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QUINTILiAN)S APPROACH TO LITERATURE P. L. CARVER I MAKE no apology for assuming that most readers ' of this journal, apart from classical specialists, have but a slight acquaintance with Quintilian. I was myself shamelessly ignorant of his wr~ tings un til some three or four years ago, when I thought it necessary to investiga" te the truth of the statement, repeated from one text-book to another, that he exercised a dominant influence on European education in the sixteenth century. Until that time I had been repelled by three facts which constituted almost the wholeof my relevant knowledge: Quintilian was arhetorician, and we have ceased to study rhetoric; he flourished in the Silver Age, and must on that account be less valuable than Cicero; he expressed himself magnificently in twelve books, and a rhetorician cannot hope to atone for his tiresome profession unless he can contrive to be brief, bright, and brotherly. The penalty of asking tDO much is to receive nothjng" ; and the sight of the twelve books awakened thoughts of the value 0"[ time, the folly .of attempting to read everything, and the existence of a class of literature which, as Bacon says, is merely to be tasteq.. All this will seem very egotlstical, but I feel some confidence that my .own experience is"not unique. 11ilton} .of whom more will be said later, has done something " directly, and much more indirectly, to intensify the kind of prejudice which I have indicated. In one of his minor sonnets he speaks of names "that would have made Quintilian stare and gasp;" and Macaulay, after" two hundred years, made Milton's line familiar to the wider public by quoting it in a context which associates 77 THE UNlVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY Quintilian with "our academical Pharisees."> Even in their original context the words convey the impression of an excitable pedant gesticulating about trifles, and we cannot doubt that that was the effect intended. There is reason to believe that Milton had not read Quintilian,' and would have justified his abstention on grounds of principle. It is n oticeable that Milton never, in his poetry,' speaks of rhetoric except in disparagemen t. He appears to have taken his opinion of its value from Plato;' and it is Plato's contention that rhetoric is a false and pernicious art, always the slave of pleasure and frequently the enemy of truth, tempting the appetite instead of curing the disease, like an ignorant attendant who offers. the patient cakes and candies in substitution for the disagreeable medicine prescribed by the doctor' Accordingly it is Milton's evil characters, or those who have fallen from grace, who excel in rhetoric. I t is important to remember that Plato though t of rhetoric as a department, or special application, of the art of flattery. QuintiJian, rejecting this and several other IS!:e ttle third paragraph of his Ess4Y on Millon. Whether Macaulay had read QuintiJian at the time of his writing chis essay is open to grave doubt. He certainly did so some fourteen years later. in India, and spoke of Quintilian in his correspondence in termf; of high praise; but he gives the impression that he was reading him for the first time. . 250me cogent TCuons for this belief are given by F. H. Colson in his edition oC I nJlilulio,1tI Oraloriflt. Book I (p. lxxxv). To Colson's list may be added Milton's consistent disparagement of rhetoric, mentioned in the text. 'The qualification is pr.obably IInneceuary, but r cannot speak with can· fidenee of the whole of the prOle works. tSee Comus, 790-1, and Paradiu Rtzoin#d, IV, 4.5. In Pnradiu LoSI, IX, 1188. there is, 1 think, even clearer evidence o rMilton's indebtedness to Plato for his conception of rhetoric. In Gorfins (480) Plato says that he would be wiJ1ing to admit the usefulness of the art if it were truly the servant of justice: if, for example, the guilty man used it to prove his own guilt, being the firs t to accuse himself and hia relations, in order that they might be ddivered from the greater evil of injustice. Milton, at the end of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 77-94
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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