Review: Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric - The Objective Standard

Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric, by Ward Farnsworth. Boston: David R. Godine, 2010. 256 pp. $27.95 (hardcover).

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Although many teachers make the subject of rhetoric boring and seemingly useless, in Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric, Ward Farnsworth makes it fascinating and fruitful.

Rhetoric, the art of speaking and writing effectively, is, as Farnsworth explains, about “practical ways of working with large aesthetic principles—repetition and variety, suspense and relief, concealment and surprise, the creation of expectations and then the satisfaction or frustration of them—all as they apply to the composition of a simple sentence or paragraph” (p. vii).

The study of rhetoric reveals why we love certain parts of books or speeches, why we underline and read them aloud to friends, and why we wish we had written or spoken them ourselves.

Farnsworth divides Rhetoric into three parts, dealing first with the repetition of words and phrases, then with structural matters, and finally with dramatic devices. In each part, he limits his focus to the patterns that, in his judgment, “are of most practical value,” and he provides a plethora of examples from classical works, many of which are a joy to read.

On the use of repetition, for example, Farnsworth quotes Henry David Thoreau: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”; and Shakespeare: “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” (pp. 4, 5). On the use of the rhetorical device known as anaphora, the repetition of a word or sequence of words at the beginnings of successive clauses, he quotes Edmund Burke: “There is nothing simple, nothing manly; nothing ingenuous, open, decisive, or steady, in [this] proceeding” (p. 25). And on the technique of epistrophe, the repetition of a word at the end of successive clauses, he quotes Frederick Douglass: . . .

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