restricted access 2. Descartes and Guez de Balzac: Human Eloquence Spurned
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2 Descartes and Guez de Balzac Humanist Eloquence Spurned Putting aside Eloquence for Mathematics is like growing sick of a mistress of eighteen to fall in love with an old crone. Quitter I'Eloquence pour les Mathematiques , c'est etre degoflte d'une maitresse de dix-huit ans et devenir amoureux d'une vieille. Balzac, letter to M. de Tissandier My goal in this chapter and the next is neither to examine how Descartes' rhetoric fits into his philosophical concerns, as Henri Gouhier has done, nor to examine the various persuasive strategies he uses to win adherents to his system along the lines of the analyses of Peter France or Sylvie Romanowski. Instead, I am interested in the consequences of his thought, especially his epistemological and psychological views, for rhetorical theory-the task allotted to rhetoric, its legitimacy, and its functioning. The question is not so much what kind of rhetoric Descartes employed, or its role in his philosophy (although both these topics are relevant), as much as how his approach to the issues that had traditionally been the province of rhetoricians was determined by his notions about human nature and the operation of the mind. The Eloquence of L'Honnefe Homme A preliminary discussion of a contemporary and friend of Descartes, Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, who was a conscious 6 Descartes and Balzac 7 spokesman for the heritage of eloquence handed down from classical Rome, is instructive. This pairing of the writer known during his lifetime as Unico eloquente and the philosopher of selfevidence might seem paradoxical at first, but it focuses attention on the degree to which Descartes dismisses the ancient art. The pursuit of eloquence was a hallmark of Renaissance lmmanism from its beginnings in Italy. The humanists' recovery of the rhetorical texts of the mature Cicero (De omtora and Brutus), of Quintilian, and of Aristotle's Poetics, their interest in moral philosophy as opposed to the metaphysics and theology of the scholastics, and their new civic model all combined to create among intellectuals an ideal of learning and experience ex" pressed with the prestige of a carefully wrought style-an ideal of wisdom wed to eloquence.I In sixteenth-century France, this synthesis took many forms as humanism grew in stature and maturity and as the political and social climate evolved from the optimism of Fran<,;ois I's reign through the turbulence of the Wars of Religion. Trends such as the growing importance of rhetorical instruction in the new colleges, the quarrels between partisans ofAttic and Asiatic styles, and the new emphasis on preaching in the post-Trentine Church formed the setting for the experiments of eloquence of such humanists as Bude, Pasquier, Montaigne, and Du Vair. The efforts of all such writers to create a secular French prose can be grouped under what Marc Fumaroli has labeled "the Gallican Republic of Letters of the magistrates," characterized by a love of learned citations along with a deep respect for judgment and good sense as the ultimate norm of eloquence,2 Perhaps more than any other writer, Balzac is responsible for shifting the arena of eloquence from the padements and schools of the sixteenth-century humanists to the salons and court of the honnetes hommas of the seventeenth century. The Malherbe of prose, Balzac epitomized the movement that took place during Louis XlII's reign away from the exuberance of Renaissance erudition to the more chaste prose of neoclassical literature under the Sun King, and although writers in the second half of the century were careful to avoid what they felt to be Balzac's stylistic excesses, they greatly profited from the more harmonious phrasing he had learned from Latin authors.s 8 Descartes and Balzac For many years it was the fashion for critics to acknowledge Balzac's contribution to the formation of classical prose style while disparaging his eloquence as empty rhetoric: "Balzac ... represents French prose undergoing before the public a double, a triple year of rhetorical studies"-Sainte-Beuve; "He is only a rhetor"-Lanson; "Balzac the Rhetor"-Bray.,j Yet rhetoric for Balzac was much more than a matter of style. It went far deeper for him than polishing his metaphors and hyperboles or balancing his periods. Even if his own stylistic affinities are Senecan, he held a Ciceronian view of eloquence in which matters of state, moral questions, and even philosophic issues belong to the domain ofeloquence. Indeed, the first editions of his Lettres in 1624 met with such an enthusiastic reception because his contemporaries saw in them a union of dignified, urbane expression and current political and moral issues. The letter for Balzac was the natural successor of the orations of Latin antiquity. In his eyes, all the precepts of Cicero and Quintilian found their modern expression in the epistle. His friend La Motte Aigron, writing a preface to the 1624 edition, hailed Balzac's letters as the culmination of rhetorical theory when he claimed that the epistle was the true subject of oratorical treatises.5 Balzac had realized that with the advent of royal absolutism, political oratory had no future in France; likewise, given the increasing importance of the honnete homme, both in the salons and in court circles, his audience could not be one of learned specialists. In the letter he discovered a medium in which to realize the Horatian injunction to please and instruct with decorum, all the while maintaining an air ofstudied informality suitable for his new public. Successive editions of the Lettres, followed by the Entretiens (1657), and loose treatises like Le Prince (1631), and the Socrate chretien (1652), continued this course within the middle range of style. His successors later in the seventeenth century may have found other genres equally congenial for their eloquence, but they did not forget their debt to him for laying the groundwork for pleasing this new audience. Marc Fumaroli, at the close of his massive study of French rhetoric of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, salutes Balzac as the symbol of the reconciliation between the Renaissance Republic of Letters of the humanistjurists and scholars on the one hand, and the new court organizing itself around Richelieu that Descartes and Balzac 9 would determine the direction of French literature during the (' rest of the century. ) Fellow Modernists It might seen strange at first that Descartes' most extensive text on rhetorical questions, a Latin letter written in 1628 to an unknown correspondent, is a warm defense of Balzac's 1624 Lettres, but the two men had much in common in terms oftemperament and experience to draw them together. Both were born into provincial families that had only recently joined the ranks ofminor nobility. Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, born most probably in 1597, was the son of a man in the service of the Dukes of Epernon; Rene Descartes was born in 1596 to an official of the paTlernent of Rennes. Both were educated in the newly established Jesuit schools where Suarez's rhetorical manual, De arte rhetorica, was in use. Descartes studied at La Fleche, an academy under royal patronage, while Balzac attended the order's schools in Angouleme, Poitiers, and finally Paris. Both traveled widely during their youth. Balzac made several forays into Holland, where he was enrolled with Theophile de Viau at the University of Leyden, and later spent eighteen months in Italy as an agent of Cardinal de la Villette.7 The stay in Rome seems to have marked him deeply with both a distaste for the corruption of the papal court and a vibrant admiration for the heritage ofthe late Republic and early Empire. Descartes also traveled in Holland and Italy and did a stint of military service in Germany in his quest to acquire knowledge in the book of the world rather than in libraries (1 :577).8 Both were ambitious, conscious of their considerable talents, and avid for recognition. Descartes sought to replace the Aristotelian scholasticism of the universities and colleges with his own science and metaphysics, while Balzac's aspirations went beyond Literary glory to the hope that his political eloquence could win him an active role in affairs of state. Both were jealous of their independence, preferring to deal with their Parisian colleagues from afar. In his retreat in Holland Descartes found the freedom from inopportune demands that allowed him to pursue his meditations and experiments. His most 10 Descartes and Balzac evocative description of his solitude in the midst of the bustle of city life is offered in a 5 May 1631 letter sent to Balzac at his horne near Angouleme: Everyday I go out strolling among the throngs of a great people with as much freedom and ease as you have in the paths of the parks of your estate, ami I only heed the men I see with the attention that I would give the trees in your forest or the animals that graze among them. Je vais me promener tous les jours parmi la confusion d'un grand peuple, avec autant de liberte et de repos que vous sauriez faire dans vos allees, et je n'y considere pas autrement les hommes que j'y vois, que je ferais les arbres que se rencontrent en vos forets, ou les animaux qui y paissent. (1:190) Balzac's long years at his country seat outside ofAngouleme were due in part to his weak health and in part to his disappointed political aspirations, but above all, they resulted from his stubbornly independent spirit. As Descartes noted in his apology for the LettTes: "If ever he undertakes to depict the vices of the Mighty, he is not prevented from speaking the truth by a servile fear of power" ("Si quando vitia Nobilium describenda suscipiat, non servili potentiae metu ... a vero dicendo prohibetur" [1 :36]). Unsuited for the life of a courtier, Balzac nevertheless wrote for the court, just as Descartes in Holland always kept in mind his audience in Paris. Even more than such parallels in experience and temperament , whkh were shared by any number of provincial gentlemen of their generation, the two possessed intellectual affinities that mark their attitude toward eloquence. Both were rationalists, confident in the power of reason to distinguish truth from error. The first line of Descartes' Discours de la methode, "Good sense is the best shared thing in the world" ("Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagee" [1 :568]), may be better known than Balzac's statements to the same effect, but both believed that no one historical age or professional group could rightly claim a monopoly on reason. As Balzac says in Entretien XVI: "There Descartes and Balzac 11 exists such things as natural logic and wise men without learning. Reason by itself can accomplish great things without the aid of art or science" ("II y a une logique naturelle, et des Sages ignorants.... La Raison peut faire toute seule de grandes choses, sans l'assistance de l'Art et de la Science" [2:394]). In this regard, both are resolute modernists as well, anxious to speak to their age on its own terms. Both reject the notion that the road to truth must pass by the rediscovery and imitation of some lost wisdom of the ancients. Balzac had a healthy respect for the classical Greeks and Romans, criticizing scholars who reject them out of hand, but his ideal was emulation, not servile imitation. Descartes' attitude was more radical. While he had a tempered respect for poets such as Horace or moralists such as Seneca, he was confident that in the crucial disciplines of metaphysics and the natural sciences, the study of the ancients resulted only in confusion and error among his contemporaries. Finally, this modernist attitude drew their attention to the problem of addressing a nonprofessional audience of honnetes hommes. Both had scorn for the pedants and scholiasts of the university and colleges. Descartes' desire to win over as wide a public as possible led him to the use of many of the same techniques Balzac employed. His effort to free philosophy from technical jargon, to write in French on occasion, and to introduce autobiographical elements has been recognized as an attempt to find favor with the same public of honnetes hommes Balzac had already won over.!) The Zeal for Truth: Descartes' Defense of Balzac's Eloquence When what was to be Balzac's first installment of his Lettres appeared in 1624, the approbation was not universal. Polemics continued for some five years and included attacks from his former rhetoric teacher Franc;ois Garasse and from Jean Goulu, the superior of the Feuillantine order. Balzac found himself charged with vanity, veiled obscenity, and mendacious use of hyperbole, among other accusations. Io Two of the texts which appeared in his defense are especially relevant. The first, the Apologie de Monsieur de Balzac (1627) signed by Franc;ois Ogier, 12 Descartes and Balzac contains statements of rhetorical principles that can be taken as Balzac's own since he is said to have inspired, or even written, it. The second text, Descartes' Latin letter of 1628, is especially significant because it contains his most extended discussion of rhetoric, and unlike his ot.her references to the discipline, which occur in the context of his discussion of philosophical method, this one is written within the broad frame of rhetorical criticism, using traditional technical terminology and similes. II Descartes organizes his letter around two complementary poles of eloquence-stylistic achievement and persuasive force, that is to say, the elocution and the arguments of a discourse. Under each category he lists a number of defective forms that contrast with Balzac's excellence in each area. Analysis of these brands of false eloquence allows us to mark off the limits that separate the goals and components of authentic rhetoric from its unworthy neighbors. Thus, after praising the purity, grace, and elegance of Balzac's language, which he will later identify with the usage of the court, Descartes enumerates four cases in which style can fail to support a writer's thought. . First, the ear can be satisfied by "a meticulous choice of words, carefully arranged, flowing copiously" ("verba lectissima, curioso ordine disposita, et liberali stilo profusa" [1 :32]), but this stylistic abundance, which Morris Croll identified as influenced by Ciceronianism , cannot compensate for a lack of intellectual content or a flabby organization. On the other hand, the dry, semi-obscure style of the second group-Senecan, according to Croll12_ can rebuff the reader, even if the discourse is well stocked with sensible, noble thoughts. "Others, on the contrary, with words that are replete with meaning,joined with an abundance ofnoble reflections often enchant more capable minds, but too often their concise, semi-obscure style wearies this audience" ("Si contra significantissimae dictiones, nobilium cognitationum abundantia, mentes capaciores interdum oblectent, easdem presso et subobscuro stilo saepius fatigant" [1:32]). A third group of writers tries to find a middle ground between this dry expression of solid content and the florid style that fails to mask an absence of thought; they try to observe "the true rule of discourse which is to express things simply" ("verum sermonis institutum in puris rebus exprimendis rigidius" [1 :32]). Nonetheless, they miss the Descartes and Balzac 13 mark by falling into an austerity that does not please: "They have such an austerity that the discerning do not approve them" ("tam austed sunt, ut a delicatis non amentur" [1 :32]). Finally and worst of all, he faults authors who use all manner of conceitswordplay , unusual vocabulary, striking poetical images-calculated to surprise and amaze: intellectual content is completely lacking, and they fail to please readers who possess even a slightly serious bent of mind. The first and last of these cases show that style alone cannot compensate for an absence ofcontent, while the second and third indicate that content alone is not enough if the style is arid or austere. Balzac, of course, is presented as attaining the happy equilibrium between style and content, "a happy concord of words and content" ("felici rerum cum sermone concordia" [1 :33]), where expression neither detracts from, nor overpowers the writer's arguments: "[T]he abundance of the most elegant discourse does not dissipate the force of the arguments nor overwhelm them" ("[EJlegantissimae orationis ubertas ... vires argumentorum non dissipat, nec obruit" [1:33]). This last quotation shows that, for Descartes, the ideal harmony between style and message in no way implies equality between the two. Even in this discussion of the stylistic componentofeloquence, the arguments themselves take priority over stylistic considerations. When we turn to Descartes' analysis of the persuasive side of Balzac's eloquence, we see that this priority is affirmed even more decisively. His villains here are the political and forensic orators of Greece and Rome, for whom winning over their audience was more important than the truth or falsehood of the cause they were defending. He objects to them, first of ail, because of their recourse to sophism, verbal tricks, and empty words rather than to the simple truth; above all, they used these artifices and deceits consciously in the service of unworthy ends, "as they took special pride in their skill in defending weaker causes" ("cum tamen praecipuam artis gloriam ponerent in deteriOl"ibus causis sustinendig " [1 :35]). Their efforts were not in good faith because they had no scruples about arguing the worst of causes, and while they were skillful advocates, they earned for themselves only the reputation of dishonest men (l :34). Authentic persuasion for Descartes is a matter of the speaker 14 Descartes and Balzac communicatinga personal assurance ofthe truth to the audience. This was the case, he maintains, before eloquence was corrupted by the Greek demagogues. In that oratorical garden of Eden, language was transparent; it was the direct spontaneous expression of the sincerity of the soul. [I]n the primitive uncouth ag"es, before there were any quarrels in the world and when speech willingly followed the inclinations ofa guileless mind, there was, in fact, in persons of greater intelligence a force of quasi god-like eloquence which poured forth from zeal for truth and an abundance of feeling. [PJrimis et incultis temporibus, antequam ulla fuissentadhuc mundo dissidia, et cum lingua candidae mentis affectus non invita sequebatur, erat quidem in maioribus ingeniis divina quaedam eloquentiae vis, quae ex zeIo veritatis et sensus abundantia profluens. (1:34) The same sincerity is the hallmark of Balzac, the paragon of modern eloquence, who cannot fail to convince "in every instance that he only demonstrates what he has previously persuaded himselfof" ("potissimum quoties non alia probat, quam quae sibi prius ipse persuasit" [1:35]). He develops this praise of sincerity as an encomium of "this candor of a mind elevated above ordinary mortals" ("hunc candorem ... ingenii supra vulgus positi" (1 :37) possessed by Balzac, who was willing to speak openly of his own infirmities and of the vices of the powerful. The implication is that the heart of eloquence is not just the truth but "zeal for truth." What makes speakers truly eloquent is not simply that they communicate the truth, but that they communicate their sincere conviction that they speak the truth. For Descartes, this sincerity, a form of what rhetoricians label the ethical proof, whenjoined with the truth itself, is the only legitimate instrument of eloquent persuasion. Divergent Views: Style and Sincerity Whether Decartes' assessment of Balzac's achievement is accurate has been questioned by critics since Emile Krantz.J. Youssef, Descartes and Balzac 15 for example, suggests that Descartes' comparison of Balzac's writings to the healthy complexion of a young maiden who has no need for makeup applies more aptly to the later works of the mature Balzac than to the Lettres of 1624. 13 The critics' uneasiness with the portrait Descartes draws of Balzac is caused by a fundamental divergence between the attitudes toward rhetoric of the two friends, a divergence that Descartes could not address directly in his apology and that thus surfaces only to the extent that he transforms Balzac's eloquence to conform to his own ideal. The Balzac he praises is a Balzac revised and corrected along Cartesian norms. We can pursue this divergence and further eludicate the Cartesian ideal of eloquence as the ability of speakers to convey their conviction that they speak the truth-the "noble candor" ("generosa quaedam libertas" [1 :35]) that Descartes attributes to Balzac-if we examine their views on a series of rhetorical issues. This confrontation reveals that despite numerous parallels, each man's thrust reflects opposing orientations to political and intellectual life. This is not to say that there are not large areas of apparent agreement. For example, Balzac's writings, like Descartes' letter, contain many criticisms of faulty eloquence where style clashes with substance. Thus,just as Descartes had criticized works whose content was solid enough but whose style was overly dry, Balzac rejects philosophers who have written arid political treatises: "[T]heir ratiocination is usually so dry and emaciated that it appears that their goal was to instruct rather than to please; moreover, their style is so awkward and thorny that it seems that they only sought to teach those who are already learned" ("[L]eur ratiocination est d'ordinaire si seche et si decharnee, qu'il parait que leur intention a plutat ete d'instruire que d'agreer; et d'ailleurs leur style est si embarrasse et si epineux, qu'il semble qu'ils n'aient voulu enseigner que ceux qui sont doctes" [Le Prince, 1: 190]). Nor does Balzac have any use for eloquence that attempts to conceal an absence of arguments under sonorous Ciceroniansounding phrases. "There is such a thing as a maker of bouquets, a turner of periods-I do not dare to call it eloquence-that is all painted and gilded.... It is hollow, and empty of the essential things although it rings clear with pleasant tones" ("II y a une Faiseuse de bouquets, et une Tourneuse de periodes, je ne l'ase 16 Descartes and Balzac nommer Eloquence, qui est toute peinte et toute doree.... ElIe est creuse, et vide de choses essentielIes bien qu'elle soit claire et resonnante de tons agreables" [Paraj)/trase ou de la grande eloquence , 1:277-78]). Both would thus agree that while stylistic flourishes cannot compensate for a lack of arguments, a jarring style detracts from an otherwise sound content. Balzac also seems in agreement with Descartes in assigning priority to persuasion over style. Appealing to the example of the ancients, he assures MIle de Gournay in a letter of 30 August 1624 that elocution is the lesser part of rhetoric. It is true that I devote much attention to elocution, and I know that grand subjects need the aid of words and that after having been properly conceived they must be aptly expressed. I am only saddened that people try to turn the least part of the rhetoric of the ancients into the whole of our own, and that in order to satisfy petty minds, it is necessary that our work resemble those burnt offerings for which the heart was removed, leaving only the tongue. II est vrai que je donne beaucoup a l'elocution, et je sais que les grandes choses ont besoin de l'aide des paroles, et qu'apres avoir ete bien con«;ues, elles doivient etre heureusement exprimees. II me fache seulement que la moindre partie de la Rhetorique des anciens on en veuille faire toute la notre, et que pour contenter les petits esprits, il faille que nos ouvrages ressemblent aces victimes, a qui on otait Ie coeur, et on laissait seulement la langue de reste. (Bibas, 1:252) Although his initial claim to eloquence lies primarily in his success as a stylist, the content of his writings is far from negligible, and thus he feels secure in rejecting those who would neglect persuasion and make elocution the whole of rhetoric. Style, his comparison here suggests, is but the tongue of eloquence; its heart is surely truth, and the communication of this message seems paramount. Does this, however, reduce style to the role of a gratuitous ornament that has no relation to persuasion? On the contrary, Balzac ascribes to style a functional as well as a decorative role. Descartes (tnd Balzac 17 After having pursued truth all the way to the heavens it is now a matter of bringing her back to earth, She must be freed from the darkness ofher solitary confinement in order .to be exposed to the view of the populace. Here eloquence adorns and dresses her after reason has discovered and unveiled her. Apres avail' poursuivi la Verite jusque dans Ie Ciel, il est question de l'amener sur la Terre. II la faut tirer de son secret et de ses tenebres pour I'exposer ala vue des Peuples, Et c'est alors que l'Eloquence la pare et l',~uste apres que la Raison Pa decouverte et \'a devoilee, (Entretiens XXIII, 2:465) If the eloquent writer decorat.es the truth, it is not merely for the sake of pleasing, but. also to adjust reason's discoveries to the audience at hand, here "the populace." As a form ofdecoration, st.yle is one means ofadapting the message to the public and t.hus persuading that even philosophers neglect at their own peril. As his spokesman Ogier says in the Apologie: "If eloquence does not soften philosophy and does not transform its savage appearance, it becomes odious and unbearable" ("Si l'eloquence n'adoucit la Philosophie, et. ne lui change son visage farouche, elle devient odieuse et iosupportable"),14 Thus, even when paying homage to the priority of persuasion over elocution in eloquence, Balzac manages to celebrate his own forte as a stylist by stressing the role of style in the persuasive process. Descartes is well aware of this notion of ornament as a form of audience adaptation, even if he protests that he does not have recourse to it. He writes of his works to Chanut: "I put them before the public without being adorned, with none of the ornaments that might draw the eyes of the people, so that those whose gaze stops only at the exterior will not see them and that they will be examined only by a few persons of sound mind" (".Ie les ai fait sartiI' en public sans etre pares, ni avoir aucun des ornements qui peuvent attirer les yeux du peuple, afin que ceux qui ne s'arretent qu'a I'exterieur ne les vissent pas, et qu'ils fussent seulement regardes par quelques persormes de bon esprit" [2 November 1646, 7:199]). Descartes professes an unwillingness as a philosopher to make such concessions to reach a popular readership as if such ornaments degrade the truth. 18 Descartes and Balzac T'his difference in spirit between the two is further illustrated by Balzac's attitude toward the sincerity of the speaker, the conviction of truth that Descartes prized as essential to eloquence. We can find in Balzac similar statements about sincerity as a central element in persuasion (cp. Le Prince, 1: 190), and he too condemns the ancient sophists (Para/Jhrase, 1:278). However, when it is opportune, he has no scrupies about presenting himself as a sophist of sorts for whom rhetoric teaches the art of disguise and aims more at display than persuasion. "Rhetoric ... can indeed still be practiced today on subjects that are far removed from run-of-the-mill opinions, and by means of delightful pretenses excite admiration in the minds of men instead of gaining their assent" ("La Rhetorique ... peut bien encore aujourd'hui s'exercer sur des sujets qui sont eloignes des opinions communes, et par des feintes agreables, exciter plutot de l'admiration en l'esprit des hommes, qu'y gagner de la creance" [Bibas, 2:2930 ]). To be sure, he appeals to this conception of rhetoric as artifice and display in a letter of reconciliation addressed to Fran~ois Garasse, in which he attempts to retreat from a virulent denunciation of his former teacher for having corrupted both philosophy and rhetoric. Still, the very fact that Balzac does not hesitate to call into service the idea that eloquence is aimed at winning the admiration of the public rather than its assent is telling, for such a notion ultimately serves to justify a showy eloquence in which style and subtle argumentation are given precedence. It is certainly far from Descartes' insistence on conviction and sincerity as the hallmarks of the eloquent. While not denying the crucial role of persuasion in eloquence especially in its noblest forms, Balzac does not shrink from an element of play, from a refusal to take himselfcompletely seriously, that is rare in Descartes. The striking hyperboles Balzac used in his letters must be evaluated in this context; as he puts it, "In a word, even the lives of wise men are not completely serious; their every word is not an oath, and all that they write is not their last will anq testament" ("En un mot, la vie des sages memes n'est pas toute serieuse, toutes leurs paroles ne sont pas des serments, et tout ce qu'ils ecrivent n'est pas leur testament" [Bibas, 2:30]). A well-turned phrase, no mat- Descartes and Balzac 19 tel' what its content, was an occasion of pride for him, in ways it could 110t be for Descartes. Rhetorical Training and Philosophy Along with Balzac's sometimes excessive compliments, the rather cavalier attitude he at times expressed toward the value of rhetorical study can be attributed to this spirit of play. Both this tendency toward flattery and a conventional depreciation of rhetorical training are deftly illustrated by this praise directed at Louis XIII in the preface of Le Prince: "The life of the king has taught me more than all the precepts of rhetoricians, and lowe to the felicity of his reign all the merit of my book" ("La vie du Roi m'en a plus appris que tous les preceptes des Rhetoriciens; etje dais ala felidte de son Regne tout Ie merite de mon ouvrage" [1: 196]). Balzac here asserts the primacy of subject matter over command ofthe rules ofrhetoric, a view which seems in harmony with Descartes' famous assessment in the DiscOUTS of the futility of rhetorical studies. This evaluation of ?oetry and eloquence occurs in the course of a review of the Jesuit curriculum based on the Ratio studiorum that Descartes had known at La Fleche where the fifth year of classes, called the year of rhetoric, was chiefly devoted to the explication of Cicero's speeches. I valued oratory and was fond of poetry; but I thought both were gifts of the mind rather than fmits of study. Those with the strongest reasoning who digest their ideas the best so as to make them dear and intelligible can always persuade the best what they propose, even if they speak only the dialect of lower Brittany and have never learned rhetoric. J'estimais fort l'eloquence, etj'etais amoureux de la poesie; mais je pensais que !'une et I'autre etaient des dons de l'espril , plutot que des fruits de I'etude. Ceux qui onlle raisonnement Ie plus fort, et qui digerent Ie miellx leurs pensees, afin de les rendre daires et intelligibles, peuvent tOluours Ie mieux persuader ce qll'i1s proposent, encore qu'ils ne parIassent que bas breton, et qll'ils ll'eussent jamais appris de rhetoriqlle. (1 :574) 20 Descartes and Balzac Compared to Descartes' n;jection of the art, Balzac's stance is only the modest self-depreciation that was not unusual among authors dedicating a work to the mighty. According to Descartes, the ability to reason vigorously, to reduce the meat of one's thought to clear and distinct ideas by ordering it properly, is all that is needed to persuade. The persuasive force of writers finds its source deep within their understanding of their subject, rather than being suggested from outside by rhetorical method. Persuasive force is first of all a product of a natural talent, a gift of the mind, an innate capacity for sound judgment. To persuade, one has only to display this judgment in action. Since Isocrates rhetoricians had pointed to the importance of education in the trio of elements necessary to produce a distinguished orator, although they had usually ranked it in third place behind natural talent and practice. Descartes, however, goes farther . Formal rhetorical study is spurned as unnecessary; in fact, a period of training may be harmful, according to a remark found in his notebooks, where he implies that the study ofrhetorical techniques threatens to disturb the spontaneity of this natural gift.15 While Descartes is willing to allow that the rules found in rhetorical manuals have some value, alone they will only produce school exercises, not the speeches of Cicero.16 But if study of the rules is oflittle use, practical experience can develop a natural gift for eloquence. Thus in the early Studium Bonae Mentis, Descartes classes rhetoric among the arts that require "besides the knowledge of the truth ... a mental facility, or at least an acquaintance acquired through practice" ("outre la connaissance de la verite ... une facilite de l'esprit, ou du moins une habitude acquise par l'exercice,,).17 Descartes' admiration for the eloquence ofa Cicero or a Balzac is profound, but he is equally sure that neither rules nor training can substitute for innate talent and soundjudgment. When Balzac discusses the requirements of the model orator in his fifth discourse, the Paraphrase, ou de La grande eloquence, he too lists an innate gift for eloquence as the prerequisite, followed by sound judgment. He even uses an alimentary image, similar to Descartes' "digest the best their ideas" ("digerent Ie mieux leurs pensees" [1:574]) of the Discours de La methode to signal the importance of reflection and the proper ordering of one's thoughts in the orator's preparation for a speech: "Antiquity D(Jscartes and Balzac 21 called that drawing one's speech from the gut, and having an eloquent sou!" ("L'Antiquite appelait cela puiser ses discours dans l'estomac, et avoil' l'ame Eloquente" [1 :281)). However, Descartes' dismissal of eloquence and of the tradition of rhetorical training behind it could hardly have pleased the Unico eloquente , who had never hestitated to mention philosophy and eloquence in the same breath as related arts (cp. Bibas, 1:59). Jean Jehasse suggests, in fact, that relations between the two cooled considerably after the publication of the Discours de La methode in 1637.IH Moreover, in hisPamt)/zmse, published in 1644, Balzac takes care to add a third element to his acknowledgment of the need for talent and judgment-the study of rhetorical principles. The form this recommendation takes is significant. Balzac is not interested in a manual of the art written for young students containing easily memorized recipes for eloquence; he has only scorn for "congenital grammarians" ("Grammairiens de race" [1:281]) and "the pedantry of compilers" ("Ia pedanterie de Compilateurs" [1:282]). Instead, he declares himself for the application of philosophic thought to eloquence. "[S]ound eloquence must take instruction from sound philosophy" ("[L]a bonne Eloquence doit recevoir instruction de la bonne Philosophic " [1 :282]). But rather than his old friend Descartes, Balzac recommends as "sovereign Craftsman" the philosopher whom Descartes aspired to displace-Aristotle. The sovereign Craftsman will lay out for him the different avenues for laying seige to reason along with the strong and weak points of the human mind. With the method and craft that Aristotle will give him, he will learn the spots at which the soul can be conquered. He will learn how to excite or moderate the passions depending all whether it is necessary to incite or check the courage of his troops. He will subjugate the intellect by the force of reasoning and vanquish appetite by the violence of the figures. Ce souverain Artisan lui decouvrira les differentes avenues ell! siege de la Raison, et Ie Fort el Ie Faible de l'esprit humain. Avec la methode et les adresses qu'il lui donnera, les endroits par ou J'ame est prenable lui seront connus. Les moyens d'y former des intelligences, ne lui manqueront 22 Descartes and Balzac point. II saura irriter et moderer les Passions selon qu'il faudra pousser au arreter les COlll·ages. II s'assluettira l'Intellect par la force du raisonnement, et emportera l'Appetit par la violence des figures. (1 :282-83) Whether the choice of Aristotle over Descartes was meant as a slight directed at his old friend is not as important for us as Balzac's defense of rhetorical studies and his aspiration toward a philosophically grounded theory of rhetoric, one that would explain the psychological principles behind persuasion rather than merely provide pat formulas. His description of such a philosophical rhetoric matches the approach found in Aristotle's Rhetoric, an approach that shows the relation of rhetorical devices like figures of speech or enthymemes to the operation of the mind and the passions. Thus, for Balzac, just as eloquence can serve philosophy by making its cold reasoning more appealing through the application of pleasing stylistic features, philosophy can furnish rhetorical theory the psychological and epistemological tools it needs to enhance the persuasive process. Balzac sees eloquence and philosophy as companions who profit from each other's company. For Descartes, on the contrary, they are strangers pursuing separate paths. Philosophy has no need of eloquence to persuade, and given that rhetorical theory was at the periphery of his interests, there was little chance that he would heed Balzac's call to ground rhetoric in philosophy. The systematic application of the Cartesian system to rhetorical theory was delayed until later in the century when disciples such as Bernard Lamy took up the task. Action versus Science Furthermore, Balzac envisaged the noblest forms of persuasion , as had the Greeks and Latins, in terms of a call to action: "an eloquence ofstate affairs and ofservice, born to command as a sovereign, wholely efficacious and completely vigorous" ("une eloquence d'affaires et de service; nee au commandement et ala souverainete; toute efficace, et toute pleine de force" [Paraphrase, 1:279]). The glory of eloquence for him is its capacity to move an audience to action; the arena may be political like that of Descartes and Balzac 23 the statesmen he cites in the Pamt)hrase such as Pericles and Demosthenes in ancient times or Henri IV and Richelieu in his own day, or it may be religious as exemplified by the preachers he had heard in Rome. The effect is the same, "to conquer and reign" ("vaincre et regner" [1 :284])-not a reign won by violence or physical force, but by the power of words alone. Language has so great a sway that when pronounced by a truly eloquent speaker, words become incorporated into the very substance of the listeners. They descend into the very center of the heart; they piel'Ce to the core of the soul and mingle and mix there with the thoughts and other interior movements. They are no longer the words of the person who speaks 01' who writes. They are the sentiments of those who listen or who reacl. ... [T]hey attach themselves inseparably to the foreign body who receives them, becoming part and parcel of this other person. Elles descendent jusqu'au fond elu coeur; elles percent jusques au centre de J'ame et se vont meier et remuer ladedans avec les pensees et les autres mouvements interieurs. Ce ne sont plus les paroles de celui qui parle, ou qui ecrit. Ce sont les sentiments de ceux qui ecoutent, ou qui lisent.... [E]lles s'attachent inseparablement au sujet etranger qui les re~oit, et deviennent partie et l'ame d'autrui. (1:283-84) Words used persuasively become the cement of the state, binding together ruler and subjects. This civic character of eloquence in Balzac underlines the deep respect he maintained for the art. Descartes also recognizes the role of eloquence as a political and social bond. In fact, in his 1628 letter defending Balzac, he exalts it as the force that made possible the emergence of civilization; eloquence is the original source of political power. "[IJt drew half savage men out of the forest, established laws, founded cities, and it had the power of at once persuading and ruling" (,,[E]loquentiae vis ... rudes homines ex sylvis eduxit, leges imposuit, urbes condidit, eademque habuit persuadendi potestatem simul et regnandi" [1 :34]). However, this idyllic portrait represents a lost ideal, for he immediately adds a description of the fall of eloquence and its corruption at the hands of the 24 Descartes and Balzac Greek and Roman lawyers and politicians: "It passed into the hands of base men who, despairing of winning the assent of the audience in open battle and with only truth as a weapon, had recourse to sophisms and empty verbal tricks" ("Transmisit enim ad vulgares homines, qui, cum aperto Marte et solius veritatis copiis auditorum animos vincere desperarent, confugiebant ad sophismata et inanes verborum insidias" [1:34]). Descartes goes on to suggest that Balzac has contributed to the rehabilitation of civic eloquence to its past glory, but on the whole, such political concerns do not fascinate him as they do Balzac. As we will see in more detail in the next chapter, hejudges the act of persuasion in light of his own central concern, namely, the exercise ofsound judgment. In the realm of knowledge, judgment manifests itself in the quest for scientia, the certainty he had experienced in mathematics. In the domain of action, Descartes is more concerned with questions of individual ethics than in political affairs that he was content to leave to princes. The humanists' model of civic virtue and the effort to adapt the rhetorical tradition of the ancients to the court and salons of seventeenth-century France that give life to ~alzac:s notion of eloquence are absent from Descartes' thought. Descartes was resolved to speak directly to his contemporaries without the thought of the ancients or their eloquence as intermediaries. The truth of his system and his zeal for it would stand in the stead of any rhetorical devices. However, Descartes was not always confident of his powers of persuasion. As he confesses to Mersenne in a 25 November 1630 letter, he was more convinced of the validity of his proof for God's existence than of any demonstration in geometry; yet, at the same time, he was unsure of his ability to bring others to this same conclusion: "I do not know ifI will be able to bring everyone to understand it as I do" ('Je ne sais pas si je serais capable de la faire entendre a tout Ie monde, en la meme fac;on que je l'entends "). He then goes on to express the same doubts as to whether his Dioptrique will win converts to his scientific principles: "I will test in the tl'eatise on Dioptrics if I am able to explain my thoughts and persuade others of a truth after I have persuaded myself of it-something I am not at all sure of" ("j'eprouverai en la Dioptrique si je suis capable d'expliquer mes conceptions, et de Descartes and Balzac 25 persuader aux alltres une verite, aprcs que je me la suis persuadee : ce que je ne pense nullement" [1: 172]). His repeated attempts to cast his thought in differing guises-academic handbooks like the PrincijJes, essays like the Meditations, or in dialogue form as in La Recherche de la vh"ite-testify to his realization that simply reiterating his message with clarity and method would not do. Where then was Descartes to turn? Certainly he would not seek aid in the techniques of persuasion as expounded by rhetoricians, given his opinion of rhetorical training expressed in the Discours. Instead, he makes the typical Cartesian move: he casts his gaze inward to his personal experience of evidence and to the difficulty ofmaking his philosophy intelligible to others. Descartes' rhetorical theory is generated from within his own system. It is born from his notion of persuasion. ...


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