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  • Baroque Rhetoric: A Concept at Odds with Its SettingAuthor(s): Wilbur Samuel HowellSource: Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter, 1982), pp. 1-23Published by: Penn State University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40237304 .Accessed: 15/02/2014 12:24

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  • Baroque Rhetoric: A Concept At Odds With Its Setting

    Wilbur Samuel Howell

    I

    The first American scholar to define a terminology and a content for what I am hre calling baroque rhetoric appears to hve been Morris W. Croll of Princeton University. In 1929 Croll published an influential essay, "The Baroque Style in Prose," in which he associated the term "baroque" with certain spcifie characteris- tics of prose style and left no doubt that a baroque prose style and a baroque rhetoric were one and the same thing. In the following first section I wish to look at the way in which he arrived at thse conclusions.1

    Croll began his essay not only by commenting upon the changes which had occurred in ail forms of Western European art during the seventeenth Century but also by seeking to find an acceptable term for those changes. He was tempted, he de- clared, to use "romantic" as the acceptable term, so as to con- trast the spirit of seventeenth-century literature with what was generally called the classicism of the high Renaissance. He was also tempted, he said, to use "modern" or "new" as a possible substitute for "romantic." But he decided that these possibili- ties were inexact and perplexing, and he concluded that "ba- roque" was the term best fitted for the office that he wanted his essay to fili.

    He expiai ned: "This term which was at first used only in architecture, has lately been extended to cover the faets that prsent themselves at the same time in sculpture and in painting; and it may now properly be used to describe, or at least to name, the characteristic modes of expression in ali the arts dur- ing a certain period - the period, that is, between the high Ren- aissance and the eighteenth Century; a period that begins in the last quarter of the sixteenth Century, reaches a culmination at about 1630, and thenceforward gradually modifies its character under new influences."2 In these exact words, written in 1929, Croll gave baroque literature a date, an artistic context, and a name in American scholarship and criticism.

    Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol. 15, No. 1. Winter 1982. Published by The Penn- sylvania State University Press, University Park and London.

    1

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  • 2 BAROQUE RHETORIC

    In his subsquent discussion, moreover, Croll established rhet- oric as th generai term for ail of the traits of baroque prose style. He defined the several lments of prose technique as choice of words, choice of figures, observance of balance or rhythm, and attention to the form of the sentence or period; "and in a fll description of baroque prose ail of thse lments would hve to be considered." But of thse lments, "the form of the period" stands as "the most important and the dtermi- nant of th others; and this alone is to be the subject of discus- sion in the following pages."3 Croll proceeded to define the forms of the baroque sentence by classifying them as cuit or loose, in contrast to the prevailing Ciceronian periodic structure of the sixteenth Century; he went on to give the cuit and the loose forms a fair degree of explanation.4 Thus, for example, he said of the cuit style that it has the following four marks to distinguish it: "first, studied brevity of members; second, the hovering, imaginative order; third, asymmetry; and fourth, the omission of the ordinary syntactic ligatures." At that point he made an observation which can only be interpreted to be an emerging dfinition of baroque rhetoric, as that dfinition would be nourished by the four traits just mentioned: "Each of them is related to the rest and more or less involves them; and when they are ail taken together they constitute a definite rhetoric, which was employed during the period from 1575 to 1675 with as clear a knowledge of its tradition and its proper modeis as the sixteenth-century Ciceronians had of the history of the rhetoric that they preferred."5

    Even if we take careful note that thse words fall within Croll9 s dfinition of the cuit style, and that that style was only one of the two styles which constitute his composite view of baroque prose, we are justified, nevertheless, in concluding that thus far at least a baroque prose style and a baroque rhetoric are to his mind one and the same thing; and we may confidently say that his final dfinition of baroque rhetoric would consist merely in his adding his subsquent analysis of the loose style to what he had just been saying. Therefore, Croll would appear to define baroque rhetoric as the two forms of the baroque prose style, as he elaborated them in his essay; and baroque rhetoric, as he conceived of it, would stand in contrast to the Ciceronian rhet- oric of th preceding era. In other words, baroque rhetoric in Croll9 s System is confined to the stylistic aspects of discourse-

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  • WILBUR SAMUEL HOWELL 3

    baroque rhetoric consists in knowing how to choose words, how to choose among the figures of speech, how to achieve balance or rhythm, and how to form sentences or periods.

    As for the earlier Ciceronian rhetoric to which Croll also re- fers, it, too, dealt with style and with delivery, as he knew; but it devoted its major nergies to problems connected with the quest for substance and form in nonfictional discourse. There can be no doubt that baroque rhetoric to Croll represents a sharp break with traditional Ciceronian rhetoric, and that ba- roque writers renounced the hallowed Ciceronian periods for a sentence structure that forms itself briefly and loosely upon an author's impulses at the moment when his inner thoughts burst into his consciousness and demand expression. The contri ved style of the Ciceronians as distinguished from the spontaneous style of their successore - this would seem to be the leading contrast in Croll' s conception of th two rhetorics under his scrutiny. My analysis of baroque rhetoric begins at this point.

    II

    As Croll said in using the term "baroque" to cali attention to the literary phenomena which he wanted to discuss, this word had first been used as a criticai term to describe the traits of seventeenth-century architecture. Had he been more spcifie at that point, he would certainly hve mentioned the name of Heinrich Wlfflin. Wlfflin, a Swiss art historian who taught at the university of Basel between 1893 and 1901, and later at the universities of Berlin and Munich, published a book in 1888 called Renaissance und Barock; and in it he delivered what was to be- come an influential description of baroque architecture in Rome during the period immediately following the Renaissance. And he did something else - he opened the way to application of the term "baroque" to post-Renaissance literature. Ren Wellek, in his richly informative essay on the origins and progress of baroque literary criticism, speaks thus of Wlfflin' s contribution to the latter development: "So far as I know, Wlfflin was the first to transfer the term baroque to literature. In a remarkable page of Renaissance und Barock (1888) he suggests that the contrast be- tween Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1516) and Tasso's Gerusa- lemme liberata (1584) could be compared to the distinction between Renaissance and baroque. In Tasso, he observes a

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  • 4 BAROQUE RHETORIC

    heightening, an emphasis, a striving for great conceptions absent in Ariosto, and he finds the same tendency in Berni's reworking of Bojardo's Orlando inamorato."6

    The contribution described so luminously did not produce in- stant results. It took twenty-seven years for further interest in baroque literature to manifest itself ; nevertheless Wlfflin should receive crdit for promoting that interest. In 1915 he brought out a new book, Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe, in part to elabo- rate his earlier views of the baroque characteristics of literature; and at last his theory found th world ready for it. Students of the literary baroque were flourishing widely by the 1920s, and at least one American scholar, W