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RONALD W. COOLEY Reformed Eloquence: Inability, Questioning, and Correction in Paradise Lost Milton's attitude towards rhetoric and humanist rhetorical education is a subject of continuing critical debate. Irene Samuell for instance, insists that 'when Milton compared Satan-in-the-Serpent ... to N some orator renowned / In Athens or free Rome, where eloquence / Flourished, since mute" (PL 9.670-72), he was hardly equating eloquence with trickery.' According to Samuel, '[Milton's] supposed distrust of rhetoric has been foisted on him by those unwilling to make distinctions such as he himself habitually made' (177), distinctions between the art itselfl and its abuses and misuses. Thomas O. Sloane, on the other hand, resurrects the antirhetorical Milton when he associates 'Miltonic Form' with 'The Disintegration of Humanist Rhetoric' (209,211), and suggests that the rhetorical mode of thinking, 'revelling in ambiguity and skepticism/ is 'exemplified by the character of Milton's Satan' (249). I propose here to mediate between these views by describing the ways in which Paradise Lost attempts both to define and to practise a reformed eloquence, a rhetoric clearly dependent on classical and humanist conventions, but stripped of the duplicity characteristic of Satan's discourse. In the pamphlet Of Education, Milton presents learning as a corrective, restorative process, an attempt 'to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright' (2:366-67). It should not surprise us, then, that the poet's application of his own learning in Paradise Lost has a similar thrust. As Milton goes on to argue in the pamphlet, it is not merely the pupil but also the curriculum that is in, need of refonn. One notable feature of that educational reform is the delay of rhetorical and poetical training until relatively late in the student's career (at least by Renaissance standards). Milton attacks as 'preposterous' the practice of 'forcing the empty wits of Children to compose Theams, verses, .and Orations, which are the acts of ripest judgement and finall work of a head fill'd by long reading, and observing, with elegant maxims, and copious invention ' (2:372). Eloquence, then, is subsequent, and in important ways subordinate, to 'leam[ing] the substance of good things, and Arts' (2:374), though it is also the crowning achievement, the skill that allows a man to put his learning to work in the service of Itrue vertue.' It 'will be the right season of forming them [pupils] to be able writers and composers in every excellent matter, when they shall be ... fraught with an universal UNIVER."ITY OP TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 62, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1992/3 REFORMED ELOQUENCE 233 insight into things' (2:406). Rhetorical ornament (elocutio) is useless, even pernicious, without well-chosen argument (inventio), based on a sound body of practical knowledge. Milton offers a striking portrait of eloquence devoid of insight in the opening books of Paradise Lost, where the grandeur of Satan's rhetoric masks his specious arguments, at least from the demonic audience. Part of the thrust of Paradise Lost will be to provide models of a refonned eloquence, including forms of ornament that express, rather than obscure, the moral content of the speech, and the condition of the speaker. Milton's denunciation of the 'preposterous' educational pract.~ces of his age hints at some key features of this reformed eloquence. The exercises he attacks are primarily declarative in character, not merely permitting but requiring pupils to pretend to a level of knowledge and sophistication they do not possess. In this sense they parallel, on a modest scale, the model of fallen rhetoric established by Satan in Paradise Lost, whose speeches are full of presumption and grand pretence (not to mention wilful blindness to the realities of his situation). Milton's alternative, both in Of Education and in Paradise Lost, is a process of revelation, inquiry and corrective dialogue, where the exercises might be described as interrogative rather than declarative. After Milton's pupils had learned 'the necessary rules of some good Grammar' (Of Education 2:382), 'some easie and delightful book of Education would be read to them; whereof the Greeks have store as Cebes, Plutarch, and other Socratic discourses.... But here the main...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 232-255
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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