriginal thinkers only. The only acceptable proof to the scientist was inartificial proof. The artificial proofs of ethos, pathos, and logos, which had come to dominate this faculty of rhetoric, were of little use to the scientific thinker who inferred from actual observation and wished to pass on his findings without ornament.

Nonetheless, sympathy is discussed in several places in the lectures, particularly in the sixth lecture, shortly before Smith’s comments on the silliness of tropes and figures: When the sentiment of the speaker is expressed in a neat, clear, plain and clever manner, and the passion or affection he is poss〈ess〉ed of and intends, by sympathy, to communicate to his hearer, is plainly and clevery hit off, then and then only the expression has all the force and beauty that language can give it. 32 The incorrect spelling of ‘cleverly’ reflects the student’s transcription of the lecture.

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