"This study examines the use and abuse of rhetoric in English public life from 1790 to the end of the Regency. It begins from the premise that the period's rhetoric can employ reasoned arguments while also exhibiting regressive tendencies not so much supplanting rational discourse as using it in unexpected ways. its underlying premise is that, however distinct were the positions taken by various political constituencies at this time, these positions could be advocated by means of rhetorical techniques common to all. The materialist emphasis of current cultural studies provides a useful corrective to the grand schemas of intellectual history but overcompensates by employing only the most nominal generalizations.
While revisionist treatments of the "public sphere" have succeeded in breaking the concept down into divers political constituencies, this study examines assumptions about public discourse shared by these constituencies.".
"The discipline of rhetoric developing alongside logic since the Reformation was a creature of both instrumental agency and subliminal suggestion, at once tool and medium. The ambivalent associations still surrounding the term "rhetoric" today are the result of this checkered history, a history portraying logic and rhetoric alternately at odds with, and absorbing aspects of, one another until finally settling into occasionally converging paths with rhetoric often on the low road. In the last half of the eighteenth century, two schools of rhetoric, the Elocutionary movement and the New Rhetoricians, began to explore ways of adapting to the theory and practice of rhetoric certain epistemological advances made in empirical philosophy since Locke.
An inference of these rhetorical assimilations of empirical psychology is the reduction of truth to an impression. Such latitude as sensationalist thought introduced into rhetorical practice made a very flexible instrument of rhetoric indeed. It rendered hopes expressed by moralists/critics like Samuel Taylor Coleridge - who in his reflections on modern rhetoric speaks of "securing a purity in the principle without mischief from the practice" - all the more quixotic.".
"A result of this tendency was the systematizing of rhetorical imposture. The techniques of rhetorical imposture in the public life of Romantic England are not reducible to party allegiance or even generic ideological disposition. They may be employed by pragmatists and idealists of either a sentimental or rational nature; any party or ideology may appropriate seemingly characteristic techniques of the other. In its purest (and most insidious) form, this ethos, which is comparable to Machiavellian virtu in its exploitation of contingency, enables the rational manipulation of irrational energies to effect whatever end it happens to be pursuing.
Opening chapters examine rhetorical imposture in practical guides to rhetoric, parliamentary speaking, and the queen's trial in 1820. A chapter on William Cobbett - who, developing his polemical techniques in both the ministerial and reform presses, is the exemplary case - traces in his writings the career of reasoned argument along a rhetorically conditioned bias leading at once away from and toward imposture. A final chapter examines how the narratives of several well-known Romantic texts - including Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, William Wordsworth's play The Borderers, William Godwin's Caleb Williams, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and William Blake's prophetic poetry - run along this same bias."--BOOK JACKET.